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

CHAPTER XX FIRST IMPRESSIONS

And yet bubbles o'er like a city with gossip, scandal, and spite.

Tennyson.

On February 26, 398, the humble Presbyter of Antioch attained the dignity for which so many had longed, intrigued, and bribed, and which myriads of ecclesiastics would have regarded as uplifting them into the seventh heaven of gratified ambition and satisfied desires.

The imposing ceremony took place in the cathedral of Constantinople, the great Church of St. Sophia. Its magnificence illustrated the altered fortunes of Christianity since Constantine had first placed the jewelled cross on the purple silk of his labarum. Its great doors were of shining bronze enriched with bas-reliefs; the windows were formed of thin slices of alabaster and other transparent marbles. The pillars and their capitals, carved with foliage, were all of porphyry or of Numidian giallo-antico. The floors were of lustrous and many-coloured marbles, with which also the walls were tessellated; the domes and architraves were inlaid with mosaic on a gold ground, and picked out with polychromes of blue and vermilion. The Holy Table, which even then had begun by a false analogy to receive the unscriptural and unprimitive designation of altar,' stood in front of the apse, not against the wall, but in the middle of the chancel space. It was of gold decorated with precious stones, and between the columns which supported it hung curtains of silk, embroidered in gold with figures of our Lord, St. John the Baptist, and St. Paul. The iconostasis was of silver, with a frieze of medallions representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Apostles. In the apse was the Throne of the Patriarch and the synthronus, or stalls of the presbyters, which were canopied and were of silver-gilt. The choir extended nearly as far as the ambo, or reader's pulpit, which was of precious marbles with mosaics of lambs, doves, fishes, and peacocks, inlaid with gems. It was ascended by two flights of steps, one on the west side, one on the east, and the canopy above it rested on eight columns. The space below it, enclosed by railings, was occupied by the choir and the readers. The soleas, or division which marked off the seats of the clergy, was made of onyx. The tapestries which usually shrouded the sanctuary were drawn back for the service. The seats for the Emperor and Empress were on the south side; and not only were they present, but they came in their utmost pomp, attended with crowds of perfectissimi and illustres arrayed in their most brilliant robes.

Chrysostom was consecrated Archbishop by the darkly scowling Theophilus, and was the reverse of happy. The rasping voice of the wicked and black-browed Patriarch of Alexandria was hoarse with antagonism. It almost made him shudder, by the same subtle instinct which makes the nobler animals tremble at the hiss of the serpent. He felt the man's magnetic hatred, jealousy, and burning spirit of revenge in his very touch. But, besides this, he could not but mourn that God had called him to a work which he felt would be painful and stormy. He sighed for the love which had surrounded him in Antioch, and even more for the peaceful days of his monastery and mountain-cave. What were these rich carpets and gleaming floors to the grass that groweth on the mountains, and the lilies in the valleys of Mount Amanus? What were these crimson and gold-embroidered tapestries to the shadows of the blossoming trees on the banks of his loved Orontes? How could he ever acquire over this luxurious, turbulent, money-loving, pleasure-hunting, worldly throng of curious strangers, of whom so many were already inclined to hate him, the gentle influence which he had wielded over his former flock?

With a heavy heart and a mind over which flitted many a sombre cloud of misgiving he uttered his enthronisation discourse. In it he touched on the various spheres of duty which he regarded as belonging to his place as Archbishop of this metropolitan see. As yet, of course, he could only speak generally. There are still Pagans,' he said, in Constantinople: I will try to win them by setting a Christian example, and endeavouring to promote the true ideal of the Christian life. There are many Arians and other heretics: I will use no other weapon against them than the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I will be a bishop, not a gladiator. I hate as unchristian the bitter spirit of unfairness in theological controversy. I repudiate as execrable the use of violence in ecclesiastical propaganda. Rather than exacerbate differences, I will willingly incur the ignorant calumny aimed at the great Basil of Cæsarea, that his teaching was like a river avoiding rocks to hide itself in sands. Theological battles and ecclesiastical cabals are an incomparably poorer proof of orthodoxy than simple faithfulness. |The bees,| said Basil, |fly in swarms, and do not begrudge each other the flowers. It is not so with us. We are not at unity. More eager about his own wrath than his own salvation, each aims his sting against his neighbour.| And, because of this, Basil was called a heretic! But his only answer was: |I have determined to neglect no labour, to shun no humble word or deed, to excuse myself going no journey, to decline no burden, if I may obtain the reward of the peacemaker.|' 'As for myself,' said Chrysostom, I will, God helping me, boldly rebuke vice; I will make no agreements with death, no covenant with hell. In marshalling the hosts of righteousness to the Armageddon battle against sin, the trumpet in my hands shall give no uncertain sound. To wickedness and vice I must, by the very call of God, be an uncompromising enemy; but to the offenders themselves I would ever act in the spirit of compassion, and, as far as in me lies, will live peaceably with all men. But, beloved, man is nothing. God is all-in-all. Oh! help me by your sympathy! Oh! support me by your prayers!'

The sermon was not one of Chrysostom's greatest. There was but little of the cadenced rhetoric, little of the Asiatic luxuriance, nothing of the volcanic passion. Yet there was enough to show to the good that he was a good man, that he would not be one of those who mistake pride for dignity, or require people to speak to him out of the dust. But most of the fashionables in the audience were disappointed by what they regarded as the tameness of the discourse, and they said so to one another with little circumlocution.

It is a merciful provision that preachers do not hear the remarks and criticisms of their dispersing congregations. At every door such remarks hover in the air, like flocks of ravens, to peck away any good seed which may chance to lie on the trodden road of men's hearts.

But Philip, who was not known by sight, did hear many of the remarks that were made, as he stood by the great bronze door, waiting for Chrysostom to come out, that he might conduct him home.

A group of ladies passed by. How very poor! How very tame! No dazzling metaphor; no flights of rhetoric!'

Ah!' thought Philip, it won't be long before you, my fine ladies, will have eloquence enough for you. I hope it won't singe your gay feathers too severely.'

I thought the fellow could speak,' said an exquisite, who had intrigued and bribed in vain for Isaac the Monk. 'Why, he was as heavy as lead and as dull as ditch-water!'

A group of bishops passed by, escorting Theophilus of Alexandria. They were talking in tones which showed that they did not in the least object to be heard.

I feel sure he is secretly unsound,' said Cyrinus of Chalcedon, venomously. Look how leniently he spoke of heretics.'

Yes,' said Severian of Gabala, he will be like Theramenes, whom the Greeks called |Cothurnus,| because that buskin fits on either foot; or rather, as the proverb says, |more slippery than a slipper.|'

A regular trimmer, I fear,' murmured Antiochus of Ptolemais; -- and an alarmed titter, instantly suppressed, ran through the group, for everyone knew that 'Amphallax,' or 'Trimmer,' was a recognised nickname of Theophilus, and the black look which the Alexandrian turned on the speaker seemed as though he took an accidental slip for an intentional insult.

What does your Sanctity think?' asked Isaac the Monk in a deferential tone.

I think,' said Theophilus, savagely, that if we give him enough rope he will soon hang himself.'

Who would have supposed,' murmured the priest Elpidius, who had founded a cheap reputation for wit on vapid malignities, that even as an orator we should so soon have to regret Nectarius?'

Philip was literally boiling over with indignation as he watched the receding group. These be your Christian bishops!' he muttered. It is almost enough to make one turn Pagan. What! more of them?' he said, for another group of ecclesiastics was approaching.

Not one appeal to the clergy! Not one compliment to them!' said a presbyter. What a churl he must be! Look how Archbishop Gregory of Nazianzus publicly praised Maximus the Cynic.'

A most unlucky instance;' said the Archdeacon Serapion, with much scorn, seeing that Maximus turned out to be a rogue of the deepest dye.'

Hurrah!' said Philip to himself, the priestling did not get the best of that.'

Next passed Eutropius, with Osius, Leo, and others of his parasites.

Surely, surely, Eutropius,' said Osius, he might have said at least one word of gratitude to you, who lifted him out of nothing.'

I did not expect it,' said Eutropius. He despises me, but I respect him. He is a true man.'

Well said, Chamberlain!' thought Philip; in spite of your crimes you are -- or, if the baseness of the world would have let you, would have been -- more of a man than the men who fool you to the top of your bent.'

He might at least have said something of his Eternity the Emperor and of the lovely, pious Empress,' said the fat and waddling Leo.

I wonder whether a lion ever dies of asses' kicks?' muttered the young Antiochene, shaking his fist at Leo's retreating back.

Ah! my young friend,' said Aurelian, who at that moment was passing out of church with Amantius, and noticed the gesture, your master is coming. Look after him. He will need all your care in the sink of virulence and vileness which he will find in Constantinople.'

I will, sir,' said Philip. In courage, in nobleness, in learning, he is a man of men; but in domestic matters he is a child.'

I have already noticed,' said Amantius, that he is but little versed in the world's ways. You may be most useful to him, Philip. I am very glad that we let you come with him.'

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