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The Early Church, from Ignatius to Augustine by  George Hodges
Table of Contents


 

 

MONASTICISM IN THE EAST: BASIL AND GREGORY

I. THE BEGINNINGS OF MONASTICISM

[150] AT the heart of monasticism is the vision of an ideal life, The true monk desires to get away from the temptation and distraction of the world, that he may dwell with God.

The belief that such a life could thus be realized was based on arguments derived from psychology and from philosophy.

The psychological reason for monasticism was drawn from the fact that the body affects the soul. Let us shut out all disquieting sounds and disturbing voices, and continue in silence, that we may have a composed spirit. Let us build a wall between us and the pride of the eye, that we may not see the splendor of the world nor be exposed to its solicitations. Especially, let us live in such a state that we may be free to discipline the body, to bring it into bondage that our soul may be at liberty, to minimize it for the magnifying of our spirit. It was discovered by primitive man that fasting induces a certain psychological condition, wherein, the body being abandoned and forgotten, [151] the soul sees visions and hears voices, and attains the beatitude of ecstasy. It was found that protracted abstinence produced a gradual intoxication of the soul. It became one of the unsuspected luxuries of the saints.

The philosophical reason for monasticism was drawn from the theory that the body corrupts the soul. Matter being essentially evil, and the body being the source of all sin, our proper procedure is to make the body weak. Only by ascetic practices may we attain the victory of the spirit. The idea first appeared as heresy, being the doctrine of the Gnostics and of the Neoplatonists, but it took possession of the general mind. Especially in the East, it poisoned the souls of the saints. At its worst, it brought into being the mad monks—the grazing saints, who went about on their hands and knees and ate grass; the pillar saints, like Simeon Stylites; the chained saints, so fastened together that when one lay down to sleep the other was pulled up to pray. At its best, it made religion morbid, defying nature, contradicting the revelation of the will of God in the body of man, and glorifying hunger and thirst, and rags and celibacy and dirt, driving the saints into the deserts.

The tendency toward monasticism, psychological and philosophical, was assisted by the hardness and the badness of the world.

[152] It was a hard world out of which men fled to save their lives. Some abandoned it on account of the cost of living. The burden of expense was made uncommonly heavy in the fourth century by a new method of financial administration in the empire. The patrician class, including many very rich men, was exempt from taxation. The slave class could not be taxed. Accordingly, all the responsibility for maintaining the government was put upon the plebeians, the men of business, merchants and manufacturers. They were compelled to serve in the curia of their town, and in that capacity had to pay the assessed taxes out of their own pockets, Thus they were at first impoverished and then ruined, and finally taxed out of existence. Some of them fled from the world. They sought the simple life of the monastery.

The heaviest hardship of the time was the continual tragedy of war. It was a universal curse. The contentions of the Christians among themselves, in riotous councils, in street fights, in pitched battles, continued until the defeat and death of the emperor Valens. And the victors at Adrianople were the barbarians, whose victory predicted the fall of the empire. These enemies occupied northern Europe and extended as far east as the boundaries of China. In the third century of our era, a tribe of them, the Huns, being [153] defeated by the Chinese, were driven west. On their forced march they pushed against the Goths. The Goths, thus beset, gained permission from the Romans to cross the Danube, and settled in Thrace. There were more than a million of them. They became an intolerable menace. At last Valens attacked them, and was defeated, and the Roman army was ingloriously overwhelmed.

The Roman Empire received its death wound on that day. Thereafter, Goths, Huns and Vandals constantly beset the civilized frontier. They were like the Indians in the early days of American colonization. The annals of the time are filled with the sackings of cities, and with the murderous pillage of the countryside. Out of these troubles men sought safety in the monastic life. They made their way into remote and desert regions, into the wilderness, into the bleak mountains, to get out of the reach of these invading savages.

The world was not only hard but bad, and men went out of it to save their souls. One day, in Egypt, about the beginning of the last quarter of the third century (there is no definite record of either date or place) a young man named Antony, hearing in church the word of the Lord, "If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure [154] in heaven: and come, follow me," obeyed. The three hundred acres which he had inherited from his father he divided among his neighbors, and betook himself to the desert. There he won those victories over divers temptations which Athanasius made famous in the book which he wrote about him. He was the first known pioneer of Christian monasticism.

Two contemporary witnesses, one pagan, the other Christian, testify to the prevailing wickedness of the world of the fourth century. The pagan witness is the honest historian Ammianus Marcellinus. He found the rich proud, selfish and cruel; he criticised their extravagance in dress, their enthusiastic racing and gambling, their excesses in eating and drinking. He found the poor pauperized and corrupted by state aid, fed at the public cost with corn, wine, oil and pork, and provided with free tickets to the plays and games which confirmed their brutality and lust. The Christian witness is St. Jerome. He describes society as tainted in every place with sensuality, a huge sin against the seventh commandment. These men were contemporaries in Rome in the fourth century. It is true that Ammianus was an old soldier, and that Jerome was an ascetic; and that they were thus inclined to judge their neighbors with severity. There is [155] plenty of other evidence, however, that the nominal conversion of the Roman Empire to the Christian religion had effected no visible improvement in the common morals. The world was worse rather than better. Out of its besetting temptations men fled to save their souls.

They fled from the world, which in the first century was believed by the Christians to be doomed, and liable to be destroyed by divine fire before the end of the year, and which in the fourth century was believed by the Christians to be damned: it belonged to the devil. They fled also from the church, which they accused of secularity and of hypocrisy. Many of the monks were laymen, who in deep disgust had forsaken the services and sacraments. They said their own prayers and sought God in their own way, asking no aid from priests. They were men who had resolved never to go to church again.

Antony was a hermit rather than a monk. Finding a deserted fort on the bank of the Nile, opposite the Fayum, he made its walls a barrier between him and all mankind. He came not out, nor saw the face of man, for twenty years. But in the meantime others of like mind, fugitives like himself from the hardness and the badness of the world, had gathered about him. They had built their huts around his fort like the tents of a be- [156] sieging army. They felt that to be near to him, even though they could not see him, was to be near to God in whose presence he lived. Thus the name "monk" (monos), which at first had meant one who lives alone, came to mean one who indeed lives alone but in company with many others also living alone in the same neighborhood. Antony found himself surrounded by a multitude of solitaries. At last he came out, in response to their calls, and taught them the rules which he had adopted for himself.

The next step was taken, a few years later, by Pachomius. In southern Egypt, near Dendera, he organized the monks among whom he lived into a community. Under his leadership their huts were arranged in rows, and the lane (laura) between them gave the name "laura" to this first monastery. He suggested a habit, a tunic of white sheepskin with a hood. Their prescribed food was bread and water, with a little fruit and vegetables, once a day. Pachomius appointed hours for prayer. Common meals and common prayers necessitated a refectory and a chapel. The life of the community was made more normal and healthful by the undertaking of regulated work: the brothers tilled the ground, and made mats and baskets which were sold for their support. Pachomius founded nine such monasteries [157] for men and one for women, all under the same rule, and the number of these communities increased rapidly.

Thus beside the informal, partially regulated, Antonian monasticism of northern Egypt, grew this Pachomian monasticism of southern Egypt, in which the principle of solitude was displaced, in great measure, by the principle of brotherhood. The banks of the Nile and the adjacent deserts were populated by these devotees.

II. THE MONKS OF ANNESI

In the middle of the fourth century, at a time when there were no communities of monks outside of Egypt, two young men at the University of Athens determined to take up the monastic life. One was named Basil, the other was named Gregory.

Cappadocia, the district from which these two men came, had an unsavory reputation in the contemporary world. Cappadocia, Caria and Crete were called "the three bad K's" (tria kappa kakista). Men who had their residence in more favored regions liked to tell how a viper bit a Cappadocian, and the viper died. It was a forlorn land, they said, buried under snow in winter, and inhabited by timid and treacherous people. It lay to the south of Pontus, the country so [158] maligned by Tertullian in his attack on Marcion. Nevertheless, Cappadocia had already produced an eminent saint in Apollonius of Tyana, the account of whose life was read by the Neoplatonists as the Christians read the Gospels. And the glimpses which we get of the homes of these youths are revelations of good Christian living.

Basil's grandfather and grandmother had suffered in the Diocletian persecution, and for seven years had lived in the wild woods of Pontus. His father, a man of wealth, was a famous teacher of rhetoric; his mother was celebrated for her beauty. Of their nine children,—four sons and five daughters,—three sons and three daughters were canonized as saints. The son who did not become a saint was a lawyer, and attained eminence as a judge; nothing is known of the unsainted daughters. Basil was at first taught at home by his father, and then sent to school in the Cappadocian Cęsarea. There he met Gregory.

Gregory's father was a bishop, whose diocese consisted of his own little town. He had once belonged to an obscure sect in which Christianity was mingled with Persian and Hebrew elements; fire was revered as the symbol of God, and the Sabbath was rigorously kept. There were many such bishops, each in his village church, like the early Congregational ministers of New England. [159] And there were many such sects, little experiments in Christian eclecticism. Gregory's mother, however, was a person of such strictness of devotion, and so remote, from any idea of compromise, that she would not even look at a pagan temple when she passed it in the street. She took him to church, from the days of his earliest childhood, and dedicated him to the ministry. She did not, however, have him baptized: that was not yet the rule. Presently he was sent to study in Cęsarea.

The two friends went up to the University of Athens: first Gregory, then Basil. Years after, when Gregory preached the sermon at the funeral of Basil, he recalled their student days together, and told how he protected Basil from the customary initiation of freshmen. It was a rough ceremony which ended with the subjection of the novice to an involuntary bath. "I kept him from being hazed at college," said Gregory, "when he was a freshman.''

Students gathered in great numbers, and from long distances, in the University of Athens. One of the contemporaries of Gregory and Basil was Julian, afterwards emperor and called the "Apostate." They studied rhetoric and philosophy: rhetoric meaning Greek literature,—the poets, tragedies and historians; philosophy meaning logic, ethics and physics.

[160] Basil and Gregory were interested not only in rhetoric and in philosophy, but in religion. "Two ways were known to us, the first of greater value, the second of smaller consequence: the one leading to our sacred buildings and the teachers there, the other to secular instructors." They agreed that they would seek the monastic life together. Their studies ended, Gregory went home to help his father in his little diocese of Nazianzus; Basil undertook a journey to the East, partly for the joy of strange sights in strange lands, partly for the purpose of learning what manner of life the monks were living by the Nile.

In the course of his travels Basil visited the Antonian and the Pachomian communities. To his practical, administrative mind the life of brotherhood looked better than the life of solitude. This he resolved to practise. He returned to Cappadocia, full of enthusiasm, eager to recite the lessons he had learned, and called on Gregory to join him. After some debate as to the best place for a monastic retreat,—Basil preferring Annesi and Gregory preferring Tiberina,—they decided on Annesi. The decision was highly characteristic of the relationship between the friends: Basil was always temperamentally, and perhaps unconsciously, a domineering saint, with scant consideration for Gregory's opinions.

[161] Annesi was a rocky glen, in Pontus, beside the river. Iris. Basil described it in a letter. "There is a lofty mountain covered with thick woods, watered toward the north with cool and transparent streams. A plain lies beneath, enriched by the waters that are ever draining from it, and skirted by a spontaneous profusion of trees almost thick enough to be a fence; so as even to surpass Calypso's island, which Homer seems to have considered the most beautiful spot on the earth. Indeed, it is like an island, enclosed as it is on all sides; for deep hollows cut off the sides of it; the river, which has lately fallen down a precipice, runs all along the front, and is impassable as a wall; while the mountain, extending itself behind, and meeting the hollows in a crescent, stops up the path at its roots. There is but one pass, and I am master of it."

He was writing to Gregory, arguing for Annesi and making fun of muddy Tiberina. The breezes blow, he says, from the river, there are flowers and singing birds; and a deep pool is full of fish.

Gregory, speaking of the place after some experience of it, said that it was "shut in by mountains, so that the sun was rarely seen. The ground was encumbered by thorn-bushes, and was too precipitous for safe walking. The roar of [162] the river drowned the voice of psalmody." He shuddered at the recollection of the biting winds, the cheerlessness of their hut, their fruitless labors in the so-called garden, and the poverty of their meals. Their teeth could make no impression on the solid hunks of bread. Thus Gregory, in his turn, made fun of the retreat preferred by Basil.

There they settled, where the summer verified the glowing praise of Basil, and the winter confirmed the laments of Gregory. No doubt, they encountered hardship: that is what they sought. Happily for their health, Basil's mother was living just across the river, and saw to it that the young monks did not starve. They said their prayers, and read the works of Origen from which they made a series of selections which they afterwards published. They went without food and without sleep, to their hearts' content. Other like-minded persons joined them. The ascetic spirit was in the common air of Cappadocia and Pontus. Already there were hermits, living as Antony had begun to live; and many others, keeping rules of strictness in their own homes. When a man like Basil, of wealth and high social station, a graduate of the University of Athens, betook himself to a glen beside a river, there were many to follow him. The conditions which had surrounded Antony [163] and Pachomius surrounded him. And Basil and Gregory, like their predecessors in Egypt, were moved to make for themselves and their pious neighbors a rule of life.

Letters of Basil, and two series of Rules, preserve for us his ideals of the monastic manner of living.

In one letter, the second in a collection of more than three hundred, he discusses the matter in detail. We must strive, he says, after a quiet mind. He who lives in the world is exposed to perpetual distraction; he is anxious about his wife and children, worried by the care of his house and the oversight of his servants, distressed by misfortunes in trade and quarrels with his neighbors. Every day darkens the soul. The only escape is by the way of solitude. Let there be, then, such a place as ours, separate from intercourse with men, that the tenor of our exercises be not interrupted from without.

The day begins with prayers and hymns; thus we betake ourselves to our labors, seasoned with devotion. The study of the Bible is our instruction in our duty. This, too, is very important—to know how to converse, to be measured in speaking and hearing, to keep the middle tone of voice. As to dress, a tunic with a girdle is sufficient, avoiding bright colors and soft materials. Shoes [164] should be cheap but serviceable. Beyond this, we pay no heed to our appearance. Indeed, garments not over clean and hair not smoothly brushed indicate a humble and submissive spirit. So, too, as to food: for a man in good health bread will suffice, and water will quench thirst; some vegetables may be added. Before and after eating, let grace be said. Let there be one fixed hour for taking food, that of all the twenty-four this alone may be spent upon the body. Let sleep be broken in upon by prayer and meditation.

Other details are added in a letter "On the Perfection of the Life of Solitaries." Basil advises silence. He speaks again of the modulated voice, and desires the seeker after God to avoid all rough and contemptuous answers, all wily glances and gestures of contempt. He advises poverty. He who comes to God ought to embrace poverty in all things.

Basil's "Longer and Shorter Rules," so called, are in the form of conferences or instructions. They appear to have been written by Basil with the help of Gregory for the communities which assembled around their retreat in Pontus.

They enjoin withdrawal from the world, and renunciation of all private property, though this is not enforced with thoroughgoing strictness. Hours are appointed for daily prayer: on waking [165] from sleep, in the midst of the morning, at noon-day, in the midst of the afternoon, at the close of the day, on retiring to rest, at midnight, and before the dawn,—eight times. Watching and fasting are so regulated as to restrain excessive austerity; life is to be plain and simple, without needless distress. During meals a book is read, "and the brethren are to think more of what they hear than of what they eat." Bread and fish are appropriate, remembering the miracle in the wilderness. "To fast or watch more than the rest is self-will and vain-glory."

The Rules prescribe work as an essential part of life. Basil suggests the quiet trades, and such as do not minister to luxury,—weaving, shoe-making, carpentering, especially agriculture. The better educated among the brethren are to find their work in study, especially the study of the Bible; they are also to teach the young, who may be sent by their parents to the monastery school. The brethren are to engage in works of charity, ministering to the poor and caring for the sick, but in all cases for the sake of the soul rather than for the relief of the body.

Over the community is a superior, who assigns the tasks, and who is to be obeyed so long as his commands are not contrary to God's commandments. Other officers have their appropriate [166] responsibilities. Confessions are to be made to the senior brethren, especially to those who are skilled in such ministration; the confessor exercises his office not because of appointment, but because of natural ability. Basil prefers many small communities, such as can have one lamp and one fire, as contrasted with the vast fraternities of Egypt. These communities he would have federated, with regular conferences of their superiors. Some communities will be of men, others of women,—the women making and mending the men's clothes; the men helping the women with their accounts, and administering the sacraments.

These Basilian Rules, which determined the ideals and the modes of life of monasticism not only in Asia Minor but throughout the Eastern Church, and determine them to this day,. improved upon the Antonian and the Pachomian Rules in their emphasis upon social duty. The disciples of Antony, in spite of their residence in a community, were at heart hermits; and although the monasteries of Pachomius brought the brethren nearer together, still the solitary life was regarded as more acceptable with God. But Basil organized a brotherhood. The monastic life, as he saw it, was to be lived in common. The dormitory, the refectory, the chapel, the work of the [167] monastery farm, kept the monks together. Basil related them not only to each other, but to the outside world. He came to see that the best place for a monastery is not in the midst of a wilderness, but in the neighborhood of a city, where the school and the hospital of the cloister are accessible to the people.

Out of the serenity of this monastic life, Basil and Gregory were called into the active service of the church. Gregory went to help his father, the bishop of Nazianzus; Basil went to help the aged bishop of Cęsarea. In so doing they set an example which is still followed in the Eastern Church. In Greece, in Russia, to this day, the bishop is chosen from the monastery. It seemed at first to relate the church to the world. Out of the discipline of seclusion, in the strength of holy meditation, came the bishop, as the Master descended from the Hill of the Transfiguration to enter into social service in the plain. But the eventual result was to incapacitate the church for influential work. The bishops came from the monasteries ignorant of the world about them, speaking a language and living a life of their own. Before the fourth century was ended, the Eastern Church had retired from that control of public affairs into which the Western Church was triumphantly entering.

III. BASIL, ARCHBISHOP OF CAESAREA

[168] The world into which Basil and Gregory came was ruled by their old schoolmate Julian. He was attempting a restoration of paganism.

Julian had been brought up a Christian, but he hated Christianity. He despised the sophistries of his instructors, men of the Arian theology, who, neglecting the study of Christ and the gospel, occupied their time with the dreariest of metaphysical discussions. He turned to Homer and Hesiod, to Plato and Aristotle. He was repelled by the contentions of the Christians as they wrangled over points of doctrine, fighting in the streets and in the churches, debating theology with fists and clubs, and hating one another for the love of God. That secularization of religion, which was sending devout men out of the church into the monastic life, inclined Julian to seek for God in the old pagan way. It is a serious arraignment of the Christianity of the fourth century that Julian, earnest, pure-minded, sincerely religious, honestly devoted to the welfare of the empire, regarded it as he did.

It is at the same time an evidence of the substantial strength of the Christian Church that Julian was unable even to endanger it. He ordered the rebuilding of the temples which the [169] Christians had destroyed, and the renewal of the sacrifices. He brought back deposed bishops whom his predecessors had exiled, leaders of heresies and schisms, and thereby increased the confusions and contentions of the church. He abolished the privileges which had been granted to the Christians, and forbade them to teach in the schools. He declined to interfere with the mobs who attacked the churches and the clergy. He brought the whole influence of his imperial power to the service of the pagan restoration. But it was like an endeavor to give life to the dead. The day of paganism had passed. It is said of Julian that he once asked, "What is the Galilean carpenter doing now?" and was answered, "He is making a coffin"—a coffin for dead paganism. It was believed among the Christians that when Julian died, in an inglorious war against the Persians, he cried, "O Galilean, thou hast conquered!" His endeavor to establish an imperial pagan church never even approached success.

After Julian came Valens. As Julian had attempted to make the empire pagan, Valens tried to make it Arian. This was a much more serious matter. The long controversy between the Arians and the Athanasians was in such a state that nobody could predict with reasonable confidence whether the faith of Nicęa, would be maintained [170] or rejected. Athanasius was still living, but he was in the end of his days, and the next Pope of Alexandria was an Arian. The Pope of Constantinople was an Arian. Antioch was divided between two claimants of the episcopal office. The Pope of Rome was far away from the centre of the church, ignorant of the Greek language in which the debate was conducted and upon whose fine distinctions it depended, and much perplexed by the subtleties of the metaphysical discussion. There was crying need of a strong, clear-minded, influential orthodox leader, to come to the reinforcement of the losing side. He must be able to hold his own against a hundred bishops, and to withstand an emperor.

Such a man appeared in the person of Basil, now archbishop of Cęsarea. He took the direction of the cause of orthodoxy. His commanding personality, which had made him the founder of the new monasticism, made him the savior of the church. His energy was endless. He administered his vast diocese, preached persistently, fostered monasteries, established so great a hospital outside the walls of Cęsarea that it seemed a town by itself, wrote innumerable letters, published tracts and books which involved serious study, revised the liturgy, participated vigorously in a hundred controversies.

[171] To him once appeared the Pretorian Prefect Modestus, sent by Valens to require him to conform to the Arian heresy or to resign. "Do you know," said the prefect to the prelate, "what I can do to you?"—"What can you do?"—"I can punish you with confiscation, with torture, and with death."—"Do your worst," said Basil. "All that I have is a few books and these clothes; you cannot exile me from the grace of God; and death will but bring me the sooner into His blessed presence."—"We bishops," he said, "are not arrogant, nor wantonly defiant; but where the cause of God is at stake, we despise all else: fire, sword, wild beasts, have no terror for us."

Presently, Valens came himself. Basil was in his cathedral, which was filled with a multitude of people. The responses in the service sounded like peals of thunder. The bishop stood, according to the ancient custom, behind the Holy Table, facing the congregation. His appearance—tall, with white beard, attired in the splendid vestments of his office—overawed the emperor. Valens had a conference with Basil, after which he sent him money for his hospital.

Meanwhile, Cappadocia had been divided into two provinces, and Cęsarea in Cappadocia Prima had a rival in Tyana in Cappadocia Secunda. The rivalry extended to the bishops. Each diocese [172] depended for material support upon the produce of outlying farms; the servants of the two bishops' fought at the crossroads. Thereupon Basil, after the manner of the big man whose overmastering strength makes him inconsiderate of his smaller neighbor, took his brother Gregory and set him down to hold the road at Nyssa, making him bishop of that place, paying no attention to his remonstrances. And he took Gregory his friend and put him down to hold the road at Sasima, making him bishop in the same way. Sasima consisted of a few houses around a posting-station. "There was no water, no vegetation, nothing but dust, and the never-ceasing noise of passing carts." Into these forlorn places Basil thrust the two Gregories, shy and gentle scholars. Thereby he lost their friendship for a time, though they forgave him. He set what he believed to be the good of the church above all friendships; only, in this instance, the good of the church consisted in the safe delivery of eggs and chickens from the Taurus Mountains. Gregory the brother remained at Nyssa; Gregory the friend, after a single look at Sasima, returned to Nazianzus.

In 378 came the battle of Adrianople, and Valens met his death. The Arian cause died with him. The next year Basil died, having seen only the beginning of that triumph of the Nicene faith [173] to which he had so valiantly contributed. In the year following, Gregory of Nazianzus was called to Constantinople.

IV. GREGORY, ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE

A new ruler had now established himself on the throne of the empire, the last ruler of the united Roman world. One night in Antioch, a little group of men of rank met in profound secrecy to ask a question of the Fates. The room had been purified by the burning of Arabian incense. In the middle of the floor was a great metal basin, having engraved upon its rim the letters of the Greek alphabet. In the basin stood a tripod made of laurel. Into the dim light of this darkened room came a sorcerer, in white, having in one hand a sprig of a tree, and in the other a thread of flax fastened to a ring. He seated himself upon the tripod, chanted an incantation to the gods who disclose the future, and swung the ring around the rim. The ring was thus to answer the question, Who shall be the next emperor of Rome? The magic ring touched first Th, then e, then o, then d. Thereupon the company in terror or in satisfaction stopped the sorcery, and fled each to his own house. But the secret was betrayed. Valens put some of the conspirators to death, and a number of good and innocent men whose [174] names began with the fatal letters perished with them.

One of the victims of the fear and anger of the emperor was the great commander, Theodosius. He had been the ruler of Britain, where he had defended the Roman colony against the Picts and Scots. He had been the ruler of Africa, where he had quelled a dangerous insurrection. Upon the death of Theodosius, his son, of the same name, gave up his position in the army and retired to his farm in Spain. When Valens fell at Adrianople, Gratian, Emperor of the West, called Theodosius to be Emperor of the East.

Theodosius was still busy at the wars when Gregory appeared in Constantinople. It was not yet certain which side the new ruler would take in the controversy by which the church was divided. The city of Constantinople was almost wholly Arian. The orthodox congregation to which Gregory had come to minister was so weak and small that the services were held in a private house.

But Gregory was an unusual preacher. Lacking as he was in most of the physical advantages which assist public speech,—a short, slight, shy man, bald except for a thin fringe of gray hair, stoop-shouldered, and shabbily dressed,—he had a charm of voice, a directness of manner, an ear- [175] nestness of purpose, and a divine gift of eloquence which profoundly impressed his hearers. He forgot his shyness when he arose to speak, and they forgot his looks. The house became a church, and the church was enlarged until its success alarmed the Arians. One night they stoned it.

The increasing congregation attracted the notice of an ecclesiastical adventurer, named Maximus. Gregory, simple-minded and unsuspecting, trusted him. But Maximus was the candidate of the bishop of Alexandria for the bishopric of Constantinople. If, as now seemed likely, the orthodox faith was to be restored in Constantinople, the bishop of Alexandria desired to secure the supremacy of his own see. So one night, a group of Egyptian bishops, having quietly arrived in Constantinople, and gained entrance by the key of a conspirator to Gregory's church, began the ceremony of consecrating Maximus. The proceedings were delayed by a curious incident. Maximus, who had thus far appeared as a Cynic philosopher, had not only the staff and the cloak but the long hair which belonged to that part. But the canons forbade the clergy to wear their hair long. It was therefore necessary, before the consecration could go on, to cut the flowing locks of Maximus. In the midst of this operation it was discovered that the philosopher's long hair was [176] false. Then arose a tumult and disputing, in the course of which Gregory's congregation discovered what was happening in the church, and drove the Egyptians out with appropriate violence.

On a November day in 380, the emperor Theodosius arrived in Constantinople. He immediately decreed that the churches of the city should be taken from the heretics, in whose possession they had been for forty years, and restored to the orthodox. Two days later he himself escorted Gregory to the cathedral church of Santa Sophia. The sky was gray, and seemed uncertain whether to rain or shine. It was in keeping with the occasion. The orthodox faith had indeed come to its own again, but the procession in which Gregory walked beside the emperor had to be guarded by soldiers, while women wept and men cursed. The sun shone for a moment just as Gregory took his seat in the chancel, and the congregation shouted, "Gregory for bishop! Gregory for bishop!" But it was a sad triumph.

Theodosius called a conference of bishops, now numbered second in the list of the General Councils of the Church. They were, for the most part, from Syria and Asia Minor. The bishop of Alexandria came late, perhaps because he was invited late. The bishop of Rome seem not to have been invited at all. It was a local council. The bishop [177] of Antioch, Meletius, presided; the contention there between Meletius and Paulinus had not been decided, but the party of Meletius was in the majority. Gregory was installed as bishop of Constantinople. Within a few days Meletius died, and Gregory was made president.

The council addressed itself to the discomfiture of heretics: Arians and semi-Arians, Sabellians, Marcellians, Photinians, Apollinarians, Eunomians, and Macedonians—a significant and portentous list. It endeavored to check the ambition of ecclesiastics, forbidding bishops to interfere with the affairs of dioceses other than their own, having special reference to the activities of Alexandria. The death of Meletius had revived the difficulty as to the episcopal succession in Antioch: the council tried to settle that.

It used to be thought that the Nicene Creed was phrased by this council in its present form, and to this is to be ascribed the inclusion of the conference among the General Councils; but there is no trace in the records of any discussion of this matter. The Nicene Creed, in its original wording, was that which had long been recited at Cęsarea, with the addition of certain Nicene words. The Nicene Creed, as it is said to-day, is that which had long been recited at Jerusalem. Cyril of Jerusalem, finding his orthodoxy questioned, may [178] have presented this creed, with the proper Nicene additions, at the Council of Constantinople. Thus it may have come into general notice. It is interesting to find that after the long and tragic debate which had so seriously divided the church, the orthodox faith attained its abiding expression not as the result of any deliberation, and not with the sanction of any vote, but by the gradual commendation of its own merits.

The council debated with the fury of men who had faced each other on fields of battle. Gregory could not control them. He compared them to a flock of chattering jays, and to a swarm of stinging wasps. He wished to resign his presidency, but they would not consent. The bishop of Alexandria, however, when he arrived to add a new disorder to the scene, declared that Gregory having been made bishop of Sasima could not canonically be made bishop of Constantinople. Immediately, with a glad heart, he yielded up his presidency and his bishopric. He bade farewell to the council and the city, and returned to his Cappadocian farm. "I will rejoice," he said, "in my tranquillity, gladly flying from palaces, and cities, and priests." Once Theodosius invited him to attend another council, but he declined. "I will not sit," he said, "in the seat of synods, while geese and cranes confusedly wrangle."

[179] In the shade of his trees, beside a singing brook, he wrote poetry and friendly letters. Sometimes he indulged himself for a while in the luxury of his old asceticism, sleeping on sackcloth, and once going a whole Lent without speaking. The wife and daughter of his kinsman Valentinian insisted on visiting him, till he likened them to Eve in the paradise of Eden: this was his chief annoyance. Thus he continued to the end of his gentle life, saying his prayers and tending his few sheep.


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