The Misdoings of Severian
Superbia, invidia, ed avarizia sono

Le tre faville ch' hanno i cori accesi.

Dante, Inf. vi.74, 75.

A few days afterwards the Archdeacon Serapion came into the room of the Patriarch with a face flushed with indignation.

I come, my Lord Archbishop,' he said, to bring a complaint of the utmost gravity against the Bishop of Gabala.'

What has Severian been doing now?' asked the Patriarch.

My Lord, I was sitting yesterday in the Thomaites with the Presbyter Tigrius, the Bishop Palladius, Proclus, young Eutyches, and others, when Severian passed into the anteroom where Philip was sitting. He asked for you; but you had gone to visit a sick presbyter, and he again passed out through the hall. Eutyches and the others rose as usual, and with them the Ladies Pentadia and Olympias, who were awaiting your return, as they had to see you on business respecting the institution of deaconesses. I did not rise. I happened to be writing, and did not observe his presence. If I had done so I should probably have risen, although I cannot tolerate the Bishop of Gabala.'

It were better to rise, Serapion,' said Chrysostom. 'It is a conventional mark of honour paid to bishops, and has become usual.'

I will do so in future,' said Serapion. The wish of your Dignity on the subject is more than sufficient for me. I cannot, indeed, stand up when he passes with any pleasure, and do not pretend to feel any respect for Severian. To me he seems to be a traitorous hypocrite.'

I grieve that your feelings about him are so strong. You can, however, respect the office, even if you cannot respect the man. And should we not fight, Serapion, against these intense feelings of dislike and disdain for our fellow-men? We all have need of large forgiveness, of infinite forbearance. No man is all devil; something of the angel must be somewhere hidden in the depths of his heart. The Holy Spirit within us may be desecrated, but never wholly lost.'

I bow to your reproach,' said Serapion. I will follow your exhortation, although my disdain has been kindled by his treachery and baseness towards you. But what I have to report is very serious. Seeing that I had not stood up, Severian glared at me, and said in a tone of fury, in the hearing of us all, "Christ was never made man."'

Surely that is inconceivable, Serapion,' said Chrysostom; 'your ears must have deceived you.'

Mistake was impossible,' said the Archdeacon.

But what could he have meant?' said the Patriarch.

What conceivable object could he have had in uttering words of blasphemy which, if he spoke them, would at once brand him as an hypocrite?'

I cannot pretend to explain,' answered Serapion, 'but will you question the others? They are here.'

Those whom Serapion had mentioned came in one by one. Olympias and Pentadia said that they had been seated at some distance from the table where Serapion sat, and the back of Bishop Severian was turned to them; but those words, uttered in fierce anger, they unquestionably heard. Proclus and Tigrius also heard them, and noticed the look and accent of fury with which they were spoken. Eutyches, who had been sitting by Serapion, and who rose as the Bishop of Gabala passed, said that the Bishop seemed first to mutter something which he could not hear, and then burst out with the blasphemous sentence.

What did you take to be his meaning, my boy?' asked the Archbishop.

I thought,' said Eutyches, that in his uncontrollable anger he had broken into a sort of oath. May I speak further?'


Well, sir, St. Paul, when he speaks about the abuse of tongues at Corinth, says, "

No man speaking by the Spirit of God says 'Jesus be anathema.'" I have heard you explain this to mean that in overpowering excitement men lost all self-control, and their tongues were then forced by evil spirits to call out blasphemies. The word which exploded from the wrath of Severian reminded me of that.'

My boy,' said Chrysostom, I can no longer doubt that Severian did speak those awful words, and there may be wisdom in your suggestion about them. Let the Bishop be summoned into my presence.'

Severian came, serenely unconscious of what had happened -- came in with the airs and graces of the handsome, portly, well-groomed, self-satisfied ecclesiastic. Chrysostom rose to receive him, but rose with so stern a look upon his face that the Bishop of Gabala suddenly stopped short in the well-turned compliments and remarks about the weather into which he had begun to glide.

Your Religiosity seems to be disturbed to-day,' he said.

Severian,' said the Patriarch, it is reported to me by six credible witnesses, who could not and would not lie, that you exclaimed, in their hearing, "Christ has not been made man."'

How can you listen to such vain gabble?' said Severian. 'Why, if I believed half, or a tenth part of the things which are daily said about you, I should regard you as an utter demon.'

What may be said about me,' said Chrysostom, with contemptuous sternness, is not the question. If any man can witness ought against me, let him speak. But,' he said, with a wave of the hand, the charge against you is perfectly definite.'

I never said anything of the kind,' said Severian, with brazen front. When and where did I say it?'

Yesterday, in the Thomaites.'

Who says so?'

Serapion, Tigrius, Proclus -- -- '

All my enemies', said Severian.

My young secretary, Eutyches.'

A pert, conceited boy,' said Severian.

Silence, Bishop!' said the Patriarch. 'Eutyches is little more than boy, but one more modest and one more blameless I have never seen. And, besides these, the ladies Olympias and Pentadia.'

Special friends of your Sanctity,' said Severian, with an undisguised sneer.

I blush for you,' said Chrysostom; would to God I could see you blush for yourself! You, a Christian bishop -- do you so much as dare to insinuate that these holy presbyters, these saintly women, have invented a lie to injure you? Some of them may not think well of you, but I would answer for every one of them that they would rather die than lie.'

Oh! well, if you have, in your usual manner, prejudged the case,' said Severian, I can but retire.'

Again,' said Chrysostom, mastering a strong impulse to indignation, you seem to forget that you are here to answer a most definite accusation. For the moment I sit here to examine as to its truth. You will gain nothing by insolence towards your judge.'

Everyone knows that you are jealous of me,' said Severian.

Chrysostom could scarcely suppress a smile. Of all human foibles, jealousy, a mark of mean natures, was the one from which he was most exempt, and jealousy of Severian in particular was the last feeling he could possibly entertain.

Suppress these irrelevancies, Bishop,' he said; the question is very simple and definite. Did you, or did you not, in the hearing of at least six persons, use the words "Christ has not been made man"?'

The charge is preposterous,' said Severian.

Well, then, I will summon the witnesses.'

Oh!' said Severian, who now saw that escape was impossible, 'stop!' and putting his hand to his head in an affected attitude, as though he were trying to remember, he said slowly: I have some sort of dim recollection that something of this sort happened. Your archdeacon, Serapion, the most churlish and ill-conditioned dog I ever came across -- -- '

Such language disgraces you,' said the Patriarch. 'It is unfitting for a Christian, much more for a bishop, who should set an example.'

Do not try to browbeat me,' said Severian, swelling his portly person. I was saying, when you interrupted me, that in passing through the Thomaites Serapion, that pink of politeness, that pearl of courtiers, sneered at me, and did not think proper to rise as the rest did. I suppose you have taught your underlings to insult me -- -- '

I have already desired him to rise in future,' said the Patriarch, whom the Bishop's insolence could not ruffle. He assures me -- and I believe him -- that he did not rise simply because he did not see you, being engaged in writing. His supposed sneer is the offspring of your imagination only.'

-- and in a fit of anger, utterly disgusted with the man's churlish impudence, I may have muttered in my wrath -- for after all I am only human -- something, to the effect that "if Serapion dies a Christian, then Christ was not made man." As Serapion has never lived as a Christian, I felt sure that he could never die as one, and I only express the impossibility by a strong hypothesis.'

Enough!' said Chrysostom. You have admitted the use of the words. It would have been better for your truth and honesty if you had not at first denied them. Your explanation hardly makes them better. Your remark was grossly slanderous, and the form into which you threw it was irreverent and disgraceful. As far as Constantinople is concerned your stay here is ended. By my authority as Patriarch I cut you off from communion in any one of my churches. I inhibit you from entering them. You have disgraced your character and calling. Depart, and ask God if haply your sin may be forgiven.'

The Empress shall hear of this,' said Severian, insolently.

Enough!' said Chrysostom. The Emperor has authority in all things temporal; his sway does not extend to spiritual censures. You have for years been absent from your neglected diocese, pursuing here the designs of your ambition. I recommend you to return to it, and resume your duties. Philip, conduct out the Bishop of Gabala.'

Purple with rage, Severian swung out of the room, intending at once to lay his complaint before the Court, where, by his intrigues and flatteries, he had made himself a favourite. But when he got outside the Patriarcheion he found a menacing crowd assembled in the Forum. Rumours of Severian's treacheries against their beloved Patriarch had been prevalent among the multitude. They had long seen through the man who was adored by such ladies as Epigraphia and supported by such reprobates as Elpidius and Isaac the Monk. It happened that during the interview which we have narrated some decani -- humble church servants, who formed a branch of the parabolani, and helped to bury the poor -- had been in the garden below, and had heard the loud voice and harsh accents of the Bishop of Gabala raised in objurgation. They had slipped out with the news that Severian was insulting the Patriarch. A crowd had gathered, who would have been glad at a moment's notice to lynch the hated Syrian. Under his habitual air of bravado Severian was an abject coward. He entreated Philip to conduct him through the mob, whom Philip succeeded in pacifying, for they all knew and loved him for his bright face and witty speech.

My life is in danger here,' said Severian. 'Come with me, Philip, to the quay. I will take a boat to Chalcedon.'

As these quarrels have arisen, Bishop, might it not be better if you left Constantinople altogether?' said Philip respectfully, as the rowers pushed off the boat.

We will see to that,' said Severian.

In point of fact he did not remain absent more than a few days. For Eudoxia and all her clique were furious when they heard of the inhibition of their favourite. It was intolerable to the Frankish Empress that, even in the Church, anyone should presume to exercise any power except herself. She sent for Chrysostom, and entreated him to bring back that excellent bishop. What fault can you find,' she said, with so eloquent, gentle, and orthodox a preacher? He is the only person in Constantinople to whom I, and the ladies of my Court, and the Emperor can listen with the smallest comfort.' And so she went on, infusing into every sentence the feline malice with which she hoped to make the Patriarch wince. She saw, however, with a pang that she could not even move him to anger. Chrysostom, serene in perfect integrity, had long acquired the habit of ignoring contemptible antagonists and paltry impertinences. The eagle does not worry itself about the chatter of jays.

Then the Empress fairly teased the Emperor into interceding for Severian. By dint of taunts and tears and persistence she at last sitrred him sufficiently to beg the Archbishop to withdraw his inhibition. 'The Empress wishes it,' he said, and so, of course, do I. Severian's sermons do not worry us as -- as some sermons do. One can sleep -- I mean, one can listen in peace. We shall miss him.'

As far as your wishes are concerned, Emperor, I desire profoundly to respect them,' said Chrysostom. I had serious misgivings about the Bishop of Gabala, but since you and the Empress wished it, I left him to fill the pulpit of St. Sophia in my absence. But the conduct for which I have been compelled to inhibit him was so reprehensible as to show his unfitness for his office. My duty to you is scarcely compatible with my higher duty to the Church.'

Then I shall never hear the end of it,' said Arcadius. 'I wish you clergy would leave me in peace.'

Ecclesiastical offences must be punished,' said Chrysostom, 'no less than secular.'

But Eudoxia was determined at all costs to have her way. On the following Sunday, just before the service began, she was seen advancing up the nave of St. Sophia, with her attendants, and carrying in her arms her infant son, who was already an Augustus. The complaisance of the East had given to members of the Imperial Family that right to pass within the curtains of the sacrarium which Ambrose, with courteous dignity, had forbidden to Theodosius the Great in the West, when he pointed him to a seat below the step, and said, Emperor, this is the place for presbyters; your place as Emperor is below.'

After that, even at Constantinople, Theodosius would never accept the invitation of Nectarius to sit inside the sacrarium. In the sight, however, of the whole congregation Eudoxia advanced, placed the imperial infant on the knees of the Patriarch, and adjured him in a loud voice, by the life of the Emperor and by the head of the infant Augustus, to recall Severian.

To refuse would have been to create a terrible disturbance in the sacred building. The eyes of the Patriarch filled with tears. He bent down, and kissed the sweet child, whom the Empress had left in his arms. Thinking only of the little placid infant, his memory reverted to the sacred scene when the humble Virgin of Nazareth had placed the Holy Child in the arms of the aged Simeon, and his heart was softened. He could not resist the feminine persistence which had not hesitated to go to such strange lengths for the accomplishment of Eudoxia's purpose. While his judgment disapproved, the thought came over him that this was the wife of the Emperor, and St. Paul had required obedience to the powers that be, because they are ordained of God. The adjurations of Eudoxia were so vehement that it seemed like high treason to turn a deaf ear to them.

Empress,' he said, I am scarcely justified in resisting these appeals. I regard the responsibility as mine no longer. On your command, which I understand to be that of the Emperor, I will readmit Severian to our Communion.'

A swift messenger from the Empress bore the tidings to Chalcedon, and Severian returned, exulting in his bad heart at the Patriarch's humiliation. Yet even now he was dependent on the forbearance of the man whom he had so disgracefully endeavoured to undermine. For though the Empress might almost force on the Archbishop the withdrawal of his inhibition, the populace had a voice in the matter. They were quite likely to make Constantinople too hot to hold Severian, and would have thought but little of ejecting him by force from any Church which he attempted to enter. But it was not Chrysostom's way to do things by halves. If he were forced to recall Severian, he would cherish no hidden grudges. If he felt it his duty to respect the Imperial urgency by restoring him to Communion, he would do so without reservation.

He therefore preached a sermon on the following Sunday with the object of smoothing down the antagonism of the people, and inducing them for his sake to abandon their hostility to the Bishop of Gabala. The head,' he said, must be united to the members, and so must the Church to the priest, the people to the Emperor. As the branch may not sever itself from the root, nor the river from its fountain, so sons must be one with their father, and disciples with their master. You have often shown your love for me, your obedience to me, and you have been willing for my sake even to jeopardise your lives. We are one in duty, one in affection. As my spiritual children, I counsel you to peace. We have had troubles among us. Let them end, let them be forgotten. Receive our brother Severian.'

The discourse was straightforward, simple, and noble, and the name of Severian had been brought in with consummate force and skill. The vast congregation felt the sincerity of the speaker, and they broke into applause. Chrysostom thanked them for their implied assent to his proposal, and begged that as they agreed to receive Severian, they would receive him graciously. Such a triumph of brotherly love would bring peace to the Church and cause joy in heaven.

To make the reconciliation complete Chrysostom invited Severian to preach on the following Sunday. His oration also has come down to us. It is rhetorical, fantastic, profoundly commonplace, and insincerity rings in every sentence and accent. Most of it is a sonorous amplification of the blessings of unity. 'In our cities,' he said, the pictures of the august brothers who rule the world -- Arcadius and Honorius -- are painted with the figure of Concord standing behind them, and embracing them in her maternal arms. Even so, now the peace of God embraces both of us in her throbbing bosom, and teaches us in separate bodies to keep a single mind. War is overthrown; peace reigns.'

The pledge of peace was ratified before the Holy Table. Chrysostom was entirely true to it. Neither by words, nor deed, nor look did he break it. But Severian went away to continue as heretofore his lies, his plots, and his intrigues -- the fat, affectionate smile upon his lips belying the rancour and jealousy of his venomous heart. And the heavens darkened more and more!

chapter xli a farewell
Top of Page
Top of Page