Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347–407, Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος), archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. After his death (or, according to some sources, during his life) he was given the Greek surname chrysostomos, meaning "golden mouthed", rendered in English as Chrysostom.
The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches honor him as a saint (feast days: November 13 and January 27) and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. He is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint and Doctor of the Church. Churches of the Western tradition, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and parts of the Lutheran Church, commemorate him on September 13, though the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod commemorates him on the traditional Eastern feast day of January 27. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria recognizes John Chrysostom as a saint (feast days: 16 Thout and 17 Hathor).
Chrysostom is known in Christianity chiefly as a preacher, theologian and liturgist, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Among his sermons, eight directed against the Jews remain controversial for their impact on the development of Christian antisemitism.
He is sometimes referred to as John of Antioch, though that name more properly refers to the bishop of Antioch named John.
Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me"... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.
His straightforward understanding of the Scriptures (in contrast to the Alexandrian tendency towards allegorical interpretation) meant that the themes of his talks were practical, explaining the Bible's application to everyday life. Such straightforward preaching helped Chrysostom to garner popular support. He founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople to care for the poor.
One incident that happened during his service in Antioch illustrates the influence of his sermons. When Chrysostom arrived in Antioch, the bishop of the city had to intervene with Emperor Theodosius I on behalf of citizens who had gone on a rampage mutilating statues of the Emperor and his family. During the weeks of Lent in 397, John preached twenty-one sermons in which he entreated the people to see the error of their ways. These made a lasting impression on the general population of the city: many pagans converted to Christianity as a result of the sermons. As a result, Theodosius' vengeance was not as severe as it might have been.
In 398, 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. During his time as Archbishop he adamantly refused to host lavish social gatherings, which made him popular with the common people, but unpopular with wealthy citizens and the clergy. His reforms of the clergy were also unpopular with these groups. He told visiting regional preachers to return to the churches they were meant to be serving — without any payout.
His time in Constantinople was more tumultuous than his time in Antioch. Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, wanted to bring Constantinople under his sway and opposed John's appointment to Constantinople. Being an opponent of Origen's teachings, he accused John of being too partial to the teachings of that theologian. Theophilus had disciplined four Egyptian monks (known as "the tall brothers") over their support of Origen's teachings. They fled to and were welcomed by John. He made another 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.
Depending on one's outlook, John was either tactless or fearless when denouncing offences in high places. An alliance was soon formed against him by Eudoxia, Theophilus and others of his enemies. They held a synod in 403 (the Synod of the Oak) 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.
Pope Innocent I protested at this banishment, but to no avail. Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on behalf of John in 405. It was led by Gaudentius of Brescia; Gaudentius and his companions, two bishops, encountered many difficulties and never reached their goal of entering Constantinople.
John wrote letters which still held great influence in Constantinople. As a result of this, he was further exiled to Pitiunt (Abkhazia region of Georgia) where his tomb is the shrine for pilgrims. He never reached this destination, as he died during the journey. His last words are said to have been, "δόξα τῷ θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν" (Glory be to God for all things).
Known as "the greatest preacher in the early church," John's sermons have been one of his greatest lasting legacies. Chrysostom's extant homiletical works are vast, including many hundreds of exegetical sermons on both the New Testament (especially the works of Saint Paul) and the Old Testament (particularly on Genesis). Among his extant exegetical works are sixty-seven homilies on Genesis, fifty-nine on the Psalms, ninety on the Gospel of Matthew, eighty-eight on the Gospel of John, and fifty-five on the Acts of the Apostles.
The sermons were written down by the audience and subsequently circulated, revealing a style that tended to be direct and greatly personal, but was also formed by the rhetorical conventions of his time and place. In general, his homiletical theology displays much characteristic of the Antiochian school (i.e., somewhat more literal in interpreting Biblical events), but he also uses a good deal of the allegorical interpretation more associated with the Alexandrian school.
John's social and religious world was formed by the continuing and pervasive presence of paganism in the life of the city. One of his regular topics was the paganism in the culture of Constantinople, and in his sermons he thunders against popular pagan amusements: the theatre, horseraces, and the revelry surrounding holidays. In particular, he criticized Christians for taking part in such activities:
John's homilies on Paul's Epistles proceed linearly, methodically treating the texts verse by verse, often going into great detail. He shows a concern to be understood by laypeople, sometimes offering colorful analogies and practical examples. At other times, he offers extended comments clearly intended to address the theological subtleties of a heretical misreading, or to demonstrate the presence of a deeper theme.
One of the recurring features of John's sermons is his emphasis on care for the needy. Echoing themes found in the Gospel of Matthew, he calls upon the rich to lay aside materialism in favor of helping the poor, often employing all of his rhetorical skills to shame wealthy people to abandon conspicuous consumption:
One of the purposes of these homilies was to prevent Christians from participating in Jewish customs, and thus prevent the erosion of Chrysostom's flock. In his sermons, Chrysostom criticized those "Judaizing Christians", who were participating in Jewish festivals and taking part in other Jewish observances, such as the shabbat, submitted to circumcision and made pilgrimage to Jewish holy places. Chrysostom claimed that on the shabbats and Jewish festivals synagogues were full of Christians, especially women, who loved the solemnity of the Jewish liturgy, enjoyed listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and applauded famous preachers in accordance with the contemporary custom. A more recent apologetic theory is that he instead tried to persuade Jewish Christians, who for centuries had kept connections with Jews and Judaism, to choose between Judaism and Christianity.
Chrysostom held Jews responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and deicide (killing God, see "Jewish deicide" for the subject) and added that they continued to rejoice in Jesus's death. He compared the synagogue to a pagan temple, representing it as the source of all vices and heresies. He described it as a place worse than a brothel and a drinking shop; it was a den of scoundrels, the repair of wild beasts, a temple of demons, the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils, a criminal assembly of the assassins of Christ. Palladius, Chrysostom's contemporary biographer, also recorded his claim that among the Jews the priesthood may be purchased and sold for money. Finally, he declared that he hated the synagogue and the Jews.
In Greek the sermons are called Kata Ioudaiōn (Κατά Ιουδαίων), which is translated as Adversus Judaeos in Latin and Against the Jews in English. The most recent scholarly translations, claiming that Chrysostom's primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe the Jewish feasts and fasts, give the sermons the more sympathetic title Against Judaizing Christians. The original Benedictine editor of the homilies, Bernard de Montfaucon, gives the following footnote to the title: "A discourse against the Jews; but it was delivered against those who were Judaizing and keeping the fasts with them [the Jews]. As such, some have claimed that the original title misrepresents the contents of the discourses, which show that Chrysostom's primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe the Jewish feasts and fasts. Sir Henry Savile, in his 1612 edition of Homilies 27 of Volume 6 (which is Discourse I in Patrologia Graeca's Adversus Iudaeos), gives the title: "Chrysostom's Discourse Against Those Who Are Judaizing and Observing Their Fasts.
During a time when city clergy were subject to criticism for their high lifestyle, John was determined to reform his clergy in Constantinople. These efforts were met with resistance and limited success. He was an excellent preacher. As a theologian, he has been and continues to be very important in Eastern Christianity, and is generally considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church, but has been less important to Western Christianity. His writings have survived to the present day more so than any of the other Greek Fathers. He rejected the contemporary trend for allegory, instead speaking plainly and applying Bible passages and lessons to everyday life.
His exile demonstrated the rivalry between Constantinople and Alexandria for recognition as the preeminent Eastern See, while in the west, the Pope's primacy remained unquestioned.
Consider how [Jesus Christ] teaches us to be humble, by making us see that our virtue does not depend on our work alone but on grace from on high. He commands each of the faithful who prays to do so universally, for the whole world. For he did not say "thy will be done in me or in us," but "on earth," the whole earth, so that error may be banished from it, truth take root in it, all vice be destroyed on it, virtue flourish on it, and earth no longer differ from heaven.
Christian clerics, such as R.S. Storr, refer to him as "one of the most eloquent preachers who ever since apostolic times have brought to men the divine tidings of truth and love", and the 19th century John Henry Cardinal Newman described Chrysostom as a "bright, cheerful, gentle soul; a sensitive heart.
After World War II, the Christian churches denounced Nazi use of Chrysostom's works, explaining his words with reference to the historical context. According to Laqueur, it was argued that in the 4th century, the general discourse was brutal and aggressive and that at the time when the Christian church was fighting for survival and recognition, mercy and forgiveness were not in demand. According to Patristics scholars, opposition to any particular view during the late fourth century was conventionally expressed in a manner, utilizing the rhetorical form known as the psogos, whose literary conventions were to vilify opponents in an uncompromising manner; thus, it has been argued that to call Chrysostom an "anti-Semite" is to employ anachronistic terminology in a way incongruous with historical context and record.
James Joyce's novel Ulysses includes a character named Mulligan who brings 'Chrysostomos' into another character's mind because Mulligan's gold-stopped teeth and his gift of the gab earn him the title which St. John Chrysostom's preaching earned him, 'golden-mouthed': Chrysostomos also refers to Stephen, the independent and exiled genius:
He peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos.
John's relics were looted from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and brought to Rome, but were returned to the Orthodox on November 27, 2004 by Pope John Paul II. His silver and jewel-encrusted skull is now kept in the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in northern Greece, and is credited by Eastern Orthodox Christians with miraculous healings. His right hand is also preserved on Mount Athos, and numerous smaller relics are scattered throughout the world.
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