Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chapter 2: The Emperor and His Mother



With Licinius put to eternal sleep, Constantine remained the only emperor for the whole of the Roman Empire.  All citizens, slaves and slave masters of the huge empire were his subjects.  He was the Lord of all lords.  He was the greatest of the greats.  None is as great as Constantine the Great! Such were generous praises lavished upon Constantine by his flatterers, who flocked to his palace after he returned from Thessalonica.
One evening, fatigued by many visitors, Constantine retired to his chamber.  Alone in his room, Constantine reminisced his journey in life.  It was a rather long journey, and he had come a long way.  He was the son of Chlorus Constantius, who was one of the four rulers in the Roman Empire.  The four ruler system was instituted by Emperor Diocletian, who felt that the Roman Empire was too big for him to rule all by himself.  He therefore developed a tetrarchy, or a system of four rulers: two senior emperors, or augusti, and two junior emperors, or caesars. It was Diocletian who installed the father of Constantine as one of the four rulers: first as a caesar, later an augustus.    
When his father was appointed as one of the two caesars in 293 AD, the young Constantine served at the court of Diocletian in Nicomedia, then a prosperous city in Bithynia, Asia Minor, now a thriving town of Izmit in Turkey.  As Diocletian and his co-augustus Maximian abdicated their position in 305, Constantius succeeded Maximian as the western augustus.  Constantine left Nicomedia afterwards to join his father in the Roman Gaul, the modern day France and Belgium.  In the expedition against the Picts of Caledonia (Picts being the people who would later on became the Scotts and Caledonia became known as Scotland) Constantine’s father fell sick and subsequently died on July 25, 306 in Eboracum (modern day York, England).  The troops loyal to his father installed Constantine as the new emperor.  Constantine therefore ruled over his father’s territories, comprising of Britain, Gaul, the Germanic provinces and Spain. 
That was the year 306 AD.  By the year 324 AD, after defeating his last nemesis, Licinius, he became the sole ruler of the whole Roman Empire.  The rest, as they say, was history.  When he was appointed a caesar, he was only slightly more than 30 years of age.  As he became the sole emperor of the whole empire, he was a man of about 51 years old. 
It was indeed a long journey.
That evening, fatigue but restless, Constantine couldn’t sleep.  It was already past midnight. For the first time in his life, Constantine felt overwhelming.  The thought of having to rule such a massive empire sent shiver to his veins.  Tired of turning to the left and then to the right in his bed, Constantine got up and walked to the closet.  He picked a box, opened it, and took out the content inside.  It was a xiphos, a double-edged sword about two feet long.  The xiphos belonged to his father, who used it when he started his military career.  There was nothing particularly remarkable about the sword, but his late father cherished it, because not only that it had saved his father’s life many times, but more importantly had taken hundreds of others’ lives in return.  The xiphos reminded Constantine of his father.
He wiped the xiphos gently, showing much care.  Constantine didn’t particularly fancy that sword.  He himself didn’t use xiphos, for he preferred the longer spatha, about 3 feet long.  He kept and took care of that sword only because it was handed over to him by his father in the latter’s death bed.  It was his important link with his deceased father, probably because both of them had started their careers in the military.  When he needed to be alone, such as at that moment, that xiphos became his companion.
“Constantine!”
Suddenly there was a soft voice coming from the door.  Startled, Constantine’s eyes turned to the door.  There was a woman wearing a white robe at the door.  She was an old woman slightly above 70 years old.  Her face looked slightly pale, probably because of old age.  Her head was crowned with a thin white scarf.  Despite her age, she still exuded a majestic appearance.  The old lady was Helena, Constantine’s mother.
“Mother!” Constantine startled a bit, “what bring you here, mother?”
“Must I have reasons to visit my own son?”  Replied the mother, in kind.
“Of course not, mother, but it is already way past midnight.  You should be sleeping.” 
“And why haven’t you?”
“I am not sleepy yet.”
“Neither am I,” replied the mother. 
The conversation, if at all they were conversing, did not sound right.  Constantine may have been a great emperor, but he was still a son to Helena.  So he took the step to put it right.  He kissed the forehead of his mother and spoke softly.
“I am sorry mother for being too busy to even ask how you have been, but you know that your son will always find time if his mother wants to talk to him.”
The mother didn’t respond but instead caressed her son’s hair lovingly.  Constantine was all she got.  She lost her husband to other woman when Constantine was still a teenager.  Constantius, the father of Constantine, divorced Helena to marry Theodora, the step daughter of Maximian, the then co-augustus of Diocletian, to further his political career.  Being his first love, Constantius continued to see Helena from time to time.  This had irked her nemesis, Theodora, a great deal.
Helena was a Christian.  Even before she converted to Christianity, Helena was sympathetic to the Christians, while the son was largely indifferent.  It was partly through her influence that Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, giving general religious amnesty to the Christians and others of different faiths.  During the Edict of Milan, Helena formalized her leaning towards the Christians by undergoing the rite of baptism, formally converting to Christianity.  The son, however, refused to undergo the rite of baptism, although he did profess to be among the faithful.  Since her conversion eleven years ago, Helena became a devoted Christian, while the son continued to regard religion, be it Christianity or any other faith, mainly from practical perspective.  He was more interested in consolidating his power than becoming a religious man.  Being a practical man, Constantine had no qualm of invoking any god so long as it helped him win the war. 
“Is there anything you want to tell me mother?”  Constantine asked, after a few moments of silence.  He sensed that his mother had something to tell, or to ask.
“Isn’t it time for you to be baptized?”  His mother asked.
“We have been through this already mother, and the answer is going to be the same.  I will not be baptized, except in the Jordan River.”  Replied the son.
“Good, I’m going to visit Jerusalem.  You can accompany me there, so that you can be baptized in the Jordan River.”
“You are going to Jerusalem, mother?”  Constantine asked, quite surprised.
“Yes.”
“What for?”
“Pilgrimage of course, what else?”
“You never tell me about this before.”
“I’m telling you now.”
Constantine kept quiet for a few moments, trying to gauge his mother seriousness.  She looked serious.  He also kept quiet because he did not know the best way to respond to his mother.  His mother caught him this time.  Jordan River could not serve as his convenient excuse anymore.
“I will see to it that you have large entourage and everything you need to make the journey comfortable.”  Constantine at last spoke, avoiding the whole issue altogether.
“I don’t need large entourage or elaborate facilities.  I want my son to accompany me.”
“I don’t think I can come along mother.”  This time Constantine’s response was less elusive, though he did not give the reason why he could not accompany his mother to Jerusalem.
“You don’t think or you don’t want?”  Helena pressed.
“I can’t.”
“Because you have to settle some state affairs?”  There was a touch of sarcasm in Helena’s voice.  If all else failed, managing the empire’s affairs would make a valid excuse for an emperor.
“You know that the situation is still somewhat precarious.”
“I can wait for a few months until you to settle your state affairs, then we can go.”  Helena was still hoping that her son could accompany her, not so much because she needed him to come along, but because she wanted to make sure that her son would be baptized at the place of his choice.
“I don’t think you should delay your journey mother.”
“Why? Is it because you don’t want to come with me?”
“You know that it is not the case, mother.”
“Then it must be because you are not yet ready to be baptized.”
“I just can’t mother.”
Helena kept quiet for a moment.  She did not want to press Constantine further, but there was a tinge of sadness in her look.
“What a pity,” she at last spoke, and stood up, “you have saved countless others, but you yourself refuse to be saved.”
“Just what do you mean by that mother?”  Constantine asked, catching the hand of his mother who was about to leave.  Helena looked at her son with tenderness and love, but her facial countenance looked sad and disappointed. 
“No one has perhaps done more service to the faith than you, but you yourself have no faith.”
“That is not a very nice thing to say, mother.  You know that it is not true.”
“It hurts because it is true, is it not my son?”
“You know that it is not the case, mother.”
“Don’t you think that I know the dilemma you are facing?  I know that the faith has entered your heart, but you are afraid to make the decisive move, fearing the wrath of your pagan subjects and governors who are more numerous than your Christian subjects.  That’s why I said it is a pity.”  Said Helena.
“It is very late already mother.  Sleep in my room.  You take the bed, I will sleep on the floor.”  Said the dutiful son.
“I am not too old to walk to my room, Constantine.  It is only nearby.” Said Helena, smiling gently to his son.  The sadness in her face was still there.
“As you wish mother.  I will send you to your room.”
“You don’t have to burden yourself with this old woman, my son.”
Constantine walked his mother to her room, nevertheless.  He could have asked the guard to do that, but the great emperor would rather do it himself.  He was not sleepy anyway.  And after what his mother had said, it would be a miracle if he could go to sleep right away.  The thought had been troubling him for a long time already.  His mother gentle reminder about the matter only disturbed him more.
“It is alright if you cannot come along my son.  Don’t let my request to accompany me to Jerusalem disturb you.  I know you have a great future, and I know your name will be remembered for eternity.  Don’t ask me how I know, because I don’t know how to put it, but it is a mother intuition thing.  I feel that you were meant for greatness since I carried you in my womb.  But in the end, you will have to make that move, because it would be a great tragedy if you help saved others, but you fail to save yourself.”  Said Helena as she arrived at her room.  She was perhaps trying to reduce her son’s troubling mind, or perhaps it was her troubled feeling that she tried to appease.   Whatever the case may be, Constantine could not help thinking about what his mother had said.  In fact, his preoccupation with the empire affairs since the early evening was off his mind at that moment.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Arab Spring of Malaysia


The ruling coalition of Malaysia, the National Front, suffered a crushing defeat in the 12th General Election (GE-12) held on March 8, 2008.  The coalition still managed to form the Government of Malaysia though.  By crushing defeat, they lost their two-thirds majority, which they generally enjoyed after every election since Independence.

The National Front was returned to power again after the GE-13 held recently, on May 5, 2013.  But they suffered another defeat.  Not only that their seats were further reduced, they lost popular vote as well.  They garnered about 47 percent popular votes, against the 50 percent garnered by the opposition coalition.  But since the winning party is decided by the number of seats won, not by how many actually voted for them, the National Front still won the election, even though the opposition pact beat them with popular vote by 3 percent. 

The real value in the election is winning the seat, regardless of the vote.  Thus, while one opposition candidate had won by more than 51,000 majority votes whereas one ruling party candidate had won only by less than 200 votes, their value is the same: one seat each.

As usual, there have been claims of inconsistencies in the election process.  It was also claimed that this was the dirtiest election ever.  But there is nothing unusual about these claims.  Malaysians have heard of these before.

The opposition leader goes to the street challenging the election result, claiming that the results of between 30 to 40 parliamentary seats were doubtful.  He also alleged that the National Front has lost the moral ground to rule the country, since this ruling coalition lost the popular vote.

Normally the result of the election is to be challenged in court.  But the court process can be very lengthy.  The opposition pact, furthermore, need at least 23 seats in order to form the Government with simple majority (The ruling coalition had won 133 seats while the opposition pact won 89.  The total parliamentary seats are 222.  At least 112 seats must be won to form a government).  If it is just a matter of two or three seats, there is probably a fighting chance.  But 23 seats are big.  This is probably the reason why the opposition leader decided to go to the street rather than to the court.  Besides, it is generally alleged that the court tends to favor the ruling coalition. 

Going to the street is neither democratic nor undemocratic.  It depends on the purpose.  If the purpose is to air some grievance, or to demonstrate one’s feeling over something, the democratic setting allows it.  If it is to topple the Government, this sounds more like the Arab Spring rather than democratic process. 

In democratic setting, the Government is changed through election process.  The problem arises, however, when one does not trust the election process.  This is probably the main reason why the opposition leader went to the street (and still makes his round in major cities in Malaysia).  He believed, and still believes, that the opposition pact had won the election, but was denied because of unfair practices in the election process.

Even before the GE-13 was held, there have been talks about Arab Spring in Malaysia.  In simple terms, Arab Spring refers to the uprising of the people against their Government.  In recent times, three Arab governments fell through this process.  Two of them were relatively bloodless (Tunisia and Egypt) but the other one (Libya) was bloodied.  Another Arab Spring has gone into Summer, Fall and Winter, and is still mired with civil war (Syria).  Arab Spring in Yemen meanwhile brought some measure of success, while the one in Bahrain did not seem to bring much change.

If the current trend of the opposition leader going to the street gains momentum, Malaysia could as well experience the so-called Arab Spring Malaysian Style.  Whether this is good or bad for Malaysia is a matter of perspective.  The changing of Government through revolution, which is what the Arab Spring is all about, does not always bring positive result.  At the same time, no government can sustain itself if it continually ignores the wish of the people.  The question to be asked is this: Does the Malaysian Government continually ignore the wish of the population?

The answer would depend on whom you are asking.  If you ask me, I can provide the following simple scenario.  Kelantan, one of the states in Malaysia, has been under the opposition rule since 1990, and was returned to the same party in the recently concluded General Election.  The Federal Government tried to wrest the state, but the population of Kelantan refused to budge. 

Penang and Selangor, other two states in Malaysia, went to the opposition pact in the GE-12 in 2008.  The opposition pact won these states again in GE-13.  This time, they won by larger seats. 

Kedah, another state that went to the opposition pact in GE-12, was returned to the ruling coalition in GE-13.  There was no indication that the election in Kedah was severely rigged in GE-13, if any.  It was simply that the people in Kedah chose to come back to the ruling coalition.

This suggests that, flawed as it is, the ruling coalition are not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Considering that the National Front has been ruling Malaysia since her Independence, this suggests that it is the party of choice to the majority of Malaysians.  Of course, being the ruling party, it has unfair advantage not available to the opposition pact.  Any government for that matter, once in power, will do everything to stay there.    Still, if vast majority of the population had rejected it, the National Front would have been confined to the opposition role long time ago.

GE-13, however, seems to signal a new trend.  For the first time in the history of Malaysian politics, the ruling coalition lost popular vote.  More people voted for the opposition pact, but the ruling coalition managed to win the election only because they had won more seats. 

This victory due to winning more seats but losing popular vote may not seem fair, but that is how it works in Malaysia.  Going to the street would probably not change this fact.  If the opposition leader feels that he can create Arab Spring in Malaysia due to the groundswell, as indicated by massive turnout in the opposition rallies prior to the GE-13, he should also ask himself whether the Arab Spring is a good thing for Malaysia.  The Arab Spring may have been good for the Arabs, but it is not necessarily good for the Malaysians.  

The opposition leader may have felt that it is his obligation to rally the people to right the wrong, believing that the opposition pact had won the election, but was snatched by the Election Commissions in the last minute, and handed the victory to the ruling pact.  If the Election Commissions had truly switched the result, then he should probably go to the international tribunal for the recourse, not to the street.

What is certain is that the groundswell, both as illustrated by huge turnouts in the opposition rallies before the General Election, as well as measured through popular vote, is a clear warning to the ruling coalition.   During the campaigning period of GE-13, the opposition pact shouted the mantra: Ini kalilah (This will be the time), meaning, this time the Government will change. To that, the ruling coalition interjected with a jibe: Lain kalilah (Other time perhaps).

This jibe intended as a pun by the ruling coalition could well be a self-fulfilling prophecy, if the ruling coalition do not make systematic move to win back the lost grounds.  “Other time perhaps” could well be the next general election. 

But five years is a long time.  Anything can happen, even the Arab Spring Malaysian Style.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chapter 1: The Deposed Emperor and His Nemesis


LICINIUS WAS GETTING RESTLESS.   The news from Cappadocia was supposed to come the day before yesterday.  It was now two days late.  Even one day late was already too late.  Two days late could only mean that something went terribly wrong.  He began to fear the worst.
He walked up and down in his room feeling more and more anxious.  If Constantine knew about his plan with Martinianus, he was sure that there will be no more amnesty.  About six months ago, his life was already at the edge of the sword.  He was granted pardon by Constantine and the subsequence house arrest at Thessalonica only because of his wife’s intervention.
Licinius, the ex-emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, who was now confined into a house arrest in Thessalonica, Macedonia, feared the worst for Sextus Martinianus.  Martinianus was his right hand man whom he made co-emperor during his civil war with Constantine.  That was before both were defeated by Constantine, who was the rightful ruler of the Western portion of the Roman Empire.  The Emperor Constantine ordered both of them executed, but Constantia, the step sister of Constantine who was also Licinius’ wife, pleaded for their lives.  Firm, but not exactly heartless, Constantine granted both of them amnesty under house arrest: Licinius in Thessalonica and Martinianus in Cappadocia.
As is often the case with human nature, the victor may quite easily find forgiveness in his heart.  Not so with the loser.  Confining into a house arrest was too humiliating for Licinius to bear.  He soon began to wonder whether death was better than being a toothless lion.  He decided that he was already too old for that kind of humiliation.  Thus, through a trusted emissary who carried secret messages between himself in Thessalonica and Martinianus in Cappadocia, they plotted an assassination plan on Constantine.  Licinius knew that he had taken a very big risk, because, should Constantine discover his assassination plot, and there was a high probability that the latter would, for he was a very cautious and distrusting man, then not even tears of blood from his wife can save his cohort and himself.
“Something must have gone very wrong.” Thought Licinius. “Constantine is supposed to be dead already.  Why is Marcus not here?”  His mind was racing for an answer, but he found none.  Marcus, his trusted emissary, was supposed to bring him the report two days ago.  Now that there was no report, Licinius feared that Martinianus his cohort, Marcus his emissary and their chosen assassins were dead already.  The thought made Licinius more anxious.  He feared for his life now.
 Licinius called his chief guard and ordered him to be more vigilant.  He told his wife to sleep in a different room on the pretext that he had something extremely important to attend to.  Constantia knew that something was amiss but dared not asked or went against her husband’s order.  Fatigued with restlessness and burdened with anxiety, Licinius fell asleep a few hours past midnight.  He had a nightmare. 
He dreamt that he was being chased by Constantine’s royal guards.  In the dream, he managed to lock himself up in a room.  There was a strong banging at the door.  The guards must have tried to break down the door. 
Suddenly he felt something heavy on his chest. He also felt something very sharp on his throat.  The weight choked him and he instantly opened his eyes.  Opening his eyes, he saw shadows of men in his room.  Two of them were on his chest, and two others standing near his bed.  He recognized that the sharp object on his throat was a dagger.  The dagger felt very sharp; the men looked very furious. 
“Constantine would like to have a word with you,” said one of them who was standing near his bed.  Licinius now knew that he was not having a nightmare in a dream anymore, but a nightmare in reality.  These were real people on his chest and in his room, and it was real dagger on his throat. 
“What happen to my guards,” his mind flashed.  Whatever happened to his guards, it was clear that they were not in his room at that moment, when he needed them the most.
The four men dragged Licinius out of the room.  Things happened so quickly and swiftly that Licinius did not know for a second what had hit him.  Outside of his room, he saw three bodies lying breathless.  Even in his disoriented state, he recognized them instantly.  They were three of his ten bodyguards.  Now he knew what happened to his bodyguards.  They were dead. 
Also outside of his room, there were three more men waiting.  He recognized none of them.
“Are we going to Nicomedia?  You’d better let me get dressed, and I need to take my provisions for the journey.”  Licinius spoke, playing dumb, because he knew that such a request would be futile.  Nicomedia was a place where Emperor Constantine resided, about a week journey from Thessalonica on horse.
“There is no time for that,” said the one who spoke to him earlier.  He was probably the leader of the captors.
“But it is a week journey from here.  I surely do not wish my brother in law receives me in this state.”
“Either you walk escorted, or we drag you.  Either way, you are coming with us right now,” said the man.  He didn’t even address Licinius “my lord” as fitting for an emperor, albeit a deposed one.
“Where are we going?” Licinius asked, again knowing that is was going to be futile.  If these captors did not allow him to get dressed, he thought, Constantine must have been nearby.  Is he in my house already, his mind racing to make sense of the episode.
“Would you like we drag you with your hands and mouth tied, or would you rather walk escorted, old man.”  Said the man again, this time more sternly. 
Licinius relented.  He was not “my lord” anymore, just “old man.”  That kind of disrespect a few months back would have earned the speaker a jail term, if Licinius felt merciful.  Otherwise the offender would be beheaded.  But that was then, when he was still the co-emperor of the Roman Empire.  Now he was a mere prisoner to a few strangers whom he believed the imperial guard of his nemesis, Constantine.
“Is Constantine here!” thought Licinius. 
His mind raced for a stratagem to escape from his captors, but they were too many and his other guards were nowhere to be seen.  He was escorted to the main hall where he received visitors and conducted his affairs.  The big room was only half lit.  There were already six people there, and there was a shadow of a man sitting in his throne.  He recognized that the man in his throne was none other than his brother in law, the Emperor Constantine.  The moment he saw Constantine’s face, he knew that his fate was sealed.  Constantine was supposed to be dead.  The fact that he was still alive meant that Licinius’ whole plan went terribly awry.  It didn’t surprise him though, for he thought as much already.
“Welcome, the brother of my wife.  What has brought you so late in the night?  You should have warned me earlier.  I could have prepared a royal reception for you.”  Licinius knew Constantine had come to have him executed, but he decided to have last fun in his life, which, for all intents and purposes, was practically ending now.  There was sarcasm in his greeting.
“The great Licinius still has time for an insult,” said Constantine calmly.  “Are you not going to appeal for your life?”  He added.
“If my brother in law wanted me dead, I would be breathless already.  There must be something really important for you to pay me a visit at the dawn like this.”  Licinius ignored the not so subtle message from Constantine.
“Is it not time to stop pretending, Licinius?”
This time Licinius kept quiet.  Constantine stood and walked to Licinius.
“The husband of my sister,” the Emperor Constantine spoke calmly, “you may want to have a final look at your partner in crime.”
  A body was thrown onto the floor.  It was a man.  He appeared as if he had taken more than a good measure of beatings; otherwise the man was alive.  It was Sextus Martinianus, Licinius’ cohort.  The poor man was tied, both in his hands and his mouth. 
“Why, the husband of my sister.  Why?”  Asked Constantine.  Licinius knew what the question meant.  It was referred to his assassination plan which by now Licinius knew had been foiled.   Licinius laughed.  His laughter was full of sarcasm.  He didn’t say a word.  The question to him was a mere rhetoric.
“You broke my heart, the husband of my beloved sister.  You broke my heart.” 
“Ahh… what an irony.  The great Constantine does have a heart, after all,” Licinius said insultingly, obviously resigned to the fate that he had no more chance to save his life. And it was.  The moment he finished uttering his brief insult, Constantine pronounced a death sentence.
“Be kind to him with a swift execution,” Constantine ordered his guards, “after all, he is the father of my nephew.”
Licinius was dragged again, along with Martinianius.  This time out of Constantine’s sight to a sure death.  Knowing Constantine well, and aware of his own treachery, Licinius didn’t make any effort to plead.  There was no use for that.  He was tired of life anyway, playing second fiddle to Constantine who was in fact very much his junior, for he was already a man over 70 years of age, while Constantine was only slightly above 50.
While things happened rather quickly, it was not without a commotion.  A few seconds after Licinius was out of Constantine’s sight, Constantia, the half-sister of Constantine and the wife of the soon to be expired Licinius, appeared.  Someone must have told her what happened.  But she came one second too late, for her husband was no longer to be seen.  Sensing the inevitable fate of her husband, she threw herself on her brother’s feet.
“He is the father of your nephew, and a husband of your sister, Constantine.  Have you not promised to spare his life for my sake?  What are you doing now?” Constantia pleaded to his half-brother Constantine quite hysterically.  But she somehow knew that her plea would fall on deaf ears.  While Licinius had kept his plan secret, his wife knew that something was really amiss. 
“I love him no less than you do, Constantia,” said Constantine, “but even an emperor cannot always follow his heart.”
A plea fell on deaf ears, Constantia tried guilt.
“But you have made a promise for the sake of your sister, who needs a husband, and your nephew, who needs a father.”   
The emperor’s mind, however, was made up.
“There is nothing I can do Constantia.  Either I take action now, or he will have me assassinated.  With the way he had been making an attempt on me, you can either have a husband or a brother, but not both.  I would love to see my sister has a husband, but not the one who will make her lose a brother.”  With those words, Constantine motioned to his guards to take away his sister Constantia, but his sister clung to his feet and was not about to be taken away.
“When our father died, you are more than a brother to me, Constantine.  You treated me like a sister and a daughter.  And I always love you for that.  I didn’t ask for a husband, but you married me to Licinius.  Now you are about to make me a widow.  What kind of a man are you?  Have you no mercy to your beloved sister?”  Guilt also did not seem to work, Constantia tried love, for she knew Constantine loved her. 
It was of course not a question.  It was designed to touch Constantine’s heart.  On his part, Constantine really had no choice.  And he reckoned that his sister too knew his predicament. He also knew the predicament of his sister, a woman who was about to lose her husband. 
There was no longer any need to reason with her, because there is no reason that can quite console the soul who was about to lose her soul mate.   Constantine touched his sister’s hands without saying a word.  He made no effort to console her, because no word can console her at this moment.  That much Constantine knew.  He then motioned to his guards to take his sister away.  This time Constantia let herself be carried away, though she was still crying. 
“Be gentle with her,” said Constantine to his guards.  “She is very distraught.  And I love her.”  He added.  
When the guards ushered Constantia away from the emperor, she turned her face towards her brother.  There were some tears in his eyes, visible even in a dim light.  She never saw her brother cried before.

NOVEL: THE BIRTH OF A GOD


Note to Readers:
My blog has become a little heavy of late.  I have decided to put some light touch on it by publishing a historical novel that I wrote a few years ago.  Depending on suitability, I may publish a few chapters of this novel in one month, to be followed by my normal blog entries in another.  What follows is the prelude to the novel.  It provides the background to the whole story, but it is rather complex.  You may skip the prelude if you find it a little heavy. Subsequent chapters will be more story telling.


PRELUDE

God was not always the Father, wrote Arius in Thalia, but that there was a period when he was not the Father.  The Word of God was not from eternity, he added, but was made out of nothing.  There was a time, therefore, when he did not exist.
Those ideas and many others are now considered heretical by the mainstream Christianity.  The orthodox Christians consider the Father, the appellation given to their God, and the Word of God, referred to their Lord Jesus Christ, to be consubstantial, that is having the same substance or essence, coeternal and coequal to one another.  Yet the twain is not one and the same thing, which is another heretical idea, but that their substance is of the same, and they coexist eternally, and they are of coequal to each other.   Anything less or more than that would be considered unorthodox.  It is heretical, for instance, to say that their substance or their essence is similar, or alike, what more to say that they are different.  The key word is the same, not similar, not alike and of course definitely not different
Another element in the equation is the Holy Spirit, which is of the same substance, exists coeternally and coequal to both God the Father and God the Son.  The trio makes up the elements of the Holy Trinity, one God in three personalities.  Should one be concerned enough to ask about the number here, the answer is unequivocally one.  The Christianity’s God is one God, for like Islam and Judaism, Christianity belongs to the monotheistic faith.  Unlike the One God of the Muslims or the Jews whose existence is expressed as only one unit, the One God of the Christians, however, exists in three units united as one, whereby their substance, existence and status are the same.  Yet they cannot be said as one and the same thing, for they are of three different personalities, not one.
If this sounds a little confusing, it is.  The Holy Trinity is not an easy concept to grasp; nor a simple mystery to fathom.  The Christians took about three hundred years in order to crystallize and formalize it as an accepted, correct, or orthodox creed.  Within those three hundred years, there had been constant and often fierce debates around the mystery.  Even after the orthodox view was made official, the debate continued to rage on for many centuries afterwards until the orthodox groups, either known as Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or even Protestant, won over the heretic groups.  The challenges to the orthodox view remain till the present day, but they form no more than small minority. 
The center of the controversy lies not in God the Father, whom the Jews called Yahweh, or the Muslims called Allah; neither it is on the Holy Spirit, which is a later addition to complete the triune; but on the person called Jesus.  The nature of his person has become the subject of contention, whether he is just a human, a god, or a combination of both.  If he is a god, why does he walks and talks with other people.  If he is a human, why does he call himself the Son of God and performs things that no man can do, such as reviving the dead.  If a combination, what exactly is the nature of that combination?
Setting aside theological nuances, this is what we know about him.  He was born about two thousand years ago to a mother believed to be a virgin whose name was Mary.  Being of a Jewish stock, on the eighth day he was circumcised and named Jesus.  In his mother tongue, Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew, he was called Yehoshua.  Little is known about his youthful life, but when he reached 30 years old or so, the Bible said that he was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.  It was said that a holy spirit in the form of a dove descended to him at that time.  From then on, he led the movement and gained many followers. 
The nature of his movement is disputed, but among the Christians, he was said to preach the Kingdom of God.  During his ministry, he was said to perform many miracles.  These include reviving the dead, curing the leper, walking on water, transforming water into wine, and making abundant food out of little.  Three years after being baptized by John the Baptist, he was allegedly put to death through crucifixion.  Three days later, he rose from the grave and met his disciples.  After giving final instruction to his disciples, he ascended to Heaven.   A few centuries later, he was officially worshipped as God.  His worshippers were called Christians, taking the religion from his title, the Christ.  Currently, it is the largest religion in the world.
Who is this Jesus Christ?
To the mainstream or Trinitarian Christianity, a God.  More precisely, the Son of God.  To the Muslims, he is one of the great prophets.  Muslims, believing also in his virgin birth, take this as a sign of God’s power rather than Jesus divinity, and call him Isa Al-Masih.  To the Jews, his designations range from an inspired messenger of the Nazarene sect, a Pharisaic rabbi, and even an impostor.  Many Jews during his time believed that he is an illegitimate child.  Some contemporary writers even named Jesus’ natural father as Ben Panthera, a Roman officer who had a fling with Mary, whom they called Marianne.   Yet there are some during our time who question his very existence, surmising that he is perhaps a mere legendary figure concocted by ancient people.
Is Jesus always a God from the beginning?
Historically, no.  Most reports say that he never claimed himself to be a God, though he did point to himself as a Son of God.  Historically, he was only officially proclaimed as a God about three hundred years after his death.  This official proclamation took place during the first universal council among the prominent priests the world over at that time.  The year was 325 AD.  The place was Nicaea of Bithynia in Asia Minor, now the town of Iznik in the modern Turkey.  It was after this Council of Nicaea that his Godhood was officially proclaimed, under the so-called the Nicene Creed.  But it took another few hundred years or so before his divinity became institutionalized as the leading official creed.
The central figure behind that fateful council was curiously not a priest, but rather a king whose name was Constantine.  His faith as a Christian at that time is even disputed, because he was only baptized a decade later, in his death bed to boot.  What prompted him to convoke and convene that universal council appeared to be political, for the debates that raged on among the Christians were starting to threaten the social order in his empire.  That it could also be for a religious reason is likewise probable, for Constantine was at least a nominal Christian at that time.  
It is an established fact that the controversy, especially surrounding the person of Christ, had been raging on as early as a few years after his death.   It was no different during Constantine’s time, except perhaps in its intensity.  The difference lies in the way the power that be handled the situation.  Some explanation is required here.
Christianity found its birth in Judea, the Roman dominion at that time, now roughly what makes up for Israel and Palestine.  It found its impetus among the Jews, the Roman subjects, but was soon to find its adherents among the non-Jews, the Gentiles. All of the Roman emperors, however, were pagans. 
Most of the original followers of Jesus among the Jews were strictly monotheistic, so they did not engage in the controversy about the nature of his person, but those among the gentiles, who were to become numerous, took that as their main occupation.  His nature was a great mystery to them, and this needed to be resolved.  Many views and opinions were promoted; most of them were conflicting to one another. 
The Christians zealousness in promoting their ideas and preaching them to others on the pretext of saving the heathens from damnation, and the fight they had among themselves, had become a nuisance to the Roman power. The Roman emperors’ answer to this situation had always been one of persecution, that is, until the advent of Constantine the Great.  Unlike his predecessors who were all pagans and bore hostile attitude to the Christians, Constantine the Great embraced the people and their faith.  He set out to reconcile the raging dispute among the Christians by inviting all the leading disputants to a conference, made them to debate for months, and came up with the answer to the mystery, which was henceforth recognized as the official and orthodox version, and forced all parties to subscribe to it.  Those who refused were exiled.
Of the many views, two were most prominent.  The first was held by a priest named Arius, of whom we have earlier alluded.  He seemed to indicate that Jesus was divine, but he was different from God.  Those who shared similar views were known as the Arians by their opponents, though Arius and his followers no doubt considered themselves the people of the truth.  The second view was held by his opponents, led by a bishop called Alexander.  He said Jesus is a full God, who is the same as God the Father.   He called himself and his followers as orthodox Christians, but Arius called him and people like him as Sabellians, because the idea that Jesus and the Father are one and the same was first popularized by a leading figure a century earlier, whose name was Sabellius, whose view had been deemed heretical by his opponents.  
Arius and his group were to lose the debate in Nicaea through vote, but his version, or the variant of his version, was to dominate the Christian world a decade later.  Constantine himself was finally baptized by an Arian called Eusebius, a longtime ally and supporter of Arius.  Constantine’s successor, his son, too, was Arian, and imposed the Arian view on his Christian subjects, namely that Jesus may have been divine, but he is not God, or at least his nature is different from God.   Thus, even when it was decided officially in the Council of Nicaea that Jesus was God, the controversy surrounding his nature continued unabated. 
What was gained, but lost, was to be regained later on.  The Arians lost again, largely through the work of Alexander’s protégé, a leading figure by the name of Athanasius, who dedicated his life fighting against his opponents.  His cause was not to be victorious during his lifetime, but his works, the most important is “On the Incarnation of the Word,” were to provide the foundation by which the nature of Jesus Christ was to be based upon.  It was for this reason that the Trinitarian creed of the Christianity is also known as Athanasian Creed.  With the creedal foundation established by Athanasius, and the institutional foundation established by Constantine, the faith of Christianity came to be known as we now know: that God is one in three persons, all of whom are fully God; that Jesus is fully God and fully man, whose substance is the same as the Father, coequal to Him, and exist eternally with Him.
Arius may have lost the battle to win the creed that was accepted and recognized as the orthodox creed, but it is a historical fact that Jesus was not officially recognized as God until about three centuries after his death, and it was not until a few centuries thereafter that such a view became institutionalized and accepted by the mainstream Christians.  As Arius was fond of saying, before he was, he was not.
No Christian worth his salt, however, would say that Jesus was not a God from the beginning.  He always was, is and will be.  The nature of his person was perhaps too mysterious to fathom, and it became apparent only after a few centuries of debates and theologizing.  Just because a thing cannot be seen or fully understood does not mean that it does not exist.  That Jesus’ divine nature was only understood and accepted many centuries later, after much theologizing, was only due to the frailty of human comprehension, or the complexity of the mystery.  It does not mean, therefore, that he is not a God from the beginning. 
The arguments would not cease to exist.  In the final analysis, it all boils down to faith.  One either believe in it, or one doesn’t.  Many books have been written about the nature of Jesus Christ, both by the believers and otherwise.  Most, however, are either of apologetics type or too scholarly.  The one that treats the subject in the light of historical perspective, written in the story telling manner so as to make it accessible to the general audience, is indeed rare, if any.  This book tries to do just that.   
Where shall, then, our story begin?
The most obvious would be to start at or slightly prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, and progress chronologically up to the time when his divinity becomes an official creed.  That would perhaps make sense for a scholarly historical book, but sound a little boring for our purpose.   
Since it was emperor Constantine, perhaps more than anyone else, who provided the means for Christianity to take its present shape, it probably is a good idea to start with him, and the events that led to the Council of Nicaea.  That would make the first part of the book, the foundation for the whole story.  Next we go back to the time just slightly after Jesus was crucified to provide the background to the debates in the said Council.  Then we move back to the future, to the conclusion and the result of the Council.  Finally, we close with the aftermath after the Council of Nicaea, looking at the reversal of fortune of the victorious party and how that fortune was regained.
Let’s begin our story.  Be prepared to be entertained; or if you like, be distressed.