by Debra Dian
Constantinople – 431 AD
Words from Bishop Leo’s sermon resounded again and again in Rosemary’s mind as she walked home after Easter worship. Safe within the arms of Jesus.
Pulling her woolen cloak over her head to shield the cold wind from the northern sea, she followed close behind her nephew Andre, his wife and two children as they walked along the cobble-stoned walkway.
Bishop Leo’s sermon had highlighted the security everyone seeks, especially in recent days after an attack on the western front of the empire. She herself had escaped the women’s monastery in Hippo while her Bishop Augustine lay dying. Her nephew had pleaded with her to leave, finally convincing her. By her own estimation, she was just an old woman–why not rescue someone younger?
Now as Rosemary walked with her nephew and his family after church, she thought of Bishop Leo’s Easter sermon. Clever of him to compare the secure city walls of Constantinople with the secure arms of Jesus, knowing that contemplating both the physical and spiritual protection would bring comfort to his congregation. The church had been crowded that morning, most of whom had been born and raised in Constantinople. But a small group, including Rosemary, had escaped from Hippo last August, just before it had surrendered to the Vandals. When seeing these refugees coming from North Africa, the locals had begun to ponder, Could it happen here…to us…even within our secure walls?
It was not the first time Rosemary had needed to flee an invading army. She and her entire family had escaped Rome under siege in 410 AD. Then slowly they rebuilt their lives in Constantinople, the “new Rome.” Named such, when the emperor, Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 AD.1 Although Constantine had helped promote peace within the empire and bring an end to persecution of Christians, enemies arose from outside their borders, from the Goths and the Vandals.
Originally, Rosemary had been born and raised in Rome, to a family of aristocrats. Her marriage had been arranged by her parents, but by the age of twenty she became a widow. Her husband had been killed in one of the many battles of the Roman Empire to defend encroachment to the land of their conquest.
After losing her husband and purpose, she began to attend a Christian church and by age twenty-one she was baptized. A friend of the family had invited her to attend a women’s Bible study, taught by Elder Jerome.2 In 382 AD he had come from Constantinople to Rome to mentor under Bishop Ambrose, who encouraged him to use his language skills to translate the scriptures. Jerome fervently labored in translating the scriptures from Greek into Latin. She loved to hear him read the scriptures and teach how to live a life pleasing to God. He had encouraged the women in her group to live a celibate life, to help the sick, poor, orphans and widows like herself. Soon Rosemary found herself working alongside her friend at the monastery, in the section for elderly widow women–Christian women who had not any family to take care of them.
To Rosemary, the sequence of life events happened so quickly–from the frolic of a young single woman, to married and settled, to widowed and forlorn, to enlightened Christian with purpose. She hardly had time to contemplate if she was working out God’s intended purpose? And after six months of working in the monastery she became restless, yet unaware of any particular reason. Rosemary had peace and contentment as a child of God–grateful for the privilege of studying the scriptures and serving Messiah Jesus, a privilege not many women were afforded. Yet something had seemed missing and she had determined to seek and find it. That had been elder Jerome’s advice. He had given her a scripture from the teaching of Apostle Matthew, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…
Rosemary had wondered if the restlessness came from living an affluent life in her parent’s home even though she served at the monastery. Many years passed while she waited on God, as she grew in knowledge and grace–preparing for the next adventure God had planned for her.
In 410 AD while Rome was being plundered by the Visigoths, Rosemary and her family escaped to Constantinople. Papa and mama slowly rebuilt their estate, while papa worked as a minister to the governor of Constantinople. His responsibility was to oversee the procurement of grain from the provinces of North Africa. On one occasion he had invited Rosemary and her mother to go along with him on his annual trip to Carthage and Hippo. She remembered the excitement of going and then later the tearful goodbyes when she had decided to stay behind in Hippo. She had attended the Christian church service while there in Hippo and loved the small community, loved the people of the church and Bishop Augustine’s teaching.
Soon she began serving in the small women’s monastery in Hippo, teaching the orphans there. Finally, she had discovered the reason for her restlessness when younger. Now that she was older, finally, she found the something missing in her life–children. She loved taking care of the children–teaching them to read and write–and most important, teaching them to love Jesus.
Hippo was home for Rosemary from age fifty-three to age seventy. Until the siege. Her nephew Andre, who had taken over papa’s ministerial responsibilities to the governor, had been to Carthage on business. In the midst of the chaos he sailed over to Hippo to rescue her and then she traveled back home with him to Constantinople.
Rosemary’s reminiscing faded away as she became aware of lagging behind Andre and his family. As she began walking at a faster pace, one of the teenagers, Fredrick, had turned around to check on her. Grinning, he quickly ran around behind Rosemary, then back to the other side of his sister, Anna, pulling her hair while Anna looked the other way Fredrick had just gone. He laughed while Anna fussed at him. Rosemary smiled, amused at his playful energy.
Actually, everyone was energized from celebrating Christ’s resurrection, even though they had been up all night with a candlelight vigil at the church. It had been glorious. Rosemary imagined God smiling, looking on them from above as each one in the congregation, more than two hundred, carrying candles and glowing in the dark as they walked around the perimeter of the church three times. Three times for Jesus, commemorating his crucifixion and resurrection on the third day. They had fasted and prayed from Good Friday until Resurrection morning–somberly remembering the suffering of our Lord Jesus–passionately praying the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…
It was with fervent hope that the church looked for the Lord to return. It could be anytime, but traditionally they looked for Messiah Jesus to return on Easter, returning to complete his plan of redemption for mankind and all creation.
At daylight, Sunday morning, glorious celebration rose up as the dawn in the hearts of everyone in the congregation. The music changed from somber and penitent to majestic praise for Christ’s resurrection.
Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Then, as the Lord had instructed his disciples during their Passover supper, the congregation remembered our Lord’s sacrifice by sharing the cup and the bread. The bishop prayed for blessing and then distributed the Eucharist to believers who came forward, followed by singing and prayer. Afterward, Bishop Leo had given a short sermon.
As they continued walking home, the walkway less crowded now, some young women from the church greeted Anna and Viviana as they passed by.
Anna reminded her of her sister, Agnes, Andre’s mother. Her sister Agnes had passed away several years ago, and like Agnes, Anna was down to earth, very serious-minded. But Fredrick was light-hearted. Complementary personalities, helpful to each other when it came time for their studies, which their private teacher appreciated. Anna’s temperament helped Fredrick to be more focused and Fredrick helped Anna to laugh.
Rosemary’s heart overflowed with thanksgiving for Andre and his wife, Viviana. Taking her into their home, like their own mother. And Andre for insisting that she leave Hippo. She would have been content to stay in Hippo, but for what reason she did not know. All the children in the monastery had grown up and had left to live their own lives. Rosemary had been kept busy with everyday chores at the monastery. Cooking, gardening and more importantly prayer and scripture study, but she could do this anywhere. Her Bishop Augustine was ill and dying and friends from church and the monastery were scattering. Her life in Hippo had seemed to crumble apart. And the thought of capture by an invading army convinced her to return home, to Constantinople, to live out her remaining days–for as many days God graciously gave to her.
After arriving home, everyone agreed upon a short nap before partaking of the afternoon meal. Since the housekeepers had the day off, Andre got the fireplace going to take the chill away, settling down to nap in his favorite chair nearby. But, the others retired to their private rooms. Then, after a few hours, one by one, they returned to the dining room for a simple but elegant meal.
The adults remained at the table enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun streaming in through the windows, while the children cleaned the dishes. Anna found a plate of pastries that had been overlooked and brought them out to the table. “We forgot dessert!”
Viviana smiled. “Actually, it was a surprise for you to find! After you and your brother finish cleaning the dishes, come back and join us.”
Anna smiled with delight, energized by the thought of sweet pastries after the drudgery of doing dishes.
“Dessert always makes the day a little sweeter.” Rosemary said.
Andre and Viviana agreed. “Definitely! Difficult to wait until they return.”
Viviana asked Rosemary what she had done in the past to celebrate Easter in Hippo.
“Easter celebration here was very enjoyable. I feel like God was pleased.” Andre and Viviana smiled, encouraged that Rosemary felt at home in her new church.
“The only difference was that in the women’s monastery we fasted and prayed forty days prior to Easter Sunday.”
Viviana was amazed. “You must be an angel! How on earth?”
“Fasting was going without meat. But then on Good Friday until Sunday morning, a complete fast, except a little water.”
Andre looked shocked. “I thought I was fasting to go without meat on Good Friday until Sunday.”
“The reason is consecration in prayer to God,” Rosemary added. “Another tradition we did in Hippo, was to wear all white clothing on the following Sunday after Easter. Anyway, all those who have been baptized wore white.”
Viviana exclaimed. “We did that here too! And if flowers had bloomed, we would put fresh flowers in our hair too.”
Viviana looked at Andre. “We should wear white clothing next Sunday!”
Sarcastically, Andre replied, “I do not have white clothing. Could be why that tradition faded away.”
Viviana turned to Rosemary. “Then we will wear white clothing. And maybe the flowers will bloom this week!”
“Oh, I hope so…”
Monday morning turned gray with thick clouds that gave way to rain for most of the morning, making everyone in the household feel sleepy, lethargic, even a little grumpy. Andre had left early to attend a meeting in center city before the downpours began.
Fredrick and Anna had settled down for their afternoon teaching session with their private teacher, Giamo, in the library–a new library room, recently designated as such by Viviana. Previously, it had been a parlor, used for meetings with government officials by Rosemary’s papa. But his grandson Andre preferred going out to meet officials at their own headquarters. Besides, his children needed a study room and a place for their books.
Agnes, Rosemary’s sister, had lived with papa and mama for many years after she had become a widow. Agnes’ husband had not been killed in battle like Rosemary’s husband, but after a long career as a naval merchant and raising three sons, including Andre, he died from a sudden illness.
A few years later, when mama passed away, papa made arrangements to leave his estate with Agnes and trained Andre to take over as minister to the governor. A short time later, papa passed on too, going on to be with mama in heaven. When Andre married Viviana they moved into the family house with his mother Agnes. Her sister Agnes had loved living with her grandchildren from their birth–helping care for Anna and Fredrick as her own–fulfilling the role of “Mother Agnes”, as she was called. When Mother Agnes became ill, just before she passed away, she left a will for the estate with her son, Andre.
When Rosemary arrived, she was given Agnes’ old room. Often, she imagined Agnes, sitting on the chaise longue near the window, resting her feet after a long, but fun day of taking care of grandchildren. Praying. Enjoying the fresh breeze. The same furniture Agnes had used, bed frame, wash basin and clothes cabinet still remained–even her favorite shawl with embroidered rose buds, which Rosemary privately wore on cold evenings while reading. However, Viviana had replaced the bedding, curtains and painted the walls with new colors–shades of blue and green instead of pink.
Viviana’s artistic bent gave her the ability to work long hours weaving tapestry. Even though she could afford to buy tapestries made by someone else, she insisted on furnishing the house with her own hand-made bedding, cushions, curtains, pillows and wall hangings. The loom and her supplies were set up in the corner nook of the front room so that she could always be available to her family. And being very social, she usually met with her friends at church at least three times a week.
Rosemary sat with Viviana while she worked at weaving a new wall hanging, just to visit with her for a few minutes. Sun light had returned after the morning rain so she snuffed out the candle on the table.
“Do you miss your friends at the monastery Rosemary?” Viviana asked.
“Oh yes! Think of them often. Pray for them. Hoping to hear about their welfare.”
“Do you know–there is a small women’s monastery here? You should visit them–make some new friends–not that they could take the place of the others…but you know…just a thought.”
“I have thought of it…but I…well I have decided…after much contemplation…that monastic life is good…good for a season. But I discovered that a person can become dependent on self instead of God, even in a monastery.”
Viviana perked up her ears and stopped weaving for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“A person can become proud…you know…proud of sacrifices…like fasting…serving others…thinking they are better than someone else.”
“I am not sure I understand?”
“Well–think of it this way. If someone comes to God and says, God, I am a sinner. Please forgive me. Please give me the strength to do right. Then God will give them strength. But, if I go about the day thinking how good I have been…fasting and praying…then God resists the proud…bound to fall on my face in shame…perhaps a harsh word…deceit…malice. Ultimately, failure to love God or others as I should.”
“Ah, I think I understand now…but I…I never think about things like that…I am just me…I try to do right…but I suppose…I am just too busy to think about it.” Viviana laughed.
Rosemary smiled. Not a condemning smile, but of understanding. “That is why it is such a blessing to study scripture. To know what pleases God.”
Viviana laughed again. “Well, I will leave that to the bishop and to you.” Again she focused on weaving indicating she was finished talking about that subject.
Walking about the house, Rosemary peeked in on the housekeepers in the kitchen. They had finished the cleaning for the day and busily went about preparing the evening meal–Manric cleaning and preparing vegetables and Hilda punching down bread dough. They looked up at Rosemary and smiled. “Anything we can help you with madam?”
“I was about to ask you the same, but it occurred to me that you would be offended. Thinking that I am not confident in your abilities. Actually, I used to cook and make bread at the monastery in Hippo. I know it sounds strange, but I miss doing those things.”
Hilda nodded while Manric chuckled. Hilda empathized. “I understandt. I love makink da bread.”
“And you both do wonderful work. Thank you for taking good care of us.” Hilda and Manric beamed wide smiles of appreciation. Rosemary sighed and walked on toward her room for study and prayer. She would talk with God about feeling unproductive around the house.
“Aunt Rosemary!” Anna called after her just as she was about to step into her room. “Are you busy now? If not, Giamo would like to speak with you for a moment.”
Rosemary looked puzzled. “Not too busy, if someone wishes to speak with me.”
Anna explained as the two walked down the corridor to the library. “I was telling Giamo about your life in Hippo and that you knew Bishop Augustine3…he wants to talk with you about that.”
Giamo and Fredrick were putting away books on a shelf as Rosemary and Anna came into the library.
Giamo turned and bowed his head to greet Rosemary. “Thank you for taking time to speak with me, Ms. Rosemary. Anna has been telling me about your adventures in Hippo…Fascinating!”
Rosemary blushed. “Well, I…I was blessed to be a servant of Christ along with many other children of God. Anna said you want to know more about Bishop Augustine?”
“Yes! How well did you know him?”
“He was the Bishop of our church in Hippo. He gave sermons three to four times a week. I did not know him personally. He was very strict about not allowing women at his monastery. I lived at the women’s monastery, but attended the worship services at the church…listened to many of his sermons.”
“Do you feel like you know him well from the sermons he gave and from his leadership at the church? See…I…I am a historian of sorts…anyway I like to find out facts about important people and write about them.”
“Interesting! Perhaps I could help. Anything in particular you want to know?”
“If it is alright with you…I would like to schedule a time to come back and interview you. If you will be thinking about significant sermons or things Augustine talked about…wrote about. I will gather some notes and questions to be prepared for our meeting. Perhaps later this week?”
“Alright, I can do that. Perhaps we could meet here in the library after your teaching session?”
“Marvelous! Maybe, Wednesday afternoon?”
“Then, God willing we will look forward to Wednesday afternoon!”
Fredrick had a puzzled, but hopeful look on his face. “Does that mean we will not have our exam on Wednesday?”
Giamo smirked a smile. “Fortunately for you, it means you have one more day to study. Then exam on Thursday.”
Fredrick jumped up and kicked his feet together and clapped. “Yeah!”
Anna laughed. “One more day is not going to help you.” Then she turned and hurried out of the room before Fredrick could pull her hair.
Rosemary chuckled at their antics, then turned toward Giamo. “Looking forward to Wednesday.”
Fredrick walked out of the library just behind Rosemary, speaking softly so that Giamo wouldn’t hear. “Aunt Rosemary, think of plenty of things about Ogustine to talk about. Then maybe the test will be postponed until Friday.”
“Bishop’s name was Augustine…and I will do that, if you will go ahead and study as if the exams will be on Thursday.” Rosemary smiled and raised her eyebrows indicating a question, awaiting a response.
Fredrick hung his head and trudged away, “Oh, alright.”
Late Monday evening, Andre returned home finding Viviana weaving and waiting for him. He sat down on the couch next to her to discuss the events of the day. Unknown to them, Rosemary was still in the library room next to them with the door open. She had begun praying about the interview with Giamo in the library while it was daylight, but now it was dark and since she was not reading, no need to light a candle. Anyway her eyes had adjusted to the dark and candlelight overflowed from the front room where Viviana was weaving.
Rosemary could hear Viviana talking with Andre, but she ignored them and focused on prayers. Then suddenly, her ears perked up when she heard her name. She felt awkward listening. But it would be even more awkward to get up and walk to her room since they would see her. She continued to listen. They were talking about papa…and Agnes…papa’s estate had been left to both children–Agnes and Rosemary…when Agnes left the estate to Andre, it was not properly executed. “Rosemary is still an heir,” she heard Andre say to Viviana. After his meetings that day, Andre had gone to visit his friend who is a lawyer–a lawyer with the family documents. Apparently, his lawyer friend, Dan, had mentioned this before to Andre.
Rosemary’s mind raced with many thoughts and questions. Things were not as they seemed. Heartsick, she listened further. It seemed as though Viviana was concerned that Rosemary may not agree to give up her rights to the estate. Give up her rights? Andre disagreed with Viviana and demanded that she not try to intervene. “Let me handle it,” he said. Then it was quiet. Suddenly, the candlelight disappeared followed by the sound of footsteps walking across the cold stone floor.
Rosemary sat alone in the dark for at least another hour not sure what to think. Wanting to think the best, but feeling disillusioned. This too she would commit to God–asking for wisdom–and what to do about this newfound discovery?
Sleeping overnight and a new day did not make Rosemary feel any less peculiar about facing Andre and Viviana. It would be hard to pretend she had not overheard their secret.
During the night she had awakened, haunted by thoughts of what she had overheard. Finally, she made a determination to confront Andre about the estate, then went back to sleep. But when waking in the morning, she did not have peace about what to do. Purposely, she prayed longer in order to be late for breakfast, hoping everyone would have already come to the table and gone on with their day. Then slowly, quietly she walked to the dining table to face whoever happened to be there.
Of course, it was Viviana. Andre had already gone outside to advise some masons who had come to do repair work to the stonework on the house.
Greetings were cordial even though Rosemary felt uncomfortable. She helped herself to some bread, spreading a little butter and honey on it. Then she nibbled on a boiled egg and a small piece of dried, salted meat. Viviana asked her if she would like Hilda to make some hot porridge. “Still a bit like winter this morning. Hot porridge always warms me up,” she said.
“Thank you, but I think this will fill me up.”
“You know, I used to worry about Agnes not eating much. Just like you. But I realized that as we get older, we tend to eat less.”
“This is true.” Rosemary chucked at a memory, forgetting for the moment the uncomfortable secret. “I discovered this many years ago when I worked at the monastery in Rome. I served the widows their meals. And they never ate as much as I thought they should. I used to fuss at them. Try to get them to eat more. But they would laugh at me and tell me to save it for their supper.”
“Rosemary, I think people in the monastery are missing someone very special. You could be such a pleasant comfort to the people there.”
“Oh! I think there must be very special people already serving there!”
“Anyway, we should go visit them…going to the church today….my friends and I are thinking of projects to do…we could go there…and you can come along…what do you think about that?”
“Perhaps another day…today I need to prepare for a meeting with Giamo. Remembering and making notes about Bishop Augustine. Giamo wants to write about him. He thinks I may be able to help with information about his life and work.”
“Ah…I’m disappointed…not that you are helping Giamo…but I was hoping you could go the monastery today with my friends.”
Andre came in from outside and helped change the subject. “Vivi, do you know of any other work the masons need to tend to…floors…fireplaces?”
Quickly before Viviana could answer, he greeted Aunt Rosemary. “Good morning Aunt Rosemary! Missed you at breakfast earlier.”
Rosemary nodded with her hand over her mouth while chewing food. Since she could not answer verbally, Viviana proceeded. “Not aware of anything else needing repaired. But ask the housekeepers. Especially Manric. He may know of something that needs work.”
Andre turned to Rosemary. “Aunt Rosemary, does your room need anything replaced or repaired?”
Rosemary smiled. It seemed as though he was trying to reassure her. As if he knew she had overheard their conversation last night. “Everything in my room is very good!”
“Excellent! Then I will check with Manric.” He left the dining room in search of Manric. Then Viviana excused herself to prepare for meeting with her friends at church.
And Rosemary returned to her room to prepare for meeting with Giamo. She opened the shutters on the window to allow more light in the room and retrieved her trunk stored in the corner. Overflowing with peace and joy, she sifted through the trunk as searching for treasure, finding tucked away in a quilt, a leather folder tied with a ribbon. She held the treasure close to her heart and walked over to sit down in the chair next to her bed. With awe and wonder she untied the ribbon and opened the folder to find sermon notes, copies of Augustine’s writings along with copies of scriptures. Carefully, she perused each parchment, remembering the very time when each had been written.
Notes about Bishop Augustine’s teaching on the Trinity caused her to pause, remembering her struggle with this doctrine. Embarrassed for a time, she had kept her failure to grasp the concept to herself. She believed it. But to actually understand it or even try, gave her a headache. Eventually, she discovered that she was not alone in her struggle. She remembered a friend’s husband, a deacon, explained that the doctrine of the trinity is to be accepted by faith. The difficulty in grasping it has to do with our current status of being in a realm of time, while God is eternal, the I Am, without beginning or end. Then softly, she read her notes aloud.
“God is one god as stated in Deuteronomy 6:4, but revealed in three persons–God, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. This is possible because God is love, therefore he must have someone perfect to love– Himself–The Son of God. And love must be reciprocal. Love from one to the other manifests itself in the Holy Spirit.”
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:3”
“Another way to compare and think of it is the human mind: memory, intellect and will. All three are separate functions but all three are necessary for the mind to work correctly. Distinct but inseparable. So God, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons but inseparable.”4
She continued sifting through page after page of notes, savoring every precious word. Thankful she had saved them, that she had safely stored them away and for their safe arrival along with her when escaping from Hippo to Constantinople.
Everyone was on time for breakfast Wednesday morning. Hilda brought out a pot of hot porridge with a ladle and placed it in in the center of the table on a flat clay tile next to small crocks of butter, honey and cream. Then Manric brought out a hot loaf of bread. Andre said a prayer of thanksgiving then served everyone a bowl of porridge while Viviana passed the tray of bread she had sliced.
Andre, as usual, quizzed Anna and Fredrick about their studies for the day. Rosemary usually remained quiet so not to interrupt their family routine, an important time of communicating. But Fredrick drew her into the conversation this morning.
“Aunt Rosemary, don’t forget your interview with Giamo this afternoon.”
Rosemary swallowed a bite of porridge and smiled. “I promise I will not forget. And don’t worry, I have plenty of notes to review with Giamo.”
Fredrick grinned, then relaxed, pleased with her answer.
But Anna wanted to taunt Fredrick a bit, so she asked. “Aunt Rosemary, would it be a bother if Fredrick and I stayed in the library to take our exam while you talk with Giamo today?”
Wide-eyed Fredrick glared at Anna and then at Rosemary, hoping for the right answer.
Rosemary pursed a smile. “You will need to ask Giamo about that. But I suspect he will want you to have quiet for taking an exam.”
“You are probably right.” Then Anna grinned while looking at Fredrick. “So, I will not ask because I know Fredrick wants to have more time to study.”
Andre picked up on that. “Are you falling behind Fredrick?”
“Uh…no sir…just want to do well.”
“You want to excel. Good to hear.”
Viviana rescued Fredrick by changing the subject? “This is market day for Hilda and Manric…is there anything special that anyone needs?”
Andre spoke up. “I would like to have more pastries like we had last Sunday.”
Anna and Fredrick perked up. “Yes. Yes, more pastries.”
“Anything else? Rosemary?”
“I vote for pastries too!”
“Alright, pastries on Sunday or maybe Saturday.”
Everyone finished eating their porridge and bread while Andre discussed his plans for the day with Viviana. He planned to be gone most of the day meeting with other government officials–a weekly meeting they held at center city. Viviana had a familiar look on her face, a look of boredom, as if thinking, What else is new? Then everyone excused themselves to go on with their day. Rosemary lingered at the table. Lingering in the quiet, an unknown foreboding came upon her. So she prayed over each one in the family, praying for God to protect them from the evil one.
By mid-morning it was evident that this was going to be the most beautiful day of the year thus far–a bright blue, cloudless sky with just a hint of breeze and warm sunshine–just right for enjoying anything outdoors.
Rosemary decided to explore the garden near the courtyard behind the house. She had not taken a walk out there since autumn. Then winter came and the dense trees had lost their leaves, except for a few evergreens here and there, but now they had come to life again with green leaves budding out. She followed the stone path to the center of the garden, remembering there had been a small round table hidden in the middle surrounded by a canopy of trees. She had sat there many times reading and praying, enjoying the beauty, the bird song, butterflies, and flowers.
Suddenly, she found the hidden garden, surprising Viviana and–and–she did not know the man sitting with her at the small round table. She thought she had seen their hands embracing across the table, which quickly stopped as she stumbled upon them. They both seemed very uncomfortable. Neither of them knew what to say. Nor did Rosemary. She wished she had never thought of coming to the garden.
Rosemary felt she was the intruder, so she said. “Excuse me, Viviana. I…I did not realize you were out here. My apologies.” Then she turned to walk back to the house.
Then Viviana followed after her, leaving the man sitting at the table. “Rosemary, wait. Please–please do not tell Andre about this.” Tears came to her eyes. “Please! I will explain later…just please…please don’t say anything about this to Andre.”
At the moment, Rosemary felt trapped, but with compassion she agreed. “I promise…I…I will not tell Andre. You may speak with me about it later…if you wish.”
Rosemary retreated to her room. Perplexed. Very concerned about Viviana and Andre. For now, she would commit the situation to God in prayer, trusting God to guide her.
Later when she heard Anna and Fredrick outside in the courtyard she knew it was time to go meet with Giamo.
Giamo stood up and bowed his head as she walked into the library. “Good afternoon, Ms. Rosemary.”
“Good afternoon Giamo. I am so thrilled that you want to know more about Bishop Augustine. I’ve enjoyed looking through my notes. Brought back so many memories. I am reminded how very rich my life has been. Rich in study of God’s word.”
Giamo smiled enthusiastically. “Wonderful! You have just mentioned something pertaining to one of my questions.” He held out his hand, pointing to a chair at the table. “Please be seated, while I gather my notes and paper to write down our discussion.”
Rosemary sat down, then unwrapped the leather folder, placing the ribbon neatly on the inside so not to lose it. Then she patiently waited while he arranged his papers and sat down across from her.
“Alright, so you said that you feel rich in God’s word, is this something Bishop Augustine encouraged?”
“Certainly. And he believed the scriptures to be truly inspired by God. And he taught truth backed by several scriptures. In other words, he did not take only one scripture to build a lesson. He always used more than one scripture to teach truth.”
“Do you have an example in your notes?”
“Let me see…” Rosemary looked through the folder for an example to share.
“While I look through here–also want to mention that I was taught from the scriptures earlier in my life, as a new Christian, while I was in Rome. Elder Jerome taught us, a group of women. He was working on translating the scriptures from Greek into Latin. I found out later that Bishop Augustine was also acquainted with Jerome. Anyway, I give credit to Elder Jerome for initiating my love for the scriptures.”
“Interesting…I will make a note to ask you more about Jerome later.”
“Here, I have notes from his sermon on Salvation, bringing together many scriptures and the writings of Apostle John:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Then other scriptures from Apostle Paul’s writings…Moses’ book of Genesis and from King David’s Psalms.”
Enthusiastically, Rosemary continued explaining from her notes. “So we have a better understanding of God’s love for mankind and his creation…sin that corrupted humans and creation… the need for reconciliation with God…the perfect, sinless Son of God…giving his life as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for all sin…a gift from God…life everlasting for all who believe…by faith alone…not by any work of man…freedom from slavery to sin and death…no longer under the wrath of God for rebellion, but a new life in Christ forever.”
“May I have a look at your notes?”
“Of course.” Rosemary handed Giamo the parchment she had been reading from. “If you promise to be careful with my notes and return them, you may borrow them to copy if you wish.”
He examined the parchment for clarity. “I think I can read your notes and it would be very helpful if I could copy them!”
“Good! Now I just want to point out that these parchments tied together like a book are actually a copy of the writings of Apostle John. The women at the monastery where I lived in Hippo, we were taking turns reading the writings of the Apostles. I happened to have this portion when I had to quickly leave Hippo.”
“I think I understand…you have only a copy of a portion of the book, not the entire book.”
Rosemary chuckled. “Yes that is correct. We also read the writings of Apostle Matthew and Apostle Paul.”
Giamo was so intrigued by all that Rosemary shared, that they continued to discuss her notes and her life in Hippo for another hour. During their conversation it occurred to Rosemary that she was not sure about Giamo’s personal beliefs in Christ, but for a woman to speak to a man about such things was usually considered inappropriate. However, feeling more at ease about it since they had already discussed Bishop Augustine’s teaching, she asked Giamo about his personal belief in Christ.
“Honestly, I am seeking. I am almost persuaded to believe…I have felt akin to Augustine when I read some of his writings from Confessions, how he turned away from worldly philosophy to the Word of God. He openly discussed past sins and turning away from them to follow Christ.”
“I will pray for you Giamo. Faith to believe. And I hope our discussion today will help you along your way too.”
“Certainly. Thank you.”
With that, the interview ended. Giamo carefully packed away Rosemary’s notes in his bag, promising to return them. Then Rosemary quickly retreated to her room hoping to avoid Viviana.
Andre arrived home from his meetings in time for the evening meal. Everyone had dinner together, which made Viviana and Rosemary very uncomfortable. Only the two of them knew why. Both were polite, with Viviana focusing her conversation toward the children, while Rosemary tried to remain quiet. After dinner, Rosemary quickly retreated to her room again. She prayed and ask God to guide her thoughts about Viviana, recent discoveries and what to do.
It occurred to Rosemary that Viviana would resent her being around even more now. Perhaps the reason for Viviana’s concern about the estate–with Rosemary always around the house it would be more likely for Viviana’s secret to become known. Which came to pass. How could she live in the same house and keep her promise? And how could she not tell Andre, her own nephew, a good man who had rescued her? Viviana was sure to wonder about that too. She thought about Viviana’s encouraging her to go to the monastery, which now she realized was an attempt to get rid of her. Maybe she should go. Such an awkward situation. Only God could unravel it. Yet she had been in awkward situations before and knew that fleeing is not always the answer. She would wait on God for his answer. She hoped it came soon.
The remainder of the week went by quickly and uneventful, which Rosemary was thankful for. She stayed in her room most of the time except for breakfast and dinner. She knew Andre would be concerned if she suddenly had her meals brought to her room. And she dared not ever go to the garden again, but she did venture out to the courtyard a few times to visit with Anna and Fredrick when they were out enjoying the sunshine.
Even though awkward, Rosemary had looked forward to church service on Sunday. They had walked together and sat together as a family. Somehow Viviana’s idea of wearing white clothing was forgotten. Upon thinking of white clothing she remembered the verse in prophet Isaiah’s book.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Tears of compassion came to her eyes, compassion towards Viviana. The past few days God had been rebuking her for pride, looking down upon someone else as more sinful than herself. And selfishness–thinking about her own discomfort more than the needs of others. It was as if God said to her, When you can walk in humility and see others as I see them, then you are ready for the answer.
The congregation began singing Psalm 67, recapturing Rosemary’s attention.
♪May God be gracious to us and bless us
And make his face shine on us
So that your ways may be known on earth,
Your salvation among the nations…♪
As Bishop Leo read our statement of belief, the congregation repeated after him.
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he cometh again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Ghost, who is Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. — In one holy catholic and apostolic church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”4
Bishop Leo read portions of scriptures from Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, and his letter to the Corinthians, then with a brief sigh he began to prepare his congregation for communion.
“Grace is a wonderful gift. Rich and free. Pardon for sin, so undeserved…should provoke our obedience…out of love for Christ’s sacrifice. Grace is not a free pass to heaven while we gratify our desires…Let us each examine ourselves and forsake any sinful attitude or deed. Let us turn back to Christ…honor him with our life…”
Rosemary could not help but notice Viviana with her head bowed and eyes closed, tears trickling down her cheek.
Later that afternoon, after Rosemary had awakened from a nap, she walked to the dining room and looked out into the courtyard–a lovely scene to behold–Andre and Viviana sitting next to each other on the bench while Anna and Fredrick played a game on the grass. Seemingly, a happy family. She dared not interrupt. After pouring herself a cup of water she sat down at the table and ate a pastry from the bread basket, then retreated to her room again.
Realizing she would soon she be seventy-one she began thinking about how to secretly celebrate the day. Perhaps, she would go to the monastery. She had thought about the fact that she had no friends in Constantinople. And depending on Viviana seemed unwise. However, she would need to ask Viviana to take her, since it would be improper and unsafe for her to walk there alone. She felt trapped, uncomfortable in her situation, yet not adventurous enough to contemplate escape. Just thinking of starting all over again at her age made her weary.
Though, apparently, from what she had overheard, she was also an heir to the estate. This was her home too. She had a right to be here. Just as soon as that thought faded, another thought came to replace it, as though superior–thoughts of heaven, her forever home. She tried to imagine the Lord in all his glorious brilliance, taking her by the hand, walking with him in a garden. She felt hugged by God’s peace and love. No need to worry. He would take care of her.
A few days later Rosemary ventured out to the front room thinking that Viviana would be gone to meet with her friends from church, since this was the usual time she had gone in past weeks. Yet Viviana sat at her weaving loom surprised that Rosemary had come into the room. Both realized at the same time that this was a good time to speak about their secret–Andre had gone to meetings in center city and the children were in their teaching session with the door closed.
Rosemary gathered some courage and sat down on the small couch next to Viviana. She looked straight ahead and prayed the Lord to help them in their conversations as she waited for Viviana to speak.
“Rosemary, thank you for coming down here. This is a good time to talk. I’ve had time to think about everything–and I–I thank you for your patience.”
Somberly, Rosemary continued looking straight ahead. “What have you been thinking about?”
“I have decided to end my relationship with the man you saw in the garden. In the beginning I felt justified in having the relationship, but now I realize that I am wrong to think that way.”
With an expressionless face, Rosemary nodded in acknowledgement, encouraging Viviana to continue explaining.
“I realized that I am wrong to think that…that…just because Andre…betrayed me…then it is alright for me to do the same to him.”
“This is true. We should not seek revenge, but forgive. This is what our Lord commands.”
“It wasn’t really revenge…at least I thought I was in love with this other man…but whenever I felt guilty…then I remembered Andre’s failure and excused myself.”
Rosemary nodded again.
“I was so young when we married. And foolish. As you know, our parents arranged our marriage. But, prior to that, Andre had a concubine. And a child by her. I was so hurt when I found out. Even though, when he was baptized, he ended his relationship with her. He arranged to give money to her and the child, who is grown now. His lawyer took care of that. That is how I found out, because I saw the documents he signed. Anyway, that is the story. But, please don’t mention any of this to Andre.”
Rosemary thought for a moment before commenting. “As I recall, I remember our Bishop Augustine in Hippo speaking to our congregation about the same type of sin. Apparently, many of the men in our congregation held onto their concubines while they had married another woman, a Christian woman…I loved our Bishop Augustine for his support of women…he was very adamant that the Christian women should not tolerate allowing their husband to have an adulterous relationship, even though it was tolerated in Roman law and in society.”
“I think I would have liked your Bishop Augustine!”
Rosemary returned Viviana’s smile. The first time in many days that they had smiled at each other. Then Rosemary added. “Actually, it was our Lord Jesus who inspired love and compassion toward women. Several accounts in the Apostles’ writings about Messiah Jesus during his ministry on earth. He–he always tried to elevate a woman spiritually. He encouraged women that–that God had not forgotten them.”
Rosemary turned toward Viviana to look at her directly, eye to eye. “So you see Viviana, Jesus is on your side too. When he was here on earth, there was a woman caught in the act of adultery. The men of the village had dragged her out of her house to stone her to death, but Jesus brought peace to the situation. He forgave her. Sent her away in peace and asked her to sin no more.”
Viviana became somber. Tears came to her eyes and began rolling down her cheek. “I know what you say is true. I have asked God to forgive me. And I feel at peace with him…I promise…I will not ever see that man again or any man, except my husband…I promise!”
“Good!” Both sat silent with their own thoughts for a few moments. Then Rosemary continued. “Glad we spoke heart to heart today Viviana. Happy that you have turned away from sin and back to God. I will keep your secret. And, I will let you decide whether to tell Andre, but it will not come from me. I promise.”
Rosemary arose from the couch to walk back to her room. She smiled and patted Viviana’s shoulder. “Remember Jesus loves you.”
“Rosemary wait, I have an idea!”
Rosemary turned around, raised her eyebrows indicating a question awaiting an answer.
“Would you teach me more about Jesus…like you did today…about how he loves women…stories from the scriptures? And…and…we could invite my friends from church…we could meet here…right here in the front room…or maybe at the dining room table…what do you think?”
“I…I think…perhaps it is a lovely idea! When do you want to start?”
“Next week…I will visit with my friends about when they can come…and then…Oh I am so excited…so thankful God brought you into my life.”
This story is a fictionalization. Although, historical events, people and places are used fictitiously, details of the time period have been portrayed as accurately as possible for authenticity. All characters are fictional unless otherwise noted. If an actual historical person is mentioned an endnote with citation will be included.
- Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. Peabody, MA, 2006, Vol. 3, pp.11-37; Constantine the Great.
2. Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006, Vol.3, pp. 205-213; St. Jerome as a Monk. According to Schaff, Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus (known as Jerome), was born around 331-342 AD and died around 419/420 AD. Born in Stridon, near Dalmatia. Became a Christian around 370 AD. Most known for promoting monastic life and translating the Greek Holy Scriptures into Latin. He was appointed presbyter while in Antioch, but as an itinerant monk, he traveled to Constantinople, then to Rome where he taught the scriptures to a group of wealthy women, encouraging them to live celibate, ascetic lives. After, perhaps some false accusations, he left Rome. He traveled to Jerusalem, from there to Bethlehem to lead a monastery, where he also built a hospital.
3. Bray, Gerald. Augustine on the Christian Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. According to Bray, Aurelius Augustinus, known as Augustine, was born Nov. 13, 354 and died on Aug. 28, 430, while a Bishop in Hippo, as the city was under siege by the Vandals. He is known for standing on the truth of scripture, God’s word, inspired and without error. Fighting against heresy in the church. Also, known for his writing. Many of his sermons were transcribed, copied and distributed. Most known as author of, Confessions and City of God.
4. Ibid., pp. 19-46; The Life and Times of Augustine
Ibid., p. 168; pp. 178; pp 184-189; Augustine the Pastor
Ibid., p. 89; Augustine the Teacher
5. Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006. Vol. 3, pp. 668-669; The Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creed
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version©, NIV© Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.© Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.