The Jesuitical maxim, “the end justifies the means,” is much older than Jesuitism, and runs through the whole apocryphal, pseudo-prophetic, pseudo-apostolic, pseudo-Clementine and pseudo-Isidorian literature of the early centuries. Several of the best Fathers show a surprising want of a strict sense of veracity. They introduce a sort of cheat even into their strange theory of redemption, by supposing that the Devil caused the crucifixion under the delusion that Christ was a mere man, and thus lost his claim upon the fallen race. Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome explain the offense of the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch (Gal. ii. 11 sqq.) away by turning it into a theatrical and hypocritical farce, which was shrewdly arranged by the two apostles for the purpose of convincing the Jewish Christians that circumcision was not necessary. Against such wretched exegesis the superior morel sense of Augustin rightly protested, and Jerome changed his view on this particular passage. Here is a point where the modern standard of ethics is far superior to that of the Fathers, and more fully accords with the spirit of the New Testament, which inculcates the strictest veracity as a fundamental virtues
The escape from the episcopate was the occasion for one of the best and most popular works of Chrysostom, the Six Books On the Priesthood, which he wrote probably before his ordination (between 375 and 381), or during his diaconate (between 381 and 386). It is composed in the form of a Platonic dialogue between Chrysostom and Basil. He first vindicates by argument and examples his well-meant but untruthful conduct towards his friend, and the advantages of timely fraud; and then describes with youthful fervor and eloquence the importance, duties and trials of the Christian ministry, without distinguishing between the priestly and the episcopal office. He elevates it above all other offices. He requires whole-souled consecration to Christ and love to his flock. He points to the Scriptures (quoting also from the Apocrypha) as the great weapon of the minister. He assumes, as may be expected, the then prevailing conception of a real priesthood and sacrifice, baptismal regeneration, the corporal presence, the virtue of absolution, prayers for the dead, but is silent about pope and councils, the orders of the clergy, prayers to saints, forms of prayer, priestly vestments, incense, crosses and other doctrines and ceremonies of the Greek and Roman churches.
He holds up St. Paul as a model for imitation. The sole object of the preacher must be to please God rather than men (Gal. i. 10). “He must not indeed despise approving demonstrations, but as little must he court them, nor trouble himself when they are withheld.” He should combine the qualities of dignity and humility, authority and sociability, impartiality and courtesy, independence and lowliness, strength and gentleness, and keep a single eye to the glory of Christ and the welfare of the church.
This book is the most useful or at least the best known among the works of Chrysostom, and is well calculated to inspire a profound sense of the tremendous responsibilities of the ministry. But it has serious defects, besides the objectionable justification of pious fraud, and cannot satisfy the demands of an evangelical minister. In all that pertains to the proper care of souls it is inferior to the “Reformed Pastor” of Richard Baxter.
Chapter V.—Chrysostom as a Monk. A.D. 374–381.
After the death of his mother, Chrysostom fled from the seductions and tumults of city life to the monastic solitude of the mountains south of Antioch, and there spent six happy years in theological study and sacred meditation and prayer. Monasticism was to him (as to many other great teachers of the church, and even to Luther) a profitable school of spiritual experience and self-government. He embraced this mode of life as “the true philosophy” from the purest motives, and brought into it intellect and cultivation enough to make the seclusion available for moral and spiritual growth.
He gives us a lively description of the bright side of this monastic life. The monks lived in separate cells or huts (kavlubai), but according to a common rule and under the authority of an abbot. They wore coarse garments of camel’s hair or goat’s hair over their linen tunics. They rose before sunrise, and began the day by singing a hymn of praise and common prayer under the leadership of the abbot. Then they went to their allotted task, some to read, others to write, others to manual labor for the support of the poor. Four hours in each day were devoted to prayer and singing. Their only food was bread and water, except in case of sickness. They slept on straw couches, free from care and anxiety. There was no need of bolts and bars. They held all things in common, and the words of “mine and shine,” which cause innumerable strifes in the world, were unknown among the brethren. If one died, he caused no lamentation, but thanksgiving, and was carried to the grave amidst hymns of praise; for he was not dead, but “perfected,” and permitted to behold the face of Christ. For them to live was Christ, and to die was gain.
Chrysostom was an admirer of active and useful monasticism, and warns against the dangers of idle contemplation. He shows that the words of our Lord, “One thing is needful;” “Take no anxious thought for the morrow;” “Labor not for the meat that perisheth,” do not inculcate total abstinence from work, but only undue anxiety about worldly things, and must be harmonized with the apostolic exhortation to labor and to do good. He defends monastic seclusion on account of the prevailing immorality in the cities, which made it almost impossible to cultivate there a higher Christian life.
In this period, from 374 to 381, Chrysostom composed his earliest writings in praise of monasticism and celibacy. The letters “to the fallen Theodore,” have already been mentioned. The three books against the Opponents of Monasticism were occasioned by a decree of the Arian Emperor Valens in 373, which aimed at the destruction of that system and compelled the monks to discharge their duties to the state by military or civil service. Chrysostom regarded this decree as a sacrilege, and the worst kind of persecution.
Chapter VI.—Chrysostom as Deacon, Priest and Preacher at Antioch. A.D. 381–398.
By excessive self-mortifications John undermined his health, and returned to Antioch. There he was immediately ordained deacon by Meletius in 380 or 381, and a few years afterwards presbyter by Flavian (386).
As deacon he had the best opportunity to become acquainted with the practical needs of the population, the care of the poor and the sick. After his ordination to the priesthood he preached in the presence of the bishop his first sermon to a vast crowd. It abounds in flowery Asiatic eloquence, in humble confession of his own unworthiness, and exaggerated praise of Meletius and Flavian.
He now entered upon a large field of usefulness, the real work of his life. The pulpit was his throne, and he adorned it as much as any preacher of ancient or modern times.
Antioch was one of the great capitals of the Roman empire along with Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Nature and art combined to make it a delightful residence, though it was often visited by inundations and earthquakes. An abundance of pure water from the river Orontes, a large lake and the surrounding hills, fertile plains, the commerce of the sea, imposing buildings of Asiatic, Greek, and Roman architecture, rich gardens, baths, and colonnaded streets, were among its chief attractions. A broad street of four miles, built by Antiochus Epiphanes, traversed the city from east to west; the spacious colonnades on either side were paved with red granite. Innumerable lanterns illuminated the main thoroughfares at night. The city was supplied with good schools and several churches; the greatest of them, in which Chrysostom preached, was begun by the Emperor Constantine and finished by Constantius. The inhabitants were Syrians, Greeks, Jews, and Romans. The Asiatic element prevailed. The whole population amounted, as Chrysostom states, to 200,000, of whom one half were nominally Christians. Heathenism was therefore still powerful as to numbers, but as a religion it had lost all vitality. This was shown by the failure of the attempt of the Emperor Julian the Apostate to revive the sacrifices to the gods. When he endeavored in 362 to restore the oracle of Apollo Daphneus in the famous cypress grove at Antioch and arranged for a magnificent procession, with libation, dances, and incense, he found in the temple one solitary old priest, and this priest ominously offered in sacrifice—a goose! Julian himself relates this ludicrous farce, and vents his anger at the Antiochians for squandering the rich incomes of the temple upon Christianity and worldly amusements.
Chrysostom gives us in his sermons lively pictures of the character of the people and the condition of the church. The prevailing vices even among Christians were avarice, luxury, sensuality, and excessive love of the circus and the theatre. “So great,” he says, “is the depravity of the times, that if a stranger were to compare the precepts of the gospel with the actual practice of society, he would infer that men were not the disciples, but the enemies of Christ.” Gibbon thus describes the morals of Antioch: “The warmth of the climate disposed the natives to the most intemperate enjoyment of tranquility and opulence, and the lively licentiousness of the Greeks was blended with the hereditary softness of the Syrians. Fashion was the only law, pleasure the only pursuit, and the splendor of dress and furniture was the only distinction of the citizens of Antioch. The arts of luxury were honored, the serious and manly virtues were the subject of ridicule, and the contempt for female modesty and reverent age announced the universal corruption of the capital of the East. The love of spectacles was the taste, or rather passion of the Syrians; the most skilful artists were procured from the adjacent cities. A considerable share of the revenue was devoted to the public amusements, and the magnificence of the games of the theatre and circus was considered as the happiness and as the glory of Antioch.”
The church of Antioch was rent for eighty-five years (330–415) by heresy and schism. There were three parties and as many rival bishops. The Meletians, under the lead of Meletius, were the party of moderate orthodoxy holding the Nicene Creed; the Arians, headed by Eudoxius, and supported by the Emperor Valens, denied the eternal divinity of Christ; the Eustathians, under the venerated priest Paulinus, were in communion with Athanasius, but were accused of Sabellianism, which maintained the Divine unity and strict deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, but denied the tri-personality except in the form of three modes of self-revelation. Pope Damasus declared for Paulinus and condemned Meletius as a heretic. Alexandria likewise sided against him. Meletius was more than once banished from his see, and recalled. He died during the sessions of the Council of Constantinople, 381, over which he presided for a while. His remains were carried with great solemnities to Antioch and buried by the side of Babylas the Martyr. Chrysostom reconciled Flavian, the successor of Meletius, with Alexandria and Rome in 398. Alexander, the successor of Flavian, led the Eustathians back into the orthodox church in 415, and thus unity was restored.
Chrysostom preached Sunday after Sunday and during Lent, sometimes twice or oftener during the week, even five days in succession, on the duties and responsibilities of Christians, and fearlessly attacked the immorality of the city. Ire declaimed with special severity against the theatre and the chariot-races; and yet many of his hearers would run from his sermons to the circus to witness those exciting spectacles with the same eagerness as Jews and Gentiles. He exemplified his preaching by a blameless life, and soon acquired great reputation and won the love of the whole congregation. Whenever he preached the church was crowded. He had to warn his hearers against pickpockets, who found an inviting harvest in these denseaudiences.
A serious disturbance which took place during his career at Antioch, called forth a remarkable effort of his oratorical powers. The populace of the city, provoked by excessive taxes, rose in revolt against the Emperor Theodosius the Great, broke down his statues and those of his deceased excellent wife Flacilla (d. 385) and his son Arcadius, dragged the fragments through the streets, and committed other acts of violence. The Emperor threatened to destroy the whole city. This caused general consternation and agony, but the city was saved by the intercession of Bishop Flavian, who in his old age proceeded to Constantinople and secured free pardon from the Emperor. Although a man of violent temper, Theodosius had profound reverence for bishops, and on another occasion he submitted to the rebuke of St. Ambrose for the wholesale massacre of the Thessalonians (390).
In this period of public anxiety, which lasted several months, Chrysostom delivered series of extempore orations, in which he comforted the people and exhorted them to correct their vices. These are his twenty-one Homilies on the Statues, so-called from the overthrow of the imperial statues which gave rise to them. They were preached during Lent 387. In the same year St. Augustin submitted to baptism at the hands of St. Ambrose in Milan. One of the results of those sermons was the conversion of a large number of heathens. Thus the calamity was turned into a blessing to the church.
During the sixteen or seventeen years of his labors in Antioch Chrysostom wrote the greater part of his Homilies and Commentaries; a consolatory Epistle to the despondent Stagirius; the excellent book on the martyr Babylas, which illustrates by a striking example the divine power of Christianity; a treatise on Virginity, which he puts above marriage; and an admonition to a young widow on the glory of widowhood, and the duty of continuing in it. He disapproved of second marriage, not as sinful or illegal, but as inconsistent with an ideal conception of marriage and a high order of piety.,
Chapter VII.—Chrysostom as Patriarch of Constantinople. A.D. 398–404.
After the death of Nectarius (successor to Gregory Nazianzen), towards the end of the year 397, Chrysostom was chosen, entirely without his own agency and even against his remonstrance, archbishop of Constantinople. He was hurried away from Antioch by a military escort, to avoid a commotion in the congregation and to make resistance useless. He was consecrated Feb. 26, 398, by his enemy Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, who reluctantly yielded to the command of the Emperor Arcadius or rather his prime minister, the eunuch Eutropius, and nursed his revenge for a more convenient season.
Constantinople, built by Constantine the Great in 330, on the site of Byzantium, assumed as the Eastern capital of the Roman empire the first position among the episcopal sees of the East, and became the centre of court theology, court intrigues, and theological controversies. The second Ecumenical council, which was held there in 381, under Theodosius the Great, the last Roman emperor worthy of the name (d. 395), decided the victory of Nicene orthodoxy over the Arian heresy, and gave the bishop of Constantinople a primacy of honor, next in rank to the bishop of old Rome—a position which was afterwards confirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but disputed by Pope Leo and his successors.
Chrysostom soon gained by his eloquent sermons the admiration of the people, of the weak Emperor Arcadius, and, at first, even of his wife Eudoxia, with whom he afterwards waged a deadly war. He extended his pastoral care to the Goths who were becoming numerous in Constantinople, had a part of the Bible translated for them, often preached to them himself through an interpreter, and sent missionaries to the Gothic and Scythian tribes on the Danube. He continued to direct by correspondence those missionary operations even during his exile. For a short time he enjoyed the height of power and popularity.
But he also made enemies by his denunciations of the vices and follies of the clergy and aristocracy. He emptied the episcopal palace of its costly plate and furniture and sold it for the benefit of the poor and the hospitals. He introduced his strict ascetic habits and reduced the luxurious household of his predecessors to the strictest simplicity. He devoted his large income to benevolence. He refused invitations to banquets, gave no dinner parties, and ate the simplest fare in his solitary chamber. He denounced unsparingly luxurious habits in Eating and dressing, and enjoined upon the rich the duty of almsgiving to an extent that tended to increase rather than diminish the number of beggars who swarmed in the streets and around the churches and public baths. He disciplined the vicious clergy and opposed the perilous and immoral habit of unmarried priests of living under the same roof with “spiritual Sisters” (suneivsactai). This habit dated from an earlier age, and was a reaction against celibacy. Cyprian had raised his protest against it, and the Council of Nicaea forbade unmarried priests to live with any females except close relations. Chrysostom’s unpopularity was increased by his irritability and obstinacy, and his subservience to a proud and violent archdeacon, Serapion. The Empress Eudoxia was jealous of his influence over Arcadius and angry at his uncompromising severity against sin and vice. She became the chief instrument of his downfall.
The occasion was furnished by an unauthorized use of his episcopal power beyond the lines of his diocese, which was confined to the city. At the request of the clergy of Ephesus and the neighboring bishops, he visited that city in January, 401, held a synod and deposed six bishops convicted of shameful simony. During his absence of several months he left the episcopate of Constantinople in the hands of Severian, bishop of Gabala, an unworthy and adroit flatterer, who basely betrayed his trust and formed a cabal headed by the empress and her licentious court ladies, for the ruin of Chrysostom. On his return he used unguarded language in the pulpit, and spoke on Elijah’s relation to Jezebel in such a manner that Eudoxia understood it as a personal insult. The clergy were anxious to get rid of a bishop who was too severe for their lax morals.
Chapter VIII.—Chrysostom and Theophilus. His First Deposition and Banishment.
At this time Chrysostom became involved in the Origenistic controversies which are among the most violent and most useless in ancient church history, and full of personal invective and calumny. The object in dispute was the orthodoxy of the great Origen, which long after his death was violently defended and as violently assailed.
Theophilus of Alexandria, an able and vigorous but domineering, contentious and unscrupulous prelate, was at first an admirer of Origen, but afterwards in consequence of a personal quarrel joined the opponents, condemned his memory and banished the Origenistic monks from Egypt. Some fifty of them, including the four “Tall Brethren,” so-called on account of their extraordinary stature, fled to Constantinople and were hospitably received by Chrysostom (401). He had no sympathy with the philosophical speculations of Origen, but appreciated his great merits, and felt that injustice was done to the persecuted monks. He interceded in their behalf with Theophilus, who replied with indignant remonstrance against protecting heretics and interfering in another diocese.
Theophilus, long desirous of overthrowing Chrysostom, whom he had reluctantly consecrated, set every instrument in motion to take revenge. He sent the octogenarian bishop Epiphanius of Salamis, a well-meaning and learned but bigoted zealot for orthodoxy, to Constantinople, as a tool of his hierarchical plans (402); but Epiphanius soon returned and died on the ship (403). Theophilus now traveled himself to Constantinople, accompanied by a body-guard of rough sailors and provided with splendid presents. He appeared at once as accuser and judge, aided by Eudoxia and the disaffected clergy. He held a secret council of thirty-six bishops, all of them Egyptians except seven, in a suburb of Chalcedon on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, and procured in this so-called synod at the Oak, the deposition and banishment of Chrysostom, on false charges of immorality and high treason (403). Among the twenty-nine charges were these: that Chrysostom had called the saintly Epiphanius a fool and a demon, that he abused the clergy, that he received females without witnesses, that he ate sumptuously alone and bathed alone, that he had compared the empress to Jezebel.
The innocent bishop refused to appear before a packed synod of his enemies, and appealed to a general council. As the sentence of banishment for life became known, the indignation of the people was immense. A single word from him would have raised an insurrection; but he surrendered himself freely to the imperial officers, who conveyed him in the dark to the harbor and put him on board a ship destined for Hieron at the mouth of the Pontus. Theophilus entered the city in triumph and took vengeance on Chrysostom’s friends.
The people besieged the palace and demanded the restoration of their bishop. Constantinople was almost in a state of insurrection. The following night the city was convulsed by an earthquake, which was felt with peculiar violence in the bedroom of Eudoxia and frightened her into submission. She implored the emperor to avert the wrath of God by recalling Chrysostom. Messengers were despatched with abject apologies to bring him back. A whole fleet of barks put forth to greet him, the Bosphorus blazed with torches and resounded with songs of rejoicing. On passing the gates he was borne aloft by the people to the church, seated in the episcopal chair and forced to make an address. His triumph was complete, but of short duration. Theophilus felt unsafe in Constantinople and abruptly sailed in the night for Alexandria. The feelings with which Chrysostom went into his first and second exile, he well describes in a letter to Bishop Cyriacus: “when I was driven from the city, I felt no anxiety, but said to myself: If the empress wishes to banish me, let her do so; ‘the earth is the Lord’s.’ If she wants to have me sawn asunder, I have Isaiah for an example. If she wants me to be drowned in the ocean, I think of Jonah. If I am to be thrown into the fire, the three men in the furnace suffered the same. If cast before wild beasts, I remember Daniel in the lion’s den. If she wants me to be stoned, I have before me Stephen, the first martyr. If she demands my head, let her do so; John the Baptist shines before me. Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked shall I leave this world. Paul reminds me, ‘If I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ.’ ”
Chapter IX.—Chrysostom Owns Tacoma. His Second, Banishment, a.d. 401.
The restored patriarch and the repentant empress seemed reconciled, and vied with one another in extravagant laudations for two months, when the feud broke out afresh and ended in perpetual exile and death.
Eudoxia was a beautiful, imperious, intriguing and revengeful woman, who despised her husband and indulged her passions. Not content with the virtual rule of the Roman empire, she aspired to semi-divine honors, which used to be paid to the heathen Caesars. A column of porphyry with her silver statue for public adoration was erected in September, 403, on the forum before the church of St. Sophia, and dedicated amid boisterous and licentious revelry, which disturbed the sacred services.
Chrysostom ascended the pulpit on the commemoration day of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, and thundered his righteous indignation against all who shared in these profane amusements, the people, the prefect, and the haughty woman on the throne. In the heat of his zeal the imprudent words are said to have escaped his lips: “Again Herodias is raging, again she is dancing, again she demands the head of John on a platter.” The comparison of Eudoxia with Herodias, and himself (John) with John the Baptist was even more directly personal than his former allusion to the relation of Jezebel and Elijah. Whether he really spoke these or similar words is at least doubtful, but they were reported to Eudoxia, who as a woman and an empress could never forgive such an insult. She demanded from the emperor signal redress. In the conflict of imperial and episcopal authority the former achieved a physical and temporary, the latter a moral and enduring victory.