Christianity Knowledge Base

Portrait of Saint John Chrysostom of Antioch.

John Chrysostom (347407) was a notable bishop and preacher from the 4th and 5th centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek chrysostomos, "golden mouthed". The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. He is also recognized by the Catholic Church, which considers him a saint and a Doctor of the Church, and the Church of England, who commemorate him on September 13. His relics were stolen from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 and brought to Rome, but were returned on November 27, 2004 by Pope John Paul II.

His importance[]

During a time when city clergy were subject to much criticism for their high life style, John was determined to reform his clergy at 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, but has been less important to Western Christianity. He rejected the contemporary trend for allegory, instead speaking plainly and applying Bible passages and lessons to everyday life.

His banishments demonstrated that secular powers dominated the eastern church at this period in history. It also demonstrated the rivalry between Constantinople and Alexandria for recognition as the preeminent eastern see. This mutual hostility would eventually lead to much suffering for the church and the Eastern Empire. Meanwhile in the west, Rome's primacy had been unquestioned from the fourth century onwards. An interesting point to note in the wider development of the papacy, is the fact that Innocent's protests had availed nothing: demonstrating the lack of influence the bishops of Rome held in the east at this time.

The Homilies against the Judaizers[]

Chrysostom wrote of the Jews and of Judaizers in eight homilies Adversus Judaeos (against the Judaizers).

The second discourse is only about a third of the length of the others. Researchers long suspected that the single manuscript in which it was preserved was incomplete. In 1999 Wendy Pradels discovered on the island of Lesbos a manuscript with the complete text.

The following quotes are translations found by Paul Halsall online at anti-Jewish sites, presumably from the original Greek; other researchers give slightly different translations. The accuracy of the citations is therefore uncertain.

At the time he delivered these sermons, Chrysostom was a tonsured reader, and had not yet been ordained a priest or bishop.

  • "The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now." (Homily I, I, 5)
  • "Shall I tell you of their plundering, their covetousness, their abandonment of the poor, their thefts, their cheating in trade? the whole day long will not be enough to give you an account of these things. But do their festivals have something solemn and great about them? They have shown that these, too, are impure." (Homily I, VII, 1)
  • "But before I draw up my battle line against the Jews, I will be glad to talk to those who are members of our own body, those who seem to belong to our ranks although they observe the Jewish rites and make every effort to defend them. Because they do this, as I see it, they deserve a stronger condemnation than any Jew." (Homily IV, II, 4)
  • "Are you Jews still disputing the question? Do you not see that you are condemned by the testimony of what Christ and the prophets predicted and which the facts have proved? But why should this surprise me? That is the kind of people you are. From the beginning you have been shameless and obstinate, ready to fight at all times against obvious facts." (Homily V, XII, 1)

Many researchers believe that the purpose of these attacks was to prevent Christians from joining with Jewish customs, and thus prevent the erosion of Chrysostom's flock. A recent thesis 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 (Source: Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, Princeton 1997, 66-67 )

External links[]

  • St. Chrystostom by John Henry Newman - a biographical sketch focusing mainly on the period of his exile