St. John Chrysostom. — Against the background of Germanic complications appeared the significant figure of the patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom. He was born in Antioch and studied with the famous rhetorician, Libanius, intending to follow a worldly career. He later forsook this idea and after his baptism devoted himself completely to preaching in Antioch, where he remained for a number of years as a presbyter. After the death of the patriarch Nectarius, Eutropius chose this preacher of Antioch, whose fame was already widespread, as the new patriarch. He was transported to the capital secretly for fear that the population of Antioch, devoted to their preacher, might oppose his departure. In spite of the intrigues of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, John was consecrated bishop and given the see of the capital in the year 398. Thus the episcopal throne came into the hands of a man unusually accomplished in the art of oratory, an idealist whose actions were always in harmony with his theories, and an advocate of very severe moral principles. As a ruthless opponent of superfluous luxury and a firm defender of Nicene doctrines, John made many enemies among his flock. One of his most dangerous enemies was Empress Eudoxia, a lover of luxury and pleasure, whom John publicly denounced in his addresses. In his sermons he went so far as to compare her with Jezebel and Herodias. His harsh policy toward the Arian Goths also earned him many enemies; it was he who strongly opposed the granting of one of the large churches of the capital to the Goths for their services. The Goths later became reconciled to the Emperor’s refusal, however, and continued to use the church allotted to them outside the city gates. John was very considerate of the orthodox Goths. He gave them one of the city churches, visited it very often, and held frequent conferences with them through an interpreter.
John’s earnest religious ideals, his unwillingness to compromise with anyone, and his harsh criticism of luxury gradually increased the number of his enemies. The Emperor himself soon fell under the influence of those who were opposed to the patriarch and openly expressed himself against John, This open opposition caused John to retire to Asia Minor, but the unrest among the masses in the capital which followed the departure of the beloved Patriarch forced the Emperor to recall him from exile. The new peace between the state and the Patriarch did not last very long, however. The inaugural ceremonies at the dedication of the statue to the Empress furnished a new occasion for a fiery speech in which John denounced the vices of the Empress. He was again deposed, and his followers, the Johannites, were severely persecuted. Finally, in the year 404, John was exiled to the Cappadocian city Cucusus, which he reached only after a long and strenuous journey, a city which he described as “the most deserted place in the universe.” Three years later he was sent to a new place of exile on the distant eastern shore of the Black Sea, and he died on the journey. Thus ended the life of one of the most remarkable leaders of the eastern church in the early Middle Ages. The pope and the Emperor of the West, Honorius, had both interceded in an attempt to stop the persecutions of John and the Johannites, but without success.
John left a rich literary treasure, containing a vivid picture of the social and religious life of his period. Personally he was one of the very few men who did not fear to speak out openly against the Arian pretensions of the all-powerful Gaïnas and he defended with conviction and steadiness the ideals of the apostolic church. He has been called one of the most beautiful moral examples humanity has ever had. “He was merciless to sin and full of mercy for the sinner.”
Arcadius died in the year 408, when his wife, Eudoxia, was already dead and his son and successor, Theodosius, was only seven years old.