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

“I am done for; I am simply spent; I have died a thousand deaths. On this point the bearers of this will be the best informants, though they were with me only for a very short time. In truth, I was not in a state to converse with them ever so little, being prostrated by continual fever. In this condition I was forced to travel on night and day, stifled by the heat, worn out with sleeplessness, at death’s door for want both of necessaries and of persons to attend to me. I have suffered and suffer worse even than men who labour at the mines, or who are confined to prison. Hardly and at length I arrived at Cæsarea; and I find the place like a calm, like a port after a storm. Not that it set me up all at once, after the severe handling which preceded it; but still, now that I am at Cæsarea, I have recovered a little, since I drink clean water, bread that can be chewed, and is not offensive to the senses. Moreover, I no longer wash myself in broken crockery, but have contrived some sort of bath; also I have got a bed, to which I can confine myself.”—Ep. 120.

He goes on to bring out the feelings which are obscurely intimated in his letter to Olympias. For the moment he certainly thought his friends unkind, because, rich and powerful as they were, they could do nothing towards securing him the cheap indulgence, which even convicts obtained, of some place of banishment more tolerable and nearer home, some place where there would be nothing to try so severely his bodily strength, or to inflict the terrors which he experienced from the Isaurians. However, he adds, “Even for this, glory be to God: I will not cease glorifying Him for all things; blessed be His Name for ever.” And then he goes on to complain of Theodora herself for not writing. “I am astonished at you,” he says; “this is the fourth, if not the fifth, letter I have sent you; and you have sent me but one. It pains me much to think that you have so soon forgotten me.”

Poor Theodora had doubtless been in continual prayers and tears, and could give her own account of her silence, as the others could also. Tigrius, for instance, whose silence he wonders at in his letter to Olympias, had, in spite of his informant, been scourged and racked, and lay probably between life and death. His martyrdom is commemorated in the Martyrology on January 12. However, we are not concerned here with any confessors but St. John Chrysostom; so I go on to explain who the Isaurians were, and how it was that the fear of them made him travel night and day for two hundred miles at midsummer, when a fever lay upon him, and death seemed to threaten. In fact, the country through which his route lay was the theatre of war, for the outbreak of the barbarians could be called nothing less; in the very month, almost in the very days, when he was passing through Cæsarea, a battle had taken place, perhaps in the neighbourhood, between the Romans and the insurgent forces; and I shall require a page or two to set before the reader how things came to this pass.

4

In truth, the Isaurians were not insurgents, unless that name can be given to a people who had never fairly been conquered. The passes of Mount Taurus had ever sheltered a wild independent people, whom the student of history naturally connects with those Cilician pirates who so audaciously insulted the Roman republic, and were at last punished and suppressed by Pompey. Even after the lapse of four centuries, however, the Isaurians had not given up their old craft; and we find them in the reign of Constantius seizing and plundering the vessels which passed along their coast. However, the direction of their rapacity was on the whole turned landwards after Pompey’s time; and the whole continent, from the Egean almost to Egypt, was kept in a state of unsettlement and insecurity down to the time of Justinian by the fitful devastations of these freebooters. After a time of nominal subjection to the Roman power, in the middle of the third century they placed themselves under the rule of Trebellian, one of the Thirty Tyrants, as they are called; proclaimed independence, coined money, and when Trebellian was killed in battle, worshipped him as a god. For a time they formed, together with Galatia, part of the empire of Zenobia. After her fall they returned, under various bold and skilful leaders, to their raids and depredations; till the imperial government, despairing of carrying the war into their mountainous recesses with effect, contented themselves with surrounding them with a cordon of forts, while they kept a large force in the interior, and a stronghold on the coast to secure communication with the sea. In the reign of Probus they had extended themselves along Pamphylia and Lycia. Under Constantius, besides their piracy, which I have already noticed, they had overrun the plains of the interior towards Pontus. Under Valens, they cut to pieces a Roman force commanded by the Vicar of Asia, and were only stemmed in their onward course by the local militia. Within a dozen years after, they appear to have poured down again, if St. Basil speaks of them when he describes the country as being full of plunderers, and the roads unsafe from Cappadocia to Constantinople. If we may take the Canons in evidence, which are contained in one of the epistles of the same Father, they forced their captives to renounce the faith and to take part in idolatrous rites. At another time their raid extended as far as the Euxine on the north, and as far south as Damascus.

One of their most formidable outbreaks was precisely at the time when Chrysostom was sent into the countries bordering on them; and it would greatly increase the guilt of his persecutors, if they knowingly exposed him to this additional misery. But the movements of barbarian mountaineers are ordinarily sudden, and the imperial court was probably as much taken by surprise by the Isaurians as by the contemporary irruption of the Huns. On this occasion they spread themselves along the coast from Caria to Phoenicia, so as even to threaten Jerusalem; and, what is more to our purpose to observe, they poured over the interior of the country till they found themselves in the neighbourhood of the river Kur and the Caspian. In spite of partial successes, two Roman generals failed before them; and this terrible scourge continued till the year after the Saint’s death. His years of exile were spent in the very scene, almost in the heart, of these horrors.

I have said it was doubtless the neighbourhood of these freebooters which forced St. John Chrysostom to hurry over the ground between Ancyra and Cæsarea when he was so little able to bear it. He looked forward to Cæsarea as a harbour after the storm, as he says in his letter to Theodora; and at first he found it so; but troubles arose of another kind. The Bishop of Cæsarea, though pretending to be his friend, really wished to get rid of him. Chrysostom became a centre of attraction to all the religious feeling of the place, and the prelate did not relish this; he did not like the Saint’s lingering in his own city; he determined to send him on his journey without delay, at all costs; and, when he could not do so peaceably, he did not scruple, as we shall see, at violent measures. He forgot somehow the text about receiving Angels unawares, and the promise attached to those who welcome a prophet in the name of a prophet, and the just in the name of the just. I shall draw out the account of what took place chiefly in the Saint’s own words, as contained in letters from him to Olympias after he had. arrived at Cucusus, his destination. It will be recollected that in his last letter to her from Cæsarea he spoke of his health and good spirits and repose, his only trouble being that he had no news how she and his other friends were getting on at Constantinople. Now that he was safe at Cucusus, we shall find him writing about his condition at that same date in far different terms.








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