« Prev John Chrysostom Next »

§ 170. John Chrysostom.

I. S. Joannis Chrysostomi. archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera omnia quae exstant vel quae ejus nomine circumferuntur, ad MSS. codices Gallic. etc. castigata, etc. (Gr. et Lat.). Opera et studio D. Bernardi de Montfaucon, monachi ordinis S. Benedicti e congregatione S. Mauri, opem ferentibus aliis ex eodem sodalitio monachis. Paris. 1718–’38, in 13 vols. fol. The same edition reprinted at Venice, 1734–’41, in 13 vols. fol. (after which I quote in this section); also at Paris by Sinner (Gaume), 1834–’39, in 13 vols. (an elegant edition, with some additions), and by J. P. Migne, Petit-Montrouge, 1859–’60, in 13 vols. Besides we have a number of separate editions of the Homilies, and of the work on the Priesthood, both in Greek, and in translations. A selection of his writings in Greek and Latin was edited by F. G. Lomler, Rudolphopoli, 1840, 1 volume. German translations of the Homilies (in part) by J. A. Cramer (Leipzig, 1748–’51), Feder (Augsburg, 1786), Ph. Mayer (Nürnberg, 1830), W. Arnoldi (Trier, 1831), Jos. Lutz (Tübingen, 1853); English translations of the Homilies on the New Testament in the Oxford Library of the Fathers, 1842–’53.

II. Palladius (a friend of Chrysostom and bishop of Helenopolis in Bithynia, author of the Historia Lausiaca; according to others a different person): Dialogus historicus de vita et conversatione beati Joannis Chrysostomi cum Theodoro ecclesiae Romanae diacono (in the Bened. ed. of the Opera, tom. xiii. pp. 1–89). Hieronymus: De viris illustribus, c. 129 (a very brief notice, mentioning only the work de sacerdotio). Socrates: H. E. vi. 3–21. Sozomen: H. E. viii. 2–23. Theodoret: H. E. v. 27–36. B. de Montfaucon: Vita Joannis Chrys. in his edition of the Opera, tom. xiii. 91–178. Testimonia Veterum de S. Joann. Chrys. scriptis, ibid. tom. xiii. 256–292. Tillemont: Mémoires, vol. xi. pp. 1–405. F. Stilting: Acta Sanctorum, Sept. 14 (the day of his death), tom. iv. pp. 401–709. A. Butler: Lives of Saints, sub Jan. 27. W. Cave: Lives of the Fathers, vol. iii. p. 237 ff. J. A. Fabricius: Biblioth. Gr. tom. viii. 454 sqq. Schröckh: Vol. x. p. 309 ff. A. Neander: Der heilige Chrysostomus (first 1821), 3d edition, Berlin, 1848, 2 vols. Abbé Rochet: Histoire de S. Jean Chrysostome. Par. 1866, 2 vols. Comp. also A. F. Villemain’s Tableau de l’éloquence chrétienne au IVe siècle. Paris, 1854.

John, to whom an admiring posterity since the seventh century has given the name Chrysostomus, the Golden-mouthed, is the greatest expositor and preacher of the Greek church, and still enjoys the highest honor in the whole Christian world. No one of the Oriental fathers has left a more spotless reputation; no one is so much read and so often quoted by modern commentators.

He was born at Antioch, a.d. 347.20052005   Baur(Vorlesungen über die Dogmengeschichte, Bd. i. Abthlg. ii. p. 50) and others erroneously state the year 354 as that of his birth. Comp. Tillemont and Montfaucon (tom. xiii. 91). His father was a distinguished military officer. His mother Anthusa, who from her twentieth year was a widow, shines with Nonna and Monica among the Christian women of antiquity. She was admired even by the heathen, and the famous rhetorician Libanius, on hearing of her consistency and devotion, felt constrained to exclaim: “Ah! what wonderful women there are among the Christians.”20062006   Βαβαὶ, οἷαι παρὰ χριστιανοῖς γυναῖκες εἰσι . Chrysostom himself relates this of his heathen teacher (by whom undoubtedly we are to understand Libanius), though, it Is true, with immediate reference only to the twenty years’ widowhood of his mother; Ad viduam juniorem, Opera, tom. i. p. 340. Comp. the remarks of Montfaucon in the Vita, tom. xiii. 92. She gave her son an admirable education, and early planted in his soul the germs of piety, which afterwards bore the richest fruits for himself and for the church. By her admonitions and the teachings of the Bible he was secured against the seductions of heathenism.

He received his literary training from Libanius, who accounted him his best scholar, and who, when asked shortly before his death (395) whom he wished for his successor, replied: “John, if only the Christians had not carried him away.”

After the completion of his studies he became a rhetorician. He soon resolved, however, to devote himself to divine things, and after being instructed for three years by bishop Meletius in Antioch, he received baptism.

His first inclination after his conversion was to adopt the monastic life, agreeably to the ascetic tendencies of the times; and it was only by the entreaties of his mother, who adjured him with tears not to forsake her, that he was for a while restrained. Meletius made him reader, and so introduced him to a clerical career. He avoided an election to the bishopric (370) by putting forward his friend Basil, whom he accounted worthier, but who bitterly complained of the evasion. This was the occasion of his celebrated treatise On the Priesthood, in which, in the form of a dialogue with Basil, he vindicates his not strictly truthful conduct, and delineates the responsible duties of the spiritual office.20072007   Περὶ ἱερωσύνης. De sacerdotio libri vi. Separate editions are: That of Frobenius at Basel, 1525, Greek, with a preface by Erasmus; that of Hughes at Cam. bridge, 1710, Greek and Latin, with the Life of Chrysostomby Cave; that of J. A. Bengel, Stuttgart, 1725, Greek and Latin, reprinted at Leipsic in 1825 and 1834; besides several translations into modern languages. Comp. above, § 51, p. 253.

After the death of his mother he fled from the seductions and tumults of city life to the monastic solitude of the mountains near Antioch, and there spent six happy years in theological study and sacred meditation and prayer, under the guidance of the learned abbot Diodorus (afterwards bishop of Tarsus, † 394), and in communion with such like-minded young men as Theodore of Mopsuestia, the celebrated father of Antiochian (Nestorian) theology († 429). Monasticism was to him a most profitable school of experience and self-government; because he embraced this mode of life from the purest motives, and brought into it intellect and cultivation enough to make the seclusion available for moral and spiritual growth.

In this period he composed his earliest writings in praise of monasticism and celibacy, and his two long letters to the fallen Theodore (subsequently bishop of Mopsuestia), who had regretted his monastic vow and resolved to marry.20082008   Compare Tillemont, Montfaucon, and Neander (l.c. i. p. 86 ff.). Chrysostom regarded this small affair from the ascetic stand-point of his age as almost equal to an apostasy from Christianity, and plied all his oratorical arts of sad sympathy, tender entreaty, bitter reproach, and terrible warning, to reclaim his friend to what he thought the surest and safest way to heaven. To sin, he says, is human, but to persist in sin is devilish; to fall is not ruinous to the soul, but to remain on the ground is. The appeal had its desired effect, and cannot fail to make a salutary impression upon every reader, provided we substitute some really great offence for the change of a mode of life which can only be regarded as a temporary and abnormal form of Christian practice.

By excessive self-mortifications John undermined his health, and returned about 380 to Antioch. There he was immediately ordained deacon by Meletius in 386, and by Flavian was made presbyter. By his eloquence and his pure and earnest character he soon acquired great reputation and the love of the whole church.

During the sixteen or seventeen years of his labors in Antioch he wrote the greater part of his Homilies and Commentaries, his work on the Priesthood, a consolatory Epistle to the despondent Stagirius, and an admonition to a young widow on the glory of widowhood and the duty of continuing in it. He disapproved second marriage, not as sinful or illegal, but as inconsistent with an ideal conception of marriage and a high order of piety.

After the death of Nectarius (successor of Gregory Nazianzen), towards the end of the year 397, Chrysostom was chosen, entirely without his own agency, patriarch of Constantinople. At this post he labored several years with happy effect. But his unsparing sermons aroused the anger of the empress Eudoxia, and his fame excited the envy of the ambitious patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria. An act of Christian love towards the persecuted Origenistic monks of Egypt involved him in the Origenistic controversy, and at last the united influence of Theophilus and Eudoxia overthrew him. Even the sympathy of the people and of Innocent I., the bishop of Rome, was unavailing in his behalf. He died in banishment on the fourteenth of September, a.d. 407, thanking God for all.20092009   Compare particulars above, § 134. The Greeks celebrate his memorial day on the thirteenth of November, the Latins on the twenty-seventh of January, the day on which his remains in 438 were solemnly deposited in the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople with those of the emperors and patriarchs.

Persecution and undeserved sufferings tested the character of Chrysostom, and have heightened his fame. The Greek church honors him as the greatest teacher of the church, approached only by Athanasius and the three Cappadocians. His labors fall within the comparatively quiet period between the Trinitarian and the Christological controversies. He was not therefore involved in any doctrinal controversy except the Origenistic; and in that he had a very innocent part, as his unspeculative turn of mind kept him from all share in the Origenistic errors. Had he lived a few decades later he would perhaps have fallen under suspicion of Nestorianism; for he belonged to the same Antiochian school with his teacher Diodorus of Tarsus, his fellow-student Theodore of Mopsuestia, and his successor Nestorius. From this school, whose doctrinal development was not then complete, he derived a taste for the simple, sober, grammatico-historical interpretation, in opposition to the arbitrary allegorizing of the Alexandrians, while he remained entirely free from the rationalizing tendency which that school soon afterwards discovered. He is thus the soundest and worthiest representative of the Antiochian theology. In anthropology he is a decided synergist; and his pupil Cassian, the founder of Semi-Pelagianism, gives him for an authority.20102010   Julianof Eclanum had already appealed several times to Chrysostomagainst Augustine, as Augustinenotes Contra Jul., and in the Opus imperfectum. But his synergism is that of the whole Greek church; it had no direct conflict with Augustinianism, for Chrysostom died several years before the opening of the Pelagian controversy. He opposed the Arians and Novatians, and faithfully and constantly adhered to the church doctrine, so far as it was developed; but he avoided narrow dogmatism and angry controversy, and laid greater stress on practical piety than on unfruitful orthodoxy.20112011   Niedner(Geschichte der christl. Kirche, 1846, p. 323, and in his posthumous Lehrbuch, 1866, p. 303) briefly characterizes him thus: “In him we find a most complete mutual interpenetration of theoretical and practical theology, as well as of the dogmatical and ethical elements, exhibited mainly in the fusion of the exegetical and homiletical. Hence his exegesis was guarded against barren philology and dogma; and his pulpit discourse was free from doctrinal abstraction and empty rhetoric. The introduction of the knowledge of Christianity from the sources into the practical life of the people left him little time for the development of special dogmas.

Valuable as the contributions of Chrysostom to didactic theology may be, his chief importance and merit lie not in this department, but in homiletical exegesis, pulpit eloquence, and pastoral care. Here he is unsurpassed among the ancient fathers, whether Greek or Latin. By talent and culture he was peculiarly fitted to labor in a great metropolis. At that time a bishop, as he himself says, enjoyed greater honor at court, in the society of ladies, in the houses of the nobles, than the first dignitaries of the empire.20122012   The τόπαρχοιand ὕπαρχοι, the praefect praetorio. Homil. iii. in Acta Apost. Hence the great danger, of hierarchical pride and worldly conformity, to which so many of the prelates succumbed. This danger Chrysostom happily avoided. He continued his plain monastic mode of life in the midst of the splendor of the imperial residence, and applied all his superfluous income to the support of the sick and the stranger. Poor for himself, he was rich for the poor. He preached an earnest Christianity fruitful in good works, he insisted on strict discipline, and boldly attacked the vices of the age and the hollow, worldly, hypocritical religion of the court. He, no doubt, transcended at times the bounds of moderation and prudence, as when he denounced the empress Eudoxia as a new Herodias thirsting after the blood of John; but he erred “on virtue’s side,” and his example of fearless devotion to duty has at all times exerted a most salutary influence upon clergymen in high and influential stations. Neander not inaptly compares his work in the Greek church with that of Spener, the practical reformer in the Lutheran church of the seventeenth century, and calls him a martyr of Christian charity, who fell a victim in the conflict with the worldly spirit of his age.20132013   In his monograph on Chrysostom, vol. i. p. 5.

In the pulpit Chrysostom was a monarch of unlimited power over his hearers. His sermons were frequently interrupted by noisy theatrical demonstrations of applause, which he indignantly rebuked as unworthy of the house of God.20142014   This Greek custom of applauding the preacher by clapping the hands and stamping the feet (called κρότος, from κρούω) was a sign of the secularization of the church after its union with the state. It is characteristic of his age that a powerful sermon of Chrysostomagainst this abuse was most enthusiastically applauded by his hearers! He had trained his natural gift of eloquence, which was of the first order, in the school of Demosthenes and Libanius, and ennobled and sanctified it in the higher school of the Holy Spirit.20152015   Karl Hase(Kirchengeschichte, § 104, seventh edition) truly says of Chrysostomthat “he complemented the sober clearness of the Antiochian exegesis and the rhetorical arts of Libanius with the depth of his warm Christian heart, and that he carried out in his own life, as far as mortal man can do it, the ideal of the priesthood which, in youthful enthusiasm, he once described.” He was in the habit of making careful preparation for his sermons by the study of the Scriptures, prayer, and meditation; but he knew how to turn to good account unexpected occurrences, and some of his noblest efforts were extemporaneous effusions under the inspiration of the occasion. His ideas are taken from Christian experience and especially from the inexhaustible stores of the Bible, which he made his daily bread, and which he earnestly recommended even to the laity. He took up whole books and explained them in order, instead of confining himself to particular texts, as was the custom after the introduction of the pericopes. His language is noble, solemn, vigorous, fiery, and often overpowering. Yet he was by no means wholly free from the untruthful exaggerations and artificial antitheses, which were regarded at that time as the greatest ornament and highest triumph of eloquence, but which appear to a healthy and cultivated taste as defects and degeneracies. The most eminent French preachers, Bossuet, Massillon, and Bourdaloue, have taken Chrysostom for their model.

By far the most numerous and most valuable writings of this father are the Homilies, over six hundred in number, which he delivered while presbyter at Antioch and while bishop at Constantinople.20162016   They are contained in vols. ii.-xii of the Benedictine edition. They embody his exegesis; and of this they are a rich storehouse, from which the later Greek commentators, Theodoret, Theophylact, and Oecumenius, have drawn, sometimes content to epitomize his expositions. Commentaries, properly so called, he wrote only on the first eight chapters of Isaiah and on the Epistle to the Galatians. But nearly all his sermons on Scripture texts are more or less expository. He has left us homilies on Genesis, the Psalms, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, the Acts, and all the Epistles of Paul, including the Epistle to the Hebrews. His homilies on the Pauline Epistles are especially esteemed.20172017   A beautiful edition of the Homilies on the Pauline Epistles in Greek (but without the Latin version) has been recently published in connection with the Oxford Library of the Fathers under the title: S. Joannis Chrysostomi interpretatio omnium Epistolarum Paulinarum per homilias facta, Oxon. 1849-’52, 4 vols. The English translation has already been noticed.

Besides these expository sermons on whole books of the Scriptures, Chrysostom delivered homilies on separate sections or verses of Scripture, festal discourses, orations in commemoration of apostles and martyrs, and discourses on special occasions. Among the last are eight homilies Against the Jews (against Judaizing tendencies in the church at Antioch), twelve homilies Against the Anomoeans (Arians), and especially the celebrated twenty and one homilies On the Statues, which called forth his highest oratorical powers.20182018   The Homiliae xii contra Anomoeans de incomprehensibili Dei natura, and the Orationes viii adversus Judaeos are in the first, the Homilies xxi ad populum Antiochenum, de statuis, and the six Orationes de fato et providential in the second volume of the Bened. edition. The Homilies on the Statues are translated into English in the Oxford Library of the Fathers, 1842, 1 volume. He delivered the homilies on the Statues at Antioch in 387 during a season of extraordinary public excitement, when the people, oppressed by excessive taxation, rose in rebellion, tore down the statues of the emperor Theodosius I., the deceased empress Flacilla, and the princes Arcadius and Honorius, dragged them through the streets, and so provoked the wrath of the emperor that he threatened to destroy the city—a calamity which was avoided by the intercession of bishop Flavian.

The other works of Chrysostom are his youthful treatise on the Priesthood already alluded to; a number of doctrinal and moral essays in defence of the Christian faith, and in commendation of celibacy and the nobler forms of monastic life;20192019   Ad Theodorum lapsum; Adversus oppugnatores vitae monasticae; Comparatio regis et monachi; De compunctione cordis; De virginitate; Ad viduam juniorem, etc.,—all in the first volume of the Bened. edition together with the vi Libri de Sacerdotio; also in Lomler’s selection of Chrys. Opera praestantissima. and two hundred and forty-two letters, nearly all written during his exile between 403 and 407. The most important of the letters are two addressed to the Roman bishop Innocent I., with his reply, and seventeen long letters to his friend Olympias, a pious widow and deaconess. They all breathe a noble Christian spirit, not desiring to be recalled from exile, convinced that there is but one misfortune,—departure from the path of piety and virtue, and filled with cordial friendship, faithful care for all the interests of the church, and a calm and cheerful looking forward to the glories of heaven.20202020   The Epistles are in tom. iii. The Epistolae ad Olympiadem, and ad Innocentium are also included in Lomler’s selection (pp. 165-252). On Olympias, compare above, § 52, and especially Tillemont, tom. xi. pp. 416-440.

The so-called Liturgy of Chrysostom, which is still in use in the Greek and Russian churches, has been already noticed in the proper place.20212021   See above, § 99.

Among the pupils and admirers of Chrysostom we mention as deserving of special notice two abbots of the first half of the fifth century: the elder Nilus of Sinai, who retired with his son from one of the highest civil stations of the empire to the contemplative solitude of Mount Sinai, while his wife and daughter entered a convent of Egypt;20222022   Comp. S. P. N. Niliabbatis opera omnia, variorum curis, nempe Leonis Allatii, Petri Possini, etc., edita, nunc primum in unum collecta et ordinata, accurante J. P. Migne, Par. 1860, 1 volume. (Patrol. Gr. tom. 79.) and Isidore of Pelusium, or Pelusiota, a native of Alexandria, who presided over a convent not far from the mouth of the Nile, and sympathized with Cyril against Nestorius, but warned him against his violent passions.20232023   Comp. S. Isidori PelusiotaeEpistolarum libri v, ed. Possinus (Jesuit), republished by Migne, Par. 1860. (Patrol. Gr. tom. 78, including the dissertation of H. Ag. Niemeyer: De Isid. Pel. vita, scriptis et doctrina, Hal. 1825.) It is not certain that Isidore was a pupil of Chrysostom, but he frequently mentions him with respect, and was evidently well acquainted with his writings. See the dissertation of Niemeyer, in Migne’s ed. p. 15 sq. They are among the worthiest representatives of ancient monasticism, and, in a large number of letters and exegetical and ascetic treatises, they discuss, with learning, piety, judgment, and moderation, nearly all the theological and practical questions of their age.

« Prev John Chrysostom Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection