Che qui staranno come porci in brago,
Di sè lasciando orribili dispregi!
Dante, Inf. viii.49-51.
'Philip,' said Eutyches one morning as he came in to the day's work, there are four of the strangest beings you ever saw in the Thomaites.'
Ghosts or angels -- which?' asked Philip. Are they like those you frightened the Goths with on the Palace walls?'
Neither, you trifler from Antioch!' answered Eutyches, laughing; but they look like spectres. They are old, but astonishingly tall, and look gaunt, wretched, and half-starved. They are dressed only in white sheepskins and sandals. Their black locks are long and matted. Their arms and legs are bare, and are covered with the marks of scars; and one of them has lost an ear.'
What do they want?'
They will only say that they have come to throw themselves on the protection of the Patriarch. Proclus has told them that he is engaged, but that they shall be admitted in a few minutes. Do go, and take a glance at them.'
Philip went into the Thomaites, and saw the four strange figures which Eutyches had described. They stood together, with downcast eyes, at the end of the hall, leaning on their staves. Their appearance as they stalked through the streets was so unusual that a crowd of soldiers and street-boys had accompanied them to the entrance of the Patriarcheion, and some of these were peeping in through the open gates. But the strangers seemed to be unconscious of the attention they excited, and stood silent, as if they were absorbed in their own thoughts. Their lips moved as in silent prayer.
I guessed whom they must be from your description, Eutyches,' said Philip. A glance showed me that they were hermits from the desert of Nitria. They can be no other than the four celebrated Tall Brothers. But what can they be doing here? I hope that their presence is not ominous. They belong to that -- saving his Sanctity -- that bad Patriarch of Alexandria, and I have heard that they have been most infamously persecuted by him.'
Tell me something about them.'
I will tell you the little I know, Eutyches. The eldest is Ammonius. He was the companion of the great St. Athanasius when he was exiled in 341, near sixty years ago, and fled to Italy. He was the first monk whom Rome had seen. He was then a youth from a desert monastery. The soft Romans were amazed at his gigantic size, his splendid figure, his sheepskins, his utter simplicity of life; for, amid their gorgeous gluttonies, he ate nothing but bread and vegetables, and drank only water. It was owing to the strange impulse of envy and admiration excited at Rome by his complete indifference to the world that monasteries have been introduced into Italy by Ambrose. When Athanasius went back Ammonius became a hermit.'
How did he lose his ear?'
He cut it off; and that is why he is called Parotes.'
Why? Did he think one ear enough?' asked Eutyches, laughing.
No; but in those days Theophilus pretended immensely to admire these Tall Brothers, and wanted to seize him by force and make him a bishop. He hated the thought of it, and only desired to live far away from a corrupted Church and an evil world. So he fled into the depths of the Libyan desert. But even thither the agents of Theophilus pursued him. Finding that he could not escape, he cut off his ear, and, going out to meet them, said, "Go! your purpose is vain. The canons forbid any man who is mutilated to be ordained" -- and he pointed to his bleeding ear.'
What a man!' said Eutyches. But what are those scars on their arms and legs?'
The Brothers are confessors,' said Philip. Those are the stigmata left on them by the tortures of the Arian Valens.'
And the three others?'
'Theophilus, urging on them the duty of obedience, made two of them come and work as presbyters in Alexandria. The third, Dioscorus, he seized by force, gagged him that he might not appeal to Christ against his ordination, and consecrated him Bishop of Thermopolis.'
What! Is he a bishop? No one rises when he enters, or takes any notice of him. And where is Thermopolis?'
It is only a squalid village of a few huts near the deserts, and, practically, Dioscorus never ceased to be a hermit; but he is no longer bishop. Theophilus degraded and expelled him, and has done his best to degrade, to defame, and even to murder these Brothers.'
Why? Is he a Pharaoh?' asked Eutyches.
A Pharaoh!' said Philip, passionately. Yes, and a Nebuchadnezzar, and a Caiaphas, an Annas, and a Judas all in one; a whited wall, a whited sepulchre, full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. God forgive me if I err in speaking so of one of the four chief bishops of the faith! But Truth has her claims as well as Charity. Jeremiah cursed the priest Pashur, and Isaiah spoke thunder and lightnings against the drunken, hiccoughing priests of Jerusalem. The Prophets are full of the denunciation of the priests, and multitudes of them are as bad and false in these days as then.'
What makes you so very hot against Theophilus?' asked Eutyches. 'Oh, Philip! since you lost David, and since Miriam went away, you are so much sadder and more gloomy. I wish I could ease your troubled heart.'
Eutyches,' said Philip,' you are very dear to me. But for you and him -- my father -- I know not how I could bear life, for all around us is blackness and falsity and wickedness. But the reason why my anger burns against this Theophilus is because I know that he is moving earth and hell to wreak his vengeance and jealousy on him. And oh!' said Philip, wringing his hands, something tells me that he will prevail. Our Patriarch beside him is but as a guileless child. He is no match for deceit and treachery. They paralyse him with the same sort of horrible fascination which makes the bird drop into the serpent's jaws.'
God forbid!' said the boy, making the sign of averting the evil eye, which is, in the East, of immemorial antiquity.
Amen!' said Philip; but this Patriarch of Alexandria, this successor of Athanasius, is the wickedest man I ever heard of, even in the Church -- and that is saying a good deal when one thinks of Severian, John the Deacon, Antoninus of Ephesus, the sorcerer Gerontius, the bribed liar Eusebius of Valentinianopolis, Elpidius that deadly hater, Isaac the Monk, and a good many more.'
Even in the Church? Oh, Philip!'
Alas! alas that it should be so!' said Philip; but so it is. A bad priest seems to me the worst of men.'
You are right, Philip,' said Serapion, who heard the last sentence as he entered. A bad priest is the worst curse the Church can have. He is pledged to meekness, and he is insolent; he professes truth, and he is infamously slanderous; he should be a servant of all, and he is the most unscrupulous of usurpers; he preaches the law of liberty, and he imposes the yoke of bondage; he should be an example of lowliness, and he lords it over God's heritage. When you are ordained, Eutyches, remember always that a Christian presbyter is a presbyter, and in no sense more a priest than every true Christian is.'
I do not think that our Eutyches will fail in lowliness,' said Philip. He reserves all his impudence for me.'
Don't believe him, Archdeacon,' said Eutyches; but now, Philip, tell me more about these holy Brothers.'
It must be very briefly, then, for they will be ushered in directly. Ammonius and Dioscorus remained in the desert, but Theophilus insisted on keeping the two others at Alexandria, where they grew more and more miserable as they began to see the greed, tyranny, and hypocrisy of their Patriarch. They entreated to be allowed to return to Nitria, and Theophilus, who saw their mistrust of him, has hated them ever since.'
But they must have offended him in some way.'
Yes, Eutyches; and how do you think? Theophilus is a very idolater of gold. A legacy had been left to his sister for the use of the Church, and he declared that it had been promised to her for her own use. Isidore declared that he had never heard a syllable on the subject. He then began to defame Isidore, and appealed to the four Brothers to support his slander. They, on the contrary, swore that Isidore had always lived a holy life. Theophilus was mad with rage. He cannot endure being resisted. He is accustomed to treat his bishops, priests, and monks as the merest slaves, whom he can cashier, imprison, or put to death without reason at his pleasure. He can do this the more easily because most of the Egyptian magistrates are in his pay. But since he could attack the Brothers in no other way, he used his last and most terrible resource, which always is to charge men with heresy.'
What he calls Origenism, the silliest and most unmeaning of all charges.'
I thought that Origen was one of the saintliest Christian teachers.'
The greatest Christian writer since the days of the Apostles. But some brutal and ignorant monks deem him a heretic, so Theophilus denounced the Brothers for Origenism.'
What is Origenism?'
No one has the least notion. Origen was a voluminous writer; even in his lifetime his writings were grossly interpolated. A bad man like Theophilus finds it easy to call a man an Origenist, and crush him. Then came the affair of Isidore.'
What Isidore? -- the one whom he wanted to make Patriarch?'
Yes; Isidore become Hospitaller of Alexandria. A noble lady, knowing that Theophilus is "stone-mad" in building churches, and that much of his fund is grossly misapplied, gave Isidore a thousand pounds for the poor, on the express condition that he would not tell Theophilus. But Theophilus, who has hundreds of spies in his pay, heard of it, and in revenge trumped up a false charge against Isidore, which he suddenly produced at a synod of the clergy.'
What was the charge?'
It is too horrible to tell you, Eutyches. Isidore, who is an old man of eighty, challenged proof. Theophilus had bribed a youth to accuse him, but the consciences of the young man and of his mother smote them; they shrank from the wicked perjury, denied the asserted crime altogether, and the charge hopelessly broke down. Nevertheless, Theophilus forced his wretched herd of barbarous Egyptian bishops to degrade Isidore, and he fled to the Four Brothers in the Sketic desert. I do not know what happened afterwards.'
Your story has interested me almost terribly,' said Eutyches. 'I must slip into the Thomaites and have another look at these famous men.'
He went out, and found the Bishop of Helenopolis talking to the Brothers. Palladius came, and asked him when the Patriarch would be free to see his suppliants.
In a few moments,' said Eutyches.
Then I will come into your anteroom, if I may,' said Palladius, 'and will myself introduce them when they can be received.'
When he had entered the anteroom, Philip said to him, 'My Lord, Eutyches is dying to ask you something about the Tall Brothers, but he is too modest.'
I know all their story,' said Palladius, with whom Eutyches was a favourite, and I shall be happy to tell him. What does he want to know?'
Tell us, Bishop,' said Eutyches, what happened to them after Isidore fled to them.'
It is a very sad story, my boy,' said the Bishop. The Brothers came to Alexandria, and, knowing that Isidore was innocent, implored Theophilus to restore him. He promised that he would -- and did nothing. Then they came again, and Ammonius reminded him that he was breaking his promise. Resistance to his will always drives Theophilus into demoniacal fury. He flung Ammonius into prison. His brothers declared that they would share his prison. But the Alexandrians were so horrified that they began to murmur. Theophilus, in alarm, had the Brothers turned out into the streets, and in their humility they thought it right to go to him. Ammonius spoke for them with perfect calmness and dignity, yet as he listened Theophilus sat glaring at them with fierce aspect and bloodshot eyes, sometimes pale, sometimes livid, and sometimes with a bitter sardonic smile. Then suddenly, without a word of notice, he sprang up, seized Ammonius by the throat, and smote him in the face so brutally with his heavy hand that the blood gushed out, while he kept yelling, "Heretic! anathematise Origen!" The mere name of Origen had not once been mentioned.'
Had he never read,' said Philip, that a bishop should be no striker? It sounds incredible.'
It may well do so,' said Palladius, even of a Nero or a Commodus; much more of a Christian Patriarch. But he then summoned in his soldiers, with his own hands twisted a halter round the neck of Ammonius, and ordered the Four Brothers, laden with chains, to be conducted back to Nitria.'
At this point Chrysostom called to Philip to admit the Tall Brothers. Philip told him that Palladius was present, and would introduce them.
They entered the Patriarch's presence, and with great humility kneeled, and kissed his hand. It is a joy to us,' they said, to see your Sanctity.'
Nay, rise,' said Chrysostom. It is I who should kiss the hands of the friends of Athanasius, the scarred confessors under the tyranny of Valens. And call me only bishop, not your Sanctity.'
Thanks,' said Ammonius; but the Patriarch of Alexandria will never allow himself to be addressed without endless iterations of your Beatitude, and your Religiousness, and your Dignity, and your Holiness. It will be a far easier task for our rude simplicity if you will let us address you more freely.'
Speak,' said Chrysostom, as a brother to brethren, as a man to men.'
Doubtless, sir,' said Ammonius, who as the eldest spoke for the others, you know our sad story up to the time when Theophilus sent us back, disgraced and in chains, to our brethren for no fault, bidding us anathematise Origen, about whom we had spoken no single word.'
How could you at his bidding anathematise a saint of God?' asked Chrysostom. I thought that Theophilus himself was an admirer of the Adamantine?'
He was,' said Ammonius, but he turned round in the strangest way. Origen held that God is a Spirit. But the illiterate monks whom they call "Anthropomorphites" maintained with savage fury that God has very hands and feet and eyes like men, and they rose in one of their fanatical tumults and rushed to Alexandria to murder Theophilus for not sharing their view. He was in great alarm, and, advancing, said to them, "In seeing you, holy monks, I see the very face of God." Delighted at this flattery, they embraced instead of killing him, and since then he has seen how powerful a weapon he may wield against his enemies, and you among them, Archbishop.'
No man is a heretic,' said Chrysostom, because another man, in ignorance or in malice, may choose to call him so. But proceed.'
We returned to Nitria chained, maltreated, slandered, excommunicated, covered with blood. Then an order came from the Patriarch that in every monastery every work of Origen was to be burned. Many of the manuscripts were comments on Scripture, rare, and holy, and full of learning.'
To that I can testify,' said Chrysostom.
Naturally there were some among us who, highly valuing these works, were reluctant to obey an order so unjust. Theophilus had his spies even in the Nitrian desert, who informed him of all that we did and said. Five of them were men of the lowest order, not worthy even to be porters; one of these Theophilus ordained a deacon, three of them presbyters, and for one he created a sham see in a miserable hamlet. He then entrusted to them a petition to himself, written by himself, full of false accusations against the Nitrian monks. After a short time these five spies left their cells, entered Alexandria, went straight to the church where the Patriarch was officiating, and, prostrating themselves before his throne, presented him, as though in the deepest grief, his own petition. Theophilus held up his hands in pretence of holy horror as he read the libel which his own hand had written, exclaiming that if heresy was to be extirpated he must visit Nitria in person. He sent to the magistrates to lend him a band of soldiers. To these he added the numerous servants of his palace and the paid bravoes who execute his vengeance. He deluged them with drink, and at their head he started for the desert, timing his visit that he might arrive after nightfall. It was dark when they reached the mountains and burst upon us. In the terror of that midnight, multitudes of the monks fled and hid themselves, like Elias of old, in the rocky gullies. The cells of the monks were given up to the brutal soldiery. Few, as you know, were their possessions; but their little stores of food, their lamps, their books, and all that they possessed, were plundered.'
How came you to escape?'
We were the chief mark for his vengeance. To seize us had been his main desire. But our small laura was built far away in the recesses of the hills, and a hermit, flying to us in terror, told us that a wild boar was ravaging the vineyard of the Lord, and that one of the assailants, our secret friend, had bidden him warn us that we were to be slain. Flight was impossible, for all the paths were blocked by these Sons of Gehenna. Hastily our brethren let us down with cords into a well, over whose mouth they heaped wood and stones. They were only just in time. Scarcely were we concealed than the varletry of Theophilus burst into our laura. In their rage at not finding us they sacked our cells, tore our sacred books, smashed our beds and humble furniture, pierced the very walls to make sure that we were not in secret hiding, and, lastly, heaped fuel about our dwelling and set it on fire. The flames spread rapidly through the wattled huts in the hot, dry, desert air. We had left a poor boy to save, if he could, any of our possessions. He was the son of one who had left all to join our community, and had been trained among our hills in temperance and holiness. We all loved him. He perished in the flames.'
The aged face of the speaker was bathed in tears, and the Patriarch, as he listened to the tale of their misery, groaned aloud.
Even the sacred vessels of the Eucharist were melted; even the holy elements which had been consecrated were consumed to ashes in the conflagration.'
Oh, horrible!' said Chrysostom.
Leaving nothing behind him but blackened ashes, amid which lay the half-calcined bones of our poor boy, Theophilus and his brigands departed. When we were drawn out of our well, half-dead with cold, that was the sight which greeted us. Whither should we go? As we walked, hungry and wailing, down the hill, a few fugitives came from their hiding-places, and told us that as Egypt could no more be a home for us, they would fly to Syria, and meet us at a spot to the west of the Red Sea. There eighty of us met. Three hundred had started, but many were old and infirm, and perished by hunger on the way. Among the survivors were abbots, presbyters, deacons, monks -- some of great age, many branded with the marks of the tortures which they had endured as confessors for the faith of Christianity. We determined to make our way to Palestine and throw ourselves on the protection of John, the good Bishop of Jerusalem. Everywhere the people received us with love and reverence; but even here Theophilus circumvented us. He had sent a most haughty letter to all the bishops of Palestine, in which, as though he were a god -- -- '
It is true,' broke in Palladius. '
He as God, sitting in the temple of God, showeth himself that he is God.'
I hope not, Palladius,' said Chrysostom, for that was written of the Antichrist.'
Is not that man an Antichrist, my Lord Patriarch,' said Palladius, who, while he assumes the place of Christ, overthrows the work of Christ?'
Chrysostom made a sign to Ammonius to proceed.
His brief letter to the Palestinian bishops ran thus: "You ought not, against my will, to receive these monks into my cities. I only pardon you because you have done it in ignorance. Henceforth beware how you admit into any place, ecclesiastical or private, those whom I excommunicate." Before he received this letter Bishop John desired to show us every kindness. But now we were hunted by Theophilus out of Palestine as though we were felons. We took ship at Joppa. Our number is now reduced to fifty, and we are come, O Patriarch! to throw ourselves on thy protection, knowing thee to be a lover of righteousness.'
My brothers,' answered Chrysostom, weeping, I grieve for your misfortunes, but you are not under my jurisdiction. It behoves me to walk warily. A Council, whatever its character, has condemned you; until another Council, or your own Patriarch, has reversed your sentence the laws of the Church tie my hands. Reveal not why you have come hither till I have written to Theophilus. I may not yet communicate with you, but my Churches are all open to you for prayer, and for the supply of your bodily needs.'
They are very small,' said Ammonius. If we can get palm-leaves, the mats and baskets which we make sell for prices far beyond their value, and buy us food.'
Still, the deaconess Olympias and her sisterhood will see that you are cared for, and as your home I assign to you the precincts of the Church of the Resurrection, so dear to my great predecessor, Gregory of Nazianzus.'
No conduct could have been more prudent or just under circumstances of the utmost delicacy; and in order to lose no time Chrysostom wrote to Theophilus in the spirit of a brother and a son, entreating him to free the monks from the ban of excommunication. Of this letter Theophilus took no notice. Meanwhile the monks, weary of their long expulsion from the privileges open to the humblest Christians, drew up a letter full of charges against Theophilus so horrible that Bishop Palladius declined even to mention them, because, he says, they would sound incredible. Unable to obtain redress for their wrongs, they threatened to appeal to the Emperor, and to place this document in his hands.
Then Chrysostom again wrote to Theophilus, and told him of the step to which the monks would be driven in their despair. The answer of Theophilus was threefold. He sent some of his own creatures -- a bishop and four monks -- to Constantinople to blacken with infamy the names of the Tall Brothers and their companions, by calling them heretics and magicians. Among the superstitious populace the poor sufferers began to be regarded with such aversion as to be unable without insult to leave their cells: the precincts of the Church of the Anastasia became their prison. It was here that the unhappy Isidore, the Hospitaller, whom Theophilus had once striven his utmost to make Patriarch of Constantinople, and had subsequently ruined by deeds of characteristic infamy, died at the age of eighty-five. To Chrysostom Theophilus wrote a curt and arrogant letter of three lines: 'I thought you knew the Nicene canons which forbid bishops to judge quarrels outside their own dioceses. If you are ignorant of those canons, attend to them now. If I ought to be tried, it can only be before Egyptian bishops, not by you, who are seventy-five days distant.' Lastly he excommunicated the fourth brother, Dioscorus, had him dragged from his episcopal throne by black slaves, and abolished his diocese. Dioscorus fled, and rejoined his brothers.
Several circumstances gave Theophilus an immense influence, even in Constantinople. The city depended on Alexandria for its supply of corn from the granaries of Africa, and for this reason the port was often crowded with Egyptian vessels, and the streets with Egyptian merchants and sailors. Theophilus was in all but name the lord of Egypt. He could, if he chose, reduce the capital to famine, as Athanasius had been accused of doing in the days of Constantine. And not only were these Egyptians, mostly of the lowest orders, at his disposal for purposes of mischief, but he used his enormous wealth to bribe every civil and Court official who was open to venal advances.
But as Chrysostom was powerless the Brothers, now maddened by wrongs and misery, determined at last to address Arcadius. With his usual ill-fortune Chrysostom, who desired only to do all that was wise and just, had to brave the bitterness of a twofold animosity. The friends of the Brothers accused him of slackness in their cause, at the same moment that the mind of Theophilus was surcharged with venomous hatred against him because he had defended them.
But now the monks secured a powerful and unexpected ally.
The Augusta, in her manifold religiosity, was fond of paying public visits to every church which was regarded as specially sacred; and all the more as she had now turned her back on St. Sophia to show her dislike of Chrysostom. One day she announced her intention to visit the Church of St. John the Baptist at the Hebdomon, where the unhappy Gaïnas had prayed for deliverance from the demon who tormented him. The monks, headed by the Tall Brothers, placed themselves conspicuously in her path. She was riding in a splendid carriage surrounded by her guards. Seeing the strange band in their sheepskin dresses, she recognised by the tallness of their stature the persecuted saints, of whom she had heard so much. She ordered her carriage to be stopped, and signed to them to come forward. They placed their terrible complaint against Theophilus in her hands, and explained its purport. Eudoxia had not the least intention to be braved by Theophilus, any more than by Chrysostom. What were Patriarchs to her unless they obeyed her wishes? Her motto was, L'Empire c'est moi. 'The Patriarch of Alexandria shall be summoned here,' she said, and shall be tried by a Council on the crimes which you lay to his charge. And you, reverend fathers, pray for me, and for the Emperor, and for my children.'
She kept her promise. Her chamberlain was at once despatched to Alexandria to summon the Patriarch to answer for the high crimes and misdemeanours with which he was charged. He received the command in savage and sinister silence. He saw in this summons the manoeuvre of a rival. The affair of the Tall Brothers was now beneath his notice. His revenge demanded the utter ruin of Chrysostom. He would come, not only as an accuser, but as a judge.