Introduction to the two Homilies on Eutropius
The interest of the two following discourses depends not only on their intrinsic value as specimens of Chrysostom's eloquence, but also on the singular and dramatic character of the incidents which gave occasion to them.
Arcadius the Emperor of the East like his brother Honorius the Emperor of the West was a man of feeble intellect. The history of the Empire under his reign is a melancholy record of imbecility on the part of the nominal rulers: of faithlessness and unscrupulous ambition on the part of their ministers. The chief administrator of affairs in the beginning of the reign of Arcadius was Rufinus, an Aquitanian Gaul; the very model of an accomplished adventurer. His intrigues, his arrogance, his rapacious avarice excited the indignation of the people, and he was at last assassinated by the troops to whom he was making an oration in the presence of the Emperor. His place in the favour and confidence of Arcadius was soon occupied by the eunuch Eutropius. The career of this person was a strange one. Born a slave, in the region of Mesopotamia, he had passed in boyhood and youth through the hands of many owners, performing the most menial offices incident to his position. At length Arnithus, an old military officer who had become his master, presented him to his daughter on her marriage; and in the words of the poet Claudian, "the future consul of the East was made over as part of a marriage dowry." 1 But the young lady after a time grew tired of the slave who was becoming elderly and wrinkled, and without trying to sell him turned him out of her household. He picked up a precarious living in Constantinople and was often in great want until an officer of the court took pity on him, and procured him a situation in the lower ranks of the imperial chamberlains. This was the beginning of his rise. By the diligence with which he discharged his humble duties, by occasional witty sayings, and the semblance of a fervent piety he attracted the notice of the great Emperor Theodosius (the father of Arcadius), and gradually won his confidence so as to be employed on difficult and delicate missions. On the death of Theodosius he became in the capacity of grand chamberlain the intimate adviser and constant attendant of Arcadius and the most subtle and determined rival of Rufinus. It was by his contrivance that the scheme of Rufinus for marrying his own daughter to the Emperor was defeated: and that Eudoxia the daughter of a Frankish general was substituted for her. After the murder of Rufinus the government was practically in his hands; but he exercised his power more craftily than the vain and boastful Gaul. He contrived at first to discharge all the duties which fell to his lot as chamberlain with humble assiduity, and sought no other title than he already possessed. Slowly but surely however he climbed to the summit of power by the simple process of putting out of the way on various pretexts all dangerous competitors. He deprived his victims of their last hope of escape by abolishing the right of the Church to afford shelter to fugitives. He sold the chief offices of the State, and the command of the provinces to the highest bidders. By surrounding the Emperor with a crowd of frivolous companions, by dissipating his mind with a perpetual round of amusements, by taking him every spring to Ancyra in Phrygia where he was subjected to the enervating influence of a soft climate and luxurious style of living he made the naturally feeble intellect of Arcadius more feeble still and withdrew it from the power of every superior mind but his own. From the pettiest detail of domestic life to the most important affairs of state, the wily minister at length ruled supreme. Arcadius was little more than a magnificently dressed puppet, and the eunuch slave was the real master of half the Roman world. It was by his advice that on the death of Nectarius in 397 that Chrysostom had been appointed, very much against his own will, to the vacant See of Constantinople. If Eutropius expected to find a complaisant courtier in the new Archbishop he certainly sustained a severe disappointment. Some little pretences which he made of assisting the work of the Church by patronising Chrysostom's missionary projects could not blind the Archbishop to the gross venality of his administration, or exempt him from the censure and warning of one who was too honest and bold to be any respecter of persons. In fact when the Archbishop declaimed against the cupidity and oppressions of the rich it was obvious to all that Eutropius was the most signal example of these vices. At last the minister, not content to remain as he was--enjoying the reality of power without the name--prepared the way for his own ruin by inducing the Emperor to bestow on him the titles of Patrician and Consul. The acquisition of these venerable names by the eunuch slave caused a profound sensation of shame and indignation throughout the Empire, but especially in the Western capital, where they were bound up with all the noblest and most glorious memories in the history of the Roman people. The name of Eutropius was omitted from the Fasti or catalogue of consuls inscribed in the Capitol at Rome. Amidst the general decadence and degeneracy of public spirit in the Empire the West did not descend, could not have descended, to those depths of servile adulation to which the Byzantines stooped at the inauguration of Eutropius as Consul. The senate, and all the great officials military and civil poured into the palace of the Caesars to offer their homage, and emulated each other in the honor of kissing the hand and even the wrinkled visage of the eunuch. They saluted him as the bulwark of the laws, and the second father of the Emperor. Statues of bronze or marble were placed in various parts of the city representing him in the costume of warrior or judge, and the inscriptions on them styled him third founder of the city, after Byzas, and Constantine. No wonder that Claudian declaimed with bitter sarcasm against "a Byzantine nobility and Greek divinities" and invokes Neptune by a stroke of his trident to unseat and submerge the degenerate city which had inflicted such a deep disgrace on the Empire. 2 A blow indeed was about to fall upon the eastern capital, directed not by the hand of a mythic deity, but of a stout barbarian soldier. The consequences of it were averted from the city only by the sacrifice of the new consul upon whom it fell with crushing effect. He sank never to rise again. Tribigild, a distinguished gothic soldier who had been raised to the rank of Tribune in the Roman army, had demanded higher promotion for himself and higher pay for a body of military colonists in Phrygia of which he had the command. His petition had been coldly dismissed by Eutropius; Tribigild resent the affront and with the troops which he commanded broke into revolt. Eutropius entrusted the conduct of an expedition against him to one of his favorites, who suffered a most ignominious defeat in which he perished, and the greater part of his army was cut to pieces. Constantinople was convulsed with terror and indignation. Gäinas another Goth in command of the city troops declared that he could do nothing to check the progress of the revolt unless Eutropius was banished, the principal author of all the evils of the State. His demand was backed by the Empress Eudoxia, who had experienced much insolence from the minister. Eutropius was deprived of his official dignity, his property was declared confiscated, and he was commanded to quit the palace instantly under pain of death. Whither could the poor wretch fly who was thus in a moment hurled from the pinnacle of power into the lowest depths of degradation and destitution. There was but one place to which he could naturally turn in his distress--the sanctuary of the Church; but by the cruel irony of his fate, a law of his own devising here barred his entrance. Yet he knew that the law prohibiting asylum had been resented and resisted by the Church and it might be that the Archbishop would connive at the violation of the obnoxious measure by the very person who had passed it. He resolved to make the experiment. In the humblest guise of a suppliant, tears streaming down his puckered cheeks, his scant grey hairs smeared with dust, he crept into the Cathedral, drew aside the curtain in front of the altar and clung to one of the columns which supported it. Here he was found by Chrysostom in a state of pitiable and abject terror, for soldiers in search of him had entered the Church, and the clattering of their arms could be heard on the other side of the thin partition which concealed the fugitive. With quivering lips he craved the asylum of the church, and he was not repulsed as the destroyer of the refuge which he now sought. 3 Chrysostom rejoiced in the opportunity afforded to the church of taking a noble revenge on her adversary. 4 He concealed Eutropius in the sacristy, confronted his pursuers, and refused to surrender him. "None shall violate the sanctuary save over my body: the church is the bride of Christ who has entrusted her honor to me and I will never betray it." He desired to be conducted to the Emperor and taken like a prisoner between two rows of spearmen from the Cathedral to the palace 5 where he boldly vindicated the church's right of asylum in the presence of the Emperor. Arcadius promised to respect the retreat of the fallen minister, and with difficulty persuaded the angry troops to accept his decision. The next day was Sunday, and the Cathedral was thronged with a vast multitude eager to hear what the golden mouth of the Archbishop would utter who had dared in defence of the Church's right to defy the law, and confront the tide of popular feeling. But few probably were prepared to witness such a dramatic scene as was actually presented. The Archbishop had just taken his seat in the "Ambon" or high reading desk a little westward of the chancel from which he was wont to preach on the account of his diminutive stature, and a sea of faces was upturned to him waiting for the stream of golden eloquence when the curtain of the sanctuary was drawn aside and disclosed the cowering form of the miserable Eutropius clinging to one of the columns of the Holy Table. Many a time had the Archbishop preached to unheeding ears on the vain and fleeting character of worldly honor, prosperity, luxury, and wealth: now he would force attention, and drive home his lesson to the hearts of his vast congregation by pointing to a visible example of fallen grandeur in the poor wretch who lay grovelling behind him.
Eutropius remained for some days within the precincts of the Church and then suddenly departed. Whether he mistrusted the security of his shelter and hoped to make his escape in disguise, or whether he surrendered himself on the understanding that exile would be substituted for capital punishment cannot be certainly known. Chrysostom declared that if he had not abandoned the Church, the Church would never have given him up. 6 Anyhow he was captured and conveyed to Cyprus, but soon afterwards he was tried at Constantinople on various charges of high crimes and misdemeanors against the State, and condemned to suffer capital punishment. He was taken to Chalcedon and there beheaded. 7 The second of the two following discourses was delivered a few days after Eutropius had quitted the sanctuary of the Church.