Saturday, June 10, 2017

Petronius in Heaven?

Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
- William Wordsworth
The World is Too Much With Us

Does the resurrection await Petronius? There is a sense in which Quo Vadis seems to lend itself to the view that Petronius's death is the end of the shades of virtue that littered the world prior to Christ. If Petronius embodied the best in humanity prior to Christ, then it could be argued that his passing was symbolic of the wider passage of antiquity into the age of Chrisrianity. We could suppose, following Dante, that Petronius would find himself alongside the philosophers in Hell. 

Likewise, in the vein of Wordsworth's The World is too Much with us, we might wonder whether despite his recalcitrance a man like Petronius was not more predisposed to Christianity than modern man? Modernity, having rebelled against Christianity has not thereby returned to classical virtues, but progressed to something much worse in both moral and aesthetic terms. We know the direction our world took, what then might have been the fate of a man like Petronius?

To my mind Petronius would awaken in his home after a long slumber in Death's dream kingdom, his beloved by his side, all of Rome quiet and foresaken not only of ancient splendor, but recent noise. So awakening, Petronius would find himself yearning for beauty and, finding only its absence in Rome, would no doubt react with enthusiasm rather than puzzlement when angels arrive with a litter meant to carry him away.

Though lazy by nature, Petronius would welcome the chance to travel. Particularly in opulent luxuries and luminous company. Upon arriving in Heaven he would, without being told by anyone, know that he was home. Of course St. Paul would be there to greet him, overjoyed.

He might explain to Petronius that the Roman was like a noble animal insofar as his refined instincts outweigh all that is ration in his soul. To philosophize with the arbiter elegantiarum  was incorrect. It was enough to show him the face of God. Petronius, enlightened now by the Holy Spirit, would no doubt blush at the Christian predisposition to blame oneself rather than find fault in others - and then proceed to follow this very Christian injunction. He would be ashamed that his faith was so weak, that he believed only what he saw.

Having now been shown Paradise itself and seeing that nothing more Beautiful exists, Petronius would realize the error of his ways. He would realize that nowhere in the universe is there music, poetry and art grander than in Heaven. He would see that his tastes and refinement in Rome were not virtues, but Grace. Gifts made to him by the Arbiter Elegantiarum of all of Creation. He would wonder why then, having lived his life as a Greek and died as a Roman, he should now deserve to be admited into the Beauty of Heaven as a Christian?

To this, St. Paul would perhaps answer that the yearning for Beauty is no less the yearning for God than if Petronius had sought the Good and the True. In the order of things, the universe was first beautiful before it was true and good. Man, before the Fall, enjoyed the Beauty of God's creation and required the Grace of Truth and Goodness after having sinned against this Beauty. Was Petronius always faithful to Beauty, or did he likewise sin against it?

Hearing this, knowing his tastes to be imperfect and realizing that throughout his whole life Petronius had foresaken the greatest of Beauties, Petronius might exclaim: "I accept you Christ as the Arbiter Elegantiarum of my life. Lead on!"


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