Silvester

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

Overseer Silvester (bottom right, nearest Constantinus), Father of the Assembly at Roma, was a little surprised to find himself amidst the gathering at Nicaea. But then, that’s what happens when you leave your travel arrangements in the hands of Byzantine fresco-painters on Cyprus.

He listened as overseers waxed eloquent about the dual nature of the Anointed, declaring that Jesus was fully man and fully God, and that any other formulation of his personhood would make him incapable of redeeming mankind. As one overseer clad in a flaming stole and glistening golden garments spoke, Silvester looked to Arius and was surprised to see the heresiarchus literally shrinking before his eyes! And so, he thought, is the fate of the enemies of truth. He sincerely hoped that he would never fall into heresy.

And then the fiery overseer turned to Silvester, ‘What say you, Father?’

Silvester stood up and opened his mouth, ‘Lord, hear my prayer.

And he was in a basilica, somewhere in Nicaea, celebrating the Lord’s Supper in Latin. At a conference full of Greek overseers.

He heard the response, ‘Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

He was impressed that the Greeklings knew the response and ploughed on through, ‘The Lord be with you.

‘And with your spirit.

‘Hear us, holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God; and send your holy angel from heaven, who guards, favours, protects, attends, and defends all who dwell in this habitation. Through our Anointed Lord.’

‘Amen.’

And Silvester continued through the prayers for the Lord’s Supper. And then, suddenly, after the Liturgy of the Word was over, he found himself, rather than preaching a homily, making a declaration along with the other overseers. Together, they were declaring a formula of belief, not dissimilar to Roma’s baptismal formula, only with notable changes, declaring Jesus to be ‘God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father,’ all things that Arius would never consent to.

And then Silvester awoke. He found himself to be in Lateran Palace in Roma, in his own bed. He rose from his straw-filled mattress and went to get dressed. As he dressed himself in a black cassock, he wondered what exactly his dream would signify. He was asked by a flaming, resplendent overseer his opinion as Arius shrunk. His response to the questions of doctrine had been the Lord’s Supper — but no ordinary Lord’s Supper, for this time, they recited a statement of faith that kept Arius’ teachings out of the Assembly and also included the word he had spent much time considering, consubstantialis.

Having tied his cincture tight, he stepped from his chamber to go to the new basilica to pray before his duties began. It was still early as the successor of the Rock walked through the passages of the emperor’s former palace. No one was about, and he made his way to the basilica and knelt before the holy table, praying to the Lord for guidance, for purity, and for right understanding.

Having prayed, he stood, and was a little surprised to see an elder named Julius standing at the back of the house of the Lord. He approached him and smiled.

‘Good morning, Julius,’ said Silvester.

‘Good morning, sir,’ responded Julius. ‘Is there any news yet about the proceedings in Nicaea in Bithynia?’

‘You are awake this early and come to find me simply to ask this?’

‘No, sir, I was simply in the area. I go for walks each morning after my prayers to see the city and the people who live here. Ah, how beautiful Roma is! How delightful to live in her light! And to visit here, the house you have built for God, is also a great blessing. That I have met with you is simply coincidence; the council is much on my mind, you see, and I have been praying hard for right thinking and right worship to prevail. Have you any news?’

‘Nothing conclusive yet,’ replied the old man. ‘Your fervour for the truth is admirable, as is your concern for Jesus’ flock. One of the blessings of my time so far as successor to the Rock is that the yeast of Arius has not yet come to Italia, to Roma. It is the sort of dispute one would expect philosophy-loving Greeks to come up with — it is dangerous to ask too deeply the questions of “How?” when discussing the Godhead. We are best to say that Jesus is Lord. As Lord, He must be God, for God will contend with no rivals, nor can a creature save creatures. That He is the incarnate God shows forth the fullness of God’s love in a way that no incarnate spirit-creation ever could. But how is He the God-man? Ah, I dare not tread in mysteries so deep.

‘I am opposed to Arius’ teachings, for they are contrary to the plain teachings of the Holy Books as well as to the traditions handed down to us from the earliest days. Nevertheless, these days I am more worried that I might find a Donatist schism coming up behind me than I am about an Arian falsehood on the streets of Roma. I do not envy our brothers in the East, in Alexandria, Antiochia, Nicaea who have to deal with these pernicious teachings.

‘To answer your question, there is little news from Nicaea. Last I heard from Vitus and Vicentius, Nicholas of Myra got in a dispute with Arius and struck him, but had some sort of miraculous gift-giving from Jesus and His Mother. The account was a bit muddled, unfortunately. A few other things have been dealt with, such as the date of the Christian Passover. They say that they have spoken with Macarius of Aelia and Eustathius of Antiochia who are discussing what sort of statement the overseers will have to make and how to anathematise Arius’ teachings.’

‘Thank you, sir. I shall leave you now.’

‘Wait, Julius, I had a strange dream last night, and I wonder if you could shed light on it.’

‘I am no Joseph or Daniel, sir, but I shall try.’

Silvester recounted the dream in detail, reciting the statement of faith precisely. Julius looked at him. He looked up at the ceiling for a bit. He stroked his beard.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘all I can think is this. There is a possibility that the West shall be a guardian of the truth, and that many will look to you and other vicars of the Rock in settling their theological disputes. But more important than that, I would say that perhaps it is the act of worship itself that is the safeguard of our theology. We will keep the Assembly safe and pure and holy only from drawing near to God, only by celebrating the sacred mysteries. Theology is to be embodied in our worship, in our prayers, in our lives, and not simply in our words and thought life. Why else would you be found answering a theological question with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and a form thereof including a statement of the true faith?’

‘Thank you, Julius. I shall remember you in my prayers. Do pray for me as well.’

‘I do, every day, Father.’ Having kissed Silvester’s ring, Julius disappeared into the streets of Roma, the greatest city in the world.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s