7. Of CAPPADOCIA, a man of bad character, a heretic and a persecutor, and an intruder into the see of the orthodox Athanasius, then in banishment, and yet, strange to tell, a saint in the Roman Calendar, and the patron saint of England.
It is possible, indeed, that his moral delinquency has been aggravated by the party spirit of the ecclesiastical historians, and other writers to whom his Arianism made him odious; but it is hard to believe that their invectives are without considerable foundation.
He was born, according to Ammianus, at Epiphaneia, in Cilicia, but our other authorities speak of him as a Cappadocian. His father was a fuller. Gregory Nazianzen, whose passionate invective is our chief authority for his early history, says that he was of a bad family πονηρὸς τὸ γένος
); but it does not appear whether it was discreditable for anything more than its humble occupation. George appears to have been a parasite, a hanger-on of the wealthy, "one that would sell himself," according to Gregory, "for a cake."
He obtained an appointment connected with the supply of bacon to the army; but being detected in some unfaithfulness, was stripped of his charge and his emoluments, and was glad to escape without bodily punishment.
According to Gregory, he afterwards wandered from one city or province to another, till he was fixed at Alexandria, "where he ceased to wander, and began to do mischief" It is probable, however, that he held office as a receiver of some branch of the revenue at Constantinople, having by bribery obtained the favour of the eunuchs who had influence at the court of Constantius II., the then reigning emperor. Athanasius, who notices this appointment, calls him ταμειοφάγος
, "a peculator ;" but it is not clear whether he refers to his former official delinquency or to some new offence.
Thus far it does not appear that George had even professed to be a Christian: we have certainly no intimation that he sustained any ecclesiastical character before his appointment to the see of Alexandria. Athanasius says it was reported at the time of his appointment that he had not been a Christian at all, but rather an idolator; and there is reason to believe that Athanasius is right in charging him with professing Christianity for interest sake. Arianism waspatronised by Constantius, and George consequently becamea zealous Arian; and was. after his appointment to Alexandria, concerned in assembling the Arian councils of Seleuceia (A. D. 359) and Constantinople (A. D. 360).
According to Socrates and Sozomen, Gregory, whom the Arian party had appointed to the see of Alexandria, vacant by the expulion of Athanasius,had becomeunpopular, through the tumults and disasters to which his appointment had led; and was at the same time regarded as not zealous enough in the support of Arianism.
He was therefore removed, and George was appointed by the council of Antioch (A. D. 354, or, according to Mansi, A. D. 356;) in his place.
It is probable that George was appointed from his subserviency to the court, and his readiness to promote to any fiscal exactions, and his general unscrupulousness; and he was induced to accept the appointment by the hope of gain, or, as Athanasis ext presses it, "he was hired" to become bishop. Count Heraclian was sent by Constantius to gain the support of the heathen people of Alexandria to apud George's election; and he succeeded in his object, by giving them hopes of obtaining toleration for their own worship; and the emperor, in a letter preserved by Athanasius, recommended the new prelate to the support and favour of the Alexandrians generally.
But a persecution of the Trinitarian party had commenced even before the arrival of George, which took place during Lent, A. D. 355. They were dispossessed of the churches and Sebastian, commander of the troops in Egypt. publicly exposed some women, who had devoted themselves to a life of religious celibacy, naked before the flame of a large fire, to make them renounce orthodoxy. On George's arrival, the persecution continued as fiercely as before, or even more so. Widows and orphans were plundered of their houses and of their bread; several men were so cruelly beaten with fresh-gathered palm branches, with the thorns yet adhering to them, that some were long before they recovered, and some never recovered at all; and many virgins, and thirty bishops, were banished to the greater Oasis, or elsewhere: several of the bishops died in the place of exile, or on the way. Athanasius, however, escaped, and remained in concealment till George's death. George and his partisans refused at first to give up to their friends for burial the bodies of those who died, "sitting," says Theodoret," like daemons about the tombs." His perse cutions led to a revolt. The Trinitarian party rose against him, and would have killed him.
He escaped, however, and fled to the emperor; and the Trinitarians re-occupied the churches.
A notary was sent, apparently from Constantinople; the orthodox were again expelled; the guilty were punished, and George returned, rendered more tyrannical by this vain attempt to resist him.
While his bitter persecution of the orthodox was embittering the anger of that numerous party, his rapacity and subserviency to the court offended all.
He suggested to Constantius to require a rent for all the buildings which had been erected at the public cost, and ministered to the emperor's cruelty, as well as his rapacity, by accusing many Alexandrians of disobedience to his orders. Mindful of his own interest, he sought to obtain a monopoly of nitre and of the marshes where the papyrus and other reeds grew, of the salterns, and of biers for the dead and the management of funerals in Alexandria. His luxury and arrogance tended further to increase the hatred entertained towards him.
A passage in Athanasius (De Synod.
100.12) gives some reason to think that sentence of deposition was pronounced against him at the Council of Seleuceia (A. D. 359); but if so, it was not carried into effect.
The immediate cause of his downfal was his persecution of the heathens.
He had excited their fears by exclaimiinlg at the view of a splendid temple, "How long shall this sepulchre stand?"
But the crowning provocation was this: there was a spot in the city occupied by the ruins of a forsaken temple of Mithras, or the Sun, and still regarded by the heathens as sacred, though filled with the refuse and off-scouring of the streets.
This spot Constantius had given to the church at Alexandria; and George determined to clear it out, and build a church upon it.
The workmen, in clearing it out, found in the adytum, or sacred recess of the old temple, statues, sacred utensils, and the skulls of human victims, either slain in sacrifice, or that the soothsayers might examine their entrails, and foretell future events thereby. Some zealots brought these things out, and exposed them to the mockery and jeers of the Christians.
This irritated the heathens; and as the news had just arrived of the death of Constantius (Nov. A. D. 361), and the accession of Julian as sole emperor, and also of the execution of Artemius, ex-governor of Egypt, they thought their time of ascendancy was come, and rose in insurrection. George, whose persecutions seem to have been directed against all who differed from him, was at the time presiding in a synod, where those who held the sentiments of Aetius [AETIUS] were compelled to subscribe a condemnation of their own opinions.
The rioters rushed into the church where the synod was assembled, dragged him out, and would have killed him on the spot.
He was, however, rescued by the authorities, and apparently to satisfy his enemies, committed to prison.
But not many days after, at day-break, the mob forced the prison, dragged him out, bound him (it is doubtful whether living or dead) on a camel, and, after parading him through the city, tore him to pieces, and burnt his mangled remains. His murder appears to have taken place about the end of the year 361. Though described by Athanasius as a man of coarse manners and ignorant, at least in theology, he left a valuable library, which the emperor Julian ordered to be sent to Antioch for his own use.
He had formerly, while in Cappadocia, borrowed some books of George.
The general hatred entertained towards him was evidenced by the absence of any attempt to rescue him. The Arians subsequently charged the Athanasian party with instigating his murderers; but Sozomen "rather thought" it was the spontaneous act of the Gentiles. (Amm. Marc. 22.1
]; Gregor. Naz. Oratio XXI.;
Epiphan. Adv. Haeres.
48, or 68, iii. Haeres.
56 or 76; Athanas. Historia Arianorum ad Monachos,
100.51, 75, De Synodis,
100.12, 37, Epistola ad Episcopos Aegypti et Lybiae,
100.7, Apolog. de Fuga sua.
100.6, 7, Ad Imp. Constantium Apolog.
100.30, Petitio ad Imper. Jovian,
apud Athanas. Opera,
vol. 1.782, ed. Benedictin.; Socrat. H. E.
2.14. 28, 3.2, 3, 4; Sozom. H. E.
3.7, 4.10, 5.7; Theodoret, H. E.
2.14; Philostorg. H. E.
(apud. Phot.) 7.2; Vita Athanasii,
apud Phot. Bibl. Cod.
It is difficult either to trace or to account for the introduction of the odious George among the saints of the Romish and Greek churches; and it is to be observed that the identification of the bishop of Alexandria with the St. George of the calendar is stoutly objected to by some Roman Catlolic and some Anglican writers -- for instance, Papebroche and Heylyn. In A. D. 494 (or perhaps 496) his rank as a canonised saint was recognized by Pope Gelasius I. at a coancil at Rome, but his "gesta" were rejected as Apocryphal, and written by heretics; a probable intimation that the facts of his history had not yet been sufficiently perverted to be received.
As time proceeded, various fabulous and absurd "Acta" were produced, which Papebroche admits to be unworthy of credit. The Greek "Acta" are considered by him as more trustworthy; but he does not place even them in the first class; though a Latin version of them is given in the Acta Sanctorum,
with a long Commentarius Praevius,
The distortions of the history are singular. St. George still appears as a Cappadocian and a layman, but he is made a soldier of Diocletian, under whom he is described as suffering martyrdom.
The length, variety, and intermission of his sufferings are a probable distortion of the various inflictions of the enraged multitude before and after his imprisonment.
The magician Athanasius, successively an opponent of Christianity, a convert, and a martyr, is his chief antagonist; and the city of Alexandria appears as the empress Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian, and herself a convert and a martyr.
The story of the dragon appears only in later legends; the monster, who is, we suspect, nothing else than a still more distorted representation of the fugitive Athanasius, is described as lurking about a lake as large as a sea (Mareotis ?), near the city of Silena (Alexandria ?), in Lybia. St. George was known among the Greeks as τροπαιοφόρος
, or the Victorious; and he was one of the saints who were said to assist the first Crusaders.
He was reverenced in England in the Anglo-Saxon period; during the Norman and earlier part of the Plantagenet dynasty his reputation increased; and under Edward III., or perhaps earlier, he came to be regarded as the patron saint of the nation. (Acta Sanctorum,
23d April; Gibbon, Decline and Full,
&c. ch. 21, 23; Heylyn, Hist. of St. George.