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Life Of John Chrysostom by Frederic M. Perthes

THEODOSIUS the Great, of whom we have heard in our account, died in the year 395. He was the last Emperor who, by his strong hand, held together the Roman Empire, which embraced a great part of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Before his death he divided it between his two sons. To Honorius, the younger, he gave the western part,—Italy, Spain, Gaul, etc.; to Arcadius, the elder, he assigned the eastern part,—Greece, Asia Minor, etc., with the capital and residence, Constantinople. Both were still young, the former eleven and the latter eighteen years old. He therefore placed older men at their side, as guardians and regents or first ministers. Honorius, in the West, was under the direction of a brave general, Stilicho by name; Arcadius received for his guide a sly, artful man, named Rufinus. The young Emperors were not gifted by nature, were without force, and had been moreover unwisely educated, so that nothing came of them. They fell into the power of their ministers and remained there. Both these men were covetous and ambitious, therefore jealous of each other, and very soon a contest began between them, in which Rufinus perished. Stilicho had married the sister of the deceased Theodosius. Envious of this distinction, Rufinus resolved to marry his daughter to the Emperor Arcadius. Having prepared him for it, he hoped soon to accomplish his purpose, when he excited the dissatisfaction of Arcadius. He had recommended to him a certain Lucian for an important office in Antioch; but as this man did not prove suitable for it, the Emperor became very much displeased with his minister. In order to make good his error, he made haste—the unscrupulous man—to Antioch, caused Lucian to be taken prisoner and scourged to death on the night of his arrival, and then returned swiftly, hoping with the narrative of this deed to suppress the Emperor’s wrath, and then proceed to the marriage. When he returned, all was festivity in Constantinople, the whole city was in motion, the Emperor was about to take his bride. The daughter of Rufinus was commonly supposed to be the person, and he gave himself up to hope, but was suddenly and terribly undeceived.

For the time of his absence had been shrewdly improved by the above-mentioned Eutropius. This man, having from a low position already risen high, would fain ascend yet further, and determined to dislodge Rufinus, and take his place. The intended marriage of the Emperor with the daughter of his minister did not suit the purposes of Eutropius. He plotted against it secretly and gained the passions of the Emperor for a young, beautiful, orphan maiden, Eudoxia, the daughter of a deceased general. She was an enemy of Rufinus, because he had effected the murder of her guardian. Should she become Empress, the minister would fall, as Eutropius hoped. The plan was successful, and until the day of marriage the person of the bride was kept a secret. The whole court, led by Eutropius, passed in grand procession through the streets, attended and followed by thousands of the city, while rich gifts were carried before, destined, it was generally supposed, for the daughter of Rufinus; but contrary to all expectation Eutropius turned in before the house of Eudoxia. The gifts were brought to her, and she was led as Empress into the palace.

Rufinus stifled his anger, feigned indifference to the losing game, and only studied to maintain his power in spite of the Empress and Eutropius. But in vain. Eutropius secretly united with Stilicho, and they determined to remove their enemy from the world. One day when a regiment of soldiers, which Stilicho had sent over to Constantinople, were publicly received, and Rufinus riding with the Emperor directed them to march by, they, in obedience to a secret command, fell upon and murdered him, and before the face of the Emperor dragged him away to the open market-place.

Eutropius took his place, was at the goal of his own wishes and triumphed. He little imagined on that day how soon the avenging hand of the Almighty would cast him down. We shall hear.

Although these events took place several years before the appearance of Chrysostom in the capital, I have given so full an account of them, because they reveal to us the dreadful state of the court and men in authority, and likewise that of the people ruled by them; rulers and subjects were both strictly united, working reciprocally upon each other. In a land where the high officers are permitted thus openly or with impunity to commit murder; and worse, where they practise such scandals as have met us in the history of a single marriage, where a man like Eutropius, mocked by the first ministers and treated without respect by the inhabitants of the city, can venture to involve the person of his prince in his game of intrigue, there must the people be in a sad condition.

When the intrigues and crimes of the great do not shun the nation’s eye, there must be wanting in the people moral judgment and conscience, without which no state can long exist. If the moral spirit lives in a people, it exercises, even without periodicals and courts, a power before which the worst of men will bow, or at least be in fear. An immoral government cannot sustain itself permanently over a moral people. Complaint respecting rulers is therefore always a charge of the nation against itself. The course of our narrative will confirm this statement.

It was all over with the population of the Roman Empire, and hence the state approached its dissolution. It had existed above a thousand years, and had once been mighty by the moral earnestness no less than the natural force of its people. But for several centuries the old Roman spirit had been wanting. Christianity was given it at the right time, and many thousand individual souls had been rescued, but the Roman people as a body had not been transformed. Princes to be sure were baptized, and the faith of Christians became dominant; but outwardly alone in the majority of rulers as well as subjects. They had it in the head, prated about it, were zealous for it with human passion, but their heart remained far from it. They became more and more corrupt and were ripe for the judgment of God. It did not tarry.

A new race of men had come from the East, the German tribes. When Chrysostom came to Constantinople, they lay on all the borders of the empire, and in some cases had passed over them. Eighty years after they swept over Italy as a flood, and cast down the last remnants of the decayed state. The government in Constantinople, indeed, yet continued several hundred years, but one province after another was lost, until the Turks made an end to its miserable existence, and as before said, all the tribes became Mohammedans.

Chrysostom now entered into the capital of this sinking empire, into the midst of this frivolous population, into proximity to the corrupt court. When he had arrived, and was about to be installed in his office, obstacles were forthwith placed in his way. The people and many of the clergy in the city were in favor of the distinguished orator, but eminent bishops from abroad had been invited by the Emperor to heighten the splendor of the holy ceremony, and among these, the bishop of Alexandria, the third capital of the Roman Empire. His name was Theophilus; we will mark it, for we shall meet him yet again at a later period. He plays an important part in the history of Chrysostom’s life. He was a man of gifts, discreet and active as Chrysostom, but otherwise exactly the opposite of him.

Displeased because he had not at least been consulted in the choice of a new bishop for the residence, he was yet more offended because John of Antioch had been chosen; for this man was not to his mind, was not one from whom he could expect coöperation and support in his schemes at court. Even now he hoped to prevent Chrysostom’s induction into office, and had brought with him one of his creatures, a certain Isodora, whom he thought to push into the place. It belonged to Theophilus, as the most eminent of those present, to consecrate the bishop elect; but he refused to do this, and laid a protest before Eutropius, under the pretence that evil reports were in circulation against Chrysostom. But Eutropius knew the Egyptian bishop, and laid before him certain papers, which contained,—not reports but facts concerning him. When he saw these, he paused and—was ready to ordain Chrysostom. The ceremony was performed on the 28th of February in the year 398 A. D.

It deserves here to be remarked, that Chrysostom not only without resentment offered the hand of reconciliation to his enemy, but immediately invited him to participate in effecting a good work, which he had long had at heart. The church of the East and that of the West had fallen into strife and division respecting the choice of an ecclesiastic. John now said to Theophilus: Let us unite our hands to reconcile this difference. Success followed. They sent messengers to Rome, and as a result of the negotiations peace was restored.

But now to the matter in hand, a representation of the life, the discourses, the acts, and the sufferings of Chrysostom as bishop of the capital.

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