Aurelia hushed his voice, but her eyes shone with stern gladness as she stood before him, and took him by the hand, and spoke what he alone could hear.
’Then unite yourself in faith with those who would make Rome free. Be one in religion with the brave Goths—with Veranilda.’
He cast down his eyes and drew a deep breath.
‘I scarce know what that religion is, O Aurelia,’ came from him stammeringly. ’I am no theologian; I never cared to puzzle my head about the mysteries which men much wiser than I declare to pass all human understanding. Ask Decius if he can defend the faith of Athanasius against that of the Arians; he will smile, and shake his head in that droll way he has. I believe,’ he added after a brief hesitancy, ‘in Christ and in the Saints. Does not Veranilda also?’
The temptress drew back a little, seated herself; yielded to troublous thought. It was long since she had joined in the worship of a congregation, for at Cumae there was no Arian church. Once only since her captivity had she received spiritual comfort from an Arian priest, who came to that city in disguise. What her religion truly was she could not have declared, for the memories of early life were sometimes as strong in her as rancour against the faith of her enemies. Basil’s simple and honest utterance touched her conscience. She put an end to the conversation, promising to renew it before long; whilst Basil, for his part, went away to brood, then to hold converse with Decius.
Through all but the whole of Theodoric’s reign, Italy had enjoyed a large toleration in religion: Catholics, Arians, and even Jews observed their worship under the protection of the wise king. Only in the last few years of his life did he commit certain acts of harshness against his Catholic subjects, due to the wrath that was moved in him by a general persecution of the Arians proclaimed at Byzantium. His Gothic successors adhered to Theodoric’s better principle, and only after the subjugation of the land by Belisarius had Arianism in Italy been formally condemned. Of course it was protected by the warring Goths: Totila’s victories had now once more extended religious tolerance over a great part of the country; the Arian priesthood re-entered their churches; and even in Rome the Greek garrison grew careless of the reviving heresy. Of these things did Decius speak, when the distressed lover sought his counsel. No one more liberal than Decius; but he bore a name which he could not forget, and in his eyes the Goth was a barbarian, the Gothic woman hardly above the level of a slave. That Basil should take a Gothic wife, even one born of a royal line, seemed to him an indignity. Withheld by the gentleness of his temper from saying all he thought, he spoke only of the difficulties which would result from such a marriage, and when, in reply, Basil disclosed his mind, though less vehemently than to Aurelia, Decius fell into meditation. He, too, had often reflected with bitterness on the results of that restoration of Rome to the Empire which throughout the Gothic dominion most of the Roman nobles had never ceased to desire; all but was he persuaded to approve the statesmanship of Cassiodorus. Nevertheless, he could not, without shrinking, see a kinsman pass over to the side of Totila.