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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 online

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and, by his artful and separate addresses to the wife and sister of
Theodosius, presumed to suppose, or to scatter, the seeds of discord in
the Imperial family. At the stern command of his sovereign. Cyril had
repaired to Ephesus, where he was resisted, threatened, and confined,
by the magistrates in the interest of Nestorius and the Orientals; who
assembled the troops of Lydia and Ionia to suppress the fanatic and
disorderly train of the patriarch. Without expecting the royal license,
he escaped from his guards, precipitately embarked, deserted the
imperfect synod, and retired to his episcopal fortress of safety and
independence. But his artful emissaries, both in the court and city,
successfully labored to appease the resentment, and to conciliate the
favor, of the emperor. The feeble son of Arcadius was alternately
swayed by his wife and sister, by the eunuchs and women of the palace:
superstition and avarice were their ruling passions; and the orthodox
chiefs were assiduous in their endeavors to alarm the former, and to
gratify the latter. Constantinople and the suburbs were sanctified with
frequent monasteries, and the holy abbots, Dalmatius and Eutyches, had
devoted their zeal and fidelity to the cause of Cyril, the worship of
Mary, and the unity of Christ. From the first moment of their monastic
life, they had never mingled with the world, or trod the profane ground
of the city. But in this awful moment of the danger of the church, their
vow was superseded by a more sublime and indispensable duty. At the
head of a long order of monks and hermits, who carried burning tapers in
their hands, and chanted litanies to the mother of God, they proceeded
from their monasteries to the palace. The people was edified and
inflamed by this extraordinary spectacle, and the trembling monarch
listened to the prayers and adjurations of the saints, who boldly
pronounced, that none could hope for salvation, unless they embraced
the person and the creed of the orthodox successor of Athanasius. At the
same time, every avenue of the throne was assaulted with gold. Under
the decent names of _eulogies_ and _benedictions_, the courtiers of
both sexes were bribed according to the measure of their power and
rapaciousness. But their incessant demands despoiled the sanctuaries of
Constantinople and Alexandria; and the authority of the patriarch was
unable to silence the just murmur of his clergy, that a debt of sixty
thousand pounds had already been contracted to support the expense of
this scandalous corruption. Pulcheria, who relieved her brother from
the weight of an empire, was the firmest pillar of orthodoxy; and so
intimate was the alliance between the thunders of the synod and the
whispers of the court, that Cyril was assured of success if he could
displace one eunuch, and substitute another in the favor of Theodosius.
Yet the Egyptian could not boast of a glorious or decisive victory.
The emperor, with unaccustomed firmness, adhered to his promise of
protecting the innocence of the Oriental bishops; and Cyril softened
his anathemas, and confessed, with ambiguity and reluctance, a twofold
nature of Christ, before he was permitted to satiate his revenge against
the unfortunate Nestorius.

The rash and obstinate Nestorius, before the end of the synod, was
oppressed by Cyril, betrayed by the court, and faintly supported by his
Eastern friends. A sentiment or fear or indignation prompted him, while
it was yet time, to affect the glory of a voluntary abdication: his
wish, or at least his request, was readily granted; he was conducted
with honor from Ephesus to his old monastery of Antioch; and, after a
short pause, his successors, Maximian and Proclus, were acknowledged as
the lawful bishops of Constantinople. But in the silence of his cell,
the degraded patriarch could no longer resume the innocence and security
of a private monk. The past he regretted, he was discontented with the
present, and the future he had reason to dread: the Oriental bishops
successively disengaged their cause from his unpopular name, and each
day decreased the number of the schismatics who revered Nestorius as the
confessor of the faith. After a residence at Antioch of four years, the
hand of Theodosius subscribed an edict, which ranked him with Simon the
magician, proscribed his opinions and followers, condemned his writings
to the flames, and banished his person first to Petra, in Arabia, and at
length to Oasis, one of the islands of the Libyan desert. Secluded from
the church and from the world, the exile was still pursued by the rage
of bigotry and war. A wandering tribe of the Blemmyes or Nubians invaded
his solitary prison: in their retreat they dismissed a crowd of useless
captives: but no sooner had Nestorius reached the banks of the Nile,
than he would gladly have escaped from a Roman and orthodox city, to the
milder servitude of the savages. His flight was punished as a new crime:
the soul of the patriarch inspired the civil and ecclesiastical powers
of Egypt; the magistrates, the soldiers, the monks, devoutly tortured
the enemy of Christ and St. Cyril; and, as far as the confines of
Æthiopia, the heretic was alternately dragged and recalled, till his
aged body was broken by the hardships and accidents of these reiterated
journeys. Yet his mind was still independent and erect; the president
of Thebais was awed by his pastoral letters; he survived the Catholic
tyrant of Alexandria, and, after sixteen years' banishment, the synod of
Chalcedon would perhaps have restored him to the honors, or at least
to the communion, of the church. The death of Nestorius prevented his
obedience to their welcome summons; and his disease might afford some
color to the scandalous report, that his tongue, the organ of blasphemy,
had been eaten by the worms. He was buried in a city of Upper Egypt,
known by the names of Chemnis, or Panopolis, or Akmim; but the immortal
malice of the Jacobites has persevered for ages to cast stones against
his sepulchre, and to propagate the foolish tradition, that it was never
watered by the rain of heaven, which equally descends on the righteous
and the ungodly. Humanity may drop a tear on the fate of Nestorius;
yet justice must observe, that he suffered the persecution which he had
approved and inflicted.

Chapter XLVII: Ecclesiastical Discord. - Part III.

The death of the Alexandrian primate, after a reign of thirty-two years,
abandoned the Catholics to the intemperance of zeal and the abuse
of victory. The _monophysite_ doctrine (one incarnate nature) was
rigorously preached in the churches of Egypt and the monasteries of the
East; the primitive creed of Apollinarius was protected by the sanctity
of Cyril; and the name of Eutyches, his venerable friend, has been
applied to the sect most adverse to the Syrian heresy of Nestorius. His
rival Eutyches was the abbot, or archimandrite, or superior of three
hundred monks, but the opinions of a simple and illiterate recluse might
have expired in the cell, where he had slept above seventy years, if the
resentment or indiscretion of Flavian, the Byzantine pontiff, had not
exposed the scandal to the eyes of the Christian world. His domestic
synod was instantly convened, their proceedings were sullied with
clamor and artifice, and the aged heretic was surprised into a seeming
confession, that Christ had not derived his body from the substance
of the Virgin Mary. From their partial decree, Eutyches appealed to a
general council; and his cause was vigorously asserted by his godson
Chrysaphius, the reigning eunuch of the palace, and his accomplice
Dioscorus, who had succeeded to the throne, the creed, the talents,
and the vices, of the nephew of Theophilus. By the special summons of
Theodosius, the second synod of Ephesus was judiciously composed of
ten metropolitans and ten bishops from each of the six dioceses of the
Eastern empire: some exceptions of favor or merit enlarged the number to
one hundred and thirty-five; and the Syrian Barsumas, as the chief
and representative of the monks, was invited to sit and vote with
the successors of the apostles. But the despotism of the Alexandrian
patriarch again oppressed the freedom of debate: the same spiritual and
carnal weapons were again drawn from the arsenals of Egypt: the Asiatic
veterans, a band of archers, served under the orders of Dioscorus; and
the more formidable monks, whose minds were inaccessible to reason or
mercy, besieged the doors of the cathedral. The general, and, as it
should seem, the unconstrained voice of the fathers, accepted the faith
and even the anathemas of Cyril; and the heresy of the two natures
was formally condemned in the persons and writings of the most learned
Orientals. "May those who divide Christ be divided with the sword, may
they be hewn in pieces, may they be burned alive!" were the charitable
wishes of a Christian synod. The innocence and sanctity of Eutyches were
acknowledged without hesitation; but the prelates, more especially those
of Thrace and Asia, were unwilling to depose their patriarch for the use
or even the abuse of his lawful jurisdiction. They embraced the knees of
Dioscorus, as he stood with a threatening aspect on the footstool of
his throne, and conjured him to forgive the offences, and to respect the
dignity, of his brother. "Do you mean to raise a sedition?" exclaimed
the relentless tyrant. "Where are the officers?" At these words a
furious multitude of monks and soldiers, with staves, and swords, and
chains, burst into the church; the trembling bishops hid themselves
behind the altar, or under the benches, and as they were not inspired
with the zeal of martyrdom, they successively subscribed a blank paper,
which was afterwards filled with the condemnation of the Byzantine
pontiff. Flavian was instantly delivered to the wild beasts of this
spiritual amphitheatre: the monks were stimulated by the voice and
example of Barsumas to avenge the injuries of Christ: it is said that
the patriarch of Alexandria reviled, and buffeted, and kicked, and
trampled his brother of Constantinople: it is certain, that the victim,
before he could reach the place of his exile, expired on the third day
of the wounds and bruises which he had received at Ephesus. This second
synod has been justly branded as a gang of robbers and assassins; yet
the accusers of Dioscorus would magnify his violence, to alleviate the
cowardice and inconstancy of their own behavior.

The faith of Egypt had prevailed: but the vanquished party was supported
by the same pope who encountered without fear the hostile rage of Attila
and Genseric. The theology of Leo, his famous _tome_ or epistle on
the mystery of the incarnation, had been disregarded by the synod of
Ephesus: his authority, and that of the Latin church, was insulted in
his legates, who escaped from slavery and death to relate the melancholy
tale of the tyranny of Dioscorus and the martyrdom of Flavian. His
provincial synod annulled the irregular proceedings of Ephesus; but
as this step was itself irregular, he solicited the convocation of a
general council in the free and orthodox provinces of Italy. From his
independent throne, the Roman bishop spoke and acted without danger
as the head of the Christians, and his dictates were obsequiously
transcribed by Placidia and her son Valentinian; who addressed their
Eastern colleague to restore the peace and unity of the church. But the
pageant of Oriental royalty was moved with equal dexterity by the hand
of the eunuch; and Theodosius could pronounce, without hesitation, that
the church was already peaceful and triumphant, and that the recent
flame had been extinguished by the just punishment of the Nestorians.
Perhaps the Greeks would be still involved in the heresy of the
Monophysites, if the emperor's horse had not fortunately stumbled;
Theodosius expired; his orthodox sister Pulcheria, with a nominal
husband, succeeded to the throne; Chrysaphius was burnt, Dioscorus was
disgraced, the exiles were recalled, and the tome of Leo was subscribed
by the Oriental bishops. Yet the pope was disappointed in his favorite
project of a Latin council: he disdained to preside in the Greek synod,
which was speedily assembled at Nice in Bithynia; his legates required
in a peremptory tone the presence of the emperor; and the weary fathers
were transported to Chalcedon under the immediate eye of Marcian and
the senate of Constantinople. A quarter of a mile from the Thracian
Bosphorus, the church of St. Euphemia was built on the summit of a
gentle though lofty ascent: the triple structure was celebrated as a
prodigy of art, and the boundless prospect of the land and sea might
have raised the mind of a sectary to the contemplation of the God of
the universe. Six hundred and thirty bishops were ranged in order in the
nave of the church; but the patriarchs of the East were preceded by the
legates, of whom the third was a simple priest; and the place of honor
was reserved for twenty laymen of consular or senatorian rank. The
gospel was ostentatiously displayed in the centre, but the rule of
faith was defined by the Papal and Imperial ministers, who moderated
the thirteen sessions of the council of Chalcedon. Their partial
interposition silenced the intemperate shouts and execrations, which
degraded the episcopal gravity; but, on the formal accusation of the
legates, Dioscorus was compelled to descend from his throne to the
rank of a criminal, already condemned in the opinion of his judges. The
Orientals, less adverse to Nestorius than to Cyril, accepted the Romans
as their deliverers: Thrace, and Pontus, and Asia, were exasperated
against the murderer of Flavian, and the new patriarchs of
Constantinople and Antioch secured their places by the sacrifice of
their benefactor. The bishops of Palestine, Macedonia, and Greece, were
attached to the faith of Cyril; but in the face of the synod, in the
heat of the battle, the leaders, with their obsequious train, passed
from the right to the left wing, and decided the victory by this
seasonable desertion. Of the seventeen suffragans who sailed from
Alexandria, four were tempted from their allegiance, and the thirteen,
falling prostrate on the ground, implored the mercy of the council, with
sighs and tears, and a pathetic declaration, that, if they yielded, they
should be massacred, on their return to Egypt, by the indignant people.
A tardy repentance was allowed to expiate the guilt or error of the
accomplices of Dioscorus: but their sins were accumulated on his head;
he neither asked nor hoped for pardon, and the moderation of those
who pleaded for a general amnesty was drowned in the prevailing cry of
victory and revenge. To save the reputation of his late adherents,
some _personal_ offences were skilfully detected; his rash and illegal
excommunication of the pope, and his contumacious refusal (while he was
detained a prisoner) to attend to the summons of the synod. Witnesses
were introduced to prove the special facts of his pride, avarice, and
cruelty; and the fathers heard with abhorrence, that the alms of the
church were lavished on the female dancers, that his palace, and even
his bath, was open to the prostitutes of Alexandria, and that the
infamous Pansophia, or Irene, was publicly entertained as the concubine
of the patriarch.

For these scandalous offences, Dioscorus was deposed by the synod, and
banished by the emperor; but the purity of his faith was declared in the
presence, and with the tacit approbation, of the fathers. Their prudence
supposed rather than pronounced the heresy of Eutyches, who was never
summoned before their tribunal; and they sat silent and abashed, when
a bold Monophysite casting at their feet a volume of Cyril, challenged
them to anathematize in his person the doctrine of the saint. If we
fairly peruse the acts of Chalcedon as they are recorded by the orthodox
party, we shall find that a great majority of the bishops embraced the
simple unity of Christ; and the ambiguous concession that he was formed
Of or From two natures, might imply either their previous existence,
or their subsequent confusion, or some dangerous interval between the
conception of the man and the assumption of the God. The Roman theology,
more positive and precise, adopted the term most offensive to the ears
of the Egyptians, that Christ existed In two natures; and this momentous
particle (which the memory, rather than the understanding, must retain)
had almost produced a schism among the Catholic bishops. The _tome_
of Leo had been respectfully, perhaps sincerely, subscribed; but they
protested, in two successive debates, that it was neither expedient nor
lawful to transgress the sacred landmarks which had been fixed at Nice,
Constantinople, and Ephesus, according to the rule of Scripture and
tradition. At length they yielded to the importunities of their masters;
but their infallible decree, after it had been ratified with deliberate
votes and vehement acclamations, was overturned in the next session by
the opposition of the legates and their Oriental friends. It was in vain
that a multitude of episcopal voices repeated in chorus, "The definition
of the fathers is orthodox and immutable! The heretics are now
discovered! Anathema to the Nestorians! Let them depart from the synod!
Let them repair to Rome." The legates threatened, the emperor was
absolute, and a committee of eighteen bishops prepared a new decree,
which was imposed on the reluctant assembly. In the name of the fourth
general council, the Christ in one person, but in two natures, was
announced to the Catholic world: an invisible line was drawn between
the heresy of Apollinaris and the faith of St. Cyril; and the road to
paradise, a bridge as sharp as a razor, was suspended over the abyss
by the master-hand of the theological artist. During ten centuries of
blindness and servitude, Europe received her religious opinions from the
oracle of the Vatican; and the same doctrine, already varnished with the
rust of antiquity, was admitted without dispute into the creed of the
reformers, who disclaimed the supremacy of the Roman pontiff. The synod
of Chalcedon still triumphs in the Protestant churches; but the ferment
of controversy has subsided, and the most pious Christians of the
present day are ignorant, or careless, of their own belief concerning
the mystery of the incarnation.

Far different was the temper of the Greeks and Egyptians under the
orthodox reigns of Leo and Marcian. Those pious emperors enforced with
arms and edicts the symbol of their faith; and it was declared by the
conscience or honor of five hundred bishops, that the decrees of the
synod of Chalcedon might be lawfully supported, even with blood. The
Catholics observed with satisfaction, that the same synod was odious
both to the Nestorians and the Monophysites; but the Nestorians were
less angry, or less powerful, and the East was distracted by the
obstinate and sanguinary zeal of the Monophysites. Jerusalem was
occupied by an army of monks; in the name of the one incarnate nature,
they pillaged, they burnt, they murdered; the sepulchre of Christ was
defiled with blood; and the gates of the city were guarded in tumultuous
rebellion against the troops of the emperor. After the disgrace and
exile of Dioscorus, the Egyptians still regretted their spiritual
father; and detested the usurpation of his successor, who was introduced
by the fathers of Chalcedon. The throne of Proterius was supported by a
guard of two thousand soldiers: he waged a five years' war against the
people of Alexandria; and on the first intelligence of the death of
Marcian, he became the victim of their zeal. On the third day before
the festival of Easter, the patriarch was besieged in the cathedral,
and murdered in the baptistery. The remains of his mangled corpse were
delivered to the flames, and his ashes to the wind; and the deed was
inspired by the vision of a pretended angel: an ambitious monk, who,
under the name of Timothy the Cat, succeeded to the place and opinions
of Dioscorus. This deadly superstition was inflamed, on either side,
by the principle and the practice of retaliation: in the pursuit of a
metaphysical quarrel, many thousands were slain, and the Christians of
every degree were deprived of the substantial enjoyments of social life,
and of the invisible gifts of baptism and the holy communion. Perhaps
an extravagant fable of the times may conceal an allegorical picture
of these fanatics, who tortured each other and themselves. "Under the
consulship of Venantius and Celer," says a grave bishop, "the people
of Alexandria, and all Egypt, were seized with a strange and diabolical
frenzy: great and small, slaves and freedmen, monks and clergy, the
natives of the land, who opposed the synod of Chalcedon, lost their
speech and reason, barked like dogs, and tore, with their own teeth the
flesh from their hands and arms."

The disorders of thirty years at length produced the famous Henoticon
of the emperor Zeno, which in his reign, and in that of Anastasius, was
signed by all the bishops of the East, under the penalty of degradation
and exile, if they rejected or infringed this salutary and fundamental
law. The clergy may smile or groan at the presumption of a layman who
defines the articles of faith; yet if he stoops to the humiliating task,
his mind is less infected by prejudice or interest, and the authority of
the magistrate can only be maintained by the concord of the people. It
is in ecclesiastical story, that Zeno appears least contemptible; and I
am not able to discern any Manichæan or Eutychian guilt in the generous
saying of Anastasius. That it was unworthy of an emperor to persecute
the worshippers of Christ and the citizens of Rome. The Henoticon was
most pleasing to the Egyptians; yet the smallest blemish has not been
described by the jealous, and even jaundiced eyes of our orthodox
schoolmen, and it accurately represents the Catholic faith of the
incarnation, without adopting or disclaiming the peculiar terms of
tenets of the hostile sects. A solemn anathema is pronounced against
Nestorius and Eutyches; against all heretics by whom Christ is divided,
or confounded, or reduced to a phantom. Without defining the number
or the article of the word _nature_, the pure system of St. Cyril, the
faith of Nice, Constantinople, and Ephesus, is respectfully confirmed;
but, instead of bowing at the name of the fourth council, the subject
is dismissed by the censure of all contrary doctrines, _if_ any such
have been taught either elsewhere or at Chalcedon. Under this ambiguous
expression, the friends and the enemies of the last synod might unite in
a silent embrace. The most reasonable Christians acquiesced in this mode
of toleration; but their reason was feeble and inconstant, and their
obedience was despised as timid and servile by the vehement spirit of
their brethren. On a subject which engrossed the thoughts and discourses
of men, it was difficult to preserve an exact neutrality; a book, a
sermon, a prayer, rekindled the flame of controversy; and the bonds of
communion were alternately broken and renewed by the private animosity
of the bishops. The space between Nestorius and Eutyches was filled by
a thousand shades of language and opinion; the _acephali_ of Egypt, and
the Roman pontiffs, of equal valor, though of unequal strength, may be
found at the two extremities of the theological scale. The acephali,
without a king or a bishop, were separated above three hundred years
from the patriarchs of Alexandria, who had accepted the communion of
Constantinople, without exacting a formal condemnation of the synod of
Chalcedon. For accepting the communion of Alexandria, without a formal
approbation of the same synod, the patriarchs of Constantinople were
anathematized by the popes. Their inflexible despotism involved the most
orthodox of the Greek churches in this spiritual contagion, denied or
doubted the validity of their sacraments, and fomented, thirty-five
years, the schism of the East and West, till they finally abolished the
memory of four Byzantine pontiffs, who had dared to oppose the supremacy
of St. Peter. Before that period, the precarious truce of Constantinople
and Egypt had been violated by the zeal of the rival prelates.
Macedonius, who was suspected of the Nestorian heresy, asserted, in
disgrace and exile, the synod of Chalcedon, while the successor of Cyril
would have purchased its overthrow with a bribe of two thousand pounds
of gold.

In the fever of the times, the sense, or rather the sound of a syllable,
was sufficient to disturb the peace of an empire. The Trisagion (thrice

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 38 of 49)