Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When the Jesuits were Catholic

A stained-glass window showing Fr. Brebeuf and a Huron elder from the
Martyrs' Shrine, Midland, Ontario, Canada.
In this scandal-plagued, retrograde age of the Catholic Church, we see the Faith dominated by members of the semi-heretical Society of Jesus, whose superior recently declared himself a baptized buddhist, who said that the devil is merely a symbol, and suggested that we don't know what Jesus actually meant with regard to the indissolubility of marriage. This order, once so famous for its staunch defenders of the faith, sturdy apostles to the wilderness nations, and glorious martyrs of superhuman courage and fidelity, has now reached the point where they are little more than a parody of Catholicism. Their institutions are soulless, savorless ruins of what they once were. The quip that a college is “Jesuit, not Catholic,” is commonly heard.

But rather than dwell on the depressing spectacle of the modern Jesuit order which often seems more concerned with promoting sodomy than the Gospel, let us remember that it wasn’t always like this. As much as our present day Jesuits are often villains who subvert the Gospel and encourage vice among the youth, the Jesuits of 400 years ago who evangelized the North American wilderness were heroes in every sense of the word. These were men who entered a country where practically every sort of vice existed unrestrained—from war, to torture, to slavery; from polygamy, to cannibalism, to demon-worship—and dared to teach the unvarnished Gospel of Jesus Christ without dumbing it down to make it more palatable to those they hoped to convert.

Interestingly enough, the Jesuit missionaries in New France were advised by some of those Indians who were sympathetic to them, not to insist that their converts follow Christian moral laws. Writing in 1637, Father François le Mercier describes an encounter between Saint Jean de Brebeuf (called Echon by the Hurons) and the chiefs of the Huron village of Ihonatiria. Fr. Brebeuf, speaking fluent Huron, explained what the Hurons must do in order to be considered good Christians, namely: to believe in God and keep His commandments. He specifically enumerated the commandments as they applied to the customs of the Hurons, saying that they should:
  • Give up their belief in dreams;
  • Have only one wife, and her for life;
  • Live in conjugal chastity;
  • Not engage in vomiting feasts;
  • Give up “shameless assemblies of men and women;”
  • Stop eating human flesh;
  • Abandon holding feasts to appease a demon known as Aoutaerohi
The Hurons were shocked to hear about these stipulations and their chiefs responded to Fr. Brebeuf in no uncertain terms. One chief named Onaconchiaronk said:
“My nephew, we have been greatly deceived. We thought God was to be satisfied with a Chapel, but according to what I see He asks a great deal more.”
Another named Aenons, went even farther, saying:
"Echon, I must speak to you frankly. I believe that your proposition is impossible. The people of Ihonatiria said last year that they believed in order to get tobacco. But all that did not please me. For my part, I cannot dissemble, I express my sentiments frankly: I consider that what you propose will prove to be only a stumbling-block. Besides, we have our own ways of doing things, and you yours, as well as other nations. When you speak to us about obeying and acknowledging as our master Him whom you say has made Heaven and earth, I imagine you are talking of overthrowing the country. Your ancestors assembled in earlier times, and held a council, where they resolved to take as their God Him whom you honor, and ordained all the ceremonies that you observe. As for us, we have learned others from our own Fathers."
Father Brebeuf, however, was undeterred:
The Father rejoined that he was altogether mistaken in his opinion—that it was not through a mere choice that we had taken God for our God, that nature herself taught us to acknowledge as God Him who has given us being and life: that, as for what concerns our ceremonies, they are not a human invention, but divine; that God himself had prescribed them to us, and that they were strictly observed all over the earth.

As for our ways of doing things, he said that it was quite true they were altogether different from theirs—that we had this in common with all nations; that, in fact, there were as many different customs as there were different peoples upon the earth; that the manner of living, of dressing, and of building houses was entirely different in France from what it was here, and in other countries of the world, and that this was not what we found wrong. But, as to what concerned God, all nations ought to have the same sentiments; that the reality of a God was one, and so clear that it was only necessary to open the eyes to see it written in large characters upon the faces of all creatures.
The Father made them a fine and rather long speech upon this subject, from which he drew this conclusion, that to please God it was not enough to build a Chapel in His honor, as they claimed, but that the chief thing was to keep His commandments and give up their superstitions.
Onaconchiaronk admitted that the father was right, and did his utmost in exhorting the whole company to overcome all these difficulties. But, as each one hung his head and turned a deaf ear, the matter was deferred until the next day.
The aged Onaconchiaronk took further thought on the matter, and with sage understanding responded the next day to Fr. Brebeuf, saying that:
For his part, he considered [the points Fr. Brebeuf had made] very reasonable, but indeed he saw clearly that the young people would find great difficulties therein. However, all things well considered, he concluded that it was better to take a little trouble, and live, than to die miserably like those who had been already carried off by the disease. He spoke in so excellent fashion, and urged them so strongly, that no one dared to contradict him, and all agreed to what the father had required.
A short time later, the entire Huron village of Ossosané took a vow to accept Christianity and to live like Christians. To ratify this decision, a certain Huron named Okhiarenta, formerly a medicine man, proclaimed the terms throughout the village:
He went about crying in a loud voice that the inhabitants of Ossosané took God as their Lord and their master; that they renounced all their errors—that henceforth they would no longer pay attention to their dreams, that they would make no more feasts to the demon Aoutaerohi, that their marriages should be binding, that they would not eat human flesh—and that they bound themselves to build in the spring a cabin in [God’s] honor, in case it pleased Him to stop the progress of the disease. What a consolation it was to see God publicly glorified through the mouth of a barbarian and one of the tools of satan! Never had such a thing been seen among the Hurons.
In further accounts in the Jesuit Relations, we see how the Hurons and other native tribes struggled to live up to these vows, often with success, but just often falling back on their old ways. Writing five years later in 1642, Fr. Jerome Lalemant describes how a Christian Huron girl endured living among a nation which was largely still in the thrall of their pagan vices:
A Christian girl was asked whether in the license which the young men here assume, she had not lent an ear to some improper discourse. "No one speaks to me," she said, "except that I am often told that I am too melancholy. But to this I answer nothing. I only pray to GOD in my heart so that He may keep me safe, because I fear to commit sin. They do not know my thoughts," she added. "I manifest my joy only in my cabin, when I am with my sisters and my parents. When I go anywhere, I alter my appearance. I keep my eyes cast down, and my forehead wrinkled, and I try to look sad so that no one is encouraged to accost me."
Reading this, I can’t help but recall the young women one can often see walking downtown or taking public transit in Philadelphia or any large American city. That look—with eyes downcast and forehead wrinkled, often with the modern addition of earbuds—is a common one meant to ward off rakes and scoundrels. And though such young women are generally not assuming this look for the exact same reason as the Huron girl described above, it is clear that both are doing their best to navigate a pagan culture in which men view them as pleasure objects and little more.

Fr. Lalemant concludes:
It is only GOD who can inspire such desires for purity in hearts and in a Country where impurity is viewed only with honor. But when Faith is in a heart it effects wonderful changes therein.
This observation can be just as easily applied to our post-Christian world as it could to the savage days of the pre-Christian Hurons. It is with sadness that we observe our modern Jesuits acting less after the fashion of their fearless and zealous Blackrobe ancestors and more like the cunning medicine men of the barbaric pagan nations who sought to keep their people enslaved to satan.

For other articles on this blog concerning the Jesuits of the glorious past and the scandalous present, see:

Monday, September 17, 2018

"A good purpose, which has known God, cannot be changed" ~ The Martyrdom of Saint Cyprian of Carthage

Saint Cyprian as taken from an engraving in Pictorial
Lives of the Saints
(1889)
Saint Cyprian of Carthage is little remembered today, and that is a shame. For those familiar with the traditional Canon of the Roman Mass, Cyprian’s name is there, preserved for posterity in between Cornelius and Lawrence, two other martyrs of the mid-3rd century. But if the words and deeds of many of the saints from that era are obscure to us today, the life of Cyprian can not be classified as such. He wrote voluminously and many of his works have come down to us from antiquity—enough to fill the 600 page tome known as The Complete Works of Saint Cyprian. Here, the curious reader will find a firsthand account of the life of a Christian bishop residing in Roman north Africa during a time of aggressive persecution of Christians by the Roman state.

Click for more info.
Indeed, Cyprian lived through two separate empire-wide persecutions—that of Decian in AD 250 and that of Valerian in AD 258. During the first, he was able to escape the ferocity of the storm—an action for which he was later criticized by some. Many of his writings concern the aftermath of this persecution and how the Church should (or shouldn’t) accept back those who had denounced the faith under duress.

When the persecution of Valerian erupted in AD 257, Cyprian was apprehended by the Roman authorities. We have two ancient accounts of the last days of his life, thanks to a biography written by his deacon Pontius, and the Acta Proconsularis – a work which likely incorporates the actual transcript of the legal proceedings against Cyprian. Here is a translation of this text taken from the new book, I Am A Christian: Authentic Accounts of Christian Martyrdom and Persecution from the Ancient Sources:
Click for more info.
In the fourth consulship of the emperor Valerian and the third of Gallienus, on the third before the Kalends of September, in the council chamber of Carthage, Paternus, the proconsul, said to Bishop Cyprian: “The most sacred emperors, Valerian and Gallienus have thought fit to give me a letter according to which they have ordered that those who do not practice the Roman religion should recognize the Roman rites. I have asked, therefore, concerning your name. What do you answer me?”

Bishop Cyprian said: “I am a Christian and a bishop. I have known no other gods except the true and only God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. To this God we Christians yield ourselves. To Him we pray by day and night for you, for all men, and for the safety of the emperors themselves.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Do you, then, persist in this purpose?”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “A good purpose, which has known God, cannot be changed.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Will you be able to depart into exile, then, to the city of Curubitana (Curubis) according to the decree of Valerian and Gallienus?

Bishop Cyprian said: “I depart.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “They have thought fit to write to me not only concerning bishops, but also presbyters. I wish, therefore, to learn from you who the presbyters are who abide in the city.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “By your laws you have rightfully and profitably decreed that there should be no informers, and hence they cannot be betrayed and denounced by me. But in their own cities they will be found.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “Today, in this place, I am going to seek them.”

Cyprian said: “Since custom forbids that any one offer himself voluntarily, and this is displeasing to your judgment, they cannot give themselves up, but if you seek them, you will find them.”

Paternus, the proconsul, said: “They will be found by me.” And added: “It has also been ordered that they should not hold assemblies in any place or enter the cemeteries. If any one does not observe this so wholesome ordinance he is to be beheaded.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “Do as you are ordered.”

Then Paternus, the proconsul, ordered the blessed bishop Cyprian to be led into exile. When he had remained there for a long time, the proconsul Galerius Maximus succeeded the proconsul Aspasius Paternus and ordered the holy bishop Cyprian to be recalled from exile and brought before him. When the holy martyr Cyprian, chosen by God, had returned from the city of Curubitaua where he had been sent into exile by the order of Aspasius Paternus, the proconsul at that time, he remained in his gardens according to holy injunction, and thence daily hoped that it would happen to him as had been revealed.

While he was waiting here, there suddenly came to him on the Ides of September in the consulship of Tuscus and Bassus, two men of high rank: one the curator of the official Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, who had succeeded Aspasius Paternus, and the other the groom from the guards of this same official. And they put him between them and brought him to Sexti, where Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, had retired for the sake of recovering his health. And so the proconsul Galerius Maximus ordered Cyprian to be reserved for him until the next day. And at the same time the blessed Cyprian retired, led away to the chief and curator of this same official, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, a most illustrious man, and he stayed with this man, enjoying his hospitality in the village called Saturui, which is between Venerea and Salutaria. Thither the whole company of brethren came and, when the holy Cyprian learned this, he ordered the maidens to be protected, since all had remained in the village before the gate of the hospitable officer.

And thus on the next day, the eighteenth before the Kalends of October, early in the morning, a great crowd came to Sexti according to the order of Galerius Maximus, the proconsul. And accordingly Galerius Maximus the proconsul ordered Cyprian to be brought before him that day while he was sitting in the Sauciolian court.

And when he had been brought, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, said to bishop Cyprian: “You are Thascius Cyprian?”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “I am.”

Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, said: “The most sacred emperors have commanded you to sacrifice.”

Bishop Cyprian said: “I will not.”

Galerius Maximus said: “Reflect on it.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “Do what you are ordered to do. In such a just case there is no need of reflection.”

Galerius Maximus, having spoken with the council, pronounced the sentence weakly and reluctantly in the following words: “For a long time you have lived in sacrilege, you have gathered about you many associates in your impious conspiracy, you have put yourself in hostility to the Roman gods and to the sacred rites, nor could the pious and most sacred princes, Valerian and Gallienus, emperors, and Valerian, the most noble Cæsar, bring you back to the practice of their worship. And therefore, since you are found to be the author of the vilest crimes and the standard bearer, you shall be a warning to those whom you have gathered about you in your crime. By your blood, discipline shall be established.”

And having said this he read out the decree from his tablet: “We command that Thascius Cyprian be executed by the sword.”

Bishop Cyprian said: “Thank God.”

After this sentence the crowd of brethren kept saying: “And we will be beheaded with him.” On account of this, a commotion arose among the brethren and a great crowd followed him.

And thus Cyprian was brought to the country about Sexti. Here he laid aside his red cloak, kneeled on the ground, and prostrated himself before the Lord in prayer. And when he had laid aside his priestly robe and given it to the deacons, he stood in his linen under-garments, and waited for the executioner. Moreover, when the executioner had come, he ordered his followers to give this executioner twenty-five pieces of gold. Indeed linen cloths and handkerchiefs were being sent before him by the brethren. After this the blessed Cyprian covered his eyes with his hand. When he could not bind the handkerchiefs to himself, Julian the presbyter, and Julian the subdeacon, bound them.

Thus the blessed Cyprian died, and his body was placed near at hand on account of the curiosity of the heathen. Hence, being borne away in the night with tapers and torches, it was brought with prayers and great triumph to the courts of the procurator Macrobius Candidianus, which are on the Via Mappaliensis, near the fish ponds.

Moreover, after a few days, Galerius Maximus, the proconsul, died.
Cyprian’s death took place on September 14, AD 258. He is commemorated in the western Church on September 16. I posted some of Pontius the Deacon's account of Cyprian's death here: Who was Saint Pontius the Deacon?

Similar transcriptions of Roman trials may be found in previous posts on this blog about the burning of Christian books, the martyrdom of Chionia, Agape and Irene, the trial of Saint Crispina, the Passion of Saint Perpetua and others.

Friday, September 14, 2018

"Again, Herodias Seeks the Head of John in a Basin" ~ The exile and death of Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom exiled by the Empress Eudoxia
by Benjamin Constant, late 19th century.
Today, September 14, is the 1,611th anniversary of the death of Saint John Chrysostom, the great patriarch of Constantinople. St. John perished while on his way to a more distant exile on the shores of the Black Sea in AD 407.

Though an outstanding orator and one of the greatest theologians of the early Church, John became embroiled in the religious and political factions in Constantinople. He was particularly known for railing against the excesses of the imperial court, drawing the ire of the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, who felt that John’s invectives against immodest and gaudy female dress were directed particularly at her. The animosity between the empress and St. John waxed hot and cold over the span of several years, coming to a head in AD 403. Hermias Sozomen, in his History, describes the events that immediately precipitated his banishment as follows:
Not long after these occurrences, the silver statue of the empress which is still to be seen to the south of the church opposite the grand council-chamber, was placed upon a column of porphyry on a high platform, and the event was celebrated there with applause and popular spectacles of dances and mimes, as was then customary on the erection of the statues of the emperors. In a public discourse to the people John charged that these proceedings reflected dishonor on the Church. This remark recalled former grievances to the recollection of the empress, and irritated her so exceedingly at the insult that she determined to convene another council. He did not yield, but added fuel to her indignation by still more openly declaiming against her in the church; and it was at this period that he pronounced the memorable discourse commencing with the words, “Herodias is again enraged; again she dances; again she seeks to have the head of John in a basin.” [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 20]
A council was then convened in the suburbs of Constantinople which deposed John as patriarch on various technicalities and ordered him banished. Chaos ensued in the city as the partisans of the empress, backed by soldiers, attacked those of John and expelled them from the churches. The situation soon devolved into riot, as described by Sozomen:
A messenger having conveyed to him a mandate from the emperor enjoining his immediate departure, John obeyed, and escaped from the city, unnoticed by those who had been appointed to guard him. He made no other censure than that, in being sent into banishment without a legal trial or any of the forms of the law, he was treated more severely than murderers, sorcerers, and adulterers. He was conveyed in a little bark to Bithynia, and thence immediately continued his journey. Some of his enemies were apprehensive lest the people, on hearing of his departure, should pursue him, and bring him back by force, and therefore commanded the gates of the church to be closed.

When the people who were in the public places of the city heard of what had occurred, great confusion ensued; for some ran to the seashore as if they would follow him, and others fled hither and there, and were in great terror since the wrath of the emperor was expected to visit them for creating so much disturbance and tumult. Those who were within the church barred the exits still further by rushing together upon them, and by pressing upon one another. With difficulty they forced the doors open by the use of great violence; one party shattered them with stones, another was pulling them toward themselves, and was thus forcing the crowd backward into the building. Meanwhile the church was suddenly consumed on all sides with fire. The flames extended in all directions, and the grand house of the senatorial council, adjacent to the church on the south, was doomed. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 22]
This structure was the “Great Church” of Constantinople as built by Constantius II on the site which would later be occupied by Hagia Sophia.

The exile of John was considered a great injustice, particularly in the West. Pope Innocent I was “extremely indignant” and “condemned the whole proceedings”. He attempted to secure John’s return to his bishopric, but without success. In his history, Sozomen includes two letters from Innocent—one to John, and one to the clergy of Constantinople—which he includes “precisely as I found them, translated from the Latin into Greek.” [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 25]

Innocent’s efforts, however, came to naught and created acrimony between the eastern and western courts. Meanwhile, the enemies of John were able to have even stricter sanctions imposed upon him which lead to his death. Sozomen describes:
[Pope Innocent] sent five bishops and two presbyters of the Roman church, with the bishops who had been delegated as ambassadors to him from the East, to the emperors Honorius and Arcadius, to request the convocation of a council, and solicit them to name time and place. The enemies of John at Constantinople framed a charge as though these things were done to insult the Eastern emperor, and caused the ambassadors to be ignominiously dismissed as if they had invaded a foreign government.

Click for more info.
John was at the same time condemned by an imperial edict to a remoter place of banishment, and soldiers were sent to conduct him to Pityus; the soldiers were soon on hand, and effected the removal. It is said that during this journey, Basiliscus, the martyr, appeared to him at Comani, in Armenia, and apprised him of the day of his death. Being attacked with pain in the head, and being unable to bear the heat of the sun, he could not prosecute his journey, but closed his life in that town. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VIII, Chapter 28]
The entire seventh book of Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History deals to a large extent with Saint John and his tumultuous reign as patriarch in Constantinople. We are fortunate that many of his homilies have survived antiquity—enough for him to be considered a Doctor of the Church. Reading them, one is able to get a good sense of why he was given the epithet “Chrysostom” which means: Golden-Mouthed. I have posted snippets from a few of them previously on this blog at the following links:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"The Great Siege Had Ended" ~ The year that September 11 brought tidings of victory

The Flight of the Turks by Matteo Perez d' Aleccio, early 17th century.
September 11 is known in our times as the date of a cowardly suicide attack by Islamic radicals which resulted in the massacre of over 3,000 innocents in New York City in 2001.

But on September 11 nearly five hundred years ago, another Islamic attack was coming to its ignominious conclusion for the invaders. For on this date in AD 1565, the Great Siege of Malta was drawing to a close. The Turkish army, under the command of Mustapha Pasha, was making preparation for withdraw after a stunning defeat by the Knights of Saint John after a four month long siege.

Worn down by the ironclad resolve of the Knights whose fortifications he could not take, Mustapha decided to evacuate his still-superior forces upon the arrival of a relief army from Imperial Spain. With the Turks on the defensive, the combined Catholic forces attacked. Here is how the scene is described in Angels in Iron, a brilliant novel by Nicholas C. Prata:
A Knight raised his sword into the sky, his powerful voice carrying over Naxxar.

“Attack!”

With that the mounted Knights thundered down the ridge toward the Turkish infantrymen. Many foot soldiers followed.

De la Corna decided it wiser to harness the emotion than to attempt a recall. He ordered a charge and his men responded with cries of delight. They descended on the Turks even as Don Mesquita’s cavalry arrived from Mdina to worry the Moslem flank.

The Hospitaller horsemen smashed through Mustapha’s lines like hammers through glass. Many Turks, dejected by the endless siege and overmatched by the fresh enemy, broke and fled.

“Saint Elmo!” the Knights cried as they bathed their swords in blood.

Click for more info.
It took only a short while for Mustapha to see that the islands reinvestment was ill-planned and potentially disastrous. He ordered a retreat north toward St. Paul’s Bay and, all that day, conducted a difficult rearguard action. Finally, after untold carnage, the Turks reached St. Paul’s Bay and found Piali waiting. The maddened Knights, who outdistanced their foot soldiers, pushed the Turks into the sea. Moslems were killed on the beach, struck down in the shallows, crushed beneath the hooves of angry warhorses.

“Saint Elmo!” the Knights bellowed.

Not all Mustapha’s army wilted, however. A daring counterattack by Hassem’s Algerians saved the Turks from obliteration. Hassem, eager to redeem his disastrous assault on Senglea, arranged arquebusiers in the hills around the bay and directed heavy shot at the Knights. The Hospitallers, still without their infantry, were obliged to fall back.

The Turks abandoned many wounded in the frantic surge to reach the anchored ships and Piali wasted no time sailing to safety. The fleet was on the move long before the Christians could bring up artillery. Three thousand Turks floated dead in narrow St. Paul’s Bay.

The Great Siege had ended.
Mustapha watched Malta shrink on the horizon. He had said nothing since his flagship had got under oar. A physician tugged his robe. “Lord, Pasha,” he said. “May I dress your injuries?”

Mustapha had been wounded in numerous places. His had been a desperate, valiant effort on the long retreat from Naxxar to St. Paul’s Bay and his old body had paid the price. Two horses had been shot out from beneath him and, when the Knights had killed his bodyguards, only the Janissaries had prevented him from falling into Christian hands.

“Lord Pasha, you’re bleeding,” the physician said.

Mustapha leaned against a rail, regret blurring his vision. “Two years for nothing,” he whispered.

“Pasha?”

Mustapha drew his jeweled scimitar and dropped it into the water. It barely left a ripple as it disappeared into the blue sea. He turned and walked away from the surgeon.
I posted another excerpt from Angels in Iron about the beginning of the siege here.

And here is another one about the surrender of Rhodes which precipitated the siege.

 If you haven’t experienced Angels in Iron yet, do yourself a favor and read it. You'll thank me later.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

"God instantly answered him" ~ The victory of Theodosius the Great at the Battle of the River Frigidus

A silver miliarnse of Eugenius, showing Gloria Romanorum -- "Glory of the
Romans" on the reverse side.
This day, September 6, is the 1,624th anniversary of the climax of the Battle of the Frigidus River where the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great and his barbarian allies defeated the western puppet-emperor Eugenius and the Frankish generalissimo Arbogast. You’ve probably never heard of this battle, but had its outcome been different, the course of Western civilization would have been quite different. This was the last battle in which traditional Roman paganism sought to defeat and overcome Christianity, but in the effort, was itself crushed forever.

The exact location of the battle is not known, but the Frigidus River is today called the Vipava and runs through present-day Slovenia. Writing about 40 years after the event, the ancient historian Sozomen describes the political situation which led to the battle:
A certain man named Eugenius, who was by no means sincere in his professions of Christianity, aspired to sovereignty, and assumed the symbols of imperial power. He was hoping to succeed in the attempt safely, for he was led by the predictions of individuals who professed to foresee the future by the examination of the entrails and livers of animals and the course of the stars. Men of the highest rank among the Romans were addicted to these superstitions. Flavian, then a prætorian prefect, a learned man, and one who appeared to have an aptitude for politics, was noted for being conversant with every means of foretelling the future. He persuaded Eugenius to take up arms by assuring him that he was destined for the throne, that his warlike undertakings would be crowned with victory, and that the Christian religion would be abolished.

Deceived by these flattering representations, Eugenius raised an army and took possession of the gates into Italy, as the Romans call the Julian Alps, an elevated and precipitous range of mountains. These he seized beforehand and fortified, for they had but one path in the narrows, and were shut in on each side by precipices and the loftiest mountains.
Not to be outdone, Theodosius consulted a sooth-sayer of his own, a certain monk from Egypt named John, who predicted that “the war would terminate in favor of Theodosius, and that the tyrant would be slain, but that, after the victory, Theodosius himself would die in Italy.”

What Sozomen does not relate here is that Eugenius was little more than the puppet of Arbogast, the powerful Frankish general who had previously served as magister militum in praesentalis of Valentinian II, the Western emperor. After the suspicious suicide of Valentinian II, Arbogast named Eugenius as emperor. The irregularities of this situation, coupled with the re-establishment of pagan temples throughout the West, soon brought matters to a crisis that required a military solution. Sozomen continues:
[Theodosius] proceeded towards Italy, crossed the Alps and took the first guard-posts. On descending from the heights of these mountains, he perceived a plain before him covered with infantry and cavalry, and became at the same time aware that some of the enemy's troops were lying in ambush behind him among the recesses of the mountains. The advance guard of his army attacked the infantry stationed in the plain, and a desperate and very doubtful conflict ensued. Further, when the army surrounded him, he considered that he had come into the power of men, and could not be saved even by those who would desire to do so, since those who had been posted in his rear were seizing the heights.
The first day of the battle had been nearly catastrophic for Theodosius. According to the New History of Zosimus written about a century after the fact, “the greater part of the allies of Theodosius were slain, with their commander Bacurius, who fought very courageously at their head, while the other commanders escaped very narrowly with the remainder.” Stymied and surrounded by the forces of Eugenius and Arbogast, Theodosius began to despair and sought a divine solution to what would almost certainly be an ignominious defeat the next day. God’s response, however, was not long in coming. Sozomen continues:
He fell prone upon the earth, and prayed with tears, and God instantly answered him. For the officers of the troops stationed in ambush on the height sent to offer him their services as his allies, provided that he would assign them honorable posts in his army. As he had neither paper nor ink within reach, he took up some tablets, and wrote on them the high and befitting appointments he would confer upon them, provided that they would fulfill their promise to him. Under these conditions they advanced to the emperor.

The issue did not yet incline to either side, but the battle was still evenly balanced in the plain, when a tremendous wind descended into the face of the enemy. It was such an one as we have never before recorded, and broke up the ranks of the enemies. The arrows and darts which were sent against the Romans, as if projected by the opposing ranks, were turned upon the bodies of those who had cast them, and their shields were wrenched from their hands and whirled against them with filth and dust. Standing thus exposed in a defenseless condition to the weapons of the Romans, many of them perished while the few who attempted to effect an escape were soon captured.

Eugenius threw himself at the feet of the emperor, and implored him to spare his life. But while in the act of offering up these entreaties, a soldier struck off his head. Arbogastes fled after the battle and fell by his own hands.
A gold solidus of Theodosius I showing the victorious emperor and a bound captive
on the reverse.
Though Frigidus River was a great victory for Theodosius, the battle had pitted the dwindling Imperial armies against each other resulting in heavy losses of veteran Roman soldiers which could not easily be replaced. The result of these losses was an acute manpower shortage that would afflict the empire, especially in the West, and render it largely helpless in the face of large-scale barbarian invasions over the next 20 years.

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As for Theodosius himself, the Battle of Frigidus River allowed him to unify the Roman Empire under a single emperor for what would be the last time. He would descend into Italy and there face the wrath of Saint Ambrose in Milan who excommunicated the emperor for massacring 30,000 citizens in Thessalonika while proceeding from Constantinople to make war in the West. Theodosius would famously repent, but died a little while later in Milan, as predicted by the monk John before the battle.

Read more about these fascinating historical figures in the Ecclesiastical History by Hermias Sozomen.