Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Of the tyranny of Eugenius and the victory won through faith by the Emperor Theodosius.
Chapter XXIV.—Of the tyranny of Eugenius and the victory won through faith by the Emperor Theodosius.
In this manner the peace of the churches was secured by the most religious emperor. Before the establishment of peace he had heard of the death of Valentinianus and of the usurpation of Eugenius and had marched for Europe. 901
At this time there lived in Egypt 902 a man of the name of John, who had embraced the ascetic life. Being full of spiritual grace, he foretold many future events to persons who from time to time came to consult him. To him the Christ-loving emperor sent, in his anxiety to know whether he ought to make war against the tyrants. In the case of the former war he foretold a bloodless victory. In that of the second he predicted that the emperor would only win after a great slaughter. With this expectation the emperor set out, and, while drawing up his forces, shot down many of his opponents, but lost many of his barbarian allies. 903
When his generals represented that the forces on their side were few and recommended him to allow some pause in the campaign, so as to muster an army at the beginning of spring and out-number the enemy, Theodosius refused to listen to their advice. “For it is wrong,” said he, “to charge the Cross of Salvation with such infirmity, for it is the cross which leads our troops, and attribute such power to the image of Hercules which is at the head of the forces of our foe.” Thus in right faith he spoke, though the men left him were few in number and much discouraged. Then when he had found a little oratory, on the top of the hill where his camp was pitched, he spent the whole night in prayer to the God of all.
About cock-crow sleep overcame him, and as he lay upon the ground he thought he saw p. 150 two men in white raiment riding upon white horses, who bade him be of good cheer, drive away his fear, and at dawn arm and marshal his men for battle. “For,” said they, “we have been sent to fight for you,” and one said, “I am John the evangelist,” and the other, “I am Philip the apostle.”
After he had seen this vision the emperor ceased not his supplication, but pursued it with still greater eagerness. The vision was also seen by a soldier in the ranks who reported it to his centurion. The centurion brought him to the tribune, and the tribune to the general. The general supposed that he was relating something new, and reported the story to the emperor. Then said Theodosius, “Not for my sake has this vision been seen by this man, for I have put my trust in them that promised me the victory. But that none may have supposed me to have invented this vision, because of my eagerness for the battle, the protector of my empire has given the information to this man too, that he may bear witness to the truth of what I say when I tell you that first to me did our Lord vouchsafe this vision. Let us then fling aside our fear. Let us follow our front rank and our generals. Let none weigh the chance of victory by the number of the men engaged, but let every man bethink him of the power of the leaders.”
He spoke in similar terms to his men, and after thus inspiring all his host with high hope, led them down from the crest of the hill. The tyrant saw the army coming to attack him from a distance, and then armed his forces and drew them up for battle. He himself remained on some elevated ground, and said that the emperor was desirous of death, and was coming into battle because he wished to be released from this present life: so he ordered his generals to bring him alive and in chains. When the forces were drawn up in battle array those of the enemy appeared by far the more numerous, and the tale of the emperors troops might be easily told. But when both sides had begun to discharge their weapons the front rank proved their promises true. A violent wind blew right in the faces of the foe, and diverted their arrows and javelins and spears, so that no missile was of any use to them, and neither trooper nor archer nor spearman was able to inflict any damage upon the emperors army. Vast clouds of dust, too, were carried into their faces, compelling them to shut their eyes and protect them from attack. The imperial forces on the other hand did not receive the slightest injury from the storm, and vigorously attacked and slew the foe. The vanquished then recognised the divine help given to their conquerors, flung away their arms, and begged the emperor for quarter. Theodosius then yielded to their entreaty and had compassion on them, and ordered them to bring the tyrant immediately before him. Eugenius was ignorant of how the day had gone, and when he saw his men running up the hillock where he sat, all out of breath, and shewing their eagerness by their panting, he took them for messengers of victory, and asked if they had brought Theodosius in chains, as he had ordered. “No,” said they, “we are not bringing him to you, but we are come to carry you off to him, for so the great Ruler has ordained.” Even as they spoke they lifted him from his chariot, put chains upon him, and carried him off thus fettered, and led away the vain boaster of a short hour ago, now a prisoner of war.
The emperor reminded him of the wrongs he had done Valentinianus, of his usurped authority, and of the wars which he had waged against the rightful emperor. He ridiculed also the figure of Hercules and the foolish confidence it had inspired and at last pronounced the sentence of right and lawful punishment.
Such was Theodosius in peace and in war, ever asking and never refused the help of God. 904
Valentinian II. was strangled while bathing in the Rhine at Vienne, May 15, 392. Philost. xi. 1. cf. Soc. v. 25; Soz. vii. 22.
Arbogastes, his Frankish Master of the Horse, who had instigated his murder, set up the pagan professor Eugenius to succeed him. Theodosius did not march to meet the murderer of his young brother-in-law till June, 394, and meanwhile his Empress Galla died, leaving a little daughter, Galla Placidia.149:902
i.e. at Lycopolis, the modern Siut, in the Thebaid. The envoy was the Eunuch Eutropius. Soz. vii. 22. Claud. i. 312.149:903
“Theodosius marched north-westwards, as before, up the valley of the Save, and to the city of Æmona.” (Laybach.) “Not there did he meet his foes, but at a place thirty miles off, half-way between Æmona and Aquileia, where the Julian Alps are crossed, and where a little stream called the Frigidus, (now the Wipbach, or Vipao) bursts suddenly from a limestone hill. Here the battle was joined between Eugenius and his Frankish patron and Theodosius with his 20,000 Gothic fœderati and the rest of the army of the East. Gainas, Saul, Bacurius, Alaric, were the chief leaders of the Teutonic troops. The first day of battle fell heavily on the fœderati of Theodosius, half of whom were left dead upon the field.” Hodgkin Dynasty of Theodosius, p. 131. This was Sept. 5, 394.150:904
Here was a crucial contest between paganism and Christianity, which might seem a “nodus dignus vindice Deo.” On the part played by storms in history vide note on page 103. Claudian, a pagan, was content to acknowledge the finger of providence in the rout of Eugenius, and apostrophizing Honorius, exclaims
“Te propter gelidis Aquilo de monte procellis
Obruit adversas actes, revolutaque tela
Vertit in auctores, et turbine repulit hastas.
O nimium dilecte Deo, cui fundit ab antris
Æolus armatas hyemes; cui militat æther
Et conjurati veniunt ad classica venti.”—vii. 93
Augustine says he heard of the “revoluta tela” from a soldier engaged in the battle. The appearance of St. John and St. Philip finds a pagan parallel in that of the “great twin brethren” at Lake Regillus.
“So like they were, no mortal
Might one from other know:
White as snow their armour was,
Their steeds were white as snow.”
According to Spanish story St. James the Great fought on a milk-white charger, waving a white flag, at the battle of Clavijo, in 939. cf. Mrs. Jameson Sacred and Legendary Art, i. 234.
Sozomen (vii. 24) relates how at the very hour of the fight, at the church which Theodosius had built near Constantinople to enshrine the head of John the Baptist (cf. note on p. 96), a demoniac insulted the saint, taunting him with having had his head cut off, and said “you conquer me and ensnare my army.” On this Jortin remarks “either the devil and Sozomen, or else Theodoret, seem to have made a mistake, for the two first ascribe the victory to John the Baptist and the third to John the Evangelist.” Remarks ii. 165.
Next: Of the death of the Emperor Theodosius.
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