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The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and festering sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with oil.—Isaiah i. 5–6.
We have already seen enough to show the intense and all but universal corruption which ruined the true work of the Church in Antioch, and still more in Constantinople. It is distressing to find the same moral apostasy, the same revolting unreality, prevailing like a pestilence over the whole of Thrace, Asia Minor, and Pontus—indeed, over the whole of that region to which St. Peter and St. James had addressed their œcumenical Epistles. As far back as the beginning of the second century the Church, on Pliny’s testimony, had so far conquered the world, even in remote Bithynia, as to empty the ancient temples of the gods; but now those gods and the vices they represented—Ares and Aphrodite, Plutus and Cybele, Moloch and Ashtoreth, Mammon and Belial—were reinstated in Christian sanctuaries under the disguise of the holiest names, and that by the clergy themselves. There is abundant proof of the like intrusion of the world, the flesh, and the devil among myriads of professing Churchmen throughout Northern Africa; and if it were within the scope of our purpose to look at all closely at the Western world, we should see that Rome was as Constantinople, and Milan as Ephesus, and Ravenna as Alexandria. All the faithful might sigh, ‘The Church has triumphed—but where is holiness? The Church is splendid, dominant, orthodox, oppressive; services are numerous, ritualism elaborate; women kneel to priests and kiss their hands; the Holy Supper has become a gorgeous and magic sacrifice, 309 ending in the creation of a material idol—but where is the Christ of Nazareth and of Calvary?’ Pagans like Eunapius, and Libanius, and Zosimus, said freely among themselves, ‘Christianity, at first so sweet and simple in its moral ideal, has degenerated into a more intolerant and no less immoral paganism; it has incorporated the old superstitions which we had flung away; it has become more material, and more abject in its corruption, than our Neo-platonism; it has worthy sons, but most of its votaries have lost our manlier virtues, and have not failed to assimilate our acknowledged vices.’ In Egypt, for instance, there was many an honest waverer who saw far more beauty and goodness in the life of the heathen Hypatia than in that of a hypocritic tyrant like the Christian Patriarch, Theophilus of Alexandria.
Christians who were Christians indeed felt their darker hours troubled by misgivings which were almost intolerable. They looked upon the abhorrent worldliness and falsity—which often seemed to them to be ‘the falling away’ of which St. Paul prophesied—as a sign of the nearness of the Antichrist. No language came more naturally to their lips than that of the Hebrew prophets. A century had not yet passed since the conversion of the first Christian Emperor and the assembling of the first Œcumenical Council; four centuries had barely passed since, on that first radiant Christmas Eve, the angels had sung, ’Peace on earth, goodwill towards men,’ and already the chief living saint and most learned writer of the day had left Rome with a curse upon his lips against her Babylonian wickedness. And if such was the condition of the Church in the so-called See of St. Peter, what was the state of things elsewhere? Egypt was in a turmoil with barbarous bishops and brutal monks. The pilgrimages to Jerusalem were, as Gregory of Nyssa had testified, scenes of vulgar debauchery. The Holy City itself was a carnival of violence and littleness. Carthage and its daughter dioceses were not only trembling under the tyranny of wicked governors, but were torn with the alternate turbulence and persecution of Donatists and Circumcellions, between whom and many of the champions of Catholicism there was but little to choose. Asia was in the deplorable 310 condition which we shall see immediately. And here, in the New Rome of Constantinople, there was a weak Emperor with the soul of a slave; a Frankish Empress domineering and unscrupulous as a Semiramis; a Court steeped in frivolity and guile; a world of officialism cankered through and through with bribery, greed, and oppression; swarms of sham monks and clerical adventurers; intrigue and simony rampant on every side; numbers of presbyters living with their ‘spiritual sisters’ in all but open concubinage; coquettish virgins, and nominal widows, and painted haridans; the lewdness of the theatre finding scope for its wit in the scandals of the clergy, and the rage of the Blue and Green factions of the Hippodrome uncontrolled in the smallest degree by the nominal Christianity of the population. Throngs of people rushed off to the public spectacles and wild-beast shows, even on Good Friday and Easter Day. On one Easter Day they saw a young charioteer, on the eve of his marriage, horribly trampled to death under the hoofs of the chariot-steeds. Avarice and licentiousness were rampant on every side. Among the lowest classes prevailed a mendicancy seething with atrocious impostures; among the upper classes, under the soft surface of voluptuous ostentation, there was a society rent by cliques and factions, bursting with splenetic malignity, and filled with such a universal plague of uncharitableness that, if here and there a saint emerged who was vexed, like Lot, with the filthy conversation and ungodly deeds of the wicked, he must be content to focus on himself the burning rays of ‘religious,’ even more than of secular, hatred, and to live with his head in clouds of poisonous flies. What could good men say of the Church in those days, as their tears fell on the page of Holy Writ, but ’ Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water; thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves?’ ’ The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?’
Whether such reflexions be justifiable or no, whether the world had or had not re-intruded into the Church, whether or not the Church had gained from the infiltration of pagan superstitions and the oppressive triumph of 311 Pharisaic externalism, the reader must judge from almost every page of the subsequent narrative, which, in the general picture presented, is a direct reflexion of the contemporary testimony of Christian saints.
For now an event happened which was the first distinct dislodgment of the loose snowdrifts, which were soon to rush down in overwhelming avalanche on the doomed head of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
It happened that a Synod of twenty-nine bishops was sitting at Constantinople, under the presidency of Chrysostom, to settle some matter of minor ecclesiastical importance. One day in September, a.d. 400, while they were in session in one of the rooms adjoining the apse of St. Sophia, a bishop who was not a member of the Synod, Eusebius of Valentinianopolis, an obscure Cilbian village in the valley of the Cayster, advanced into the assembly, holding in his hand a written document, and with an air and tone of intense indignation cried that he had come to denounce a series of intolerable scandals, which had disgraced the Churches of Asia.
Startled and horrified, the Synod asked for an explanation. Speaking with fierce anger, Eusebius said, ‘I am here to accuse and denounce a bishop of Asia of seven enormous crimes—of simony, embezzlement, luxury, theft, malversation, misprision of murder, and incontinence.
‘First, he bought his own episcopal see for an immense sum, and to recoup himself deliberately sells other episcopal sees at a regular tariff.
‘Secondly, he has alienated to his own private use an estate left to the Church by Basilina, mother of the Emperor Julian.
‘Thirdly, he has melted the silver chalices and plate of the Church to supply money to his son.
‘Fourthly, he has taken marbles from the baptistery to inlay his own private baths.
‘Fifthly, he has taken possession of marble pillars which had been prepared for the church, and has used them for the adornment of his own triclinium.
‘Sixthly, he has, in spite of his episcopal oaths, recalled his wife, with whom he openly lives; and by whom, since his consecration, he has had several children.312
‘Seventhly, he has retained in his service a youth who has committed murder and has never, never been brought to justice or done penance.’
‘Who is the offender?’ asked the Patriarch.
‘He is here; he is in the midst of you; he is one of the bishops of the highest rank in your assembly,’ said Eusebius hotly. ‘There he sits!’—and he pointed to Antoninus, Metropolitan of the important see of Ephesus, bishop of the church in which St. Paul had preached so long, successor of St. John, the beloved disciple, successor of that Angel of the Church of Ephesus to whom St. John had written in the Apocalypse.
Antoninus, who knew his own guilt, turned white as a sheet, and winced before the pointed finger of this obscure prelate from the Cilbian hills; and Eusebius continued: ’Yes, and the simoniacal intruders whom he has appointed, these who have trafficked for their sees, these hucksters of sacred things, these men who have sold and bought for money the Holy Spirit of God, they too are here, they too are of your number.’
‘Surely,’ said Chrysostom, ‘you must be under some mistake. What you say sounds incredible. Brother Paul of Heraclea, you are a personal friend of the Bishop of Ephesus. Will you consider the matter with him and his accuser, and try to reconcile the strong enmity which seems to subsist between them?’
‘I refuse any mediation,’ stormed Eusebius.
The bishops might well be disturbed by an accusation so vehement and so detailed; but Chrysostom, who is often accused of reckless haste, did not for a moment lose his calm. He acted with consummate kindness and circumspection. He saw that, even if all the charges could not be denied, some of them might admit of explanation or palliation. The one which seemed most seriously circumstantial, and which, if true, could not under any circumstances be extenuated, was the charge of open and shameless simony.
‘Brother of Ephesus,’ he asked, ‘what say you to this grave accusation?’
By that time the Bishop of Ephesus had partially recovered his presence of mind. Summoning such fragment of 313 dignity as was left him by his guilty conscience, he rose and said:
‘I am entirely guiltless of all these crimes. They can be refuted. This man is a false accuser.’
‘Eusebius,’ said Chrysostom, ‘you are evidently in a heated frame of mind. You seem to be influenced by personal animosity. I entreat you to be sure of your ground. Do not bring these tremendous indictments unless you can prove them. Bishop Antoninus has denied your charges. He says he can disprove them. Beware, then, how you bring needless scandal on the Church.’
But Eusebius, who was still in towering wrath, refused to withdraw what he had said, and endeavoured to thrust his schedule of gravamina into the Patriarch’s hands.
‘Nay, brother,’ said Chrysostom, ‘I refuse to receive your schedule at this moment. We are about to enter the church. We are about to begin the Holy Office. Think the matter over; if, after due prayer and deliberation, and when you are quite calm, you think that duty, and not passion, requires you to accuse your brethren, then come and hand in your charge. The Synod is ended; let us enter the church.’
The bishops rose; Chrysostom led the way to his episcopal chair at the end of the apse; and when he had pronounced the opening Benediction, ‘Peace be with you,’ the other prelates took their seats in a semicircle on either hand. The service began, when suddenly Eusebius was seen hurrying up the nave with great strides, and, amid the astonishment of the crowded congregation, he went straight up the steps of the sanctuary, passed the Holy table, and, stopping in front of the Archbishop, who was seated behind it, endeavoured once more to thrust the paper into his hands. As Chrysostom was still reluctant to take it, he broke into the most terrible appeals, adjuring the Patriarch by the life of the Emperor not to refuse justice in a matter which concerned the inmost purity of the Church. His demeanour was so tumultuous that the people thought he must be demanding immediate intercession for the life of some condemned criminal. Unwilling to prolong the unseemly spectacle, which was disturbing the sacred solemnity, Chrysostom took the paper, and 314 the Lessons of the day were read. But when the time came for the Eucharist, the Archbishop found himself in a state of such strong mental agitation that, fearful of unworthy participation, either on his own part or that of the bishops, who shared his emotions, he begged Pausophius, Bishop of Pisidia, to consecrate the elements, and made a sign to the members of the Synod to follow him into the baptistery. Thither he summoned Eusebius, reproached him for his violent precipitation, and began the investigation which he so urgently demanded. Some witnesses were produced, but Eusebius declared that others, and the most essential, were in Asia, and that there he would produce them. ’Then,’ said Chrysostom, ‘since the honour of the Church is at stake, I will myself proceed to Asia to examine them.’
Matters had now assumed a serious aspect. Antoninus felt that his scandalous misdoings had been too flagrant to escape condemnation at the hands of so pure a judge. He fell back on astute manœuvres. The times were troubled. The absence of the Archbishop, in the darkness of the political horizon, might cause grave inconvenience. Among his other gross irregularities, the Bishop of Ephesus farmed an estate in Asia as agent for one of the great Court officials. Anxious to gain time for his doublings, and if possible to avoid being run to earth, this ecclesiastical wolf in sheep’s clothing went to his patron, and begged him to use his influence with the Emperor to prevent permission being given for the Patriarch’s departure. In this he was successful. But Chrysostom did not mean to let matters rest. Since he could not go himself, he sent a commission of three bishops, one of whom was his friend and ultimate biographer, Palladius of Helenopolis. They met at Hypæpæ, near Ephesus, with the bishops of the province, and summoned Eusebius and Antoninus to appear before them.
Meanwhile, by fresh acts of collusive baseness, these two ecclesiastics had done their utmost to reduce the commission and the inquiry to a despicable farce. The brazen front of Antoninus was not likely to recoil before new villainies, and Eusebius had revealed himself in his true colours. The frantic denouncer of simony had himself become 315 a simonist; the indignant opponent of Antoninus had become his secret accomplice; the accuser of misprision had accepted an enormous bribe as the guerdon of misprision. The judges were mocked with plausible excuses. ’Yes, certainly Antoninus had his witnesses who could prove his innocence, and Eusebius had his witnesses to support his contentions, but to get them together was a difficult and expensive matter. They were scattered over half Asia.’
‘How long, then, will it take to collect them?’ asked Palladius, who was as earnest and upright in the matter as Chrysostom himself.
‘Forty days at least,’ said Eusebius blandly.
Forty days!—and that in the heat of the malarious autumn! It seemed evident that the delay was intentional, and that so long a period was fixed in the hope of tiring out the patience, perhaps of undermining the health of the commissioners. They waited, however—at least two of them, for the third, a secret ally of Antoninus, refused to act. At the end of the time Eusebius did not appear, and was at once excommunicated by the Bishops of Asia for connivance and contumacy. He had quietly sneaked off, and was lying hid in the slums of Constantinople. This exemplary personage, who, like other bishops, was saluted as ’your Sanctity,’ had egregiously proved his wickedness and worthlessness. His zeal for Church discipline had been nothing more than a cloak for jealousy and ulterior designs. What became of his Lordship’s diocese we do not know; but it must be borne in mind that there were scores of bishops in those days who, apart from their title, had not one hundredth part of the duty or responsibility of even a humble country vicar. When St. Gregory Thaumaturgus was made Bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, he had only six parishioners under him; and Sassima, the diocese to which St. Basil so unworthily and unaccountably relegated the friend of his youth, the great St. Gregory of Nazianzus, was a roadside horse-station. Probably the mountaineers of Valentinianopolis, wherever it was, were well rid of their scoundrelly pastor.
The commissioners stayed a month longer to no purpose at Hypæpæ, and then returned. When they stumbled 316 across Eusebius in the purlieus of Constantinople, and taunted him with his mischief-making perfidy, he coolly asserted that he had been ill.
Meanwhile Antoninus, Metropolitan of Ephesus, had gone to his last long account, to stand with all his falsities, embezzlements, and simony on his head before the bar of that Judge whom no sinner can escape, and where the guilty man is also
Himself the judge and jury, and himself
The witness at the bar, always condemned,
And that drags down his life.
Among his stolen marbles and appropriated columns, and perhaps with the sons by his bedside whom he had endowed by sacrilege and begotten in perjury, the bishop by purchase of the See of St. John the Divine escaped the earthly tribunal to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, Whose name he had covered with infamy, and of the Holy Spirit, Whose gifts he had bought and sold.
And, as always in the case of those great sees—once more as at Antioch, as at Rome, as at Alexandria, as at Cæsarea, as at Constantinople—there broke out the blighting storm of base ambition and underground intrigue which was the normal result of the death of a bishop of the Church of Christ in those bad days, and which we need not again describe. And, as at Constantinople, and Rome, and everywhere else, the faithful few grew sick of this state of things, and interfered to cut short the mean rivalries of contending Churchmen. Hating the debasing turmoil, and dreading the infamies of some new Antoninus, some of the clergy and neighbouring bishops wrote an appeal to Chrysostom. ‘For many years,’ they wrote, ’all law and order have been violated among us. We implore your Dignity to come and reimpress some form of divineness on our distracted Church. Our misfortunes are unparalleled. On one side the Arians tear us to pieces, on the other many, like deadly wolves, are lying in wait to plunder our episcopal seat. Even now bribes are flowing among us in rivers of simony.’
It was the dead of winter, and Chrysostom felt worn-out and ill; but he could not resist so solemn and 317 anguished an appeal. The earnestness of his soul supplied the failing strength of his body. On January 9, 401, he set sail from Constantinople for Apamæa. The end of the troubles involved in the revolt of Gaïnas and the activity of the Arians left no excuse for the Court to oppose his departure.
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