As the mission trip to Hispania Terraconensis winds down, as they wait on their ship back to Rome, where the executioner awaits Paul, loose ends are addressed . . .
Of Rhetoric and Redemption in La Rioja
It is Day Twenty-four. The ship sails for Rome tomorrow. Zenas, Paul, Clement, Epaphras, and I will return to Ostia, stop at Lucina’s for a quick meal and a brief accounting of our time in Hispania, then we will return Paul to his jailer in Rome “before sundown on Day Thirty, Maius 15.” Clement returned with us to relieve his parents from worry. Epaphras has to tend his fields. We knew when we sailed that Epaphras would not be one of the brethren to stay behind and ordain leaders.
Before Barnabas and Aristarchus had even had a chance to shake the road dust from their garments, Paul asked for a report regarding developments in Astigi. Barnabas replied that they had travelled a long, long distance down the Via Herculea but that they had become so busy with the harvest in Nova Carthago they decided to stay there, then return after the gathering in Tarraco, and press on to Astigi at that time. “The Via Herculea between Nova Carthago and Baetica is much more difficult than that going to Nova Carthago, from Tarraco, through Valentia, down the coast.” “Here come the excuses.” Sometimes, Brother Paul can be such a . . ., I thought to myself. Barnabas ignored him. “Astigi is deep in the interior of Hispania Baetica. I was told it is a howling wilderness, and urged, because, beyond Nova Carthago it is so perilous, to man and beast, because of the mountains and the thieves, we were advised to not attempt a crossing until summer.” “I see,” said Paul. “We were told it takes much longer to get to Astigi than one would expect, looking at the map. So, since God’s Spirit was so manifestly at work in Nova Carthago . . ..” “Yes, well, thanks be to God you are both here with us now.” Barnabas pointed out to Paul that it was a miracle they managed four whole days in Nova Carthago. Paul hugged them and sent them off to get cleaned up. He asked them to return by Evening Prayers, so he could include them in the equipping of the new converts.
Not wanting to disappoint, as he walked off, Barnabas assured Paul that, since he was staying behind, he would definitely fulfill the great apostle’s promise to Hierotheus. Paul was overjoyed to hear from him that Hierotheus had, in fact, sent word that he would arrive in Tarraco in a few days.
Onesimus, upon learning that Hierotheus was coming, begged to stay in Tarraco just long enough to greet his old chum, whom he had not seen for years, since they were lads in Achaia. He was granted permission, as long as he would promise to then hightail it up to Caesaraugusta, with Prosperus. Prosperus announced, a few hours after our arrival in Tarraco, his decision to no longer work for Quintilian (whom he secretly suspected would never again set foot in Hispania Terraconensis). “I have decided,” he declared, “to accept Brother Paul’s kind offer, to enter fulltime pastoral ministry.” * “Something tells me my master has gone to Rome, probably for good. It will be an even greater honor to have apprenticed under Brother Paul and to spend my life in service to the Living God.” All were pleased with his decision, saw the wisdom in it, and gave glory to God.
(* According to an 8th-century Spanish tradition, Paul consecrated Prosperus first bishop of Tarragona.)
Paul, in front of everyone, instructed Onesimus that Prosperus’ apprenticeship as deacon was to begin immediately upon his arrival back in Caesaraugusta, that Onesimus was to tell Timothy to prepare Prosperus for the work of the ministry, taking him, at least, to Burdigala, then, when he was ready, to send him to Tarraco to serve as pastor of a church to be established there among the learned class of the Provincial Capital. So, Prosperus concluded his affairs in Tarraco, which he expected would take at least two days, which coincided with Onesimus’ desire to reunite with Heirotheus. All things work together for good.
Paul had his own item of business for Onesimus. “Could you please relay to Timothy this message: Tell him I would like him to pray about finding me in Syrian Antioch, at Manæn’s place, where I have rooms. If I should happen to be released permanently, that is where he will find me, or, if I am not there, I will leave word with Manæn. “Ahem,” I interrupted. Paul sniggered. “Well, brother, I guess I assumed . . . if I am not there, I will likely be at Luke’s then.” When Paul was in my home town it was a given, he was my guest. “Anyway, when spring comes, when the work in Gaul is finished, I will be ready to visit some of the churches among the Jews in Syria, Cilicia, Galatia, over to Pisidian Antioch, Colossae, and Ephesus, then back through Lystra and Derbe. I should think he would wish to be by my side, by our side, for our return visit. He could steal some time with his mother! God willing it should take about a year. Well, anyway, please have him pray about it. Thanks.” There were two significant features of Paul’s message to Timothy. First, he didn’t sound all that confident that the journey would actually take place. He seemed to me like he was convincing himself. Second, the fact he didn’t mention it to Barnabas was telling. Come to think of it, there was a third: it is also telling that he assumed I would join him! Ha! I am always happy to serve.
We had good winds and fair weather all the way to Ostia. Before we disembarked, Paul gave to me his manuscript. It was entirely finished, he said, up to the benediction. He intended to put the finishing touches on it in his jail cell. I had made arrangements with our friend, Theophilus, his chief jailer, to make sure, if something were to happen to Paul, that I would receive those final leaves, “and nobody else.” Paul mentioned also that he could not stop thinking about Quintilian’s view of the role of rhetoric in building bonds of community; how rhetoric “abides at the core of culture.” “Luke, I know this is something about which you care very little, but please promise me you will always preserve, in the curriculum of our church schools, and in our program of study for preachers and teachers, the study of rhetoric and dialectic.” Apparently, he had considered writing an exhortation to this effect, but felt he needed to stay focused on his letter, so he was trusting me. Time was short, he said. “Luke, you know how I have written so often about how the ‘joints and ligaments’ hold together the Body, in love?” “Absolutely, yes. Those are some of the most poignant images you employ.” “Yes! And do you know why? Because, without strong bonds, the members cannot operate in harmony with one another; we would be all higgledy-piggledy. This in no way brings glory to Our Lord.” “No. I understand.” “Well,” Paul tilted his head slightly and redoubled his intensity, “the more I think about what Quintilian said, the more I realize how vital is rhetoric in the formation of bonds of love. And dialectic and rhetoric go hand in hand to harmonize the ideas that steer our motion. Not to mention the benefits related to the right handling of God’s Word, and of sermonizing! Our schools will neglect such wisdom at our peril.” I think I understood what he was asking, but thought it best, under the circumstances to clarify details. Schoolmasters would require detailed instructions; strong schools were vital to our mission. “Any suggestions for specific works?” I asked. “Good question. Follow the pattern of the Hellenic Schools, generally. Liberal arts education is consistent, for the most part, with what we are about. It will certainly produce the kind of leaders we are after. Aristotle will be vital: his Analytics, Topics and Rhetoric, Poetics, and to some extent, his Ethics, but be careful with that one! That was the first work of Aristotle I started to question, the more I understood ‘law and gospel.’ Do you remember how concerned with his own works was Quintilian? That he did good, therefore he was good, in God’s eyes?” “Yes,” I said, “I must admit, I rolled my eyes a few times.” “Straight out of Aristotle,” Paul bobbed his head and gestured with his pointer finger, as though pointing at a specific scroll. “Plato has two especially good, very brief treatises: The Gorgias and The Phaedrus. Those are good. If that Quintilian ever writes anything on rhetoric or pedagogy, it would definitely be worth a look, too! Perhaps he will convert by th––. Say, we need to pray for that lad!” So we prayed that the Holy Spirit would draw Quintilian, and those around him, unto himself, and that he would find peace.
So, along with getting his manuscript published, I promised also to instruct our educators to teach rhetoric and dialectic as tools for building strong teachers and preachers, which would, in turn, build strong bonds that would help ensure the continued growth and sustenance of Christ’s Body. I repeated it to him, more than once, to be sure I had his instructions correct. He was right, being a man of science, these were matters too esoteric and metaphysical for my temperament. But I did not allow ignorance of rhetoric and dialectic, nor of the business of publishing, to stop me from approaching these charges with a solemn sense of duty. They were the last wishes of a dying man. . . . A very important dying man.
Theophilus promised me I would have the final leaves. When they were delivered, to Lucina’s, during the funeral, all was complete, up to and including the benediction. After the final “Amen,” however, I found a few fragments of final greetings, as though he had been writing finishing up when they came for him. After everyone left, I stayed up late to complete the fragments. I was heartbroken to realize that, apparently, Paul still had hoped he would be released. Maybe he believed he’d outlive Nero? He wrote: “You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.” With tears in my eyes, I closed out the letter simply (and anonymously, per Paul’s instructions,) “Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Greetings from Italy. Grace be with you all.” I thought, “the less I add, the better.” I confess to you, dear reader, that I added the final greetings and pray that you will not hold it against me. It seemed, under the circumstances, proper and salutary to conclude with a succinct, typical greeting. If I miscalculated, please forgive me.