Monday, May 26, 2008

Gaius Valerius on Trial

They brought him to the tribunal, his shackles the only sounds that rose above the murmurs of the Roman audience.

"We've got another one of them. His mouth was red with blood when we found him. He said it was wine, but we heard the words loud and clear. The rest of the lot ran through the catacombs and got away. There must have been some sort of secret escape door, because we followed them to its very end and could not find them. Or maybe they used some magic arts to disappear. But this one here had a limp and was slower than the rest." The leader of this ragtag group of soldiers explained at length that this man was another cannibal that called himself a follower of Jesus, as he approached the judge with his captive.

"Disgusting, really, this new fad. I cannot see how right reason and common sense are not enough for these Palestinians."

Their attention looked with disgust and disdain, turning to this rather commonplace looking man named Gaius Valerius. Indeed, he was another of these who claimed that a crucified criminal was not merely a god, but the only God who could rescue the empire from another Nero and bring them all to a life that never ended.

But Nero had spoken loudly, and he spoke clearly. These Christians were sinister. Some had questioned his accusation that they were responsible for the fires at Rome, and some went as far as to wonder whether or not Nero had himself been responsible for that great conflagration. But regardless, men like Gaius Valerius made it clear-whatever it was these Christians believed, there was deep magic in it. Most citizens who were respectable and able to enjoy leisure and philosophy would go further and say that that magic was surely dark in its nature.

The judge was nibbling on some cheese and grapes in between folding and unfolding his hands. "Look here, Gaius Valerius. You are kinsman of Flavius Valerius, noted scholar on Horace's poetic greats, are you not?"

At length the humbled man in chains looked up and said, "Yes, he is my younger brother. You may have heard my own orations on Ovid, who was a great friend of my departed father. I had studied Ovid with my mind enraptured by love, while my brother's nose was always pointed at the sky in heavenly contemplation in his readings of Horace. But now, sir, I am a changed man. For I know the source of all love and blessing. I have found these things in the Lamb that was slain for the sins of all."

The magistrate and his closest companions were unsettled. This was no rabble rouser, he had studied the great thinkers of Roman work. He was no slave or laboring man, either. They were common kin in the Empire. How could he too turn to this religion of the East? And how could he turn to doing the dastardly deeds that these little Christs had done?

These and a myriad of other thoughts crossed the minds of the upstanding Romans witnessing the trial of Gaius Valerius. But, being a practically minded Latin man, the judge pressed one point to arrive at the truth.

"Brother of Flavius Valerius, are you or are you not a cannibal? This cult that you seek may purport to preach love, but your sect cannot love the one that it devours? Do you or do you not consume the body and blood of this one that you worship?"

All eyes were fixed on the man whose gaze stared fixedly at the lawgiver who was his peer on paper, but his likely bane in reality.

"Ah, my dearest judge. I am in a prime position to offer clarity over this issue. For many years, the Christian people, of whom I am unashamed to call myself a member, have been accused of a rapacious thirst for the blood of our Lord. But this is where we have been read wrongly. For all that we do in this sacrament of thanksgiving is to remember our Lord. We remember that Christ shed his blood by offering his body for us. We do not think that it is his body or blood, and so we are no more cannibals than the average Roman citizen who will drink the wine from the vineyards of Seneca and think of Seneca. Christ broke bread and drank wine before he died, and we are simply remembering him by remembering that same last meal by repeating it."

The judge raised his eyebrows throughout these words and whispered words to his close aides.

"Dear Gaius, I see that your wisdom is just. And if you can promise to me that you will teach these Christian friends of yours to think as you do, and to never eat the flesh of another man, which is barbaric and cruel, then I will speak to Caesar of this gross misunderstanding." And with a flabby flick of his neck he turned to the guards and shouted, "Release this Roman citizen! And seek more solid proof of cannibalism in the future! I'm sure there are other crimes that other less noble people from this Jewish sect have committed. Seek their conviction for the sake of nobility and justice on those grounds, but do not trifle me on this matter of cannibalism again!"

And so it was that the Christian faith was no longer tried and accused of cannibalism.

this brief story is based on this thought I had awhile back. it still strikes me as clear proof that most churches that are not Catholic, Orthodox, or perhaps Lutheran would have never been accused of cannibalism if they were living under an empire such as the Roman empire. Yesterday was the feast of Corpus Christi, and thinking of the body of Christ in a spiritual, corporate, and group sense, I cannot escape the thinking that many have sold this sacrament short.

Or to hear the actual words of someone living within 70 years of Christ's resurrection, St. Justin Martyr said in his First Apology:

"And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread and when He had given thanks, said, 'This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body'; (Lk.22:19) and that after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, 'This is My blood'; (Mt. 26:28) and gave it to them alone."

Somehow I think that Justin Martyr would have been martyred by the judge in my fictitious story, for he could not appeal to this as a mere symbol as Gaius Valerius did in my whimsical story.

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