Political expenses, then and now

I was browsing the Fathers of the Church translation of Cyril of Alexandria’s Letters.  None of these are personal; rather the whole collection is concerned with the events before and after the Council of Ephesus in 433, and the dispute with Nestorius about the theotokos.  Possibly the collection is a dossier of evidence, assembled for some now forgotten purpose?

But I was astonished to find, as ‘letter’ 96, a list of ‘presents’ to be given to various court personages in Constantinople.  The FoC editor simply describes these as bribes, and, since they indicate that the purpose of the gifts is to purchase favour or disarm opponents, so they must indeed be!

Today I read on the news that the Irish Prime Minister has resigned after being found with trousers full of other people’s money.  I read that the Speaker of the UK parliament has been found to be using taxpayers money ($8,000) to hire taxis so that his wife could go shopping.  I’ve been reading a volume of journalism by the late Auberon Waugh from the 1970’s, which suggests that the Labour government of Harold Wilson was fantastically corrupt.  Little changes, it seems.  Do we suppose that at least some of our current lot of politicians are not touting for bribes too, to betray our interests?

It is hard for anglophone readers to like Cyril.  He was a Byzantine politician, as well as a churchman — the two roles, indeed, being typically combined in that unhappy realm — and the political necessities of his role as the political leader of the Alexandrian mob mean that we perhaps condemn the churchman for doing what we would regard as less damnable in a mere politician.

Or are these just excuses?


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