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Life Of John Chrysostom by Frederic M. Perthes

NOT as a defendant to stand before the Emperor’s tribunal, but as a judge would Theophilus appear. Twenty bishops accompanied him from Egypt. “I go thither,” he said when leaving, “to depose the bishop of Constantinople.”

During the time that his pioneer, Epiphanius, had been at work, he had not been idle. Through his exertions and the efforts of those who were united with him, he had succeeded in gaining the chief personage of the capital. Eudoxia, having forsaken Chrysostom, promised him her assistance, and with this, the prospect of help from the imbecile Emperor was sure. The bitterest enemies of the bishop in Constantinople who were known to Theophilus, were united in a common cause. Among these the most prominent were: that Severian, whom Chrysostom, as previously related, after a violent contest, had so cordially received; Antiochus, whom he once sent from the capital to his vocation, and a certain Acatius, bishop of Berœa, who, as the story goes, when Chrysostom on one occasion did not show him sufficient respect, said, on leaving the metropolis, “I will at some time, cook for him a dish that he will not relish!”

With these were joined a number of those bishops whom Chrysostom had deposed in Asia Minor, particularly Gerontius of Nicomedia. There were also two deacons whom at the very first he had removed from office for the gross crimes of adultery and murder, and a turbulent monk from Syria, Isaac by name, who, by his calumniations of the clergy, had already caused much harm. Several officers of the court also were drawn into the plot, who promised military assistance should it become necessary. Finally, to them were added several court-ladies, three in particular, Marsa, an early friend of Eudoxia, Castricia, and Eugraphia, who had felt injured by the severe remarks of Chrysostom. The latter, especially, could never forget a conversation in which he upbraided her for her singular and improper mode of dress. It was in her house that the meetings of this company were held. When Theophilus was sure of such a force in the capital he first sent over by sea those Egyptian bishops with considerable sums of money, which were supposed to be still necessary. He himself made the journey by land in order to create a public sentiment against the bishop in the capital. He first met with his bishops again in Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople, on the other side of the Straits, at the residence of the bishop Quirinus, who also belonged to the league. Some days after his arrival he crossed over to the city. In the harbor he was indeed joyfully received by the Egyptian sailors who came hither in a vessel laden with grain, but he met with a very cool reception in the city, since the people had already heard of his designs and were greatly indignant. Often as their bishop had offended them, they yet loved him.

Chrysostom, remaining true to himself, desired to extend to Theophilus all those honors which were due to so distinguished an officer in the church, and hence had caused apartments to be prepared for him and to be placed at his disposal Theophilus rejected these offers, and stopped at one of the Emperor’s houses. Yet, through fear of the people, he resided here but transiently; his abode was over in Chalcedon, and from thence he passed back and forth. In this manner three weeks passed away before the bursting forth of the tempest. Much preparation must yet be made, and particularly the Emperor was to be won. So little at first did the good man surmise what was going on, that he summoned Chrysostom to proceed in the trial of the Egyptian bishop. But the course of events soon turned, for Eudoxia had changed her husband’s mind, and now Theophilus proceeded to his work.

In the suburbs of Chalcedon, in a church of the imperial estate called “the Oak,” he opened the “holy” synod, and convened thirty-six bishops under his presidency. The indictment which was presented, contrary to what we should expect, had no reference to a participation in the heresy of Origen. On this subject nothing more was said. Theophilus even extended the promise of forgiveness to those monks on condition of their making him an apology. There were produced, however, other accusations, even to the number of “seven and forty.” One seeing them, can hardly trust his eyes, and, unless we knew that they proceeded from the hearts and lips of those who were determined to take vengeance on the bishop, the procedure must seem incredible. As it is, many of our readers will be astonished in hearing them. There are men, however, who, when once offended and set upon revenge, have no rest till they have trodden their enemies underfoot, and to reach this end, are not ashamed to use the basest, and, where these fail, the absurdest means.

Listen to the following accusations:—

Chrysostom has called the clergy corrupt, dishonorable, and worthless men;

No one knows what he has done with the revenues of the church;

He neglects the duty of hospitality, yet privately leads the life of a glutton;

He robes and disrobes himself in the bishop’s seat at church, and eats wafer-cakes there;

He does not pray before leaving his house to enter the church;

He makes use of expressions in his sermons which are unbecoming the house of God;

He encourages in sinners the hope of security by saying, as often as you sin only repent and I will heal you;

He blasphemes in the church, affirming that Christ was not heard in his prayer, because he did not pray aright;

He has taken the part of pagans who have done so much injury to Christ;

He encroaches on the jurisdiction of foreign bishops;

He has excited a strife against Severian;

He encourages the people to rebellion, even against the holy synod;

He is guilty of high-treason in preaching against the Empress, etc. etc.

These charges, no less scandalous than silly, need no refutation. Much as we have heard already of the corruption of the court in Constantinople, we are yet astonished that the enemies of the bishop could hope to succeed by such means. They were, however, successful.

On this indictment Chrysostom was cited before the Council. On the morning when this was to take place, there were assembled around their bishop in his residence at Constantinople, nearly forty of his clerical friends belonging to the city and its vicinity. Yet several of his own church officers were absent, among whom, alas, was one of his chief associates, the archdeacon with whom he had long labored. This old man, Arsacius, either intimidated by threats, or bribed by other means, had, to the great grief of the bishop, been won by Theophilus, had drawn others after him, and now had gone to appear in the synod as a witness against the bishop. Those who adhered to him, however, were sincere friends, and on this morning they gathered together in great excitement. They knew that the Emperor stood on the side of Theophilus, they had heard that their bishop was accused of high treason, and now the report was that his death was intended. Hence they all felt the deepest anxiety.

One who was present at that time, the bishop Palladius, who afterwards wrote the life of Chrysostom, has narrated many things which occurred on this morning. He relates how their beloved and revered friend, even in these gloomy hours, sustained and cheered their spirits by the power of his faith.

“Pray, my brethren,” he said, according to Palladius, “and as you love the Saviour, let no one of you forsake his church on my account. I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. It is plain to be seen that after many afflictions I shall depart from this life. Well do I know what Satan’s intentions are against me, for he can no longer endure my discourses which have become too burdensome for him. I commend you to the mercy of God. Remember me in your prayers.”

As some of them went around weeping, and others through agitation were going to leave the hall, he said:—

“Sit down, my brethren. Do not weep and break my heart. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Remember what I have so often told you,—that this life is but a pilgrimage, in which pleasures and sorrows pass swiftly by. It is all as a market scene; we buy and sell and then depart. Are we better than the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles that we should be immortal in this world?”

One of the bishops replied: “We weep because we are made as orphans, and the church as a widow, and the holy laws are subverted. We weep for the poor who are now forsaken and for the church which will lose your instruction.”

Then Chrysostom, placing the forefinger of his right hand into his left, as he was wont to do in deep meditation, said:—

“Refrain now from speaking further. But as said to you before, stand fast by your churches! The ministry did not begin with me, and it will not end with me. Moses died, but did not Joshua succeed him? Jeremiah departed, and was not Baruch his successor? Elijah was borne up to heaven, but did not Elisha prophesy? Paul was taken away, but did he not leave Timothy, Titus, and apostles behind him?”

Another who was present then remarked: “If we abide by our churches we shall be obliged to commune with those who passed this unrighteous sentence against you, and also to subscribe to this sentence.” Chrysostom answered: “Maintain the communion, that you may not cause a division in the church, but do not subscribe, for I have committed no offence to merit my deposition.”

While they were speaking, a deputation from the council entered, consisting of two Egyptian bishops and the secretary of Theophilus. Chrysostom received them calmly and in a manner becoming their rank. The secretary made known his commission by reading aloud the following summons:—

“The holy synod assembled at the Oak, to John.

“We have received accusations against you by which you are charged with a thousand crimes. Appear therefore, before our tribunal, and bring with you the presbyters Serapion and Tigris, for their presence is necessary.”

The assembled clergy gave reply, that Theophilus, in a manner wholly illegal, had usurped jurisdiction in a foreign diocese, that he himself had appealed against such proceedings to the eighth canon of the Nicene Council in a letter to Chrysostom, and unless he would now abide by this, he himself must first answer to the charges which have been brought against him. The synod assembled here with Chrysostom is, in point of numbers and character, as lawful a tribunal as his own.

Chrysostom himself, however, declared that although by no law of right could he recognize the council “at the Oak,” yet he would appear before them even as a defendant if only his four declared enemies, Theophilus, Severian, Antiochus, and Acatius were removed from the number of the judges. But until this was done he would never go thither, how many times soever they might summon him.

Notwithstanding several citations he still adhered to this decision. And when a notary from the Emperor appeared with orders for him to obey the summons, he replied that he would not go before the council as it was then constituted.

This was favorable to Theophilus. He speedily called for a decision, and judgment was passed:—

“As John, accused of certain crimes, and conscious of his guilt, refuses to appear, he is now deposed according to the laws of the church. But since the accusations contain an impeachment for high-treason, the pious Emperor will therefore provide that he be removed from the church though with force, and undergo the punishment of this crime, which does not fall under our cognizance.”

This sentence was now conveyed to the Emperor and received at once his sanction. He however did not proceed with the charge of high treason, since both his conscience and the wellgrounded fear of resistance on the part of the people, restrained him from the shedding of blood. For no sooner had the decision of the council become known in the city than the people flocked in the greatest excitement to the palace and church of the bishop, and remained stationed there day and night together. Their bishop should not be taken from them, at least, not until a new and impartial trial had been granted.

What did Chrysostom himself do? With such a state of feeling in the city, he would not, perhaps, have found it difficult with the assistance of the people to have defended himself. But such a man as he, though pleased with this manifestation of sympathy, could not yet make use of it in a forcible resistance of the civil power. Still he did not retreat until something further was done. Regarding his office as intrusted to him by God, he could not abandon it in obedience to the unrighteous judgment until he was compelled to do so by force. Waiting for this, he once more entered his church, and in the presence of the assembled congregation spoke—as he could not help speaking—in a most powerful manner. He foresaw that his fall was certain—that his church must part with him. Yet he knew that if they both continued in the faith, the cause which bound them together would not perish with him and that they would still remain united in spirit.

“The waves,” said he, “run high, a mighty flood approaches, but we fear not being overwhelmed, for we stand upon a rock. Let the sea roar, this rock removes not. Let the billows rise, the ship that carries Jesus does not sink. What need we fear? Is it death? Christ is my life. Is it banishment? The earth is the Lord’s. Is it the loss of our possessions? We brought nothing into the world, and we can carry nothing out. I despise the fear of the world, and I scorn its glory. I fear not poverty, and I covet not wealth. I fear not death, and I desire not life except it be for your good. For your good I now speak and entreat you—be of good courage. No one can separate us. What God has joined together man will not put asunder. Though they fight against me, they will not overcome. Though they assault the church—will they wage war with heaven? In contest with men they may hope for victory. But in contest with the church, their hope is vain, for God is stronger than they all. Will ye defy the Lord? The church stands firmer than the heavens. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the gates of hell shall not prevail against that rock on which He has built his church.

“How many tyrants in centuries past, have essayed to overthrow her! How many assaults they have attempted! How many swords they have drawn, how many fires they have kindled! Where are now her enemies? They are forgotten. And where is the church? She still remains and shines with the greatest splendor for her victories. If the Christians could not be subdued when their number was so small, how much less can their enemies now bring it to pass, when the whole world is filled with the word of Christ. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His words shall not pass away.

“Let nothing that has happened alarm you; but stand calm and firm in the faith. Behold Peter walking on the sea. He sank indeed, yet it was not through the might of the billows, but the weakness of his faith.

“The late earthquake could not shake down the walls of our city, and should Satan now be able to destroy the church? The church—it is not walls of stone, for the house of our God is the whole body of believers. Behold how many pillars stand there and how firm, not with iron, but through the power of faith. And though only one such stood there it could not be overthrown. Know ye not the words of Christ: Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Will he not then be present with the church—so large in numbers, firm in faith, and united in love? I have a pledge from him—for I rely not upon my own imaginings. I have his note of hand, which is my support, my refuge, and haven, and though the world should rage, to this security I cling. How reads it? “Lo! I am with you always even unto the end of the world.” If Christ be with me, what should I fear? If he is mine, all the powers of earth to me are nothing more than the spider’s web.

“Not this thing or that, but the Lord’s will be done. If He wills that I remain, I give Him thanks. If He wills that I go, I give Him thanks. Wherever I am, will I praise him. Be not disquieted, but persevere in prayer. Satan designs to cripple your pious zeal and to check your prayers. I see he will not succeed, for ye have the rather increased in zeal and fervency. To-morrow also we shall still be together in prayer. We shall still be with one another. We are one body, and the body is not separate from the head, nor the head from the body.

“And though we be separated in person, we shall yet be united in love. Death itself cannot separate us. Though my body die, my soul will live and think of you. For you I am ready to die a thousand deaths. Nor need ye thank me for it, for it is my duty. A good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Finally, he expressed to them the joy he felt in witnessing their strong attachment to him, their indifference to worldly cares, and their fearlessness of the anger of the mighty,—all this would give him comfort and strength in his conflicts. He then concludes with the words, so precious to him,—To God alone be glory for all things.

At noon of the third day after the passing of the sentence, he learned that a troop of soldiers was at hand in order to take him. Being convinced of the duty and necessity of compliance, he sought to leave the church without being observed by the multitude. Succeeding in this, he gave himself up to the leader of the band. He was kept in concealment by the guard during the day through fear of disturbance, and on the approach of night was borne to the harbor. Here, however, a large number of people had collected together, but to his great joy, all remained quiet. In calm resignation to God he went on board the vessel which, in the latter part of September, 403, bore him across the sea to Prænetus, a commercial town in Bithynia. Here he was to wait until further orders.

A change, however, most unexpectedly took place. After a few days Chrysostom stood again in his pulpit! Rightly does Paul Gerhard sing:—

“All things Thou hast at Thy command,

Nor ways nor means are wanting Thee.

“Thy word can no man hinder;

Thine arm will never rest,

When Thou wilt for Thy children

Accomplish what is best.”

But we will not triumph. The Lord seeth not as man seeth. His thoughts are not as our thoughts. Chrysostom stood once more in his pulpit, but only for a brief period, then again to leave it—forever.

Let us now trace the course of events. When the bishop was borne from the city, his enemies, feeling that they had obtained the victory, gave open demonstration of their joy, and conducted themselves in so rude and haughty a manner, that any one, with his eyes open, must have perceived the motives by which they had been actuated. Among other things, Severian, on the following day, ascended the pulpit of the exiled bishop, and poured forth, in most vehement strains, the vindictive feelings of his heart now intoxicated with joy. Though no one of the charges, he said, had been proved against him, yet the bishop for his very haughtiness, merits all that has befallen him, since all sins are forgiven of God except pride.—By such proceedings the friends of the bishop were naturally exasperated to the highest degree. The city was filled with commotion, and in the streets and market-places were gathered tumultuous crowds who declaimed with utmost severity against the bishops, the synod, and the imperial court. Several also of those who had previously sided with Theophilus, and had even taken part in the council, now publicly declared that they had been deceived, and that they plainly saw where lay the right and the wrong.

The opposite party now became alarmed. Even the Empress and her husband were disturbed in their minds either through fear or the movings of conscience. But when, on the following night, the city was shaken by an earthquake, Eudoxia became so terrified that she instantly sent for her husband, and besought him to issue a command for the recall of the bishop. Scarcely had morning dawned when the messengers hastened away, carrying to Chrysostom, along with the Emperor’s command, a letter from the Empress in her own handwriting, in which she says:—

“Let not your holiness imagine that I knew any thing of what has been done. I am innocent of your blood. Wicked and corrupt men have devised this plot. God, before whom I weep, is witness of my tears. I cannot forget that by your hands my children were baptized.”

After a few days a vessel approached, bringing back the beloved shepherd to his flock. The rejoicing throughout the city was indescribable. The sea was covered with ships, and on the shore stood thousands of men, women, and children, waiting to greet him. The joy that right had triumphed over wickedness was so general, that even the Jewish residents participated in it alike with others. When at length Chrysostom landed at evening, a very long torchlight procession accompanied him on his way. He had determined not to enter again upon his office until his innocence had been recognized by a lawful council, and would have preferred on this account to stop without the city at a country-seat. But this they would not allow,—he must at once enter his church. They would at least hear and receive the benediction from his lips. Even the Emperor urged him to comply with this. So he went into the city, into his church, and into—the bishop’s seat.

“What shall I say?” he began. “Blessed be God! The word which I spake on leaving you I now resume, or rather, it has not been absent from my lips. You recollect, perhaps, that I said to you, in the language of Job,—the name of the Lord be praised forever. The circumstances are different, but the praise is the same. When driven away I praised Him; returning home I praise Him. Winter and summer are different, but their end is one—the increase of the field. Blessed be God, who bade me depart, and hath called me back. Blessed be God, who commanded the storm, and hath restored quietness.

“Let us learn to praise God in all situations. If any thing good has happened, praise Him and the good will remain. If any evil comes, praise Him, and the evil will pass by. Job gave thanks to God both when he was rich and when he became poor. The times were different, but the feelings were the same. The calm does not enervate, nor does the storm depress the mind of the pilot. God be praised, who hath separated me from you and hath restored me to you. Both alike are from a Father’s hand.”

It was now the desire of Chrysostom that a council should immediately be called to investigate his case. He would appear before it and endeavor to exculpate himself from all the charges. The Emperor gave his ready consent. At this point, Theophilus with the larger part of his friends, made his escape, and when he was invited to come back to the capital, he returned answer, that circumstances would not permit him for the present to leave Alexandria. During the delay which attended these negotiations, Chrysostom passed two months quietly in the service of his church. After this, the posture of things again changed.

The Empress had caused a silver statue to be erected for herself, before the palace of the senate and near the church of St. Sophia. Its consecration was not only celebrated with noisy festivities and divers games and dances, but even idolatrous honors were bestowed upon the image of the Empress as formerly upon the pagan princes in Rome. This blasphemous custom of flattering the great had found admission into the Christian world, so that pagan writers of that time inquired of the Christians—how can you reproach us for worshipping our idols when you do the same thing to the images of your rulers?

Chrysostom felt that, however critical was his relation to the court, he must speak against these things publicly in the church. This he did on the anniversary of the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Tidings of it were naturally borne to the Empress by his opponents, who, though silent at this time, had yet not lost their hatred. She was informed that the bishop began his sermon with these words: “Again Herodias rages, again she dances, again she desires the head of John.” Whether this was a malicious invention of his enemies, or whether it or something similar, occasioned by the history of the festival, was spoken in allusion to Eudoxia, is not determined. Certain it is that the anger of the Empress, which, though repressed, was unchanged, was now enkindled anew. She believed herself perfectly, right in opposing the unthankful bishop, and united again with his enemies.

The council which Chrysostom desired was now speedily summoned, but a majority of its members were his enemies. Theophilus, who was urged to be present, came not in person, yet gave directions for its management. The council took no notice of the former charges, but declared that the bishop who had been deposed by an ecclesiastical synod, having afterwards reinstated himself by means of the secular power, was, in accordance with the rules of the church which he had thus violated, henceforth incapable of filling the clerical office. Arcadius made known this decision to the bishop, who again replied that he would yield only to force. The Emperor then called him from the church and commanded him not to reënter it, but to remain in his own house.

Urged by both parties the Emperor for a long time hesitated. The enemies of the bishop resolved upon extreme measures. Twice in his own house men were seized who, armed with poniards, sought to take his life. On Easter eve, the 16th of April, the church of Chrysostom and the friendly clergy met together, as was the custom, to spend the night in vigils and to greet the first rays of Easter morning. With them were assembled three thousand young Christians, who were to receive baptism. While they were engaged in singing and prayer, armed troops, without the knowledge of the Emperor, and by whose command is not known, at nine o’clock in the evening broke into the church, rushed upon the choir and the altar, and proceeded to thrust out the assembled church and clergy with such violence, that the font and the vessels of the altar were overturned, and the blood of the wounded mingled with the baptismal waters. The congregation repaired to the halls of a neighboring bath, and the church on the next morning stood empty. As the anger of the Emperor was now feared, an endeavor was made to drive the people back to the church, which resulted in the fresh shedding of blood. Several of the clergy were imprisoned, and the church fled out of the city. But even there force was again employed to disperse them. This took place on the morning of the first Easter-day.

Finally, after some weeks the three bishops, Acacius, Antiochus, and Severian prevailed with the Emperor. They represented to him that quiet could not be restored to the city until the bishop had left it; that, furthermore, he had been condemned by the holy synod; that the Emperor could not wish to be more lenient and holy than the bishops, and that if there was any blame they would receive it on their own heads.

The Emperor, thus persuaded, sent a notary to Chrysostom, with the command for him to leave the episcopal residence. Chrysostom, learning that a guard was in readiness to remove him, went once more to his church and took leave of his clergy in the vestry. He met the deaconesses in the baptistery and urged them not to cease from their works of charity, and to follow his successor, if legally chosen, as they had himself.—I commend you to the mercy of God. Remember me in your prayers—were his last words.

Without returning to the clergy, he went privately out of the church, gave himself up to the guard, by whom he was led to the harbor, and was thence in a small vessel borne across the sea to Bithynia, on the ninth of June, 404.

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