Nectarius, then, on September 27, 397, lay dead in his splendid palace; and the breath was hardly out of the Archbishop's body when there were a dozen austere intriguers' in the field, and the subterranean plots and whisperings began, and the wirepullers were incessantly at work. The floodgates of ecclesiastical ambition were opened, and poured their muddy sluices over the capital of the East.
All Constantinople buzzed and clacked with the counter-solicitations of eager interests, and every nameless pretender to the episcopal throne put into play every secret method in his power to win the coveted prize. For did not the Archbishop rank among the noblest in the whole land? Had he not the precedence over the most illustrious civilians at Court and in the houses of the great? Was not the Patriarch of Constantinople practically higher in position than even the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome?
The electorate with whom the choice rested was a little ill-defined. The provincial bishops were supposed to have weight in the matter, and as a synod of them happened at the time to be assembled in the city, under the presidency of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, their influence was regarded as highly important. But then the illustres and honorati -- all who had high civil offices, had also to be consulted. The people, too, had an undeniable voice in the nomination of their prelate; and the supreme court had necessarily to be reckoned with.
So, for four weary, dreary, and shameful months Constantinople became a turmoil of cabals. There was the cabal of bishops, each trying to further the promotion of his own favourite, or of himself. There was the cabal of the clergy of Constantinople, some striving with all the reckless passion of self-interest to procure their own preferment; others, who had no possible chance, trying to curry favour with anyone who, if elected, might advance their future interests; there was the cabal of influential personages who felt intensely interested in the result, because they had pitted their importance against each other, and the failure of their candidate would be a diminution of their prestige. And each separate faction strove to calumniate and undermine all the candidates of the rest.
Incomparably the most odious of these cliques were those of the clergy, who seemed to hesitate at no moral humiliation which would further their ambitious plans. There was no flattery, no complaisance to which they would not stoop, if they could only capture popularity among the lowest of the people. They trumpeted their own merits in every direction, and got them still more effectually trumpeted by the dictated eulogiums of their partisans. On the other hand, no amount of subterranean calumny was too gross if it served to dim the hopes or dash the prospects of a possible rival. As for the civil functionaries and Court officials, they were constantly receiving the visits of the clergy, who bowed before them with the most abject abasement. Money was spent with profusion in the furtherance of their intrigues. From dawn to dusk the baths, the colonnades, the church porches, the markets, had but one theme of common interest -- who was to be the new Archbishop?
I know,' some bourgeois would say mysteriously as he stood in a group of gossip-mongers.
You know?' another would answer, with disdainful curiosity. Who is it, then?'
Ah! that's telling. But I don't mind giving you a hint. It's one of the priests of the Church of the Anastasia.'
Oh! you mean Alopecius,' said a third. There you're out. They could not possibly elect so mere a booby!'
Ah! but,' said a fourth, he knows Castricia, and she has only to whisper his name in the ear of the Emperor, and he's certain. It's not for nothing that he gave her that pair of gold-embroidered shoes which he got all the way from Damascus.'
Nonsense!' said another. 'Isaac, the monk; he's the man. Trust him!' -- and a number of nods, and winks, and wreathed smiles seemed to appeal to something esoteric in the knowledge of the hearer.
You're about right,' chimed in another. Besides, he's got hold of Marsa, who is much more powerful than Castricia, for she's a sort of aunt of the new Empress.'
How sapient you all are!' answered another. None of you know the least thing about it. Isidore the Egyptian -- he'll be the man, you'll see. The Patriarch Theophilus is moving heaven and earth to get him elected -- no one knows why, unless it is that he may keep him under his thumb, and rule Constantinople with a rod of iron, as he rules Alexandria.'
What a shame to thrust a low Egyptian on us!' they murmured.
You are all reckoning without your host, and Theophilus too,' said another. There's one person who'll have more to say to the matter than even the Emperor himself, and that's the eunuch.'
Eutropius!' they all exclaimed.
Yes, Eutropius! Did you ever know any pie in which he had not his finger since he got rid of Rufinus?'
Ah!' said another, then that's why a certain person took a costly necklace of pearls to the Chamberlain's sister yesterday.'
A certain person! Who?'
Serapion,' answered the speaker, who hated Serapion with a perfect hatred, because he had been reproved by him for cheating and perjury.
That's just a lie out of your own wicked head,' hotly retorted the other. "Whatever the other may be, Serapion is a perfectly honest man, and if the patriarchate can only be picked out of the gutter, he would not stoop there for it.'
All this odious chatter was going on day by day and week by week; and the clergy, who were so largely mixed up with it, were sinking lower and lower into the contempt of all earnest Christians. There were many who even dreaded that the rivalry of cliques might deluge Constantinople with cruel massacre, as it had deluged Rome in the struggle for the Papacy between Damasus and Ursicinus in 367, when a hundred and thirty-seven corpses had hideously defiled, not only the Italian and Liberian basilicas, but even the floor of the Church of St. Agnes.
There seemed no end to the matter, and at last even the populace grew so weary and so ashamed of a struggle which seemed to banish from the Christian Church even the dregs of spirituality, that they agreed in a public assembly to leave the decision in the hands of the Emperor, entreating him to choose neither an intriguer, nor a nonentity, nor a time-serving worldling, but someone who by his ability and by his goodness would sustain the best traditions of a see over which a Gregory of Nazianzus had once presided.
That seemed likely to settle the matter in favour of the Egyptian presbyter, Isidore. The Emperor was believed to incline to him; Arcadius had succumbed to the ascendency of the bad hypocrite, Theophilus of Alexandria, a man who, in his boundless ambition, his hateful unscrupulosity, and his fierce cruelty when he was aroused to envy or hatred, was perhaps the worst type of many bad forms of priestliness in an evil age.
Nobody who knew him dreamt of crediting Theophilus with any pure motive. It was not generally known why he had pledged all his influence in favour of his obscure presbyter, Isidore, but it was generally believed that he would like to see a man of no distinction appointed, that he might bind him to himself by personal gratitude, and sufficiently dominate over him to render the throne of Constantinople entirely subordinate to that of Alexandria.
No doubt that motive existed, but there was another and a worse behind. Isidore was in possession of one of Theophilus's many dark secrets, and the Patriarch was prepared to pay any price to obviate the serious, but quite imaginary, possibility of being blackmailed by his own presbyter. He need not have been afraid. The only blackmailer was his own guilty conscience. Isidore was an honest man, and so little was he cognisant of the designs of his Patriarch, that when they were mentioned to him he fled back to Alexandria.
For Theophilus, whose eye was ever fixed, not on Heaven, but on the main chance, had seriously compromised himself nine years before; and the sense that he had done so must have been one of the many skeletons which occupied the dark places of his soul. In the year 387 the usurper Maximus, taking advantage of the youthful helplessness of Valentinian II., had invaded Italy, and though Theodosius had advanced to the defence of the young Emperor, the issue of the contest was highly uncertain. Theophilus wanted to profit by the victory of either; but as he had not the gift of prophecy, and could not tell which was the more likely to succeed, he prepared presents and sent letters of congratulation both to Maximus and to Theodosius, which were to be delivered according as victory declared for the usurper or the Emperor. Someone had necessarily to be taken into the Patriarch's confidence, and he entrusted Isidore to proceed to Rome with the duplicate letters. As fortune decided for Theodosius, Isidore presented to him the letter which bore his address. But he did not bring back with him to Alexandria the letter addressed to Maximus. He returned home precipitately, as though in great alarm, and declared that the deacon who accompanied him had stolen the letter to Maximus. Had that been the case, there was little doubt that the letter would be heard of again; but Theophilus wrongfully suspected that it was still in Isidore's possession, and there were popular rumours to that effect. The silence and complicity of Isidore were worth purchasing at any cost. His allegiance might be finally secured at the superb price of the Archbishopric of Constantinople, and Theophilus felt so sure of carrying his election that, for the first time for many years, he began to feel a little more at ease.
We shall hear the final fate of Isidore hereafter. His ultimate ruin was only one of a long black-list of crimes committed by this man, who was amongst the most eminent ecclesiastics of his day. But the times were very bad in the Church, as in the State. The evidence under this head which comes to us from every side is overwhelming and conclusive. Another Isidore, the famous saint and abbot of Pelusium, says: Once pastors would die for their flocks; now they destroy the sheep by causing them to stumble.... Once they distributed their goods to the needy; now they appropriate what belongs to the poor.... Once they practised virtue; now they ostracise those who do.' Once men avoided the episcopate because of the greatness of its authority; now they rush into it because of the greatness of its luxury. Abate your pride, relax your superciliousness, remember that you are but as they. Do not use the arms of the priesthood against the priesthood itself.' There are bishops who live up to the Apostolic standard. If you say "very few," I do not deny it.'
The decision as to the Archbishopric of Constantinople was now in the hands of the Emperor Arcadius, which, as everyone knew, meant that it was in the hands of the eunuch Eutropius. The Chamberlain was not in the slightest degree interested in the intrigues either of Theophilus or of any of the clergy of Constantinople. They only filled him with an amused but cynical disgust. He had determined on a coup de théâtre; he meant that Chrysostom, whom no one had ever mentioned or dreamed of, should be Archbishop. He had heard Chrysostom preach in Antioch, and had been stirred to the depths of his heart. He filled the Emperor with the praises of his eloquence, and of his genius.
He will be the glory of your Empire,' said Eutropius. 'His fame will throw the Patriarchs of Alexandria and of the West into the shade. His speech rushes like the Nile in flood. No one has ever heard anything like it.'
Arcadius obeyed the behest of his Minister with his usual sheepish nonchalance. His government was a mere slumber, in which he never did anything but what he was told by his master for the time being.
But will John come?' he asked.
I will manage that,' answered Eutropius.
But will not the Antiochenes rebel, and prevent his removal?'
Oh! I will manage all that. Only let your Eternity leave it to me, and enjoy the pageant I have provided for you to-night.'
That night, when the palace revels were over, Eutropius gave an unusually magnificent reception at the house of his sister. The clergy attended it in throngs, with the intense desire of currying favour and making themselves agreeable. Theophilus was present in all his pomp, and was surrounded by their adulations. Wherever he turned they were on their knees, beseeching the blessings which he scattered on all sides with the most peach-ripening of smiles. He felt perfectly certain of success, and was convinced that before the reception was over Eutropius would announce that the decision of the Emperor had fallen on his presbyter, Isidore. Eutropius did not undeceive him, but with a very humble bow, before the assemblage broke up, said to him in the general hearing:
May the humblest of the human race request a word with your Beatitude before you retire?'
Certainly,' said the Patriarch, with bland alacrity, now more than ever sure that his long intrigues had been crowned with success.
I thought that it might be interesting to your Sanctity, and to our friends in general, to know that the long vacancy in the Archbishopric has now at last been filled up.'
The eye of Theophilus glittered as he expressed his conviction that the Emperor's sacred majesty would be sure to have made a worthy choice, which all the world would approve.
Surely, surely,' said the eunuch, devoutly. His Eternity the Emperor, son of the holy and orthodox Theodosius, could not possibly do otherwise.'
And the new Archbishop is -- -- ?' asked Theophilus.
I quite agree with your Beatitude that the nomination will give universal delight,' said Eutropius, who, with a keen sense of amused malignity, was playing with the Patriarch and the assembled clergy as a cat plays with a mouse.
Only you have forgotten to name the fortunate candidate,' said Theophilus. Doubtless it is my saintly presbyter, Isidore.'
Oh no!' said Eutropius, blandly; it is no Egyptian. It is someone much more worthy and much more widely known than the nobody-in-particular Isidore.'
Theophilus was in an agony of dread and disappointment. 'Who is it?' he asked, almost foaming with rage.
Yes,' said Eutropius, pretending not to have heard the question. Quite true. I was telling the Emperor all about him this afternoon. He is the idol of his Church, the favourite of his people, a great writer, an ascetic, most purely orthodox, a man of dauntless independence, and of burning eloquence.'
It would have required a layman adequately to express the fury of Theophilus. He felt a mad desire to throttle the eunuch then and there, or at least, as he was accustomed to do in Egypt, to smite him such a blow in the face that the blood would flow. But he had to master his passion, and as the little, bald, wrinkled old man continued to rub his hands and to eye him with a gratified smile, he turned his back, and said:
If you choose to play with the feelings and insult the patience of all these reverend bishops and presbyters, and to conceal from us the Emperor's nomination, this is no place for me, and I can only retire.'
Oh!' said Eutropius, have I not mentioned his name? I beg your Beatitude's pardon a thousand times. It is -- ' after a slight pause, during which he watched the Patriarch with wickedly twinkling eyes -- 'it is John, the Presbyter of Antioch.'
John -- the -- Presbyter -- of -- Antioch!' repeated the clergy, in astonished tones.
John, the Presbyter of Antioch,' repeated the Chamberlain; 'an eloquent man, as Paul says, and mighty in the Scriptures.'
It was as though a thunderbolt had fallen into the midst of them, shattering a multitude of ambitions. But no one was more profoundly disturbed than Theophilus. He had been outwitted -- and by an eunuch! His influence had been set at nought, his earnest solicitations thrown back, as it were, in his face! But that was by no means all. He had heard enough of Chrysostom to know that he was the last man to allow himself to be overpowered by domineering arrogance, the last man to play the part of a complaisant subordinate and a flattering colleague. Theophilus might have made many another man -- even such a man as St. Jerome -- the tool and catspaw of his machinations, but John of Antioch? No! And was not John the favourite presbyter of Flavian, who had deliberately set at nought the citations of Theophilus, and had called him an arrogant and overweening Egyptian'?
I am sure that your Beatitude will feel exceptional gratification in consecrating John,' said Eutropius, rippling with laughter, which became less and less controllable as he marked the Patriarch's fierce discomfiture.
Something very like a curse was smothered in the voluminous folds of the beard of Theophilus, as he hissed out, I will never consecrate him.'
Eutropius heard, and laughed more merrily than ever, but affected not to have heard, and said: I must now wish good-night to all your reverences and your sanctities, and all the other illustrious guests who have honoured by their presence my poor abode; but perhaps his Beatitude of Alexandria will deign to give me one word in private before he departs.'
The glittering assembly buzzed into groups, and speedily broke up, leaving Theophilus standing alone. He was so absorbed in passionate thought that he hardly remembered where he was till a hand pulled his robe.
He started, and saw the eye of the Chamberlain fixed on him.
Excuse me,' said Eutropius, whose whole manner had changed to one of insolent triumph, I think you said you would never consecrate John.'
Never!' said Theophilus.
Never!' repeated the Patriarch, stamping his foot, and with a glance which, like that of the basilisk, would have struck the eunuch dead if its power had equalled its will.
Eutropius smiled, and drew from his bosom a little bundle of papers. Look here,' he said. Here is a certain letter you once wrote to Maximus. Double-dealing is dangerous -- especially for Patriarchs; and high treason is a very serious matter.'
The face of Theophilus grew pale as death, and he trembled.
You will consecrate John,' said the Chamberlain, 'or -- -- '; he tapped the papers with his finger, and saluted him with a mocking bow. He left him; but after he had taken a few paces he turned round to look at him. Theophilus was standing in an attitude of despair, and had lifted his clenched hands to heaven; but when he saw Eutropius looking at him he turned haughtily and indignantly away.
What can I do?' he exclaimed to himself when he reached the sumptuous chamber which he occupied. The wretch holds my life in his hands. Curses on him! But I will watch, and by the God of heaven I will be avenged, I will be avenged!'
Eutropius went into his library, and flung himself on the chair of ebon inlaid with ivory which stood before his writing-table. He recalled the past, and contrasted it with the present. I have triumphed,' he said. I am avenged on the cruelty and baseness of the world. My own parents betrayed my helpless infancy; they received my price from the slave-dealers of Armenia. They sold me to an Egyptian master. While my youth and beauty lasted he was kind to me, and I loved him; without one pang he sold me to Arintheus, and I had to do his vilest messages. Arintheus gave me to his daughter; I became a slave of the Gynæceum. I had to fan women with peacocks' feathers, to heat their baths, to carry their burdens, until that hateful Megæra, not even deigning to sell me, turned me out of doors as of no value. Would to God I had flung myself into the Nile, and not borne those years of turpitude and infamy! But Abundantius got me a place among the lowest eunuchs of the palace; and now,' he cried, striking the table with his fist, now I am here! My own skill, my own genius has lifted me. Theodosius himself sent me on the mission to John, the Egyptian eremite, who foretold his death in Italy when he went to fight Eugenius. I struck down the mighty Rufinus in his towering pride. As for Arcadius, I lead him about as if he were -- a cow. I have brought every one of my foes to my feet, and now I have humbled to the dust this wicked and wily Patriarch. Stilico himself fears me. My name is eulogised by millions of lips. I am practically the ruler of the world; and -- ' he broke into a storm of bitter sobs, and laid his head on his folded hands -- 'and the vilest wretch who sweeps the streets of Constantinople is happier than I. Would to God I had never been born!'
A hand was laid gently on his shoulder. He looked up with a start. It was his sister, who had silently entered the room -- the only being on earth whom he loved. She was past middle life, but still showed something of the beauty which once had marked them both.
He smiled at her sadly, the tears still in his eyes. She would not notice them. You have done a noble deed, my brother,' she said, in making John of Antioch the new Patriarch. He is a good man.'
I am a Christian and a Catholic,' he answered. Would that I were a better Christian!' He paused; and his conscience whispered to him that he relied on words and formulæ alone, and that his many misdeeds -- his greed, his revengefulness, the malice and hatred and wrath which he nursed in his heart against all mankind -- were utterly unchristian. But,' he said, 'John of Antioch was the best man whom I knew among all the clergy of the Empire, and in selecting him I have acted right, and in a way which will win me deserved popularity. But as for gratitude, sister -- alas! I never found a trace of it on earth!'