John Chrysostom

Cited Homilies

Romans 14
1 Corinthians 8
1 Corinthians 10
Colossians 2
1 Timothy 4
Titus 1
Hebrews

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Prolegamana (Philip Schaff)

"Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto Thee; and doest promise, that when two or three are gathered together in Thy name Thou wilt grant their requests: fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of Thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of Thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting, Amen."

This beautiful and comprehensive prayer, which is translated from the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, has made his name a household word wherever the Anglican Liturgy is known and used.

John, surnamed Chrysostom ('IoEURnnes Chrusostomos) is the greatest pulpit orator and commentator of the Greek Church, and still deservedly 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 preachers and commentators. An admiring posterity, since the close of the fifth century, has given him the surname Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), which has entirely superseded his personal name John, and which best expresses the general estimate of his merits.

His life may be divided into five periods: (1) His youth and training till his conversion and baptism, A.D. 347-370. (2) His ascetic and monastic life, 370-381. (3) His public life as priest and preacher at Antioch, 381-398. (4) His episcopate at Constantinople, 398-404. (5) His exile to his death, 404-407.

John (the name by which alone he is known among contemporary writers and his first biographers) was born in 347, at Antioch, the capital of Syria, and the home of the mother church of Gentile Christianity, where the disciples of Jesus were first called "Christians."

Chrysostom was one of those rare men who combine greatness and goodness, genius and piety, and continue to exercise by their writings and example a happy influence upon the Christian church. He was a man for his time and for all times. But we must look at the spirit rather than the form of his piety, which bore the stamp of his age.

He took Paul for his model, but had a good deal of the practical spirit of James, and of the fervor and loveliness of John. The Scriptures were his daily food, and he again and again recommended their study to laymen as well as ministers. He was not an ecclesiastical statesman, like St. Ambrose, not a profound divine like St. Augustin, but a pure man, a practical Christian, and a king of preachers. "He carried out in his own life," says Hase, "as far as mortal man can do it, the ideal of the priesthood which he once described in youthful enthusiasm." He considered it the duty of every Christian to promote the spiritual welfare of his fellowmen. "Nothing can be more chilling," he says in the 20th Homily on Acts, "than the sight of a Christian who makes no effort to save others. Neither poverty, nor humble station, nor bodily infirmity can exempt men and women from the obligation of this great duty. To hide our light under pretense of weakness is as great an insult to God as if we were to say that He could not make His sun to shine."

Chrysostom was the most fruitful author among the Greek Fathers. Suidas makes the extravagant remark that only the omniscient God could recount all his writings. The best have been preserved and have already been noticed in chronological order. They may be divided into five classes:(1) Moral and ascetic treatises, including the work on the Priesthood; (2) About six hundred Homilies and Commentaries; (3) Occasional, festal and panegyrical orations; (4) Letters; (5) Liturgy.

His most important and permanently useful works are his Homilies and Commentaries, which fill eleven of the thirteen folio volumes of the Benedictine edition. They go together; his homilies are expository, and his commentaries are homiletical and practical. Continuous expositions, according to chapter and verse, he wrote only on the first eight chapters of Isaiah, and on the Epistle to the Galatians. All others are arranged in sermons with a moral application at the close. Suidas and Cassiodorus state that he wrote commentaries on the whole Bible. We have from him Homilies on Genesis, the Psalms, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, the Acts, the Pauline Epistles including the Hebrews, which he considered Pauline. Besides, he delivered discourses on separate texts of Scripture, on church festivals, eulogies on apostles and martyrs, sermons against the Pagans, against the Jews and Judaizing Christians, against the Arians, and the famous twenty-one orations on the Statues.

Chrysostom belonged to the Antiochian school of theology and exegesis, and is its soundest and most popular representative. It was founded by his teacher Diodor of Tarsus (d. 393), developed by himself and his fellow-student Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 429), and followed by Theodoret and the Syrian and Nestorian divines. Theodore was the exegete, Chrysostom the homilist, Theodoret the annotator. The school was afterwards condemned for its alleged connection with the Nestorian heresy; but that connection was accidental, not necessary. Chrysostom's mind was not given to dogmatizing, and too well balanced to run into heresy.

The Antiochian school agreed with the Alexandrian school founded by Origen, in maintaining the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, but differed from it in the method of interpretation, and in a sharper distinction between the Old and the New Testaments, and the divine and human elements in the same.

To Origen belongs the great merit of having opened the path of biblical science and criticism, but he gave the widest scope to the allegorizing and mystical method by which the Bible may be made to say anything that is pious and edifying. Philo of Alexandria had used that method for introducing the Platonic philosophy into the Mosaic writings. Origen was likewise a Platonist, but his chief object was to remove all that was offensive in the literal sense. The allegorical method is imposition rather than exposition. Christ sanctions parabolic teaching and typical, but not allegorical, interpretation. Paul uses it once or twice, but only incidentally, when arguing from the rabbinical standpoint.

The Antiochian school seeks to explain the obvious grammatical and historical sense, which is rich enough for all purposes of instruction and edification. It takes out of the Word what is actually in it, instead of putting into it all sorts of foreign notions and fancies.

Chrysostom recognizes allegorizing in theory, but seldom uses it in practice, and then more by way of rhetorical ornament and in deference to custom. He was generally guided by sound common sense and practical wisdom. He was more free from arbitrary and absurd interpretations than almost any other patristic commentator. He pays proper attention to the connection, and puts himself into the psychological state and historical situation of the writer. In one word, he comes very near to what we now call the grammatico-historical exegesis. This is the only solid and sound foundation for any legitimate use of the Scriptures. The sacred writers had one definite object in view; they wished to convey one particular sense by the ordinary use of language, and to be clearly understood by their readers. At the same time the truths of revelation are so deep and so rich that they can be indefinitely expanded and applied to all circumstances and conditions. Interpretation is one thing, application is another thing. Chrysostom knew as well as any allegorist how to derive spiritual nourishment from the Scriptures and to make them "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto every good work."