Monday, August 13, 2007

Cintamani Government, Christian Style

The only ruler to whom the sixth century French historian Gregory of Tours gives unmixed praise is Emperor Tiberius (ruled 574-582) -- the ruler in Constantinople. He introduces him thus: "Tiberius was a just and charitable man, equitable in his dealings, successful in war [no word on whether these successes fit "just war theory"] and, what is more important than all his other good qualities [take that, "wise Turk" afficianados!], a true Christian" (p. 234-35).

Later on, Gregory describes in more detail his rule:

He distributed among the poor much of the treasure which [the previous emperor] Justin had amassed, and the Empress frequently rebuked him for reducing the state to bankruptcy. 'What I have taken so many years to save,' she used to say to him, 'you are busy squandering in a prodigal way, and without losing much time about it, either.' 'As long as the poor receive alms and those whom we capture are ransomed,' Tiberius would answer, 'our treasury will never be empty. This is the great treasure, as our Lord explained: 'But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.' Let us indeed lay up for the needy in heaven a share of what God has given to us, so that the Lord may deign to give us increase in this world.' As I have told you, Tiberius was a great Christian and a faithful one: as long as he continued to take pleasure in distributing alms to the poor our Lord went on providing him with more and more to give.

One day when he was walking through the palace he noticed on the paved floor a marble slab carved with the Cross of Christ. 'Your Cross, O Christ,' he cried, 'is marked on our foreheads and on our breast as a sign of protection, and here we are walking on it.' He ordered the flagstone to be dug up immediately and removed from where it was. When they had prised it up and it stood on end, they found a second one underneath, marked with the same sign. They told Tiberius what had happened and they had the second flagstone lifted. Underneath they found a third one, and Tiberius made them that up, too. Beneath it, they found a vast hoard of treasure, amounting to more than a hundred thousand pounds of gold. This was taken out of the ground and, as his custom was, Tiberius was able to make even more generous contributions to the poor. Because of his humane charity, the Lord did not ever suffer Tiberius to be in want
(pp. 283-84).

High-octane prosperity gospel among sacramental Catholics, taking the politics of Jesus seriously, refusing to water down the Sermon on the Mount -- the possible titles of this little snippet are endless. But I chose to highlight this tale's exact structural identity with a similar Buddhist story of reckless generosity, which soon leads to the problem -- the supply of money dries up -- and the supernatural solution.

Unfortunately, the historians of the East Roman Empire know nothing of this story. Somehow the rulers are always more Christian on the other side of the fence.

Labels: , ,