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The Crown of Pine by  Alfred J. Church

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PAUL OF TARSUS

[137] AQUILA had not been many days in Corinth before he found that he was in closer contact with the new movement in religion, the "Way," as it is commonly called in the earliest Church history, than he had been in Rome. Paul, the great preacher of the Christian faith, had been for some time carrying it westward. It had but lately reached Europe, and was but little known there, but it had become a power in a region which was in close communication with Europe, the lesser Asia. On the second day after Aquila had taken over the business mentioned in the last chapter, he found on arriving at the ware- [138] house that a visitor was waiting to see him. The stranger explained that he had business relations with Aquila's predecessor, and that he had come to find out why an order which he had sent had not been executed. He was, he said, a merchant of Ephesus, and his name was Trophimus. The business affair was soon disposed off, but not till the stranger had been favourably impressed with the intelligence and general demeanour of the new manager. Conversation turned to general topics; and as various matters of interest common to both were discussed, was prolonged to the time of the noonday meal. Aquila invited his customer to join him, not a little to the latter's surprise, a feeling which he could not help betraying by his looks, though he was, of course, too polite to express it in words.

"You are thinking," said Aquila with a smile, "that this is a somewhat unusual civility for one of my race to show to one of yours."

"I must own," answered Trophimus, "that the thought did cross my mind. Of course there are Jews who are 'hail, fellow, well met' with any one who will treat them to a flagon of wine; but they are not of your sort. As a rule, I much prefer dealing with men who, outside business, keep me very strictly at arm's length. It is not exactly flattering to one's pride, but [139] then I find that these men meet their engagements and the others do not. But I know some exceptions."

"For myself," said Aquila, "I have learnt, I hope, a more excellent way. I quite see that our old exclusiveness had its use and purpose. We had to keep ourselves separate from the world, because we were taking care of something which we could not take care of in any other way. But that is all over now. In Him," he went on, speaking as it were to himself, "there is neither Jew nor Greek."

Trophimus caught eagerly at the words. "What!" he cried, "did I hear you aright? 'In Him there is neither Jew nor Greek?' These are the very words I have heard again and again in the mouth of one of the very noblest of men."

"And who is that?" asked Aquila.

"Paul of Tarsus," was the answer.

"Ah," said Aquila, "I have heard something about him, and have always wanted, I cannot say how much, to hear more. And you know him?"

"Yes," replied the Greek, "it is my privilege to know him. Indeed, I may venture to call him my friend."

"This," said Aquila, "this is the happiest of [140] fortunes. But come, we must put off this talk, which must not on any account be hurried over, till we are more at leisure. The meal is waiting for us."

As the two sat at table, the talk naturally turned to the subject of the family from whom Aquila had taken over the business. Trophimus was particularly anxious to hear what had been done with Eubulus, "a most promising lad," he remarked, "and likely, according to all accounts, to distinguish himself greatly."

Aquila briefly related what had taken place, and did not fail to explain that what had been done in the matter had been done at his wife's suggestion.

"For myself," he went on, "I must own that I feel a little doubtful about it. Very likely you will think it a prejudice. Now what do you think your friend Paul would say to it?"

"Well," replied Trophimus, "that is not a very easy thing to answer. I cannot imagine him going as a spectator to see a foot-race or anything else of the kind. That would not be at all in his way. He has his thoughts wholly fixed on other things; he is not one who would dream of amusing himself in that, or indeed in any other way. But I don't suppose that he looks upon these things as wrong. And I will tell [141] you why I think so. I have heard him speak of them over and over again. He uses them as convenient images and comparisons for the spiritual things which it is his business to speak about, and to bring home to the minds of others. For instance he makes a great point of discipline; a man must not let himself be led away by the desires of the flesh. I have heard him, when he was preaching on this subject, use a metaphor which he borrowed from the boxing-ring. 'I buffet my body,' was the term he used. There is another term of the same kind which I have heard him use, and taken from the same source. Our boxers have a way of practising their art at a lay figure or a post. We call it 'shadow fighting.' Well; I heard Paul say that the disciple's conflict with enemies, without and within, was to be nothing of that kind. He was not to be as one that beats the air. Then I have heard him speaking of life as a training, as a race, where the runner must keep his eye fixed on the goal. Now I don't think that he would use this language if he thought that there was absolute [142] wrong in these things. They don't appeal to him; how should they when his heart is so taken up with his work? but he is quite willing to make them serve his purpose in his own way."

"All this," said Aquila, "I am very glad to hear, and so will my wife be. It has troubled her that we did not quite see eye to eye in the matter."

This was the first of many conversations. Nor was Trophimus the only acquaintance with whom he discussed the same subject. Attending on the next Sabbath the synagogue worship, he was much struck with a stranger who had been asked to officiate. This man, whose name was Achaicus, was a Jew, a resident in another of the Asiatic towns which had business with Corinth. He came of a family of Scribes and had been educated accordingly, but had been compelled by various circumstances to follow commercial life. He was known, however, for his piety and learning, and on his not unfrequent visits to Corinth he was commonly asked to officiate. The Jewish community was wholly mercantile, and the persons qualified to lead the service were few in number. The stranger asked for the roll of the Prophet Isaiah, and read from it the passage which we know as the fifty-third chapter. The discourse which he afterwards delivered was [143] full of significance to at least one of his hearers. It was not, of course, such as a preacher of the present day might found on the passage. A distinct and direct identification of the majestic sufferer described by the prophet with Jesus of Nazareth would have been wholly out of place. The audience would have failed to understand it; or, if they did catch a glimpse of such a meaning, would have been offended. But to instructed ears, such as were Aquila's, what was said had much meaning. He eagerly seized the earliest opportunity of conversing with the stranger, and heard more about the great preacher's ways of thinking than Trophimus had been able to tell him. It would not serve any useful purpose to attempt to reproduce the account which Achaicus gave of Paul. Much that he said had come to him by common report and was naturally inexact and exaggerated. We all know that contemporary history is sometimes that of which our knowledge is the least accurate. Anyhow, we may be certain that the narrative of the Apostle's faithful companion during the later years of his life and the reference in his own letters to the Christian Churches give us a far better idea of what he was and what he taught than we could get from the impressions [144] of one so situated as was Achaicus, however sincere his devotion. One story, however, may be given which, though not included in the authentic record as we have it in the Canon of Scripture, has an undoubted foundation in fact.

"It was in Antioch of Pisidia that I was first privileged to make the great teacher's acquaintance. I had gone thither on business and found the city in a great state of commotion. My host could talk of nothing else but the discourse a stranger had delivered in the Synagogue on the preceding Sabbath. My host was a devout man, one whose thoughts were greatly filled with hopes of the redemption of Israel, and what he had heard had appealed to all that was best in him as nothing had ever appealed before. The stranger had, he told me, a companion, a man of most majestic presence and of a singularly benevolent expression. He had read the Scripture for the day, and had added a few words, very solemn and impressive, and delivered with an affecting earnestness of manner. But the other man was the great speaker. He was scarcely an orator; his style was curiously involved; his delivery harsh and ungraceful; his personal presence feeble and unimpressive. Yet his speech had irresistible power 'with the storm of his [145] fast coming words like the drift of the winter tide snows.' There was a great gathering to hear him. The synagogue was filled from end to end; and outside there was an immense audience of Gentiles. All the city seemed to have come together. I never saw such enthusiasm. Every face seemed to glow with joy and hope. One might have thought that every man and woman in the crowd had heard the news of some personal good fortune. But you know that there are hearts which nothing can touch, and I am afraid that nowhere will you find them so seared and hardened as among our own countrymen. Well, there were some in the audience that day who heard this noble teaching with the blackest rage in their hearts. That day, and for some time afterwards, they could do nothing. But they bided their time. They went about with slanders and calumnies; one kind of ware for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. So they worked and worked away, till they turned the whole city, one might say, against the preacher of the 'Way.' Well; we have no right to be surprised. It is just what happened to the Master himself. One day all Jerusalem was shouting out 'Hosannah to the Son of David,' and two or three days after it was screaming, 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him!' [146] The end of it was that the two had to fly for their lives from Antioch. At my suggestion they came to Iconium. I thought that I might do something for them there, for it was my own city. Well, their enemies did not leave them alone. They followed them and laid charges of disloyalty to Caesar, and I know not what else before the Iconium magistrates. Then I put in a word; and did so, I hope, to some purpose. I had business relations with some of them, and they had reasons for wishing to oblige me. They could not very well dismiss the charge at once; but they did what they could. They committed the accused to the charge of one of themselves. He was to have them in his keeping till they should be called upon to make a regular answer to what was brought against them. Now comes in the curious part of my story.

"Just opposite the magistrate's house was the dwelling of one of the richest men in the city. The street was very narrow, you will understand, with just room for foot passengers to pass backwards and forwards. This man had a daughter, Thekla by name, a very beautiful girl who was [147] about to be married to one of the most promising young men in Iconium. One night—it was very shortly after the prisoners had been committed—there was a little gathering in the chamber where they were lodged. The magistrate was there with his two grown-up sons; I was there also and I had brought some friends with me. Altogether there might have been some fifteen persons. Paul spoke to us about giving up everything for Christ—money, family, home, all that was nearest and dearest to us. He was like to a man inspired, and his voice rose as if he were speaking not to less than a score of hearers, but to thousands. Thekla sat at the window of her chamber on the second floor, and she heard every word; and what she heard went straight to her heart. It seemed to her like a message from God. A couple of hours or so later she went across to the magistrate's house and bribed the man who was in charge of the prisoners with a silver bracelet to let her into their room. What Paul said to her I know not. That he told her to do what she did I do not believe for a moment, but it is easy enough to understand how she may have come to think that he did. Well, the next day she sent for her betrothed. First she tried persuasion. Would he release her from the engagement? She would not marry him; [148] she was called to other things; she must serve God. All this was like an unknown tongue to the young man. 'Is she mad?' he said to himself. It might be so, but she seemed quite rational in her way of talking, and to be quite sure of her own mind. He did his best to persuade her, but he might as well have talked to a rock. Then naturally he went to her father. The father, an old man, passionately fond of his daughter, did all that he could to bring her to another way of thinking. When she was obstinately set on her own way, he grew angry. He would shut her up till she came to a better way of thinking. And so he did. But he was not thorough enough in his proceedings. He left her her jewellery, and with that the way of getting out of her prison. All the household idolized her. Very likely she could have got away without a bribe; but with a bribe she was irresistible. One morning, three or four days after the beginning of this affair, she was gone. She had heard, it seems, that Paul and his companion, who by this time had been released by the magistrates on condition that they would leave Iconium without delay, had gone on to Lystra. She followed them alone. Imagine that! a girl who had never been outside her home without two or three attendants! I [149] doubt, in fact, whether she had ever set foot on the ground outside her father's house and garden. Somehow she missed them. Possibly they had taken another route; possibly she had been misinformed. Anyhow she never came up with them. When she was about a mile from Lystra, the Eparch of the city overtook her. He was a priest of the local Temple of the Julian House—they have a cult there of Julius the Dictator and Augustus—and he was coming home from a function at which he had been assisting. He was wearing his priestly robe—that you will see turned out to be an important point. It was an amazing thing, as you may suppose, for a beautiful young woman, richly dressed, to be seen walking alone on the public road. He got down from his chariot, and asked her to ride with him. She refused. He put his hand on her shoulder. She turned round, and in trying to wrest herself away, she caught her hand in his robe and made a great rent in it. He was of course in a furious rage, and bade his lictors arrest her. The men handcuffed her, put her into a car which was following the Eparch's chariot and so brought her to Lystra.

"I don't know exactly the particulars of what followed. Thekla was brought before the Eparch and the other magistrates of the town. He [150] was, of course, furious, and then she had certainly insulted a priest and torn the sacred robe. Still she had had provocation, and the tearing was plainly an accident. There must have been something more. She may have used strong words about the local gods. Even the Greeks, as you know, look down upon this particular kind of worship. It seems anyhow that there was some further offence beyond the blow and the tearing of the robe, for the sentence was a very heavy one, the heaviest that could be inflicted. Thekla was found guilty of blasphemy, and was sentenced to suffer death by being exposed to wild beasts. There was to be a show in two or three days' time.

"What was to be done with her in the meantime? The magistrates had some conscience; or perhaps her youth and beauty moved them. She was not to be thrown into the common gaol, but to be committed to the charge of Queen Tryphaena, the widow, you must know, of some Thracian king.

"Well, the Queen was much taken with the maiden. It seemed to her a monstrous thing that an innocent woman, who after all had done nothing but what became a woman, should be dealt with in such a fashion. She did all that she could with the magistrates to induce them to commute the sentence for something [151] less shocking; but it was to no purpose. The day came on and the theatre was pretty well filled—you know that such exhibitions are not to the taste of the better class of Greeks, but there are always numbers of brutal or foolish persons who would crowd to see anything horrible or exciting. The Queen herself went, not, of course, because she had any of this wretched curiosity, but simply because she could not bear to leave the girl to her fate, and she hoped against hope that even at the last she might be able to do something for her. When her turn came Thekla was led into the arena, and bound to a stake that was set up in the middle of it. One of the gates of the dens in which the wild beasts are kept was opened and a lion came bounding out. Then the spectators seemed to realize for the first time what was going on. They saw this beautiful girl fastened to the stake and doomed to the most horrible of deaths. A Roman crowd is used to such sights, but in a Greek city they are rare, and, indeed, would never have been seen at all but for the Roman rule. Anyhow, there was a great cry of horror, so loud that it seemed to terrify the beast; at all events it stopped short, and stood a few yards from the door of the cage lashing its tail to and fro. Then there was a shrill cry which was heard above all the din. [152] It came from the Queen. The horror of the scene had been too much for her. The next moment she fainted. Well, she could not have done anything more effectual to stop the affair. The town clerk whispered to the chief magistrate, 'This is a bad business, my lord. Queen Tryphaena is a kinswoman of Augustus, and if anything should happen to her, we should be held accountable. It is evident, too, that the people don't like it.' The end of it was that the magistrate gave orders that everything possible should be done to save Thekla. Happily this turned out to be a fairly easy business. The lion was somewhat cowed by the noise; anyhow his keeper had very little difficulty in getting him back to his den. The girl was unbound and put in the charge of the Queen again, and remained with her for some weeks. During this time the young man to whom she had been promised in marriage was killed out hunting. This made the situation easier. Her parents were not bitter against her; but as long as the young man lived, they could hardly help acting, for he belonged to a very influential family. She did not go back to Iconium; that under the circumstances would have been hardly prudent; but a Christian home was found for her somewhere. There she busies herself with woman's work among the poor of the faith, and is greatly beloved."


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