Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Eusignius of Antioch

Today is the feast of St. Eusignius of Antioch. He was a soldier of the Roman Empire who served under several emperors, including the father of the St. Constantine the Great, Constantius Chorus and St. Constantine himself. He was present when St. Constantine saw the Chi Ro appear in the sky predicting his victory against his rival Maxentius. For those curious, these are the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek. All told, he served the Empire six decades as a soldier. By some accounts, this service lasted until Julian the Apostate came to power in A.D. 361 and by others he had retired to Antioch where he was denounced by a fellow citizen and therefore appeared before to the Emperor.

In both accounts St. Eusignius upbraided the Emperor, recalling Julian’s own history: Julian was the nephew of the first Christian Emperor, he had been raised within the Church and baptized, he attended school with Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian and had been a Reader of the Church he attended in Nicomedia. Eusignius recounted the image of the Chi Ro in the sky and the victory it presaged. Despite these admonitions, Julian had St. Eusignius beheaded in A.D. 361. Julian’s reign would be short. Foolishly, he went to war with the Persians and died in battle in A.D. 363.

I have got to admit, as an old grognard I really like this guy. Unfortunately, he is emblematic of the time we live in. Ever since I was a kid, I have had the Baby Boomer mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30” forced on me (ironically, normally by people who were over 30) and it is pervasive in the culture. We cater to the young instead of listening to the wisdom of our elders. In fact, we have created an entire industry out of various retirement homes so we don’t even have to see them, let alone listen to them.

As a trained historian, I see this path fraught with danger. There is truth in the old axiom, those who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it. Not only have we forgotten much of our own past, we are willfully ignoring it and, in some cases, actively trying to shut down any attempt to learn that history. Cultures tried this path already in the 20th century. It ended in the death of millions.

Thus, I find in St. Eusignius a kindred spirit — an old grognard willing to stand up and remind an Emperor of what an idiot he was for ignoring the past. I also think that the OSR, in its own way, has followed in his footsteps. We have doggedly reminded the RPG world that the past is not only important to remember, but that games written 40+ years ago are still relevant and fun to play. Imagine for a moment, if WotC had listened to the Julian Apostates of world and turned its back on TSR, D&D and all that history. Imagine a world without the OGL. Without our past remembered, honored and played, we would not be living through the Golden Age of RPGs that we are living through today.

In this sense, we stand forth as icons of why the past is not only important, but why it is necessary to bring the past into the present in order to make that present better than the past. If only we could bring that message beyond our wonderful little corner of the internet.

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