The Agony, and the Consoler
Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days?

Isaiah xxiii.7.

It is difficult to describe the agony of terror which fell on the wretched inhabitants of the gayest city of the East when they awoke to a sense of the folly into which they had been driven. These soft Syrians had no real leaders and no settled purpose of rebellion. They had simply yielded to a childish impulse of vexation. They had rebelled against an increase of taxation which might be burdensome, but was by no means intolerable. Indeed, multitudes now pressed forward, anxious to pay the tax at once. How infinitely wiser would it have been for the people of Antioch to submit to the inevitable! In the dark hours of the night, and the dreary silence of a city reduced to torpor by paralysing fear, they cursed their insane folly, and gnawed their tongues for very anguish.

For now, what had they to expect? They had exposed themselves, a defenceless prey, to the fury of him whom they might contemptuously call the Spaniard,' but who was a just and lenient emperor, to whom the whole of the East and the West owed the deepest debt of gratitude. Theodosius was the sole barrier between them and the flood of barbarians which was already beating with the first restless waves of an overwhelming tide against the confines of the Empire. Nay, not only against its confines; for the mingled pusillanimity and infatuation of Valens had admitted a multitude of Goths across the Danube, and the result of the infamous manner in which they had been starved and oppressed was that massacre of Adrianople, which was a more overwhelming catastrophe to the Empire than the old disaster of Cannæ. The Emperor might be but a mortal, and the purple was no protection against the dagger-thrust; but the power of the Empire, which for the time being he represented, was invincible, and what was to prevent him from obliterating Antioch from the face of the earth, and sowing with salt the furrows which would be driven over her mounds of ruin?

There was something awful in the contrast between the city in its normal condition and under the black cloud of depression which now settled on her inhabitants. Usually, the busy hum of life did not cease till the scent of the lilies and jasmines breathed through the starry twilight. Through the colonnades bright with innumerable lamps the light-hearted crowd of many nationalities, and in bright costumes, used to roam about, far on into the night, laughing, chatting, love-making, buying, selling, and feasting their eyes on the splendour of the bazaars. But now the streets were deserted, and, if any were seen abroad, they hurried along with timid and stealthy tread, like ghosts, casting furtive glances to the right or left. And if in some byway one or two chanced to meet, they only stopped for a moment to ask if there were any news, or to speculate on the nature of the punishment which awaited the city, and might bring on many an individual some frightful death at the hands of the executioner. Even these hurried communications were rare; for many were implicated in the common guilt, and no one knew how to trust a neighbour, who might turn out to be an informer. Wild stories of portent were passed from lip to lip. Men had seen a spectral woman, tall and horrible, passing through all the streets with a whip, which she cracked in the air with terrific noise. Surely they must have been the victims of a demoniacal possession?

And on the third day after the riot the spell of terror began to be broken by the anguish of retribution. The Count of the East, knowing that he would be held responsible for the deadly insult which had been inflicted on the Emperor, determined to show his indignation by ruthless vengeance. Men told each other in terrified whispers that either there had been spies of the Government among the rioters, or that some were turning informers to save their own lives. Decurions of archers, each with his little band of ten, were not only patrolling the streets, but were seen to stop every now and then at different houses, and to lead away with them some prisoner in chains. Even boys were arrested and dragged to the Justice Hall, and the street would be startled by the wild shriek of a mother who saw her bright lad led away to a trial which was nearly certain to end in death. Next day the trials began. No advocates appeared. The evidence was quickly taken down; the sentences were summary and frightful. The commonest doom was decapitation, but some, and even boys among them, were sentenced to still more appalling forms of death. The very first to be condemned was Hermas, who had been one of the most passionate and determined leaders of the entire riot. After a trial of less than five minutes he was sentenced to be flung to tigers in the amphitheatre.

Except the Count and his assessors, scarcely anyone dared to be even a listener in the vast Prætorium, where the battered fragments of statues and the signs of violent damage bore silent but eloquent testimony to the ferocity of the insurgents. Only outside the door stood groups of women, like spectres, clad in the garments of woe. Their cheeks hollow and bathed in tears, and their long, dishevelled tresses defiled with dust, might have melted the iciest heart.

The agony of two women was long remembered. Their sons were boys of fourteen, and some abject sycophant had sworn that he saw them pelting the sacred statues with showers of stones. They, on the other hand, swore that they were going to the class of their teacher when the rush of the crowd swept them away before it, and that they simply stood in the hall watching the scene, and had not flung a single stone at the statues; though, being Christians, they had for fun tried to hit the Gorgon head on a statue of Athene in a recess behind the judge's chair. But the Governor had not recovered from the wrath he felt at having been driven to escape out of the back door of his own palace, and he condemned both boys to death.

One of them was led out first, and his mother cried eagerly to the archer who held his fettered hands: He is innocent; has he been set free?'

He will be, soon enough,' said the archer brutally; for the men had been rendered callous by the fate of some of their comrades who during the riot had been beaten or stoned to death by the mob.

How is he to die?' she faintly asked.

By wild beasts in the amphitheatre,' said the archer. 'There will be a fine sight for some of you, and it will teach you a lesson.'

With a shriek the mother sprang forward and flung her arms round the boy's neck; but she was repulsed by the archers, and during the little struggle which ensued the second boy was led out.

Is he to die, too?' asked his mother, with a face pale as ashes.


By the lions?'

No, he is to be burnt in the amphitheatre. Antioch will not be in such a hurry to revolt again,' said the archer.

But the poor woman did not hear the taunt. The shock of horror had killed her. She had fallen dead into the arms of her friends.

Those frightful sentences were carried out, and many more. Even the innocent were burnt with torches and beaten with leaded whips to make them give evidence. Few witnessed the horrid scenes except the executioner. The chill had struck so deep into the hearts of the Antiochenes that they were too dejected to haunt the Circus or the Amphitheatre, which ordinarily were their chief resorts. Yet, if they looked out from their houses by night they saw the gruesome spectacle of prisoners, often among the wealthy and noble, led away by torchlight between two lines of soldiers, loaded with chains, and scarcely able to drag themselves along from the effects of torture. They were sometimes followed by wives or daughters, who wrung their hands in speechless agony. All who were able fled from the city. The brigands who infested the neighbourhood took advantage of this, and the Orontes daily swept along its waters the corpses of men who had fled from uncertain dangers to certain death.

Six days after the riot it was announced that John, the great Christian preacher, who in later years was to be known by posterity as St. Chrysostom, [2] or the Golden-mouthed, intended to address the people in the Church of St. Babylas; and knowing that they would be safe from immediate molestation in that sanctuary, and longing for courage and consolation in the sick agony of their fear, the people thronged there in thousands.

It was a church built in the shape of an octagon and roofed with wood from the grove of Daphne. The audience stood, and the building was crowded to the doors. Many were unable to enter, and there was not a vacant square foot in the church, except within the rails of the presbytery. After a brief and mournful Litany, John came forward, and a deep hush fell over the congregation.

He was short of stature, and therefore did not address them from the pulpit, but from the ambo; yet the impression left by his appearance was one of great dignity. Let us look at him, as he pauses for a moment and glances round on the upturned faces of the multitude, whose hearts he was about to bend and sway as the breeze bends and sways the river reeds, or makes the yellow corn ripple before its breath into waves of light and shadow.

He was at this time about forty years old, and his voice was yet fresh, for he had only been ordained presbyter the year before. For six years he had been deacon; but the duties of a deacon were not to preach, but to attend to the affairs of the Church, and look after the poor. On the other hand, he was already well known as a man of distinction by his writings, and as a man of sanctity by his ascetic life.

He began in a low and unimpassioned tone, but from the first his voice, clear and resonant, and reaching to the farthest corner of the building, arrested eager attention. It was an eminently sympathetic voice, of which the accents were thrilled through and through with the emotions of the speaker. He never shrank from a quaint phrase or a humorous illustration if it came into his mind; nor were smiles, and even laughter, deemed derogatory in those days to the sacredness of the House of God, provided only that they were not caused by vulgar buffoonery or triviality. But if he could, as often as he chose, make the faces of a thousand listeners flash with smiles, he could within a few moments make them white again with tears. At one moment his sarcastic banter would make them blush for their own hypocrisy; now some winged arrow of conviction would pierce their hearts, and now he would break into plain thunderings and lightnings, and the boldest would cower before his fulminant denunciations. Two things instantly struck those who heard him: one was the utter fearlessness of the man, the other his absolute sincerity.

As to his courage, it was impossible to hear him long without the conviction that he feared man so little because he feared God so much.' It was evident that here was no silken Pharisee absorbed in ceremonial functions, no self-seeking opportunist euphuistically steering through the channel of no-meaning between the Scylla and Charybdis of Yes and No.' If he thought it right and needful to say a thing, no ulterior consideration would ever prevent him from saying it. He left intrigue, and soft manipulations of the truth, and sounding utterances which said nothing, to multitudes of sleek arid popularity-mongering priests, who were always ready to answer men according to their idols. The one thing -- the only thing which John cared for -- was truth. The one thing which he despised was compromise; the one thing which he dreaded was to go before the God of the Amen, the God of eternal and essential verities, with the unclean sacrifice of a lie in his right hand; the one thing which he desired was to see the things that are, and to see them as they are. A firm believer in the great truths of Christianity, to which he had been converted either from heathendom or from indifferentism, he yet held that theology was valueless unless it were made the stepping-stone to godly living. That which most overwhelmed him with its inherent majesty was the grandeur of the moral law, and he regarded dogmas and observances as altogether lighter than vanity itself, unless they produced the fruits of a holy life.

The sense of his sincerity was deepened in the minds of his hearers by his entire disdain for the allurements of the world. He did not shrink from the world's power, for he was indifferent to its smile. What could the world give him? Did not every man in Antioch know that he was of noble birth on both sides, and that when he had begun a public career he had dazzled all by his wit and eloquence to such an extent that Libanius said he would have named him his successor if the Christians had not stolen him? But though he then had the world at his feet, he had yielded to the impulse of a soul to which earth had become as nothing because God had become all in all, and had adopted the life of a recluse. The influence of his mother, Anthusa, who, though left a widow at an early age, had devoted the whole remainder of her life to his service, had barely prevented him from at once becoming a hermit. She had taken him by the hand, and led him into the room in which he first saw the light, and by her tears and entreaties had persuaded him to live at home with her, though he practised at home all the austerities of the severest anchorite. His modesty, and his tremendous sense of the dignity of the priesthood, led him to avoid the perilous honours of the episcopate when they were thrust upon him. This showed his superiority to the temptations of earthly honour; and when Anthusa, unwilling any longer to resist the bent of his desires, had withdrawn her opposition, he had gone to the mountains, and there, with no other home than a cave, had devoted himself to such severe studies and such stern discipline as to have subdued and annihilated the desires of the flesh. He had, indeed, brought on such perilous indisposition that he was compelled to return to the city, lest he should become guilty of throwing his life away. The saintly Bishop Meletius -- 'the honey-named and honey-natured,' as his friend Gregory of Nazianzus called him, who was so beloved that his portrait was still in every house -- had ordained him a reader in 381; and a year before the riot he had been admitted to the priesthood by Bishop Flavian, who had succeeded Meletius in the disputed patriarchate.

Such was the man who now stood up in the ambo to reprove, to exhort, and to console the miserable people. It was useless to speak to them on other subjects till he had calmed the tumult of their minds; but from the first sentence he uttered he had cast his spell upon them, and as his voice now swelled into hurricane, and now sank to a whisper, no other sound was audible, except an occasional storm of sobs from the listening multitude. It was customary to applaud in the churches, but on this and subsequent occasions the attention of the audience was riveted, and they would not run the chance of missing a word. In his later homilies during this crisis there were a few timid outbursts of acclamation; but they were instantly discountenanced by the preacher. They paid him that spellbound attention which speaks a thousandfold more for the power of the orator than the superficial signs of outward popularity.

What shall I speak?' he said. It is a time for tears, not for talk; for wailings, not for words; for supplications, not for harangues, such is the greatness of the daring crimes which have been committed, so incurable the sore, so deep the wound. It is too great for earthly medicament; it needs assistance from above. We should sit on our dunghill like Job, and other cities should come to us to lament our calamity. Then the devil danced over all the substance of the saint, now he has rioted over our whole community. I have waited, but I must speak at last. How terrible is our case! Even were the Emperor not to punish us, how should we bear the infamy of our misdeeds? I can scarcely speak for grief. Once nothing was more blessed than our city; now nothing is less delightsome. Once we filled the Forum as bees buzz round their honeycombs; now it is desolate. As the leaves droop and drop in an unwatered garden, so it is with us. We must say, as the prophet said of Jerusalem, "

Our city has become like a terebinth which has shed its leaves, and as a garden that has no water." Our citizens are fleeing from the land they loved as from a home wrapped in conflagration.

Yet it is not for these things that I blush and am confounded. Last year our houses were shaken with earthquake; now it is the very souls of their inhabitants which shake and tremble. Must we not cry, "

Send for the wailing women, and let them come"? Ay, weep, and let your eyelids stream with tears. We have wronged him who has no equal among men; we can only fly for protection to the King of Heaven. Unless we gain His mercy there is no consolation left for our recent misdoing.

Oh, let us awake, then, to a sense of our sins. Repress and punish the oaths and blasphemies, which are so common among you. You would not listen to my exhortations before; act upon them now. Nay, applaud me not. I care not for such praise. The only glory I desire is to see you following my counsels. I would rather see the eyes of one among you wet with the tears of penitence than that this church should reverberate with the hollow echoes of fugitive popularity.'

And then, with perfect faithfulness and fearlessness, he seized his opportunity, and urged upon them the duty of making this an occasion for signal penitence. He warned them of the vanity and uncertainty of riches, and urged them to the duty of almsgiving. He set before them that their great calamity might be turned into a precious boon of Heaven if it wrought in them a deeper sincerity and holier aims. He pointed them to God as their hope and strength, a very present help in trouble; and so he ended his first great discourse, On the Statues,' with wishing to them all the blessing of the Eternal Peace.

With bowed heads and faces bathed in tears the people left the great basilica, too much moved to join in the frivolous discussion of this and that phrase in the sermon, or this and that peculiarity of the orator, which formed the staple of their Sunday chatter at other times. They still whispered to each other of their fears, though the manly courage of the orator had tinged their dark prospects with a gleam of hope. But there was hardly one among them who did not rejoice that when the hearts of all other citizens had become as water there was at least one man whose high dauntlessness could look calamity -- yes, and even death -- boldly in the face, and who, fearing to do wrong, feared nothing else.


[2] We find the name Chrysostom,' or Golden-mouth,' first given him by St. Isidore of Hispala before a.d. 636; but Theodosius II. is said to have applied the term to him before the middle of the fifth century.

chapter ii the riot
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