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This is My Advice

I have a litany of idiosyncrasies in my life, all of which I see as personally beneficial. I’ll jump at any teaching moment, whether planned or not. Presently, I am teaching a world religion survey class. Last week, we dealt with Christianity. My class consists of 60% from a Christian background, and about 40% are Muslims. This week we are addressing Islam.

I mentioned Paul Harvey to my class. I am sure no one knew who he was. Nevertheless, he would do the news on the Chicago ABC radio station for several decades for years. And for years, he would report the news and then add, “You know what the news is—in a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.”

I told my class that my version of Harvey’s one-liner is that they all saw my PowerPoint on Christianity, which included mosaics of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. To be honest, this essay will be a teaching moment for some of my readers. Many won’t have much educational grounding in the Western and Eastern Roman Empire.

My PowerPoint was a teaching moment at many levels. For example, the Western Roman Empire had entered the Dark Ages a half-century prior to Justinian becoming the emperor in the East. Justinian ruled Constantinople from 527–565.


However, Justinian wasn’t married. That motivated his imperial aides to search for a perfect wife for their emperor. As well-meaning as their efforts were, Justinian didn’t pursue any of their suggestions. Nonetheless, feeling pressure from his generals, he decided to pick his mate, which he did. It was the lovely Theodora. Theodora was most charming, but she possessed political acumen and understood the political world of the 6th century much more than even Justinian.


Fortunately, when some groups were attempting a coup d'état to oust Justinian, he was ready to take the coward’s way out and run for the hills. Theodora told Justinian and his generals to stand and fight. Essentially, she was telling her husband to man-up and face the Nika rioters. This was part of her speech to Justinian and his generals.

My lords, the present occasion is too serious to allow me to follow the convention that a woman should not speak in a man’s council. Those whose interests are threatened by extreme danger should think only of the wisest course of action, not of conventions. In my opinion, flight is not the right course, even if it should bring us to safety. It is impossible for a person, having been born into this world, not to die; but it is intolerable to be a fugitive for one who has reigned it. May I never be deprived of this purple robe, and may I never see the day when those who meet me do not call me empress. If you wish to save yourself, my lord, there is no difficulty. We are rich; over there is the sea, and yonder are the ships. Yet reflect for a moment whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you would not gladly exchange such safety for death. As for me, I agree with the adage that the royal purple is the noblest shroud.

Justinian did as Theodora suggested, won the battle, and remained the emperor. Paul Harvey would say now this is “the rest of the story.” So, who was Theodora? Theodora fought for the rights of women. Why? She came from a poor background. Things got even worse for her when her father died early in her childhood. Her mother worked in a circus to support her family. In those times, circuses also included brothels, bordellos, or whorehouses. Theodora survived as a hooker in Constantinople. She understood poverty and the mistreatment of women.

Theodora faced life valiantly. She wasn’t a coward. Remember Theodora’s closing argument to Justinian and his generals about standing and fighting the Nika rioters, “I agree with the adage that the royal purple is the noblest shroud.”

Half of the class are women, and they need to grasp Theodora’s modus operandi. I don’t know who their role models in their lives are. Nevertheless, Theodora is one that they should consider.