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Life Of John Chrysostom by Frederic M. Perthes

WE have learned that Chrysostom, soon after entering upon his office in the capital, had to proceed against several of his subordinate clergy, and at that time deposed two persons, one for licentiousness and the other for murder. In the latter half of his pastorate in Constantinople he was obliged to sit in judgment on a large number of bishops. This unhappy affair not only occupied three months of his time and caused him much anxiety and sorrow, but was also attended with more lasting consequences, since in those bishops and their adherents it augmented the number of his enemies, and was thus the means of gathering the storm which afterwards burst upon him.

In May of the year 400, soon after the disturbances occasioned by Gainas and Tribigild, he had convened many of his bishops from Asia Minor, Galatia, and Thrace, at the capital, to consult with them in council upon the interests of the church, and to devise such changes as appeared necessary. As they were met together one Sabbath morning with him, in order to proceed in company to the church, Eusebius, bishop of Valentinopolis, in Lydia, though not one of the council, appeared before them and presented Chrysostom an accusation against his superior, the bishop Antoninus, of Ephesus, who was present as a member of the council.

The paper contained a series of heavy charges;—Antoninus has melted down the sacred vessels and given the silver to his son. He has removed the marble which adorned the baptistery of the church, to his own private bath. He has ornamented his dining hall with beautiful pillars belonging to the church. His son, though guilty of murder, he has employed in the service of the church. He has sold estates which were presented to the church and kept the money himself. He has made it his practice to sell ecclesiastical offices to the highest bidder, and several of the clergy present at the council have acquired their office through him in this way.

Chrysostom, who knew the impetuous character of the man, perceived that he was excited with passion, and, after looking a moment at the writing, besought him to desist from his accusation.

“Brother Eusebius,” he said, “it is an easy thing when one is angry to utter charges, but it is often more difficult afterwards to prove them. Take heed and divulge not this matter. If the bishop has injured you, I will hereafter attempt to settle the difficulty.”

When however Eusebius would not be quieted, but only declaimed the more vehemently against Antoninus, Chrysostom requested Paulus, the bishop of Heraclea, a friend of the accused, to endeavor to reconcile the parties.

Engaged in these proceedings the time for public worship had arrived, and Chrysostom with his bishops went to the church. But scarcely had he pronounced to the people the salutation—peace be unto you—and sat down, when Eusebius again presented himself before Chrysostom, urged upon him a second copy of the accusation, and in a loud voice conjured him by the life of the Emperor and Empress, to take up the matter and call the offender to account.

We may conceive the disturbance which this affair created in the church. Chrysostom, to quiet the congregation and silence the impetuous man; took the writing, but requested one of the bishops to conduct the service for him. He did not feel at the moment, in the proper mood, especially to administer the holy supper.

After divine service, Chrysostom assembled all his bishops and also the accuser in the baptistery, and here once more requested the latter to reflect upon his course before the reading of the accusation; for when this is done and the charges are recorded, if he fails to substantiate them, he incurs the punishment which otherwise would fall on the accused. Eusebius, however, persisted in his charges, and averred that he could prove them by witnesses.

They now proceeded to the business. After the paper was read, it was declared by the council that they need investigate only one of the charges, that of bribery, or Simony, since if this was substantiated, it would be sufficient. Chrysostom now turned to Antoninus. He denied having received any money, and the clergy present who were accused with him denied that they had given him any. These proceedings continued till the afternoon, but as the necessary witnesses could not be produced, Chrysostom terminated the investigations by declaring that he would go to Ephesus in order to bring this matter to a decision.

Yet this did not at present take place. The Emperor declared that the bishop, in the present unquiet state of the times, ought not to leave the city. It is supposed however that the Emperor, in this matter, was influenced by Antoninus, who feared the presence of Chrysostom in Ephesus. Chrysostom went not thither himself, but sent a deputation of three bishops. Arriving there, they naturally asked for the witnesses. Eusebius promised to produce them within three weeks. These passed by and the three following, but the witnesses did not appear. Eusebius was then condemned as a false accuser, deposed from his office, and excluded from church fellowship.

Yet he, as will soon appear, had spoken the truth. This same man, however, who accused Antoninus of corruption, had himself been bribed by him with money to keep back the witnesses and henceforth to preserve silence.

Soon after this Antoninus died, and a violent storm burst forth in the city in reference to the occupancy of the vacant place. Two parties rose up against each other, and corrupt ecclesiastics, who sought after the place, put every thing in commotion. The more virtuous among them now applied to Chrysostom and urged him to come to Ephesus, that he might, by his authority, terminate the affair. This was a great hardship to the bishop; his health was poor, and the season of the year (it being the latter part of winter) was unfavorable. Still he concluded to go, and after a very difficult journey, in which he experienced a violent storm at sea, he reached the agitated city. He restored quiet to the place by rejecting at once all who had so vehemently sought after the office. He appointed Heraclides of Cyprus, who was well known to him from his having served the church several years under his guidance, and who, in his entire character, was adapted for such a place. All of course were not pleased with this, and the ill-will which they were now obliged to suppress, afterwards burst forth, when, aided by others, they no longer stood in fear of the bishop.

The labors of Chrysostom did not end here. Eusebius, who had been deposed as we have seen, appeared with a request to be again admitted to church fellowship, and offered now to produce witnesses for the truth of his former charges. Thus the matter again had to be taken up, and it was found that six bishops in Asia Minor had actually acquired their offices by the payment of money. They, however, offered such excuses that Chrysostom felt bound to see that the money they had given was restored to them from the estate of Antoninus, while they should be removed from their office and other fit persons be chosen in their place. The individuals deposed did not forget this in him, and we shall soon find them associated with those by whom Chrysostom was overthrown. Besides these six bishops, seven others, it is related, were removed at this time from their office, yet the accounts we have of this are not very explicit. It is certain, however, that Chrysostom on his journey homeward through Nicomedia, deposed one bishop, Gerontius.

This man having been previously deposed in Milan, then betook himself to the Residence where, through the distinguished patrons he had won, he obtained the bishopric of Nicomedia. Passing for a skilful physician, he was soon enabled, by his professional services both to rich and poor, as also by a happy faculty of making himself agreeable to every one, to gain the favor of the city. When now he was deposed by Chrysostom for thus illegally obtaining his office, the city became greatly disquieted and for a long time would not endure the new bishop Pansophius, whom, as a man of culture and accustomed to the best society, Chrysostom had wisely selected. They finally submitted, but the anger of Gerontius continued to burn, and thus we shall see him also in company with those who sat in judgment on Chrysostom.

For three months was Chrysostom occupied with these matters in Asia Minor. He now returned to the capital where, alas, painful duties also awaited him. Before relating these unpleasant matters, let us, to refresh our spirits, accompany the bishop to his church and learn how he appears before his people after his long absence.

They had impatiently waited for him, and had deeply regretted his absence especially during the Easter festival, which had been celebrated a few weeks previously;—now they received him with the greater demonstrations of joy. On the following Sabbath, he ascended the pulpit, and, after thanking them for the proofs of their love and making apology for delaying his return till after the festival, he said:—

“You were desirous of celebrating Easter with me; what then hinders us from celebrating it again with one another to-day? Two Easter festivals, do you inquire? Not but one certainly, yet this one in divers ways. The sun rises many times, but we do not speak of many suns, since it is ever the same sun which rises daily; and so there is but one passover which we continually celebrate. Unlike the Jews, we are not restricted in regard to time and place. As often as ye eat this bread ye do show the Lord’s death. Thus also do we proclaim it to-day. That day was a festival, and so is to-day, for where the joy of love is, there is a festal day.

“You say that many were baptized in my absence, but what is the harm? The grace of God is not the less on that account, nor is any thing wanting to His gift. They were baptized not in my presence but in that of Christ. Is it man then that baptizeth? Man gives only the hand, but God bestows the blessing. If we have the Emperor’s signature to an ordinance, do we inquire with what pen it is written? We ask only whether it is the Emperor who affixed his seal. So also here, who am I, and who is this or that man? We are servants merely—not creators.”

Such a Sabbath in his pulpit and in the midst of his loving flock, was refreshing after the evil times through which he had passed; the more painful was the business upon which he must now enter.

For a considerable time past Severian, the bishop of Gabala in Syria, had resided in Constantinople. There prevailed at that period the hurtful custom which afterwards we occasionally find, that clergymen of high rank were accustomed to spend weeks and months in the Residence away from their churches, partly to enjoy the pleasures of the place and partly, if they possessed gifts, to be heard from the pulpit, and thereby secure reputation and patrons. A short time before, a certain Antiochus from Ptolemais had won great reputation by the mere brilliancy of his discourses, and was thus allured to remain so long that Chrysostom was obliged to give him a hint to return to his office. Severian, who now lived in the Residence, had not so fine a delivery as Antiochus, but his discourses are said to have possessed greater merit, so that he attracted the deeper thinkers, and won also the favor of Chrysostom himself. When the latter departed for Asia Minor, he chose Severian to occupy his pulpit during his absence. This he was very ready to do, but the false man availed himself of this opportunity to scatter in the church the seeds of evil against the bishop. On his return, the better portion of the church laid before him the bitterest complaints concerning this, and urged upon him the necessity of calling the calumniator to account.

Soon after, the Archdeacon Serapion, an imperious man, made fresh complaints against Severian, in regard to disputes which the latter began with him; and certain expressions which he employed against him in the church created such serious disturbances and violent animosities among the members that Chrysostom ordered him to leave the city. He departed forthwith, but only across the channel to Chalcedon, and from thence he applied to the Empress Eudoxia, whose favor he had succeeded in gaining. She gave ear to him, and importuned the bishop to become reconciled with him. Chrysostom was induced to allow his return, and required publicly in the church all those who had been at variance with the man, also to grant him forgiveness.

“As the union,” he said, “between the head and the body is necessary, so must the church be united with the priest and the ruler; and as the branches are connected with their roots and the rivers with their fountains, so must children be joined to their father and pupils to their teacher.”

“Thus do I begin, and not without reason. I have something to lay before you, and could heartily wish that you would not interrupt me, but grant me your attention, and by obedience manifest your love for me. Obey your teachers, says the apostle, and follow them, for they watch for your souls. I am your father and must counsel my children.”

“I speak,” he continues, “of a matter which may well be discoursed upon in the church. I speak to you of peace. What is more becoming the priest of God than that he should counsel for the peace of the church! As a messenger of peace I come and I pray you reject him not. Some time past, much that was sad occurred in our church,—there was much strife. Let us forget this, and conquer our animosities. The church has suffered enough; bring this to an end, and let contention cease, for this is well pleasing to God and to our pious sovereign. If you are inclined to peace, then hear my request, and receive again our brother, the bishop Severian.”

When they expressed their assent, he said:—

“I thank you for granting my request, and may God reward you for your love. I called his name and nowhere in the church was there any disturbance; thus have you brought the true offering of love. The past is now forgotten, and no remembrance of it should remain. We entreat God that He will henceforth preserve the church in peace, and grant to her the highest and everlasting peace in Christ.”

We perceive from his words the honesty of his purpose. Severian gave, on the following day, an admirable discourse on peace and forgiveness. But he could not have spoken from a sincere heart; for when, shortly after this, the contest against the bishop arose, not only the rejected Antiochus, but the recalled Severian was found among his enemies, and the latter was his bitterest and most malignant accuser.

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