John Chrysostom, St.
JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, ST.
Patriarch of Constantinople, Father and Doctor of the Universal Church, patron of preachers; b. Antioch, c. 349; d. Comana in Pontus, Sept. 14, 407. The surname Chrysostom first occurs in the sixth century and has practically supplanted his given name.
Life. A vivid and true image of John emerges both from his own works and, especially for the period after his elevation to the See of Constantinople (397), from the contemporary Dialogue of palladius. The older ecclesiastical historians, socrates and, more reliably, sozo men, give important accounts; later pre-Bollandist biographers, more interested in hagiography than history, offer collections of anecdotes and legends. C. Baur provides a definitive modern biography.
At Antioch. Fourth-century Antioch was a center of culture, heresy, and schism. Pagans were numerous and powerful in the government and the schools; the majority of bishops had been at least semi-Arians; the Catholics themselves were separated by a schism between Bishops Paulinus and Meletius. There John was born and reared. His father, Secundus, was a high-ranking army officer, probably a Latin and a Christian; his Greek mother, Anthusa, was widowed at the age of 20 shortly after John's birth. Renouncing remarriage, she reared her son with great courage and piety. In his treatise On the Priesthood John pays her a signal tribute as a great Christian mother. She sent John to study philosophy under Andragathius and rhetoric in the school of the distinguished pagan sophist and rhetorician Libanius.
His parentage and classical training combined to produce in him the strong will and firmness of the Roman, tempered by the versatile and vivacious spirit of the Greek. At the age of 18, still a catechumen, John came under the influence of Meletius. He directed John to the monastic school of diodore, who initiated him in the literal and grammatical exegesis of the school of Antioch. The following Easter (c. 368) Meletius baptized John and three years later ordained him lector. Although John lived an ascetical life at home, he longed to become a monk; after four years with Meletius and Diodore he moved to the nearby mountains. For another four years he studied and prayed there under the direction of an old hermit. The next two years he lived alone in a cave, studying the Scriptures and practicing indiscreet austerities, which impaired his health and forced his return to Antioch. As soon as he had sufficiently recovered, John resumed his duties as lector. In 381 he was ordained deacon by Meletius, and for five years assisted at liturgical functions, cared for the poor, the sick, and the widows, and helped in instructing the catechumens. It was probably toward the end of this period that he wrote his famous work On the Priesthood, a classic on the importance and dignity of the pastoral office.
In 386 flavian, successor to Meletius, ordained John a priest, and he began his remarkable career as preacher, exegete, and moralist. The next year he proved his eloquence and rapport with his people when taxburdened Antioch revolted to protest a new levy. Rioters pulled down the statues of the imperial family and dragged them through the streets. Chrysostom met the crisis in a series of sermons (De statuis; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 1857–66] 49: 15–222) in which he exhorted and consoled his now penitent hearers and restrained them from further excesses born of remorse and despair. Bishop Flavian hurried to the capital, winning the emperor's clemency, and John was able to report the happy outcome in his Easter sermon of 387.
John preached at Antioch for twelve fruitful years. There he produced the bulk of his literary legacy, which has proved so rich a source of theological and historical knowledge. Although a polemicist, apologist, and dogmatist of some stature, he owes his place as a doctor of the church chiefly to the continuous explanation of Scripture that he presents in his magisterial commentaries.
Bishop of Constantinople. Nectarius, Patriarch of Constantinople, died in 397. Many vied to succeed him; but the Emperor arcadius, at the suggestion of his minister Eutropius, selected John as the new Patriarch. Chrysostom was lured to the capital by a ruse and consecrated bishop on Feb. 26, 398.
Immediately he was plunged into a morass of ecclesiastical and political intrigue. Nectarius had wasted church revenues; John curbed expenses, opened hospitals, and alleviated the misery of the poor. Since Nectarius had likewise permitted clerical laxity, John had to institute reforms. He ousted one deacon for murder, another for adultery. His clergy were forbidden to keep virgins and deaconesses in their houses, a practice that had occasioned much scandal (see virgines subintroduc tae). Monks who preferred aimless wandering to cenobitic discipline were confined to their monasteries. Worldly widows were ordered to remarry or show the decorum proper to their state.
These reforms alienated many of the clergy, but were popular with the people and generally approved at court. The people also applauded John's good services when the imperial minister, Eutropius, fell into disgrace (399) and General Gainas revolted (400). When Eutropius fled to the cathedral for sanctuary, John excoriated his abuse of power, but defended his right to asylum and thus temporarily saved his life. When Gainas demanded a church for his Arian Goths and highborn hostages to guarantee his usurped consulship, John intervened. He refused the church and saved the hostages from death, but not from exile. Gainas was soon declared a public enemy and fled. After these events, Empress Eudoxia completely dominated the vacillating Emperor Arcadius.
John's influence was now at its peak, but he had his tragic flaw. Although he was usually peaceful and patient, his zeal for God, Church, and justice often led him to blunt speech and action offensive to those in high places. His excoriation of luxury and extravagances delighted many who heard him, but the attacks were intolerable to the upper classes. The ladies at court especially resented his rebukes and convinced Eudoxia that John's onslaughts were aimed at her. Thenceforth she collaborated with his foes.
In 401 John's zeal for the Church took him to Ephesus, where he presided over a synod that deposed six bishops found guilty of simony. Although Constantinople enjoyed a de facto hegemony as a patriarchate over Ephesus, and John presided at the express invitation of several bishops, his jurisdiction was questioned and he made more enemies. On his return to Constantinople he found that a guest, Bishop severian of gabala, had stirred trouble among the local clergy. Severian, a favorite at court, protested to Eudoxia when John asked him to return to his own diocese. To prevent an open rift with the court and schism in the Church, John agreed to let him stay; but Severian, who coveted the capital see, thereafter worked successfully with other disaffected bishops and courtiers to destroy John.
The cabal found an unscrupulous leader in theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria. Jealous for the eastern primacy of his own see, he had reluctantly consecrated John bishop instead of his own Egyptian candidate. In 401 he had excommunicated and exiled as Origenists some Nitrian monks who had offended him. Led by the tall brothers (Dioscorus, Ammon, Eusebius, and Euthymius), they arrived in the capital, where John gave them shelter, but prudently withheld ecclesiastical fellowship pending settlement of their case. They appealed to the emperor, who summoned Theophilus to the capital to appear before a synod over which Chrysostom would preside. Theophilus was slow to obey the summons, but quick to mount a counterthrust: he decided to oppose the synod that was to judge him with another that would judge John. But agents sent to Antioch failed to find grounds against John. epiphanius of constantia also demanded the expulsion of the Nitrian monks and John's signature on a synodal decree condemning Origen, but returned home when he recognized that Theophilus was making him his tool. Theophilus enlisted aid at court, where Severian and other foes seem to have falsified John's published sermons to make it appear that he had slandered the empress. John often preached on the vanity and luxury of women, and Eudoxia was easily convinced that John had referred to her as Jezebel.
Meanwhile 40 bishops, summoned by imperial rescript, waited for Theophilus to arrive, but John protested against convening the synod on canonical grounds: Theophilus must first be heard by a synod in his own province; further, such schisms among bishops were a scandal to the Church.
On his arrival in 403 Theophilus convened the illegal Synod of the oak, and presided over 36 bishops, of whom at least 29 were his Egyptian suffragans. The others included Severian and some bishops John had deposed at Ephesus. When summoned to defend himself against 46 charges, John refused to appear or to recognize a synod in which not only his accusers, but even his judges were his bitter foes. He ignored a second and third summons and was declared deposed. Arcadius ratified the deposition, and three days later John was spirited from the capital under military guard. That very night an accident occurred in the palace—probably the empress had a miscarriage—and this Eudoxia connected with the injustice committed in Chrysostom's case. She saw to his immediate recall and, after some delay, John returned amid general rejoicing.
Late in 403 a silver statue of Eudoxia was erected in the square facing the cathedral. The noise of the celebration disturbed the Divine Liturgy, and from his pulpit John complained bitterly. Eudoxia took this as a public insult. A new insult was alleged in early 404 when Chrysostom, preaching on John the Baptist, was reported to have said "Again Herodias rages … again she demands the head of John on a platter." The text survives (Patrologia Graeca 59:485), but may well be spurious. Again his enemies urged his exile, but Arcadius only forbade him to enter the cathedral, and at Easter some 3, 000 catechumens assembled at the Baths of Constantine to be baptized. Soldiers broke up the service and the baptismal waters ran red with blood. Two attempts on John's life failed. Tension ran high, riots threatened, and Arcadius finally decreed exile. On June 24, 404, yielding only to force, John left Constantinople for the last time.
Exile and Death. Scarcely was he on board ship when the cathedral and senate house went up in flames. John and his followers (Johnites) were accused of setting the fire to cover their theft of the church treasures. An inventory showed nothing missing. When the Johnites refused to recognize John's successors (the aged Arsacius and, shortly after, Atticus, both of whom had been among his accusers at the Synod of the Oak), their property was confiscated and they were exiled.
Before leaving Constantinople, John had written to Pope innocent i to protest his deposition and to request a trial. Theophilus also sent a report. After hearing witnesses on both sides, Innocent refused to recognize John's deposition. A synod of Latin bishops who examined the matter declared the Synod of the Oak invalid. Through Innocent and the Western Emperor Honorius they requested Arcadius first to restore Chrysostom and then to have the case decided by a general synod of Greeks and Latins to meet at Salonika, but the synod never convened.
On arrival at the capital, the papal envoys, including five bishops, were jailed, treated ignominiously, and finally sent back to Rome. Innocent then broke off communion with Theophilus, Atticus, and all of Chrysostom's chief opponents. The schism endured until, after John's death, atonement was made and John's name was restored to the diptychs at Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople.
For three years John's place of exile was Cucusus, a frontier outpost in Armenia. Despite the dangers and remoteness of the place, friends still visited him, and he kept up a correspondence with the faithful at Antioch and Constantinople. Angered by his persistent popularity and influence in the capital, his foes persuaded Arcadius to send John to more remote Pityus, 600 marine miles from Constantinople across the Black Sea, but the trip had to be made overland, across six mountain ranges and numerous streams. His guard forced him to march bareheaded in sun and rain. Worn out with hardship and fever, he died at Comana in Pontus, uttering as his last words, "Glory to God for all things."
In 438 Theodosius II brought his body to Constantinople and solemnly buried it in the Church of the Apostles. In 1204 the Venetians plundered the city and sent his relics to Rome, where his grave is still shown in the choir chapel of St. Peter's.
Feast: Jan. 27.
Character and Eloquence. Iconography gives no authentic portrait of Chrysostom, but tradition reveals him as an ascetic, unimposing yet dignified. His intellect was lively and penetrating, although not given to speculation. Although dauntless in the fight for justice, John went out with mercy to the poor and sinners. His rich imagination infused his sermons with power and variety. Like a true Greek, he loved proportion, but his choleric temperament often blazed forth in deep and vehement feeling.
He was not an orator in the classic mold. His homilies seem poorly structured, roving from point to point and filled with repetitions, but they have an interior, spiritual unity. He was often interrupted with applause and tears. This rapport made him feel free to say whatever he wished and his audience willing to hear whatever he had to say. Few orators ever roused more enthusiasm or exercised so complete a mastery over their audience.
Works. John's stature in ecclesiastical history derives less from his administrative ability than from his talents as writer and preacher. Few Greek Fathers have left so extensive a literary legacy of writings in the form of treatises, homilies, and letters.
Treatises. These deal with monastic, ascetical, and apologetical topics and are published in Patrologia Graeca 47, 48, 50, and 52. Most noteworthy are two exhortations Ad Theodorum lapsum, the one (Patrologia Graeca 47:277–308) addressed to a fallen monk, the other (ibid. 309–316) to his fellow student theodore of mopsues tia, who planned to return to the world and marry; Adversus subintroductas (ibid. 495–574), condemning the custom of priests having virgins as housekeepers; De sacerdotio (ibid. 623–692), on the greatness and dignity of the pastoral office; Contra Judaeos et Gentiles (Patrologia Graeca 48:813–838), demonstrating to Jews and Gentiles that Christ is God; Quod nemo laeditur (Patrologia Graeca 52:459–480), written in exile, proving that no man can be harmed unless he cooperates with those who would harm him.
Homilies. Here belong the commentaries on Scripture, groups of sermons on special subjects, and single homilies. (1) Commentaries on the Old Testament include 67 homilies on Genesis and eight sermons on Genesis, ch. 1 to 3 (Patrologia Graeca 53, 54), which may be a first recension; 59 on selected Psalms (Patrologia Graeca 55), which interpret Psalms 4 to 12, 43 to 49, 108 to 117, and 119 to 150. Those on the New Testament include 90 homilies on Matthew (Patrologia Graeca 57, 58) ; 88 on John (Patrologia Graeca 59), probably in a second recension; 55 on Acts (Patrologia Graeca 60), also in two recensions; there are more than 200 homilies on the Pauline Epistles (Patrologia Graeca 59–63), as well as a running elucidation of the text of Galatians (Patrologia Graeca 61:611–682), which is probably a recension made by a later editor from a series of homilies. (2) Among the groups on special subjects must be mentioned 21 homilies De statuis (Patrologia Graeca 49:15–222) delivered during the revolt at Antioch; two on the fall of Eutropius (Patrologia Graeca 52:391–414) ; eight against Judaizing Christians (Patrologia Graeca 48:843–942) ; twelve against the Anomoean Arians on the incomprehensible nature of God (ibid. 701–812) ; and eight baptismal catecheses discovered on Mt. Athos in 1955 by A. Wenger. (3) There are numerous single homilies, on the occasion of his ordination (Patrologia Graeca 48:693–700), before his exile (Patrologia Graeca 52:427–430), and on his recall (ibid. 443–448) ; also sermons on moral subjects and on certain feasts and saints.
Letters. Best known of some 236 letters are two to Pope Innocent I and 17 to the deaconess Olympias; the rest, addressed to more than 100 persons, give an intimate picture of his exile (Patrologia Graeca 52).
Spurious Works. These include a synopsis of Old Testament and New Testament (Patrologia Graeca 56:313–386) ; the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, which in its present form postdates his death, although he may have contributed to earlier versions; an incomplete commentary on Matthew, the Opus imperfectum, existing only in Latin, which seems to be the work of a fifth-century Arian.
Exegete and Doctor. As an exegete Chrysostom, like his teacher Diodore, followed the school of Antioch and was the most important exponent of its historicogrammatical method. Alexandrian allegory was foreign to him. He used allegory only when the inspired writer suggested it; even then it was the simple kind, which sees a reality through a type. He employed his deep insight into the meaning of Scripture to find applications for the lives and conduct of his flock. His exegesis was never far removed from instruction in morality and exhortation to the life of virtue.
Chrysostom was no speculative theologian. He felt that few were attracted to the Church by the profundity of her dogma; it was the moral teaching of the Gospels, the ideal of Christian charity, the hope that God would rescue them in their miseries that brought men into the Church. His task was to keep them there as worthy members of Christ. Nonetheless his works are rich in doctrine, and from the first he stood forth as an important witness to the faith. He clearly taught the duality of natures in Christ, but made no attempt to explain the oneness of person. His many clear statements on the Real Presence and sacrificial role of Christ in the Eucharist have won for him the name of Doctor of the Eucharist. He was not always clear on the nature and transmission of original sin, but Augustine rightly exonerates him of Pelagian error (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 1878–90] 44:656). He never referred to Mary as Θεοτóκος, a name suspect at Antioch. Neither did he call her Χριστοτóκος or άνθρωποτóκος, but stood apart from this controversy. He spoke explicitly of her perpetual virginity, but elsewhere implied that she was guilty of at least imperfections. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed, here Chrysostom has gone too far (Summa theologiae 3a, 27.4 ad 3).
Efforts to find in his works an unequivocal witness to the practice of private confession to a priest have failed. He often spoke of confession, but meant either public confession or that made to God alone in which the sinner judged himself guilty and God forgave him. He clearly acknowledged the primacy of Peter, but nowhere accorded the same primacy to the pope. Possibly this was because in the schism at Antioch neither Meletius nor Flavian was in union with Rome until John, on his accession to the See of Constantinople, obtained letters of ecclesiastical communion with Rome for both Flavian and himself. When he was deposed, he did ask Innocent I to intervene in his favor and to maintain communion with him, but this was not a recognition of papal primacy. He sent the same request to the bishops of Milan and Aquileia. The problem of papal primacy as now understood in the Church may never have occurred to him. For him the Church was one: schisms that divided it were just as bad as heresies that altered its faith. (For the so-called Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, see byzantine rite.)
Bibliography: Complete editions. Opera graece, ed. h. savile, 8 v. (Eton 1610–12), best text; Patrologia Graeca ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1857–66) v. 47–64, repr. of b. de montfaucon, 13v. in 24 (Paris 1835–39). Translations. Lettres à Olympias, ed. and tr. a. m. malingrey (Sources Chrétiennes, ed. h. de lubac et al. [Paris 1941] 13; 1947) ; Huit catéchèses baptismales inédites, ed. a. wenger (ibid. 50; 1957) ; Commentary on St. John, ed. t. a. goggin, 2 v. (The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, ed. r. j. deferrari et al. 33, 41; 1957, 1960) ; Baptismal Instructions, ed. p. w. harkins (Ancient Christian Writers, ed. j. quasten et al. [Westminster, Md.-London 1946–] 31; 1963). Literature. d. burger, Complete Bibliography of Scholarship on the Life and Works of St. John Chrysostom (Evanston 1964). j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Maryland 1950–) 3:424–482; e. venables, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, ed. w. smith and h. wace (London 1877—87) 1:518–535. h. lietzmann, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 9.2 (Stuttgart 1916) 1811–28; repr. in Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 67 (Berlin 1958) 326–347. c. baur, John Chrysostom and His Time, tr. m. gonzaga, 2 v. (Westminster, Md. 1960–61). r. e. carter, "The Chronology of St. John Chrysostom's Early Life, " Traditio 18 (1962) 357–364. f. h. chase, Chrysostom: A Study in the History of Biblical Interpretation (Cambridge, Eng. 1887). b. giorgiatis, Die Lehre des Johannes Chrysostomos über die heiligen Schriften (Athens 1947). a. moulard, Saint Jean Chrysostome, le défenseur du mariage et l'apôtre de la virginité (Paris 1923). e. boularand, La Venue de l'homme à la foi d'après saint Jean Chrysostome (Analecta Gregoriana 18; Rome 1939). h. keane, "The Sacrament of Penance in St. John Chrysostom, " The Irish Theological Quarterly 14 (1919) 305–317. g. fittkau, Der Begriff des Mysteriums bei Johannes Chrysostomus (Bonn 1953). e. michaud, "L'Ecclésiologie de s. Jean Chrysostome, " Revue internationale de théologie 11 (1903) 491–620. l. meyer, Saint Jean Chrysostome, maître de perfection chrétienne (Paris 1933). g. g. christo, Martyrdom According to John Chrysostom: "To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain" (Lewiston, NY 1997). j. n. d. kelly, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom: Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca, NY 1995). f. van de paverd, St. John Chrysostom, the Homilies on the Statues: An Introduction (Rome 1991). r. a. krupp, Shepherding the Flock of God: The Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom (New York 1991). m. a. schatkin, John Chrysostom as Apologist (Thessalonike 1987). r. l. wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late Fourth Century (Berkeley, Calif. 1983).
[p. w. harkins]
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