The Arbiter’s gavel crashed on his marble bench, echoing around the chamber and startling everyone into silence. He closed the council meeting and hurried, red-faced, to his ante-room. Dionysius, the council clerk, sensed other members sharing his embarrassment.
The Areopagus complemented the Acropolis’ white-columned splendor atop Mars’ Hill; two symbols of Athens’ elegance and poise. Phileo sophos - to love wisdom – was the goal for every Areopagus member, in their philosophical debates and in settling civic issues for their citizens. Yet today, calm deliberations had plummeted to barbarian depths. Members had even sounded like the sheep that coined the “baa-baa-rians” tag!
Dionysius watched as factions clustered into incestuous, high-minded post-mortems.
The Stoics looked sheepish, for long-denied passions had resurfaced; mocking their boasts of reaching their ideal of self-preservation by ignoring pathos, or emotion. Their leader, Heracletes, tried to catch Apollonius’ eye.
Apollonius’ Epicureans had long sought human happiness as their highest goal: achieved by avoiding all pain. Yet ironically they, with the Stoics, had just caused so much pain for the whole council.
Phileas and other searchers for Aristotle’s Golden Mean were clearly bereft of ideas, having confronted something way beyond their mathematical capacities.
And Dionysius’ fellow Platonists had just seen a greater goal than seeking an ideal spirit-world, of which this material world of people and objects were mere illusory copies. Platonism suddenly seemed just as illusory, against what this canvas-worker had invited them to explore. Could there be a love beyond wisdom alone?
Their surprise guest speaker was gone.
This nondescript had looked like easy meat for the delicate irony of sophisticates like Heracletes and Apollonius, who had introduced him at the podium. “Brothers,” they explained, “we felt Paulus was wasting his interesting ideas out in the agora, where bargain hunters pursue their mundane futility, so we assured him of a good hearing in here.”
But as they seated themselves, their smug asides were also meant to be heard: “Let’s hear what this babbler has to say….”
Paulus’ face looked tear-stained, but his irony matched theirs: “You men of Athens! So religious! An altar to an unknown god already! If you fear missing out, let me tell you about him.”
As he began, it was like harnessed lightning; rapidly highlighting each faction’s focus; exposing them as a whole while speaking into their most secret thoughts. This god was too big for any man-made shrine; he needed no defense or human energy for sustenance; for he was the life-giver!
This god had love at his heart, and he was so close: “As your poets say: ‘In him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring.’”
He continued about this god becoming human – to share his truth and his nature; and to show his love by sacrificing himself for all humanity. Then to show his power in anastasis – a bodily resurrection!
If Paulus' beginning was like lightning, the very mention of anastasis was the thunder that followed, as a frenzy of protests, sneers and ridicule erupted. In the tension, Dionysius heard some members offer to hear more, but he wondered how they could.
He unavoidably contrasted the combative, deceitful Greek pantheon with this new god. They would willingly sacrifice each other, or cynically offer mankind hope that only delayed inevitable misery. This tentmaker’s god offered hope that opened eternal resurrection, recognition and fulfillment beyond death, instead of a disembodied, vague immortal soul. If bodies could be resurrected; then could our present physical existence – with all its pain – actually be significant?
“Dionysius, I read your thoughts.” Phileas’ syrupy, sardonic tones were right in his ear. “You would follow this Paulus, this renegade rabbi tentmaker, from one speech? He’s emotionally unstable; a fake who presumes to explain our own ideas to us, while reducing our chamber to a rabble!
“Let him return to the agora where hoi polloi only think of bargains. He speaks their crude koine Greek! Or back to a synagogue. He belongs there! You belong here!”
“Phileas,” replied Dionysius, “Paulus’ emotion was no personal weakness; it was compassion for us. He nailed our inability to reach the truth, even after generations of debates! His god seems bigger and greater than any or all of ours. So I will explore his ideas, for they have much merit.”
As he made to leave, a few made their disapproval clear. Some whispered praise, while Phileas’ smirk rose loudest: “Let me know if you meet Logos.”
“You’ll be the first to know, Phileas.” Dionysius breathed, as he stepped outside.
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