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CHRYSOSTOM (c. 354407), bishop of Constantinople (397404), father of the Eastern church, biblical commentator, and orator. Born John, he was given the name Chrysostom ("golden mouth") in the sixth century. Though probably the most popular of the Eastern church fathers, John Chrysostom is not the most accurately documented, and much remains to be elucidated concerning both his life and the number and authenticity of his works.

John was born at Antioch at an unknown date; 354 is the most likely. The only period of his life for which we have reliable information is that of his tenure as bishop of Constantinople and his trial and exile. The currently accepted version of his story is based on a seventh- or eighth-century biography ascribed to the patriarch George of Alexandria (c. 620c. 630), which largely draws upon two sources: an apologetic dialogue (c. 408) by Palladius, bishop of Helenopolis in Bithynia and a friend of John, and the church history of Socrates Scholasticus of Constantinople (c. 380c. 440). According to these sources, John was the son of Secundus, an officer in the Syrian army, and a Greek woman, Theousa, left a widow when John still was a child. The boy was sent to the best schools and was a pupil of the Greek rhetorician and sophist Libanius (314393). At the age of eighteen he abandoned the pursuit of "vain verbosity" and became a Christian. At this time he was continually in the company of the bishop of Antioch, Meletius (360381). He was baptized and three years later was advanced to the office of reader. After some time he withdrew from the city to lead an ascetic life, first, for four years, in the company of an old hermit, then, for two years, in solitude. Having ruined his health by immoderate austerities, he returned to Antioch, became a deacon in 381, and in 386 was ordained a priest by Meletius's successor, Flavian I (381404).

John was a zealous priest and soon achieved a reputation as a pulpit orator. In 397, at the death of Nectarius, bishop of Constantinople, he was forcibly abducted to Constantinople at the emperor's order and elected a bishop. His early popularity as bishop and orator was soon adversely affected by the simplicity of his life, his endeavors to repress abuses in the clergy, his defense of the poor, and his criticisms of injustices and the display of wealth. He finally drew upon himself the hatred of the empress by accusing her openly of avarice and injustice. In 403, John's enemies joined in a mock synod (the Synod of the Oak), presided over by his worst enemy, Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, who then initiated a trial against John and declared him deposed. Ordered into exile, he was, however, recalled to Constantinople the following day because of a crisis at the palace, probably a miscarriage by the empress Eudoxia. He is said to have reentered the city immediately and been reconciled with the court. These restored relations were, however, soon impaired once more, after bitter complaints by John that the church offices were being disrupted by public festivities that followed the dedication of a statue of the empress. According to Socrates, the opening words of John's sermon, "Again Herodias raves," were interpreted as an insult to the empress and exploited by his enemies. He was subsequently suspended from his functions and finally banished by order of the emperor. For three years he remained in Cucusus, in Lesser Armenia; then, owing to his continued popularity, chiefly in Constantinople, he was sent to a more remote place near the Black Sea. On the road, he died of exhaustion and maltreatment at Comana on September 14, 407.

Beginning in 404 a bitter conflict arose in Constantinople between John's two successors, Arsacius and Atticus, and his followers, who refused to recognize those who had taken an important part in their bishop's eviction. After the death of Atticus (425) a reconciliation occurred. In 437 Chrysostom's relics were brought back to the capital, and he was venerated as a saint and a martyr.

In recent years, the study of a long unexplored source, the so-called Life of Chrysostom (attributed to Martyrius of Antioch), composed by an eyewitness and issued in Constantinople a few weeks after John's death, calls into question the previously unchallenged authority of Palladius and Socrates. Thus the commonly accepted accounts of the Synod of the Oak prove to be unreliable. Many other details of the events of John's life are similarly under reexamination.

John was known chiefly as an orator and composer of homilies, many of which are preserved only in the notes of scribes. Many of his sermons are commentaries on books of the Old and New Testaments: Genesis, the Psalms, the gospels according to Matthew and John, and the letters of Paul. Other sermons are dogmatical (e.g., baptismal catecheses) or practical and moral (Against the Circus Games, On Almsgiving ). His eight homilies that bear the common title Against the Jews were primarily aimed at Christians who frequented the synagogues or indulged in the superstitious practices in which some Jews seem to have dealt at that time. He wrote occasional orations on liturgical feasts, in praise of saints, and on important political events (On the Disgrace of Eutropius ). Some speeches relating to his difficulties and banishment, such as the famous sermon against the empress, may have been forged in later years by his enemies or his followers. John also left several treatises, for example, On the Cohabitation of Clerics and Virgins, On Priesthood, On Vainglory and the Education of Children. Dating from the time of his exile are his 236 extant letters, the most important of which are the seventeen addressed to Olympias, a widow, deaconess, and great benefactress of the poor. John's writings have been widely translated.

Though venerated as one of the four fathers of the Eastern church, John was not primarily a theologian. He was a pastor, concerned with the preservation of faith and morals in his flock. His teaching reflects the orthodox doctrine of the church in the period between the crises of Arianism and Nestorianism. He was successful in restoring unity among the divided Christians of Antioch and avoided in his orations and writings any statement that might endanger their mutual understanding. His popularity as a preacher and as a martyr, however, was such that in later times hundreds of works, even those of his opponents and of heretics, were circulated and preserved under his name.


The most extensive biography of John Chrysostom is Chrysostomus Baur's Der heilige Johannes Chrysostomus und seine Zeit, 2 vols. (Munich, 19291930), translated as John Chrysostom and His Time, 2 vols. (Westminster, Md., 19591960). For John Chrysostom as a church father, see volume 3 of Johannes Quasten's Patrology (Westminster, Md., 1960), pp. 424482. An edition of the most ancient source, the text attributed to Martyrius of Antioch, is to be issued in the near future in the series "Subsidia hagiographica" (Brussels). The first detailed studies have been published; see, for example, my "Que vaut le témoignage de Pallade sur le procès de saint Jean Chrysostome?," Analecta Bollandiana 95 (1977): 389414.

An exhaustive list of the works of John Chrysostom and their editions can be found in Maurice Geerard's Clavis Patrum graecorum, vol. 2 (Turnhout, Belgium, 1974). The first edition of Chrysostom's complete works was made by Henry Savile in 8 volumes (Eton, 1612). The most complete edition was published by Bernard de Montfaucon in 13 volumes (Paris, 17131738); it was several times reprinted and finally reproduced in Patrologia Graeca, edited by J.-P. Migne, vols. 4764 (Paris, 18581860). In recent times several of his works have been re-edited in various collections of patristic literature. For example, Sources chrétiennes includes thirteen separate volumes on Chrysostom (Paris, 19471983). Corpus christianorum, series Graeca, vol. 4 (Turnhout, 1978), reprints a spurious work; four volumes of Chrysostom's works are forthcoming. On spurious works, see J. A. de Aldama's Repertorium pseudochrysostomicum (Paris, 1965).

F. Van Ommeslaeghe (1987)

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