[Lights come up, dawn is breaking, Marcellinus, Augustine, and Jeromeare in various stages of sleep on their respective couches, obviously inebriated—platters of food, bottles of wine are everywhere. Pelagiusis nowhere to be seen. Two SERVANTS are standing, STAGE left and right, holding plates, towels over their shoulders, wondering what to do. They look back and forth, from one to another, and toward these drunken men.
STAGE left, First Servant, Mary, a woman of roughly 20 years old, she is shapely, attractive, but short of beautiful; she carries curiosity as both a burden and a gift. STAGE right, Second Servant, Peter, a man of the same age, but fewer ideas.]
Mary:I say we leave them alone. They can fight some more when they wake up.
Peter: They are your masters, Mary. You owe them your life. Let’s just clean up here.
Mary: They are your masters, Peter, they are not mine. My master is Jesus, I own no other.
Peter: Oh for God’s sake, would you stop with that, your “faith,” as you call it, will kill you. Or me. It’s not even faith, what is it, it’s a cult, you worship a dead man, a beggar who died on a fucking tree—they crucified him, Mary, he’s dead, that’s it, why pretend he lives?
Mary: It’s not pretend, he does live. He’s not dead. He’s here, he’s with us. He tells me that I am saved . . . I’ll get to heaven.
Peter: Really? Where is that? Why do you think there’s anything but this?
Mary: A man I met, it was in Corinth I think, when I was first bound, he said his name was Paul, he told a story about Jesus on the road to Damascus . . . and all he carried was a book. He had no baggage, no servants, nothing. He was a prophet, a preacher. He said something like what you did, over and over—we’re stuck with this life, he said, but heaven still waits for us, Jesus waits there. Love and hope, he said, that’s all we got. And faith, that’s what I have. So heaven, it’s real to me, as real as Jesus. I’ll get there.
Peter: Oh for God’s sake, and I don’t mean your God. Look at these drunken, stupid shits. Two of them are “Christians,” they believe like you, there’s an afterlife, heaven—also hell, right? [He turns, looking for Pelagius] Where’s the other one, Pelagius?
The host of this party is a Roman, a citizen, he’s just as drunk and just as stupid, but he doesn’t believe in any of that crap.
Mary: You’re wrong, he invited them to witness. To see what he believes, to wonder about this life, and the next. I think he wants to be a Christian, like me.
Peter: No, you’re wrong, they’re here because he wants to know what they believe. Why they believe. But he’s no fool. His world is dead, he’s looking for a way out. How can you be so blind?
Mary: You call it blindness because you’re the fool, you think you know this world, but you don’t. This world isn’t dead, it’s come alive, and I am its witness. They’re waking up.
[Augustinestirs first, then Jerome. Marcellinusis still, remaining asleep A is confused. He looks quizzically at the SERVANTS, as if he belongs with them, then realizes he’s the guest of the great Marcellinus Ammianus. He rises, sits back down, shakes his head. He grabs a bottle of wine, takes a slug. He rests his forearms on his knees, looks at the floor. He addresses Jerome.]
A: You look like shit. What you’re peddling is a lie. Why do you tell slaves they’re free, and tell rich ladies they’re slaves to their possessions? You’re the whore, not them.
J: [He’s barely awake, he doesn’t want this conversation, but he hates everything Augustine stands for, so he rises to the occasion] I have read your “Confessions,” Augustine, you are the whore. I hope to see you die—not on the cross, but in pain, tortured, writhing, begging for death.
[As Jerome says “I hope to see you die,” Enter, STAGE right, Pelagius, looking perfectly sober—he doesn’t drink wine, only water]
P: Strong words, weak soul. Why do you hate this man, Jerome? He can’t hurt you, or your church. Nor mine.
J: Stay out of this, Pelagius, you have no standing here. It’s not your church because you’re the heretic, remember? You’re already an invisible man.
P: You get to decide this, you pompous ass, the man who tells wealthy women how to divest and get to heaven? I’ll bet you get laid a lot. But who put you in charge of the church? This man is a bishop, and this man speaks for me.
A: I don’t speak for you, Pelagius, nobody can. Hear me now, I am the Christian on these premises, but it’s not my church, not yet. [He pauses, he’s also barely awake, he looks at the SERVANTS] Don’t you know what Jesus did, what he said, what he wrought, don’t you understand why he came here, to this world, and stayed long enough to suffer, to die? How did you say it, Jerome, “tortured, writhing, begging for death”?
That’s yourfucking savior, Jerome, and Marcellinus was right about him, he was a fool, a carpenter, a man who would not fight, he turned his other cheek, but listen to me now, [he rises from the couch], Pelagius said it, I am a bishop of yourchurch and I will fight you, I will break you in half, I will split you like a melon [He’s run out of threats] . . . I swear this, because I don’t give a fuck about your rules. Your heaven is a lullaby.
J: You are a barbarian, I always knew this about you, even before I read your “Confessions.” Christians are civilized, and we are the future.
P: I suppose we are the future, Jerome. Us Christians. But we‘ll never know unless we claim it. You see what I mean? Unless we will it, unless we make it true.
J: Only God can do that.
P: No, Jerome, only we can do that.
A: You’re both wrong. We are the future, but not because we’re civilized. [He pauses, he gestures toward Marcellinus]. Do you think this man is civilized? Are they? [He turns toward the SERVANTS, and now he addresses them, not Jerome, not Pelagius]. We changed the moral climate, and now the weather’s bad. We changed the rules—the winds are blowing differently these days because we decided slaves are just as important as this man. [Again he gestures toward the sleeping Marcelinus.]
Their stories, their lives, here and now. [Now pacing, but still facing the SERVANTS]. Jerome, you say, the next life, that’s what matters, that’s when we inherit the earth. I say, this life is all there is. We are the kingdom of God, here and now. There’s no tomorrow, Jerome, only heaven on earth.
But Pelagius, you say we create it hour by hour because each of us must be asking “Why should I love God better than this day?”
Well, either God is at work in us, and with us, here and now, or we are doomed to a fate much worse than even Jerome could conjure, and he’d be citing the Gospels, of course, mainly that maniac John and his four horsemen of the fucking apocalypse.
J: I suppose your friend Alypius would agree with you.
A: [He stops moving] My friend Alypius is dead.
J: You wrote about him, his bloodlust, at the Coliseum. He lived by your rules, remember—no tomorrow. An educated man, a Stoic, a scholar, and he became a mere beast because he believed in nothing. He was the monster, Augustine.
[A turns and walks toward Jerome, reaching for a weapon that isn’t there. The SERVANTS move toward the middle, wondering if they can prevent this confrontation, as P steps between A and J]
A: [P restrains A] I’ll kill you for that, you—
[SCRIM rises on the back wall, now we are witness to the gladiatorial games, we see gruesome, clumsy clashes, blood spattered, men dying, and we reverse shot to the friends Augustine and Alypius in the stands, Augustine watching his friend more than the games, Alypius enthralled by the violence. A watches, his shoulders droop, he speaks to P]
A: I couldn’t save him, nobody could. [P shrugs]
P: He might have saved himself. Only he could have. Not you, and not your God.
A: What the fuck does that mean? God can’t save us?
J: He is not in heaven.
A and P, together: Who?
J: Alypius. You are such fools, both of you. [He picks up and reads from the “Confessions”] “The minute he saw blood, he was drinking it like an animal, and sat transfixed, unable to turn away. With eyes glued to the spectacle, he mindlessly gulped frenzies. He took a complicit joy in the fighting, he was drunk with delight at the cruelty. No longer the man he was when he entered the stadium, he was now sunk in the mass, no different than the crowd that had brought him there. Worse—he stared, he screamed, he burned with passion, the madness he found there followed him everywhere, and he returned to it, bringing others . . . .”
That is your description of Alypius, your own friend, from the “Confessions.”
A: Yes, that is my description, and No, he’s not in heaven, you miserable fucking prig. He didn’t believe in your Jesus, not until the end. Nor mine. He believed like this man does [he gestures toward the sleeping MA], he believed in Fortune or Fate, or whatever they call it these days, he believed . . . in himself. He was a Platonist, do you know what that means?
[He slumps, looks around as if he’s lost] Christ, I don’t know what he believed. I know what he said. He said, “This world is impossibly cruel, look at these creatures, but I am not like them. I can abstain, I can stand apart, and I will.” But he couldn’t. Nor can I.
And this man [A gestures toward P], he also believes in himself, in “free will,” whatever the fuck that is. I can’t tell what he means except that if I love myself I can’t love God.
J: [Now amazed] You loved him.
A and P together: Who?
J: Alypius [shaking his head].
A: Yes, of course I loved him. He was my friend.
P: And mine. [A and P exchange looks]
J: But you couldn’t save him.
A: No, I couldn’t, you fucking pedant. Nor him [He gestures toward Pelagius]. Nobody could have. That’s the thing, Jerome, that’s the difference between me and you, you think the church can do that. Me, I know nothing can. So, I don’t care. I won’t judge you. I don’t care enough about you. But this world is better than you know.
J: You are the fool, Augustine. This world is dying. It’s already dead. You cannot save it.
P: You’re both wrong. This world is already ours. But it’s worse than you know, Augustine. Look across the river. Soon darkness falls, and Rome disappears. Then what? Can your God save you? Or will you save yourself when the barbarians, these Europeans, are approaching Hippo, your own home?
J: You are the barbarians. You, Pelagius, come from Britain, fertile ground for nothing but rebels and painted warriors—and he comes from Africa, the place the Romans obliterated in the Punic Wars. You two may remember Carthage, but no one else ever will because the legions left no trace of it. You come from nothing, from nowhere.
P: And yet—and yet, here we are, Jerome.