And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark!'
Merchant of Venice, I.1.
One way, and one way only, was open by which the Patriarch of Alexandria might hope to ruin the Patriarch of Constantinople. Had their rôles been reversed -- had the soul of Chrysostom been burning with unholy rage against Theophilus, he could have brought home to his adversary crime after crime of the deepest dye, and, by an appeal to the people, could easily have destroyed him. But Chrysostom held it better even to perish at the hands of the wicked than to use their own methods to overthrow them. '
Ye have condemned, ye have killed the just; he doth not resist you.'
Lying defamation was a weapon in the use of which Theophilus was a deadly expert. But he might as well have tried to throw dirt against heaven and stain it, as attempt to gain credence for lies which could induce people to believe that Chrysostom was a reprobate. How saintly the Patriarch's life had been was known to all. No human being attached importance to the slanders which bad bishops and criminous clerks disseminated respecting him. But surely as a youth he could not have been so immaculate in his white innocence as now he was? Surely some old, dead scandal might be raked up against him out of the fetid embers of bygone calumnies in the vicious purlieus of Antioch where he had lived till manhood?
At any rate, it was worth trying, and Isaac the Monk was despatched on the loathly but congenial mission of attempting to pick up some rag of slander out of the long-putrescent gutters of the Syrian capital. No fitter emissary could have been chosen than this pestilent hypocrite; but his attempt failed ignominiously. He could find nothing wherewith to incriminate the Archbishop, even in the days of his unbaptised and unconverted youth. And when the Antiochenes began to suspect the object of all these inquiries of this unsavoury monk, he narrowly escaped being kicked and pelted out of the city, and had to run for his life.
But what did that matter? If defamation of character was more difficult in the case of Chrysostom than of most men, nothing was less likely than that the prolific inventiveness of ecclesiastical hatred should fail to find some other means to wreak its purposes upon him. Heresy was a charge no less fatal than crime. In the hands of an able accuser it was easily manipulated; and, of all charges, that of Origenism was the one which filled the minds of the ignorant with the greatest amount of vague alarm. Chrysostom should be branded with the stigma of Origenism.
But it would be highly convenient if the charge could be fixed on him by someone whose name would not at once, like that of Theophilus, excite incredulous scorn as to his sincerity. Theophilus -- who had himself contemptuously rejected anthropomorphism until it suited his purpose to seem to favour it, and who had been in every sense as much an Origenist as Chrysostom ever was -- at first thought of securing the services of Jerome. The mind of Jerome was intensely sensitive to the slightest suspicion of heresy. He had been an ardent admirer of Origen, had openly extolled his greatness, had translated and disseminated some of his books. But now, in his terror of being thought guilty of heresy, he turned completely round, and belied his own honesty and intelligence. There was a sort of basilisk power in Theophilus which paralysed opposition. He induced Jerome to translate into Latin the letter in which the Egyptian had called his rival an impure demon who had sold his soul to the devil'; but the timid Recluse of Bethlehem was obviously unqualified to take part in any active crusade.
So Theophilus determined to make a catspaw of the aged and highly venerated Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, whom no one would suspect of ulterior objects. Epiphanius was saintly and fairly learned, but his simple nature had two great foibles, which made him an easy tool in the hands of the astute intriguer. He had written a book which he regarded as a sufficient answer to all heresies, and having all his life long entertained that rooted belief in his own theological infallibility which is the specialty of many ecclesiastics, he had now sunk into a senile vanity which made him indignant if anyone disputed his oracular utterances. The meddling instincts of a heresy-hunter had already led him to a series of gross and illegal aggressions in the diocese of John of Jerusalem, of which he had quite needlessly, and somewhat treacherously, disturbed the peace. It required all the gentleness of John to forgive and tolerate him; but Epiphanius, revelling in the incense of adoration offered by the common people to his saintliness, was blinded by self-conceit to the disorders and improprieties of which he had been guilty. What were Church canons to him, when he was the only man who could set the Church right on all matters of religious opinion? Canons of episcopal discipline could not apply to a man who had refuted all the heresies.
The name of Origen acted like a red rag to the old man's self-satisfied infallibility. How could any man say a word in favour of the Adamantine, when he had shown how 'dangerous' were his views? Every competent observer, except himself, was well aware that he had never read Origen's books; that, if he had, he was incapable of understanding them; and that intellectually, and perhaps even morally, he was scarcely worthy to tie the shoes of the holiest thinker whom the Church had produced since the days of the Apostles.
Theophilus knew his man. He sent him the decree of his precious Egyptian synod of sycophants and nobodies who had condemned Origen, and with it a humble, flattering letter, in which he intensely gratified the old bishop's egregious vanity by saying that he himself -- Theophilus -- had once been entangled in Origenistic errors, from which the learned wisdom of Epiphanius had liberated him as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. Would not the saintly Bishop of Salamis once more save the world and the Church by summoning a Council to anathematise Origen and forbid all men to read his books? Would he not, especially, save Constantinople and the Eastern world from its heretical Patriarch, who, with the Tall Brothers, was perverting his diocese with the Origenistic heresies which Epiphanius had long ago refuted?
Epiphanius scented the heresy-hunt from afar, and went over to Theophilus with a bound. Egregiously duped both as to facts and opinions, and completely blinded to his own non-jurisdiction and incompetence in the matter, he summoned his suffragans, and summarily anathematised Origen and all his works.
To Epiphanius the sole norm of orthodoxy was agreement with himself. If anyone had a religious opinion which differed from his own he was a' wrang, and a' wrang, and a'thegither a' wrang'; and was not only a' wrang, but also perverse, blind, ignorant, and presumably wicked. He is in this respect one of the commonest of ecclesiastical types.
Theophilus sent the decree of this ignorant synod and of his own to Chrysostom with another curt and insolent letter; but he, seeing through the plot, and profoundly uninterested in the fury of the theological insects' who were crawling over the sacred dust of Origen, put aside the whole matter as a petty dispute which did not concern him, and sent no reply.
Nettled at the unconcern which Chrysostom showed respecting his decisions -- an unconcern due only to the fact that he was no more Origenistic than most of the wisest and ablest Fathers of the Church had been -- Epiphanius now accepted the suggestion that, though he was eighty, he should go in person to Constantinople, and set things in order in the diocese of a superior in which he had not the least legitimate footing. He braved the dangerous winds, sailed through the Cyclades, and landed near the Church of St. John the Baptist at the Hebdomon.
From that moment his whole career at the capital was foolish and disorderly. He officiated and preached at the church, and, as he had done in the Diocese of Jerusalem, again flagrantly violated all ecclesiastical rule by ordaining a deacon. In spite of this, Chrysostom and his clergy received him with the respect due to his age and saintliness, and the Patriarch invited him to share his hospitality.
Not unless you swear to excommunicate the Tall Brothers and anathematise Origen,' said Epiphanius, rudely. 'Nay,' said Chrysostom, as regards that question we must await the decision of a General Council.' Very well,' said the Bishop; then I shall go to a private lodging prepared for me by the agents of Theophilus.'
In spite of this petulant rebuff Chrysostom, in forbearance to a senility intoxicated with the sense of its own self-importance, sent Philip to the lodging of Epiphanius, the next morning, to invite him to take part in the service of St. Sophia.
Tell your master,' said Epiphanius, that I cannot lend the sanction of my authority to heresy.'
Philip was unwilling to carry back so crude an insult. Bowing and reddening, he asked, Has your Dignity no further answer to the request of the Patriarch?'
None,' said Epiphanius.
He may be a saint,' said Philip, indignantly, to Eutyches, who awaited him outside, but he is certainly a churl.'
But Epiphanius, as if he held in his hand the keys of all the creeds, invited every bishop who happened to be at Constantinople, denounced Origen with all his might, and induced not a few of them to subscribe to his condemnation, though they knew as little about Origen as Epiphanius himself. All, however, were not so flexible. Among them was Theotimus, Metropolitan of Scythia, whose holiness of life and loving magnanimity at Tomi, on the Euxine -- famous as the scene of Ovid's exile -- had won the Goths to devout admiration, and had even softened his savage neighbours, the Huns, who, struck with the loving homage by which he was surrounded, called him, in their ignorance, the God of the Romans.' Saint and confessor, he had even acquired a reputation for working miracles, and when he rose, wearing the long locks which he had never cut, there was silence among the bishops. Educated in Greece, Theotimus had carried some of the works of Origen to his Scythian see, and there read them with profound advantage. He drew one of these manuscripts from his bosom; and read aloud page after page of teachings full of depth and beauty. 'Is this the man whom you want us to anathematise?' he asked; 'this saint, whose holy teaching abounds in high and orthodox instruction? To condemn him thus indiscriminately is to condemn the sacred books, which he expounded as no one else has done so wisely. If you find anything wrong in his books, reject it; but do not because of it obliterate all the abounding good.'
It was, however, useless to appeal to men whose condemnation was due either to ignorant prejudice, opiniated misconception, or hateful ends; and Epiphanius himself felt that such condemnation was of very little avail. He wanted to appeal to the people, who received him with veneration, and he actually had the temerity to announce that he would preach a sermon against the errors of Chrysostom in one of his own churches -- the Church of the Apostles. But even Chrysostom, with all his boundless forbearance towards the intrusive old man, now found it necessary to interfere with an act of infatuation which might well have caused a tumult dangerous to Epiphanius himself. He sent Serapion to inhibit him.
Bishop,' said Serapion. you have acted, and are acting, with discourtesy and irregularity. Be warned in time, or you must take the consequences.'
The firm rebuke made Epiphanius pause in his wilfulness; and he received another from the Empress herself. At this time her little son, Theodosius II., fell ill, and in her usual devotion to strange bishops she sent to ask the Bishop of Salamis to pray for him. 'Tell her,' said the old man -- whom we can hardly regard as responsible for his actions -- 'that the child will live if she ceases to favour heresies and heretics.' The Empress was justly offended. Tell him,' she replied, that my child's life is in God's hands, not in his.' Such, however, was her superstition that she sent for one of the Tall Brothers, and asked him to speak to the aged Bishop.
All four of them went to him. He had never seen one of them before.
Has your Sanctity ever seen one of our disciples,' asked Ammonius, 'or read one of our books?'
Never,' said Epiphanius.
Ought you not, then, to have done so before you judged us?' said the hermit. We have done so as regards you. We have spoken to your disciples; we have read your "Anchor of the Faith." There are many who condemn you as a heretic, and we have ever maintained your orthodoxy; yet you vituperate us without ever having cared to ascertain our real opinions!'
At last the eyes of the old man were opened. He saw that he had been hasty, uncharitable, unjust; he saw that he had made himself the deluded victim of a wicked intrigue aimed by bad men against the righteous and the good. The moment he was convinced of his folly he threw up his unintentional share in proceedings so nefarious, grieved that the last conspicuous act of his life should have been so little to his credit. He hastened to return to Salamis. Some bishops accompanied him to his vessel. His disillusioned bitterness found vent in his farewell words to them. 'I leave you,' he said, your capital, and your palace, and your theatrical hypocrisy. I depart from you. I haste, I haste away.'
He and Chrysostom parted in mutual anger. He was the wronger; Chrysostom the wronged. Yet he would not apologise or admit how egregiously he had been in the wrong. I hope you will not die a bishop,' said he to Chrysostom. 'I do not think you will ever arrive at home,' replied the Patriarch. Let us drop a veil over the dissensions of saints -- for even saints err. ONE only was without sin. If the words were ever spoken, they were sadly fulfilled.
They are the last recorded words of Epiphanius. He did not survive the voyage home, but died on board ship, his death being doubtless hastened by chagrin at his total failure, and by self-humiliation at his unjustifiable and arrogant intermeddling with affairs which did not belong to him, and questions which he was too prejudiced and ordinary to understand.
So far, then, Chrysostom had behaved with wisdom, self-repression, and generous forbearance, and had triumphed almost without striking a blow. But now he fell into one of those errors of judgment which are so venial, yet so fatal. A mistake in this world is often far more ruinous than a crime.
For this was the unfortunate moment which he chose to launch another of his impassioned diatribes at the worldliness, the luxury, the intrigues, the meretricious bedizenment of wealthy and high-born women. The sermon has not come down to us; perhaps it was purposely suppressed by the shorthand-writers, lest it should bring them into trouble. But it was at once perverted and misquoted, and reported to the Augusta in the most malignant form, as though it had been deliberately intended for a flagrant attack upon herself. Indeed, Chrysostom could hardly allude in the most distant and historic way to Elijah and Jezebel without being accused of glorifying himself and fixing treasonable nicknames on the Empress.
This sort of travesty of what he had said had become so normal that he had chosen as his third amanuensis an excellent youth, named Kallias, who had made himself so skilled a reporter that no swift writer' in Constantinople could equal him in rapidity and accuracy. Left an orphan in early years, he had been trained in a monastery; but finding as he grew to boyhood that he had no vocation for the monastic life, he had ardently thrown himself into the task of reporting' as a means of gaining a livelihood. Nothing which could be called shorthand' then existed, but Kallias could practically take down an entire speech or sermon in such a way as enabled him afterwards, by the aid of memory, to write it out exactly as it had been delivered. It is to Kallias that we owe the preservation of many of Chrysostom's later homilies; and sometimes, by referring to the reports of Kallias, the Archbishop was able effectually to refute -- when he deigned to do so -- the hideous parodies of what he really had said which were falsely attributed to him.
Kallias had been with Philip and Eutyches at the delivery of the sermon on the sinful extravagances of women, and Philip saw at once that it was fraught with peril. As he walked out with the two other youths he said: 'We shall hear again of that sermon. Oh that our Patriarch had more of the serpent's wisdom with the dove's harmlessness!'
He would say, I suppose,' answered Eutyches, as I have often heard him say, that he can only speak what it is given him to speak at the time.'
Not for one moment do I presume to blame him,' said Philip. But these sermons will be his ruin.'
But what can be done?' asked Eutyches. This sermon will be represented to Eudoxia in a way which will make her mad. What says Kallias?'
I have done what little I could,' said Kallias. 'I noticed that the only other "swift writer" present was Phocas, who reports for Severian. I know him of old. I have observed that he purposely introduces malignant words and touches, or gives a turn to sentences which they never had in the context.'
Oh! as for that,' said Philip, I had not been a month in Constantinople before I found out that the normal way of criticism was to attribute to an opponent something which might pass for what he said. A word or two here and there, culled out of separate sentences, and pieced together as a quotation, makes smart criticism, and a splendid basis for attacking a man whose real words were wholly different.'
Exactly,' said Kallias; and that is what Phocas tries to do in the interests of Severian. But to-day someone has spoiled his little game.'
Oh! there was a great crowd as we left the Cathedral, and Phocas was sitting on a chair at one side, trying to write out his notes, when someone upset his inkstand right over all his tablets, so that he cannot possibly make them out.'
Someone,' said Philip, laughing. Oh, Kallias!'
Well,' answered Kallias, blushing a little, 'I really thought it quite fair after all his deliberate scoundreldom.'
It won't prevent gossips from retailing the sermon to the Empress under the worst guise, I fear,' said Eutyches.
No, Eutyches, it won't. The days are darkening round us. I expect that before long we shall have to say with the Maccabees,
"Let us die in our simplicity."'
The youths were right. Eudoxia was informed that Chrysostom had savagely preached at her in St. Sophia. The information, purposely distorted by Epigraphia and the bishops, monks, and priests, drove her into one of the paroxysms of rage to which she yielded without restraint. Hitherto she had sided with the Tall Brothers, and it was she who had induced Arcadius to summon Theophilus before a synod for judgment. Now the Tall Brothers and their wrongs were nothing to her. She wrote to Theophilus, urging him to come with as many Egyptian bishops' (so-called) as he could scrape together, and to come with the express object of destroying Chrysostom.
And his bad heart exulted, and he felt sure that at last the hour for revenge had come!