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THEODOSIUS THE GREAT.
The Frank, Arbogastes, who had killed Valentinian did not make himself
Emperor, but set up a heathen philosopher called Eugenius, who for a
little while restored all the heathen pomp and splendor, and opened the
temples again, threatening even to take away the churches and turn the
chief one at Milan into a stable. They knew that Theodosius would soon
come to attack them, so they prepared for a great resistance in the
passes of the Julian Alps, and the image of the Thundering Jupiter was
placed to guard them.
Theodosius had collected his troops and marched under the Labarum—that
is to say, the Cross of Constantine, which had been the ensign of the
imperial army ever since the battle of the Milvian Bridge. It was the
cross combined with the two first Greek letters of the name Christ,
[Symbol: Greek chi & rho combined], and was carried, as the eagles had
been, above a purple silk banner. The men of Eugenius bore before them a
figure of Hercules, and in the first battle they gained the advantage,
for the more ignorant Eastern soldiers, though Christians, could not get
rid of the notion that there was some sort of power in a heathen god,
and thought Jupiter and Hercules were too strong for them.
But Theodosius rallied them and led them back, so that they gained a
great victory, and a terrible storm and whirlwind which fell at the same
time upon the host of Eugenius made the Christian army feel the more
sure that God fought on their side. Eugenius was taken and put to death,
and Arbogastes fell on his own sword.
Theodosius thus united the empires of the East and West once more. He
was a brave and gallant soldier, and a good and conscientious man, and
was much loved and honored; but he could be stern and passionate, and he
was likewise greatly feared. At Antioch, the people had been much
offended at a tax which Theodosius had laid on them; they rose in
rebellion, overthrew his statues and those of his family, and dragged
them about in the mud. No sooner was this done than they began to be
shocked and terrified, especially because of the insult to the statue of
the Empress, who was lately dead after a most kind and charitable life.
The citizens in haste sent off messengers, with the Bishop at their
head, to declare their grief and sorrow, and entreat the Emperor's
pardon. All the time they were gone the city gave itself up to prayer
and fasting, listening to sermons from the priest, John—called from his
eloquence Chrysostom, or Golden Mouth—who preached repentance for all
the most frequent sins, such as love of pleasure, irreverence at church,
etc. The Bishop on his way met the Emperor's deputies who were charged
to enquire into the crime and punish the people; and he redoubled his
speed in reaching Constantinople, where he so pleaded the cause of the
people that Theodosius freely forgave them, and sent him home to keep a
happy Easter with them. This was while he was still Emperor only of the
ROMAN HALL OF JUSTICE.
But when he was in Italy with Valentinian, three years later, there was
another great sedition at Thessalonica. The people there were as mad as
were most of the citizens of the larger towns upon the sports of the
amphitheatre, and were vehemently fond of the charioteers whom they
admired on either side. Just before some races that were expected, one
of the favorite drivers committed a crime for which he was imprisoned.
The people, wild with fury, rose and called for his release; and when
this was denied to them, they fell on the magistrates with stones, and
killed the chief of them, Botheric, the commander of the forces. The
news was taken to Milan, where the Emperor then was, and his wrath was
so great and terrible that he commanded that the whole city should
suffer. The soldiers, who were glad both to revenge their captain and to
gain plunder, hastened to put his command into execution; the unhappy
people were collected in the circus, and slaughtered so rapidly and
suddenly, that when Theodosius began to recover from his passion, and
sent to stay the hands of the slayers, they found the city burning and
the streets full of corpses.
St. Ambrose felt it his duty to speak forth in the name of the Church
against such fury and cruelty; and when Theodosius presented himself at
the church door to come to the Holy Communion, Ambrose met him there,
and turned him back as a blood-stained sinner unfit to partake of the
heavenly feast, and bidding him not add sacrilege to murder.
Theodosius pleaded that David had sinned even more deeply, and yet had
been forgiven. "If you have sinned like him, repent like him," said
Ambrose; and the Emperor went back weeping to his palace, there to
remain as a penitent. Easter was the usual time for receiving penitents
back to the Church, but at Christmas the Emperor presented himself
again, hoping to win the Bishop's consent to his return at once; but
Ambrose was firm, and again met him at the gate, rebuking him for trying
to break the rules of the Church.
"No," said Theodosius; "I am not come to break the laws, but to entreat
you to imitate the mercy of God whom we serve, who opens the gates of
mercy to contrite sinners."
On seeing how deep was his repentance, Ambrose allowed him to enter the
Church, though it was not for some time that he was admitted to the Holy
Communion, and all that time he fasted and never put on his imperial
robes. He also made a law that no sentence of death should be carried
out till thirty days after it was given, so as to give time to see
whether it were hasty or just.
During this reign another heresy sprang up, denying the Godhead of God
the Holy Ghost, and, in consequence, Theodosius called together another
Council of the Church, at which was added to the Nicene Creed those
latter sentences which follow the words, "I believe in the Holy Ghost."
In this reign, too, began to be sung the Te Deum, which is generally
known as the hymn of St. Ambrose. It was first used at Milan, but
whether he wrote it or not is uncertain, though there is a story that he
had it sung for the first time at the baptism of St. Augustine.
Theodosius only lived six months after his defeat of Eugenius, dying at
Milan in 395, when only fifty years old. He was the last who really
deserved the name of a Roman Emperor, though the title was kept up, and
Rome had still much to undergo. He left two young sons named Arcadius
and Honorius, between whom the empire was divided.