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CHAPTER XXXVII

THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL

The wicked spirit, which at that time had gained possession of the affairs of men.—Zosimus.

We cannot, for some time, see Walamir again, or live among the Goths. We must remain in the stifling, corrupted city, amidst its meanness, its hatreds, its ecclesiastics, its society seething with cabals, its Court rank with intrigues, its base, manifold corruptions of the world, the devil, and the flesh.

The longer Chrysostom remained at work, the more pronounced of necessity became his antagonism to the gross worldliness of a purely nominal Christianity. Unfortunately, in his struggle with it his unflinching honesty of purpose did not save him from errors of judgment; did not enable him always to see things in their due perspective, nor to deal with them in the most effective and the least exasperating way. Already the main body of the clergy were his deadly enemies, especially the noisiest and the most domineering of them, and those who arrogated the right to speak for themselves, and for what they called ’the Church,’ by which they never meant anything but the cliques who shared their own ‘views.’ A little group of the best among the ecclesiastics was devoted to him. Men like the bright and earnest Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis; men like the venerable and original Synesius, as long as he remained in Constantinople; men like St. Cassian, who ultimately founded the great monastery of St. Victor at Marseilles; good presbyters like Germanus, the friend and relative of Cassian, and so closely linked with him in friendship that they were said to have but one soul in two bodies; sincere enthusiasts and disciplinarians like Serapion the Archdeacon and the Presbyter 296 Tigrius—knew his saintliness, recognised his great intellect and incomparable worth. But he was feared and hated by the majority: by the great mass of loose, greedy, and fiercely dogmatic monks, led by their Archimandrite, Isaac; by the too numerous bishops who neglected their sees for their greed or ambition; by the great mass of the clergy, who would not be parted from their youthful, agapetæ, or give up their cringing to the wealthy and powerful; and by all the sham widows, and sham virgins, and sham deaconesses, who arrogated to themselves the reverence of sainthood by virtue of the distinctive dress, which served them at once as a passport to delightful freedom and as a broadened phylactery of pretentious profession. All these detested him with that bitterest kind of virulence which the world calls ‘theological,’ and recognises as not to be paralleled among secular circles.

As for the world of fashion and wealth, at first it did not make up its mind whether to crush Chrysostom or to patronise him. It soon found the latter course impossible. His warnings were so unmistakable in their plainness, so direct in their aim, so unique in their severity, that they could not be classed among the other thousand utterances of vapid pulpit rhetoric, which were generally understood to mean nothing in particular. This man was not indulging in the language of professional conventionality. It was quite clear that he meant what he said, and that he would act up to it. For he was not content with idle denunciation, or with talk which might be regarded as suitable enough for St. Sophia, but might be safely ignored in ordinary life. On the contrary, he declared in the most solemn manner that he would excommunicate the worst offenders, and that he would repel from the Holy Table those who obstinately refused to listen to his warnings and to reform their habits.

Preachers in all ages lave attacked particulars of dress. St. Jerome was so much disgusted with the innovation of Roman ladies in sprinkling their hair with gold dust that he calls it ‘reddening their locks with flames of Gehenna.’ Mediæval preachers used to attack the custom of wearing peaked boots. It is not, perhaps, wise to enter on such vain crusades. Fashions are but symptoms of passing 297 vanity and folly, and their removal would not mean the cure of the disease. Chrysostom, however, thought it right to discourage and ridicule the silk-embroidered boots of young men, which were the marks of the most elaborate dandyism. He drew scornful pictures of these youthful dandies carefully picking their way through the streets so as not to soil their precious shoes. ’Boots,’ he said, ‘were made to be soiled. If your boots are so gorgeous, why don’t you take them off and wear them on your heads? You laugh, but I feel more inclined to weep over your follies.’

It was a more serious matter to kindle against himself the wrath of the worst part of the female world, but Chrysostom thought it his duty to attack the custom of wearing fringes. To us this might seem unworthy of his good sense; but in all such matters we cannot judge unless we are able to transfer ourselves to the habits of thought which prevail in other lands and other countries. In the East, from time immemorial, it had been regarded as worse than unbecoming for a woman to have her hair uncovered in public, and especially in sacred places. St. Paul himself shared this view. He approved of the Oriental prejudice which, in spite of the custom of Greece, forbade a woman to have her hair uncovered ’ because of the angels.’ If a woman appeared with unveiled head, it was believed that the evil spirits, the Shedîm, the impure demons, immediately alighted and sat upon it. The belief continued in the days of Mahomet. Khadijah tested whether it really was Gabriel or not who appeared to the Prophet, by taking off her veil; whereupon Gabriel immediately retired, which an evil spirit would not have done. In Byzantine pictures the hair of the Virgin Mary is, as a rule, carefully concealed. The same practice continues among the Eastern Jews to this day. At Constantinople itself the abandonment of the chalebi, a hideous female headdress of the East, was held to be a sufficient reason to account for the advent of the cholera along the coasts of the Bosporus.

But, apart from this ancient conviction, the wearing of a fringe of hair on the forehead had hitherto been the recognised sign of women of bad character. It seemed to 298 Chrysostom a shameless thing that women professing to be Christians should have the effrontery—for so he regarded it—to appear in church in a guise which seemed to defy public propriety. In public and in private he spoke of this practice with angry and disdainful sarcasm.

Superannuated coquettes who aimed at juvenility of dress and manner were Chrysostom’s pet abhorrence; and, unfortunately for him, the leaders of female fashion at Constantinople in his day were three ladies of high rank, of luxurious manners, of enormous possessions, and of a worldly morality which was in no way disturbed by ecclesiastical scrupulosities of outward observance. They excited his severest reprobation. They were Marsa, Castricia, and Epigraphia, and all three were now widows, which to Chrysostom—accustomed to the unaffected piety and genuine devotion of his mother, Anthusa—made their behaviour seem the more detestable. Marsa was the widow of the general Promotus, who had been suppressed and put to death by the jealousy of Rufinus. Theodosius had taken pity on her two children, and they had been educated with his sons Arcadius and Honorius. Besides this high title to social distinction, Marsa was, on the mother’s side, a cousin of the Empress. Thus, she was the unquestioned leader of fashion among the ladies of the capital.

Castricia had only recently been left a widow by the death of the brave Consular, Saturninus, who had probably died during the exile to which he had been doomed by the jealousy of Gaïnas. We know nothing more of her than that she closely resembled her two friends.

The worst of the three, by unanimous testimony, was Epigraphia. In exact proportion as Chrysostom honoured a widow who, like Olympias, was a widow indeed, he felt repelled by a widow who, forgetful of her loss, cared only for the pleasures of the world, and gave rise to grave scandal by her light demeanour. Epigraphia threw open her house promiscuously to all the clergy of worldly habits and dubious antecedents, and also to women whose character was known to be the reverse of estimable. Added to this, the way in which she tried to look young by the resuscitation of her faded charms was, to an ardent ascetic like Chrysostom, an intolerable folly.

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It was this pulpit denunciation which would, to these ladies, seem directly personal, since the glance of the orator fell directly upon them as they sat in their prominent gallery, in proximity to the ambo from which he spoke. Worse than this, the surging multitude which always thronged St. Sophia to be thrilled by the Patriarch’s eloquence belonged mainly to the poorer classes; and though the populace of Constantinople was not quite so giddy as that of Antioch, yet there were many among them whose levity led them to turn their laughing eyes towards the wealthy widows, and emphasise the points of the sermon by meaning smiles in their direction.

Nor was Chrysostom satisfied with public references. The three aristocratic ladies were the chief offenders, and he held it his duty to pay them a pastoral visit, and try the effect of personal remonstrance, urged with all the weight of his high authority.

He went first to the house of Epigraphia; and as this cabal of female intriguers formed their most common rendezvous in her gossip-mongering drawing-room, he found them sitting together, and, as it happened, talking of him with the bitterest anger, at the very moment that he was announced.

‘They tell me,’ said Marsa——

But the precious piece of scandal derived from ‘They say’—who is always much more than half a liar—was for the present lost, for at this moment the slave, with a deep bow, announced ‘His Beatitude the Patriarch John of Constantinople.’

The three ladies rose, and, according to the universal custom, knelt and kissed his hand; but in other respects their reception of him was ostentatiously frigid.

Chrysostom had not come to bandy compliments, and, being incessantly occupied, he could never afford to waste time. Without an allusion to the weather or the movements of the Court, he said at once that he had come for the express purpose of reproving them. He considered their dress in every sense unbecoming to their age and widowhood.

‘Our dress,’ said Marsa, coldly, ‘is our own concern. 300 What can an ecclesiastic and a semi-anchorite like you know about a lady’s dress?’

‘Our dear Patriarch Nectarius honoured us with his respect and friendship,’ said Castricia. ‘In his day we were not subjected to these annoyances and insults.’

‘It would be much better,’ said Epigraphia, ‘if you confined yourself to your episcopal duties. We do not all choose to go about as if we were beggars, like Olympias and Salvina.’

‘I do not speak to you in my own name,’ said the Patriarch gravely. ‘You know the words of the great Apostle, St. Peter: ” Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and putting on of gold, and wearing of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price.“ Look at your dresses! Pagan ladies wear their robes of gauze woven with such scenes as the labours of Hercules. Yours, I see, are embroidered with the story of the Paralytic, and other scenes of the Gospels. Do you think that you honour Christ by carrying into the Circus, the Theatre, and all scenes of sin and frivolity, the stories of His Gospel? Oh that rather you would carry Him in your hearts!’

‘Now that shows the difference between you and a truly courteous bishop like Severian,’ said Marsa. ‘When he saw us this morning in these very robes, he said, with a gracious smile: ’” The King’s daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold, she shall be brought in to the King in raiment of needlework.“’

‘You are not young Jewish virgins at a great nuptial ceremony. You are aged widows.’

‘Aged!’ almost shrieked Epigraphia, while the other two winced visibly. Turning her back on the Archbishop, she said, with as much rudeness as she could possibly throw into her voice and attitude: ‘Pray, is your Beatitude a milliner? We dress in accordance with our rank and our own tastes, and you may rely upon it that, in spite of your horrid remarks, we shall continue to do so.’

‘And shall you,’ he asked, ‘persist also in wearing your hair in curled fringes over your foreheads to the general 301 scandal, and in painting your cheeks with minium and dyeing your eyes with antimony, to support the illusion of pretended youth?’

‘This is a mere outrage,’ said Epigraphia, rising in a tornado of spleen. ‘Be assured that the Emperor shall know of it. Marsa will inform her cousin, the Empress, and she will protect us henceforth from these insults.’

‘To reprove is not to insult,’ said Chrysostom, rising. ’But since you will none of my reproof, I must say to you, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Take heed, ye women that are at ease; hear my words, ye careless daughters.” Until I see in you less worldliness, and more proofs of a life such as becomes widows professing godliness, I must close the doors of the Sacrarium against you, and will not admit you to Holy Communion.’

‘There are other churches in Constantinople besides St. Sophia,’ said Marsa.

‘If by that you mean the churches of heretics,’ said Chrysostom, ‘the guilt be on your own soul. I have but done my duty. Would that in departing I could give you my episcopal blessing; but it would be a mockery to-day.’

‘We do not desire it,’ said Epigraphia; ‘we should prefer to be without it. And I trust,’ she added, with a low courtsey, ‘that your Religiosity will not trouble yourself with another visit. If you do, you may chance to find the door closed against you.’

He bowed and left them. Isaac the Monk visited them a few moments later. He passed Chrysostom unnoticed, except by a scowl, and entered, filling the room with the scent of his carefully curled, essenced, and gilded hair. He found the three widows fuming in almost speechless rage. He heaped upon their wrath the fuel of every bitter calumny against the Archbishop of which he could think, and went out rubbing his hands, in the joyful conviction that his day of vengeance would soon be near.

But it was not only with male dandyism or female coquetry that Chrysostom became embroiled. It was with the whole world of wealth. He was naturally shocked by the contrast between boundless possessions squandered in vain ostentation, and poverty which had no 302 refuge for sickness, and knew not where to provide a meal. Convinced of the brevity of life and the smallness of man’s needs, he regarded the excesses of luxury and extravagance as an offence which cried to Heaven. If even a Pagan moralist could say, ’Cur eget indignus quisquam, te divite?’ (‘Why is any undeserving person in need whilst thou art rich?’) Chrysostom felt the force of the question in its full intensity. And, thus feeling it, and finding it always difficult to raise sufficient sums for his schemes of systematic benevolence, his hospitals, and his missions, he denounced display and gluttony and avarice with all his might. He asked the rich whether they ought not to be ashamed to starve provinces at a meal, and sweep land and sea to provide their unwholesome dainties, and whether it would not be wiser and better to enjoy the healthiness of temperance? He ridiculed the fashion of having a way made for them in the streets as though they were dangerous tigers. He satirised the vulgar fondness for gold, which was so lavish that he believed there were some who, already filling their houses with every sort of golden furniture, would, if they could, have the very sky and the very air of gold. He asked whether, with the utmost expenditure of lavishness, they could find tapestries lovelier than the ground broidered with vernal blossoms, or fretted roofs so beautiful as the blue or the starry skies?

Tired of these expostulations, of which the novel piquancy was soon exhausted, and to which they never had the smallest intention of paying respect, the rich began to desert St. Sophia. Their attendance had never been very regular, and even on the great festivals a spicy Atellane interlude in the Theatre, or a good programme in the Hippodrome, had quite sufficient attraction to make them turn their backs on services and communions. In coming to hear the Archbishop at first, they thought that they had ‘done the civil thing,’ and that their presence among his auditors was an act of condescension, for which he was insufficiently grateful. He had to say plainly in the pulpit that, if such were the views and objects with which they came, he was only too glad to dispense with their presence. He professed open preference for the 303 simple services, in which the nave was thronged with his eager congregation of the poor. In praising them he took too readily his own ideal of what they should be for what they were. Perhaps, too, he did not in his own mind sufficiently notice that the phrase, ‘the poor,’ in Scripture is often employed in the sense in which it had been used by the prophets and by Christ to describe the anavim (the poor in spirit, the meek and lowly in heart), a class to which even the rich might belong. His language was not always prudent. Regarding himself, rightly, as ’the common father of all,’ it was unwise to praise the needy too unreservedly, and to say after an earthquake, without further making his meaning clear, that the city, which had been nearly destroyed by the vices of the rich, had been only saved by the prayers and virtues of the poor.

On one occasion Chrysostom told a striking anecdote. There had been a long drought, causing widespread famine and distress. There had been many prayers and litanies for rain, and at last, to the intense joy and relief of the multitude, rain began to fall, and they thronged into the churches to thank God. But in the midst of the general gladness they met a man utterly downcast and miserable.

‘Why do you not come with us,’ they asked, ‘to our joyous thanksgiving?’

‘I hate it!’ he said. ‘I had laid up ten thousand measures of wheat to sell at higher and higher prices. Now it has all become useless.’

Such an anecdote might fairly be told to call forth execration against cases of individual hardness and greed; but it would have been well to point out that not all the rich were monsters such as this, and not all the poor were paragons of virtue. He did, indeed, find it necessary to defend himself by pointing out that he did not regard wealth as a crime in itself, but the wrong use of wealth. But one who spoke with generous breadth and conviction did not always safeguard his words in the fashion adopted by the lukewarm, the Laodiceans, and the half-in-half. He was not in the habit of trimming and of paring away his principles by exceptions and limitations until it was difficult to say whether they meant anything at all.

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The result of all this was that the wealthy and the upper classes were grievously offended. And, in addition to the other overwhelming grudges which he had excited, Chrysostom was now openly denounced as a Gracchus in the pulpit, a seditious demagogue, a flaming anarchist, a man who for his own evil purposes preached socialism and set class against class. The rich as a body did not take the trouble to understand him, or to learn the lesson which he was endeavouring to teach; but the poor, who, as always, formed the vast majority, saw that he himself, in the midst of enormous wealth, lived in severe simplicity, and cared nothing for money, except to spend it for the good of those who had need. Admiring his consistency, grateful for his protection, they sustained and cheered him, and, for a time at least, by the passionate enthusiasm of their devoted love, delayed the success of the clerical and social plots formed for his destruction.

But, among these many enemies, Chrysostom made one whose enmity was more fatal than that of all the rest. The Empress Eudoxia, proud, passionate, impulsive, domineering, intolerant of any rival in her power or any barrier to her slightest wish, had become not only alienated from the Patriarch, but strongly inimical to him. Since the death of Eutropius she had ruled Arcadius with a rod of iron. What he did was simply what she demanded. The only partial counterpoise to her autocracy lay in the rank and independence of the Patriarch as head of the Eastern Church. As soon as she saw that neither she nor anyone else could make a tool of him, or induce him either by fear or flattery or self-interest, to deflect a hair’s-breadth beyond the line of rigid duty, she began to feel uneasy. But when the arrows of his harangues against luxury and oppression began to fall, or even to seem as if they glanced off, upon her, she grew hot with indignation and offended pride. Sometimes a sermon or an appeal smote through the joints of the harness of her conventional religiosity; but she hardened her heart. Two circumstances made her indignation flame into implacable wrath. One was her belief—a belief without any foundation—that Chrysostom had on some occasion betrayed to the soldiery the hiding-place of her favourite, 305 Count John; for whom, on the contrary, he had earnestly pleaded, and whose life he had probably saved by his intervention. The other was the fancy that, in preaching about Jezebel, and Naboth’s vineyard, the Patriarch had intentionally described a piece of dishonourable chicanery by which she had robbed a poor widow named Calliotropa of her estate. Now Chrysostom must undoubtedly have said something which admitted of this construction, for we are told so by his visitor, Bishop Porphyry of Gaza. And this at least is certain, that there has never been an age in which the prophets and saints of God have not been called upon to take their stand against the rich and the ruling. So Abraham in the old Jewish legend defied Nimrod; so Isaiah resisted Ahaz; and Jeremiah withstood Jehoiakin and Zedekiah; and Daniel braved the wrath of Belshazzar and Darius; and John the Baptist rebuked Herod. Athanasius had stood up against Constantine, Basil had resisted Julian and Valens, and Ambrose had braved the authority of the Empress Justina and the Emperor Theodosius. So, in later days, St. Columban defied Thierry, and St. Anselm resisted Rufus, and Savonarola rebuked Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Luther faced Charles V. at the Diet of Worms. If there was any truth in the report of Eudoxia’s misdeeds, Chrysostom was the last man who would have shrunk from denouncing them.

The contemporary account written by Marcus, the companion of Porphyry, Bishop of Gaza, on the occasion of their visit to Constantinople gives us a glimpse of the state of things. It was early in the year 401. Porphyry had come to procure from Arcadius an edict to suppress the turbulent tyranny of the heathen at Gaza, and he asked Chrysostom to help him.

‘My intercession would be useless,’ said Chrysostom; ’for the Emperor practically means the Empress, and the Empress is embittered against me because she supposes that I compared her to Jezebel in a sermon about Naboth’s vineyard, But I will procure you an interview with her through her Chamberlain, the excellent Amantius.’

Accordingly, Porphyry and his brother-bishop were admitted. They found Eudoxia seated on a golden sofa, and she apologised for not rising to greet them because 306 she was speedily expecting to become a mother. She was pleased with the rustic dignity of these provincial bishops, gave them through Amantius a large sum of money for their diocese, and appointed another interview with them next morning.

When they came, she told them that the Emperor had been put out by the petition, because Gaza paid its taxes with remarkable regularity, and he was afraid that by interfering with the heathen he would retard the replenishment of his treasury. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘I will continue to do my best.’ Then she asked for their blessing and their prayers; and they blessed her, and moved her to a transport of gratitude by promising that, having been the mother of three little daughters, she would now become the mother of a son.

The promise was fulfilled, for a few days later was born Theodosius II., the first Porphyrogenitus, or prince born in the purple, since the days of Constantine. Eudoxia attributed her happy motherhood to their supplications. As speedily as possible the child was baptised with all splendour.

As the procession came out of the Cathedral a pretty little comedy was enacted, whereby Eudoxia gained her own ends; which, indeed, in these days, were rarely left unfulfilled. The Bishop, who was carrying the infant in his arms, stopped by pre-arrangement, while Porphyry placed his petition in the little hands. Arcadius took it from his child and read it. ‘I cannot,’ he said, ’refuse the first commands of my little son.’

The infant boy was at once dignified with the title of Augustus; and, much to the displeasure of the whole Western world, the Empress also—who was now wielding all the old power of Rufinus and Eutropius, and wielding it with equal greed and baseness—received the title of Augusta. It was not to the mere title of Augusta that the Roman world objected, but to the fact that the Eastern Empire, in its abject subjection, now to an eunuch, and now to a woman, seemed to recall the old days of a Bagoas or a Semiramis, and to have lost the stately and virile virtues of ancient Rome.

And thus, by the stratagem of Eudoxia, an edict was 307 passed refusing any further tolerance to heathendom in the old Philistian city. But such repressive and persecuting edicts were not in accordance with the old spirit of Christianity. The rule of the primitive Christians was ’Force is hateful to God’; the town-clerk of Ephesus could appeal to the whole people in witness that St. Paul and his companions had never been blasphemers of their goddess, and in Athens the Apostle had pointed to the Unknown God, whom, though in ignorance, they worshipped, and Who is the Father of us all.

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