Chapter II.—Education, Training, Conduct, and Wisdom of the Great John Chrysostom; his Promotion to the See; Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, becomes his Confirmed Opponent.
Nectarius died about this period, 1582 and lengthened debates were held on the ordination of a successor. They all voted for different individuals, and it seemed impossible for all to unite on one, and the time passed heavily. There was, however, at Antioch on the Orontes, a certain presbyter named John, a man of noble birth and of exemplary life, and possessed of such wonderful powers of eloquence and persuasion that he was declared by the sophist, Libanius the Syrian, to surpass all the orators of the age. When this sophist was on his death-bed he was asked by his friends who should take his place. “It would have been John,” replied he, “had not the Christians taken him from us.” Many of those who heard the discourses of John in the church were thereby excited to the love of virtue and to the reception of his own religious sentiments. 1583 For by living a divine life he imparted zeal from his own virtues to his hearers. He produced convictions similar to his own, because he did not enforce them by rhetorical art and strength, but expounded the sacred books with truth and sincerity. For a word which is ornamented by deeds customarily shows itself as worthy of belief; but without these the speaker appears as an impostor and a traitor to his own words, even though he teach earnestly. Approbation in both regards was due to John. He devoted himself to a prudent course of life and to a severe public career, while he also used a clear diction, united with brilliance in speech.
His natural abilities were excellent, and he improved them by studying under the best masters. He learned rhetoric from Libanius, and philosophy from Andragathius. When it was expected that he would embrace the legal profession and take part in the career of an advocate, he determined to exercise himself in the sacred books and to practice philosophy according to the law of the Church. He had as teachers of this philosophy, Carterius and Diodorus, two celebrated presidents of ascetic institutions. Diodorus was afterwards the governor of the church of Tarsus, and, I have been informed, left many books of his own writings in which he explained the significance of the sacred words and avoided allegory. John did not receive the instructions of these men by himself, but persuaded Theodore and Maximus, who had been his companions under the instruction of Libanius, to accompany him. Maximus afterwards became bishop of Seleucia, in Isauria; and Theodore, bishop of Mompsuestia, in Cilicia. Theodore was well conversant with the sacred books and with the rest of the discipline of rhetoricians and philosophers. After studying the ecclesiastical laws, and frequenting the society of holy men, he was filled with admiration of the ascetic mode of life and condemned city life. He did not persevere in the same purpose, but after changing it, he was drawn to his former course of life; and, to justify his conduct, cited many examples from ancient history, with which he was well acquainted, and went back into the city. On hearing that he was engaged in business and intent on marriage, John composed an epistle, 1584 more divine in language and thought than the mind of man could produce, and sent it to him. Upon reading it, he repented and immediately gave up his possessions, renounced his intention of marrying, and was saved by the advice of John, and returned to the philosophic career. This seems to me a p. 400 remarkable instance of the power of Johns eloquence; for he readily forced conviction on the mind of one who was himself habituated to persuade and convince others. By the same eloquence, John attracted the admiration of the people; while he strenuously convicted sinners even in the churches, and antagonized with boldness all acts of injustice, as if they had been perpetrated against himself. This boldness pleased the people, but grieved the wealthy and the powerful, who were guilty of most of the vices which he denounced.
Being, then, held in such high estimation by those who knew him by experience, and by those who were acquainted with him through the reports of others, John was adjudged worthy, in word and in deed, by all the subjects of the Roman Empire, to be the bishop of the church of Constantinople. The clergy and people were unanimous in electing him; their choice was approved by the emperor, who also sent the embassy which should conduct him; and, to confer greater solemnity on his ordination, a council was convened. Not long after the letter of the emperor reached Asterius, the general of the East; he sent to desire John to repair to him, as if he had need of him. On his arrival, he at once made him get into his chariot, and conveyed him with dispatch to a military station, Pagras so-called, where he delivered him to the officers whom the emperor had sent in quest of him. Asterius acted very prudently in sending for John before the citizens of Antioch knew what was about to occur; for they would probably have excited a sedition, and have inflicted injury on others, or subjected themselves to acts of violence, rather than have suffered John to be taken from them.
When John had arrived at Constantinople, and when the priests were assembled together, Theophilus opposed his ordination; and proposed as a candidate in his stead, a presbyter of his church named Isidore, who took charge of strangers and of the poor at Alexandria. I have been informed by persons who were acquainted with Isidore, that from his youth upwards he practiced the philosophic virtues, near Scetis. Others say that he had gained the friendship of Theophilus by being a participant and a familiar in a very perilous undertaking. For it is reported that during the war against Maximus, Theophilus intrusted Isidore with gifts and letters respectively addressed to the emperor and to the tyrant, and sent him to Rome, desiring him to remain there until the termination of the war, when he was to deliver the gifts, with the letters, to him, who might prove the victor. Isidore acted according to his instructions, but the artifice was detected; and, fearful of being arrested, he fled to Alexandria. Theophilus from that period evinced much attachment towards him, and, with a view of recompensing his services, strove to raise him to the bishopric of Constantinople. But whether there was really any truth in this report, or whether Theophilus desired to ordain this man because of his excellence, it is certain that he eventually yielded to those who decided for John. 1585 He feared Eutropius, who was artfully eager for this ordination. Eutropius then presided over the imperial house, and they say he threatened Theophilus, that unless he would vote with the other bishops, he would have to defend himself against those who desired to accuse him; for many written accusations against him were at that time before the council.
Pallad. Dialog. de vita Chrys. 5, 6; Soc. vi. 2, 3; Theodoret, H. E. v. 27. Soz. works his material for the most part independently.399:1583
Some of the disciples of Libanius, who had the habit of attending the public instructions of John in the church, were converted by him to the faith of Christ.399:1584
Chrys. ad Theodorum lapsum, xlvii. 1. Migne.400:1585
Soc. also attests to the presence of Theophilus at the ordination of John. vi. 2; Pallad. Dialog. 5.