Monday, November 26, 2007

St John Chrysostom and the Empress Eudoxia

Jean-Paul Laurens (1838 – 1921)
St John Chrysostom and the Empress Eudoxia 1894
Oil on Canvas
127 x 160 cm
Musee des Augustins, Toulouse

Laurent was a major exponents of the French Academic style.

Strongly anti-clerical and republican, his work was often on historical and religious themes, through which he sought to convey a message of opposition to monarchical and clerical oppression.

In 398 St John was requested — against his will — to take the position of Archbishop of Constantinople. He deplored the fact that Imperial court protocol would now assign to him access to privileges greater than the highest state officials.

Amongst others, he made an enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, the wife of the eastern Emperor Arcadius, who assumed (perhaps with justification) that his denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself.

An alliance was soon formed against him by Eudoxia, and others of his enemies.

They held a synod in 403 to charge John, in which his connection to Origen was used against him. It resulted in his deposition and banishment.

He was called back by Arcadius almost immediately, as the people became "tumultuous" over his departure. There was also an earthquake the night of his arrest, which Eudoxia took for a sign of God's anger, prompting her to ask Arcadius for John's reinstatement.

Peace was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected near his cathedral. John denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms: "Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger," an allusion to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. Once again he was banished, this time to the Caucasus in Armenia

It was one of the great clashes between Church and State in the early Church. The painting could not be anything other than indicative of the clashes between Church and State in Nineteenth century France.