Peter's Rock in Mohammed's Flood, from St. Gregory the Great to St. Leo III
Prologue To The Seven Volumes Of The Formation Of Christendom
This work being from the beginning one in idea, I place here together the titles of the fifty-six chapters composing it. For each of these was intended to be complete in itself, so far as its special subject reached; but each was likewise to form a distinct link in a chain. The Church of God comes before the thoughtful mind as the vast mass of a kingdom. Its greatest deeds are but parts of something immeasurably greater. The most striking evidence of its doctrines and of its works is cumulative. Those who do not wish to let it so come before them often confine their interest in very narrow bounds of time and space. Thus I have known one, who thought himself a bishop, accept Wycliffe as the answer of a child to his question, Who first preached the Gospel in England? And not only this. They also seize upon a particular incident, or person, and so invest with extraordinary importance facts which they suppose, and which so conceived are convenient for their purpose, but in historical truth are anything but undisputed. In this tone of mind, or shortness of vision, that which is gigantic becomes puny, that which is unending becomes transient. The sequel and coherence of nations, the mighty roll of the ages spoken of by St. Augustine, are lost sight of. Again, in English-speaking countries alone more than two hundred sects call themselves Christian. Their enjoyment of perfect civil freedom and equality veils to them the horror of doctrinal anarchy, in virtue of which alone they exist. By this anarchy the very conception of unity as the corollary of truth is lost to the popular mind. But through the eight centuries of which I have treated, the loss of unity was the one conclusive test of falsehood, and the Christian Faith stood out to its possessors with the fixed solidity of a mountain range whose summit pierced the heaven.
It has been my purpose to exhibit the profound unity of the Christian Faith together with the infinite variety of its effects on individual character, on human society, on the action of nations towards each other, on universal as well as national legislation. Like the figure of the great Mother of God bearing her Divine Son in her arms, and so including the Incarnation and all its works, the Faith stands before us in history, “veste deaurata, circumdata varietate”. And as the personal unity appears in the symbol of the Divine Love to man expressed in her Maternity, so it appears also in the figure of the Church through the ages in which that Divine Love executes His work. A divided creed means a marred gospel and an incredulous world.
I offer this work as a single stone, though costing the labour of thirty years, if perchance it may be accepted in the structure of that Cathedral of human thought and action wherein our Crucified God is the central figure, around which all has grown.
Be it allowed me to quote here words of the present Sovereign Pontiff addressed on the 18th August, 1883, to the Cardinals de Luca, Pitra, and Hergenröther: —
“It is the voice of all history that God with the most careful providence directs the various and never-ending movements of human affairs. Even against man's intention he makes them serve the advancement of His Church. History says further that the Roman Pontificate has ever escaped victorious from its contests and the violence employed against it, while its assaulters have failed in the hope which they cherished, and have wrought their own destruction. Not less openly does history attest the divine provision made concerning the city of Rome from its very beginning. This was to give for ever a home and seat to the successors of St. Peter, from which as a centre, being free from all control of a superior, they might guide the whole Christian commonwealth. And no one has ventured to resist this counsel of the divine Providence without sooner or later perceiving the vanity of his efforts.
“It cannot be expedient, nor is it wise counsel, to fight with a power for whose perpetuity God has pledged Himself, while history attests the performance of the pledge. Since Catholics throughout the whole world pay it religious veneration, it is their interest to defend it with all their power. Nay even the rulers of secular governments must acknowledge this, and lay it to heart, especially in times so dangerous, when the very foundations on which human society rests appear well nigh to shake and totter.”
This volume is strictly in continuance of the two which it follows – “The Throne of the Fisherman built by the Carpenter's Son,” and “The Holy See and the Wandering of the Nations”. It is bulk alone which prevents my offering the three in one cover as historic proof, from original documents, of the first eight centuries that the Holy See by the institution of Christ is the Root, the Bond, and the Crown of Christendom. The works chiefly used in it are before and above all the letters of the Popes in their office of governing the Christian Commonwealth, which are contained in the great collection of Mansi, thirty-one volumes folio. The full titles of other works chiefly referred to are Cardinal Hergenröther, to whose work, Photius, Patriarch von Constantinopel, sein Leben, seine Schriften, und das griechische Schisma, and to his Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte, I owe great obligations – they are each in three volumes; Alfred von Reumont, Geschichte der Stadt Rom, in three volumes; Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom, in eight volumes; Kurth, Les origines de la Civilisation moderne, in two volumes; Jungmann, Dissertationes, in seven volumes; the German edition of Rohrbacher's History, vol. x. by Rump, vol. xi. by Kellner; Hefele, Concilien-Geschichte, in seven volumes; Muratori, Annali d'Italia; Brunengo, Le Origini della Sovranità Temporale dei Papi, and I primi Papi-Re e l'ultimo Re dei Longo-bardi; F. von Hoensbroech, Enstehung und Entwicklung des Kirchenstaates; Niehues, Kaiserthum und Papstthum, Döllinger, Muhammed's Religion, nach ihrer inneren Entwicklung und ihrem Einflusse auf das Leben der Völker. Regensburg, 1838.
Chapter I. The Pope And The Byzantine
I have hitherto conducted the history of the Throne of the Fisherman built by the Carpenter's Son in unbroken succession from St. Peter to St. Gregory the Great. It is a period of 575 years from the Day of Pentecost a. d. 29 to St. Gregory's death in a. d. 604. This period is very nearly bisected by the conversion of Constantine. The first half contains the action of the Primacy over against a hostile heathen empire. The second half contains its action upon an empire which, at least in principle, acknowledged union with the Catholic Church as a duty, a privilege, and a necessity. The testimony rendered by Councils and by Fathers to the Roman Primacy may be said to be complete in the time of St. Gregory. Subsequent Councils can only add a closer precision to the testimony of the Council of Chalcedon. Subsequent acts of the Eastern empire can scarcely go beyond the submission of its episcopate, its emperor, and its nobles to Pope Hormisdas. The point of that submission consists in the solemn acceptance of the line of Roman bishops as inheriting the charge given by our Lord to St. Peter. Subsequent legislation can but apply in detail the acceptance by Justinian of the Pope's right to examine everything which belongs to the doctrine or concerns the conduct of the Church throughout the world. And force is even added to this acceptance, because it was made when the Pope, John II., to whom it was made, was not in fact his temporal subject.
I propose to treat in this volume of a period embracing two hundred years. It runs from the time of St. Gregory the Great to the founding of the holy Roman empire, in the person of Charlemagne, by Pope St. Leo III.
But, before entering on this treatment, it seems to me called for to make one remark on all which I have hitherto written or am hereafter to write, and to draw out distinctly a principle which affects every line of my narrative. This is the necessity of considering the Church as the one kingdom of Christ in all ages: one and the same polity from the Day of Pentecost to the Day of Judgment. This idea has always been before me as the rule of faith in writing the six preceding volumes. It has been the major premiss of my whole argument. To a Catholic the unity of the Church is as necessary as the unity of God; and, equally, to say that the Church is fallible is to deny the existence of any such thing as the kingdom of God upon earth. The sooner that anything which is fallible is swept away the better. The one duty which we owe to fallibility is to label it. The thing called public opinion is fallible, and, accordingly, every generation sweeps it away and substitutes a fresh fallibility, destined to disappear after a similar ascendency, which waxes and wanes in varying durations of time. Division is the strongest proof of fallibility in that which is divided, as unity is of truth in that which remains one mass. For this cause those who substitute national churches in a particular country under the political head of that country, whether king, president, or parliament, for the one divine polity in all countries, are divided from my argument by an impassable gulf. They no more believe in the Church which is “the house of God, the pillar and basis of the truth,” than he who sets up three gods believes in one Infinite Creator and Rewarder of His creatures. The decrees of a General Council in matters of faith are not recognised by them as part of the divine deposit; for to them they are not acts of the Sovereign Lord in His plenary council. The lessons of history fail to convey any definite impressions to minds in which this idea is wanting. Rather the lessons of history affect them as the heathen was affected who heard the description of our Lord's sufferings undergone for his redemption only to exclaim, “Was it not a long time ago?” There are facts, but no connection. A strong instance of this is that the want of written records in the first three centuries is not made up to them by the acts of the Church in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, because to them the Church is not a polity instinct with one life and following from the beginning identical rules of government. On the contrary, they argue from the silence of perished documents in the three earliest centuries against the recorded practice of the three centuries following. Thus to them the acts of the Church in the Council of Ephesus in 431, the next ecumenical council to the Nicene, throw no light upon the acts of the Church in the Nicene, of which no full record exists. Nor, again, do the acts of the Council of Chalcedon illustrate to them the antecedent constitution of the Church. And the supplication of the Eastern emperor, Marcian, to Pope St. Leo to confirm those acts tells them nothing as to the relation of the Council to the Pope in the time of the Nicene Council. Less even than infidels, who reject the Christian revelation altogether, but have a regard for historical sequence, do the nurslings of a national church, especially if it was in origin a queen's love-child, and then dandled on the knees of successive kings, understand the majesty of the Apostolic See, as set forth in the words of our Lord, or as unfolded in the course of ages. If the political constitution under which they live be a system of compromise, they are tempted to make the constitution of the Church a similar system, in which a change of ministry alters or even reverses the policy of a kingdom. “The holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,” is not an entity to such minds. Therefore they fail to appreciate the proof of the one polity at the head of which St. Peter's successor stands. For some that polity ceased to exist in the fifth century; for others in the ninth; for others in the sixteenth; for all such it is non-existent in the nineteenth. It is for them as the human soul for the infidel surgeon: he cannot find it under his knife. Or as God for the infidel astronomer: he cannot see God in the order of the universe, though he will receive what physicists tell him, that the universe is absolutely one.
But I write for those to whom history is intelligible, because it is an order of events unrolling itself as a drama at once human and divine; to whom the human soul makes itself known by its acts; to whom “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork – day unto day utters speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” To whom likewise there is one “Jesus Christ yesterday and to-day, and the same for ever”: yesterday at Pentecost with St. Peter and the apostles and our Blessed Lady; to-day with Leo XIII. at Rome and nineteen hundred years of doctors, martyrs, and saints; “the same for ever” at the Day of Judgment.
And now I turn another leaf in the book of human actions, which our Lord holds on His knees and unfolds in His history of His one Church.
During the whole pontificate of St. Gregory he was defending himself against the deceit and despotism of the man whom he acknowledged as his lawful sovereign, the Byzantine emperor. The despotism usually veiled itself in deceit, while the deceit rested upon the despotism rooted in the heart of the eastern that he was lord of the world. Worse than the Lombards, who pursued to the very gates of Rome the people nourished by Gregory on the Church's patrimonium, who spoiled, maimed, and tortured those whom they could catch, were the intrigues of the imperial lieutenants, the exarchs of Ravenna, plotting with the Lombards, enemies of the emperor, against his subjects, the Pope and his Romans. With this state of things the seventh century begins, and so it continues to the end. We have to consider the great events which took place in this century, and especially to point out their connection with this fact of the Byzantine temporal despotism as it was turned upon the spiritual power.
Again, during his whole pontificate, St. Gregory was resisting the attempts of the bishops of Constantinople to extend their power. In his own time it would seem to have been an effect of Justinian's legislation that the Roman See accepted them as patriarchs, which Pope Gelasius denied them to be. Not only so but in every step of their advancement they were backed by the emperors to go on yet further by pushing their See under the title of Ecumenical to a position over the eastern empire parallel to that of the Pope over the West, while it was subordinate at the same time to the emperor himself. The four-and-twenty immediate successors of St. Gregory, from Pope Sabinian, elected in 604, to Pope Constantine, who died in 715, were exposed to the full force of this attempt. The bearing of it upon the rise of the Mohammedan empire will appear more and more as we proceed in the history of this terrible century.
The first event on which we must dwell for a time on account of its great effect upon the history of the century, is the long continued hostility between the eastern and the Persian empires. In the year 602 the general Phocas had deposed the emperor Mauritius. From his reign most Byzantine historians date the ever increasing calamities of the empire. The popular feeling that a bad ruler is a judgment from God was expressed in the story that a pious monk once asked, O God, why hast Thou set this man over us as emperor? when he received for answer, Because I could find none worse. Phocas reigned about seven years, and his end was as follows. The patriarch Thomas had, by his entreaties, drawn to Constantinople Theodore of Siceon, who enjoyed a great reputation for holiness. The mind of patriarch Thomas had been greatly moved by auguries of misfortune which as it were filled the air. He urged the saint to pray and then to give him his advice. The saint at last yielded to his entreaties and said, “It was my mind not to disturb you. It is not for your good to know these things. But since you will have it so, learn that the incident which troubles you betokens many great misfortunes. Many will leave our religion. Incursions of barbarians will follow, and great blood-shedding. Devastation and insurrection through the whole world. Churches will be deserted. The fall of the divine service and of the empire is approaching: and the adversary is nigh at hand.”
Whilst St. Theodore was at Constantinople the emperor Phocas suffered from gout in hands and feet. He sent for the saint, who laid his hands upon him and prayed for him. The emperor felt relief, and commended himself and his realm to Theodore's prayers. The saint replied that if he wished such a prayer to be heard he must cease from oppression and shedding of blood. Phocas had great need of such warning, but profited little by it. Narses was the ablest and bravest general whom he had to send against the Persians, but he broke his word, and had him burnt alive. This frightful execution moved the patrician Germanus to try after the place of emperor which Phocas had once offered to him. He planned a conspiracy with Constantina, widow of the emperor Mauritius. She had taken asylum with her daughters in Sancta Sophia. This was in 606. At the sight of her the people flocked together and took up arms. Phocas sent orders to bring out Constantina with her daughters. The patriarch Cyriakus refused: only when he had compelled Phocas to swear that no harm should be done to them, he gave them up. Phocas kept his word, and only confined them in a monastery. Germanus was forced to become a priest. In the next year, 607, Germanus and Constantina with other persons of high rank made a new conspiracy. It was discovered. Germanus with his daughter, the widow of prince Theodosius, eldest son of the preceding emperor Mauritius, was beheaded. The same lot befel Constantina and her daughters at Chalcedon, on the spot where, five years before, the emperor Mauritius had witnessed the execution of five sons, one after another, uttering at each stroke only the words: “Just art Thou, O Lord, and just is Thy judgment”: and then offering his own head to the sword. Phocas put to death the other conspirators with fearful tortures. Such executions were followed by fresh conspiracies, and these by similar punishments. At last, Crispus, the very stepson of Phocas, rose against him, and invited Heraclius, governor of Africa, to depose the emperor. Heraclius despatched a fleet under the command of his son, bearing the same name. Only as it drew near Constantinople did Phocas hear of it. He prepared for defence, but Crispus secretly traversed all his efforts, pretending to be on his side. After a bloody engagement the fleet appeared before the walls of the capital on Sunday the 4th October, 610. The next morning a senator, whose wife Phocas had dishonoured, appeared with a troop of soldiers at the palace. Phocas was seized, stripped of the purple, his hands bound behind his back, and carried through the city and the fleet before the young Heraclius, who was still on board his vessel. “Wretch,” said Heraclius, “hast thou governed the empire so?” “And wilt thou,” answered Phocas, “govern it better?” Heraclius trampled on him, cut off his hands and feet, and then his head, in sight of the vast throng which lined the shore. His head and limbs were carried on spears through the city, the trunk dragged through the streets, and all at last burnt.
Heraclius, accompanied by Crispus, disembarked. He invited Crispus to put on the imperial robe, since he was not come to invest himself with it, but only to avenge Mauritius and his children. Crispus refused, and then Heraclius had nothing to oppose to the request of the patriarch Sergius, who had just succeeded Thomas, that he should be crowned by him. Crispus was given the government of Cappadocia: but becoming a few years later unfaithful to Heraclius, as he had been to his stepfather Phocas, was compelled to receive the torture, and pass the rest of his days in banishment.
It may here be said that the dynasty thus begun occupied the throne for five generations. Justinian II., great-great-grandson of Heraclius, was more cruel if possible, than Phocas: he was deposed by an adventurer in 695, and his nose cut off to incapacitate him for any future recovery of the throne. His successor lasted three years: and another for seven; after which Justinian, who wore a golden nose for the one which he had lost, recovered the throne; practised during five years atrocious cruelties, was deposed by a third adventurer, Philippicus Bardanes in 711: put to death, and his head carried to Rome to assure all men that they were delivered from a tyrant, and a special oppressor of the Church.
Such in personal conduct was the manner of men who sat on the eastern throne of the great Constantine during the seventh century: whom four-and-twenty Popes found themselves bound to acknowledge as “Christian kings and Roman princes”. What they were in this capacity, which was the first and greatest of all their duties, as recognised by the imperial laws, will be seen as the narrative proceeds. Under these men the Popes, utterly deprived of temporal power, in the midst of a province an outlying domain of a distant despot, had to maintain the unity of the Christian faith, and the independence of the Holy See as its guardian. In the midst of these things the chalifs of Mohammed broke upon the eastern empire, and severed from it its fairest provinces. It is requisite to follow closely the series of events, and the connection of times.
Upon his accession to the throne in 603 Phocas had sent an embassy to the Persian emperor Chosroes, expressing his desire to maintain peace with him. But Chosroes under pretext of avenging his benefactor, the late emperor Mauritius, began a war which lasted more than four and twenty years, inflicted fearful sufferings on both empires, and had the most important consequences by leaving them in a state of great weakness to meet the assault of a new enemy, the Mohammedan chalifate.
During the first eighteen years of this war, that is, from 604 to 622, the Greek empire suffered a series of defeats and disasters. Through the whole East, from the ruins of Babylon to the Bosphorus, cities were burnt and destroyed, the country ravaged and left without cultivation, the inhabitants slain or carried away into slavery. The Persians tore from the empire province after province – Armenia, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia. In 610 they came up to the walls of Chalcedon. The accession of Heraclius produced no pause in their destructive course. In 611 they took Edessa, Apamea, and Antioch. In 615 they plundered Palestine, and took Jerusalem. The Church of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, and Constantine's Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre were destroyed or burnt. Among the inhabitants carried away was the patriarch Zacharias. The Persians seized in plunder all that was valuable, and the priceless relic of the Holy Cross was taken away by the fire-worshipper Chosroes. The Sponge and the Lance were saved by the patrician Nicetas, who purchased them at a high price from a Persian soldier, and then brought them to Constantinople, where they were exposed for veneration of the faithful.
It is to be noted that in 610 the Jews at Antioch had an insurrection, and massacred a great number of the most considerable inhabitants. They seized the patriarch Anastasius II., whom we have seen St. Gregory treat with such regard; they frightfully maimed him, dragged him by the feet through his city, and finished by casting him upon a funeral pile. When Jerusalem was captured in 615, the Jews of Palestine bought of the Persians as many Christians as they could get, for the pleasure of strangling them. It is recorded that they murdered seventy thousand in this manner.
Eight days before the taking of Jerusalem the fortress monastery of Mar Sabas, 2000 feet above the Dead Sea, then, as now, of the greatest renown, was assaulted by the Arabs. All but fourty-four of the oldest monks had fled, but these remained, and, after its capture, suffered first grievous tortures, and at last martyrdom. When the monks who had fled returned, they found the bodies of their brethren unburied; the abbot Modestus gave them holy burial. He afterwards superintended the diocese of Jerusalem during the absence of the captive patriarch. What Monte Cassino is to Italy, and Mount Athos to Greece, Mar Sabas was then and is now to Palestine.
At this time St. John the Almsgiver – the last great patriarch of Alexandria – gave every help to the fugitives from the Persian seizure of the Holy Land. It is a sign of the secular power wielded by the Egyptian patriarch that he ordered the confiscation of the goods of those who used in his city false weights and measures. After he had lovingly received and supported the fugitives from Syria and Palestine, he had, in the next year, 616, to fly himself in order to escape the sword of the Persians. He was on his way with the patrician Nicetas to Constantinople, when, at Rhodes, he had a vision, in consequence of which he said to his companion: “You invite me to the king of this world, but the Lord of heaven comes before you”. He told Nicetas the vision, and left him to go to Amathus in Cyprus, his birthplace. There he made his will in these words: “I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast heard my prayer, and that only one-third of one gold piece remains to me, though at my consecration I found 8000 pounds' weight of gold in the bishop's house at Alexandria, not reckoning those countless sums which I have received from the friends of Christ. Therefore, I order that this small remnant be given to Thy servants.” Ten years he sat in the See of Alexandria. George was his successor. But from this time nothing more is known of this Church's history. Alexandria fell first under the Persians, and then under Amrou, the Mohammedan. The Arabian domination supported Christian errors only, and from that time the Church of St. Athanasius has never lifted its head again, and the land of the Desert Fathers is become the chief seat of the religion which puts an impostor in the place of the Redeemer.
In the year 616, the Persians broke into Egypt, took and plundered Alexandria, and carried their ravages to the borders of Æthiopia. Another Persian army besieged Chalcedon. Still Heraclius remained inactive. He only sent an embassy to Chosroes. In 619 he sent another, beseeching mercy in the name of the senate. Chosroes replied: “I will spare the Romans when they renounce their Crucified One and worship the sun”. He remembered not that he had to thank the Romans for his crown, that in his time of trouble he had found help only from the God of the Christians. Heraclius lost courage at this answer. Since the loss of Egypt Constantinople was suffering from famine, as well as a grievous pestilence. The emperor resolved to quit his capital, and take refuge with his father in Africa. He embarked his chief treasures, and directed the fleet to Carthage. Most of it was wrecked in a storm. A panic fell on his people, and they besought him with tears and cries not to forsake them. The patriarch Sergius went to the palace, led Heraclius to Sancta Sophia, and compelled him before the altar to swear aloud not to desert his capital. Heraclius submitted against his will.
In 619 he was very nearly taken captive by the Khan of the Avars, who had asked him for an interview, ostensibly to settle terms of peace, in reality to secure his person and riches, and to fall upon Constantinople. The emperor came in great pomp, was surprised, and scarcely escaped in disguise. The Avars obtained an immense booty, and, according to the patriarch Nicephorus, carried away captive beyond the Danube 270,000 men, women, and children.
At length, in the twelfth year of his reign, Heraclius awoke from his torpor, and his awakening was one of the most marvellous events recorded in history. His treasury was empty and his credit not good enough to borrow; but he resolved to attack the Persians in their own country. To secure Constantinople he made peace with the Avars, and to hold them in check he ceded provinces to other races, Slaves, Croatians, and Servians. He made churches and monasteries supply a forced loan. He took even the candlesticks and holy vessels of Sancta Sophia and coined them. When all was ready for his departure, he declared his eldest son, Heraclius Constantinus, ten years old, regent of the kingdom under tutorship of Sergius the patriarch and Bonosus, patrician. Then he celebrated the Easter festival, 4th April, 622. The next day he went to Sancta Sophia, threw himself before the altar and cried: “Lord, deliver us not for the punishment of our transgressions to our enemies, but look upon us in Thy mercy and grant us victory, that the wicked cease to exalt themselves and to mock Thine inheritance”. Then he turned to the patriarch Sergius with the words: “My city and my son I leave to God's protection, the Blessed Virgin's, and thine”. Upon this he took into his hands an image of our Saviour, which was said not to have been made by hands, marched to the Bosphorus and crossed over to Asia.
A train of defeats by the Persians had demoralised the Greek soldiers. Heraclius reinforced his army with allied troops, amongst them a number of Turks. He spent some months at first in restoring courage to his forces. “See,” he said, “my children, how the enemies of God trample on our land, lay waste our cities, burn our sanctuaries, desecrate our altars, pollute our churches with the vilest abominations.” When he had thus enheartened them he reviewed them together, and swore to fight with them and on equal terms unto death, to share all their dangers, to be inseparable from them as a father with his children. And moreover, he kept his word.
Heraclius was ever at the head of his soldiers: he united valour with caution: he entered Armenia and defeated the Persians in several battles. Then he made a show of taking up his winter-quarters in Pontus, but suddenly burst into Persia, and utterly discomfited a large force. He took the enemy's camp, together with immense treasure. His troops were astounded at their own victories, and he wintered them in Armenia. The next campaign was no less glorious. He kept Easter Day in 623, which fell on the 27th March, with his family at Nicomedia. By the 20th April he was in Persia. He had written to Chosroes, and offered him peace. The Persian king not only rejected his offer, but put the bearers of it to death. Heraclius used all these circumstances to give courage and confidence to his troops. He penetrated to the heart of Persia: he burnt the cities and villages which he passed on his way, and marched on Ganzac, now Tauris, where Chosroes was encamped with forty thousand men. At the first onset, Chosroes took flight. His troops were mown down, captured, or scattered. Ganzac was the capital of Atropatene. The Persian kings kept there a treasure, said to be that of Crœsus and to have been brought thither by Cyrus. The most renowned fire-temple of the chief god of the Persians was in this city. Here Zoroaster, the founder of that worship, had been born and lived. There was also here a colossal statue of Chosroes. He was seated in the middle of the palace under a great baldachin representing heaven. Round him were the sun, moon and stars, and angels bearing sceptres. The statue, by means of machinery, caused rain to fall, and thunder to sound. In fact, Chosroes assumed here divine worship. The emperor ordered the statue to be overthrown and broken to pieces. Heraclius burnt palace and temple, with part of the city. Then he marched into Albania for the winter, and, out of pity, set free fifty thousand Persian prisoners, to whom he likewise gave maintenance. This humanity so won their hearts that they burst into tears, and prayed that he might restore freedom to Persia, and put to flight Chosroes, whom they called the Waster of the human race – so hateful had he made himself by oppression and cruelty.
In the campaign of 624, Chosroes brought up three armies against the emperor. Heraclius defeated them in three great battles. He made so sudden a night attack upon what remained that their general, Sarbar, wakened by the clash of arms, had scarcely time to spring from his bed on horseback, and ride away at full speed, while the conqueror took possession of his golden shield, and even his clothes. In his fourth campaign, that of 625, Heraclius was also victorious. Chosroes avenged the defeat of his troops by falling on the churches of Persia, which he stripped of all their ornaments: and to punish the emperor, he compelled the Christians of his realm to become Nestorians. Fifteen years before, he had, to please his physician, compelled the inhabitants of Edessa to become Eutycheans. Chosroes rallied all his forces for the campaign of 626. He raised three great armies, composed indifferently of freemen and slaves, of natives and foreigners. Sarbar led one of these armies to Chalcedon to besiege Constantinople, on the Asiatic side, while the Khan of the Avars, breaking truce, appeared on the European side, to demand the surrender of the city and all its wealth. Its inhabitants, however, defended themselves with such valour as to repulse both Avars and Persians. The fall of the Avar power begins at this moment. It was henceforth occupied by intestine struggles. Sais led the second army of Chosroes, which was defeated by Theodore, brother of the emperor Heraclius. Heraclius himself broke the third army under the command of Rhazates, at Nineveh, on the 12th December, 627. The battle began in early morning, and ended only in the evening. The Persians lost, besides the commanding general, his three lieutenants, almost all their officers, and nearly the half of their soldiers. The Romans had only fifty killed, but many thousands wounded. These the emperor tended with so much care that only ten died.
Nineveh, at that time, was only a village on the ruins of the old capital. Heraclius marched thence upon Ctesiphon, the capital of Persia, built upon the remains of old Babylon, at a little distance. On his road he passed palaces, seats, and chaces wherein the Persian nobles pursued their hunting. Heraclius suffered his soldiers to sack and burn them all. Chosroes fled from city to city. Heraclius made him new peace-proposals at the beginning of 628. Chosroes refused them all, and became perfectly hated by the Persians. He thought not of the justice of God, which was pursuing him. Thirty-eight years before he had murdered his father Hermisdas to obtain his throne. What he had done to his father was to happen to him from his eldest son. He had been struck by a violent dysentery: and wished to make Medarses, his son by his favourite wife Syra, a Christian, his successor in the throne. His eldest son, Siroes, irritated by this preference, gained the nobles and the army, was proclaimed king, and sent an embassy to Heraclius. Chosroes was captured in his flight, and brought to Ctesiphon, on the 24th February, 628. He was put in chains and imprisoned in the strong tower, Tenebres, which he had built to keep his treasures. The next day Siroes was crowned: the first act of his government was to condemn his father to die of starvation. “Let him eat,” he said, “the gold for which he has desolated the world, and condemned so many to die of hunger.” The Satraps and all his enemies were made to mock the fallen ruler, and spit in his face. Siroes ordered Medarses and all his brethren to be strangled before his father's eyes: and, as the old king was still living on the fifth day, had him shot to death with arrows. So ended Chosroes, king of Persia, murdered by his son as he murdered his father.
These victories the emperor Heraclius reported at Constantinople, and also sent a letter, in which Siroes announced his coronation, and proclaimed his wish for peace. This letter was read from the ambo of Sancta Sophia on the Feast of Pentecost, 15th May, 628.
Siroes, in fact, established a stable peace with the emperor. He restored him all Christian prisoners in Persia, among them, Zacharias, patriarch of Jerusalem. He delivered to him also the true Cross, which Sarbar had taken away fourteen years before at the capture of Jerusalem. This was at first carried to Constantinople: but in the following year, 629, the emperor took ship to bring it back to Jerusalem, and give thanks to God for his victories. Here he replaced the Cross on its old spot. It had remained in its case, as it was taken away. The patriarch, with his clergy, recognised the seal as intact, opened with its key the shrine, worshipped the Cross, and showed it to the people. The Church celebrates, by the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, this event on the same day, the 14th September, on which she had before celebrated the apparition of the Cross to Constantine. Heraclius, in the same year, came to Edessa, and restored to the Catholics the church which Chosroes had given to the Nestorians. And he paid back, in the shape of a yearly income to Sancta Sophia and its clergy, the sums which he had borrowed for the costs of the war.
Let us dwell for a moment on these acts of Heraclius, from 622 to 629.
No Roman emperor, in the course of many hundred years, during the whole time in which Rome and Persia stood as rivals over against each other, obtained such a triumph over the king of kings, as did Heraclius. He surpassed by far Trajan at the culmination of the empire. Heraclius, commending his city and his son to the protection of God, of our Blessed Lady, and of the bishop of his city, God's representative, went forth on what seemed a desperate expedition, borrowing from churches and monasteries the means to equip it. For seven years victory crowned his course. Trajan stopped at the Mesopotamian provinces. Julian perished in them. Mark Antony won no honour of Rome's eastern rival: Crassus and his host never returned. Galerius was stuffed and served as a footstool for the great king to mount on horseback. Into the heart of that eastern realm Heraclius threw himself fearlessly. He made his own army out of divers peoples, and shared their dangers. Host after host he overthrew, as only the son of Philip, the conqueror without his match, had done before him. In the end, on the very spot where a Roman emperor, the special despiser of the Nazarene, and fostering in his heart the destruction of the Church as the crowning work of his reign, to be achieved upon his return as conqueror, perished by a Persian lance, Heraclius, after driving to despair the great king, the persecutor of the Cross, its possessor by conquest, saw him dethroned, famished, and at last shot to death by his son. He received from that son, the successor of the murdered father, abundant satisfaction for the wrongs which the Roman empire had suffered from its great rival of so many hundred years.
But, moreover, during these very seven years in which Heraclius won a perpetual victory in the name of the Cross – the wood of which he brought back as a conqueror to Jerusalem, giving thanks and worship, and replaced it with the seal which guarded it unbroken in its old sanctuary – an Arabian trafficker who had gained his living by carrying goods from city to city, and lived virtuously with one wife much his elder, upon her death, when he was more than fifty years of age, was assuming the name of a prophet and the position of a conqueror. The year in which Heraclius started is the same in which this pretension was set up. His claim to be a prophet is exactly coincident with the years in which he was taking to himself wife after wife, in which, entering suddenly the tent of his adopted son, he was seduced by a casual glance on that wife's beauty to desire her, to obtain her, and to forge a permission from the Most High to take as many wives as he pleased, and the wives of others – a forgery as yet unique in all the history of imposture; for many bad men have taken the wives of others, but no one except Mohammed has pretended to have a divine sanction for an act which treads under foot all human justice, and pulls down for the lust of one man the very foundation of domestic life.
It is of this man that one who has analysed his religion and described its course opens his work with these words: —
“Since the beginning of the world has no other man – mere man – ever exerted so boundless an influence on the human race in the relations of religion, morality, and polity as Mohammed, the Arab. A man, by no means one of those rare spirits whom Providence at times evokes and endues with genius to open a path for a new world – a man rather whose mind was enclosed in narrow limits, poor in ideas for the construction of a new religion: a man such as this has for twelve hundred years cast his net of artless yet impenetrable links of doctrine round a hundred million souls – roots of teaching which have sunk into the marrow of men's minds, have taken up into themselves and mastered the whole of life, and impressed a uniform stamp on the thoughts and deeds of races as well as individuals.”
The seven years of Heraclius form part of the ten years of this Mohammed, in which the trader turns prophet and the reformer of religion endeavours to put a divine sanction on polygamy, in conjunction with a boundless concubinage of which captives were the prey.
As eighteen years of continual defeat by the Persians, from 604 to 622, had reduced the Eastern empire to a state of demoralised weakness, so the seven succeeding years, from 622 to 629, in which Heraclius wrought a full revenge on the Persian king, inflicted no passing collapse upon the empire resuscitated by the Sassanides in the third century. King Siroes did not long enjoy the fruit of his parricide. He reigned six months and then he died – some say of the plague, some of remorse. After his death the throne of Persia seemed to become a seat of murder. His young son, Ardeschir, or Artaxerxes, was killed after reigning seven months by his uncle, the general Sarbar. Sarbar kept the throne two months and was killed. Devanschir took his place. He was followed by Borane, a daughter of Chosroes. She was replaced by a certain Tschaschindeh, who was followed by Borane's sister, Azermidokt. A certain Kesra, or Chosroes, succeeded, and he gave way to a Ferokzad. Finally, Jezdedjerd, a grandson of the last Chosroes, was crowned in the year 632. Thus in the short space of four years about nine persons succeeded to the throne by murder. Jezdedjerd III. began his reign in the year Mohammed died. He is called by Theophanes, Hormisdas. He had the honour to be the last king of Persia and to end his days by the sword of the Arab in 651. His son, Peroxes, became a captain in the life-guards of the emperor of China at Singapore, and left no posterity.
After this glimpse at the action of the Byzantine and Persian empires on each other during the thirty years which follow immediately on the death of St. Gregory, we turn to consider the conduct of the temporal liege-lord of the Pope towards him whom he recognised as successor of St. Peter.
The emperor Phocas, following in this his predecessor Justinian, had expressly enjoined on the patriarch of Constantinople to recognise the Primacy of Rome. What the chroniclers remark is important, that Boniface III., the next to succeed St. Gregory, received a decree from Phocas, in which he solemnly declared that the See of the Roman Church was to be considered the head of Christendom. It may be remarked here that Phocas did not say a word more than his predecessor, Marcian, said to St. Leo a hundred and fifty years before. Phocas may be named a tyrant, but Marcian has left an unspotted reputation as a Christian king and Roman prince, who received the empire with the hand of Pulcheria, heiress of the great Theodosius, and the only descendant worthy of his greatness, whose name stands also on the diptychs of the Catholic Church as a virgin saint.
Upon the history of the City of Rome during the first half of the seventh century the greatest obscurity rests. It was indeed the most frightful and destructive century for the former queen-city of the world. The Book of the Popes by Anastasius trickles in a slender thread amid war, famine, and pestilence, and inundations of the Tiber; but it is all we have to look at.
With the death of the great Pontiff, who guarded and fed his city while the calamities which he saw all round the sphere of his vision over the whole Church led him to look for the end of the world, the See of Peter remained half a year unfilled until his successor, Sabinianus of Volterra, formerly Papal Nuncio at the Byzantine court, received the confirmation of his election from the exarch or the emperor. The confirmation of each pope's election was, as a rule, obtained either from the exarch or direct from the emperor. It was a business both costly and protracted. It also made the spiritual head of Rome dependent for his recognition on the imperial court. I find that in the period of 111 years, running from the death of St. Gregory in 604 to the death of Pope Constantine in 715, twenty-four popes succeeded. Of these the first, Sabinian, in 604, had to wait six months. Phocas confirmed the election of Boniface III., the next pope, after a year. He died in November, 607, and Boniface IV. following took his seat in August, 608. When he died, Pope Deusdedit waited five months. At his death Boniface V. succeeded after a year, in 619. Pope Honorius followed Boniface in five days and sat during thirteen years, but at his death the confirmation of his successor, Pope Severinus, was delayed by Greek intrigue, and for a purpose hereafter to be mentioned, during nineteen months and sixteen days, so that he only sat from the 28th May to the 1st August, 640. St. Martin in 649 did not wait for the imperial confirmation; he was first banished and then martyred by the emperor Constans II., who put in by threats his successor, Eugenius, during his lifetime. St. Leo II. waited eighteen months in 682, after the death of Pope Agatho, and the next Pope, Benedict II., a year in 684.
This privation of its original freedom, according to which the Pope's consecration followed at once upon his complete and legitimate election by clergy and people, the Roman Church owed to the Arian Herule Odoacer, during his occupation of Italy. It was eagerly grasped, after Theodorich and Theodatus had exercised it, by Justinian, when he became, by conquest, lord of Rome. I have already recorded the infamous violence exerted by Belisarius as soon as he had entered Rome, at the bidding of the Empress Theodora, upon St. Silverius. Now we have the eastern emperors, through the seventh century, exerting, sometimes directly, sometimes by delegation to their exarch, this stolen privilege. It was taken by Odoacer ostensibly for the preservation of order in the election, and the prevention of violence. I suppose it is the furthest reach of disloyalty to exercise a power which has been entrusted for protection to the injury of the party protected. This disloyalty was perpetually shown by the eastern emperors to the Popes, whose Primacy over the Church they acknowledged, until they finally lost the opportunity by the new-creation of the Western empire, and the acquisition of temporal sovereignty by the Popes.