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John Chrysostom, Four discourses, chiefly on the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (1869) Preface. pp.i-viii.








Of the Christian Fathers, none have gained such fame, and few have left remains so voluminous as Chrysostom. In the melancholy narrative of Gibbon, two Christian champions are presented as men of real power and vigour of mind. The historian pauses to detail their acts and estimate their influence, but his admiration seems rather spontaneously and involuntarily shown, than formally expressed. These two men are Athanasius and John Chrysostom. The one is the man of unyielding polemical skill, of undaunted courage and astounding energy. The latter possesses in a remarkable degree, that which the former lacked or repressed, imaginative genius. As an orator, Chrysostom must have been as pre-eminent as Athanasius was as a polemical champion. "They [the critics of succeeding times] unanimously attribute to the Christian orator the free command of an elegant and copious language, the judgment to conceal the advantages which he derived from the knowledge of rhetoric and philosophy, an inexhaustible fund of metaphors and similitudes, of |iv ideas and images to vary and illustrate the most familiar topics, the happy art of engaging the passions in the service of virtue, and of exposing the folly as well as the turpitude of vice, almost with the truth and spirit of a dramatic representation." 1 As a writer, too, the same historian, though speaking of the Letters only, which are of far less value than his Essays and Commentaries, (speaking of his last days in exile) says, "The respectful attention of the Christian world was fixed on a desert spot among the mountains of Taurus. From that solitude the Archbishop, whose active mind was invigorated by misfortunes, maintained a strict and frequent correspondence with the most distant provinces." And, in a footnote, "Two hundred and forty two of the epistles of Chrysostom are still extant. They are addressed to a variety of persons, and show a firmness of mind much superior to that of Cicero in his exile."

The orator must always fail to leave any worthy memorial of his genius. As might have been expected, the best remains of Chrysostom are those of his works which were not orally delivered, or which may be supposed to have been at least committed to writing by himself. The Sermons must of necessity be inadequately represented. And since the genius of Chrysostom worked chiefly by these oral discourses, it follows that his remains are weakest in that point in which the man himself was |v strongest. There are, however, traces even in the Sermons of the power that originated them.

The name of scarcely any other writer of antiquity has, after his death, been attached to so many spurious compositions as this great name. The Benedictine editor (Montfaucon) appends some of these. The reason for their rejection is usually founded, not on external evidence, but on the inferiority of the matter contained in them, (Multa peregrinitatem olent. Peregrinitatis notas deprehendimus, &c.) Writings by hands more able, but not more scrupulous, may have retained the borrowed name by means of their vigour.

There are, however, as has been remarked, many traces, even in the oral Discourses, of their original power. Those now submitted to the reader contain many things which the translator ventures to hope may be deemed worth attention or even remembering. The series in the Paris edition consists of seven Discourses. Of these, the first four only are here translated. The fifth is an integral part of the series, but contains different subjects, the parable having been completed in the fourth. The sixth and seventh, though partly on the parable, were delivered at another period, and repeat in some degree the earlier ones.

It would not be difficult to call up in imagination the crowded cathedral at Antioch, with the audience in rapt attention to the already most famous orator of the time, and the voice and manner of a man absolutely on fire |vi with emotion. The "Send Lazarus," 2 (Πέμψον Λάζαρον) repeated after measured intervals of thundering denunciation, would pierce the ear like a real cry of despair; or would seem like the monotonous recurring toll at the execution of some criminal.

No attempt can be made here to estimate worthily the character of Chrysostom, or to give an account of his life and times. It should, however, be suggested that he was an Oriental. Consideration should be taken of the state of society in his day, and of the open and vigorous and mutual hostility of Christians, Jews, and Pagans, in immediate juxtaposition in a magnificent city like Antioch or Constantinople. Allusions occur in these Discourses to customs belonging to the past. In Discourses ii. and iv. (pp. 45 and 93) it is implied that a criminal tried for capital offences was not permitted to see his judge. Poverty then was dependent absolutely on direct charity. This fact (and the well-known customs of the East about stranger guests) adds force to the remarks about hospitality in Discourse ii.

Applause in religious assemblies was then commonly and loudly uttered. In his Sermons on Genesis (see No. vii.) this custom is alluded to : "Yesterday ye shouted aloud and testified your pleasure," (χθὲς μέγα ἀνακεκράγετε, δηλοῦντες τὴν ἡδονήν.) In the second of these Discourses, (3,) the silence of the assembly is remarked upon as unusual. |vii 

Chrysostom was himself strongly imbued with the ascetic notions of his age, and with the prevalent ideas about the superior sanctity of unmarried life.

He lived before the prominent development of the doctrine of Justification by Faith. Though speaking freely about the benefit of good works, he, nevertheless, manifests the Christian inner consciousness of the inefficacy of these or of mere penitence as a means of salvation. "If thou art grieved and humbly penitent, thy penitence is in a manner accompanied by salvation, (ἔχει τινὰ σωτηρίαν)----not through the essential nature of penitence, but through the kindness of the Lord." (Discourse vi. in the Paris edition.)

These considerations may be useful in estimating the extant works of Chrysostom. It is believed that the Discourses now translated have not hitherto been rendered into English. Our countryman Savile, in the beginning of the 17th century, published a splendid edition of the complete works of Chrysostom, in Greek. His notes (in Latin) are declared by Montfaucon to be of those then written the best.3 The able translation in the "Library of the Fathers" gives other works of Chrysostom. The fact, however, that those volumes form part of a large series renders the diffusion of even those of Chrysostom's writings less extensive than might otherwise be. |viii 

It is hoped that this separate publication of another work of Chrysostom may increase the tendency now existing to read more generally the remains of Christian Antiquity, and the writings of the great instructors of the Church, of which Christ is the Head.

"Μεθ̕ οὗ τῷ Πατρὶ ἅμα τῷ ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι, δόξα, τιμὴ, κράτος, νῦν καὶ ἀὲι, καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν."

F. A.

DERBY, November 1868.

[Footnotes moved to the end and numbered]

1. * Gibbon, "Decline and Fall," ch. xxxii.

2. * In Discourse vi. (Paris Edition.)

3. * "Caeteris omnibus praestant Henrici Savilii notae, si sagacitatem spectes, si criticam artem, si caetera omnia." (Montf. Preface to the Benedictine Edition.)

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