Keep Site Running

Life Of John Chrysostom by Frederic M. Perthes

EUTROPIUS, of whom we have before spoken, was a native of Armenia, and originally a slave. He was purchased by different masters, but always sold again in a short time. No one had retained him long in his service. At last Arinthanus, a high officer, had given him to his daughter as a part of her dowry, to braid her hair and arrange her headdress. He was no longer young when, at last, he obtained his freedom, went to the capital, and succeeded in procuring for himself a minor service at court. He now artfully strove to draw upon himself the eyes of Theodosius the Emperor, and to win his favor by flattery. Successful in this he was constantly advanced to higher posts and employed by the Emperor in more important services. Under Arcadius, the son and successor of Theodosius, he rose so high as to entertain the hope of seizing the helm of state. We have already noticed the means by which he effected so much. He induced the Emperor to marry Eudoxia, caused Rufinus to be murdered, and, by favor of the Empress, took his place. From that time he was known as the prime minister, but was in effect master of the empire. City and country felt the heavy hand of this unworthy slave. He made use of his power but to enrich himself. After the death of Rufinus, the Emperor gave command, that the property which this man had illegally amassed should be restored to its rightful owners. Eutropius began by annulling this command, and took possession of the vast estate left by the murdered officer. He then removed from office those who did not please him, and sold the posts thus vacated, to the highest bidder. The purchasers, again, regarded their offices but as means for procuring money. He deposed, for example, the court chancellor Marcellus, a brave and able man, from his office, and suffered Hosius, a Spanish slave who had made money as a cook, to assume it. No man possessed of wealth was secure. Eutropius was surrounded by creatures, who pointed out to him the rich, and these upon false accusations were imprisoned, condemned, and robbed of their property. Many families were reduced by him to want and the beggar’s staff. Erelong a deep dislike and bitter enmity to the new master became general both in the country and in the capital; but he was master and had the power; they were enraged,—yet bowed their necks in silence.

Chrysostom was not silent, a man of his spirit and position could not be silent. Whenever he spoke of the miserable state of the country under such an administration, of the insecurity of human possessions, of the weak and trembling ground on which all the glory of earth stands, he would often allude to the sad events which were known to all. He spoke with earnestness and emphasis, indifferent whether his language might be reported to the great lord and provoke his anger or not.

“If we look,” he once said, “upon the present condition of earthly things, does not all appear like dust and water? What shall I mention first? The possession of high offices of state? They are indeed greatly esteemed in this world; but we shall find stability in the particles of dust which the sun reveals to us floating about in the air, sooner than in these, especially at the present time. To what are the possessors of these offices exposed! They are forced to tremble before their own (so-called) friends, before their slaves, before those to whom every thing is venal, before the fury of the people below, and before the displeasure of the powerful above. The man who sat as judge yesterday, is cast down and deprived of all things to-day.

“The poor live in rest and peace; but the rich? How many must die miserably, as criminals and robbers! Poverty is now a defence, while wealth brings danger.”

Every man felt the truth of such language, and could verify it by many examples of that time. But Chrysostom did not rest satisfied with this. Eutropius was in error, if he imagined himself secure from reproof, because he had made Chrysostom bishop; nor did the use of pious words, and the rich gifts, with which for a time he sustained the latter in his Christian enterprises, avail him any thing in this respect. Chrysostom suffered himself to be neither deceived nor bribed. He uttered to Eutropius the truth, in love and seriousness. In letters and by word of mouth this man was compelled to hear: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” But in vain. And therefore it was to be expected, that these two men would publicly fall out with each other as soon as circumstances were favorable. Now unfortunate persons, who were persecuted by Eutropius, often fled into the church, where, according to the custom of that age, they were safe from their pursuers, even though officers of justice. Eutropius more than once in such a case desired the bishop to deliver up the accused; but, planting himself on his right as established by long usage, Chrysostom steadily resisted these demands and delivered the unfortunates. Exasperated at this, Eutropius finally induced the Emperor to abrogate by law this custom, and to issue a command to the bishop, that he should not in such cases withstand men in authority.

Did Chrysostom obey this command? No. He shielded the first man who sought protection at his altar after the enactment of this law; and this first man was—Eutropius himself.

Let us trace this remarkable change in the course of events. The bishop was certainly right in so often reiterating the sentiment, “all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man, as the flower of grass; the wind passeth over it, and it is gone.”

Two powerful generals, who were Goths, and therefore of the German race, stood at the head of the Gothic auxiliaries, and, as so many others, were embittered against the miserable slave and against the administration, which he arbitrarily directed. They resolved to overthrow him by violence. Perhaps they had in mind something more; they may have looked for the fall of the imperial family, and hoped to seize in their own hands the reins of government.

One of them, Tribigild, left the city, passed over to Asia Minor, called together the army in Phrygia, and marched in open rebellion towards Constantinople. Eutropius first endeavored to reach him by gold; but when he failed in this, he commanded the other, Gainas, who had remained in the city as if not concerned in the matter, to march against him. Gainas obeyed, passed over to Asia, but soon sent back the most alarming accounts of Tribigild’s power and of the great danger which threatened:—“The rebels are not to be subdued by force.” When the Emperor became terrifred by this, he made known to him, that but one resource was left;—Tribigild would submit, if the Emperor would dismiss his minister, and Eutropius retire from the administration. It was hard for the Emperor to do this, and he would not at first consent. But when the generals had spoken the word, and the troops went with them, the enemies of the man took courage and set in motion the body of the people. These assembled before the palace and demanded the deposition and—death of Eutropius. Yet the Emperor still clung to him. Eudoxia turned the scale. She had long since fallen out with the minister. His will did not always accord with her desires, and Eutropius had threatened her with the assertion, that as he had exalted, so he could humble her. Leading her two children she hastened to Arcadius, cast herself weeping at his feet, and while the children also wept through sympathy with their mother, the heart of the Emperor gave way. He uttered the decisive word. Eutropius was deposed, and then given up to the vengeance of the enraged city and the troops of war.

And what did this man now do? His conduct is a remarkable confirmation of what is so often observed in life, that a pure and noble spirit is able, silently and unconsciously, to make a deep impression upon the heart of the worst of men. There often remains in the most hardened heart a point, where respect and faith and trust in the fidelity of a noble man yet live. Eutropius in his necessity fled into the church of Chrysostom; he betook himself to the protection of the man who had never flattered him, who had spoken to him as no other person the severest truth. Full of trust he prostrated himself at the altar of him, whom he had just before commanded not to protect those who came thither in peril.

He had remained several days at the altar, when Sunday dawned, and the whole city, having heard of the great event, pressed to the house of God, and as many as were able to find admittance stood looking up into the chancel, and awaiting the bishop. He finally appeared and ascended to his place. It was evidently one of the sublimest moments in the life of Chrysostom when he entered, and saw below the thousands, who were all waiting for his word, and at the altar the guilty Eutropius, smitten in his own heart.

Could he do more at this moment than pray in silence and trembling? Could he open his mouth in the presence of this practical exhibition of the truth? Yea, he could and did speak.

“It is always in time, but at this hour more than ever, to cry: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!’ Where is the glory of this man? where, the splendor of that light which surrounded him? where, the jubilee of the multitude which applauded him? where, the cheers with which he was greeted when he appeared in the theatre or on the race-course? All gone! All gone! A sudden storm has swept off the leaves, laid bare the tree; the naked trunk stands indeed, though it is shaken even to the roots.—Where are all the friends who surrounded him, who worshipped his power and encircled it with a cloud of incense? It was a dream; and the night has passed, the morning breaks, the dream is over! It has fled like a shadow and like vapor, it has burst like a bubble. O vanity of vanities, all is vanity! Write it on all walls and garments and houses, in the market-place and the streets, but above all, write it in your consciences. We ever renew our trust in the tinsel of earthly glory, and ever afresh it deceives us. Say to every one, and at all times, at home and abroad, at table and in the theatre, let every one cry to his neighborAll is vanity, all is vanity!”

Afterwards turning to Eutropius, he proceeded: “Said I not to thee, that money is a thankless servant, and thou wouldest not listen to me? Said I not, that wealth is a faithless friend? Thou wouldest not change. Behold now thou learnest that it is worse,—even a murderer. This it is which has brought thee hither, that now thou standest in terror. The church, which thou hast so often assailed, has opened her bosom to receive thee. The theatre upon which thou hast bestowed honor, and for the sake of which thou hast so often committed sin, has betrayed thee” (thence arose the cry for his death); “the race-course after devouring thy wealth, has sharpened the sword of those whom thou hast there labored to amuse. But our sanctuary, which has so many times felt thine anger, covers thee with her wings.

“I say not this to triumph over the unfortunate, but to move those who yet enjoy prosperity to seek their true safety. Hearken to the word: ‘All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.’ Let the word of truth penetrate your hearts. He did not. Oh, had he lent his ear to the truth, he would not lie there.”

He then assumed another tone. Great animosity reigned in the city, and the head of Eutropius was demanded. Men were enraged that this man should lie at the altar and be protected by the church.

Hence Chrysostom added: “This is the greatest triumph of the church, that she takes under her protection the enemy who is forsaken by all, and thus withstands the Emperor, the people, the whole city. One says, is it seemly for the worthless and rapacious criminal to lay his hand on the altar? Say not so. An impure and sinful woman embraced the feet of the Holy One! Will ye reproach the Saviour for permitting it? We rather, I believe, admire and praise His love. Think not of retribution,—eye for eye,—are we not the servants of Him who prayed on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them?’ Say not, that by his laws he has deprived men of this refuge at the altar. He has now learned by experience the nature of his law, and has by his conduct revoked it. He now cries to all: Do no violence here, that you may never experience it in turn.”

The bishop succeeded in softening their hearts. He saw by the tears of many what was passing in their minds, and said:—

“Come, let us fall at the feet of the Emperor, or rather entreat the most compassionate God to incline the Emperor’s heart to mercy. Many of you are soon to partake of our Lord’s body, and how can we utter the prayer, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,’ while we ask for vengeance upon the guilty? We deny not, that he has done great wrong, but this is neither the place nor time to execute judgment, but rather to show mercy. May no one of us indulge wrath or hatred in his heart! Let us all beseech the Lord who loveth men, to deliver him from death, and grant him time for self-examination and true repentance. And let us unitedly entreat the Emperor to give one man to our altar.”

The church agreed to the wishes of Chrysostom, but not so the troops in the city. Soon after his discourse was finished they drew near, surrounded the church, and demanded with cries and rage the surrender of Eutropius. The bishop firmly and boldly withstood them, and he would certainly have suffered himself to be cut down, sooner than give into their hands the guilty suppliant. The soldiers were afraid to press by force into the church, but Chrysostom went among them, and accompanied them to the Emperor in the hope of obtaining a pardon for the culprit.

On the Sunday following this event Chrysostom said in the capital:—

“A few days since the church was beleagured,—wild troops stormed around it, and swords were unsheathed. Ye heard their furious shouts, and saw the fire of their eyes; yet no man was wounded and our church remained unhurt. At her gates war found a limit, and we stood within fearless of the soldiers’ rage. I was carried to the imperial court, but by the grace of God nothing could terrify me. We had for our sure pledge the word of the Lord: ‘My church stands upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ Whoever desires help, let him seek the church; yet I do not now mean the place nor the surrounding walls, but the God who dwells within these walls. The walls decay, but the church never changes; the house may be seized by barbarians, yet Satan will not conquer the church. These are not words of boasting. How many have assailed the church, but her enemies have perished while she herself stands unvanquished. It is her divine nature to triumph in conflicts, and out of shame and reproach to become fairer and more glorious. Blows may cover her with wounds, but she possesses an ever healing energy. She may be borne hither and thither by the floods, but she never sinks.”

After the banishment of Eutropius quiet was not restored to the city. Those two generals, Tribigild and Gainas, now revealed more clearly their further designs. Uniting their armies they threatened the city and pressed for the deposition of other high officers of state. They demanded in particular, that three men, who were at the head of the administration, should be given up to them, namely, Aurelianus, Saturninus, and John, the private secretary of the Emperor. They were very different men from Eutropius, were highly respected, and rightfully enjoyed the love of all the better citizens. What was to be done? These noble men solved the difficult question, by declaring: “If by our death we can purchase peace for our native land and avert calamity, we are ready to suffer it,” and going voluntarily into the camp of their enemies they gave themselves into their hands. When this was known all mourned and lamented, but they only mourned and lamented. Chrysostom acted. Leaving the city he passed over the sea, appeared before the generals, and was able to control them. Great power of spirit must have dwelt in the frail body of John. Gainas, unable to oppose him, promised to grant their lives to the three men, but they were not to return into the city.

When the bishop again entered his pulpit after this event, he said:—

“For a considerable time I have been silent here, though not from indolence or convenience. I have wandered about, as you know, to still the disquiet and allay the storm. I have admonished, prayed, and wept, that our three beloved officers might be saved. Now I am with you again. Having rescued them from the storm which had fallen upon them, I would fain strengthen you against the storms which still threaten us. Of human concerns nothing is firm; they float upon a convulsed sea and are daily threatened with new shipwrecks. What the prophet says has been verified in our day: ‘let no one trust his neighbor; let no one put confidence in princes; keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.’ It is an evil time. Brother betrayeth brother, there is no sure friend on whom a man may rely, true love is no more. Everywhere conflict and war, and not merely open war, we see round about us nothing but masks, one lives more securely among enemies than among friends. And why is all this? I have often declared it to you, the love of money, a passion for wealth and gain.”

Chrysostom in this discourse speaks of storms which still threatened, and with reason; for although the two generals now concluded a peace with the Emperor, Gainas soon interrupted it, and bloody contests followed. We will not, however, pursue further the history of these events, since Chrysostom was less concerned with them, but follow him in labor upon a totally different field.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved