Prefect, is Slain. The Chief Priests of the Principal Cities. Differences among the Heretics. Account of Sisinius, Bishop of the Novatians.
Such was the death of Theodosius, who had contributed so efficiently to the aggrandizement of the Church. He expired in the sixtieth year of his age, and the sixteenth of his reign. He left his two sons as his successors. Arcadius, the elder, reigned in the East, and Honorius in the West. They both held the same religious sentiments as their father.
Damasus was dead; and at this period Siricius was the leader of the church of Rome; Nectarius, of the church in Constantinople; Theophilus, over the church of Alexandria; Flavian, over the church of Antioch; and John, over that of Jerusalem. Armenia and the Eastern provinces were at this time overrun by the barbarian Huns. Rufinus, prefect of the East, was suspected of having clandestinely invited them to devastate the Roman territories, in furtherance of his own ambitious designs; for he was said to aspire to tyranny. For this reason, he was soon after slain; for, on the return of the troops from the conquest of Eugenius, the Emperor Arcadius, according to custom, went forth from Constantinople to meet them; and the soldiers took this opportunity to massacre Rufinus. These circumstances tended greatly to the extension of religion. The emperors attributed to the piety of their father, the ease with which the tyrant had been vanquished, and the plot of Rufinus to gain their government arrested; and they readily confirmed all the laws which had been enacted by their predecessors in favor of the churches, and bestowed their own gifts in addition. Their subjects profited by their example, so that even the pagans were converted without difficulty to Christianity, and the heretics united themselves to the Catholic Church.
Owing to the disputes which had arisen among the Arians and Eunomians, and to which I have already alluded, these heretics daily diminished in number. Many of them, in reflecting upon the diversity of sentiments which prevailed among those of their own persuasion, judged that the truth of God could not be present with them, and went over to those who held the same faith as the emperors.
The interests of the Macedonians of Constantinople were materially affected by their possessing no bishop in that juncture; for, ever since they had been deprived of their churches by Eudoxius, under the reign of Constantius, they had been governed only by presbyters, and remained so until the next reign. The Novatians, on the other hand, although they had been agitated by the controversy concerning the Passover, which was an innovation made by Sabbatius, yet the most of them remained in quiet possession of their churches, and had not been molested by any of the punishments or laws enacted against other heretics, because they maintained that the Three Persons of the Trinity are of the same substance. The virtue of their leaders also tended greatly to the maintenance of concord among them. After the presidency of Agelius they were governed by Marcian, a good man; and on his decease, a little while before the time now under consideration, the bishopric devolved upon Sisinius, a very eloquent man, well versed in the doctrines of philosophy and of the Holy Scriptures, and so expert in disputation that even Eunomius, who was well approved in this art and effective in this work, often refused to hold debates with him. His course of life was prudent and above the reach of calumny; yet he indulged in luxury, and even in superfluities; so that those who knew him not were incredulous as to whether he could remain temperate in the midst of so much abundance. His manners were gracious and suave in assemblies, and on this account he was esteemed by the bishops of the Catholic Church, by the rulers, and by the learned. His jests were replete with good nature, and he could bear ridicule without manifesting the least resentment. He was very prompt and witty in his rejoinders. Being once asked wherefore, as he was bishop, he bathed twice daily, he replied, |Because I do not bathe thrice.| On another occasion, being ridiculed by a member of the Catholic Church because he dressed in white, he asked where it was commanded that he should dress in black; and, as the other hesitated for a reply, he continued, |You can give no argument in support of your position; but I refer you to Solomon, the wisest of men, who says, Let your garments be always white.' Moreover Christ is described in the Gospel as having appeared in white, and Moses and Elias manifested themselves to the apostles in robes of white.| It appears to me that the following reply was also very ingenious. Leontius, bishop of Ancyra, in Galatia, settled in Constantinople after he had deprived the Novatians in his province of their churches. Sisinius went to him to request that the churches might be restored; but far from yielding compliance, he reviled the Novatians, and said that they were not worthy of holding churches, because, by abolishing the observance of penance, they intercepted the philanthropy of God. To this Sisinius replied, |No one does penance as I do.| Leontius asked him in what way he did penance. |In coming to see you,| retorted Sisinius. Many other witty speeches are attributed to him, and he is even said to have written several works with some elegance. But his discourses obtained greater applause than his writings, since he was best at declamation, and was capable of attracting the hearer by his voice and look and pleasing countenance. This brief description may serve as a proof of the disposition and mode of life of this great man.