Of these four letters the last three were written during the final exile of St. Chrysostom from Constantinople. The first was written a few weeks before his departure. The complication of events which led to that exile cannot be unfolded here. The student will find a full account of them in most historians of this period of the Church, both ancient and modern, and in the Life of St. Chrysostom by the editor of this volume chapters XVI-XIX. It must suffice to say here that Theophilus Patriarch of Alexandria having been summoned by an imperial mandate to Constantinople to be tried on the charge of having cruelly ill-treated certain Egyptian monks, formed a cabal amongst the enemies of St. Chrysostom, and artfully contrived to change his own position from that of the accused into that of the accuser. His devices were in the end only too successful, and in the summer of the year 404 St. Chrysostom was driven from his see, never to return.
The first letter of St. Chrysostom seems to have been written soon after Easter 404 and refers to the events immediately preceding his expulsion.
The second was written, as we learn from the letter itself, after he had entered the third year of his exile, probably near the close of the year 406.
Copies of the first letter were addressed also to Venerius Bishop of Milan, and Chromatius Bishop of Aquileia. It is interesting therefore as indicating the relation between the Eastern and Western branches of the Church at the beginning of the fifth century. On the one hand it illustrates the growing tendency of Christendom to appeal to the authority of the Western Church, especially of the Bishop of Rome, on questions of ecclesiastical discipline. The law-making, law-protecting spirit of the West is invoked to restrain the turbulence and licentiousness of the East. No jealousy is entertained of the Patriarch of the old Rome by the Patriarch of the new. But on the other hand it is to be noted that the Bishop of Rome is in no sense addressed as a supreme arbitrator: aid and sympathy are solicited from him as from an elder brother, and two other prelates of Italy are joint recipients with him of the appeal.
To Chrysostom Innocent writes, as friend to friend and bishop to brother bishop, a letter of Christian consolation and encouragement, not entering into the legal questions of the case, and not pledging himself to decisive action of any kind. In his letter to the Church of Constantinople he denounces the illegality of the late proceedings of Theophilus and his accomplices, in the strongest terms; but insists upon the necessity of convoking an oecumenical council as the only means of allaying the tempest. And it must be allowed that he did his best to accomplish this object. He wrote a letter to Honorius, the Emperor of the Western Empire, who resided at Ravenna, describing the pitiable condition of the Church at Constantinople. The Emperor issued an order for the convention of an Italian synod, and the synod, swayed no doubt by Innocent, requested Honorius to write to his brother Arcadius the Eastern Emperor urging the convention of a general council to be held in Thessalonica which would be a convenient meeting-point for the prelates of East and West. Honorius complied, and the letter was despatched under the care of a deputation from the Italian Church, consisting of five bishops, two priests and a deacon. They were the bearers also of letters from Innocent, and the Bishops of Milan and Aquileia, and of a memorial from the Italian synod, recommending that Chrysostom should be reinstated in his see before he was required to take his trial before the Council. The party hostile to Chrysostom however had now such complete sway over the court at Constantinople that the deputation never succeeded in getting an audience with the Emperor, and after suffering many insults and indignities, returned to Italy without having accomplished anything.
The letters of Innocent were probably written in Latin, and afterwards translated into Greek. The Greek version is in several passages clumsy and obscure.