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Gathering Clouds A Tale Of The Days Of St Chrysostom by Frederic William Farrar

CHAPTER XII THE PRESBYTER

Salt is good; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? -- Luke xiv.34.

The next morning, however, threw a lurid light on the visit of Rufinus to Antioch. He had glutted to the full his private enmity. Lucian, Count of the East, Governor of Antioch, had been arrested by his order in his own palace, and, after the merest mockery of a trial, beaten to death, on the neck, with the frightful whips laden with knobs of lead known to the ancients by the name of plumbatæ. The unhappy Count had been thrust into a litter in a dying condition and carried back to the palace. The horrid deed could not be hid, and nothing but terror prevented the Antiochenes from avenging his death by another insurrection. Rufinus further purchased their complicity by ordering the completion of an Imperial Hall of Pillars, which long continued to be the most stately building in a city of palaces.

How little did the Minister dream that a deed of vengeance which illustrated at once his ferocity and his all but absolute power was the chief moment in his own headlong downfall! His ultimate aim all along, though he was only an adventurer and the son of an Aquitanian cobbler, was nothing less than the Empire. He had cherished this mad ambition ever since the day when Theodosius, angry at the complaints of favours heaped on the intriguing and aspiring Gaul, had pettishly exclaimed, What is there to prevent me from making him emperor?' As a step to the fulfilment of this gorgeous dream Rufinus wished to marry Arcadius to his daughter. But when the sweet gratification of personal revenge had taken him to Antioch, his rival, the supple eunuch Eutropius, outwitted and undermined him. He slipped under the dark eyes of the young Emperor, as if by accident, a picture of the beautiful Eudoxia, daughter of the Frank general Bauto, who came from a house which hated Rufinus. This palace intrigue was buried in profoundest secrecy. On April 25, 395, a public rejoicing was ordered. Eutropius was seen to be busy in taking from the imperial wardrobe some of the splendid robes and jewels of former empresses. They were ostentatiously handed to attendants, and attracted a crowd before the palace gate. Everyone thought that they were a marriage gift to the daughter of Rufinus, and indulged in jeers against that hated official. But no! the procession, solemnly escorted by soldiers and preceded by Eutropius, suddenly turned into another street, and stopped at the home of Promotus, where Eudoxia lived. The multitudes then broke into shouts of joy. Rufinus found that he had been out-manoeuvred by the astuteness of the eunuch, and learnt for the first time the name of his future empress.

Chrysostom heard all these events with no other thoughts than those of a citizen, a patriot, a Christian. How little did he dream that Eudoxia, Eutropius, and the Goth Gaïnas, the murderer of Rufinus, would be so closely mingled with his future destinies, and that their names would go down to history in such immediate connexion with his own! We live in blindness of all that may await us in the unknown future years, and often those things happen of which we have dreamed the least.

The presbyter could not but feel solicitude for the future of the Empire, yet were there many seasons of depression in which he felt deeper anxiety about the future of the Church. The Church had conquered the world, and now the world had re-invaded and was re-conquering the Church. In former days golden priests had used chalices of wood; now wooden priests used chalices of gold. In earlier days life had been full of simplicity, love, and sweetness. Now Christianity had become largely nominal, as it had become all but universal. He saw much that was weak and bad in Antioch, much that he knew to be false in doctrine and unprimitive and unscriptural in practice. The corruption of the best is worst. There is no stench (so said St. Francis de Sales) so intolerable as that of rotten lilies. In reality there was little to choose between the better theoretical Paganism, as it exhibited itself in honest men like Libanius, Symmachus, or even the late Emperor Julian, and such Christianity as that of the loose livers and ambitious Pharisaic priests who on every side were trying to lord it over God's heritage, while they set the worst possible example to the flock. He was to become familiar hereafter with worse types than he ever yet had seen. Salt like this, which had utterly lost its savour, was in a certain sense worse than anything which had been seen on the dunghill of pagan Rome, and was fit for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of man.'

This was the sad thought which most painfully haunted the heart of Chrysostom; and it was the one passion of his life so to live, so to write, so to preach as to stem the shallow, muddy, yet drowning and ever-advancing tide of a merely functional, ecclesiastical, and nominal Christianity. If he had one conviction stronger than all others, it was that what the Supreme and Sacred Majesty requires of us is innocence alone'; that Christ came not to elaborate recondite shibboleths, but to create holy characters; not to elevate priests into an usurping autocracy, but to give unimpeded access to God to the humblest and guiltiest soul, and to fling wide open to all who love righteousness the gates of everlasting life. The indignation of Chrysostom burned hot against all who named the name of Christ, yet did not even attempt to depart from the forms of iniquity which Christ most hated; and most of all against the priests, who combined the privileges of angels with the temper of executioners, and carried into the sanctuaries of the Church the most hateful of the vices of the world.

But such beliefs meant immediate failure; and such aims, in the ordinary condition of Churches, involved certain martyrdom.

The day of martyrdom had not yet come, and the hour for that ultimate triumph -- which, because truth is immortal, had all the inevitableness of a law -- was yet far off.

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