Chapter 20


At this time lived St. John Chrysostom, whose name is known to us
all from the prayer in our service which is called "A Prayer of St.

He was born at Antioch about the year 347. While he was still a
little child, he lost his father; but his mother, Anthusa, who was
left a widow at the age of twenty, remained unmarried, and devoted
herself to the training of her son. During his early years, she
brought him up with religious care, and he was afterwards sent to
finish his education under a famous heathen philosopher. I have
already had occasion to tell you that Christian youths, while in the
schools of such teachers, ran a great risk of being turned from the
Gospel, and that many of them fell away (p 67); but John was
preserved from the danger by daily studying the Scriptures, and thus
his faith was kept fresh and warm. The philosopher had such a high
notion of his talents, that he long after spoke of John as the best
of all the pupils he had ever had, and said that he would have been
the worthiest to succeed him as a teacher, "if the Christians had
not stolen him."

When he left this master, John studied law; but, after trying it for
a time, he found that there were things about the business of an
Antioch lawyer which went against his conscience; so he resolved to
give up the law, and to become a monk. But his mother thought that
he might lead a really Christian life without rushing away into the
wilderness and leaving his natural duties behind him. She took him
by the hand, led him into her chamber, and made him sit down beside
her on the bed. Then she burst into tears: she reminded him of all
the kindness which she had shown him, and of the cares and troubles
which she had borne for his sake. She told him that it had been her
chief comfort to look on his face, which put her in mind of the
husband whom she had lost. "Make me not once more a widow," she
said: "Wait only for my death, which may, perhaps, not be far off.
When you have laid me in the grave, then you may go where you
will--even beyond the sea, if such be your wish, but so long as I
live, bear to stay with me, and do not offend God by afflicting your
mother." The young man yielded to these entreaties, and remained in
his mother's house, although he gave up all worldly business, and
lived after the strict manner of the monks. But when the good
Anthusa was dead, he withdrew to the mountains, near Antioch, in
which a great number of monks dwelt. There he spent four years in a
monastery, and two as a hermit in a cave. But at last his hard life
made him very weak and ill, so that he was obliged to return to
Antioch; and soon after this he was ordained to be one of the
clergy, and was appointed chief preacher of the city (AD 386).

Of all the great men of the ancient Church, John was the most famous
for eloquence; and from this it was that he got the name of
"Chrysostom," which means "golden-mouthed". His sermons (of which
hundreds still remain) were not mere displays of fine words, but
were always meant to instruct and to improve those who heard them.
And, while he was chief preacher at Antioch, he had a very
remarkable opportunity of using his gifts of speech. An outbreak had
taken place in the city, on account of a new tax which Theodosius,
who was then emperor, had laid on the people (AD 387). The statues
of the emperor and of his family, which stood in public places, were
thrown down, and were dragged about the streets with all sorts of
mockery and insult. But the riot was easily put down, and then the
inhabitants began to be in great anxiety and terror as to the
punishment which Theodosius might inflict on them. For although the
frightful massacre of Thessalonica (p 75) had not at that time taken
place, they knew that the emperor was not to be trifled with, and
that his fits of anger were terrible. They expected that they might
be given up to slaughter, and their city to destruction. For a time,
few of them ventured out of their houses, and those few slunk along
the streets as if they were afraid of being seized. Many were
imprisoned, and were cruelly tortured or put to death; others ran
away, leaving all that they had behind them; and the public
amusements, of which the people of Antioch were excessively fond,
were, for a time, quite given up.

The bishop, Flavian, who was a very aged man, in bad health and
infirm, left the bedside of his sister (who was supposed to be
dying) to set out for Constantinople and implore the emperor's
mercy. And while he was absent Chrysostom took the lead among the
clergy. He preached every day in a solemn and awakening tone; he
tried to turn the terrors of the people to their lasting good, by
directing their thoughts to the great judgment, in which all men
must hereafter appear, urging them, whatever their present fate
might be, to strive after peace with God, and a share in his mercy,
through Christ, in that awful day. The effect of his preaching was
wonderful;--day after day, vast crowds flocked to listen to it,
forgetting every thing else: even many heathens were among them.

The news of the disturbances at Antioch had reached Constantinople
long before Flavian; and the bishop, as he was on his way, met two
commissioners, who had been sent by the emperor to declare his
sentence to the people. The buildings of the city were to be spared;
but it was to lose its rank among the cities of the empire. The
baths, which in those countries were reckoned almost as a necessary
of life, were to be shut up, and all public amusements were to be at
an end. The officers, after reaching Antioch, and publishing this
sentence, set about inquiring who had taken a part in the tumult.
Judgment was to be executed without mercy on all whose guilt could
be proved; and the anxiety of the people became extreme. A number of
monks and hermits came down from the mountains, and busied
themselves in trying to comfort those who were in distress. One of
these monks, Macedonius, a man of rough and simple appearance, but
of great note for holiness, met the emperor's commissioners as they
were riding through the market-place, whereupon he laid hold of one
of them by the cloak, and desired them both to dismount. At first
they were angry; but, on being told who he was, they alighted and
fell on their knees before him; for, in those days, monks famous for
their holiness were looked on much as if they had been prophets. And
Macedonius spoke to them in the tone of a prophet:--"Go," he said,
"say to the emperor: 'You are a man; your subjects too are men, made
in the image of God. You are enraged on account of images of brass;
but a living and reasonable image is of far higher worth than
these. Destroy the brazen images, and it is easy to make others; but
you cannot restore a single hair of the heads of the men whom you
have put to death.'" The commissioners were much struck with the way
in which Macedonius uttered this, although they did not understand
what he said (as he spoke in the Syrian language); and when his
words were explained to them in Greek, they agreed that one of them
should go to the emperor, to tell him how things were at Antioch,
and to beg for further instructions.

In the mean time, Bishop Flavian had made his way to the emperor's
presence. Theodosius received him with kindness, and spoke calmly of
the favour which he had always shown to Antioch, and of the base
return which the citizens had made for it. The bishop wept bitterly
when he heard this. He owned that his flock had deserved the worst
of punishments; but, he said, no punishment could be so severe as
undeserved mercy. He told the emperor that, instead of the statues
which had been thrown down, he had now the opportunity of setting up
far better monuments in the hearts of his people, by showing them
forgiveness. He urged the duty of forgiveness in all the ways that
he could think of, he drew a moving picture of the misery of the
inhabitants of Antioch, which he could not bear to see again; and he
declared that, unless he gained the favour which he had come to beg
for, he would never return to his city.

Theodosius was moved almost to tears by the old man's words. "What
wonder is it," he said, "if I, who am but a man, should pardon my
fellow men, when the Maker of the world has come on earth, and has
submitted to death, for the forgiveness of mankind?" and he pressed
Flavian to return to Antioch with all speed, for the comfort of his
people. The bishop, on reaching home, found that his sister, whom he
had not hoped to see any more in this world, was recovered; and we
may well imagine that his flock were full of gratitude to him for
what he had done. But he refused all thanks or credit on account of
the success of his mission. "It was not my doing," he said "it was
God who softened the emperor's heart."


When Chrysostom had been chief preacher of Antioch about twelve
years, the bishopric of Constantinople fell vacant (AD 397); and
there was so much strife for it, that at length the people, as the
only way of settling the matter quietly, begged the emperor Arcadius
to name a bishop for them. Now it happened that the emperor's
favourite counsellor, Eutropius, had been at Antioch a short time
before, and had been very much struck with Chrysostom's preaching;
so he advised the emperor to choose him. Chrysostom was appointed
accordingly; and, as he was so much beloved by the people of Antioch
that they might perhaps have made a disturbance rather than part
with him, he was decoyed outside the city, and was then secretly
sent off to Constantinople. Eutropius was so worthless a man that we
can hardly suppose him to have acted from quite pure motives in this
affair. Perhaps he wished to get credit with the people for making
so good a choice. Perhaps, too, he may have hoped that he might be
able to do as he liked with a bishop of his own choosing. But if he
thought so, he was much disappointed; for Chrysostom behaved as a
faithful and true pastor, without any fear of man.

The new bishop's preaching was as much admired at Constantinople as
it had been at Antioch, and he soon gained great influence among his
flock. And besides attending diligently to his work at home, he set
on foot missions to some heathen nations, and also to the Goths,
who, as we have seen (p 93), were Arians. But besides the Goths at a
distance, there were then a great number of the same people at
Constantinople; for the Greeks and Romans of those days were so much
fallen away from the bravery of their forefathers, that the emperors
were obliged to hire Gothic soldiers to defend their dominions.
Chrysostom, therefore, took great pains to bring over these Goths at
Constantinople to the Church. He ordained clergy of their own
station for them, and set apart a church for them. And he often went
himself to this church, and preached to them in Greek, while an
interpreter repeated his words to then in their own language.

But unhappily he soon made enemies at Constantinople. For he found
the church there in a very bad state and, by trying to set things
right, he gave offence to many people of various kinds, and although
he was indeed an excellent man, perhaps he did not always act with
such wisdom and such calmness of temper as might have been wished.
The last bishop, Nectarius, was a man of high rank, who had never
dreamt of being a bishop or any such thing, until at the council of
Constantinople he was suddenly chosen instead of the good Gregory (p
71). At that time Nectarius was not even baptized; so that he had
first to receive baptism, and then within a week he was consecrated
as bishop of the second church in the whole Christian world. And it
proved that he was too old to change his ways very much. He
continued to live in a costly style, as he had done all his life
before; and he let the clergy go on much as they pleased, so that
they generally fell into easy and luxurious habits, and some of them
were even quite scandalous in their conduct. Now Chrysostom's ways
and notions were quite opposite to all this. He sold the rich
carpets and other valuable furniture which he found in the bishop's
palace; nay, he even sold some of the church ornaments, that he
might get money for building hospitals and for other charitable
purposes. He did not care for company, and his health was delicate;
and for these reasons he always took his meals by himself, and did
not ask bishops who came to Constantinople to lodge in his palace or
to dine with him, as Nectarius had done. This does not seem to be
quite according to St Paul's saying, that a bishop should be "given
to hospitality" (1 Tim. iii. 2); but Chrysostom thought that among
the Christians of a great city like Constantinople the strange
bishops could be at no loss for entertainment, and that his own time
and money might be better spent than in entertaining them. But many
of them were very much offended, and it is said that one, Acacias,
of Berrhoea, in Syria, declared in anger, "I will cook his pot for

Chrysostom's reforms also interfered much with the habits of his
clergy. He made them perform service at night in their churches for
people who were too busy to attend during the day; and many of them
were very unwilling to leave their homes at late hours and to do
additional work. Some of them, too, were envious of him because he
was so famous as a preacher, and they looked eagerly to find
something in his sermons which might be turned against him. And
besides all these enemies among the clergy, he provoked many among
the courtiers and the rich people of Constantinople, by plainly
attacking their vices.

Although Chrysostom had chiefly owed his bishopric to Eutropius, he
was afterwards drawn into many disputes with him. For in that age
and in that country things were very different from what they
happily are among ourselves, and a person in power like Eutropius
might commit great acts of tyranny and oppression, while the poor
people who suffered had no means of redress. But many of those whom
Eutropius meant to plunder or to imprison took refuge in churches,
where debtors and others were then considered to be safe, as it was
not lawful to seize them in the holy buildings. Eutropius persuaded
the emperor to make a law by which this right of shelter (or
"Sanctuary", as it was called) was taken away from churches. But
soon after he himself fell into disgrace, and in his terror he
rushed to the cathedral, and laid hold of the altar for protection.
Some soldiers were sent to seize him; but Chrysostom would not let
them enter; and next day, when the church was crowded by a multitude
of people who had flocked to see what would become of Eutropius,
the bishop preached on the uncertainty of all earthly greatness.
While Eutropius lay crouching under the holy table, Chrysostom
turned to him and reminded him how he had tried to take away that
very privilege of churches from which he was now seeking protection;
and he desired the people to beg both God and the emperor to pardon
the fallen favourite. By all this he did not mean to insult the
wretched Eutropius, but to turn the rage of the multitude into pity.
It was said, however, by some that he had triumphed over his enemy's
misfortunes; and he also got into trouble for giving Eutropius
shelter, and was carried before the emperor to answer for doing so.
But the bishop boldly upheld the right of the Church to protect the
defenceless, and Eutropius was, for the time, allowed to go free.


Thus there were many at Constantinople who were ready to take part
against Chrysostom, if an opportunity should offer, and it was not
long before they found one.

The bishop of Alexandria at this time was a bold and bad man, named
Theophilus. He was jealous of the see of Constantinople, because the
second general council had lately placed it above his own (p 84); he
disliked the bishop because he had hoped to put one of his own
clergy into the place, and had seen enough of Chrysostom at his
first meeting to know that he could not make a tool of him; and
although he had been obliged by the emperor and Eutropius to
consecrate Chrysostom as bishop, it was with a very bad grace that
he did so.

There were then great quarrels as to the opinions of the famous
Origen, who had lived two hundred years before (Chapter VII). Some
of his opinions were really wrong, and others were very strange, if
they were not wrong too. But besides these, a number of things had
been laid to his charge of which he seems to have been quite
innocent. If Theophilus really cared at all about the matter, he
was in his heart favourable to Origen. But he found it convenient to
take the opposite side; and he cruelly, persecuted such of the
Egyptian monks as were said to be touched with Origen's errors. The
chief of these monks were four brothers, called the "long" or "tall
brothers". One of them was that same Ammonias who cut off his ear,
and was ready to cut out his tongue, rather than be a bishop (p 65).
Theophilus had made much of these brothers, and had employed two of
them in managing his accounts. But these two found out such
practices of his in money-matters as quite shocked them, and as,
after this, they refused to stay with the bishop any longer, he
charged them and their brothers with Origenism (as the following of
Origen's opinions was called). They denied that they held any of the
errors which Theophilus laid to their charge; but he went with
soldiers into the desert, hunted out the brothers, destroyed their
cells, burnt a number of books, and even killed some persons. The
tall brothers and some of their friends fled into the Holy Land, but
their enemy had power enough to prevent their remaining there, and
they then sought a refuge at Constantinople.

On hearing of their arrival in his city, Chrysostom inquired about
them, and, finding that they bore a good character, he treated them
kindly; but he would not admit them to communion until he knew what
Theophilus had to say against them. Theophilus, however, was told
that Chrysostom had admitted them, and he wrote a furious letter to
him about it. The brothers were very much alarmed lest they should
be turned away at Constantinople as they had been in the Holy Land,
and one day when the empress Eudoxia was in a church, they went to
her and entreated her to get the emperor's leave that a council
might be held to examine their case.

Theophilus was summoned to appear before this council, and give an
account of his behaviour to the brothers; but when he got to
Constantinople, he acted as if, instead of being under a charge of
misbehaviour himself, he had been called to judge the bishop of the
capital. He would have nothing to do with Chrysostom. He spent large
sums of money in bribing courtiers and others to favour his own
side; and, when he thought he had made all sure, he held a meeting
of six and thirty bishops, at a place called the Oak, which lay on
the Asiatic shore, opposite to Constantinople (AD 403). A number of
trumpery charges were brought against Chrysostom, and, as he refused
to appear before such a meeting, which was almost entirely made up
of Egyptian bishops, and had no right whatever to try him, they
found him guilty of various offences, and, among the rest, of high
treason! The emperor and empress had been drawn into taking part
against him, and he was condemned to banishment. But on the night
after he had been sent across the Bosphorus (the strait which
divides Constantinople from the Asiatic shore), the city was shaken
by an earthquake. The empress in her terror supposed this to be a
judgment against the injustice which had been committed, and hastily
sent off a messenger to beg that the bishop would return. And when
it was known next day that he was on his way back, so great was the
joy of his flock that the Bosphorus was covered with vessels,
carrying vast multitudes of people, who eagerly crowded to welcome


Within a few months after his return, Chrysostom again got into
trouble for finding fault with some disorderly and almost heathenish
rejoicings which were held around a new statue of the empress, close
to the door of his cathedral. Theophilus had returned to Egypt, and
did not again appear at Constantinople, but directed the proceedings
of Chrysostom's other enemies who were on the spot. Another council
was held, and, of course, found the bishop guilty of whatever was
laid to his charge. He did not mean to desert his flock, unless he
were forced to do so; he, therefore, kept possession of the
cathedral and of the episcopal house for some months. During this
time he was often disturbed by his enemies; nay, more than once,
attempts were even made to murder him. At last, on receiving an
order from the emperor to leave his house, he saw that the time was
come when he must yield to force. His flock guarded the cathedral
day and night, and would have resisted any attempt to seize him; but
he did not think it right to risk disorder and bloodshed. He,
therefore took a solemn leave of his chief friends, giving good
advice and speaking words of comfort to each. He begged them not to
despair for the loss of him, but to submit to any bishop who should
be chosen by general consent to succeed him. And then, while, in
order to take off the people's attention, his mule was held at one
door of the church, as if he might be expected to come out there, he
quietly left the building by another door, and gave himself up as a
prisoner, declaring that he wished his case to be fairly tried by a
council (AD 404).

He was first carried to Nicaea, where he remained nearly a month.
During this time he pressed for a fresh inquiry into his conduct,
but in vain; and neither he nor his friends could obtain leave for
him to retire to some place where he might live with comfort. He was
sentenced to be carried to Cucusus, among the mountains of Taurus--a
name which seemed to bode him no good, as an earlier bishop of
Constantinople, Paul, had been starved and afterwards strangled
there, in the time of the Arian troubles (AD 351).

On his way to Cucusus, he was often in danger from robbers who
infested the road, and still more from monks of the opposite party,
who were furious against him. When he arrived at the place, he found
it a wretched little town, where he was frozen by cold in winter,
and parched by excessive heat in summer. Sometimes he could hardly
get provisions; and when he was ill (as often happened), he could
not get proper medicines. Sometimes, too, the robbers, from the
neighbouring country of Isauria, made plundering attacks, so that
Chrysostom was obliged to leave Cucusus in haste, and to take
refuge in a castle called Arabissus.

But, although there was much to distress him in his banishment,
there was also much to comfort him. His great name, his sufferings,
and his innocence were known throughout all Christian churches.
Letters of consolation and sympathy poured in on him from all
quarters. The bishop of Rome himself wrote to him as to an equal,
and even the emperor of the West, Honorius, interceded for him,
although without success. The bishop of Cucusus, and his other
neighbours, treated him with all respect and kindness, and many
pilgrims made their way over the rough mountain roads to see him,
and to express their reverence for him. His friends at a distance
sent him such large sums of money that he was able to redeem
captives and to support missions to the Goths and to the Persians,
and, after all, had to desire that they would not send him so much,
as their gifts were more than he could use. In truth, no part of his
life was so full of honour and of influence as the three years which
he spent in exile.

At length the court became jealous of the interest which was so
generally felt in Chrysostom, and he was suddenly hurried off from
Cucusus, with the intention of removing him to a still wilder and
more desolate place at the farthest border of the empire. He had to
travel rapidly in the height of summer, and the great heat renewed
the ailments from which he had often suffered. At length he became
so ill that he felt his end to be near, and desired the soldiers who
had the charge of him to stop at a town called Comana. There he
exchanged his mean travelling dress for the best which he possessed;
he once more received the sacrament of his Saviour's body and blood;
and, after uttering the words "Glory be to God for all things," with
his last breath he added "Amen!" (September 14th, 407).

Thirty years after this, Chrysostom's body was removed to
Constantinople. When the vessel which conveyed it was seen leaving
the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus, a multitude, far greater than
that which had hailed his first return from banishment, poured forth
from Constantinople, in shipping and boats of all kinds, which
covered the narrow strait. And the emperor, Theodosius II, son of
Arcadius and Eudoxia, bent humbly over the coffin, and lamented with
tears the guilt of his parents in the persecution of the great and
holy bishop.

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