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Truth is cruel.—Père Hyacinthe.
Every day brought upon Chrysostom the burden of new and incessant duties. The care of Constantinople and its diocese would have been enough to exhaust the energies of any man; but the affairs of many other dioceses, over which custom gave him a patriarchal jurisdiction, came before him; and besides his schemes of reformation and beneficence at home, he felt an intense eagerness to further the cause of the Gospel by missions among the Persians, the Phœnicians, and other nations. Meanwhile he was getting an insight into the general corruption and worldliness into which the Church had fallen, and was preparing to put in force every possible remedy. He saw on all sides of him a Christianity which was a Christianity in name alone; a Christianity passionately eager about theological shibboleths; a Christianity which plunged into all the vices and follies of the world, while it busied itself with all the functions and formulæ of the Church; a Christianity which relied for salvation on orthodoxies and amulets, while it neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and truth. What shocked him most was to find these false forms of a Christianity which had become hollow and nominal chiefly rife among the clergy. Their condition illustrated ’the eternal Pharisaism of the human heart.’ They said, and did not. No word was more common on their lips than the word ‘scandal.’ Every petty divergence from their own conventionality, every recognition that the river of the grace of God might be deeper and broader than their straight-dug ditches, every cordial sign of union with brethren whose opinions or organisation differed slightly from their own, was always a ‘scandal’. But the scandal of their own pettiness, narrowness, subterranean meanness, and total want of charity, was to them a source not of penitence, but of pride. The rottenness of dying superstitions and a feeble pretence at perverted intellectualism had half strangled Christianity with ever-new watchwords and ever-new creeds. Eyes blinded by immoral partisanship were incapable of recognising pure goodness. The thin dust on the balances of orthodoxy, and small ecclesiastical scrupulosities, had become more to them than the solid gold of righteousness and love. Strong in their opiniated self-satisfaction, they often yielded without a struggle to the coarsest temptations. Their hypocrisy became so ingenious that it even deceived themselves, and they voided the most envenomed virulence on those who repudiated their pretensions and loathed their habitual manœuvres.
All this had been seen and had been bewailed already by some of the greatest and holiest of the saints of God. Chrysostom had read the views of St. Hilary, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. Isidore of Pelusium, and St. Nilus, the many letters to lapsed virgins and fallen monks, and the many stories of much-admired clerical adventurers; but he was slow to admit the reality of the sad condition of things which more and more was forcing itself upon his conviction. He would not act on impulse or in a hurry; he would wait, and watch, and pray, and discriminate, and use his private influence to the uttermost before he gave vent to any public utterance or struck any open blow.
It was the Emperor’s custom to leave Constantinople in the summer, and retire to the voluptuous privacy of Ancyra. The plan had been devised by Eutropius, whose one object was so completely to absorb Arcadius in luxurious self-indulgence that he might leave all serious business in the hands of his Chamberlain. At Constantinople he kept him engaged day after day in the Hippodrome and the Circus, where he might see the runners, and the chariot-races, and the wrestlers, and the fighters, and excite himself, as far as his languor permitted, with the factions of the Blue and Green. Lolling and sleeping on soft silken cushions in the Kathisma, or Emperor’s box, Arcadius could occasionally diversify his satiated boredom by looking on while funambulists walked upwards and downwards on tight ropes, or gymnasts, to the stupefaction of the mob, balanced a pole on their foreheads, on the top of which a little boy would go through all sorts of antics. Sometimes a thrill of delicious sensation would pass through the audience when the funambulist missed his footing and was dashed dead on the orchestra, or the boy tumbled from his balanced pole and broke a leg. If such an accident tended to cause too much emotion, the jesters called moriones, or cordaces, were at hand, who acted the part of clowns, and soon set the audience in a roar of laughter.
But lest monotony should jade the Imperial mind, especially during the burning heats of summer, Eutropius had provided the palace at Ancyra. The day of the journey was announced, and then the Chamberlain gratified the mob of the city with a gorgeous spectacle. On that occasion the Emperor always wore a crown of gold set with the most precious gems. His robes were of purple silk woven with golden dragons. He wore the most splendid of his earrings, and strings of orient pearls hung one below another over his breast. The attendant guards were decked with golden chains and armlets, and the heads of their lances were gilded, with silken streamers of purple pendent from them. The Palatini also carried dazzling shields with bosses of gold, round which were painted golden eyes. The chariot of the Emperor was a blaze of gold, and was covered with thin laminæ of flexile gold, which moved and glittered as it advanced. The white mules which drew it were shod with gold, their housings were blazoned with golden broidery, and the reins glittered with gems. Crowds of bedizened courtiers, and hundreds of attendant pages, and eunuchs of every age and of every race, walked in sumptuous procession before and behind, through streets thronged with thousands of sightseers, many of whom had been patiently waiting since the morning to see the palace gates flung open and the pomp issue forth. Yet, as one penetrates into the depths of a pyramid, to find at last only the ashes of a monkey or a cat, so the centre of universal interest was with the occupants of the chariot, and they were only a sallow, sleepy youth and a wrinkled, kotowing eunuch. Nevertheless
the rich retinue long
Of horses led, and grooms besmeared with gold,
Dazzled the crowd and set them all agape.
The procession wended its way to the harbour, where lay crowds of gilded barges to convey the Emperor and his Court to the other side of the Bosporus, whence they went by land to the soft climate of Phrygia. At Ancyra Eutropius amused and enervated the Emperor with banquets, and spectacles of dancing-girls, and with every costly diversion which the ingenious luxury of idleness could devise.
Philip and his young friends had watched the Emperor’s departure with the curiosity and not ungenial cynicism of youth. As for Philip, he was an observer of human nature, and never missed the chance of seeing anything. Full of fun, he accused David of envying all the glory.
‘Why should I envy the bloom on the wings of butterflies?’ said David.
‘Oh yes, you are a philosopher, David. But you,’ he said to Eutyches, ’I confess that, in spite of your protesting look, you would give your eyes to be one of those processional gentlemen, and strut in gold amidst the cheers of the mob. I feel sure that you are saying to yourself, “Oh that I could be Eutropius for but one hour!”’
Eutyches turned to him his laughing face. ’You know better,’ he said. ‘I greatly prefer to be a clerk at the Patriarch’s. As for Eutropius, if I had an enemy, and if I wanted to curse him——’
‘Two impossible suppositions for you, Eutyches,’ said David.
‘Well, if I had, and if I could, I should say, change lots with Eutropius!’
‘Curses wait round him open-eyed,’ said Philip, ‘but you would like to be Aurelian, now?’
‘What, with Typhos, that wicked brother of his, dogging his heels and secretly trying to devour him?’
‘All very fine, Eutyches; but you know you asked the Patriarch to come and see the show.’
‘And do you know what he called it?’
‘Vanity of vanities, probably,’ said Philip.
‘Well, something like it. He called it gilded misery and painted tears. But, Philip, you are the culprit. You are dying to enjoy an armlet and a gold collar, and so you accuse us!’
‘Perhaps,’ said Philip. ‘Who can tell?’
An old man in the cloak of a philosopher had overheard them. ‘Ah! young man,’ he said, ‘Do you want riches, power, honour? Well, I have what you desire.’ And then he opened and shut his hand three times.
‘Is that a sort of incantation?’ asked Philip, laughing.
‘No,’ said the old man. ‘I have grasped the wind.’
But though the Patriarch had not cared to leave his books and waste his time to stare at the procession, he had gone the day before to pay his farewell respects to Arcadius, and he had taken the opportunity of holding a very serious conversation with the powerful Chamberlain.
Eutropius welcomed him almost effusively. His presence seemed to the favourite to give a touch of reality to a world of phantasms. Most of the insects who thronged about his noonday beam he utterly despised. He knew the value of the transports with which they kissed his hand or grovelled at his feet. He knew that their one object was self-interest, and that they would be ready to spit at and trample on him to-morrow if his fortunes fell. But among these spectres the presence of Chrysostom brought him in contact with a man who desired nothing from him, who neither feared nor flattered him, but who did deeply and genuinely care, if not for his temporal, yet for his supremest, interests.
‘I welcome the visit of your Beatitude,’ he said, after Chrysostom’s simple greeting, ‘though you constantly oppose my wishes and show little respect to my office. Why, præfects and patricians have barely left the room, every one of whom treated me almost as if I were Emperor, and you address me without the smallest approach to ceremony!’
‘Do not I thereby honour you? To me you are Eutropius, a soul for whom Christ died. To be a Præfect of the Sacred Chamber is little, is nothing, but to be a man is something; and if a man be but a beggar, and yet a true Christian, his dignity is more glorious than that of many an emperor.’
‘You have come, I see, to reprove me. I am a clarissimus; I am the greatest man under the Emperor. In farthest cities, to the remotest corners of the Empire, I wield the sacred power of Arcadius. Suppose I refuse to be reproved?’
‘You can refuse; but have you never heard the Word: “ He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his heart shall suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy“?’
‘But what right have you to lord it over me, as though I were a culprit, and you my judge?’
‘Nay, nay,’ said Chrysostom. ‘As a man I am but your poor fellow-sinner; but regard me as the impersonal voice of your own slumbering conscience.’
‘I am not so black as I am painted,’ said Eutropius indignantly, as he began to pace to and fro. ’I am not one atom worse, perhaps I am not nearly so bad, as many of your bishops and clergy.’
‘Ah! how idle are all such comparisons!’ said Chrysostom. ’Ultimately, for each human being there are but two entities—God and his own soul. May I speak to you plainly, Eutropius, not in priestly arrogance, yet without subterfuge, without disguise? I speak not as a judge, nor as a Pharisee. I would only fain help you to see the eternal realities.’
‘Speak,’ said Eutropius. ‘You are the only living man from whom I would tolerate such freedom.’
‘I would ask you, then, To what end is this vast accumulation of wealth, this dishonourable traffic in high offices? You are old. How long have you to live? Can you carry with you your gold, your estates, your palaces?’
‘Wealth is power,’ he answered sullenly.
‘But how stable is your power? The Empress is your enemy. Gaïnas is your enemy. Your power rests only on a prince’s favour. Put not your trust in princes. Put not your trust in wrong and robbery. All these will fail you. God alone, if you seek Him, will fail you not.’
‘You speak to me very boldly,’ said the aggravated eunuch. ‘Look out into yonder square. You will see my statues in bronze and marble in every attitude. Go into the houses of the nobles, you will see my statuettes in gold and silver. I have but to touch this bell, and princes and senators will crowd in to flatter me. I sit in the theatre, and the nobles shout applause and the illustrious call me the Father of the Emperor, and the third founder of Constantinople after Byzas and Constantine.’
‘Does it make you happy?’
‘Happy?’ said Eutropius; ‘how could such an one as I, the victim of men’s brutalism, stupidity, and vileness—how could I be happy? Think of what my childhood, my boyhood, my youth were. Think how I have been trampled into the mire, insulted, taunted, by the very meanest of mankind. Is it nothing that now I sit among princes, and that all the world rings with the two names of Stilico and Eutropius?’
‘And yet, Eutropius, all this would be sold cheap for one self-approving hour. You are angry that I resisted you about the right of sanctuary. I did, and I will continue to do so. On whose behalf? Does the story of a lady like Pentadia awaken in you no stings of remorse? When you hear the name of the wronged Timasius, of the wronged Abundantius, do the Furies never shake their torches in your heart?’
‘Leave me!’ said Eutropius. ‘You have deeply wounded me.’
‘ Faithful are the wounds of a friend,’ said Chrysostom. ’It is only the kisses of so many enemies which are deceitful and poisonous, Eutropius. I love thee better than thy flatterers: I who reprove thee, not in my own name, but in His whose thou art—care for thee far more than thy false friends. Oh! forgive me if I seem to have been hard on thee, and think on all these things before the fall of night!’
‘Too late! too late!’ said Eutropius, deeply moved. ’I have chosen my lot; I must follow it to the end.’
‘It is never too late to repent, never too late to be forgiven,’ said Chrysostom. ‘Nay, I will not let you part from me in anger. Farewell, and may God be merciful to me and thee!’
How often did that warning ring in the memory of the unhappy Chamberlain! Next day, when he sat beside the Emperor in the blaze of splendour, men noticed that his face was very sad, though on those occasions it was usually wreathed in the blandest smiles. He was thinking of Chrysostom and his reproof.
And so the days passed by, bringing their changes and their varied duties. That year was marked at Constantinople by the horror of unusual storms and earthquakes. A huge wave rolled over the Bosporus, and laid in ruins many of the houses nearest to the seashore. The quaking and yawning earth swallowed up others, and flames issued from the rent fissures. The distress was unspeakable, for supernatural fears added terror to these catastrophes, and while there were some who tremblingly anticipated that the end of all things was at hand, and plunged into the most slavish superstitions, others, in the mad defiance which always characterises such epochs of calamity, flung themselves into reckless debauchery, like sailors who break open the stores and drink themselves drunk when it is too late to save the foundering ship.
Amid such scenes Chrysostom kept his strong heart uncowed, and many a time in St. Sophia he comforted and inspired the timorous throngs of his people, trying to calm them with that peace of God which can face all the perils of life, because it has no fear of death.
But the Archbishop rarely had rest for long. When the earthquakes ceased the Arians began to give trouble. They had been a powerful party in Constantinople since the days of Valens, and they were strong in the adherence of so many of the warrior Goths of Gaïnas. By a decree of Theodosius they were not allowed to worship within the walls of Constantinople, but they still cherished the determination to get a church assigned to them. They began to inaugurate nightly processions, which marched through the streets and colonnades chanting in antiphon the strange theological hymns of Arius. Among these was one which had the taunting refrain:
Where are now the men who say,
In their enigmatic way—
Who the riddle right can see?—
’Three are one, and one is three?’
Having chanted such strains all the night, they retired at dawn to their church outside the walls.
Chrysostom was the more vexed because, though his own conviction was unshakenly orthodox, he had always endeavoured to treat the Arians with courtesy and fairness. He consulted two very different persons—Michael, the humble Desposynos, and Serapion, the uncompromising archdeacon.
Michael was not unfrequently summoned from his bronzesmith’s shop by his son David to come and talk to the Archbishop, who valued his counsel—though he hardly knew what to make of his immense liberality and his total indifference to ecclesiastical conventions. The favourite quotation of Michael was the saying of Tertullian, ’Christ is truth, not custom; truth, not tradition.’
‘How would you counsel me to deal with these noisy and troublesome Arians?’ asked Chrysostom.
‘I would humbly advise that you treat them with all gentleness, with all meekness, with all courtesy—nay, with all love.’
‘They are heretics,’ said Chrysostom. ‘It is necessary to be firm with them.’
‘I counsel meekness, Bishop, not weakness. Love is not weakness. Which do we need most, Catholics or saints?’
‘We must not betray to the Arians the true divinity of Christ,’ said Chrysostom.
‘No, nor yet to the Apollinarians His perfect humanity,’ answered Michael. ‘But oh! it was an evil day for Christianity when men began to hate each other for watchwords and definitions, instead of loving the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in sincerity and truth, and showing their love to Him by love to all for whom He died.’
‘But we cannot regard the Arians as Christians.’
‘The Goths have learned their Christianity from Bishop Wulfila. Was not he a saint of God?’
The Patriarch was silent, for, like all men, he loved and honoured the memory of the holy Wulfila.
‘Did Christ come to affirm a creed, Bishop, or to create a character? Is not he a Christian who does the works of Christ? Did not Christ say, “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments”? Did not the Beloved Disciple say, “ He that doeth righteousness is righteous,“ and ” He that doeth righteousness is born of God“? May we not be received into eternal life with many wrong opinions? The Arians, too, believe that Christ was Divine, though they err in the nature of His divinity. And when John said, “We forbade him because he followeth not us,” did not Christ say, “Forbid him not, for he who is not against us is on our side”?’
‘Yes, but did He not say also, “He who is not for us is against us”?’
‘Both principles are true in their proper perspective,’ said Michael. ‘The one does not falsify the other. No deadlier disservice could be done to the cause of Christ than the angry clashing of formulæ, in which love and humility are lost. How far better is meekness of wisdom, and the emulation of good works!’
‘What, then, would you advise?’
‘Send for the leaders and priests of the Arians. Reason with them kindly and forbearingly, not in wrath and strife. Point out to them that these nightly processions can but annoy and embitter their opponents, and disgrace their cause. Do this, and all will be well.’
Philip had been present while they talked, and he ventured very modestly to express his earnest hope that the Patriarch would follow Michael’s advice. ’Shall I carry a message for you,’ he asked, ’to the Arian bishop?’
‘No, Philip, not yet. I must talk the matter over with Serapion.’
Serapion, as usual, was unconciliatory and uncompromising. He never joined the suaviter in modo with the fortiter in re. He talked of betraying the cause of Christ, of seeming to favour heresy, of the need of severe repression; and he advised the getting up of counter-processions and counter-litanies.
So the streets were rendered hideous with the harsh shouts of contending theologies. The processions swelled in numbers and attracted all the idlest riff-raff of the wicked city. Nothing was less devotional than hymns chanted in rivalry, by voices harsh with anger, amid jibes and jeers. The theatres parodied and ridiculed the animosities of Christians, and made the multitude roar with laughter at mock processions, singing lewd and fantastic songs. Then the Empress took up the matter, for at that time she was most anxious to use Chrysostom as a powerful ally against Eutropius;—and that was one reason why she bade Amantius lavish her treasures upon him for hospitals and churches, the designs of which she drew with her own hands. She furnished the processions of the Catholics with silver crosses; she paid for devices and banners, and she ordered her Chamberlain, Briso, himself to walk at the head of the procession. The result might have been predicted: the crowds increased, the Arians grew more and more irritated. Scuffles began to take place, then furious attempts of each party to break up or disorganise the procession of the other. At last there were sanguinary conflicts. Philip, David, and Eutyches, loyally went out with the processions, though they did not like them, and always exerted themselves to keep the peace. One dreadful night not a few were left dead in the streets, and many were wounded. Philip came home with a broken collar-bone, and both the other youths had been hurt. The august Briso himself was seriously wounded by a stone which had struck him on the head. After that the indignant Empress left Arcadius no peace till he had interfered by peremptorily forbidding all Arian processions, while he allowed those of the Orthodox to continue. But Chrysostom, grieving that the holy name of Christianity had thus been smirched and degraded by mutual hatreds, was sorry that he had not followed the advice of the humble Desposynos.
One more event marked the close of the year 398. Chrysostom had received as a present from Synope the relics of the martyr Phokas; and Vigilius, Bishop of Trieste, had also sent him the remains of the martyrs Sisinnius, Martyrius, and Alexander. He announced that he would conduct them in a solemn procession at midnight to the Church of St. Thomas at Drypia, near the sea, a distance of nine Roman miles from the city. The huge procession was accompanied by a multitude of officers, and many illustres, spectabiles, and clarissimi were seen edifyingly commingled with the poor, and amicably walking with them side by side. More than all, the Empress Eudoxia in person walked the whole way on foot, in the simplest of robes, without a single ornament. She joined in the chants, and humbly held a fringe of the rich silken corporal which covered the relics. Although she had very little regard for righteousness, Eudoxia was genuinely superstitious, and Chrysostom, deceived as yet, took her superstition for true religion. He was carried away by the extravagance of his joy. He thought that the Empress would be indeed a protectress of the poor, a pillar of the true faith. When they reached the church his excited feelings found vent. ‘What shall I say?’ he cried. ’What shall I speak? I exult, I am beside myself with joy. See what an example the Empress has set! As though she were a maidservant, she, the wearer of the diadem and the purple, she whom not even all the officials of the Palace are allowed to see, has walked behind the holy relics. Blessed be thou, O Empress! Not we only, but all generations, shall proclaim thy blessedness. Thou hast been the hostess of the saints, the mother of Churches. Thy zeal almost equals that of the Apostles. We count thee among the saintly matrons, for in building sanctuaries, and upholding martyrs, and pulling down the errors of heretics, thou usest thine earthly royalty as a means for the attainment of everlasting felicity.’
After the discourse the multitude streamed homewards, and criticisms, as usual, were rife.
‘Did you ever hear such a welter of Asiatic rhetoric?’ said Antiochus of Ptolemais, ’and such indecent fulsomeness of praise? “I dance, I am mad!” Did ever Patriarch disgrace his office by such trash?’
‘How different, how stately, how classic would have been your own chaste eloquence,’ said Severian of Gabala, who had made Antiochus his model, and determined to walk in his steps.
Unluckily, Chrysostom’s youthful secretaries walked near the bishops, as the Patriarch’s attendants, and again Philip was forced to hear these unsympathetic and carping criticisms of the master whom he so fondly loved. Eutyches and David, though vexed, remained silent, and as they passed greeted the bishops with the usual demonstrations of profound respect. But Philip looked in the opposite direction, and would not bow.
They were very angry. ‘Who is that rude young churl?’ asked the Bishop of Ptolemais.
‘Oh! an Antiochene whom the Archbishop says he has adopted,’ answered Severian.
The next day Arcadius himself went to the Church of St. Thomas, accompanied by soldiers; and he, too, honoured the martyrs by laying aside his purple, his armour, and his diadem before their shrine. Chrysostom again delivered a discourse; but it was impossible to elevate the thin-blooded Arcadius into either a hero or a saint, and the language of his eulogy was much more measured.
Next day Philip looked in to see Michael; for he rarely missed the chance of visiting the Desposynos, in the hope of seeing Miriam, whom, though silently as yet, he loved with an ever-deeper devotion, and whom he believed to be not indifferent to him. He had a powerful ally in David, who loved Philip so much that in the family they always called him Jonathan, and David was never weary of singing Philip’s praises.
‘Is it not delightful,’ said Philip, ‘to see their Sublimities taking so much interest in the festivals of the Church?’
Michael smiled dubiously. ‘Yes,’ he said; ‘but I am sorry that ”he“, as you boys call the Patriarch, lends so much sanction to the rage for relics.’
‘Is it not natural to honour the mortal remains of saints and martyrs?’
‘To honour, if you will, though they are but dust. Yet their cult has been pushed to fatal extremes. It has led to such gross imposture that sham monks go about cheating silly women with the bones of Noah or Methuselah. St. Martin discovered that his people were worshipping the relics of an executed criminal, and Bishop Cœcilian had to reprove a wealthy lady for kissing and hugging a supposed martyr’s bone. It is twelve years since Theodosius had to pass a strong edict against this relic-worship, which seemed to him idolatrous and degrading. That is why the Pagans call us cinerarii (“worshippers of ashes ”).’
‘Everyone seems to approve of it,’ said Philip. ‘Is it not a Catholic custom?’
‘I fear that many things are called “Catholic” nowadays,’ said the Desposynos, ‘which are neither Scriptural, nor primitive, nor Christian, nor in any sense true. Your experience will soon teach you, Philip, that the current opinion of fashionable religiousness, however widespread it may seem, is often unspeakably shallow, as well as turbid. The life of the Apostles, of Athanasius—nay, of the Lord Christ Himself—proves to us that it is only one, with God, who is always in a majority. Many a true man has to cry with Elijah, ” I, even I only, am left.”’
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