home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE


previous | next

Emperor Arcadius versus Bishop Chrysostom

In the eastern half of the empire, Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia came into conflict with John Chrysostom, who had been drafted as Bishop of Constantinople – holy father of the eastern half of the empire. Born of noble parents, Chrysostom had been a Church deacon and a presbyter. He had been tutored by Libanius, the last of the sophists. And he had developed into a talented and popular orator.

Chrysostom was as hostile toward Jews as were other Christians. He lectured Christian crowds that wherever Jews gathered "there the cross was ridiculed," Jesus was insulted and "the grace of the spirit rejected." He called the impiety of Jews "madness, " and he attacked Jews for what he called their "extravagance and gluttony." But Chrysostom also attacked slavery. "God," he said, "has given us hands and feet that we might not stand in need of slaves." He attacked the slavery of children and the training of child slaves in sexual specialties for sale as prostitutes. And against the commonly held notion that work was degrading he told his listeners that when they see a man who fells trees, or is grimy with soot from labor, or who works with his hammer they should admire rather than despise him.

Chrysostom touched upon another major ill of the age: autocracy. He declared that the right of government belongs not to emperors alone but to the human race. "In the beginning God honored our race with sovereignty," he claimed. He saw the link between free will and self-government, and he spoke of humans as being able to choose from existing circumstances.

Chrysostom spoke against pagan tradition of public entertainments that featured prostitutes and against what he called the senseless excitement of the bloody spectator sports that involved contests between men and wild animals. And he criticized the double standard in morality between husbands and wives, including laws that allowed a married man to have intercourse with a slave, prostitute or an unmarried woman.

Chrysostom annoyed many within the Christian clergy, which had grown lax under the previous bishop of Constantinople. He annoyed the bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, who was jealous of the greater power and influence that had been accorded Chrysostom as bishop of Constantinople. Chrysostom annoyed churches in Asia Minor by asserting his authority there, deposing some bishops who had bought their positions with money. He annoyed the emperor Arcadius by not acting merely as a court chaplain as had Constantinople's previous bishop. He annoyed Arcadius also by his attacks against greed and his talk of injustices. Chrysostom especially annoyed Arcadius' wife, the empress Eudoxia, who was violent in her likes and dislikes and who liked to flaunt her piety.

Chrysostom became involved in the controversy over the views of Origen, whose writings the Church had outlawed. He received four of Origen's supporters who had been exiled from Egypt. The Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, retaliated by organizing a regional Church council (synod) composed mostly of Chrysostom's enemies. (Cyril was in later years to lead in the murder of Hypatia, a popular woman mathematician and neo-Platonist). The council deposed Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople. Arcadius' imperial court in Constantinople confirmed the decision. An earthquake and public discontent led the empress to reinstate him, but when Chrysostom continued his criticism of the imperial family he was exiled to Armenia, where he was to die in 407.



Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.