Century V, Chapter XII

CHAP. XII.

THE EASTERN CHURCH IN THE FIFTH CENTURY.

Chap. The life and transactions of Chrysostom have

XII

t . introduced us into this scene already, and prepared

us to expect no very great work of the Spirit of God. The vices which tarnished the West, were superstition, polemical subtilty, and monasticism. These same vices, meeting with little or no check from the revival, which took place in Africa, and spread a benign influence through the Latin churches, prevailed in the East almost universally, and each of them in a much higher degree ; yet here and there, the Spirit of God condescended to move amidst the chaos, and it is our duty to watch and discern his operations.

Deith of Arsaces, who was very old, and who had been bilhopoV appointed bishop of Constantinople in the room of Constami- Chrysostom, died in the year 405. In the next n°Ple> vear Atticus, who had been a principal agent in the persecution of Chrysostom *, succeeded him. He ^ **' seems a person extremely well adapted to an age and metropolis of formal and decent religion, neither so zealous as to give offence by his animadversions, nor so dissolute as to excite disgust by his immoralities. He understood mankind, had good sense; and though he had little learning f, yet he possessed the art of showing off that little to the best advantage. So

* It is very possible thia expression may be too strong. The authority for it rests with Palladium, p. 95. The panegyrical biographer of Chrysostom might easily magnify the courtly connivance of Atticus into positive persecution.

f Socrates contradicts this ; he will have it, that Atticus had much learning, piety, and prudence. I doubt not but he was largely possessed of the last quality. The consideration of the taste and spirit of an author, will explain these contradictions. Decency and good sense, not much of zealous godliness, appear to have been predominant in Socrates.

exquisite a courtier as he, would naturally gain over large numbers of the discontented ; yet there were some, who chose rather to meet for worship in the open fields than to communicate with Atticus. This bishop used to compose sermons, which he recited from memory ; at length he ventured to preach extempore, but he was not admired from the pulpit.

Atticus was certainly a person of a candid temper and beneficent disposition. It had been the custom to mention with honour the names of former bishops in the church ; and, with a view to conciliate the friends of Chrysostom, he took care to have his name mentioned among the rest. He distributed alms to the poor of other churches besides his own, and sent three hundred pieces of gold to Calliopius, a presbyter of Nice, for the use of such poor as were not common beggars, but persons who were ashamed to beg, and also for the poor of any other communion besides that of the general church *. He said to Asclepias, bishop of the Novatians, " You are happy, who have for fifty years been employed in the service of the church ;" and, on all occasions, he behaved with kindness to these dissenters, and very justly owned their faithfulness to the common cause of Christianity in the days of Constantius and Valens. Were all this liberality of sentiment and practice founded on Christian faith and love, it would doubtless be highly laudable in Atticus: such as he is, in virtues and vices, I have represented his character, and must leave him to that Being to whom judgment belongs. He died in the twenty-first year of his bishopric.

During the reign of Theodosius the younger, the son and successor of Arcadius, the Christians in Persia were persecuted grievously, says Theodoret f; were kindly protected, and allowed to propagate the Gospel there, says Socrates Very circumstantial

* Socrates, B. vii. c. 2.5. f Tbcod. B. xi. c. 39.

% B. vii. c. 8.

Chap, details are given by both writers, perfectly conform. XIr- „ able to this opposition of accounts. As both the writers were well informed and credible, I judge, that both accounts may be true in different periods of the reign of Isdegerdes ; and the more so, as the Persian Magi might have a great share of the king's confidence at one time, and not at another. And, as the persecution was occasioned by the indiscreet zeal of a Christian, it is most probable, that the favourable period was first in order. According to these views, the series of events seems summarily to have been as follows : Maruthas, bishop of Mesopotamia, acquired the favour of the Persian monarch, and, notwithstanding the fraudulent arts of the Magi, almost persuaded him to be a Christian. But toward the end of his reign, a bishop, called Audas, presuming probably on the royal favour, destroyed one of the temples, where the Persians adored the fire. The action was no less contrary to Christian meekness, than to moral prudence, and deserves to be noticed, as a warning to Christians in all ages, to unite the subtilty of the serpent with the innocence of the dove. Isdegerdes, on the complaint of the Magi, who only wanted such an advantage, sent for Audas, and in soft terms complained of the injury, and ordered him to rebuild the temple. Audas refused to comply, and Isdegerdes in a rage ordered all the Christian churches in his dominions to be destroyed. He had not himself any real degree of Christian light, to enable him to make allowances for the misconduct of an individual. Nor did it ever appear more plainly how unequally the Church of Christ contends with the world, since the mistake of one person laid the foundation of a cruel persecution of thirty years. Isdegerdes began it ; and his son and successor Vararanes, inflamed' by the Magi, afflicted the Christians with outrageous barbarity.

The Magi procured orders to be issued out to the chiefs of the Saracens, subjects of Persia, to guard Cent. the roads, and to apprehend all Christians, that they Vmight not fly to the Romans. Aspebetes, one of those chiefs, touched w ith compassion at their distress, on the contrary, assisted them in making their escape. Being accused of this at the court of Persia, he fled with his family to the Romans. He took along with him a number of Arabs, who, together with himself, received Christian baptism, and the real church of Christ probably received an accession from this event.

The afflicted Christians implored the aid of Theodosius, and their entreaties were seconded by the humanity of Atticus, the bishop. In the mean time, the Persian king sent to demand that the Christian fugitives should be delivered into his hands. To this the emperor would not consent, and a war was the consequence, in which, so far at least as Christianity is concerned, Theodosius had the advantage. An action of Acacius, bishop of Amida, on the frontiers of Persia, in the course of this war, deserves more praise than any military exploits whatever. The Romans* had taken seven thousand prisoners, whom they would not restore, and who were perishing by famine. The Persian king was much vexed at this, but knew not how to relieve them. Acacius, touched with the distress of the captives, assembled his clergy, and spake thus to them : " Our God has no need either of dishes or cups; since, then, our Church has many gold and silver vessels from the liberality of the people, let us, by means of them, free and relieve these captive soldiers." In effect, he ordered the vessels to be melted down, paid the ransom of the Persians to the Roman soldiers, gave the captives provisions and necessaries for their journey, and sent them home to their king. This was to conquer in a Christian manBee The king desired personally to make his grate* Socrates, B. vii. 21.

Chap, ful acknowledgments to the bishop, who was accordx"' . ingly directed by Theodosius to wait upon the monarch.

Theodosius had a reign of uncommon length, forty-one years, though he died at the age of fortynine. He was a feeble prince, and held the affairs of government with a remiss and negligent hand. The public, however, was benefited by the vigorous wisdom of his sister Pulcheria, who, though only two years older, maintained, by meekness and discretion, that ascendant over him, which superior capacity always gives. I have no great matter before me concerning the real Church of Christ at present; and I am not disposed to add one more history, to the many already published, concerning superstitious and marvellous acts, the fame of which now abounded, especially in the East. Let us look, then, at the court of Constantinople a little, and see if we cannot discern some dim traces at least of the features of the Church.

Pulcheria devoted herself to a life of virginity, before she was quite fifteen, and persuaded her two sisters to do the same. At sixteen she took the title of Augusta, and as she had always the prudence to preserve her brother s honour, she governed in his name with much success; for she was the only descendant of the great and first Theodosius, who possessed any eminence of character. She accustomed her brother to pray frequently, to honour the ministers, and to be upon his guard against novelties in religion. He had the honour of completing the destruction of idolatrous temples and worship. The young emperor rose early to sing with his two sisters the praise of God. He had a great part of the Scriptures by heart, and could discourse of them with the bishops, like an aged minister *. He took great pains to collect the books of Scripture and their interpreters. His meekness and forgiveness of • Socrates, B. vii. 22;

injuries were exceedingly great. Being once asked, why he never punished with death those who had injured him, " Would to God, he replied, I could recall the dead to life." To another asking him of the same thing, he said, " It is an easy thing for a man to die, but it belongs to God alone to recover life when departed." His clemency to criminals seems to have been excessive. In compliance with the customs, he exhibited, but with reluctance, the shows of the circus. In the midst of the exhibitions there was once a dreadful tempest; in consequence of which the emperor ordered the criers to warn the people, that it would be much better to leave the shows, and betake themselves to prayer. The motion was accepted : the emperor sang hymns as an example to the rest, and the whole assembly gave themselves up to devotion.

On occasion of good success in his wars, the news arrivingwhile he was exhibiting shows a second time, he persuaded the people, in the same manner, to leave their pleasures, and to join in prayer and praise. He made a law, to forbid in every city even Jews and Pagans to attend the theatre and the circus on the Lord's day, and on certain festivals. He made laws also to prevent the progress of Judaism ; but it ought to be added, that he prohibited the molestation of Jews or of Pagans, so long as they lived peaceably under the government. He reduced the penalty of death against heathenism to banishment and confiscation of goods. Such was Theodosius's zeal, which, if it contributed little to the propagation of vital godliness, was doubtless very efficacious in the promotion of external religion.

But, notwithstanding all the encomiums lavished on this emperor, who appears to have truly feared God in the main, it is evident, that the powers of his mind partook of the childish imbecility of his age. A monk, to whom he had refused a favour,

Chap- had * the boldness to excommunicate him. Theox*1- , dosius was so much affected, that he declared he would not touch a morsel, till the excommunication was removed. Though informed by the bishop of Constantinople, that he must not regard so irregular an excommunication, he could not be easy, till the monk was found and had restored him to communion. In what bondage did conscientious persons then live ! but how little reason have those to triumph over them, who live without conscience, and shut their eyes against the light of the Gospel!

Sisinnius succeeded Atticus at Constantinople, by the general desire of the people. He was a man of simple manners, courteous, and exceedingly liberal to the poor, a character much resembling his predecessor.

The virtue of mutual forbearance between the general church and dissenters prevailed beyond doubt at this time ; the prudent and moderate characters of the bishops of both parties, as well as the uncommon meekness of the emperor, contributed much to thisf. Could I add to this any clear account of the internal vigorous operations of divine grace, the glory of the Eastern church would have been seldom rivalled: but superstition corroded the vitals of practical religion. One remarkable event, belonging to the reign of Theodosius,deserves, however, to be recorded: a Jewish impostor, in Crete, pretended that he was Moses, and that he had been sent from heaven, to undertake the care of the Cretian Jews, and conduct them over the sea. fie preached a whole year in the Island, with a view of inducing them to obey his directions. He exhorted • Theodoret. v. 30.

+ Let an instance of this be drawn from the funeral of Paul, bishop of the Novatians, whose corpse was attended to his grave with singing of psalms by Christians of all denominations. The man, for his holiness of life, had been held in universal estimation.

them to leave all their substance, and promised to conduct them through the sea, as on dryland, and bring them into the land of promise. Numbers were so infatuated, as to neglect their business, and leave their possessions to any who chose to seize them. On the day fixed by the impostor, he went before them, and they followed with their wives and little ones. It was a memorable instance of that " blindness* which has happened to Israel till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," and fulfils the Scripture account of their penal folly. When he had led them to a promontory, he ordered them to throw themselves into the sea. None of them, it seems, had the caution, to insist on his setting the example. Those who were at the brink of the precipice leaped down, many of whom perished, partly dashed against the rocks, and partly drowned ; and many more would have perished, had not a number of fishermen providentially been present, who saved their lives. These, enlightened at length by experience, prohibited the rest from taking the leap. And they all now sought the impostor, in order to destroy him : but he had made his escape. Many of the Cretian Jews were on this occasion brought over to the Christian faith.

Two controversies shook the churches of the East in this reign, on which far more has been written than tends to edification. The first was the Nestorian, which was occasioned by the obstinacy of Nestorius, in objecting to a common phrase of the orthodoxy, namely, " Mary the mother of God." He seems to have regarded the union between the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ rather as moral than real, and to have preferred the idea of a connexion between the two natures to an union. As the last century had been remarkable for heresies, raised on the denial of the union of the three Persons in the Trinity, so this was disturbed by heresies^ * Rom. xi.

Chap. raised on the denial of the union of the divinity and _ M1* t humanity of the Son of God. Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, the opposer of Nestorius, seems, on the whole, to have expressed no more than the faith of the primitive church. But the serpentine wits of the East, favoured also by a language of exquisite subtilty and copiousness, found no end in cavilling. Eutyches, the monk, raised a second heresy, which denied the existence of two natures in the person of Jesus Christ. This extreme is opposite to that of Nestorius. How indecently and fiercely these controversies were agitated, how very little of practical godliness was applied to them by any party, and how much the peace of the church was rent, is well known. It belongs only to my purpose, and it is all the good which I can find in general to have resulted from the contests, to mention, that the doctrines of Scripture were stated by the two councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, and by the writings of those who were most esteemed in the church at that time. Such was the provident care of Christ over his Church, in the preservation of the fundamental truths relating to his person, and the union of the two natures in it, that all attempts to remove them from the mind by explaining them according to men's own imaginations, were subverted ; and the doctrine was transmitted safe to the Church in after ages, as the food and nourishment of humble and self-denying souls. The writings of Leo, bishop of Rome, are deservedly admired for their strength and perspicuity in clearing up this subject.

Theodosius died in the year 450. His sister PulA' D' cheria remaining sole mistress of the Eastern empire, gave herself in marriage,for political reasons, to Marcian, whom she made emperor ; nor does it appear that her religious virtues suffered any diminution till her death. Both Marcian and Pulcheria were as eminent for Christian piety as a superstitious age permitted persons of their exalted stations to be ;

and Marcian, who survived, died at the age of sixty-* Cent. five, in the year 457, renowned for his services to Vreligion. The preservation of orthodoxy, the en- A. D. eouragement of good morals, and the destruction 457. of idolatry, were his favourite objects.

Of his successor Leo, it is remarkable, that he forbad any judiciary proceedings on the Lord's day, A> Dm or any plays and games. This law bears date 469. At so late a period did the full observance of the most ancient of all divine institutions receive the sanction of human authority*! The same year he made a law against Simony, requiring men to be promoted to the episcopal office without their own choice, and declaring those, who are active in their endeavours for the promotion, to be unworthy of the office.

Gennadius, archbishop of Constantinople, died A. D> about the year 473. The most remarkable thing I ^-g. find in him is, that he never ordained any clergymen who could not repeat the Psalter without book.

But I am disgusted with the prospect. It grows worse in the East to the end of the century. Doctrinal feuds and malignant passions involve the whole. Possibly in the view of some private and obscure scenes in the next Chapter, the reader may find something more worthy of his attention.