Lecky, European Morals, ii.14.
The year blossomed into Lent, and all things still remained in a condition of trouble and uncertainty. The state of things at Constantinople was as when two armies watch each other for months from opposite heights, and neither dares to attack the other; and there seemed no hope of peace or of any return to normal duties.
It was the party of unscrupulous episcopal malcontents, envenomed by their own jealousy and goaded forward by the furies of Eudoxia, who were most afraid. Easter was approaching. They dreaded lest the Emperor would on that great festal day go to St. Sophia, and be impressed by the passionate love and fidelity with which the multitude clung to their great pastor. This must be prevented at all hazards. They went to Arcadius, headed as usual by Severian, and begged that as Chrysostom was entirely defeated, and had been condemned by two synods, he might be expelled from the church. But had Chrysostom been so defeated, so condemned? Arcadius, in his somewhat constipated intellect, felt considerable doubts as to the truth of either assertion, and expressed them.
You should believe us,' said Severian; we are bishops, and a true bishop cannot lie.'
It depends on how you define a true bishop,' thought Arcadius; but he was, as a rule, at the mercy of the last speaker, and usually adopted the course which cost him least trouble at the moment. He therefore so far yielded as to send a message to Chrysostom that, as he had been condemned, he must keep at a distance from his church.
I received the Church from God, my Redeemer,' answered the Patriarch, for the care of His people. Therefore I may not abandon it. If you wish to drive me out by violence, it is, of course, in your power to do so.'
Arcadius wavered. It might,' he said, cause another earthquake. I will confine him to the Patriarcheion. Then, if God gives any sign of anger, I can send him back to his church.'
This was truly to seek after a sign! Chrysostom might dispute the Emperor's right to deliver such a command, but it reduced him to the condition of a prisoner in his own palace. Yet, even so, it was clear that the populace was in an excited state, and, fearing some terrible outbreak of their wrath at this treatment of the one man whom they loved and trusted, Arcadius, in extreme misgiving, sent for Acacius and Antiochus. He would not send for Severian, for whom he had acquired a complete disgust, although he continued to be to Eudoxia the trusted agent of all scoundrelism. The Bishops of Beroea and Ptolemais -- the dotard, whose dignity had been offended, and the adventurer, who hated a virtue so far above his own -- urged the wavering Emperor to depose the Patriarch.
Like Pilate, he still hesitated.
And, like Annas and Caiaphas, they cried, On us be the guilt!'
But there were still forty bishops who were in daily communion with the Patriarch, and they determined to make one more effort to save him. They are but the fewest whom a good cause stirs to the activity which the votaries of evil display for their bad ends. The devil, as a rule, receives from his servants an energy of devotion which is often lacking in the servants of Christ. Men who have yielded themselves slaves to envy leap and bound upon their errands like steeds at the crack of a whip, while at the trumpet-call of duty men crawl like snails. The strenuousness of malice spurred Severian and his abettors to ardent vigour; the wrongs outpoured on righteousness evoked little more than murmurs of 'What a shame!'
The Johannite' bishops, as Chrysostom's friends were called, heard that the Emperor and Empress were going to prayers at the Church of the Martyrs, and went forth in a body to meet them. With tears they besought their Majesties to restore the pastor to his church for the great Easter festival. They met with a curt refusal, for by the side of the more pliable Arcadius sat his evil genius in the person of Eudoxia. Then Paul, Bishop of Crateia, plucked up courage, and cried, 'Eudoxia, fear God! have pity on thy children! Stain not with bloodshed the high feast of our Lord.'
Their appeals were dashed to pieces like weak waves on the rock of her hatred. She would not yield, but was only the more hardened, provoking the doom which so speedily awaited her.
Easter Eve was the great season for baptisms. On that Easter Eve, a.d.404, no fewer than 3,000 were to be admitted into the Church of God. All these catechumens were assembled in the Baptistery, and the sacred service had begun, amid ringing hymns and holy rejoicing, as the white-robed candidates stood ready to enter the holy font under the light of many lamps. It was at that moment that a rabble of Chrysostom's enemies, headed by the Bishop of Gabala, and protected by a band of soldiers, many of them Pagans, Arians, and unbaptised, burst in with the purpose of seizing the Cathedral, that it might not be occupied by the faithful on Easter Day. A frightful tumult arose. The brutal soldiery rushed upon the catechumens. Many of them were women; many of them were boys or youths; most of them were partially undressed, preparatory to immersion. They were driven to hasty flight without even having time to snatch up their most necessary garments. The priests and deacons who were taking part in the ceremony were seized, and their sacred garments torn off their backs. Many were severely wounded. The lustral water of the font blushed with the horrid taint of blood. In the plunder the soldiers profaned the Holy Table, and the dress of coarse legionaries was incarnadined with consecrated wine scattered over them from upturned chalices of the grapes of God.
Undismayed by so terrific a violation of all sanctities, the faithful flock of Chrysostom, after they had been scattered from the Baptistery, assembled in the Baths of Constantine to complete the sacred ceremony of initiation. It was now past midnight, and nothing would less serve the purpose of Severian and Acacius than that the Emperor should, the next morning, find the Cathedral perfectly deserted, from the indignation of a people deprived of their true shepherd. They therefore determined that the multitude should be driven into St. Sophia by violence, and begged Arcadius for a body of troops to carry out their abhorrent purpose. With the fear of Eudoxia before his eyes the helpless ruler of the world acceded to their request. Once more the palace troops were put into requisition. A body of Thracian shield-bearers stormed the church which the catechumens had improvised in the Baths of Constantine. Their leader, Lucius, had been bidden by Arcadius to abstain from extremes; but as they would not disperse, he was bribed by Severian and Acacius to use force. He did so, nothing loth, and set the example to his rude Thracians by banging about him with a truncheon, which, without the smallest remorse, he brought down with equal indifference on the white hair of aged men and on the bright locks of young catechumens, and wielded with equal impartiality against the clergy and the laity. Scenes then took place even grosser than before. The faithful were scattered; wounds were dealt freely on every side; the clergy were savagely beaten; and the soldiers looted everything on which they could lay their hands, not even excluding the holy vessels. Next morning the public places were placarded with notices threatening exemplary vengeance on all who would not renounce communion with Chrysostom.
It was thus that the holy Bishops of Gabala, Beroea and Ptolemais glutted their execrable passions in the name of Christianity, and disgraced the Gospel of Peace with infamous barbarities.
But the faithful were still undaunted. They would not desert their Patriarch; they would not join the vile phalanx of his enemies. As they might not worship God in St. Sophia, they streamed out of the city in a body to worship Him, under green trees and the shadows of wooded hills, on a spot set apart by Constantine for the Circensian games. It happened that the Emperor had gone to a church outside the city for his Easter service, and on his return caught sight of a great crowd of white-robed catechumens and other worshippers. He asked, in astonishment, who they were. 'Oh! they are heretics,' said some of his lying attendants; and when he returned, Severian and his fellow-conspirators asked permission to have them scattered and their teachers arrested. The permission was granted. Again the imperial myrmidons, rejoicing at their task, fell upon the innocent worshippers. They tore the valuable earrings out of the ears of the women, often tearing a part of the ears with them. The clergy, the eminent laymen, the leading members of the congregation, were seized, and flung into the common prisons. Thus the very prisons were turned into churches, and rang with holy hymns. And still the great mass of the people remained unshaken in their allegiance to their Bishop, for whose sake multitudes were ready to brave martyrdom itself.
Such were the successive tidings which troubled to their inmost depths the hearts of Chrysostom and of the friendly prelates who still surrounded him. And it may well be imagined that his three young secretaries -- Philip, Kallias, and Eutyches -- were plunged into a grief which crushed their spirits into the dust.
Father,' said Philip, this life must be unspeakably dreary to you; our hearts bleed for you.'
It is not so much that it is unspeakably dreary,' said the Patriarch, or even that there is a heavy trial in its uncertainty. I am not the first of Christ's servants, nor shall I be the last by many millions, to find that it is truly a misery to live upon earth. Job experienced, a thousand years ago, that "
man is born to sorrow as the sparks fly upwards." But all this personal misfortune I can endure with fortitude. The grief which will not be healed is my grief for the Church and for my people. They are a vineyard which whole troops of wild boars are laying waste. And I cannot tell -- oh! I cannot tell -- what the end will be. But it must be near at hand.'
Would that I had the gift of insight, as Michael had,' said Philip. He warned us of calamities at hand.'
We need not prophesy, my Philip. In the long run, "
Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him"; but we were warned that the hundredfold reward should be "
As though to emphasise their words there sounded in the room a tumult from without. Philip ran to inquire what it was. He learnt too soon. A man who pretended to be a maniac had made his way to the porch, and was brandishing a huge dagger, and swearing that he would murder Chrysostom. He had been seized, and would have been torn to pieces by the mob, but the Patriarch despatched Philip to the City Præfect, who was close at hand. The man was taken red-handed. No one doubted either that his madness was simulated or that he was an agent of the devilish wickedness of the clerics who thirsted for the Patriarch's blood. The Præfect ordered him to be examined by torture; but before it was applied Chrysostom sent some bishops to intercede for him, and to set him free. He hoped even against hope that his enemies might be overcome by his immense forbearance.
He hoped in vain! Ecclesiastical malice is the bitterest and most unscrupulous form of malice known to the human race. It was very shortly after this act of mercy that Eutyches came running into the anteroom with a white face to tell Philip and Kallias that a murderer with a dagger was raging at large in the Thomaites. The youths jumped up at once, and Philip seized a club which, in these dangerous days, he had thought it safe to keep in a corner of the room. In the great hall was a scene of terror and confusion. A slave with a dagger had forced his way in, and, on being confronted by one of the Patriarch's servants, had stabbed him. He had wounded a second, who fled from him with loud cries. He had stricken to the earth with his weapon a third who tried to stop him; and as by this time a universal tumult had arisen, he fled, and with reckless fury dealt wounds more or less deadly upon four others. Thus, when the two young men ran into the hall the assassin had already killed or wounded no less than seven persons of the household of Chrysostom.
Rushing upon him, Philip brought down the club with all his might upon the wretch's shoulder, and the blow was so strong and so well dealt that he was smitten to the ground by the shock of it. At the same instant Kallias seized him by the right hand, dealt him a blow on the temple, and wrenched the dagger, which was streaming with blood, out of his grasp. Gasping and utterly discomfited, he was bound, and dragged into the Patriarch's presence.
Conscious of his frightful guilt, the bravo, who had shown courage enough so far as personal recklessness was concerned, was cowed into inconceivable abjectness in the holy presence of the Archbishop whom he had designed for his victim. His knees trembled under him, his face grew ashen with deadly pallor, his teeth chattered in such a way as to render his words almost unintelligible. Would the Patriarch strike him dead with a glance? Would he curse him with a sign into madness and hideous leprosy, and send him
Unhouselled, unanointed, unaneled,
No reckoning made, but sent to his account
With all his imperfections on his head,
into the horror of some inconceivable and endless hell?
Pardon! pardon! pardon!' he shrieked. It was not my doing. I was sent to murder you. I received a bribe.'
For what bribe did you sell your guilty soul?' asked Chrysostom.
For fifty gold pieces.'
Did Judas profit by the thirty pieces of silver for which he sold his Lord?'
Oh! send me not to hell,' shrieked the wretch again, trying to fling himself prostrate, and crawl, grovelling in the dust, to the Patriarch's feet. I am not so bad as he who sent me.'
Who sent you?'
One of your own presbyters.'
Say who it was, you foul murderer,' said Philip, clutching him by the hair.
Gently, Philip, gently,' said Chrysostom.
Yes; but, father, four of the villain's murdered innocent victims lie dead on the floor of the hall, and who can tell whether even the three others who are badly wounded will survive?'
I will tell you who bribed me to murder,' said the wretch sullenly. 'It was the priest Elpidius. I am his slave. If holy priests bribe slaves to murder, how can ignorant slaves resist? Curse him! Curse him! May God curse him!'
His was the greater crime,' said Chrysostom. As for your attempt upon my own life, I forgive it. May God also forgive it! But you have murdered four, perhaps seven, innocent men, and it would be a sin to set you free. Take him to the Præfect.'
Oh!' said Philip to the assassin, I dare not trust my own rage to drag you to justice. Tell your master, if ever you see his face again, that he is an infinitely viler reptile even than you. I hope that he may never cross my path, or I know not how I could abstain from throttling him, priest or no priest.'
Philip! Philip!' said Chrysostom to the passionately excited youth, control your anger. You are a Christian, a true Christian; be not transported beyond yourself, even for my sake.
The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.'
Pardon, my father,' said Philip, kneeling, and forgive me. Bless me, even me also, oh my father!'
You need little forgiveness, my son. Your anger was generous. Only, let it burn no more. I give you my best blessing. God will reward your faithful love for me. The world is forsaking me, but you -- -- '
He could not finish the sentence.
We -- I, Eutyches, Kallias -- yes, and some even among the bishops and the clergy -- we will never forsake you, even to the death,' sobbed the remorseful youth.
But now that the people of Constantinople felt that the life of their idol was no longer safe from the burning fury of Eudoxia and the murderous malice of priests and bishops, they determined to watch for him, and protect him day and night, as the people of Milan had defended Ambrose. They divided themselves into relays, and guarded every private and public gate which led into the Bishop's palace.
But it had been only necessary to defend for a few days the life of Ambrose. A bishop could not be protected in his house by his people from Court and clergy day and night for ever; nor could everything in the Church and in the City remain in this state of unstable equilibrium. The fact that neither the priest Elpidius, nor the slave whom he had bribed to assassinate Chrysostom -- who had actually murdered seven perfectly innocent victims -- were punished, showed the horrible demoralisation of imperial justice. But Chrysostom still lived, and was still in the Patriarcheion. It became intolerable to the conspiring prelates that they should be unable to snatch the spoils of their victory; nor was the frenzy of Eudoxia and her Jezebels yet sated with vengeance. Things went on in this dreary way from Easter till it was nearly Whitsuntide. No one felt more deeply than Chrysostom that it could not last. He had for some time been secretly making up his mind to sate by voluntary sacrifice the episcopal tigers who were thirsting for his blood. Since their wrath was so fierce and their hatred so implacable, he would voluntarily end the strife, and make way for another. He did not object to the loss of his rank or state; he was content to be driven by force from his home and from his see; he was ready to offer his life in sacrifice; and, if it were God's will, he could lay it down as lightly as a pin. One thing he would maintain till death -- it was his stainless innocence; it was that his character had been void of offence towards God and towards man.
From the execrable corruption dominant in the Church of the East he turned to what he trusted was, in some respects, the purer Church of the West. He wrote to Innocent I., Bishop of Rome, to Chromatius, Bishop of Aquileia, and to Venerius, who now occupied the episcopal throne of Milan. He might hope that, through the law-abiding justice of the West, the Church might be delivered from the licentious turbulence into which the intrigues of Theophilus and his fellow-conspirators, fostered by the overweening arrogance of a semi-barbarian Empress, had plunged the disordered East. In this letter, after describing the scenes of riot and oppression which had dragged down the Church of Constantinople, he entreated them to put an end to this condition of frightful confusion; to declare his pretended condemnation to have been tyrannous, irregular, null, and void; and to censure those who, in committing these iniquities, had treated him with more violent injustice than even Scythians or Sarmatians would have ventured to commit.
It required a bold and trusty messenger to bear this letter; and as the movements of a bishop, or even of a deacon, might be more jealously watched and impeded, he determined to send Kallias, for whom he felt a warm regard. He could take the letters secretly; his movements, as he was a mere youth, would not be regarded with suspicion; his talents as a tachygraph might prove useful; his blameless and ingenuous character would be a passport through all difficulties. Eutyches was too young and inexperienced. Philip could not be spared. Kallias was instructed to visit first the three great bishops to whom the letter was addressed, and then to see any other eminent prelate to whom he could find access, and, if possible, to enlist the sympathies of the great Stilico and of the Emperor Honorius himself. All details were left to his faithfulness and ingenuity, and a sum of money was entrusted to him to meet all his probable expenses. Kallias, before he started, had many a long and earnest conversation with Philip, and agreed at every possible opportunity to send news of his doings.