Sævit in auctorem prodigiosus honor.
Philip had been by accident in the Church of St. Sophia when Eutropius rushed into it down the private passage from the Palace which led into the Emperor's gallery, and down the staircase from the gallery into the nave. Lost in astonishment, Philip saw the unhappy man speed in wild affright up the porphyry steps of the sanctuary and disappear behind the drawn curtain. Usually the new Patrician and Consul was never seen in public except when he paced to the Theatre or Circus between his lictors, or in the centre of a throng of soldiers, slaves, and sycophants, while everywhere the claque of paid adherents received hire with acclamations, as if he were a hero or a god. What could possibly be the meaning of the unwonted spectacle of the most powerful of living men, pale, terrified, dishevelled, ungreeted and ungreeting, unattended even by a single slave, running at full speed, though with his knees trembling under him, and often stumbling on the road? Something portentous must have happened, and without even guessing what it was, the youth's shrewd and practical intellect instantly took in the importance of the occurrence. Whatever else it meant, it could only mean that Eutropius was taking sanctuary -- was flying to the protection of that right of asylum of which he had endeavoured to rob the Church of Christ.
But great men do not fall, any more than great trees fall crashing over the forest which they overshadow, without serious commotion; and Philip was far from sure that Eutropius would not become the victim of his own law, which had excepted the crime of læsa majestas from the right of ecclesiastical protection. He foresaw that in half an hour's time, or less, when the news of the favourite's ruin had spread, the church would be transformed into a scene of the wildest commotion. It was necessary that Chrysostom should be instantly informed of what had happened.
The Patriarch's palace stood opposite the wall of the Imperial precincts, and was but a minute's distance from the eastern gate of St. Sophia. It faced the Milion and the line of statues which adorned the northern facade of the Hippodrome. While the few who were in the church were still lost in wonder, and were crowding up towards the presbytery to catch a glimpse of Eutropius when the curtains were drawn, Philip darted home, and passing straight into the Archbishop's room, said:
Father, your presence is instantly needed in the Great Church! Eutropius has taken refuge in the sacrarium!'
Eutropius?' exclaimed Chrysostom in amazement. 'He has fled to sanctuary? What has happened?'
I know nothing more,' said Philip, but I saw him flash by me as I stood in the nave. He looked as pale as death. Terror was stamped on every feature. His robes were in disorder; his head was defiled with dust. In a few moments there will be some terrible scene. There is not an instant to be lost!'
I will join you directly,' said Chrysostom. I have but to put on my pallium. Summon Bishop Palladius, Serapion, Tigrius, Cassian, Germanus, and all the clergy who may be in the Thomaites, to accompany me.'
Come, David and Eutyches,' said Philip as he passed through the anteroom. It is I who have strange news to-day, but it is beyond all jest. The Archbishop will join the clergy in the Hall directly. Leave your work and come to St. Sophia, where you will see a scene which will be memorable for all time.'
The youths sprang up, and almost immediately Chrysostom came out, and, attended by his clergy and secretaries, walked rapidly to the Cathedral. The throng was already very large, and was momentarily increasing. The startling news had spread as though on wings of fire. It had reached the streets, where the crowds were yelling with savage satisfaction. It had reached the soldiers, who were in tumult. It had reached the Hippodrome, and passed as in a moment, none knew how, through its assembled thousands. Then a strange event happened. Of late Eutropius had spent whole days in the Theatre and the Hippodrome, seated in state, graciously unbending to gratify the multitude, scattering smiles and largesses, flattering and flattered, omnia serviliter pro imperio, to all appearance the assured favourite of the promiscuous inhabitants of Constantinople. Yet now -- such is fame, such the worth of the applause of the multitude! -- the whole assembled populace rose as one man, shouting, Death to the eunuch!'
Chrysostom was not a moment too soon. But for Philip's swift resolution the hated Minister might ere now have been torn by rude hands from his place of shelter, and the sacredness of the shrine been polluted with the horror of bloodshed. Already there was tumult, and unwonted cries were heard in the holy place; but a hush fell on the people as the Patriarch came in sight in his pallium woven with crosses, and they made way before him as, in stately solemnity, he advanced towards the sacrarium with his attendant presbyters and deacons. They ascended the steps and passed through the curtain. It was there that Eutropius and Chrysostom met once more.
There was no manliness, there was no dignity in the anguish of the fallen Chamberlain: it was abject, it was womanish; it was calculated to awaken contempt rather than pity. The memory of his crimes added to the degradation of his wretchedness. It was as though the spectres of Timasius and Abundantius towered over him, and pointed him out to the avenging Furies. The idol which had so suddenly crumbled to the dust was a mean and ugly one. This was no Marius, sitting hungry and unshorn in his wretched dungeon, but still clothed in the majesty of manhood; no Pompeius, grand even in the midst of his calamities. It was a wretched, gilded insect of the harem whom Destiny, in one of her most cruel and sarcastic jokes, had first elevated from the most degraded slavedom to more than imperial power, and then suddenly, as in a moment, had flung away her plaything, with utter scorn, to grinning infamy.
The moment Eutropius saw the Archbishop he grovelled face downwards under the Holy Table, and wept and tore his hair; but at first his chattering teeth refused to frame a sound. Then he half rose, but hid his face in his robe, which was wet with tears and foul with dust.
Look at me!' said Chrysostom.
For an instant the eunuch turned to him the deplorable, wrinkled face of his dishonoured age, with a look of appeal which would have been infinitely pathetic but for the ludicrous dishevelment and paltriness of the man, which made even sorrow seem too lofty an emotion for such a spectacle. Yet Eutyches and David were deeply moved, and there were tears in Philip's eyes.
Destiny is pitiless,' said Chrysostom. Pray to God, pray to Christ to help thee. I fear thou mayst be beyond the help of man. But He who outstretched His arms upon the cross has a heart compassionate enough to embrace all wretchedness, and even the deepest guilt, so it be penitent.'
Eutropius could not answer. The Archbishop was thinking of the world beyond the grave; his own thoughts were all absorbed in the terror of the brief and passing present.
Meanwhile, through the opened curtains of the presbytery the crowd caught sight of the crouching figure, and amid the tumult and the menacing cries, which rose louder and louder, the tramp of soldiers and the clang of armour made itself ever more distinctly heard.
The sounds renewed the wildest alarm of the fugitive. 'Oh, save me!' he cried, save me!' And as he spoke he snatched at the Archbishop's robe, and kissed its hem.
I will save thee,' said Chrysostom, if man may at all save thee.'
Swear to me,' said the wretched man.
Nay, a good man's word needs no oath. Fear not. Leave the Holy Table. Serapion will take thee into the Chamber of the Holy Vessels.'
Leaving the Archdeacon to attend to the eunuch and supply his needs, Chrysostom advanced to the front of the chancel, and ordered the curtains to be drawn behind him. He looked out on a wild scene. The armed Prætorians had forced their way through the dense mob to the front, and stood there shouting and brandishing their drawn swords, with cries of The eunuch! give us up the eunuch! He is in hiding here. He shall die!'
It was always in such scenes that Chrysostom rose to the fullest grandeur of his undaunted nobleness. Many a man will quail before a mad and mutinous mob who will face almost any other form of menace. But Chrysostom, as he looked on those gleaming eyes and furious faces, was as calm as if he had been talking to Philip in his own room. Not a pulse beat the quicker, and though his figure was not majestic, he seemed to dilate with the grandeur of his appointed task.
Silence!' he called out in his clear, resonant voice, which was heard above the madness of the multitude; and once more, as they did not heed his command, he raised his arm in an attitude of authority and again cried,
Silence, ye people, and ye turbulent Prætorians! Silence!' Astonished and overawed by the fearlessness of the man, which filled the disciplined soldiery with admiration, the crowd sank for an instant to silence.
What mean ye? What do ye desire?' said the Patriarch, 'that ye fill with your lewd clamour the sacred silence of the church of Christ? Depart hence! The Hippodrome is the fitter scene for your shouts and tumults.'
The eunuch! he is hidden here! Death, death to the eunuch!' they shouted.
He has taken sanctuary,' said Chrysostom, with perfect calmness. 'He has flung himself on the protection of the Church. She spreads over him her mantle of mercy. Depart hence! your errand is in vain. He is inviolable here.'
Nay, but you are breaking the law,' said the Tribune of the Prætorians. He has been guilty of treason. By the edict of Arcadius, by the edict he himself demanded and carried, he has no right to protection. You must give him up.'
Never!' said Chrysostom.
Nay, but we will have him; we will drag him out hence by the hair!' shouted the soldiers.
You dare not!' said Chrysostom.
We will soon see whether we dare,' cried the boldest of them, who were Arian Goths, filled with special hatred of the fallen Minister; and some of them began to rush up the marble steps.
Back!' said Chrysostom, advancing with uplifted hand and checking their menacing onrush; while Philip and his two friends, who were watching the scene with intense excitement and unbounded admiration for their master, eagerly sprang forward, to protect him if possible, to die with him if necessary.
This won't do,' shouted the Tribune. We have the Emperor's orders.'
The Emperor's orders? What avail the Emperor's orders in the sanctuary of God? He is an emperor over frail men; we are the servants of the Most High God. What!' he cried, as he laid a firm hand on the cuirass of the foremost soldier, though he was brandishing his drawn sword over his head -- 'what! do you presume to violate the sanctuary of your Saviour?'
We don't want to hurt you; but, we will have the eunuch!'
Then,' said Chrysostom, spreading out his arms across the narrow space, advance if you will; but if you do it must be over my body -- yes, and over the bodies of these my presbyters;' for now they were all standing round the Archbishop, prepared -- all unarmed as they were -- to defend the sanctuary, even with their lives.
Shame on you! shame on you, soldiers!' cried young Eutyches, carried out of himself by the scene. 'Would you defile the Holy Place of God with the blood of His murdered ministers? And are you not afraid that the lightning will flash on you, or the floor be rent with earthquake to swallow you up quick, like Korah and all his company?'
Silence, you young cub!' said a soldier, striking the boy on the cheek, while others still pressed forward, being almost forced on by the waves of the people who surged behind them.
It was one of those crucial moments when the possibility of enormous crimes trembles, as it were, in the balance, and when there is but a hair's-breadth between scenes such as history records for ever, or the averting of some dreadful catastrophe. At any moment one of those uplifted swords might descend on the head of the Archbishop; and then the soldiers and the mob, drunken with blood and fury, would have trampled down the presbyters, would have dragged Eutropius from his hiding-place, and hacked him to pieces at the very altar. The cheek of Eutyches was bleeding with the soldier's blow, and Philip and David had climbed up the balustrade, their faces aflame with the very enthusiasm of martyrdom, and had taken their places close beside their master, ready to shield him with their bodies.
The absolute calm of the Archbishop averted the peril. 'You have heard,' he said, as though God's voice had spoken to you by a boy's lips -- you have heard the awfulness of the atrocity which you seem to be on the verge of committing. Pause ere you drown your souls for ever in destruction and perdition!'
Give us the eunuch!' said a soldier, and we will disperse this multitude with the flat of our swords, march out in peace, and close the church-gates.'
I will not give you the fugitive who has flung himself on Heaven's protection. Listen to me. Let the Emperor decide. Take me to him here and now. Take me to him as your prisoner, if you will. Leave some of your number, pledged by the word of your Tribune to defend the sanctuary from rioters while I am absent, and hear whether the Emperor really bids you to desecrate the church of God.'
Not waiting for any consultation, Chrysostom quietly began to descend the steps. I will walk,' he said, in the midst of you.'
Let us come with you, sir,' said Philip, earnestly.
These are my young secretaries,' said Chrysostom to the Tribune. They are not formidable. Let them accompany us. They may be very useful in writing notes or taking messages. Your face bleeds, my poor lad,' he said to Eutyches. You might have dealt less roughly with the harmless boy,' he said to the Prætorian who had struck him. The Goth actually blushed at his words, and shrank back as he would not have done from the sword of the strongest enemy.
So the Tribune bade the soldiers form two lines and walk with uplifted lances or drawn swords on either side of the Patriarch to the Imperial Palace. The crowd in the church divided to let them pass; and in the streets they walked through myriads of spectators, struck with the unwonted spectacle of their Patriarch conducted into the presence of the Emperor by armed Trabantes, who did not abstain from cries of Death to the eunuch! We demand the head of Eutropius!'
As the streets were in a state of excitement, Aurelian, as Prætorian Præfect, had drawn up many soldiers as well as the Royal Guards before the gate, and through these the Patriarch and his escort passed in silence, until they had conducted him to the door of the Emperor's room.
Chrysostom briefly recounted all that had taken place, and Arcadius feebly pleaded that Eutropius, as a State criminal who had treasonably mismanaged affairs, and who had openly insulted the sacred majesty of the Empress, could not claim asylum from which the law exempted him.
It was a cruel, it was a wrong, it was an unjustifiable law,' said Chrysostom. 'No doubt, if justice were perfect, if there were no officials to do deeds of oppression, robbery and wrong, the privilege of asylum might be abused, and might become dangerous and evil to the State. But it is not so. It may be that, here and there, it throws a shield over the guilty, but ten times more often it protects the innocent.'
Eutropius is not innocent,' said the Emperor pettishly.
I said not that he was,' said Chrysostom, but in the days of his fortune, in the days when he was your all-honoured plenipotentiary, in the days when he wielded and abused all your power -- -- '
In those days I resisted to his face the arbitrary injustice of invading the sacred privilege of the Church. I made him my enemy by doing so.'
Then why does your Beatitude protect him now?'
I protect him all the more, Emperor, ten times the more, because he was my enemy. The question is not of him: it is of the rights of Christ and of His Church.'
But he is guilty,' reiterated the Emperor.
Granted, if you will. It does not affect the question. Think of others who were not guilty. Think of the innocent, the holy Pentadia, whom but for the rights of sanctuary Eutropius might have dragged into torture, or penury, or to share the death of her wronged and murdered husband, Timasius. Think of Lucian, Count of the East, whom, not for wrong-doing, but for an act of noble justice, your Minister Rufinus beat to death with leaded whips. Had he but foreseen his peril he might have been safe in the Church of Antioch.'
But I have passed an edict on the subject.'
Yes, or Eutropius passed one in your Majesty's name.'
Arcadius again winced, and almost summoned up sufficient energy to look angry.
But though your laws are decisive in all human questions, one who, like yourself, desires to be a pious emperor cannot pretend to interfere with the indefeasible laws of God. Human law, except so far as it is a part of the Divine law -- what is it? It is, and it is not. It is passed to-day, it is destroyed to-morrow. But Divine law? Well has the Greek poet sung that it is not of to-day, or of yesterday, but lives for ever and ever, and none knoweth whence it was manifested. The laws even of emperors are invalid if they encroach upon the privilege of Christ. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.'
The Emperor was overborne. He was timid and superstitious, and dreaded lest he should kindle the displeasure of Heaven.
What do you wish me to do?' he said helplessly.
Nothing ignoble, nothing in any way unworthy of your sublime power: only one of those acts of mercy and of justice more glorious than the diadem. Come out with me, and bid Aurelian announce to his Prætorians that the sacred precincts shall not be violated.'
Arcadius went out in purple and diadem, and when Aurelian genuflected before him, he said, I must ask you to tell your Prætorians it is my will that the asylum of Eutropius should be respected.'
He spoke -- and stood irresolute; for, regardless of his presence, the soldiers, who in the silence had heard his decision, broke into a wrathful murmur and cries of 'Death to the eunuch!' which even Aurelian could not suppress. The emperor felt indefinitely strengthened by the presence of the Patriarch, but the most rigid law of Court ceremony forbade Chrysostom to speak. Arcadius, in halting, hesitating words, endeavoured to impress on the minds of his Guards what Chrysostom had been saying to him, but the arguments sounded very different on his lips. The soldiers paid no sort of regard to them.
Why are you so enraged against the Chamberlain?' asked the Emperor. If he has done some bad deeds, surely he has done some good ones, too?'
What good deeds has he done?' asked a Prætorian rudely.
My father Theodosius sent him to John, the holy eremite of Egypt, and he brought back the prophecy of his victory and speedy death.'
A coarse laugh from the soldiers was the only reply, and one of them said: Why, any fool would have done as much as that.' The cries of Death to the eunuch!' were redoubled, mingled with shouts of Who murdered Timasius? Who put up Gildo? Who betrayed the army to Tribigild?'
Things looked very ominous, for the soldiers began to leap in the air and shake their long spears. Had Arcadius thought of ordering either Aurelian or Chrysostom to address the mutineers, they would no doubt have brought them to their senses; but he did not, and the revolt might very speedily have become a revolution. But at that moment Arcadius was protected by his very helplessness. He simply burst into tears, and implored the soldiers for his sake to spare his disgraced Minister. They were unaccustomed to the sight of an emperor in tears, and they sullenly consented to abandon their demand.
Chrysostom thanked the Emperor, and went back under escort through the raging mob to St. Sophia. The church was practically in a state of siege, and it was with difficulty that the soldiers secured his entrance. He brought to Eutropius the news of his immediate safety, which the eunuch received with transports of gratitude. He left him in charge of a number of the clergy, to whom Aurelian assigned the protection of a hundred soldiers; and then he returned home, deeply wearied with the adventures of the day, but thankful to God that he had saved the life of the suppliant, and successfully defended the prerogatives of the Church.