Spiritual Reading for the Fourth Saturday after Epiphany ~ St Alphonsus Liguori

Posted by

Spiritual Reading



(January 27)

Although this great Saint did not actually die for the Faith at the hands of the executioner, yet he may be styled a Martyr, as he died of the maltreatment which he received defending God’s honour and the rights of the Church.

St. John was born at Antioch about the year 347, and was descended from one of the most illustrious families of that city. His mother, being left a widow at the early age of twenty years, took particular care of the education of her two children, placing John under the most eminent masters, to study rhetoric and philosophy.* It was expected that the pious youth would attain to great worldly fortune; but from his twentieth year he applied himself to the study of the Sacred Scriptures and to prayer, and dedicated himself entirely to the service of his crucified Lord. Whereupon St. Meletius, his bishop, took a great liking to him, and having instructed him for three years, made him Lector of his own church.

*His mother, Anthusa, did not wish to marry again in order to devote herself entirely to the welfare of her children. She herself took care to instil into them the great principles of our holy Religion. “Never,” says Alban Butler, “was a woman more worthy of bearing the name of mother.” The pagans themselves could not help admiring her virtues; and a celebrated philosopher cried out while speaking of her: “What wonderful women are to be found amongst the Christians!

Although during his stay in Antioch he led a very retired and mortified life, he bethought himself of the advantages of a still more solitary and austere state; and consequently retired to a cave where he passed some years in continual prayer and penitential practices, which were so severe as to injure his health. He was therefore obliged to return to Antioch, where he was ordained deacon by St. Meletius, whose successor, Flavinius, conferred upon him the Holy Order of Priesthood five years afterwards. In consequence of his great eloquence, the Bishop appointed him preacher of that church. This office he discharged so well, that public demonstrations of approbation were frequently made, against which the Saint protested, saying: “What good can these your applauses do me? That only which I desire is that you practise what I preach, — this will be to me the most acceptable applause.”

Nectarius, Patriarch of Constantinople, died in the year 397; and as the name of our Saint had obtained great celebrity throughout the entire Province, the Emperor Arcadius, the clergy and people, agreed in having him promoted to that see. The emperor accordingly summoned him to Constantinople, and without making known to him his design, took him into his carriage, and brought him to a church outside the city, where, notwithstanding his reluctance, he was consecrated by the bishops previously assembled.

The see of Constantinople had unfortunately been governed for sixteen years by Nectarius, a man without learning or zeal; so that this great city, containing as it did so many strangers and heretics, required a thorough reform. To this St. John Chrysostom gave his entire attention. With an untiring and holy zeal he laboured for the reformation of his clergy, and endeavoured to suppress the avarice and haughtiness of the emperor’s court; this made for him many enemies.

It happened that there arrived at Constantinople some monks, who had been expelled from Egypt by Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, under the pretext of Origenism; but St. John, being convinced of their innocence, wrote to Theophilus in their favour, beseeching him not to disturb them. He, however, being a haughty and vindictive man, succeeded in raising a persecution against the Saint for protecting the monks. The emperor, however, summoned Theophilus to Constantinople, to account for his conduct; but he easily gained over to his side the nobles, bishops, and clergy, who were opposed to St. Chrysostom. But the greatest acquisition to his party was the Empress Eudoxia who bore a mortal enmity to our Saint, on account of having been rebuked by him for her avaricious rapacity in depriving Callitropa of her money and another widow of her land. Backed by this party, Theophilus was enabled to get together a cabal of thirty-six bishops, who from the place where they met styled themselves the Synod of the Oak, and having drawn up some false accusations, deposed St. John from his bishopric, and obtained from the emperor a decree for his banishment.

The people, hearing of the decree, surrounded the church to defend their bishop; but St. John, to avoid a sedition, escaped through a private door, and surrendered himself to the guards, who brought him to Bithynia. On the night of the following day Constantinople was shaken with an earthquake, which was regarded by all, even by Eudoxia, as a sign of God’s displeasure. In the greatest consternation she besought the emperor to recall the holy bishop. The entire population went out to meet him, chanting hymns, and bearing lighted torches in their hands, and having arrived at the Cathedral put him upon the episcopal throne.

Theophilus and his party having fled from Constantinople, the Saint resumed the discharge of his pastoral duties, and was treating with the emperor about the convocation of a council to vindicate his innocence, when a certain incident totally changed the aspect of affairs. In the square before the great church of St. Sophia a silver statue had been erected to the empress, where dances and public games were performed, which disturbed the sacred offices of the church. The Saint strongly rebuked the people for this irreverence; but his zeal only infuriated the Empress Eudoxia, who to satisfy her revenge availed herself of the enmity which Theophilus and other bishops bore our Saint. They formed a second cabal, in which they condemned and deposed St. Chrysostom, under pretext that he had reassumed the episcopal function without having justified himself in synod.

In pursuance of this most iniquitous deposition, an order came from the emperor that he should not enter his church, and he accordingly departed from the city. As this happened on Holy Saturday, the Saint retired to a country chapel, in order to celebrate the sacred offices; but his enemies obtained a troop of four hundred soldiers, and entered the church, where Baptism was being administered, wounded some of the priests, and injured some of the children who were about to be baptized. Their sacrilegious impiety went so far as to trample on the Blessed Sacrament! Such, in fine, was the consternation, that many of the people ran to hide themselves in the woods and valleys.

Although the Emperor Arcadius had no personal enmity to St. John, he was induced by the importunity of his wife and the hostile bishops to send him into banishment. The Saint having received the order, took leave of the bishops who were his friends, and departing through a private door, delivered himself to the soldiers who obliged him to travel day and night on the journey into Armenia, the place of his banishment. The journey lasted seventy days, during thirty of which the Saint suffered from a tertian fever.

When they arrived the bishop received St. John into his house. He there found some repose after so much suffering. The Saint here did not remain idle, but employed himself, as much as possible, in instructing the people and relieving the poor. He also wrote many letters to console his friends, and to assist the churches which had been lately founded in Persia and Phoenicia.

Meanwhile, Pope Innocent I. having been informed of the injustice done to St. John, did all in his power to assemble a synod where the innocence of the Saint would be definitely declared. But his enemies laboured successfully to prevent a synod being held; and jealous also of the fame he was acquiring in his first place of exile, prevailed upon Arcadius to banish him to Pytius, a small town on the borders of the empire. St. John was accordingly consigned to two officers, one of whom was a most brutal man, who being instructed by the enemies of the Saint to cause his death by maltreatment on the road, obliged him to travel in the most violent rains and amid scorching heats, not allowing him to rest in any town, but halting at obscure villages, where no accommodation could be found.

When they arrived at Comana, in Pontus, the inhuman officer obliged him to continue his journey five or six miles to the church where St. Basiliscus, Martyr and Bishop of Comana, had been buried; they lodged in a house contiguous to the church, and in the night the holy Martyr appeared to St. John, and exhorted him to have courage, adding: “tomorow we shall be together.” St. Chrysostom, knowing thus that the termination of his sufferings was at hand, besought the soldiers to defer their departure till the morrow. This he could not obtain; but they had travelled only a few miles when, seeing the Saint about to expire, they returned to the same house. The Saint then changed his dress, putting on a white robe. He received the holy Viaticum, and poured forth his last prayer, which he concluded with the words he was constantly in the habit of using: “Glory be to God for all things!” Having said “Amen,” he gave up his soul to God, on the 14th September in the year 407, being about sixty years of age, and having been bishop nine years and seven months. A great concourse of monks and persons of rank came from the neighbouring provinces to celebrate his funeral.

God did not delay the punishment of his enemies, and especially of Eudoxia, who died a few days afterwards. She was soon followed by Arcadius, who expired in his thirty-first year, and these deaths have generally been considered the effects of divine wrath.

In the year 428, the honours of a Saint were first given to St. John Chrysostom, and the archbishop, St. Proculus, afterwards persuaded the emperor, Theodosius the Younger, to bring the Saint’s body from Comana to Constantinople. The translation of the sacred relics was performed with the utmost pomp, the entire population going forth to join in the procession. The sea over which they passed was covered with barges, and illuminated with torches. When the sacred relics arrived, the Emperor Theodosius, his eyes bathed in tears and fixed upon the coffin, humbly asked pardon of the Saint for the injustice done to him by his parents. This translation took place on the 28th of January, in the year 438, thirty-one years after the Saint’s death. The relics were in later times translated to Rome and placed in St. Peter’s.

Leave a Reply