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

“Near seventy days I passed on my journey, haunted on many sides with fear of the Isaurians, and fighting with intolerable fever; at length I reached Cucusus, the most desolate place in the whole world. I say this, not wishing you to be troublesome to any one in your attempts to effect my removal, for I have suffered my worst in suffering the hardship of the journey; but I ask you this favour, to write to me frequently, without allowing my distance from you to act in depriving me at least of this solace. For you know how great a comfort it is to me, however afflicted or badly circumstanced I may be, to hear how you are, who love me so well; to hear that you are in good spirits, and in health, and at your ease. As you would have me, then, on this score light of heart, write to me word of this frequently, for it will be no common restorative. You know well what joy I feel in your prosperity.”—Ep. 234.

However, there was obviously another reason for his wishing to hear news about them of a different kind, at a time when so many friends of his were, as being his friends, under the stroke of a severe persecution.

To enumerate the sufferings of these friends would be to write the history of the years to which his banishment belongs. Two Bishops who had sided with him, on pretence of their being concerned in the fire which consumed the cathedral and senate-house, upon his crossing to Bithynia, were first imprisoned, and then sent into banishment. One of his lectors, a delicate youth, was, on the same charge, put on the rack, torn with hooks, scourged, and then scorched with torches till he died. Tigrius, of whom mention was made in a former chapter, was scourged and racked, and then banished. Somewhat later, the persecution embraced all those who would not communicate with the Bishops who were successively intruded into the see of Constantinople. An imperial rescript determined that any Bishop who would not communicate with the usurper should lose his property, and be cast into exile. “Those who were rich,” says Fleury, “and cared for their estates, communicated with Atticus out of policy; and those who were poor and weak in the faith suffered themselves to be seduced by bribes. But there were others who nobly disregarded their riches, their country, and all temporal advantages, and fled to escape the persecution. Several of them repaired to Rome, and others retired to the mountains, or into monasteries. The edict against the laity ordained that whosoever was invested with any dignity should be dispossessed of it; that officers and military men should be broken, and the rest of the people and tradesmen condemned to pay a large fine, and banished. Notwithstanding these menaces, the people who were faithful to St. Chrysostom, rather than communicate with Atticus, used to pray in the open air, exposed to many inconveniences.”*

In this way, Cyriacus, Bishop of Emesa, was sent off to Persia, Palladius to Syene, Demetrius to the Oasis; the soldiers who conducted them treating them with great indignity and cruelty. Serapion, Bishop of Heraclea, who had made himself especially obnoxious to the schismatical party, was scourged, tortured, and banished. Hilarius, an old ascetic, was scourged, and banished to the farthest part of Pontus. The priests were sent away as far as to Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Thebaid, and Africa. Stephen, a monk, was scourged, imprisoned, and then banished to Pelusium. The holy women who took part with the Saint, whether in Constantinople or elsewhere, had, at an earlier date, a share in the sufferings of his cause. Olympias especially, in spite of her high birth and connections, was summoned before the prefect of the imperial city, and was heavily fined. She withdrew to Cyzicus. Pentadia, another deaconess, widow of a man who had filled the consulate, was fined and imprisoned. Nicarete had to leave the city.

It is not surprising that outrages so extreme should have filled Chrysostom, not only with horror, but with the most cruel anxiety what was next to happen; and should have made him eager to learn from his correspondents the course of events without any delay. We have various letters of his, written to Bishops and others under persecution; in others he makes application in their behalf in powerful quarters, and on their liberation from prison he sends about the news of it. His exhortations to them are characteristic of the writer. He calls them “champions who are nobly fighting for the peace of the world.”—Ep. 148. And he realizes what it is to be a champion. He understands well that their prison was not merely a building, or a chamber, or a courtyard with a strong door to it, an honourable confinement, or the surveillance of an officer: “You are the inmates of a prison,” he writes; “you are encompassed with chains, shut up with foul and filthy men. Who, then, can be more blessed than you? What have bright and spacious mansions to compare in value with that murky, filthy, fetid, and tormenting prison, undergone for God’s sake?”—Ep. 118. And he entreats them not to lose heart, but “day by day to prosecute their labours for the churches of the world, that there may be such a settlement of matters as is suitable, and no abandonment of their cause because of their being so few and so baited on every side.”—Ep. 174.


He set the example himself of what he preached; he never thought of dispensing himself from the ordinary oversight of his church, so far as it was possible, even though he had been removed, as he says, to the extremity of the Roman world. He had thoughts to bestow even on the remissness of individual ecclesiastics at Constantinople. Several of his letters are devoted to the case of two of his priests, who, whether from fear of the court or other reason, had during his absence seldom preached or been present at the public devotions. “It has given me no common pain,” he writes to one of them, “that both you and the priest Theophilus should have relaxed in your duties. I have been informed that one of you has only preached five homilies up to October, and the other none at all. This news has tried me more than my desolate state here. Please to tell me, then, if I am mistaken; if not, make a reformation. How are you excusable if, at a time when others are in persecution, sent into exile, and variously harassed, you neither by your presence nor your teaching exert yourselves for your distressed people?”—Ep. 203. He sends equally strong remonstrances to Theophilus. “Now,” he says, “is the very time for glory and much gain. The merchant does not get together his cargo by sitting down in harbour, but by venturing across open seas.”—Ep. 119. And he writes to a friend to complain of his not having been told the state of things. “I am informed,” he says, “that the one from indolence, the other from cowardice, has not attended the sacred assembly. To Theophilus I have written severely; Sallust I refer to you, for I know, and am pleased to know, how much you are attached to him. And I am pained that you have not even informed me, much less set him right, as you should have done. Now I beg you to do both yourself and me the great kindness of giving him a startling notice, and not to suffer him to sleep or to be idle. For if he does not show becoming courage in our present tempestuous weather, what good will he be to us when calm and peace succeed?”—Ep. 210.

While he thus kept his eyes on his clergy at home, he was exemplifying the same zeal for the conversion of the heathen which we have seen in him at Nicæa. At that time he had been busying himself in the extension of religion in Phœnicia; and though Cucusus was, as he says, at the extremity of the empire, it was on that very account only the more central place for missionary enterprises in the wide range of countries which bordered upon it. As to Phœnicia, he obtained funds for the missionaries, he sent relics for their new churches, he encouraged them to perseverance in persecution, and he provided them with fresh labourers. One of his letters to a friend is a recommendation to him of a holy priest, who had succeeded in converting the pagans of Mount Amanus,—the Black Mountain, between himself and Antioch,—and had built churches and monasteries among them. He interested himself also in the conversion of the Goths, who at that time were on the left bank of the Don, and still adhered to their nomad habits. He endeavoured to secure them a successor to their Bishop, who was lately dead; and he wrote to some Goths in a monastery at Constantinople on the subject. He enters upon it in that letter to Olympias in which he details the sufferings of his journey. Those sufferings, however keen, had no power to divert his mind for however short a time from the apostolical duties of his Patriarchate. In the same letter he also speaks of the prospect which was then opening of the conversion of the Persians, and makes mention of St. Maruthas, who was at the time doing so much for the extension of the faith among them. Maruthas, from misinformation, had allied himself with the enemies of St. Chrysostom; and the latter was very desirous both to gain him and to forward his work. He had written two letters to Maruthas, without getting an answer; and as the zealous missionary was at this time at Constantinople, he wrote to Olympias to make acquaintance with him. “Do not fail,” he says, “to show all the attention in your power to the Bishop Maruthas, in order to draw him out of that pit. I have the greatest need of him for the affairs of Persia; and learn from him, if you can, what success he has had there.”—Ep. 14. He did not forget, in these more expansive thoughts, the welfare of the poor people who were his immediate neighbours. We have seen him refusing sums of money when offered to him by friends; one of the channels into which he contrived to divert their liberality was the supply of the wants of the poor round about him, especially during a famine which happened while he was at Cucusus. He also redeemed from slavery many who had been taken captive by the Isaurian robbers, and sent them to their homes.


Amid these various exercises of faith and piety he had not been neglectful of the duties of the cause for which he suffered banishment. It was incumbent upon him to rouse Christendom in his own behalf, and he had been prompt and earnest in doing so. We have letters written by him to the Bishops of Thessalonica, Corinth, Synnada, Laodicea, Mopsuestia, Jerusalem, Carthage, Milan, Brescia, and Aquileia. Above all, he addressed himself to the Holy See, and his friends zealously prosecuted the appeal ‘which he initiated. Many of them had fled to Rome; and though Pope Innocent did not at once decide on the main points at issue between the Saint and his enemies, yet he had no scruple in acknowledging him and communicating with him as Bishop of Constantinople, and by consequence in rejecting the pretensions of the schismatical party which had taken possession of his see. Innocent could do no more at the moment; but it was easy to prophesy what his ultimate determination would be. Every thing then seemed turning out in the Saint’s favour; his reputation, his celebrity, his influence, had been greatly increased by the measures which his enemies had taken to ruin him. He was doing greater things at Cucusus than he had done at Constantinople. Debarred from the exercise of his special gift, his eloquent voice, he moved more forcibly the hearts of men by his very absence from the scene of the world; and he had the opportunity of showing how little he depended on the breath of popular favour, how much on himself and on his God, for that vigour and energy which had been the characteristics of his public life.

Habitually sanguine, he shared the belief of his friends that the triumph of his cause was at hand. As he had no resentments in respect to his persecutors, so he had no misgivings about his coming victory over them; and if his hopefulness forfeits for him the praise of prophecy, it evinces the more excellent grace of patience and trust. He was as easy about the future at Cucusus as he had been at Nicæa. He writes to Olympias thus:

“I do not despair of happier times, considering that He is at the helm of the universe who overcomes the storm, not by human skill, but by His fiat. If He does not do so at once, this is because it is His rule to take this course; and, when evils have increased and reached their fullness, and a change is despaired of by the many, then to work His marvellous and strange work, manifesting that power which is His prerogative, while exercising withal the endurance of the afflicted. Never be cast down, then; for one thing alone is fearful, that is, sin.”—Ep. 1.


“Cherish a full conviction that you will see me again, and will be released from your present distress, and will receive the great gain, now as hitherto, which follows from it.”—Ep. 2.

And still more strikingly in the following interesting and touching passage, which belongs to a later year of his exile, when he was no longer at Cucusus:

“I speak not for the sake of consoling you, but I know that so it absolutely shall be. For, unless it were so to be, long ago, as it seems to me, should I have departed hence, so far as the trials go which have come upon me. For, not to speak of all that I suffered in Constantinople, you may easily understand how many things have happened to me since I left the city, in my long and painful journey hitherto, most of which were enough to cause my death; how many things after I arrived here, how many things after my dislodgment from Cucusus, how many things during my stay at Arabissus. Yet I got through them all, and am now in health and in all safety, to the astonishment of all the Armenians, that a frame so feeble, so spider-like, should be able to bear such unbearable cold, should be able to breathe in it, when even those who are accustomed to sharp winters are seriously affected by it. Nevertheless I have remained unharmed even to this day, and have escaped the hands of brigands in their many inroads; and have been preserved amid want of the necessaries of life, and without even a bath to recruit me, although when I was in Constantinople I had constant need of one; yet here I have found my state of body such that I have not even had a desire for this refreshment, and have been all the healthier. And no insalubrity of air, nor desolateness of place, nor absence of stores, nor scarcity of drugs, nor unskilfulness of physicians, nor difficulty of baths, nor absolute confinement, or rather imprisonment, in one room, nor want of exercise, which was always necessary to me, nor my atmosphere of smoke, nor alarms of robbers, nor the state of siege, nor any other hardship, has availed to destroy me; but I am in better health here than I was with you, though I then took such care of myself. Think over all this, and shake off the despondency with which my trial has oppressed you, and give over your needless and painful self-inflictions.”—Ep. 4.

And then he goes on to bid her read a treatise which he sends her, and which has for its title the noble maxim, “Be true to yourself, and no one can harm you.”

And here I pause in my sketch of the last years of this many-gifted Saint, this most natural and human of the creations of supernatural grace.

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