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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman


I LEFT St. John Chrysostom turning his face eastward, and leaving the shores of the Propontis for his distant exile. He had been banished on the pretence of his resumption of the episcopal functions before the legitimate reversal of a synodical decree, which had condemned and deposed him; and such an offence, by a recent imperial law, was punished by banishment to a distance of at least a hundred miles. In consequence, he might have been simply told to vanish from Constantinople, and make his way to the prescribed limit as best he could; but a definite place having been assigned to him, Cucusus, on the eastern slope of the Taurus, it was necessary, and even considerate, to send guides and protectors with him. Two soldiers seem to have been named by the Prefect for this purpose; and, as we have seen, he speaks well of them. They might have been better, perhaps; but they certainly might have been worse. He might have suffered ill-treatment at their hands, as he did from his guards on his second journey; and without their aid and countenance it is probable he never would have reached his destination. They had their share, of course, in many of the hardships to which he was exposed, yet they seem to have borne their share with temper, if not with spirit; and the Saint appears to have liked them at the end of his expedition as well as at the beginning. This was no slight merit in them or in him; for many a time it happens, as all must know who have experience of travelling, that the persons we fall in with in what may be called an official capacity, or the acquaintance we make, are much more amiable and satisfactory at first, and can more easily be got on with, than when our relations have continued with them through a certain space of time. Such persons often do not excite pleasant memories in the retrospect. It is worth recording, then, that, writing back, some time after his arrival at Cucusus, to a friend at Constantinople, the Saint speaks of one of them as “my honoured lord Theodorus, of the prefecture, who took me to Cucusus;” and he implies that he had talked confidently with him.

He must have left the beautiful Nicæa with regret, except as rejoicing to suffer in the cause of religion. Rich in marble edifices and works which were carried even into the Ascanian lake, it lay on an eminence in the midst of a well-wooded, flower-embellished country, with the clear bright waters at its foot, and successive tiers of mountains behind, which terminated in the snow-capped Olympus. He took a last look of the last fair place which he was to see on earth; and, as he passed out by the south-eastern gate to begin a pilgrimage which was to end in the gate of heaven, the scene at once changed. He entered a valley, which, as travellers tell us, rose and fell again through a succession of wild crags and distant peaks, till at length he reached a cultivated track, and then a forest region. Let him enjoy it while it lasts, for signs of volcanic action are multiplying on every side of him; and even though he travels in the evening or at night, the bare lava and limestone rock, like some vast oven, retain the intolerable heat of the July day. Nor is the traveller’s prospect much better when he has reached the high table-land of the Asian peninsula, nearly 2,000 feet above the level of the sea, which stretches for hundreds of miles in every direction. Fertile as this vast plateau may be, and verdant and well watered, at an earlier season, it presents from June to the end of October an arid and scorched surface; and on it lies the road of St. Chrysostom for months, till he comes to the spurs of the Taurus, on the farther side of Cæsarea. Perhaps on the third or fourth night after starting he rested at Dorylæum.


Well had it been for him if the Emperor, or any of his great officers, had allowed him the use of the cursus publicus, government conveyance. It would have carried him on with fair speed, and without expense of his own. This privilege, indeed, could hardly have been expected by one who was in the place of a criminal; yet the same sanguine spirit which led him to hope for a sojourn at Cyzicus or Nicomedia, easily might, when a distant exile was decreed, have contemplated such an alleviation. He had had trial of that “public course,” at an earlier date, on one of the few real journeys which he had ever made in his life,—and, ah, under what opposite circumstances!—on that memorable occasion, I mean, when an imperial summons impetuously hurried him away from his dear Antioch. The splendid circumstances of that journey seem to have impressed themselves on his imagination; and in one of his works, speaking of the merit of Abraham’s pilgrimage from Mesopotamia to Palestine, he contrasts with it the facility with which travelling was performed along the military lines of road in his own day. “The distance,” he says, “between place and place is what it was; but the condition of the roads is very different. For now the line passes through stations placed at intervals, and through cities and farms, and is crowded with wayfarers, who avail for the security of travel not less than farms, towns, and stations. Moreover, by order of the city magistrates, a provincial police is raised,—picked men, as well skilled in the javelin and sling as bowmen are adepts in the arrow, and the heavy-armed in the lance,—with commanders over them, and that for the express purpose of protecting the roads. Further still, as an additional security, buildings are placed a mile from each other, as guard-houses; this watch and ward being the most complete defence against the attacks of plunderers. In the time of Abraham there were none of these.”* And so he proceeds, rejoicing, as it were, in his picture of a state of convenience and security, which the Roman empire alone could boast, but which in the event was to be so strikingly reversed in every particular in the melancholy journey which was to close his labours.

Left, then, to himself to find his own conveyance, he chose the basterna, which answered pretty nearly to the Sicilian lettiga, being a sort of car or palanquin carried between two mules, one before and one behind. Such, at least, was his style of carriage at a later part of his journey; and he would advance by means of it at the rate of from three to four miles an hour. The distance between Dorylæum and Ancyra he may be supposed to have accomplished within eight days; at least, such is the time which a caravan employs upon it. If Tournefort’s account is to be taken, the route has few attractions, even at a better season. He speaks of a beautiful plain, of villages, streams, gentle undulations of surface, but with a notable absence of wood. It was the ancient Phrygia, and celebrated as a corn country. Mount Dindymus, famous for the fanatical worship of Cybele, rose on his left, an outpost, apparently, of the north Olympic range. At length the temples and public buildings of Ancyra, nobly situated on an elevated terrace, greeted his weary eyes in the distant horizon.

So far his course seems to have been prosperous; nothing, at least, is recorded to the contrary. He would travel at his own hours, and at his own pace; with rumours, indeed, of the evils which were coming upon him, but probably with no foretaste of them. The villages, however, of Phrygia had within a few years been devastated by the insurgent Goth Tribigildus, and this might affect the convenience of his lodging and his halts; and at all times the inns would be a great difficulty to any respectable traveller, not to say a saintly Bishop. They were of the lowest description, and contained the worst of company; and it was usual for those who had good connections to avail themselves of the country houses of their friends, as, indeed, St. Chrysostom did in the sequel.


When he got to Ancyra his troubles began; we have but a confused account of them. Leontius, Bishop of that city, was one of the very foremost of his enemies, and in some way or other nearly brought about his death. The Isaurians, too, had just descended from their mountain-holds, and spread themselves over the country. The interior of Asia Minor was a scene of disorder: the country people were flying, the cities fortifying themselves, the road-stations deserted, the guards gone. On leaving Ancyra, our traveller had to make for Cæsarea as quickly as he could, in order to avoid the danger of falling into the enemy’s hands. He travelled night and day; from fatigue and anxiety he fell ill; a tertian fever seized on him; wholesome food and water could not be obtained; with much difficulty and in the greatest distress he accomplished the 200 miles between the two cities, and found himself in the metropolis of Cappadocia.

It is very observable that, in spite of the indescribable confusion of the populations through which he passed, Christian zeal and charity did not allow their personal sufferings to interfere with the homage and interest due from them to the presence of so illustrious a confessor. They poured out upon his line of road to greet him and condole with him. At this time, as I shall show presently in his own words, he was in extreme weakness and distress of body; but, as the poor people neglected their own temporal troubles, so did he his. It was a triumph of the supernatural on both sides. His sufferings, too, so far from making him selfish, left turn at liberty to write. The following letter to Olympias, written as he was approaching Cæsarea, is striking for the sympathy which it breathes both for her and for the generous people he writes about:

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