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


Botoli trove poi...

Tanto più trove, di can farsi lupi...

Discesa poi per più pelaghi cupi

Trove le volpi, si piene di froda

Che non temono ingegno the le occùpi.

Dante, Purg. xiv.46-54.

In all the later phases of his career Chrysostom had taken a noble and blameless part, unless a certain want of tact and of gracious versatility be attributed to him as a crime. Yet, as is so often the lot of the men to whose shining virtues the vicious pay the tribute of implacable hatred, Chrysostom was blamed and abused on every side. His moral brightness was, as his friend and biographer, Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis, expressed it, like a lamp flashing in sore eyes. The enemies of Eutropius denounced the Archbishop for having sheltered him; the enemies of Chrysostom himself infamously pretended that he had betrayed him to the soldiers. Eutropius had not a single friend, but many who would not have let their little finger ache to save his life stormed at the prelate, who alone had pitied him, and who, at the risk of assassination, had stood between him and the swords of his assailants. He had been too hard and cruel for their delicate sensibilities! The incarnate vices of society united to sting to death the one man whose pure virtue was an embodied reproach to their wickedness. At Constantinople he

Lived pilloried on Infamy's high stage,

And bore the pelting scorn of half an age.

It happened a day or two after these events that Elpidius, one of the worst of the Constantinopolitan clergy, was walking on the wooded shores of the Bosporus with the Bishop of Chalcedon. Elpidius was in his way a man of note among the clergy, because, in spite of a character entirely despicable, he was a heated and unscrupulous partisan. He identified religion with his own personal views, and, though his intellect was mean, his blind party spirit acquired for him the position of a leader among the most heated controversialists. His notions of argument were those which have been prevalent in every age among such men as he. They consisted in loud and overbearing reiteration of assertions, supported by flimsy sophisms which had been over and over again refuted; in boundless vituperation of his opponents, which among similar characters passed for reasoning; in the ignoring of the proofs which had long undermined the sandy bases of his false and unscriptural orthodoxy; and in the glaring and habitual misquotation of the words of his opponents. Such controversy, deeply dyed in vulgarity, virulence, and venom, was of a kind which no good man could deign to notice. It was mere malice, meanness, and misrepresentation, adapted only to feed the most ignorant prejudices and worst passions of his partisans. The Church' -- a word for ever on his lips -- meant, on the lips of Elpidius, himself and those who held his views.' It was the asserted authority for every superstitious accretion, for every Pagan development, for every soul-dwarfing falsity. The teaching and example of Christ, of the Apostles, and of the Christians of the first two centuries, were regarded as unimportant. Christ's reprobation of errors which were now thrust forward as the be-all and the end-all of orthodox religiosity went for nothing; but if any isolated phrase in the New Testament could be distorted into the false semblance of an argument, whole systems were built on it, like pyramids upon their apex. In short, Elpidius was one of those Churchmen,' so common in every age, to whom shibboleths, ceremonial, and their own self-exaltation, were of infinitely more account than judgment, righteousness, and truth. He represented the practical supersession of Christianity pure and undefiled by a dead Pharisaism and a dead Judaism, mixed up with elements of Pagan superstition and Pagan ritual. If the decrees of Councils decided in his direction, they were infallible; if they traversed his views, they were a collection of obsolete canons. If bishops supported his party they were elevated into an apotheosis of sainthood, and adored with genuflexions; if they opposed him they were a disgrace and a scandal,' to be treated with the most contumelious indifference. The controversial methods of Elpidius consisted mainly in exalting his own clique, and blackening all who differed from him with boundless depreciation. His all-absorbing churchliness and supernatural claims of sacerdotal supremacy were in nowise incompatible with violations of the most ordinary courtesies of a gentleman, or the most rudimentary virtues of a Christian.

Against Chrysostom Elpidius cherished one of those burning hatreds which, if opportunity be only favourable, stop short at no falsehood and no crime. He never spoke of the Archbishop without the hiss of the serpent being heard in every word. Nothing that Chrysostom could say was tolerable, nothing that he could do was right. Elpidius had been one of those who had been forced to wince under the Patriarch's scathing denunciation of the worldliness which hung about the tables of the great, and of the underhand intrigues which thought all means lawful if they furthered a favourite ecclesiastical end. He was notoriously one of the auriscalpii, who abused their priestly position to lead captive silly women laden with lust; one of those who, having frightfully abused even the safeguarded office of a public confessor, which Nectarius abolished because of the iniquities to which it led, had used every influence to get the office restored. He was one of those who, sanctioned by the abuse of custom, had lived with a young and beautiful agapete, whom he called his spiritual sister,' and for whose richly dressed loveliness he always secured a prominent place in St. Sophia, until Chrysostom had threatened him with instant excommunication unless he reformed a style of living which injured the reputation of the Church. Since then he had hated Chrysostom with a hatred of which a bad layman might have envied, but certainly could not have surpassed, the unscrupulous intensity. He was animated by the one desire and object to blast, and undermine, and overthrow his thrice-detested ecclesiastical superior.

A certain freemasonry of intuition made Elpidius and others of Chrysostom's enemies aware of the venomous dislike and jealousy entertained against him by the Bishop of Chalcedon, although Cyrinus had never manifested it to the world in general, and had, for his own reasons, concealed it entirely from the Archbishop himself. Elpidius and he had been discussing the revolt of Tribigild and the fall of Eutropius, and sat down to rest on a bank, entirely heedless of the presence of two youths who were also resting but a few feet distant from them on the shingly beach. As the youths were but plainly dressed, and evidently did not belong to the classes,' but to the masses,' such exalted personages as the Bishop and the leading presbyter did not think it worth while to notice their existence, or to talk in lower tones because they were so near. The two youths were David and Eutyches. The affair of Eutropius had thrown an immense amount of extra work upon them, and the kindly Archbishop had told them to go to the shore and breathe a little of the fresh sea air, especially as the cheek of Eutyches was not yet healed, and he had been a little shaken by the fierce buffet of the Gothic soldier. Chrysostom wanted Philip to go, too, but as business might arise at any moment, Philip would not leave him; and besides, though Olympias had now made herself responsible for his being provided with proper meals, Chrysostom was as likely as not to forget all about them, and leave them untouched while he was absorbed in his work, unless Philip were at hand to see that he took them.

Were you present at St. Sophia when John delivered that sermon with Eutropius under the altar?' asked the Bishop.

Present, my lord?' answered Elpidius in a tone of disgust; I should think I was!'

I am told that it was very fine,' said Cyrinus tentatively.

Fine!' answered Elpidius, raising his voice in a gust of anger. I don't know what they call fine. Eloquence? Turgid rhetoric I call it, empty bombast, the wind of platitudes; sound and fury, signifying nothing, It was shameful, it was infamous, it was a perfect scandal! John had no business whatever to break the law by giving shelter at all to such a criminal. But if he did, he had no right to insult him grossly, and browbeat and denounce him as he lay grovelling there. And afterwards, I am told, he betrayed him. Doubtless he got a good round sum, first for his protection, and then for his treachery which will add to the treasure of which he robs the Church daily, and which will supply the secret orgies of the Patriarcheion. What can you expect of a man like that -- a cheat, a miser, a hypocrite, a liar, a man with a heart hard as a nether millstone and a fist close as that of a Harpagon?'

Elpidius, as he gave place to the devil, and flung the reins on the neck of his envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, had spoken louder and louder, so that all the last part of his remarks had been poured forth upstanding, and with fierce gesticulations, in a hurricane of frenzied wrath.

It was lucky that the fiery Philip was not there. There is no knowing how fiercely he might have rebutted so deadly an outrage on the character of his adopted father and benefactor. But such a tornado of brutalities and insults roused even the gentler spirit of Eutyches to indignant revolt. Before David -- who would have seen the uselessness of any intervention -- knew what he was about, Eutyches had advanced to the speaker. He was a very modest boy, and it was not till then that he recognised the Bishop of Chalcedon. The episcopal dignity overawed him, but after kneeling to kiss the Bishop's hand, as was usual, he said:

My Lord Bishop, I know not who that presbyter may be, but suffer me to say that he has spoken to you the most shocking calumnies. The Archbishop gave shelter to Eutropius because, in defending the Church's right to sanctuary, he would have done so to the meanest of mankind and the worst of his own enemies. So far from being cruel, I saw him offer his own unprotected breast to the naked swords of the Goths in his defence. It was he, and he alone, who pleaded for him to the Emperor. Eutropius gave himself up against the Archbishop's will, and in spite of his warnings and remonstrances. To say that he either protected him for a bribe, or betrayed him for a bribe, is a wicked falsehood, whoever says it! Yes,' he added, fixing his clear and innocent gaze on the face of Elpidius, 'as wicked a falsehood as that the Archbishop is a miser or a hypocrite. On the contrary, he is profoundly indifferent to gold, and is a saint of God, if ever there was one.'

There was something in the words and bearing of Eutyches which overwhelmed Elpidius, and even Cyrinus, with confusion. His manner had been perfectly respectful, and as he stood there in all the glow of his ardent sympathy for the master to whom he was devoted, and all the bloom of his youthful innocence, Elpidius felt much as Milton makes Satan feel before the reproach of Ithuriel:

So spake the cherub; and his grave rebuke,

Severe in youthful beauty, added grace

Invincible. Abashed the devil stood,

And felt how awful goodness is, and saw

Virtue in her form how lovely -- saw, and pined

His loss; but chiefly to find here observed

His lustre visibly impair'd: yet seem'd


Ashamed to have been thus openly rebuked by a boy, and especially in the presence of a bishop, Elpidius tried to assume a disdainful indifference.

Who is this impudent baby with a raw wound on his cheek who has been eavesdropping?' he said in his most brutal tone.

It was now David's turn to be indignant, but he put strong control over his feelings. This,' he said very quietly, is an orphan boy, one of the Patriarch's secretaries, who will soon be ordained a reader. You can hardly wonder, my Lord, that he was deeply moved when he heard such shameless defamation of his beloved master and benefactor shouted to the four winds in a voice which might have been heard a hundred yards off. And for the wound on his cheek, it is the mark of a soldier's blow, whom he was trying to keep from assailing the Patriarch while he was defending Eutropius at peril of his life.'

Elpidius and the Bishop looked from speaker to speaker in silent astonishment. There was something in their aspect before which vulgar rage was, if not disarmed, yet rendered impotent. Eutyches, disfigured as he was at the moment, yet had the face of an angel. There had been nothing obtrusive, nothing unworthy of the respect due from youth to age, in the generous enthusiasm with which he had defended his master from wanton slanders. And now David stood by him, in the dress which marked his humble birth as the son of a tradesman, but with a face which showed the purest and loftiest type of the beauty of his race. David could never forget that he was by birth a Desposynos, that he came from the family of Joseph, which had once had their home at Nazareth, and which was also nearly akin to the family of the Virgin Mary. He had that type of countenance which dim tradition was already beginning to assign to the Son of Man -- the perfectly oval face, the waved and wine-dark hair, the glowing complexion, the eyes whose depths seemed to be lighted by some holy spiritual flame within -- of Him who had been fairer than the children of men. Besides this, his voice was full of melody, and the gravity of his demeanour was mixed with habitual sweetness and courtesy to all. The remembrance of his birth was to David a most sacred amulet. It was no source of pride, but rather of overwhelming responsibility, which would have humiliated him to the dust if ever the reflexion of his own severe and modest eye upon himself could have seen him doing or imagining what was base, were it in the deepest secrecy.' It was impossible, even for the wretched Elpidius, to resent words spoken with perfect calm and dignity, and with no shadow of anger or disrespect. Both he and the Bishop felt as if they had been suddenly rebuked by two good spirits. Conscious of themselves, and of the unhallowed feelings which too often ran riot in their hearts, they could not help glancing with a sense of uneasy humiliation on these two youths, whose very look and bearing were a silent rebuke to them. Elpidius turned away, and hated the burning hue of shame which, in spite of himself, mounted to the very roots of his hair. He would have liked to seize Eutyches by the neck, and cuff him on the face; but as it was he had to sit still, and feel for a few moments the pangs of Gehenna, as he kicked violently at a tough root of arum which happened to be growing beside his feet. Eutyches, half-amazed at his own forwardness, bowed low, and was about to walk away, but David ended the scene by taking his hand, and saying to Cyrinus:

My Lord, you are a Bishop; pardon us if we have offended, and, before we go, give us your blessing.'

You are strange youths,' said Cyrinus, and you should not listen to words not meant for your ears.'

My Lord, we listened not,' said David respectfully. 'We would fain not have heard, but what this presbyter said might have been heard almost on the pier.'

Well, you may depart.'

The Bishop gave them the Greek form of Benediction, in which the crossed and bent fingers stand for ICXC, or Jesus Christ; and they walked home almost in silence.

They agreed not to tell Philip anything that had occurred, for it made him almost beside himself to know that the wicked world outside, and the almost more virulently malignant form of the world which called itself 'the Church,' should ever be pouring on the stainless name of the Patriarch its oil of vitriol in endless calumnies.

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