Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Revolt of the Statues

"Turbide vulgo utraque et amenti populi male sane tumulto"

Ausonius xi. 4-5

In 387 AD (the tenth year of the reign of Theodosius) Antioch rioted against a newly levied tax. The mob revolted, tore down the statues of the Emperor (though better stated these appear to have been painted panels with images of the imperial family).

The best sources for this event are Libanius and Chrysostom who both commented heavily upon the events. More recent interpreters of worth are Browning in his comments on the theatre claques and the thesis of Alberto Quiroga Puertas on the theme of Libanius' orations (XIX - XXIII) dealing with the events and their aftermath.

In spite of his age, Bishop Flavian, a man of eighty years, set out in the worst weather and made his way through eight hundred miles of snow to Constantinople, to implore the imperial clemency for his flock and the Emperor was touched by his appeal; an amnesty was accorded to the delinquent citizens of Antioch. During the absence of Bishop Flavian, during the Lent of 387, Saint John could not contain himself seeing the executions of the Antiochenes. He began to deliver a long series of sermons known as ``On the Statues'' in which he said very little about the statues. In those twenty one homilies, he spoke of God's mercy, how there are things far more dreadful than death or slavery, and his hope that the people should embrace death, if they had to, or life, with equal courage. He says of Flavian ``God will not suffer this errand to be fruitless. This is the holy season. This is the season when we remember how Christ died for the sins of the world. Flavian will remind the Emperor of the prayer `Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.' He will bring to his memory that in this city the faithful were first called Christians by name. Let us assist him with our prayers; let us supplicate; let us make an embassy to the King who reigns above, an embassy of tears. And remember how it is written of repentant Nineveh, `God saw their works,' `They turned every one from their evil ways, and the Lord repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them.''' Saint John kept excoriating the people for their past vices, their addiction to wealth, their love of the theatre, their sensual enjoyments. If they had lived more strictly, they would not have behaved like wild beasts, and if they were true Christians they would have not possessed this abject fear of the Emperor.

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