NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 23.2
It's an action-packed commentary from Tom Lee today. It begins with what was effectively the excommunication of John Chrysostom, moves through the threat and eventual sacking of Rome by the Visigoths and ends with the effective resurrection of Chrysostom to be hailed as one of the great minds in both Eastern and Western Catholicism. To get anywhere in Catholicism you need to be excommunicated at least once. Some of today's "company men" bishops might take note!
Barbarians at the Gate, Predestination & Erotic Penitence. Part 23.2
The exile of Chrysostom...
John Chrysostom continued to put his foot in his mouth. His predecessor in Constantinople, Bishop Nectarius, like Damasus of Rome, had been an easygoing individual who liked to wine and dine the wealthy and influential. But John had ruined his digestive system with his desert austerities, and ate alone. He continued to pour scorn on the rich and scathingly derided feminine luxuries.
He was considered to have overstepped his jurisdiction when he discovered that a number of bishops in Asia had paid consecration fees to the metropolitan of Ephesus, on a sliding scale according to the proportionate revenue of their diocese. The bishop of Ephesus forestalled punitive action by dying, but the bishops who had purchased their sees were removed from office by John. The notoriety thus generated fed the animosity of Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria, who like the bishop of Rome, considered Constantinople an upstart diocese, unjustly elevated.
When Chrysostom supported some monks from Egypt who had been exiled by Theophylus, he took the opportunity to convene a council at Chalcedon on the Asiatic shore of the Bhosporus opposite Constantinople and summoned Chrysostom to appear before it and answer charges. When he refused to submit himself to such a partisan group he was deposed. It would have been a hollow vote if he had been on good terms with the emperor Arcadius and his German wife Eudoxia. However, John had publicly criticized the lady in a sermon, luridly comparing her involvement in a property deal with the example of Jezebel.
Not surprisingly the pious, but effeminate, emperor endorsed the council decision and decreed Chrysostom's exile. Unbowed John preached a fiery parting sermon to a vast concourse, comparing the empress not only to Jezebel but also to Herodias, who was famous only for demanding the head of John the Baptist. Popular opinion had already named the father of Eudoxia's children, and it wasn't the emperor. When, the day after John's departure, Constantinople was shaken by an earthquake, it was taken by the populace as a sign of divine disfavor, and enraged citizens demanded John's return.
The imperial couple acceded to popular wrath and he was reinstated. But a few months later when a silver statue of Eudoxia was raised near to Sancta Sophia the bishop could not keep vitriolic disapproval out of his sermons. Coinciding as it did with a pamphlet issued by Theophilus that denounced Chrysostom as Satan disguised as an angel of light, the palace decided that the turbulent priest must go. He was exiled to an Armenian winter, but not before he had addressed appeals to the bishops of Rome, Milan and Aquileia.
As he kept up a stream of correspondence with supporters throughout the world, the decision was taken to remove him to an even remoter location. He died on the journey in September 407. His fate illustrated the vulnerability of the bishop of an imperial capital, unable to function freely and expected to dance attendance as a court chaplain. Emperor Arcadius survived him by only a few months. Eudoxia had preceded him, in Gibbon's words: "destroyed by the consequences of a miscarriage".
John Cassian, born in Rumania, was a monk in Bethlehem and in Egypt, before being ordained deacon at Constantinople. In 404 he journeyed to Rome to defend the cause of John Chrysostom. He stayed on in the West, was made a priest, and in 415 established two monasteries at Marseilles, one for men and one for women. His writings on monastic life, the Institutes and the Conferences became very influential in the church, both East and West.
The increasing threat from the Hun...
The year Emperor Arcadius died, the twelve-year-old Attila, already a mettlesome daredevil with a horse, became a hostage in Roman imperial hands at Constantinople. His uncle Rua, ruler of the Hun Empire that stretched from the Alps to the Caspian Sea, wished to gain time and lull the court at Constantinople into a false sense of security.
During his eight years as houseguest of the Romans Attila utilized his time well. Not confined to the court, he traveled extensively in Europe and Asia and got to know personally many of the leading personalities of both the western and eastern imperial courts. Unique among his people he gained a fluent knowledge of both Greek and Latin, at a time when the Roman Empire itself was growing apart because of language. Latin was rarely used in the eastern court and Greek had largely disappeared, even amongst scholars, in the West. Augustine knew only Latin. In the west young men had deserted Hellenic studies for Roman Law in the hope of government preferment.
Theodosius II was only seven years of age when he became emperor of the east. He would reign for forty-two years, coddled by his sister Pulcheria. Raised by servile women and eunuchs he became little more than a theatrical dummy, a puppet manipulated by his virgin sister, elder by two years. All three of his sisters, Pulcheria, Arcadia and Marina became nuns, cloistered with chosen friends in the palace. But Pulcheria was far from renouncing the world. She ruled temporal affairs, freeing her brother to enjoy a life of ceremonial, indolence and art.
In 408, the remaining pagan temples were by imperial order expropriated to the Christian church. The same year, following a massive invasion across the Rhine by the Germans, which Stilicho had been unable to staunch because he was involved with plans to invade the eastern empire, the harassed general agreed to pay the Visigoth leader Alaric, four thousand pounds of gold from the western imperial treasury. To defray the debt he melted down a statue of Virtus, the figure personifying Manly Worth. With payment of the ransom it was as though all Roman bravery and honor had perished. Most of the Roman garrison in Britain crossed to the continent to help repel the invaders, leaving the island nation virtually defenseless against Saxon invasion.
The sacking of Rome...
Whether true or not, Stilicho was accused of colluding with Alaric to put his own son on the throne. A mutiny was staged against him and his supporters were massacred. He rode post haste to Ravenna to plead with Honorius, but the dim-witted and ungrateful western emperor had him executed. Roman legionaries followed the example of the emperor and murdered the wives and children of the Germans in the legions. Some thirty thousand irate and disillusioned Germans thereupon decamped to Alaric and he and his Visigoths were soon at the gates of Rome. Twice bought off, on August twenty-third, 410, traitors opened the gates to the Visigoth leader.
On that stifling day the stately Basilica Aemilia, the hall of the moneychangers, would have been much cooler than the stuffy dwellings of the city. Relics of the misplaced confidence in Rome's impregnability can be seen in the green stains that still mark the Basilica's marble pavement. It was business as usual until the Goths poured in and sacked the city. The Basilica went up in flames and the green stains are copper coins fused into the stone by the heat of the fire. For three days the savage tribesmen pillaged the mistress of the world, which had not been conquered in eight hundred years. It must have seemed as if civilization itself was crashing into ruins.
Taking the emperor's half-sister Placidia with him, Alaric swept south, planning an invasion of North Africa. In southern Italy he fell ill, turned back and died. He was buried deep in the bed of the diverted river Busento in Calabria, with most of his loot. The river was then returned to its usual channel so that Alaric's body would never be found and subjected to any indignity.
The shock of the disaster to the Eternal City was felt throughout the Roman world. Jerome in his cell at Bethlehem wrote into the preface of his commentary on Ezekiel the sad exclamation, "The whole world has perished in one city". Augustine in his sermon on The Overthrow of the City, while likening it to the destruction of Sodom, said that in the case of Rome God had shown mercy, as the city had not been utterly destroyed.
When Pope Innocent returned to Rome from Ravenna, where he'd taken refuge, he found the great families gone and no one to rival him in rank or authority. The future greatness of the Papacy was one of the direct and immediate consequences of the fall of the Eternal City.
The strongest Roman military leader of the next decade was Constantius III, a general who came from the region of the Danube. His portrait bust reveals a long-necked, leonine-headed man, of serious demeanor. In the year after Alaric's sack of Rome Constantius took the initiative, defeating three rival claimants to the throne before establishing his capital at Arelate. Then, in 413, he extended to one of the invading tribes, the Burgundians, the status of allies and confederates, and ceded them the west bank of the middle reaches of the Rhine.
In the meantime, the brother-in-law and successor of Alaric, the Visigoth Ataulf, moved his people out of Italy and onto the fertile lands of southwest Gaul. To cement his good intentions he married Emperor Honorius' half-sister Placidia, the lady abducted from Rome. Honorius refused to recognize the marriage and forced Ataulf to move on to Spain where he was killed. Only when Ataulf's brother Wallia released Placidia to the Romans, were he and his people permitted to return to southwest Gaul. They were granted federate status, with Toulouse as their capital, in 418.
Constantius married Placidia, it is said, against her will, but she provided him with a son and in 421, Honorius proclaimed Constantius joint emperor of the west. But the eastern empire, effectively ruled by the emperor Theodosius' sister Pulcheria, refused to recognize a unilateral appointment. Constantius was furious, but he lived only another seven months.
Pulcheria was busy. She had chosen a bride for her brother, the daughter of a distinguished Athenian, pagan educator. Eudocia happily accepted baptism as the price of becoming empress of the east. A scholar of some note herself, many of her writings, mainly on religious subjects are still extant.
Following the birth of their first child, a daughter, Theodosius gratefully permitted his wife a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, from whence she returned to Constantinople with the supposed chains of St. Peter, the right arm of St. Stephen, and a picture of the Virgin Mary said to have been painted by St Luke. The holy relics however did not protect their discoverer.
Eudocia tried to supplant Pulcheria in counseling Theodosius and deciding policy, especially in religious and cultural matters. She also angered the court eunuch Chrysaphius who had effectively replaced Pulcheria as foreign policy adviser. Relegated as she was to spiritual adviser only, Pulcheria's anger boiled-over when Eudocia favored Bishop Nestorius, whom Pulcheria believed had snubbed her. When she managed to convince Theodosius of rumors that Eudocia had been adulterous, Eudocia was exiled to a penitent retreat in Jerusalem. Pulcheria was a characterful woman who moved mountains either through faith or by taking a stick to them.
The resurrection of Chrysostom...
Pope Innocent I, who believed he had made the churches of Gaul, Spain and Africa fully submissive to Rome, refused to be in communion with John Chrysostom's enemies and demanded that the great preacher's memory be vindicated. By unremitting firmness Innocent finally won the battle, aided by a large proportion of the populace of Constantinople who refused to accept John's successor Atticus and worshipped outside the walls of the eastern imperial city. Thirty years after his death John Chrysostom's relics were transported to Constantinople where the emperor Theodosius implored, in the name of his deceased parents, the forgiveness of the persecuted saint.
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