Conversations with Crosses

11 Jan

I want to love the Acts of Andrew. It’s one of the few Acts that’s actually fun to read throughout, with its titillating, platonic love triangle that leads to our hero’s martyrdom. Even better than the tame soap opera stuff, Andrew’s speeches are actually quite moving to this cynic. They’re filled with incisive philosophical musings that go beyond the usual “yay celibacy” and also, “praise Jesus” proclamations I’ve come to expect in these texts.

While the Gospel of Peter gives us a talking cross, the Acts of Andrew offers one that listens. Brought to his fated cross, Andrew greets the “weary” wood, and says  it can rest now that he’s finally arrived: “Greetings, O cross! … though you have been weary for a long time… now at last you can rest.” Empathizing with his means of execution, Andrew, who likewise has “been weary for so long,” is eager to rest with the cross. Adding one more strange romance to the list, it seems so sweet that they’re together at last.

Bound, but not nailed, to the cross (lest he seem too Christ-like), Andrew addresses a massive crowd from his literal post. He criticizes worldviews that sound much more modern than ancient, monologuing at length:

If you understand the conjunction of the soul with a body to be the soul itself, so that after the separation (of the two) nothing at all exists, you possess the intelligence of animals and one would have have to list you among ferocious beasts… And if you suppose that you are merely that which can be seen and nothing more, you are slaves of folly and ignorance. And if you perceive that only this nocturnal light exists and nothing in addition to it, you are kindred to this night… And if the rest of your possessions draw you to themselves as though you belonged to them, may their impermanence reproach you. What benefit is there for you who gain for yourselves external goods but do not gain your very selves? What pride issues from external ancestry if the soul in you is held captive, sold to desires? And why do we desire pleasure and childbearing, for later we have to separate? No one knows what he does… why all the rest of the concern for externals, while you yourselves neglect what you actually are? I exhort you all rather to rid yourselves of this life which is painful, vain, senseless, boastful, empty, perishable, transitory… I entreat you who have come here together for my sake, abandon this entire life and hasten to overtake my soul which speeds toward things beyond time, beyond law, beyond speech, beyond body, beyond bitter and lawless pleasures full of every pain… Participate in another fellowship for yourselves… flee from everything merely temporal… (56-57).

Andrew speaks like this for three days and three nights. “Even the pagans” (those godless bastards) were present, listening with devotion to the dying man’s endless words, “and no one, no matter how weary, separated from him.” Martyr, cross, and crowd: all of them overcome their physical, temporary tiredness to exert (well, still temporary) strength to attend to their task at hand.

I love the sleepy cross, sleepy Andrew, and sleepy crowd with sleepy pagans. I love the focus on impermanence, the thoughtfully compact observations (e.g., “No one knows what he does.”), and the barrage of rhetorical questions about self-possession. And I love it when the crowd, completely overcome by his words, exclaims, “Bring the man down and we will all become philosophers!”

But I hate Andrew’s solution to the problem of transience. More on that next week.

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  1. Acts of Andrew Reading Part II: Andrew’s Suicidal Solution | The Apocryphal Devotional - January 20, 2012

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