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Phil's Chronicles


Barry N. Rodgers

Chapter Two


One of Phil’s favorite professors, Charles ”The Doog” Dugan, once told him that architecture represented the human desire to ascribe order to chaos.  ”Through architectonics,” said the Doog, ”humans express their delusion of control over natural forces and unnatural daily living - reality.  Order is fantasy; chaos, reality.  If some semblance of order can be found or created, the chaotic reality dissolves into the fuzzy background where everything is less important than peace of mind, inner tranquility.”  Phil relied on this, subconsciously, to rescue him from his angst-filled life from time to time.

Fantastic thoughts blanketed his mind like his grandmother’s patch-quilt - sanctuary from the real world!  Once again Phil found himself a passenger, a traveler through inner space.  White smoke ... fog, mist?  Some vaporous, opaque atmosphere obscured his attempts to perceive a destination; but this was temporary.  As suddenly as his journey had begun, it came to an end, and Phil stood, perched atop a small rise in the terrain.  A mild and fragrant breeze greeted him, and instantly the fog that had cocooned him was dispersed.  The setting was obvious to him, ancient Greece, the Acropolis; but it was not in ruins, nor did it appear to be inhabited.

This was to be expected, Phil thought.  Once a thing has died it is given a place in this realm, this place and time that defies all laws of nature and humankind.  Phil understood that he had returned to this dimension, and this city, Acropolis.  When he was ready to move he did so, but without effort.  He glided around the city, in and out of the colonnades, pausing momentarily to enjoy an exquisite sculpture or the simplicity of an Ionic order column.  After satisfying himself that he had seen every stone in the city he directed his senses to finding the committee.  They would be waiting patiently for his arrival, and he had many questions.

The temple of Athena, the Parthenon, seemed to be emanating a call to Phil, and he sensed the presence of the enlightened ones; although he knew not which enlightened ones he would be meeting on this visit.  And he knew better than to anticipate their identities based upon the surroundings.  One would expect that they would be philosophers, rhetoricians, and sophists from ancient Greece; but Phil had seen Cicero in Post-Modern Germany, and Nietzsche in Medieval Spain.  Only architecture remains frozen in time, he thought.  Phil stopped at the base of the steps leading to the east portico.  To his left, the cobalt blue Aegean Sea was calm and inviting - Neptune’s domain.

Two-tiered columns separated the inner sanctuary, the cella, of the temple.  Around the cella was a sculptured frieze depicting the Panathenaic procession.  Phil admired the meticulous attention to detail displayed in the frieze.  Upon scanning the interior of the cella he determined himself to be alone.  No committee here, he thought.  After a few moments of silent praise for the sanctuary, Phil retraced his path back outside.  As he glided along the seaward side of the temple, he noticed that the ocean-breeze smelled sweet, like cotton candy.  The odor was almost intoxicating, and the water was so clean, so blue - Phil wanted to immerse himself in it.  He hovered in a brief moment of indecision, but then continued his search for the committee.  They would certainly be in the smaller chamber of the temple, just beyond the west portico. 

It occurred to Phil that the architects of the Parthenon, and the Acropolis, had made every effort to correct for optical illusions.  There was not a single straight line, horizontal or vertical, in the entire structure, and yet everything looked so perfect - to the human visual system.[1]

Before entering the temple Phil glanced over his right shoulder to steal one last glimpse of the sea.

He filled his nostrils with the scent of the sea breeze and proceeded inside.  The inner chamber was illuminated by sunlight fed from the opening in the ceiling, and Phil sensed that he had finally located his precious committee.  Before he could see them he heard their voices.  Their rich, booming voices that carried words of knowledge and wisdom - the stuff of eternal life.

”I will seek You, Lord, by calling on You; and will call on You, believing in You; for to us You have been preached.  My faith, Lord, shall call on You, which You have given me, where with You have inspired me, through the Incarnation of Your Son, through the ministry of the Preacher.”[2]  Augustine stood from his prostrate, prayerful position, and searched his surroundings as though sensing the presence of some other.

”I am with you, old friend Augustine,” said Aquinas.  ”We are summoned once again, and others will surely join us in time.”

Phil kept quiet, and remained at a distance from the two men; he knew of them, and of their writings.  These were ancient philosophers and theologians.  They were men of greatness, and of immense conviction and faith.  The room was cool, with a stone floor, stone pews encircled the chamber.

Augustine smiled and greeted Aquinas.  ”Speak of your faith to me, friend,” Augustine entreated.  Aquinas nodded and began his recitation.  ”It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God, besides the philosophical sciences built up by human reason.  First, indeed, because man is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: ‘The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee (Isaiah 64: 4).’  But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end.  Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.

”It was therefore necessary that, besides the philosophical sciences discovered by reason there should be a sacred science obtained through revelation.

"Although those things which are higher than man’s knowledge may not be sought for by man through his reason, nevertheless, once they are revealed by God they must be accepted by faith.  Hence, the sacred text continues, ‘For many things are shown to thee above the understanding of man (Ecclesiastes 3: 25).’  And sacred doctrine consists in things of this kind.”[3]  Aquinas concluded, and Augustine nodded his approval. 

Phil smiled, his mind tingled with excitement, and he was ecstatic to be in this familiar place once again.  Before Augustine could respond to his friend’s testament of faith another voice interrupted the silence.

”As the veracious pen, Father, of the dear brother Paul - who with You set Rome on the good track - wrote of it, faith is the substance of things hoped for, and evidence of things not seen; and this appears to me its essence,”[4] declared Dante as he approached Augustine and Aquinas.

”Dante!  Look, Aquinas, it is the king of the exiled, Dante!” Augustine cheered.

”And this king comes with words of faith on his lips,” said Aquinas.

”King, indeed,” scoffed Dante.  ”If I offend by speaking truth, then let the offended be singed with rage!  And as for ‘king,’ I surrendered all aspirations of politic and nobility when Henry of Luxemburg departed the corporeal world.”

Phil kept his distance, awestruck, and silent with reverence in the presence of such great men.  He had studied them all at one time in his life, but to be in their company was an overwhelming treat.

Although he felt like an interloper, such feelings did not dissuade him from drawing nearer to the group of men.  He wanted to hear their every word.  He was acquainted with the protocol; speak only when spoken to, and be concise when responding. 

He listened and watched, noting their character-filled faces, Aquinas and Augustine’s being heavily bearded, and their manner of dress, long, flowing robes.  Dante, however, appeared strangely attired for a man of his historical period - blue jeans, a loose fitting, faded blue T-shirt, and white tennis shoes!  Very odd, Phil thought.

”Let us inquire of the novice’s opinions regarding faith.  He has certainly formed some beliefs by this time in his corporeal existence, yes?”  Dante smiled, and folded his arms in a display of patience toward Phil.

Phil saw that all three beings were now attending to him, waiting for him to speak, and he felt as though their combined gaze would surely dissolve his mind.  He had a sudden and strong desire to run and jump into the waiting blue sea, which lay just outside.

”Well, what say you?” Augustine asked, with impatience in his tone.  ”The issue at hand is faith.  Do you have an opinion on this subject, or are you devoid of such higher thoughts?”

Phil’s self-confidence was fragile, but he managed to muster the courage necessary to speak.

”Faith is important to some, but nonexistent to others; much as it has been for all of human history.  I have friends, family, who put great stock in faith, and in hope; but as for myself, I do not believe that it is of the same nature as the faith you have spoken of with such eloquence and... 

”Faith is surely faith, regardless of who speaks of it, or what is said,” Aquinas ruled.

”As an abstract concept, possibly so; but as a practical concept, I think not.  At any rate, I possess neither an abstract understanding, nor a practical knowledge of this particular concept, faith.  I do, however, have faith that death pursues me, and that it will eventually capture me.”

”If you possess no faith, then what directs you in your belief in God?  Or in your daily life?  What then is the compass by which you steer all of your actions and thoughts?” asked Aquinas.  Augustine sat quietly, apparently contemplating Phil’s words.  Dante paced, and remained silent.

”God?  I am not convinced that such an entity exists outside of the mind of humankind.  I am only certain of what I can sense, and sometimes I am not too sure of these perceptions.  My mind tends to deceive me from time to time,” replied Phil.

”Perhaps you would indulge me,” said Augustine.  ”And allow me to describe a hypothetical setting.” 

Phil nodded, acquiescing to Augustine’s wishes.  ”Good,” Augustine said, moving closer to Phil.  ”Now suppose I had the power to remove all of your senses, save for your tactile sense; and suppose having such a power, I did such a thing to you. Furthermore, suppose that I were to magically remove you to some place on the face of the Earth unknown to you.”

Phil shrugged his shoulders as if to say he would allow such a thing to happen, if Augustine had the power to perform such a feat; and as far as Phil was concerned, he had no reason to doubt that this great man could possess such powers.

”Follow me closely now, young novice.  You are in a foreign setting without any of your senses, save for your sense of feel, and I command you to run as fast as you are capable of running, straight ahead.  Would you do as I commanded?”  Augustine held his hands out, palms up, and awaited Phil’s reply.  Phil carefully considered the situation presented to him, and finally he spoke.

”No.  I would not run, nor would I move from the place you originally set me down.”

”Very good then, young one.  Now we know that you have no faith in me,” Augustine laughed, easing Phil’s mind a bit.  ”But we do not know why you refuse to run, or even move.  Please expound on this decision.  Explain why you would disobey my order.”

”I would not run, or move, because I would not want to chance tripping over, or running into, some object that might be in my path.  Simply put, I would not wish to cause harm to myself,” Phil said confidently.

”So, even though you could not sense the existence of any objects around you, still you acknowledge the possibility of such?” asked Aquinas, with a knowing expression.

Suddenly Phil’s confidence left him, and he saw the trap, but it was too late as he had already stepped into the snare.  ”I concede that it is possible that God exists, but this concession does not prove His existence; nor does it alter my lack of faith.  I am too tormented to believe in such a concept as God, or in the existence of any such munificent being.  If there is a God, then He is certainly not a kind, loving God; or He is not an omnipotent God; or possibly, He is long-since departed, having abandoned the human race to its own devices.”  Phil’s tone was firm, but soft.

”You sound as though you have, at some past time in your life, held some degree of belief in God, and possibly you even experienced some measure of faith as well.  Is this so?” asked Dante.

”Yes.  A long time ago I did believe in God; but that was another life - a very distant memory at best.  I was young, naive, and even when I did possess such beliefs they were weak in my mind.”  Phil unconsciously revealed a deep-rooted sadness with the expression that accompanied his words.

”Then you must return to that point in your life when you discarded your belief, or when the weakness gave way to the prevailing doubt,” implored Aquinas.  ”Search your mind for this moment of spiritual crisis, and confront it for the sake of understanding... for the sake of your soul.”

”Leave this tormented fool alone,” a booming voice interrupted.  Phil looked at the three great men and saw recognition and disgust in their faces.  They knew this voice.  ”You brooding, syrup-tongued purveyors of religious sap!  You harbingers of self-doom and self-insignificance!”

”Nietzsche!  The Godless one.  Now it begins again,” moaned Augustine.  Nietzsche, like Dante, was oddly dressed.  He was clean-shaven, with shoulder-length hair, and he wore faded blue jeans with holes in both knees, an old, ripped Beatles T shirt - from Let It Be - and he was bare-foot.  Positively stunning, thought Phil, but he dared not mention the anomalous appearance of either Dante or Nietzsche.  The slightest off-hand remark could send these men spiraling off course and into diatribes of meaningless gibberish, or so it would be to Phil.  It was better to stay on track conversation-wise, he determined.

”Yes, it begins again, Augustine.  Allow this creature his doubts, so that he might wallow in them, and possibly resolve the dilemma himself, and ultimately conclude that he holds the power of his own destiny, his own success or failure.  He is God!  I am God!  We are all God! Nietzsche shouted.  ”But do not be so filled with yourselves, so piously erudite as to presume that your beliefs should be his beliefs, or even to suggest that he seek after such nonsense in order to free himself of the torment of life.  He is mortal, and he must decide to either rise above this defect, or to allow it to devour him.  It is his choice, not yours.”

”You who deny God deify your atheism,” said Aquinas.  ”Or you deify yourselves, or some other metaphysical notion.  We differ only in the source of our faith, and one can not be so proven as to discount the other.” 

”Still the question remains, which is better for humankind?  Is it to humankind’s benefit to believe in a supreme being, God?  Or would humanity be served better by confining belief to itself, with each individual believing only in him or herself?”

The debate raged on, but Phil became increasingly less aware of what was said.  He felt himself drifting away from the illustrious committee of men, and being surrounded by a dense fog of confusion.  Soon he was so distant from the group that he could no longer see or hear them.

Questions filled his mind, and became muddled by the interference - mental static.  His inner-space travel propelled him back to reality, to the streets of Necropolis.

Chapter Three

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