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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: Virtues of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXII.—Virtues of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger.

But although I am neither eager for the notice of the emperor, nor wish to make an exhibition of my oratorical powers, yet have I felt it my duty to record plainly the singular virtues with which the emperor is endowed: for I am persuaded that silence concerning them, as they are so excellent, would be injustice to those who should come after us. In the first place then, this prince though born and nurtured to empire, was neither stultified nor effeminated by the circumstances of his birth and education. He evinced so much prudence, that he appeared to those who conversed with him to have acquired wisdom from experience. Such was his fortitude in undergoing hardships, that he would courageously endure both heat and cold; fasting very frequently, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays; 961 and this he did from an earnest endeavor to observe with accuracy all the prescribed forms of the Christian religion. He rendered his palace little different from a monastery: for he, together with his sisters, rose early in the morning, and recited responsive hymns in praise of the Deity. By this training he learnt the holy Scriptures by heart; and he would often discourse with the bishops on scriptural subjects, as if he had been an ordained priest of long standing. He was a more indefatigable collector of the sacred books and of the expositions which had been written on them, than even Ptolemy Philadelphus 962 had formerly been. In clemency and humanity he far surpassed all others. For the emperor Julian although he professed to be a p. 165 philosopher, could not moderate his rage against the Antiochians who derided him, but inflicted upon Theodore the most agonizing tortures. 963 Theodosius on the contrary, bidding farewell to Aristotle’s syllogisms, exercised philosophy in deeds, by getting the mastery over anger, grief, and pleasure. Never has he revenged himself on any one by whom he has been injured; nor has any one ever even seen him irritated. And when some of his most intimate friends once asked him, why he never inflicted capital punishment upon offenders, his answer was, ‘Would that it were even possible to restore to life those that have died.’ To another making a similar inquiry he replied, ‘It is neither a great nor a difficult thing for a mortal to be put to death but it is God only that can resuscitate by repentance a person that has once died.’ So habitually indeed did he practice mercy, that if any one were guilty and sentence of death was passed upon him, and he was conducted toward the place of execution, he was never suffered to reach the gates of the city before a pardon was issued, commanding his immediate return. Having once exhibited a show of hunting wild beasts in the Amphitheatre at Constantinople, the people cried out, ‘Let one of the boldest bestiarii 964 encounter the enraged animal.’ But he said to them, ‘Do ye not know that we are wont to view these spectacles with feelings of humanity?’ By this expression he instructed the people to be satisfied in future with shows of a less cruel description. His piety was such that he had a reverential regard for all who were consecrated to the service of God; and honored in an especial manner those whom he ascertained to be eminent for their sanctity of life. It is said that the bishop of Chebron 965 having died at Constantinople, the emperor expressed a wish to have his cassock of sackcloth of hair; which, although it was excessively filthy, he wore as a cloak, hoping that thus he should become a partaker in some degree of the sanctity of the deceased. In a certain year, during which the weather had been very tempestuous, he was obliged by the eagerness of the people to exhibit the usual sports in the Hippodrome; and when the circus was filled with spectators, the violence of the storm increased, and there was a heavy fall of snow. Then the emperor made it very evident how his mind was affected towards God; for he caused the herald to make a proclamation to the people to this effect: ‘It is far better and fitter to desist from the show, and unite in common prayer to God, that we may be preserved unhurt from the impending storm.’ Scarcely had the herald executed his commission, when all the people, with the greatest joy, began with one accord to offer supplication and sing praises to God, so that the whole city became one vast congregation; and the emperor himself in official garments, went into the midst of the multitude and commenced the hymns. Nor was he disappointed in his expectation, for the atmosphere began to resume its wonted serenity: and Divine benevolence bestowed on all an abundant harvest, instead of an expected deficiency of corn. If at any time war was raised, like David he had recourse to God, knowing that he is the arbiter of battles, and by prayer brought them to a prosperous issue. At this point therefore, I shall relate, how a little after the war against the Persians, by placing his confidence in God he vanquished the usurper John, after Honorius had died on the 15th of August, in the consulate of Asclepiodotus and Marian. 966 For I judge what then occurred worthy of mention, inasmuch as there happened to the emperor’s generals who were dispatched against the tyrant, something analogous to what took place when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea under the guidance of Moses. These things however, I shall set forth very briefly, leaving to others the numerous details which would require a special treatise.



On the observance of these two days of the week as fast days in the early Church see Bingham, Christ. Antiq. XXI. 3.


φιλάδελφος = ‘lover of his brothers,’ but applied to him by the rhetorical figure of antiphrasis because he killed his brothers. This Ptolemy Philadelphus reigned in Egypt from 285 to 247 b.c. and is famous for having the Old Testament translated from Hebrew into Greek, according to the common tradition, by seventy learned men, whence the translation has been known as the Septuagint.


Cf. III. 19.


Persons who fought with wild beasts in the games of the circus. They were of two classes: (1) professionals, those who fought for pay, and (2) criminals, allowed to use arms in defending themselves against the wild beasts to which they had been condemned. It is one of the first class that is here meant.


An altogether unknown and doubtful diocese.


423 a.d.

Next: After the Death of the Emperor Honorius John usurps the Sovereignty at Rome. He is destroyed through the Prayers of Theodosius the Younger.

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