« Prev Episcopal Conspirators Next »
386

CHAPTER XLV

EPISCOPAL CONSPIRATORS

Slander the stylus, Treason plied the knife;

And, preaching peace, Religion practised strife.

Lord Lytton, Chronicles and Characters.

Theophilus sent his twenty-eight bishops by sea. Strange bishops they were! Men with the names of barbarous Egyptian gods, bishops of collections of mud huts and crocodile swamps on the banks of the Nile, bishops ignorant of everything in the choir of heaven and the furniture of earth, and so completely subservient to their wicked and terrorising Patriarch that at a crook of his finger they would have been prepared to condemn Athanasius himself. And these were the men who, at the instigation of his deadliest enemies, were in his own diocese to sit in judgment on the chief Patriarch of the East, the greatest saint, orator, and writer of his age, in the teeth of the decisions of the bishops assembled around him, more, and more honourable than they—among whom were seven metropolitans.

The Egyptians were to await their Patriarch at Chalcedon, where their dull and blind animosities might be daily exacerbated by the diatribes of Bishop Cyrinus, who never spoke of Chrysostom except as the arrogant, the ruthless, and the heretical.

Theophilus himself came more leisurely by land. He did this with an object. On the one hand, he left the evil leaven to work; on the other, he could gather conspirators in the Churches of Syria and Asia Minor, who received him with adulations because of his high rank, and to whom he sedulously announced that he was on his way to depose the Patriarch of Constantinople. His attempt, however, was not very successful. In addition to his twenty-eight Egyptian parasites he only inveigled seven 387 others from Armenia, Persia, and Mesopotamia. It would have been well for the unhappy Bishop of Chalcedon if one of these had never come. It was Maruthas, Bishop of Mesopotamia. He was a man of slouching gait and elephantine proportions, who wore heavy boots. Cyrinus was sitting on a divan with his legs outstretched before him. Maruthas, as he came blundering in, trod with all his weight on one of the feet of Cyrinus. The Bishop uttered a shriek of pain. The points of the iron nails, with which the boots of Maruthas were shod, wounded his foot in four or five places. The result was as though all the venom in the blood of Cyrinus had flowed into those wounds, in order to wreak upon him the vengeance of God. The wounds gangrened. It became necessary to amputate his foot; and it must be remembered that in those days there were no anæsthetics. The stump gangrened again; and it was again necessary to make an amputation at the knee. The leg gangrened again. There was another amputation, and the wretched Bishop died. He took what part he could in the Synod of the Oak. He signed its childish and infamous decrees; but he was scarcely ever able to cross over to Constantinople to aid in its machinations, and men saw in his frightful and lingering death a mark of the wrath of God for the part which Cyrinus had taken in the destruction of His saint.

On Thursday, at noon, in July, 403, Theophilus, accompanied by his twenty-eight suffragans, crossed the Bosporus, and landed at a quay known as the Chalcedonian Stairs. All the Egyptian corn-ships were decked with streamers; all the Egyptian sailors received him with acclamations. He traversed the city to the Pera district, where the Empress had assigned to his use the palace named Placidiana, on the other side of the Golden Horn. In passing the Patriarcheion he disdainfully refused the hospitality offered with all courtesy to him and his bishops by Chrysostom. He would not even follow the custom of entering the church to join in Communion. ‘This,’ said Chrysostom to his friends, ‘is nothing less than a declaration of open war.’

It is to Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis, as well as to the letter of Chrysostom to Pope Innocent, that we owe 388 our knowledge of these events. Theophilus, says the lively Palladius, had come from Egypt like a dung-beetle, except that the load which he rolled before him consisted of the loveliest and sweetest products of Egypt and Arabia, which were to be used to create the stench of hatred and envy. At the Placidiana the Alexandrian prelate lived en prince, winning courtiers and clergy alike by superb banquets and subtle flatteries, and working in concert with the monkish, clerical, and feminine cabals which sat in permanence at the house of Epigraphia. He soon got hold of tools who would admirably serve his purpose: the deacon John, excommunicated by Chrysostom for murdering his servant, and another deacon who had been condemned for adultery. He was also effectually aided by the three widows—Marsa, Castricia, and Epigraphia—and their clientéle, consisting of Severian of Gabala, Antiochus of Ptolemais, and Acacius of Berœa, together with the mass of the corrupt clergy of Constantinople and the concubines whom they called their ‘spiritual sisters.’ Theophilus felt no doubt of the result, despite the scruples of Arcadius, to whom it seemed strange that a number of unknown Egyptians, headed by a Patriarch accused of enormous delinquencies, should have come to his own capital to accuse his own Patriarch, whom, whatever might be his errors, Arcadius knew to be a saint. Moreover, at this moment the five previous emissaries of Theophilus were under sentence of death for libel, and it was only by bribery that he secured the modification of their sentence into relegation to Proconnesus. This, however, was a trifle; for Eudoxia, not Arcadius, was the real emperor. The people, it is true, were dead against the intruders and their own apostate clergy; but Theophilus secured his personal safety by getting from the Empress a guard of honour.

It was, nevertheless, obvious that no Council adverse to Chrysostom could sit at Constantinople without danger of a riot, and Severian recommended its transference to the neighbouring Chalcedon, where it could be held in the superb palace of Rufinus, possessed years afterwards by Belisarius. Here the murdered Minister of Arcadius had built a magnificent church, called the Apostolæum, in 389 honour of St. Peter and St. Paul; and hither he had, ten years earlier, summoned Ammonius, the eldest of the Tall brothers, as the man whose reputation was the saintliest in the Empire, to perform his baptism. The palace was called ‘The Oak,’ and the synod now held there was perhaps the most contemptible and infamous known in all the annals of the Church. It proposed to take in hand three questions—the accusations against Chrysostom; the affair of the Tall Brothers; and a charge of having stolen a deacon’s clothes brought against Heracleides, whom Chrysostom had made Metropolitan of Ephesus. This ‘Synod of the Oak’ was known as the Alexandrian party; the larger synod of bishops gathered round Chrysostom in the Thomaites was called the ‘Johannites,’ and, among others, comprised among its members no less than seven metropolitans. There was scarcely an ecclesiastical offence against the Nicene canons respecting episcopal jurisdiction which this paltry and wicked synod of the Oak, relying on Court patronage, did not openly violate. Summoning before it the Constantinopolitan clergy, with outrageous impudence, it first considered the charges against Chrysostom, preserved for us by the industry of St. Proclus, who was then a young reader, but who, thirty years afterwards, became his successor in the See of Constantinople.

John, the deacon excommunicated for homicide, accused Chrysostom, among other things, of having fettered a monk as a demoniac; of having embezzled, sold, or diverted by malversation the possessions of the Church; of having published a book full of insults against the clergy; of having charged the deacons with the theft of his gallium; of having ordained as bishop a grave-robber named Antonius; of having betrayed Count John to the soldiery, of entering and leaving church without prayer; of receiving women alone; of ordaining men without witnesses; of secret ‘Cyclopean orgies’; of violences and irregularities in Asia; of having smitten Memnon in the face in the Church of the Twelve Apostles, and made him bleed; of having put on his bishop’s robes as he sat on his throne; and of having eaten a pastille before the Holy Communion.

390

To these Isaac the Monk, a worthy coadjutor of the homicide, added that he had favoured the Origenists; that he had used such expressions as ‘The Table of the Church is full of Furies’; and ‘I am mad with love’; and ’If you sin again, repent again’; and that ’If Christ’s prayer was not heard, He had not prayed aright’—and that he stirred up the people to sedition.

Isaac’s charges were chiefly concocted out of disconnected and meaningless scraps fished out of the turbid waters of notes of sermons garbled by Phocas, the reporter, suborned by the malign influence of Severian of Gabala. They were about as fair and about as true as a criticism of an ecclesiastical opponent written by an anonymous clerical reviewer in a modern Church newspaper.

These libels—a heterogeneous amalgam of frivolities and lies—were redacted, on the suggestion of the two renegades, by a pen skilful in the manipulation of slander—that of Theophilus himself. No one regarded these preposterous charges as anything more than convenient implements of unscrupulous malignity. Those which possessed even a shadow of foundation were obviously steeped in the venom of misrepresentation. Pope Innocent and the whole Catholic world afterwards characterised them as ridiculous and contemptible.

There are accusations to which a noble-minded man, conscious of his own blameless integrity, cannot reply, because he feels them to be beneath his notice. To scarcely one of all these forty or more accusations did the Archbishop deign to allude. What need was there for the most abstemious man in Constantinople, whose habitual diet consisted of bread and vegetables, and who ordinarily drank nothing but water to declare that he was not given to ‘Cyclopean orgies’? What did it boot for a man notoriously indifferent to money to prove that what he had withdrawn from luxury he had expended on beneficence? No one, except a couple of perjurers of notoriously bad character, pretended to vouch for even the least serious charges. It was only afterwards that Chrysostom, in a private letter, said that the immorality with which he was infamously charged had for him long been a 391 physical impossibility. It strangely illustrates the depths of anile superstition into which the Church had fallen from the simplicity of the Gospel that the one charge which Chrysostom seemed to feel most was that of having eaten a lozenge before the Holy Communion. This infinitely frivolous accusation of a purely imaginary sin he repudiated with strong asseverations, although he naturally adds that, even were it true, he would have done nothing but what Christ and the Apostles themselves did when they partook of the first and holiest of all Holy Communions, at the immediate conclusion of a meal.

Yet, strange to say, while the scoundrelly Synod of the Oak was jubilant, the more numerous band of bishops gathered round the Patriarch in the Thomaites was painfully depressed. The reason of this was their certainty that Theophilus and his hirelings were backed by the Court and by the majority of the evil-minded clergy. ‘Pray for me, dear brethren,’ said Chrysostom, when he heard the hideous list of charges brought against him, and knew that as regards some of them it would be difficult to extricate himself without injury, because ‘A lie which is half a truth is ever the greatest of lies.’ ‘Pray for me, for I am in the toils of Satan. My God have mercy on me!’ The bishops, on hearing these sad words, melted into tears, and, amid the sound of general sobbing—for they had all heard the rumour that the Patriarch would be executed for treason—they poured round him, kissing his eyes, his eloquent lips, his sacred head.

‘Nay,’ he said. ‘What! mean ye to weep and to break my heart? What is life but a dream, a shadow, a vapour, a nothing less than nothing? Have I not sold this world that I may win eternal life? Does my lot differ in any respect, in its miseries and persecutions, from that of the Patriarchs, the Prophets, or the Apostles? What was the earthly reward of the Lord Himself at the hands of “Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” but first to be called a Samaritan and a Beelzebub, and then to be crucified?’

If we weep,’ said one of the bishops, ‘it is because you leave us orphans and the Church a widow, while we see her laws trampled and wickedness triumphant.’

‘Enough, my brother,’ answered Chrysostom, bringing 392 down his right finger on the palm of his left hand. ‘Do not leave your churches because of me. The Church never lacks a head. If you behead Paul, you leave Timothy, and many more.’

‘Ah! but,’ exclaimed another bishop, ‘they will never leave us our churches without forcing us to communicate with them, and subscribe to your condemnation.’

‘Communicate with them,’ said Chrysostom, ‘lest there should be a schism in the Church, but subscribe not, for I am innocent, and you would be setting your names to a lie.’

At this moment arrived two young Libyans from the Synod of the Oak, commanding John—to whom they did not even give his title of bishop—to appear before them, accompanied by Serapion and Tigrius.

The Council of the Patriarch sent their answer to Theophilus alone. ‘Cease,’ they said, ‘to break the laws of the Church by intermeddling, contrary to thine own express letter, in a jurisdiction not thine own. Come thou before us. We are forty bishops, of whom seven are metropolitans. You are but thirty-six, of which twenty-nine are Egyptians.’

But to the Synod of the Oak—though more than three-fourths of its members were ignorant creatures of Theophilus, without name, without knowledge, without conscience, or consecrated only to multiply dishonest and dictated votes—Chrysostom wrote in his own name. He said that while he disdained their accusations, and denied their rights, he would yet appear in person before them if they would exclude from their body his avowed and open foes—Theophilus, Acacius, Antiochus, and Severian. Otherwise they might summon him a thousand times, and it would be vain.

Three of Chrysostom’s bishops and two priests were sent with these replies. Then came a message from the Palace with an order from Arcadius that ’John was to appear before the Synod.’ Chrysostom gave his reasons for refusing. Next entered the monk Isaac and a priest of Constantinople, Eugenius—whose treachery to his master had been rewarded with a bishopric—who once more curtly cited him. It is well that he did not go, for the synod of bishops at the Oak had been transformed, 393 like the robber-synod of Ephesus in later days, into an assembly of brutal assassins. One of Chrysostom’s three episcopal envoys was beaten; the dress of the second was torn off his back; the third was fettered with the chains which had been intended for Chrysostom himself, and was sent adrift in a boat among the currents of the Bosporus!—These were your Christian bishops!

But as Arcadius seemed to be wavering they now pressed Chrysostom with the charge brought by the monk Isaac, that he had been guilty of high treason by calling EudoxiaJezebel.’ He had called her nothing of the kind, though, having lauded her merits with earnest warmth when she seemed worthy of praise, he had warned her of the perils of her imperious passion. In its twelfth session the wretched Synod unanimously condemned the Patriarch, and sent their condemnation to the Emperor, saying, in a style of hypocritic ecclesiastical tenderness worthy of Torquemada and the ‘Holy’ Inquisition, that while they dethroned John for contumacy in refusing to appear before them, they would leave the Emperor to deal with the capital charge of high treason. In Spanish Papal fashion they handed him over—so kind and tender were these holy men!—to the secular arm.

The next matter for them to settle was the affair of the Tall Brothers. By this time the Presbyter Isidore was dead; the Bishop Dioscorus was also dead; Ammonius was fast dying, and could not answer the citation of the Synod. Theophilus went through the grotesque comedy of a reconciliation with the two surviving brothers, who were of the least courage and of little comparative account. He beslobbered them with crocodile tears; allowed them to return to the monastery of Skete; afforded them his gracious forgiveness for the murderous wrongs which he had inflicted upon them; and declared that he had never met so admirable a monk as their brother, Ammonius! After this abhorrent farce the absence of Heracleides of Ephesus prevented them from proceeding any further with his case. And as for Origen, Theophilus resumed his former studies of the Alexandrian exegete, and being one day caught reading one of the treatises which on pain of excommunication he had ordered to be 394 everywhere burnt, pleasantly remarked that in reading Origen he culled the flowers and neglected the thorns!

Meanwhile Arcadius ordered Chrysostom to depart, but took no step to insure the fulfilment of the order, because the multitude in their serried ranks protected the Patriarcheion day and night, exactly as they had protected Ambrose at Milan from the troops of the Empress Justina. Before the palace-gates of Arcadius they shouted, ‘We will have a true Council! We will have a General Council to try and acquit the Archbishop.’ They also filled the streets and churches with the wail of their entreating litanies.

The second day after the sentence of the Synod, the showy hypocrite Severian had the impudence to mount a pulpit in one of the churches and declaim against Chrysostom, saying that he ought to be deposed for his pride alone, if for nothing else, since—so said this peculiarly humble conspirator!—pride is of all things most hateful to God. Such was the fury of the congregation at this barefaced effrontery that they rose in a mass and chased the wily, oily impostor out of the city so precipitately that he barely had time to make his way back to the Bosporus, and fly with all speed to the diocese on which he considered his brilliant talents to be so miserably thrown away.

But on the way he thought better of it. Gabala was not yet to enjoy the light of his countenance. In hopes of a reaction he hid himself, with his precious colleagues, Antiochus and Acacius, in the house of Cyrinus. The gangrene of which the Bishop of Chalcedon was dying by inches was hardly more intolerable than the black thoughts of these episcopal conspirators.

Chrysostom, on the other hand, was escorted by the multitude from his palace to the Basilica, and there addressed them. ‘My brethren,’ he said, ‘the waves beat on the rock, but they can only shatter themselves to foam on its impregnable bases. The billows curl over the ship; how can they submerge it when Jesus is on board? Fear not for me. What have I to fear? Death? To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain! Exile? The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. The plundering of 395 my goods? I brought nothing into this world, and certainly I shall carry nothing out. I despise that which makes many tremble. I laugh at the riches and the honours which many covet. Wealth and poverty to me are both alike; and if I desire to live, it is solely if I may be of use to you. God has united us. Tyrants have endeavoured ere now to crush the Church. Where are they now? They have sunk to silence and oblivion, but the sun still flames in the zenith even where clouds have overshadowed it. Tyrants have tried to subdue even young maidens with iron teeth, and their faith remained unshaken by torture. Believe me, these storms and threatenings are but as a spider’s web. As for the Empire and its laws, all is turning to dishonour——’

The word had scarcely passed his lips when a sort of wave of emotion which passed over the people showed him that the word adoxia, which he had unwittingly used for ’dishonour,’ was capable of being regarded as a deadly insult to the Empress Eudoxia; though he had not in the least intended it. It was so reported to her, and the next morning a Count of the Palace came to demand, in the name of the Emperor, the instant departure of the Patriarch. A boat, he was informed, awaited him at the ’Chalcedonian Stairs,’ and, if he resisted, the spearmen were ready to ‘carry him off by force.’

By force! Chrysostom saw at once that the attempt to use force would mean a bloody battle between the troops and the populace, perhaps even a terrible revolution. He could not tolerate the thought that blood should be shed on his account. He determined to surrender himself secretly. He sent Philip to the Count of the Palace to inform him of his determination. The Count entrusted the management of the affair to a detective. There seems to be no better word for the officer who is called a curiosus. Under his guardianship Chrysostom slipped out of a secret gate at the back of St. Sophia about noon, and, accompanied only by Philip, was placed in hiding in a neighbouring house. At nightfall the detective led them to the boat, where the Count awaited them. They were recognised, but the Patriarch by his authority suppressed all attempts at a rescue, though multitudes 396 attended him to the vessel and broke into loud cries against the Empress and the Court.

It was now the end of September, 403. Next morning the whole city was like a church, for the poor of every age and of both sexes poured out of their houses with tears and lamentations. In the midst of this wild excitement the victorious Theophilus, with his guard of soldiers, took possession of Constantinople like a conqueror, scattering excommunications among the friends of Chrysostom, and bishoprics or other dignities among his own adherents. He ordered the perjured priests who had betrayed their Patriarch to take re-possession of the churches from which they had been expelled; but the crowd prevented their ingress, and each church was barricaded like a citadel. His own attempt to enter St. Sophia led to a violent outbreak. The monks, whose vices and furies Chrysostom had so scathingly exposed, were all on the side of the Egyptian, and fought for him. The soldiers turned against ‘the black men,’ as they contemptuously called them. Blood flowed like water in the sanctuaries, yells of fury resounded in the place of prayer and hymns, the very baptismal fonts were stained with blood. The Patriarch of Alexandria, coward no less than tyrant, was filled with terror. The people were shouting after him, and declaring that they would without hesitation pitch him into the sea. He fled in disguise and in horrible alarm to Chalcedon, and there, hastily embarking with his twenty-eight miserable suffragans, fled back to Egypt.

Ipse suum cor edens, hominum vestigia vitans.

The detestable arch-monk, Isaac, accompanied him in his flight, and thenceforth, to our relief, vanishes into the midnight, with the scourge of an accusing conscience sounding over him and the clutch of the demons on his gilded and essenced hair.

« Prev Episcopal Conspirators Next »





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |