Aware that he was soon to die, Cerbonius bequeathed all the wisdom he had garnered over his long and colourful life to his spiritual son, Silvanus, in the form of a scroll of warnings and admonitions for young Christian believers.
Silvanus would have liked to read Cerbonius’s advice out loud and ask for explanations where necessary. But the aged Bishop was too weak. So I’ve taken the liberty of here reproducing the headlines of that catalogue, together with some comments the Saint would have voiced had he had the strength:
- Study Holy Scripture.
It holds the key to the abundant and eternal life.
- Do not despise the wisdom of the ancient philosophers, whether Christian or Pagan.
I have Aristoteles’ incomparable Historia Animalium in my library at Marcus’s house, as well as Plinius’ master work Naturalis Historia. The meticulous research and wise reflections of such scholars have opened many eyes to the wonders of God’s creation.
- Barbaric northern invaders threaten to usher in an age of darkness.
It will be a call to repentance for neglecting to follow our Lord.
- Do not emulate the art of warfare.
Rather, overcome evil with good.
- Shun the hypocrisy of those who are Christians in name only.
Their thoughts and deeds will some day be shouted from the rooftops.
- Disdain the excessive asceticism practised by certain monks, based on a false Platonic dualism.
Plato taught that this physical world is only an imperfect reflection of an ideal spiritual world which we cannot now see. On the basis of that view, some followers of Jesus reject all material things and experiences as evil. They deny every need and desire, longing to die and to pass on to a perfect afterlife in heaven. This is at odds with God’s statement that when He looked over all he had made, He saw that it was very good!
- Man-made rules such as those advocating celibacy and abstinence even within marriage only encourage illicit sexual practices.
As we sadly see in many a Church and monastery.
- Renounce theological arguments on matters beyond our comprehension.
I’m afraid such devout believers as the much-aligned Pelagius and my learned compatriot Augustinus have indulged in endless disputes over whether man is sinful from birth and whether his will is free or all is predestined by God Almighty. Arguing over such obscure matters aids no one.
Arrogant believers in the Trinitarian doctrine of the Nature of Christ – such as the most worthy saints Ambrosius and Hieronymus – have caused bitter strife with adherents of other views in the Eastern Churches and with the Germanic Northern tribes who hold to the Arian teaching that Jesus is in some way subordinate to the Father.
Evil powers must mock as the Body of Christ is divided. How much better would it further God’s Kingdom if wise men of God devoted their energy to humbly serving the poor, the weak and the outcast, to selfless acts of mercy, to promoting reconciliation between conflicting parties, and to striving for justice.
- Reject senseless religious rituals, rules, prohibitions and the veneration of relics.
Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law and came to offer God’s grace and truth; He never intended to burden His followers with new regulations.
- Denounce a Church which demands sacrificial gifts of poor parishioners to finance grand edifices and ornaments.
- Refute the Church’s rejection of secular learning.
- Counter that philosophy which disdains Roman innovation and neglects their masterful constructions.
- Beware lest a new and violent religion arise as a reaction against a corrupt and misguided Church.
- Beware of fanaticism, elitism and materialism in all its forms.
Each of these headings was elaborated at length in Cerbonius’s scroll. Such words of wisdom might even be of value to Christians today.