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CHAPTER XXXIX

BAD ECCLESIASTICS AND BASE PLOTS

The priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say: Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us.—Micah iii. 11.

E furon le sue opere e le sue colpe

Non creder leonine ma di volpe.

Pulci, Morg. Magg. xix.

Chrysostom would fain have taken Philip with him, for Philip grew more and more endeared and more and more useful to him. But Philip, as manager of the Archbishop’s household and an assistant in all matters of business, could not be spared for a long absence from the Patriarcheion. To take Eutyches would have been pleasant, but it seemed undesirable to expose his youth to the inevitable hardships of rough travel; and Chrysostom, who hoped for the day when he might be a presbyter or a bishop, and all that such an officer of the Church should be, was unwilling to disenchant him too painfully by those glaring contrasts between the ideal and the reality which would confront him at every turn in the now corrupt, superstitious, and simoniacal churches of St. Paul, St. Philip, and St. John. So Chrysostom took with him the graver David, whom he esteemed no less highly for his work and character, but whose grave temperament had not the buoyancy and brightness which often refreshed him in the other two. David also was considering the question whether he could face the responsibilities of the presbyterate; but he had been more familiarised than Eutyches with the existence of ecclesiastical unworthiness by his longer and more varied experience.

So Chrysostom set sail, accompanied by the Deacon Heracleides—a man of the highest worth—by some other 319 presbyters and deacons, and by David. He had already sent before him Cyrinus of Chalcedon, Paul of Heraclea, and Palladius of Helenopolis, who were to act as his assessors. In the guileless straightforwardness of his disposition he was unaware of the fact that the first two were wholly out of sympathy with himself, even if they had not yet assumed the attitude of his open enemies. Still more generous and guileless was the arrangement which he made for a substitute to supply his place in the pulpit of St. Sophia during his absence. He appointed the worthless Severian of Gabala to fulfil this function, and Severian of Gabala was a contemptible intriguer of the most vulgar description.

Gabala was a town of Galilee, and its bishop under ordinary circumstances would have been of less account in the great world than one of our obscurest country clergymen. But Severian was ambitious, and regarded himself as an orator. He did not mean to hide himself at so dreadful a depth below the surface as Gabala, and so long as he advanced his own position he cared very little what became of his sheep in the wilderness. He separated himself from them for years, with little loss to them, but without the smallest compunction, so long as he fancied he could further his private interests. Wealth, rank, fame, Court favour—these were the dazzling lures which the devil dangled before him. This clerical opportunist would hold no views which were not popular; would express no opinion which would tend to hinder his advancement; would reject no alliance, however contemptible, which seemed likely to elevate him ever so little in the direction of the inch-high dignities which he coveted, and which a diseased ambition represented as enormous altitudes. With the whole meanness of his soul he was exclusively devoted to

This bubble world,

Whose colours in a moment break and fly.

He was thus in every respect the antithesis to Chrysostom, whose simple godliness, apostolic simplicity, and transparent guilelessness he despised from the whole height of his own inferiority.

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Severian’s appearance reflected his character. He was unctuous and portly. His hair was oiled and curled in a manner which would have reminded our latest Laureate of an Assyrian bull. His face was broad, his features regular, his dress irreproachable, and he had gained a character for boundless affability by cultivating a smile so sunny that it would have ripened a peach. He could never contemplate the short figure, humble dress, and brusque manners of Chrysostom without an inward murmur against the indiscriminating obliquities of fortune. How much more popular and imposing a Patriarch he would himself have made! He could see himself, in his own ecstatic imagination, sailing through the small pomposities of gorgeous functions in a manner so supremely ornamental that, externally at least, the whole Church could not have failed to be edified. He would have outshone Nectarius himself! Whereas this John of Antioch, who wore no vestments to speak of and gave no banquets, relied on mere goodness and spirituality, and was only cared for by the poorer classes. He had been fired to struggle out of his provincial obscurity by the ‘success’—for so he enviously regarded it—of Antiochus, Bishop of another Syrian town—Ptolemais. Antiochus had left his diocese for the grander and more glaring theatre of the capital. He had been asked to preach in St. Sophia; had created a certain reputation for eloquence; had for a time been ’the vogue’ in fashionable circles; had been introduced at Court; and whenever he condescended to go back to his humble ‘throne’ at Ptolemais, went back with a purse heavily replenished, and in a blaze of popularity. And yet Severian was quite convinced that, as an orator, he could easily surpass anything which Antiochus could do.

So he occupied himself some time in preparing and committing carefully to memory a stock of sermons; and when he felt sure that they were polished into sufficient sonorousness and inanity, he set sail for Constantinople, convinced that no misfortune could happen to the barque which carried Severian and his sermons. Arrived at the capital, he waited on the Archbishop, treated him with abject deference, and begged that he would ask him to 321 preach in St. Sophia. The invitation was not difficult to obtain, for strangers, and especially bishops, were frequently requested to deliver the sermon; although the people were so much fonder of hearing Chrysostom that, even in the Cathedral, they would sometimes venture to clamour and remonstrate if they saw anyone ascend the pulpit in his place.

So Severian was asked to preach, and, selecting the sermon which he regarded as most original and striking, and practising it in his lodging before a large silver mirror until he felt himself perfect in the most accidental and spontaneous gestures, he seized his chance. At first the people were inclined to titter at his harsh and unfamiliar Syrian accent; but as soon as they grew accustomed to his voice they were delighted with the apparently unpremeditated flow of sonorous, vapid, and conventional rhetoric. It tickled their ears without in the least disturbing their consciences, or giving them the trouble of thinking of anything which might interrupt their vices or ruffle their self-satisfaction. The aristocratic world was specially delighted. These sermons were charmingly short and exquisitely unctuous. One had time, when they were over, to go to the theatre. There were no offensive attacks on dress; no stringent demands for self-denial; nothing to disquiet the serene conventionality of routine religionism, or to force the hypocrite to look inwards at the many-headed monster of his own ill-regulated passions. Here indeed was a delightful preacher! Castricia, Marsa, Epigraphia, could listen to such sermons for ever without being tired! How immensely superior to the crude violence and uncourtly personalities of the Antiochene intruder, for whom they had no one to thank but the wicked Eutropius! Severian was such a dear man! The female world of Constantinople was soon at his feet.

So the Bishop of Gabala was successful beyond his wildest dreams, and—heaven of heavens!—the Emperor and the Empress themselves actually asked that he might be presented to them. In spite of the obsolete canon which forbade the transference of bishops to other dioceses, Severian might be translated. If he could only kick down the humble and hated ladder by which he had ascended, he 322 might—who knows?—become Patriarch of Constantinople itself! Oh! Paradise!

Such was the man whom, in his guilelessness, Chrysostom left in his place to be the moral instructor of the people. It was not his fault. He was himself intensely humble. He was so generous a critic that, always seeking the good in every sermon, he thought every sermon good, and better than any which he could preach himself. Apart from such glaring evidence as could not be disputed, he would not believe that anyone could be actuated by rivalries so base as those of Severian; nor could he even conceive of a character which, under its film of iridescent semblance, could conceal such Dead Sea depths. No other bishop equally well known happened to be then present in the capital. Philip grumbled openly; Eutyches shook his innocent head; David would not breathe one syllable of approval. Serapion declared quite plainly that he regarded Severian as a designing hypocrite. Chrysostom’s best and wisest presbyters—Tigrius, Germanus, Cassian—expressed their serious doubts about the man and his aims, and the sincerity of his teaching. Bishop Palladius did not hesitate to tell the Patriarch privately that Severian was no better than an unsavoury windbag. But Chrysostom’s charity would think no evil; and, in deed, it was difficult for him to make any other provision, for the Emperor, who had some right to ask, had, at the instigation of Eudoxia, made it his personal request.

But though he left the pulpit to Severian, he would not entrust to him (as he wished) the management of the diocese. He left that in the stern yet faithful hands of the Archdeacon Serapion.

No sooner had he set sail than he was glad that he had not taken Eutyches with him, for it required a hardy frame to bear the trials of the journey. His ship had barely reached the Euxine when a north wind broke on them with unwonted fury. They had to take refuge under the promontory of Triton, and there for two whole days tossed at anchor in the storm. The delay was so unexpected that the captain had not even provisioned his ship, so that, to add to their misery and sea-sickness, they were actually 323 starving. Then, fortunately, the wind changed, and they arrived safely at their destination.

The first thing to be done was to provide Ephesus with a new and worthy bishop. The only way to satisfy the factions which existed was not to exalt one set of partisans over another by electing their candidate, but to appoint someone who had never coveted the office. Accordingly, Chrysostom presented to them his friend and fellow-traveller, Heracleides. Heracleides had only been a deacon for three years, but he was a man of mature age, of learning, piety, wisdom, and knowledge of the Scriptures, and for many years he had lived with an ascetic community in the Sketic desert. He was in every way fitted to adorn his high office; but he was too good a man for that age and that country, and the unwished-for elevation which he won by the eloquence of his friend only plunged him within a few years into an abyss of misery and ruin.

The next step was to inquire into the case of the simoniacal bishops; and at this stage of the proceedings, Antoninus being dead, to whom he had sold his silence, the miserable Bishop of Valentinianopolis reappeared on the scene. ‘I implore your Piety,’ he said, ‘to readmit me to communion with my brethren, and to allow me now to produce my witnesses against the six bishops whom I accused.’ Such was the indulgence with which the man was treated that his excommunication was removed and he resumed the role of accuser. The six bishops stoutly asserted their innocence; but they were overwhelmed with the counter-testimony, not only of lay persons, both male and female, but of ecclesiastics. Some even of their own presbyters, in whom they had trusted, inculpated them with proofs of the time, place, character, and exact amounts of the bribes by which they had purchased the titles of ’your Piety’ and ‘your Sanctity.’ When they were no longer able to deny, they confessed, and humbly begged for pardon for their simony, though not, apparently, for their persistent lying. They could only offer a twofold plea, and each plea was disgraceful to the Church in general. First, they argued that they were not conscious of doing anything wrong in their trying to purchase the gifts of God with money, because it was a regularly established 324 custom, so that they were very far indeed from being the sole offenders. Next, the reason for their offence was the same which existed in the case of many others. They were curiales—that is, they possessed farms of more than twenty-five acres in extent, and therefore, in the horrible pressure of taxation in troubled times and under an Administration at once feeble and corrupt, they were not only compelled to pay taxes, but to enforce the payment of them by others. This was a duty onerous and odious, and, being purely secular in its character, Constantine had excepted the clergy from the burden. The consequence had been that many had purchased bishoprics without a single call to the office, or qualification for it, solely because they wished to be exempted from the trouble of civic obligations. All that they could now say was, ’Habetis confitentes reos.’ They threw themselves and their acknowledged guilt on the mercy of the Patriarch and his commissioners. Two things only they asked: the one that, although they forfeited their sees, they might still be allowed, as ex-bishops, to communicate with their episcopal brethren within the rail of the sacrarium; the other, that the money which they had simoniacally expended might be restored to them. For, they said, the greed of the Bishop of Ephesus had demanded large sums, and in order to become bishops they had been forced to strip themselves of all their own possessions, and even of the furniture and jewels of their wives.

All their requests were granted; only since the Church could not repay them their vilely-expended money, they were allowed to recover it from the heirs of Antoninus in the courts of law. Chrysostom was afterwards accused of haste, violence, and arbitrary injustice; but so far, at any rate, he and his fellow-judges seem to have gone to the extreme verge of a too compassionate leniency.

Whether his subsequent proceedings were less anxiously merciful, and more summary, we cannot judge, for we only have the testimony of his enemies. He was accused of having traversed Lycia, Pamphylia, Phrygia and Pontus, and there, with usurped jurisdiction, without even the excuse (as at Ephesus) of any appeal to his intervention, to have accused, judged, and condemned no 325 less than sixteen bishops, one of whom, Proæresius of Lydia, had been accused by himself alone. It was said that, in spite of the canons, he had sometimes ordained as many as four bishops at a time, that he had appointed new bishops proprio motu, without even consulting the local synods, and in spite of their wishes; and that this had been done so carelessly that, in some instances, he had consecrated unenfranchised slaves of a character actually criminal.

Probably there was no truth in any of these allegations, although it is possible that Chrysostom, filled with shame at the condition of the Church, thwarted on every side by perjury and chicanery, and anxious to get back to the duties of his own diocese, may have been carried into hasty measures by the passion of his reforming zeal. As for his jurisdiction in Asia Minor, it rested on prescription. It was only actually established fifty years later, by the Council of Chalcedon, but no one seems at the time either to have challenged or doubted it. Chrysostom clearly thought that he was acting within his rights, and was only obeying the painful commands of duty. As for smaller matters, multitudes of canons existed which, by universal consent, had come to be treated as obsolete almost as soon as they were enacted; and a man like Chrysostom, who viewed all questions in the large air of moral and spiritual obligations, was not likely to worry himself with the chicanery of niggling scrupulosities in which small and peddling minds find their chief delight.

But even now this disastrous mission was not to close. On his way back through Bithynia, Chrysostom stopped at its capital, Nicomedia, to bring under his patriarchal censure this time not only a bishop, but an archbishop, and one of the strangest specimens whom the office could produce. He was an Italian named Gerontius, and had been half-physician, half-necromancer at Milan. He figured as a sort of fourth-century Paracelsus or a nineteenth-century Mahatma; but whatever skill or knowledge of medicine he possessed, he eked it out with theurgic pretences. He professed to wield a power of evoking demons and subjecting them to his control, and he was anxious 326 to add sacred claims to those of his worldly profession. He boasted that on one occasion he had seen one of the horrible night-spectres known as an Onoskelis, which sometimes appeared in the guise of an ass. But the piercing gaze of Gerontius had penetrated the disguise; he had seized the ghostly impostor, thrown a halter over its neck, and compelled it to work in grinding a mill! He so completely took away the character of the harmless donkey that it was henceforth regarded as a subjugated demon!

This charlatan had managed at first to deceive the great St. Ambrose, who had ordained him deacon, but who, on discovering his quackeries, had chased him out of the Church of Milan. He then transferred his practice to Constantinople, and used his spells and sorceries among Easterns, who were more deeply sunk in superstitious credulity. Here he in some way came across Helladius, Archbishop of Cæsarea and Exarch of Pontus. Having obtained a footing at Court as a physician, Gerontius, with an eye to future favours, had been able to render Helladius a service by procuring a first-rate military commission for his son. Helladius, by way of gratitude for this use of backstairs influence, was required to ordain him, first presbyter, and then Archbishop of Nicomedia. At Nicomedia, in his double capacity of healer of souls and bodies, he had acquired great popularity. Ambrose, indignant at the elevation of so flagrant an impostor, had written urgent letters to Nectarius, entreating him to free the Church from the disgrace of such dubious presidency. The easy-going Nectarius was too timid to incur the displeasure of the degenerate Christians of Bithynia. Not so Chrysostom. He summoned Gerontius before him, cashiered him from his office, and gave the Church a worthy prelate in the person of Pansophius, a philosopher and a Christian, who had been the tutor of the Empress Eudoxia. The Nicomedians, however, were anything but grateful. As though their city had been devastated by a pestilence, they went through their streets in funeral apparel, chanting doleful litanies over the catastrophe which had happened to them, in order to induce the Almighty to restore to them their 327 bishop. Not content with the signs of public mourning in Bithynia, their fellow-citizens at Constantinople tried to excite odium against the Patriarch by there adopting a similar method of expressing their displeasure.

And thus, as though the hatred which Chrysostom had created by his fearless righteousness in the corrupt Church of his own city had not been sufficient, he had now evoked hurricanes of calumny, which were henceforth to burst upon him from every province of Asia Minor. Every bad, mean, and worldly ecclesiastic gnashed upon him with his teeth, as it had been a ramping and a roaring lion.

Nor was this the worst. He had bean repeatedly apprised by letters from his faithful Philip and Serapion that Severian was abusing his position to intrigue against him. Lies and sneers and misrepresentations were rife, and not a few of them could be traced back to Severian.

There were in those days no ‘religious’ newspapers, but the battling coteries of unscrupulous partisans served the same purpose of puffing all their own adherents, and of blackening all who did not agree with them. Severian had two plans—the one to pander to his own popularity, and by any amount of flattery and compromise to ingratiate himself with the powerful; the other, to omit no opportunity of surreptitiously creating an unfavourable opinion of Chrysostom. By these two means he hoped in time to supersede him. Even his sermons, which might otherwise have been described as ‘syllabubs whipped in cream,’ abounded in innuendoes and side-allusions, which were intended to glance off and to wound the hearts of Chrysostom and his adherents.

Of all this Chrysostom was warned; but he was too magnanimous to stoop to resentment of small annoyances, or to contentions with unworthy antagonists. The spirit in which he acted in the face of even the grossest perversions of truth as regards himself was that of the inscription on the wall of Marischal College, Aberdeen: ’They say. What say they? Let them say!’ He got the thing done, and let them howl.

But at last he was informed of an incident which demonstrated the unfitness of Severian for the sacred 328 functions assigned to him, and was too flagrant to admit its being passed over in silence. What that was we shall hear a little later on.

The machinations of his enemies throughout the Church, and above all of the corrupted clergy, had been deadly and incessant. Among these there were two who would have been willing at any moment to take his life, if opportunity should offer. He had excommunicated them both: one for detected adultery, the other, whose name was John, for murder—since brutality of passion had made him actually beat to death a young slave who had offended him. But with them were joined all those whom he called ’the priests who ate at Jezebel’s table,’ and all those whom his witty friend, Bishop Palladius, describes as the ’belly-worshippers, table-giants, and women-hawks,’ who disgraced the ranks of the priesthood. The people, however, knew how to estimate these gentlemen by a very different standard from that of their own exalted spiritual pretensions. They showed themselves profoundly indifferent to the lies which false monks and cunning priests had let loose. When their weary Patriarch landed from his returning barque they thronged the quay and the streets in myriads, received him with louder bursts of acclamation than were ever vouchsafed to Arcadius or Eudoxia, and pressed forward in such countless numbers to kiss his hand that his way to his palace was very slow. He bade them meet him in St. Sophia, and there poured forth into their enraptured ears the expression of his heartfelt gratitude for a fidelity which had withstood the assault of so many open attacks and secret machinations.

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