INTRODUCTION TO THE HOMILIES ON S. IGNATIUS AND S. BABYLAS.
The following have been selected out of a large number delivered by Chrysostom on the festivals of saints and martyrs, not only because they are good samples of his discourses on such occasions, but also on account of the celebrity of the two saints in whose honour they were spoken. There is really very little known about Ignatius beyond the fact that he was Bishop of Antioch, and suffered martyrdom at Rome in the reign of Trajan about the year 110 a.d.: being torn to death by wild beasts in the colossal amphitheatre erected for the display of such inhuman sports by the emperors of the Flavian dynasty. The tradition that he was a disciple of St. John does not rest on any trustworthy evidence, but on the other hand there is nothing inherently impossible or even improbable in the supposition.
According to a tradition which cannot be traced back earlier than the latter part of the fourth century the reliques were translated from Rome to Antioch and deposited in the Christian cemetery outside the gates called the Daphnitic gate, because it led from the city to the famous suburb of Daphne, on which we shall have more to say presently. It is clear from the following eulogy that Chrysostom accepted this tradition, and his repeated invitation to his hearers to “come hither” to enjoy the beneficent influence of the saint seems to imply that his discourse was delivered in the “martyr,” that is the chapel erected to contain the martyrs remains, not in the “Great Church” of Antioch where he commonly preached. In the next generation the reliques of the saint were again translated by the Emperor, the younger Theodosius, to the building which had been the temple of the “Fortune of Antioch,” and then the illustrious Christian martyr was substituted for the mythical goddess on the tutelary genius of the city.
The fame of S. Babylas rivalled and for a time almost threatened to overshadow that of S. Ignatius. He had been Bishop of Antioch about 237 to 250. The heroic courage with which he had once repulsed the Emperor Philip from the church until he should have submitted to penance for some offence committed, and his martyrdom in the persecution under Decius were his original claims to popular veneration. But some later events shed a fresh lustre on his name. In the year 351 the Cæsar Gallus, brother of Julian, being resident in Antioch, transferred the reliques of Babylas from their resting place within the city to the beautiful suburb the garden or grove of Daphne. “In the history of this spot we have a singular instance of the way in which Grecian legend was transplanted into foreign soil. Daphne the daughter of the river-god Ladon were according to the Syrian version of the myth, overtaken by her lover Apollo near Antioch. Here it was, on the banks not of the Peneus but of the Oronete, that the maiden prayed to her mother earth to open her arms and shelter her from the pursuit of the amorous god, and that the laurel plant sprang out of the spot where she vanished from the eyes of her disappointed lover. The house of Seleucus Nicator, founder of the Syrian monarchy was said to have struck his hoof upon one of the arrows dropped by Apollo in the hurry of his pursuit; in consequence of which the king dedicated the place to the god. A temple was erected in his honour, ample in its proportions, sumptuous in its adornments; the internal walls were resplendent with polished marbles, the p. 132 lofty ceiling was of cypress wood. The colossal image of the god, enriched with gold and gems, nearly reached the top of the roof. * * * With one hand the deity lightly touched the lyre which hung from his shoulders and in the other he held a golden dish, as if about to pour a libation on the earth “and supplicate the venerable mother to give to his arms the cold and beauteous Daphne.” 364 The whole grove became consecrated to pleasure under the guise of festivity in honor of the god. * * * It contained everything which could gratify and charm the senses; the deep impenetrable shade of cypress trees, the delicious noise and coolness of falling waters, the fragrance of aromatic shrubs; there were also baths, and grottos, porticoes, and colonnades. Such materials for voluptuous enjoyment told with fatal effect upon the morals of a people addicted at all times to an immoderate indulgence in luxurious pleasure. 365 Daphne became one of those places where gross and shameless vice was practised under the sanction of religion. The intention of Cæsar Gallus in translating the reliques of Babylas to Daphne was as Chrysostom expresses it to “bring a physician to the sick;” to introduce a pure and Christian association into a spot hitherto consecrated to Pagan and licentious rites. The bones of the saint were laid near the shrine of Apollo, and the Christian church standing hard by the heathen temple was a visible warning to any Christian who might visit the place to abstain from deeds abhorrent to the faith for which the bishop had died. But the remains of the martyr were not permitted to rest in peace. When the Emperor Julian visited Antioch 362, he consulted the oracle of Apollo at Daphne respecting the issue of the expedition which he was about to make into Persia. But the oracle was dumb. At length the god yielded to the importunity of prayers and sacrifices so far as to explain the cause of his silence. He was offended by the proximity of dead men. “Break open the sepulchres, take up the bones, and carry them hence.” No name was mentioned, but the demand was interpreted as referring to the remains of Babylas, and the wishes of the affronted deity were complied with. The Christians were commanded by Julian to remove the bones of their saint from the neighbourhood of Apollos sanctuary. They obeyed, but what was intended to be a humiliation was converted into a triumph. The reliques were conveyed to their resting place within the city as in a kind of festive procession, accompanied by crowds along the whole way, four or five miles, chanting the words of the Psalm, “Confounded be all they that worship carved images and delight in vain gods.” In vain were some of the Christians seized and tortured. The popularity of the saint grew in proportion as Julian tried to put it down; and the insults done to him were speedily avenged. A fire, mysterious in its origin, broke out soon after the removal of the martyrs reliques in the shrine of Apollo, consuming the roof of the building, and the statue of the god. At the time when Chrysostom preached, about twenty years later, the columns and walls were still standing, the melancholy wreck serving as a memorial and witness of the judgment which had fallen upon the place.
The remains of Babylas were not brought back to Daphne, but removed from the city to a magnificent church built to receive them on the other side of Orontes. Near the close of his discourse Chrysostom refers to the erection of this church and to the zeal of the Bishop Meletius in promoting it, who actually took part in the work with his own hands, as we are told that Hugh did in the building of the Minster at Lincoln. But although the body of the martyr rested elsewhere, his spirit and influence were supposed to inhabit in a special manner the spot where he had put the heathen deity to silence and shame, and to confer blessings on the pilgrims who resorted in crowds to his martyr in Daphne. The ruined and deserted temple indeed, and the well preserved Christian church thronged with worshippers, standing as they did side by side, formed a striking emblem of the two religions to which they were devoted—the one destined to crumble and vanish away, the other to endure and conquer.
Gibbon, vol. iv. p. 111. Milmans ed.132:365
Life of St. John Chrysostom, by W. R. W. Stephens, pp. 101–3, 3d ed.