Clavos trabales et cuneos manu
Gestans ahena. -- Horace.
Twenty-two days had now passed since the riot, and such a Lent had never been kept in Antioch. In ordinary times it was an unholy city. Even the Emperor Julian, Pagan as he was, had taunted its inhabitants with their vices, their violence, drunkenness, incontinence, impiety, avarice, and rashness. But this Lent, when the people felt that the sword of Damocles hung over their necks by a single hair, the amphitheatre was empty, and whenever it was known that Chrysostom would preach, which he did frequently, the church was densely crowded. Usually even the Christians paid but little attention to sermons. Many only came to church on feast days, if then; and, when they came, many stayed at the back of the church among the heathen and the unbaptised, while the men busied themselves with secular gossip, and the women almost drowned the voice of the preacher with their chatter about their children, their woolwork, and their domestic concerns. John's splendid oratory did, indeed, command their attention, and they listened to him so intently that the pickpockets and cutpurses were able to ply their busy trade among them undisturbed. But what they cared for was the rhetoric, not the spiritual truths; the grand sentences, not their practical application. When the sermon was over they broke into a cackle of conceited criticism, systematically turned their backs on the Holy Communion, and those that remained, then as now, were but as planks and broken pieces from the shipwreck of the congregation. But now all was different. The orator played on their emotions as on the strings of a harp, now elevating them to fortitude and resignation, now awakening the heavenly aspirations in which alone their souls could find repose.
But on the twenty-second day arrived the two Imperial Commissioners, Hellebichus and Cæsarius. They entered the city at the head of their troops. The selection of such men was a hopeful sign, for they were Christians, and were known to be men of kindly temperament. Their lofty rank showed the importance which the Emperor attached to their mission, for Hellebichus was Master of the Forces, and Cæsarius was Count of the Offices. But they bore sealed despatches, and no one knew what doom might hang over the rebellious city. On their way the Commissioners had met Bishop Flavian, hastening to intercede with Theodosius; but not even to him had they been allowed to intimate the judgment which the Emperor had pronounced. It was morning when they made their entrance into Antioch, and the dejected populace lined their route in thousands. Ordinarily they would have ridden through festal and rejoicing ranks, they would have been welcomed with laughter, applause, gay interpellations, and garlands strewn in their path. Now they were received in silence by a multitude robed in garments of woe, who held out to them their appealing hands. They were glad when the dismal ride ended at the Forum. There they ascended the rostra, and read out to the breathless audience the sentence of the Emperor.
First, that Antioch was to be stripped of its rank as the capital of Syria, and that the distinction was to be transferred to the rival city of Laodicea.
Secondly, that until further notice all the baths, circuses, theatres, amphitheatres, and places of amusement in the city were to be closed.
Thirdly -- and this came on them as the crushing climax of misery -- the trials which had been already held by the Count of the East were to be revived, and all who were proved guilty of complicity in the riot were to be severely punished.
Fourthly, the Imperial dole of bread to the poor, which was distributed at Antioch, as at Rome and Constantinople, was henceforth to be stopped.
Such was the decree, and no one could deny that it was just and moderate; but if it removed the agony of dread, it substituted for it the reality of depression. To the proud patriotism of the Antiochenes it seemed an insufferable humiliation that the paltry Laodicea should be crowned with the privileges of which they were deprived. The closing of the places of amusement, and, above all, of the public baths, not only eclipsed their gaiety, but involved a loss of health and comfort. Worst of all, a terrible trial for life or death, torture or confiscation, hung over numbers of the citizens, and especially those who stood highest in rank and wealth.
They listened in mute despair, and then the Commissioners adjourned to the Hall of Justice. There a long list of names was read out of those who had been accused, and among them was the name of the boy Philip. Archers were despatched on all sides for their arrest, and the mean wretch who had seen Philip on his way to the cave of Macedonius gave eager information where he might probably be found. That night he was seized at the monastery of Diodore. The brothers would doubtless have claimed for him the rights of sanctuary; but the archers caught him in the orchard outside, and took him with them to Antioch, with a cord drawn round his wrists so tightly as to cause him great pain. That night he was thrown with masses of the humbler offenders into the common prison. All that the brethren could do was to send to Macedonius and tell him the fate of his young charge. It made his soul burn with still hotter indignation, and he spent the next twenty-four hours in summoning the hermits of the hills from every side to meet him on the following morning at the point where the road down the ravine of Parthenius led to the city. Chrysostom also was informed of the boy's fate, and that very night, regardless of danger, he visited him, comforted him, soothed his terrors, and promised to use every effort in his power to procure his acquittal from the capital sentence. He could not promise that he could save him from the horrible scourge, which in the case of a boy often caused death, and seemed almost worse than death. It was the suspense, the uncertainty, which gnawed so deeply into Philip's heart, and it was amid this anguish that, encouraged and comforted by Chrysostom, he offered his first timid prayer to the Son of God. That prayer was heard.
The Commissioners, who numbered many friends among the society of Antioch, felt profoundly saddened by the task which they were ordered to fulfil. What a difference this city presents to its aspect the last time I visited it,' said Cæsarius as he sat at supper that evening. Then the waves of life flashed like the Orontes in the sunshine. Now there is nothing around us but lamentations and mourning and woe.'
Yes,' answered Hellebichus, but if it was a joyous city, it was also a tumultuous city, and full of stirs. It has set to the Empire the worst possible example, and justice demands punishment, though I wish the infliction of it had fallen to other hands than ours. At least we can do our best to temper justice with mercy.'
Next morning they made their reluctant way to the Court of Justice, in which many of the accused, and Philip among them, were already ranged in fetters under the guard of the archers. In the city reigned a silence as of death. Many of the inhabitants had fled as far even as the barren heights of Mount Casius. Only two or three men were seen creeping here and there about the Forum like living corpses. Some Christian priests, indeed, clung to the robes of the envoys as they entered the hall, and, embracing their feet and knees, implored them to promise compassion. In the hall itself, not one Pagan advocate had the courage to come forward. Chrysostom was there, indeed, for he had to watch the case of Philip and others whom he knew, and though, as being a Christian presbyter, he could no longer plead at the bar, he was ready to come forward and give evidence. Outside the door stood groups of agitated mourners. They reminded him of watchers upon the shore who see ships tossing in the storm, for whose imperilled mariners they can only pray. The spectacle inside was still more heartrending, for there were many soldiers armed with swords and clubs, coercing all present into deep stillness. Even outside the doors the women -- mothers and wives and sisters -- were compelled to keep at a distance, lest their wailing should disturb the proceedings within. The saddest sight of all was to see them lying prostrate in the dust, with veiled faces, in squalid robes, their long hair sprinkled with ashes, without friend, or neighbour, or even handmaiden to solace or protect them, while with lacerated hearts they listened to the sounds of blows within, and heard the cries of those who were suffering under the rods. What could these poor women do but look heavenwards, and entreat God to give fortitude to the sufferers?
So there were tortures within the hall and tortures outside of it, and the hearts even of the judges were almost paralysed with woe. Chrysostom never forgot that dreary and miserable day. It made him think of that great assize when each soul must stand alone, with neither father, nor son, nor friend to help, before the judgment-seat of Christ.
Things grew worse and worse as the dreary hours went on; for some were doomed to death, and others were laden with heavy chains and led away to prison, and the wives and children of others, whose goods were confiscated, were turned loose into the streets, penniless after all their wealth.
As Chrysostom expected, the case of Philip came on that day. He had been seen in the midst of the rioters with the two poor boys, his friends Achillas and Eros, who had already expiated their boyish thoughtlessness by cruel deaths. Moreover, he was the son of Hermas, who had been executed as a ringleader in the riot. But the only voices which could have testified that he had flung the first stone were hushed in death. That secret, which would have inevitably doomed him to the same fate, was buried in the breast of Chrysostom. Straining prerogative to the utmost, and with no small danger to himself, the Presbyter with passionate eloquence had pleaded Philip's youth, the absence of proof against him, the absence of any proof of malicious forethought, the sacred claims of compassion to one so young. It was all in vain, and he was dreading to hear the terrible fiat of death pronounced, when a slight interruption diverted for a moment the attention of the Commissioners. It was by this time late in the evening, and Libanius had at last summoned up sufficient courage to creep timidly and almost surreptitiously into the Court. But the quick eye of Cæsarius caught sight of him, and recognising his face and his position as the intimate friend of the late Emperor Julian he beckoned him to come and sit by his side on the tribunal. Libanius was so cowed and dejected that Cæsarius even ventured to whisper into his ear that they were earnestly desirous to exercise their summary jurisdiction as leniently as the stringent orders of the Emperor rendered possible.
Do, by the immortal gods!' murmured Libanius. Nay, I forgot that you were Christians. Then be merciful for the sake of Him who you say was merciful. And if you will spare the trembling city, I will immortalise you in one of my orations, the finest I can write. It shall be a stream of gold, it shall be like the girdle of Hera, woven of gems and purple.'
While this whispered conversation was going on, Hellebichus had been looking at Philip, and was deeply touched by his innocent face and helpless boyhood. It is clear,' he said to Cæsarius, that this boy was at least as guilty as some who have already been put to death, but do you not think that it would be enough to order him a scourging, and postpone till to-morrow the question of further evidence?'
So the doom was passed. Chrysostom stood by the boy's side, pressed his hand, bade him be brave, and said he would entreat God to enable him to bear his pain. Then the sentence was carried out. Though even the executioner, moved with pity, mitigated his ferocity, and would not strike with his full force, yet at the first blow of the rods the boy grew pale as death; the second wrung from him a deep moan; at the third he uttered a heartrending cry and fainted. After that he felt no more, and a few minutes later he was carried back to the prison, bleeding and half-dead.
It was called a prison, but the number of accused and suspects was so great that they were really shut up in a great circle of walls, exposed to the open air, in masses of hopeless and helpless wretchedness. And in that circle of misery Chrysostom also spent the night, doing all that he could do by consolation and tenderness for many of the sufferers, and sitting for hours by a heap of straw on which Philip lay, holding him by the hand, and gently attending to all his needs.