The ministry of John; who for his eloquence was called Chrysostom, the Golden Mouth, falls into four divisions. It begins with his austerities as a monk in the mountains of Syria, and ends with his banishment and death among the mountains of Armenia; between this prologue and this epilogue are the twelve years of his activity as a preacher in Antioch and the six years of his activity as a bishop in Constantinople.
The city of Antioch lay between a pagan river and a Christian mountain.
The river was made pagan by the Grove of Daphne, a pleasure-garden on its bank. The garden was ten miles in circumference, planted with laurel and myrtle, with cypress trees and scented shrubs, and watered by running streams. In the midst stood a noble temple dedicated to Apollo, and commemorating the legend that in this place Daphne, pursued by the wanton god, had been transformed into a laurel tree. The temple was built of polished marble and carved cypress, and contained an image of Apollo, blazing with gems.
The emperor Julian, coming to consult the oracle, had found it dumb, and after repeated efforts to gain a reply had been informed that the god was silent because the place was polluted by the presence of a dead body. These words pointed plainly to the relics of the Christian martyr Babylas, whose chapel stood beside the temple, and whose fame at that time exceeded the sanctity of Ignatius, and even of Paul and Peter. Julian ordered the removal of Babylas and the order was obeyed, but the translation was effected with a long procession and a splendid ceremony whereby the Christians, while yielding to the emperor, defied him. That night the temple of Apollo—perhaps struck by lightning, or perhaps not—was burned to the ground.
One of the boys who joined in the procession and went to see the fire was the John whom we know as Chrysostrom. In this he was encouraged by his devout mother, Anthusa. She had been left a widow at the age of twenty, having this only child now fifteen years of age. She had brought up her son in the Christian faith.
The lad came under the influence of two effective teachers. One was the pagan Libanius, master of rhetoric, who said afterwards that Chrysostom should have been his successor if the Christians had not stolen him. The other was the Christian Diodorus, whose "pale face, sunken cheeks and emaciated frame" had aroused the ridicule of Julian, who accounted it absurd that God could care for a man of his mean appearance. Libanius made John an orator; Diodorus made him a saint.
Diodorus was the abbot of a monastery in the mountain which was made Christian by its use as a sanctuary. The woods which covered the slopes of the hills were filled with monks, some solitary, some in companies, fasting and praying. The heart of Chrysostom turned toward the mountain. Every day he lifted up his eyes unto the hills, turning his back upon the river. Antioch was so corrupt a city that Latin moralists declared that it poisoned even the air of Rome. It was as beautiful as it was wicked. It made vice attractive. But its temptations did not allure Chrysostom. He was intent with all his heart upon the life of the spirit. At first he lived at home, obeying the wish of his mother, making his room a monastic cell. Then he sought the nearer presence of God on the heights of Mt. Silpius. For a time he lived in community, practising asceticism moderately; then he became a hermit, practising asceticism beyond the boundaries of reason. He tried to live as if he had no body.
After four years of this experience Chrysostom came down from the mountain, having strengthened and enriched his soul with prayer and meditation, having filled his mind and his memory with the words of the Bible, but having seriously impaired his health. He had cultivated his spirit, but had ruined his digestion.
Returning to Antioch, he was ordained, and entered into the active work of the ministry. He began to preach. Coming out of the solitude of the woods, from those years of silence, and now appearing among men, like John the Baptist, he attracted immediate attention. He took what old Libanius had taught him and used it in the service of religion. To the art of the orator which he had learned he added the spirit of a prophet. He became in Antioch what Demosthenes had been in Athens, and Cicero in Rome.
In this he had no help from a commanding presence He was a small, slender, bald man, without even the assistance of a strong voice. But what he said was clear and definite, nobody could mistake what he meant; he had emotion, he had humor, he had sympathy, he had passion, he had the exuberant style which his Syrian congregation liked. And he addressed himself straight to common life. In the midst of the inveterate dissensions of the church of Antioch, where the Christians who should have cleaned the town were debating matters ecclesiastical in the temper of hostile partisans, and matters theological which were as remote from the needs of Antioch as lectures on the political opinions of the citizens of the moon, Chrysostom was neither theologian nor ecclesiastic. He was profoundly concerned about practical morality, the enemy of moral evil and the advocate of righteousness. That which was of supreme importance to him—for the sake of which both creed and church existed—was character.
The sermons of Chrysostom were taken down in shorthand, and we have them as he spoke them. He stood on a platform in the midst of the church, where he could touch his nearest listeners with his hand. The word "homily" describes these discourses in their informality and familiarity. He was accustomed to take his text out of the Bible in order, verse by verse, and chapter by chapter. Thus he expounded the Scriptures. For example, he preached ninety sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. In the course of his ministry he went thus over almost the entire Bible. The sermon began with the text, and then proceeded freely now in this direction, now in that, as the preacher's mind invited him, ending always with a practical application. There was rarely any single theme, rarely any process of argument, never a logical succession of points such as appeared in the discourses of the preachers of the Reformation and of the Puritan Revolution. Chrysostom was as discursive as a honey-bee, in whose wanderings there is no consistency, except the consistent purpose to go wherever there is honey, and to get as much of it as possible. Meanwhile the congregation, when the preacher pleased them, freely applauded.
Chrysostom censured the social follies of the people. He criticised with much plainness of speech the attire of the women. He was as concrete as Isaiah. He objected to their false hair and their painted faces, to their cloth of gold, their perfumes and their necklaces, their mules splendidly harnessed, their black servants adorned with silver, and to the idle and selfish lives of which these were the symbols. With equal plainness he told the men that they ate too much and drank too much, and were overfond of plays and games. "Answer me," he said, "what do you talk about? About dinner? Why, that is a subject for cooks. Of money? Nay, that is a theme for hucksters and merchants. Of buildings? That belongs to carpenters and builders. Of land? That is talk for husbandmen. But for us, there is no other proper business save this, how we may make wealth for the soul." He objected to their banquets, and not to those only which were held in the houses of the rich. "This advice," he says, "I am giving not to the rich only, but to the poor too, especially those that club together for social parties, with shouts and cheers and low songs, followed by headaches." He was of the opinion of Aristotle who said that "general discourses on moral matters are pretty nearly useless"; it is in particulars that effective truth is told.
The preacher addressed himself to the everlasting problem of poverty and riches. He dealt with the slavery of the time, endeavoring not to remove but to mitigate it. How often, he said, as I pass your houses in the street, I hear the mistress screaming in fury, and the maid crying in pain. He told the rich that they made their employees work like mules, and cared no more for them than for the stones in the pavement. Empty-handed, he said, and in debt they return from their hard labor. He rebuked the vice of avarice. All evil comes from "mine" and "thine." Fortunes are made by injustice, by violence, by dishonesty, by monopoly, by taking interest at twelve per cent.
The preacher complained, with a frankness which many a discreet parson of our own day may envy, of the absence of the people from the services of the church. No discomfort, he says, no stress of weather, will keep you from the circus, while a cloud the size of a man's hand will keep you from the service. He complained of the behavior of the congregation. Prayer is going on, and all are kneeling, but not all are praying; some are stupidly unconcerned, some are talking, some are laughing. It is impossible for me, he says, to see all that is going on, but you see it. Why do you not put a stop to it? If you were at home and saw a silver plate tossed out of doors, you would go and pick it up. Help me, in like manner, to keep devout order in the church. People act in the house of God as if they were in the theatre. Even during the sermon some go out, some sleep, and women chatter among themselves about their children. At the least distraction, everybody's attention flies away. There, he says, you are all looking now at the man who lights the lamps!
In the midst of this plain, homely, faithful preaching came the crash of a great tragedy. Theodosius had now been for ten years on the throne of the empire, and he proposed to celebrate the anniversary. It was the custom on such an imperial occasion to give a donation to the army; every soldier had an addition to his pay. To meet this expense, the emperor announced that a tax would be levied on the larger cities. Of these cities Antioch was one, being the third in the empire for size and wealth. But the Antiochians hated to be taxed. When the proclamation was publicly and officially read it was received for the moment in ominous silence, and then the reading was followed by a riot. The public buildings were attacked by a mad mob. They sacked the splendid Baths of Caligula, cutting the ropes which held the brazen lamps and letting them crash upon the stone floor, even trying to hack down the shade trees in the garden. They invaded the governor's house, and forced their way into his hall of judgment. There stood the statues of the emperor, of the empress lately dead, of the two princes, Honorius and Arcadius, his sons, and of his father. In the clamoring crowd was a boy with a stone; he threw it and hit the image of the emperor. At once, as if some spring of evil magic had been touched, and some devilish incantation had thereby been wrought, the mad mob went wild. They fell upon the imperial statues, broke them into pieces, and proceeded to drag the dismembered stumps through the mud of the streets. In this manner they conducted themselves for three hours. Then they began to consider what they were doing. They began to ask, What will the emperor do?
The offence both of those who had broken and insulted the statues and of those who had not prevented them was enormous. The men would be held guilty of transgression not against the government only, but against heaven. There were many who would remember how in times not long past the emperor of Rome had been regarded not only as a ruler, but as a god. This belief, indeed, had not outlived the change of imperial religion from pagan to Christian, but it still imparted a peculiar quality to the sacred person of the emperor. The governor of Antioch brought his soldiers, and returned to his house from which he had prudently fled. Such of the ringleaders as could be identified were put to death. Men of wealth and position in the city were summoned, examined by torture, deprived of their property by a confiscation which turned their wives and children into the street, and were thrust into the prisons which Libanius had been urging them to reform. Messengers were sent to inform Theodosius. at Constantinople, and to ask his will. And following the messengers went Flavian the bishop, a man of eighty years, undertaking in the snows of winter a journey of eight hundred miles to intercede with the Christian emperor for the Christian city. Weeks of suspense followed. Lent came on. The great church where Chrysostom was preaching every day was filled with penitents. All the places of amusement were shut up. The city waited for the decision of the emperor as if it stood before the judgment seat of God.
Under these conditions, Chrysostom preached the Sermons of the Statues.
At first, in the tumult of the calamity, he refrained from preaching. "We have been silent seven days," he says, "even as the friends of Job were. Now he begins to speak: "I mourn now and lament." Lately, he says, we had an earthquake and the walls of our houses were shaken, now our very souls are shaken. "Wherever any one looks abroad, whether upon the columns of the city or upon his neighbors, he seems to see night and deep gloom, so full is all with melancholy. There is a silence big with horror, and loneliness everywhere." "So great a city, the head of those which lie under the eastern sky, now in peril of destruction!" We have indeed insulted a monarch, the summit and head of all the earth. Let us take refuge in the King that is above. Let us call Him to our aid.
Then he exhorts them to put away their sins. He had preached already on the vice of blasphemy, and during these Lenten sermons he refers to it frequently. You were insulting God, he tells them, and thinking that He did not hear or care. Now He has permitted you to insult the emperor, and to come in peril of his anger, that you may understand what your oaths mean. Come, now, put an end to profane language. Let no one go out of this church as he came in, but better! They applauded there, and the preacher cried, "What need have I of these cheers and tumultuous signs of approval? The praise I seek is that ye show forth all I have said in your works." See, he says, how all your wealth is unavailing. Your houses which you have built and adorned at such expense, they cannot deliver you. Build yourselves houses in the heavens.
The bishop sets out on his journey of intercession, and Chrysostom preaches, pointing to his empty seat. He remarks upon his old age, and how he has left his sister at the point of death for their sake. "I know," he says, "that when he has barely seen our pious emperor, and been seen by him, he will be able by his very countenance to allay his wrath. He will take his text from this holy season. He will remind the emperor of that sacred day when Christ remitted the sins of the whole world. He will add that prayer which the emperor was taught when he was admitted to the Holy Communion, 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.' He will bring to his memory that in this city the faithful were first called Christians. And the emperor will listen to him. Let us assist him with our prayers; let us supplicate; let us go on embassy to the King that is above with many tears. And remember how it is written of repentant Nineveh, 'God saw their works,'—not their fasting, not their sackcloth; nothing of the sort. 'They turned every one from their evil ways, and the Lord repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them.'"
Rumors drift to Antioch from Constantinople, now good, now bad: the emperor will do this, the emperor will do that. One time the governor must speak in the church, to reassure the congregation, and dissuade them from fleeing from the city. The monks come down from the surrounding hills to join their prayers and lamentations with the citizens. The messengers return, who had set out before the bishop, and are now back again before he has had an audience with Theodosius. The worst has not befallen the offending city, but it is bad enough. "We expected," says Chrysostom, "innumerable horrors, that the property of all was to be plundered, the houses destroyed together with their inhabitants, the city snatched away from the midst of the world, and all its relics obliterated, and its soil ploughed up." But the emperor was content to degrade Antioch from its metropolitan position, and to close all its places of amusement. I thank God, cries Chrysostom, may they never be reopened!
At last the bishop returned, just before Easter. He had had a conference with the emperor. He had confessed, indeed, the transgression of his people. But he had cited the precedent of Constantine who, when a statue of himself had been pelted with stones, and his whole face, as they said, battered and broken, stroked his face with his hand, and replied smiling, "I do not find the mark of any wound." He had declared that the emperor had it now in his power to set up in his honor the most splendid statue in the world. "For," he said, "if you remit the offences of those who have done you injury, and take no revenge upon them, they will erect a statue to you, not of brass, nor of gold, nor inlaid with gems, but one arrayed in that robe which is more precious than the costliest material, the robe of humanity and tender mercy. Every man will thus set you up in his own soul." To these petitions Theodosius graciously responded. He forgave the city. Go now, says the preacher, at the close of the sermon in which he described the interview, go, light the lamps, and decorate the shops with green, and keep high festival, remembering always to give thanks to God who loveth man.
Ten years of this plain, faithful, and eloquent preaching followed. Then suddenly the scene was changed. The ministry of Chrysostom as presbyter and reformer of the people of Antioch was followed by his ministry as bishop and his vain endeavors to reform the clergy and the court of Constantinople.
The see of Constantinople was vacant. The episcopal chair which Gregory had so suddenly and cheerfully left empty had been filled by the appointment of Nectarius, a rich, courteous, hospitable, and contented person. During the years of his episcopate he had never brought anybody into trouble. He had never seriously interfered in the affairs of the pleasant society in which he lived. Now he was dead. Theodosius was dead also; Arcadius was emperor in the East,—a dull, incapable young man, under the influence of his minister of state, Eutropius the Eunuch.
Eutropius had had an extraordinary history. Born a slave in the valley of the Euphrates, he had grown to manhood in that servile condition, cutting wood, drawing water, and performing the most menial offices. One of his masters had given him as a part of her dowry to his daughter. His business was to comb her hair and fan her with a fan of peacock's feathers. Growing now old and wrinkled, and his mistress becoming weary of the sight of him, she tried to sell him. Being unable to find a purchaser at any price she turned him into the street. After a time of the direst poverty, living on the scraps which he got by begging at back doors, he found a job in the emperor's kitchen. Here he was so fortunate as to attract the attention of Theodosius. Thus he crept from one step to another till he became chamberlain of the palace. In this position he advanced his own interests and enfeebled the young Arcadius by surrounding him with debasing pleasures. At last came the day when Arcadius was to marry the daughter of his prime minister, Rufinus. The procession set out in splendor from the palace to the house of the bride. But it passed the house without stopping; it proceeded to the residence of Bauto the Frank, and there Arcadius was married to his daughter, Eudoxia! This was the work of Eutropius, who thereupon succeeded Rufinus, having first assisted in his murder, and became minister of state.
It is one of the most singular careers in history. The palace gates would open and out would ride a resplendent procession of foot-soldiers in white uniforms, of cavalry in cloth of gold, with gilded lances and golden shields, and then, drawn by white mules, the imperial carriage, with gilded sides shining like the sun, and in the carriage by the side of the emperor, the old ex-slave Eutropius.
Now the archbishopric of Constantinople was vacant, the most important see in Christendom, next to Rome, and, in the mind of the East, exceeding Rome. There was a long array of candidates. In the midst of the discussion Eutropius remembered Chrysostom, whom he had heard preach. He sent secretly to Antioch. By falsehood his messengers got Chrysostom into a carriage, swift horses were ready, and against his will, not even asking what his will was, under guard like a criminal condemned to execution, the preacher was carried to Constantinople. Theophilus, the Pope of Alexandria, was commanded to consecrate him.
But Theophilus was reluctant, having a candidate of his own, who, he hoped, would assist him in asserting the superiority of the see of Alexandria over the see of Constantinople. This reluctance Eutropius was able to overcome. For in the late war between Theodosius and Maximin, when the issue of the combat was uncertain, and nobody could tell which of the two would win the imperial throne, Theophilus had sent two letters to the field of battle, one congratulating Theodosius, the other congratulating Maximin, upon his victory. One was to be delivered to the conqueror, the other was to be destroyed. But the other letter had not been destroyed; it was in the possession of Eutropius. So persuasive was the argument which Eutropius based upon this unfortunate epistle, that Theophilus agreed to consecrate Chrysostom. And this he did, but with a hatred in his heart which entered tragically into the years which followed.
Thus Chrysostom became the bishop of Constantinople,—the archbishop, the patriarch, the pope, of the imperial capital of the East. The whole occupation of his life was changed. He still preached, but not, as in Antioch, day after day; sometimes as rarely as only once in a month. He was mainly engaged in the unaccustomed duties of administration. And his preaching, which in Antioch had been addressed to people who had known him from his youth, and which had been reinforced by the common knowledge of his holy life, was now the voice not only of a stranger but of a suspected stranger, thrust violently into his position by old Eutropius whom everybody feared and hated. He was Eutropius's bishop.
The first thing which Chrysostom did was to take all the fine furniture which Nectarius, his elegant predecessor, had gathered in the episcopal palace, and have it sold at auction, giving the money to a hospital. He dismissed the retinue of servants. The pleasant hospitality of the bishop's residence he discontinued; he stopped the dinner parties which had made Nectarius so popular. He lived alone and dined alone, in the dismantled rooms. One bishop who visited him was made a formidable enemy by the hard bed and the homely breakfast, which he regarded as a personal insult.
This ideal of monastic simplicity, Chrysostom demanded of his clergy. He interfered with their domestic arrangements, which were in some instances a cause of scandal. He tried to dissuade rich parishioners from giving presents to the rich clergy, urging them to remember the poor. Some priests he suspended, some he thrust out of their positions; almost all of them he reprimanded for their comfortable habits and their neglect of duty. Thus they were set against him. At the same time he offended the bishops. In the course of a single visitation he deposed thirteen of them. He found Constantinople infested with idle monks, living on the charity of industrious citizens; he sent them back to their cells. Thus he daily increased the number of his enemies.
Wherever Chrysostom went, he measured the church by the standard of his own consecrated life, and punished declension from that high ideal. The church was secularized: anybody could see that. The conversion of Constantine had given the Christian religion a most unfortunate popularity, and many were they who had entered the church because it was in favor with the court; and being in the church, even in the holy offices of presbyter and bishop, they were behaving more like courtiers than like Christians. It was a lax, indifferent, pleasure-loving church, in which conscience afforded only a weak defence against temptation. And over the church, ruling it in the name of 'Christ, and holding himself responsible for it, was a man who had spent half of his mature life as a monk, and the other half as a preacher of austere morals.
To the clerical enmity which such a situation made inevitable, he had the misfortune to add the hostility of the ladies of Constantinople. The preacher is safe who denounces in large, general terms the sins of avarice and luxury, but he comes into immediate peril when he proceeds to particulars. Chrysostom proceeded to particulars. With the unwisdom of one who lives apart from common life, he confused small things with great. He prejudiced his cause, and needlessly made personal enemies in his congregation, by criticising in his sermons the fashions of their dress. He objected to the ladies' earrings, and to their white veils with black filets. He disliked their shoes of velvet laced with silk, which he said they might better wear upon their heads. He pointed at them with his finger: "You women there in the silk dresses are laughing." He said plainly that there were old women in the congregation who were dressing like young girls. He declared that he would repel from the Holy Communion any woman who came with painted cheeks.
The familiar prayer of St. Chrysostom is so named because it was taken over into the English service out of the Greek Liturgy of St. Chrysostom. This Liturgy, according to which the Holy Communion is administered to this day in the Orthodox Eastern Church, is a revision of an earlier form called the Liturgy of St. Basil, as that in turn was recast from the traditional Liturgy of St. James. Whether Chrysostom contributed to this revision, or whether the name was given to it by reason of his fame, has not been determined.
The only record of a connection of Chrysostom with the worship of the church is made by the ecclesiastical historian Socrates (book vi, chap. 8). He says that the Arians began to reassert themselves in Constantinople during the episcopate of Chrysostom, and that being forbidden to have churches within the city walls they had them just outside, and attracted congregations to them by processional singing. They met in the public squares and sang hymns which Socrates calls "responsive compositions," perhaps with a chorus after each verse, and thus gathering a crowd, they proceeded to their churches. In opposition to these heretical meetings Chrysostom organized the orthodox choirs, which, by the generosity of Eudoxia, he provided with silver crosses on which they bore wax candles. This competition proved so effective that one evening the singing heretics fell upon the singing orthodox, and there was a fight in the street, with silver crosses converted into clubs, and much injurious throwing of stones. This occasioned the stopping of all the processional invitations to the services.
The dramatic interest of the sermons which Chrysostom preached in Antioch on the statues was equaled in Constantinople by his sermons on Eutropius.
Eutropius was now the acting emperor, controlling the weak Arcadius, and doing as he pleased. He had cast down, and exiled or put to death great generals and officers of state. Out of the imperial kitchen he had taken a servant, a friend of his in the days of his poverty, and had made him a person of exalted station. Statues were erected to Eutropius in all the greater cities, while men were still living who had bought and sold and beaten him. Naturally, he was hated. He had many enemies among the nobility into whose aristocratic ranks he had been so singularly thrust, and toward whom he behaved with unfailing arrogance. He had incurred the displeasure of the people by his failure to keep peace with the Goths, and by the open avarice of his appointments. They said that he had a price-list of governorships: so much to be made governor of Pontus, so much to be made governor of Galatia. His one friend was the queen, whose marriage he had so dramatically managed.
But Eutropius quarrelled with the queen. One day when she declined some demand of his, "Remember," he said, "that he who placed you where you are is able to remove you." The young queen took her little children, one of them two years old and the other a baby, and ran crying to her husband. And Arcadius, by a rare exercise of his will, asserted himself. He discharged Eutropius. In one moment, in the speaking of a single sentence, he toppled over his whole pile of power, and turned him out of the palace. Out he went, poor as when he came in, and without a friend. He fled to the cathedral, pursued by a mob of soldiers and citizens. He took refuge under the altar. Chrysostom stood at the entrance to the sanctuary and refused them entrance.
The next day was Sunday, and when the time came for Chrysostom's sermon, and he gave out his text, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" he had the curtain drawn aside which hid the altar from the people, and there clinging to the sacred table was the old, wrinkled, gray-haired Eutropius. "Where now," cried the preacher, "are the brilliant surroundings of thy consulship? Where are the gleaming torches? Where is the applause which greeted thee in the city, where the acclamation in the hippodrome? They are gone—all gone. A wind has blown upon the tree, shattering down all its leaves. Where now are your feigned friends? Where are your drinking parties and your suppers? Where is the wine that used to be poured forth all day long, and the manifold dainties invented by your cooks? They were a smoke which has dispersed, bubbles which have burst, cobwebs which have been rent in pieces. 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'" "Brethren," added the preacher, "I have told you that, a thousand times: I have declared to you that wealth and the pleasures of this life are fleeting things. Look now, and see with your own eyes, how what I said is true."
The life of Eutropius was saved for the moment by the intercession of Chrysostom, but he was finally beheaded.
The sermons on Eutropius mark the culmination of the power of Chrysostom in Constantinople. After these discourses, in which he twice "improved the occasion" of the downfall of the favorite, little remains but disappointment, and hostility, and final failure. His clerical enemies found a leader in Theophilus of Alexandria; his social enemies were encouraged by the empress Eudoxia.
Theophilus took as a pretext for an attack upon Chrysostom the case of the Four Tall Brothers. These were monks of Egypt who had come into collision with Theophilus over the orthodoxy of Origen. Theophilus held Origen to be a heretic, and forbade the reading of his writings. This edict was disobeyed by independent persons whose liking for Origen was emphasized by the bishop's peremptory displeasure. Among these disobedient persons were the Four Tall Brothers, who finding themselves in peril fled to Constantinople to plead for the protection of the court.
Their hospitable reception by Chrysostom gave Theophilus his opportunity. He appeared in Constantinople with a stout-armed retinue of Egyptian clergy, allied himself with the multitude of clerical malcontents in the city, and at a country place belonging to the emperor, and called The Oak, situated near by in Chalcedon, he proceeded to summon a synod. This Synod of the Oak, under the presidency of Theophilus, called Chrysostom to present himself for trial, and, when he denied the jurisdiction of the assembly and refused to plead, deposed him.
It was a situation which a man of the world would have met by beating the intruders over the head with their own weapons. Cyprian, for example, or Ambrose, or any other strong bishop who had prepared himself for the ministry by serving an apprenticeship as a lawyer or a statesman, would have confronted Theophilus and his clerical ruffians at the docks when they landed, and would have driven them back into their boats. And if the emperor or the empress, with the whole court in agreement, had interposed in their behalf, he would have brought to his defence and reinforcement an excommunication which they would have dreaded like the onslaught of a legion of angels.
But Chrysostom was a gentle spirit, bold in the pulpit, but unfitted by his monastic training to deal with the rough world. He knew how to speak, but his experience had never taught him how to act. The situation was complicated by the fact that Theophilus had got permission from the emperor to summon the assembly. Disobedience to its decision—so they told Chrysostom—was nothing less than treason. He bowed, therefore, to what seemed inevitable and submitted to an imperial decree of banishment. Theophilus "ejected me," says Chrysostom, "from the city and the church, when the evening was far advanced. Being drawn by the public informer through the midst of the city, and dragged along by force, I was taken down to the sea, and thrust on board a ship."
The city was profoundly stirred. Chrysostom had been the friend of the poor; he had built hospitals; he had himself lived in poverty that he might thereby be more helpful to his people; he had maintained the cause of Christian righteousness. Everybody, whether friend or enemy, knew the self-sacrificing, devoted, humble-minded goodness of the bishop. Everybody knew also that out of envy, and for purposes of personal ambition, without a shadow of justice and in defiance of religion, Theophilus had come from Alexandria to ruin him. The amazement of the people deepened into indignation. It was unsafe for any Egyptian to be seen in the streets. A mob besieged the palace of the emperor. The next night there was an earthquake. Especially in the palace the walls swayed, and the roof seemed about to fall. Eudoxia was thoroughly frightened. She sent for Chrysostom with tears and apologies. The people met him as if he had been a commander returning from the conquest of a nation; a triumphal procession bore him to the cathedral and seated, him upon his throne. At midnight Theophilus, fearing for his life, took his company with him and got on board a boat, and so escaped.
Then two months passed. The earth resumed its accustomed steadiness, the panic of fright was forgotten in the palace and the old hostility returned. The ambition of Theophilus was succeeded by the opposition of Eudoxia.
As the natural leader of the society against which Chrysostom had preached, the empress had felt herself personally aggrieved. She wore the fine clothes to which the bishop had objected, and lived the life of luxury which he had declared to be contrary to right religion. One day, she had a silver statue of herself set on a pillar of porphyry in the midst of the square beside which stood the Church of Santa Sophia. The event was celebrated on a Sunday, and at a time when there was service in the church. The din of the affair was deafening. Against the noise of the shouting and the blare of the trumpets the choir found it impossible to sing. Chrysostom found it impossible to preach. Indeed, there was little occasion for a sermon, most of the congregation being outside in the crowd.
Chrysostom discussed the matter with his usual plainness of speech. And this plainness was by no means modified in the reports which were carried to the empress. They told her that he compared her not only with Jezebel, but with Herodias. They said that he began a sermon with the words, "Again is Herodias furious; again Herodias dances; again does she demand the head of John." Chrysostom declared that he never said it; it is plain that no attentive reader of the Bible would speak of the dancing of Herodias. But any pretext was enough.
Another council was assembled, ready to do the will of Theophilus, and protected by a force of barbarians imported for the purpose. This council confirmed the previous sentence, and declared Chrysostom deposed because after that condemnation he had resumed his duties without permission. On Easter Even, soldiers broke into the churches, and drove out the clergy and the congregation, and dispersed those who had come in white robes to be baptized. The baptismal pools were made red with blood. On the day of the great festival the churches of Constantinople stood empty, the faithful having fled to the fields. "There were shrieks and lamentations," says Chrysostom, "and torrents of tears were shed everywhere in the marketplaces, in the houses, in the deserts; all places were in a state of tumult and confusion as if the city had been taken by an enemy." Hostile bishops led the attack, preceded by drill-sergeants, says Chrysostom, instead of deacons.
The decree of banishment was now executed without repentance. Chrysostom was hurried into a boat on the Bosphorus and carried into exile. As they set sail, and the bishop looked back upon the city to which he had been brought so dramatically and from which he was being thrust so violently, behold, smoke and flame began to rise from the roof of the cathedral. Santa Sophia, even as they watched, fell into a heap of blazing ruins. The wreck of the fallen walls was piled high over the silver statue of Eudoxia.
In the parallelogram of Asia Minor, between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Constantinople is just outside the northwest corner. Chrysostom was banished to Cucusus in the southeast corner. The long journey involved not only the ordinary difficulties of travel in a mountainous country, but also the peril of Isaurian brigands who were then infesting the roads. To the distress of mind caused by daily reports of the persecution of the faithful in Constantinople was added pain of body; and the common dangers of the journey were accompanied and embittered by the hatred of ecclesiastical enemies. Chrysostom wrote to Olympias, a deaconess, describing his experiences at Cæsarea. He says that he arrived there late one evening, in an exhausted condition, in the height of a burning fever, more dead than alive. The next day the Isaurians besieged the city. At the same time a great rabble of monks, perhaps driven from their cells by the marauders, attacked the house in which Chrysostom was lodged, and tried to set fire to it. They said openly that they had the approval of the bishop of Cæsarea. At midnight, in the blackness of darkness, for there was no moon, a cry was made that the Isaurian were coming. Chrysostom was forced from his sick-bed. It was unsafe to light a torch for fear of the barbarians. The mule on which he rode stumbled and threw him. "Imagine my sufferings," he writes, "encompassed as I was by such calamities, oppressed by the fever, ignorant of the plans which had been made, in terror of the barbarians, and trembling with the expectation of falling into their hands." Nevertheless, he went forward, and after a month reached Cucusus.
There he spent three years. He wrote letters to influential bishops,—at Aquileia, at Milan, at Rome,—calling their attention to the injustice with which he had been treated. "Not even in heathen courts," he wrote, "would such audacious deeds have been committed, or rather not even in a barbarian court: neither Scythian nor Sarmatians would ever have judged a cause in this fashion, deciding it after hearing one side only, in the absence of the accused, who only deprecated enmity, not a trial of his case, who was ready to call any number of witnesses, asserting himself to be innocent and able to clear himself of the charges in the face of the world."
But neither Pope Innocent nor anybody else could help him. He was under condemnation for the offence of attacking the corruption of the church and of society. His plain preaching had got him the hatred of the imperial court. And these combined forces were too strong for him. When friends began to gather about him from Antioch, so that it was said, "All Antioch is at Cucusus," the authorities at Constantinople determined to send him to a remoter exile. He was to be hurried north to Pityus on the Black Sea.
But in Pontus, near Comana, he became so ill that further progress was impossible. He was taken to the wayside shrine of Basilicus, a bishop who had suffered martyrdom. There he died, being in his sixtieth year. It was said that his last words were, "Glory be to God for all things!"
Thus he died, and the glory of the Eastern Church died with him. Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, Chrysostom had no successors. Not another name of eminence appears in the ecclesiastical annals of the Eastern Empire. In the contest for the mastery of human life, the court had conquered; the church was brought into subjection.