The Preacher. His name was John, the surname of the Golden-Mouth having been given him after his death. He was born of a noble family, at Antioch, about 347. His mother, Arethusa, who was early left a widow, gave him the first masters of the age, but took care that the arts of the great rhetorician Libanius should not win him to heathenism. Having at first inclined to the law, he gave up this profession, and put himself under the care of Diodorus for the study of the Scriptures. After his baptism he spent six years in the desert, in ascetic exercise and study. Driven to the city by his delicate health, he was ordained deacon by Mleetius and afterward presbyter by Flavianus. The larger part of his active career was passed in preaching in the church at Antioch, where he gained such renown that in 398 he was made bishop of Constantinople. It was while presbyter at Antioch that he first preached most of his published sermons, among which were the famous discourses On the Statues. While in retirement, before he began preaching, as is supposed, he had written his work on the Priesthood. Into his new sphere, as administrator of the archdiocese of Constantinople, he carried the same unworldly principles which had thus far marked his life and preaching. It seems not to have occurred to him that there could be one standard of morals for humble life and another for ministers and princes. In the midst of the luxury and profuseness of the capital, with ample revenues at his command, he maintained his own simple habits of living and laboring. Instead of gracing the court with ecclesiastical retinues, soothing princes and ministers with delicate flatteries, and entertaining idle prelates at a bountiful table, he gave himself to the preaching of righteousness, the rebuking of sins, whether of senator or shop-man, the building of hospitals, the establishment of missions among the Scythians, the reform of abuses among the bishops and clergy under his care, and the casting of contempt upon the crowds of idle monks who hung upon the skirts of the court. He was more zealous in the establishment of holy shrines, and the conduct of toilsome processions in honor of the saints, than in the politic apportionment of the emoluments in his gift. This course was not calculated to attach to him the powers that were. Supported enthusiastically for a time by the empress, she afterward turned against him, and to accomplish his overthrow she summoned to Constantinople his bitterest enemy, Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria. A pretext for a charge of Origenism had been afforded by Chrysostom, in the kindly reception which he had given to four monks who had been driven from Egypt by Theophilus because they would not subscribe a condemnation of Origen. Aided by the court, Theophilus convened a synod at Chalcedon, which, overriding all semblance of law or justice, decreed Chrysostom's deposition. He was at once arrested and taken to Nicasa. The storm raised by the populace, who idolized him, soon compelled his recall, but it was only for a brief season. He knew no other aim of preaching but to denounce sin and win to righteousness, and the sins of the court could not escape him. Certain profane honors which had been paid to a statue erected to the Empress had also been denounced by him, and the report was spread abroad that he had begun a discourse with the words, "Herodias is again furious; Herodias again dances; she once more demands the head of John." Though this report was not true, the hostility of the Empress was so aroused that another council was convened, which, on the pretext that he had reassumed his office without a regular restoration, confirmed anew his deposition. He was exiled now to Cucusus, in the Taurus Mountains. In this solitude, besides carrying on a correspondence with bishops, East and West, he continued to prosecute missionary work, sending out preachers among Goths and Persians, and to care for churches in Armenia and Phoenicia. But such activity was not to the minds of his enemies, who persuaded the Emperor to order his transportation to Pityus on the Euxine. He never reached this place, for on the journey thither, worn out with fatigue and illness, he died, at Comana in Pontus, A. D. 307. His exile had led to a schism of his more devoted followers, who were called Johannists. Thirty years after his death, however, the schism was healed by the bringing back of his relics to Constantinople, and the act of the Emperor Theodosius II, in publicly imploring the forgiveness of God for his ancestors' sins against the saint.
Unquestionably the greatest preacher of the early Church, we admire in Chrysostom the man above the preacher, and in his preaching we admire the moral above the intellectual. It was an age to call forth such a preacher. There was now a lull in theological controversy, between the Councils of Constantinople and Ephesus, and energies which in Athanasius and the great Cappadocians had been turned to the overthrow of heresies were now left free for the attack of vice and corruption. To this sole end Chrysostom directed his powers, and with such success that people wept and princes trembled; his reward a martyr's crown, unsullied by being sought, and unmarred by being feared. To understand this power we must notice both how he spoke and what he uttered. Gregory Nazianzen was a great orator, but somehow we think of him as posing for effect. Chrysostom's eloquence was the natural outflow of his soul. His oratory can not better be characterized than in these words of Cardinal Newman: "Great as was his gift of oratory, it was not by the fertility of his imagination, or the splendor of his diction, that he gained the surname of 'Mouth of Gold.' We shall be very wrong if we suppose that fine expressions, or rounded periods, or figures of speech, were the credentials by which he claimed to be the first doctor of the East. His oratorical power was but the instrument by which he readily, gracefully, adequately expressed expressed without effort and with felicity the keen feelings, the living ideas, the earnest practical lessons which he had to communicate to his hearers. He spoke because his heart, his head, were brimful of things to speak about. His elocution corresponded to that strength and flexibility of limb, that quickness of eye, hand, and foot, by which a man excels in manly games or in mechanical skill. It would be a great mistake, in speaking of it, to ask whether it was Attic or Asiatic, terse or flowing, when its distinctive praise was that it was natural. His unrivaled charm, as that of every really eloquent man, lies in his singleness of purpose, his fixed grasp of his aim, his noble earnestness."
But fervent speech, with golden tongue, yet needed, for power, an authoritative message. This Chrysostom always found in the Scriptures, his masterly use of which, learned from Diodorus, was far more to him than all the arts of Libanius. Straightforward and practical in his expositions, making the meaning so plain that the simplest might understand, he then drove home the truth with the authority of God, and summoned men before the bar of the Almighty to answer for their disobedience.
Translations of many of the homilies, and of the treatise on the Priesthood, fortunately make this author more accessible than are most of the Greek fathers.
Under this head may be included the greater part of Chrysostom's voluminous works. The homilies examine and comment upon a large part of the Scriptures, besides treating of many individual points of morals and doctrine.
Homilies upon Entire Books.
GENESIS.The sixty-seven homilies upon this book are rather of the nature of commentaries than sermons. They interpret the text literally, their subjects being commonly the various examples of virtue and vice contained in the history. The style is plain in comparison with that of most of Chrysostom's sermons. In addition to this series there are extant nine other homilies upon various passages in Genesis.
PSALMS.These, too, are of the hermeneutical order. They are sixty in number and treat upon nearly half of the psalter. They follow the Septuagint version, but make frequent references to the differences of ancient versions, and sometimes quote the Hebrew text. Besides these plainer homilies upon the text, we have a number of more elaborate discourses upon particular passages of the Psalms.
Matthew. The number of these is ninety. They were preached at Antioch, and, as is generally supposed, in the latter part of his ministry there. Their main object is moral. Their plan is to search out the meaning and application of particular passages, and then to conclude with a stirring exhortation to some particular virtue. Some of the most noteworthy appeals are in favor of alms-giving, which virtue was given a very exalted estimate by Chrysostom. He also opposes the theatres, praises the monks, and attacks heresies, particularly the Anomoean and Manichaean.
In the fifty-fifth homily we find quoted the following form of grace before meat which was used in one of the monasteries near Antioch. It is characteristic of Chrysostom that he commends this particularly for its ending, because it puts men in mind of the judgment, at a time when they are too apt to become dissipated.
"Blessed God who feedest me from my youth up, who givest food to all flesh, fill our hearts with joy and gladness, that always having all-sufficiency, we may abound unto every good work in Christ Jesus our Lord: with whom be unto Thee glory, honor, and might, with the Holy Ghost, forever. Amen. Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee, O Holy One, glory to Thee, O King, that Thou hast given us meat to make us glad. Fill us with the Holy Ghost, that we may be found well pleasing before Thee, not being ashamed when Thou renderest to every man according to his works." Hom. 4.
JOHN. Eighty-seven homilies are devoted to the fourth Gospel. Compared with those on Matthew, they are shorter and more controversial. They were delivered at Antioch, to select audiences, early in the day. The doctrinal arguments are directed chiefly against the Anomoeans, who held that the Son was not born of like substance with the Father. The rhetorical connection of the sentiments and arguments of the text is traced with much ingenuity. Among other exhortations is urged (Hom. 18) the duty of Christians to be able to defend their faith with arguments. As in all his preaching, Chrysostom here urges (see extract) the terrible nature of retribution as a motive to right action.
"What are we if we fail of that spectacle, if no one grant us then to behold our Lord? If thou who seest not the light of the sun endure a life more bitter than death, what is it likely that they who are deprived of that light must suffer? For in the one case the loss is confined to this one privation; but in the other it does not rest here;...for he who beholds not that light must not only be led into darkness, but must be burned continually and waste away and gnash his teeth and suffer ten thousand other dreadful things. Let us not permit ourselves, then, by making this brief time a time of carelessness and remissness, to fall into everlasting punishment; but let us do all things and make it all our business to attain to that felicity, and to keep far from that river of fire which rushes with a loud roaring before the terrible judgment-seat. For he who has once been cast in there must remain forever: there is no one to deliver him from his punishment, not father, nor mother, nor brother.... Revolving these things, then, and reflecting upon them continually, let us cleanse our life and make it lustrous, that we may see the Lord with boldness, and obtain the good things promised, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever and ever! Amen." Hom. 12.
ACTS.These fifty-four homilies are the least finished of any of Chrysostom's discourses. They were evidently written out by another hand, from notes made at their delivery, and were not revised by the preacher. They give a full exposition of the historical sense, and are marked by their just appreciation of the rhetorical elements in the apostolic discourses. Their teachings are no less valuable than those of the more finished homilies. The series is noteworthy as being the only one of its kind extant from the first ten centuries.
The EPISTLES. We have several series of homilies, aggregating two hundred and twenty-one, upon all the Pauline Epistles, including Hebrews, excepting Galatians. Upon this last epistle there is a commentary. A noteworthy passage is selected from one of the homilies on Colossians.
"Wait for no other teacher; thou hast the word of God. There is no teacher like it. Other teachers often conceal much, from vanity and envy. Hear this, ye men of the world, and provide yourselves with Bibles, as dispensaries for the health of your souls! Ignorance of the Holy Scriptures is the cause of all evils. If we go unarmed to the battle, how shall we escape? Throw not everything upon us: ye are sheep intrusted to us for guidance; yet are ye not irrational creatures, but sheep that are endowed with the gift of reason.... The grace of God has so ordered it that these books should be composed by publicans, fishermen, tent-makers, and shepherds, simple and illiterate men, in order that no ignorant person might resort to such an excuse, but that what was said might be understood by all, so that artisans, servants, widows, and the most uninstructed, might be able to profit by it. Take the Bible in thy hand; hold fast that which thou understandest; ruminate over those parts that are at present dark to thee; and if by repeated reading thou canst not discover the meaning, then go to the teacher and ask guidance." Hom. 9 on Colossiam
A writer of the seventeenth century (Du Pin, English translation, 1693) thus comments upon the introductory commentaries and concluding exhortation of these homilies: "In the commentary he gives a reason of the contents of the Gospel, examines all the circumstances thereof, weighs the words, and discovers in those places which seem most plain great numbers of fine things, to which no attention would have been given had he not taken notice of them. He keeps still to the literal sense, and of all explications he always chooses not the most subtle but the most natural. He seeks for no allegorical or figurative sense. He useth no far-fetched notions to prove his opinions; avoids all entangled and hard questions, contenting himself to make clear and useful observations upon the history and upon the text of St. Paul. He gives a perfect light to all the places of this apostle's epistles which seem most difficult, and particularly to those which are thought to speak of predestination and of grace. His expositions remove all that which at the first view makes them appear terrible and fearful. Everywhere God is represented as a good and merciful being, and willing to save all men, and who affords them all necessary means of salvation. Men are exhorted to answer that call of God, since it is their own fault if they be not saved, for those that are damned damn themselves. He tells them often that God requireth no impossible thing of them; that with God's help they may keep the commandments and practice virtue....
"All the exhortations that conclude St. Chrysostom's homilies are ordinarily about certain points of morality, as about the fear that men ought to stand in of God's judgments, the necessity of repentance, the contempt of riches, forgiving of enemies, humility, abstraction of the heart from worldly things, diligent meditation upon the holy Scriptures and God's laws, an abhorrence of plays and shows, charity toward the poor, alms and hospitality, brotherly reproof, the duties of husbands to their wives, of parents to their children, of masters to their servants, of laymen toward their pastors, patience in afflictions, that holiness wherewith men should come to the sacraments, the benefit of prayer and the conditions required therein, of fasting and the advantages of a monastical and solitary life, assiduity in divine offices, attention to preaching, sobriety, purity, modesty, meekness, clemency, contempt of death, and many other like subjects, which he handleth with such familiar and yet such solid and convincing reasons that there are no discourses more capable of inspiring notions of piety and virtue. He does not go about, as most preachers do, to set forth studied notions which direct the understanding, but do not touch the heart. He goes to the bottom of things, searches the secret folds of man's heart, and, not contented to have discovered and described vice, he begets a horror of it; he sets forth the most powerful motives to deter Christians from it, and the most proper means to correct it and to practice true and solid virtue. He stretches nothing too far, but distinguishes exactly the matter of a precept from the advice therein contained. He is neither too meek nor too severe; he is neither too familiar nor keeps too much distance; never complies beyond what is meet, nor terrifies to discouragement: in a word, his exhortations are an excellent pattern of preaching to the people."
Homilies upon Particular Passages.
From the numerous sermons of this class, most of which are upon New Testament passages, we give almost entire the homily on the Talents, it being a characteristic discourse.
On the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 18).
"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants." Let us not pass lightly over these words, but pause over that rigorous judgment which is to take place. Entering into thy conscience, examine whatsoever deeds thou hast done in thy whole life, and as the account is here given of the king who would take account of his servants, picture to yourself all men gathered at the feet of the sovereign Judge kings, emperors, generals, governors, rich and poor, bond and free for "we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ," says the apostle. If thou art rich, reflect that thou wilt have to render an account of thy wealth: whether thou hast expended it upon courtesans, flatterers, and parasites, or upon making glad the poor; whether in the service of luxury or in doing good; whether upon the pleasures of the table or for the solace of the afflicted. Thou wilt have to respond not only as to the use of thy possessions, but also concerning their acquirement. Hast thou gained these by honest toil, or by violence and craftiness? Are they a heritage from ancestors, or dost thou enjoy them at the cost of despoiling the widow and the orphan? God will do toward us as we have done toward our servants: we compel them to account to us, not only for the money which they have spent, but also for what they have received of whom, how, and when they received it. The poor man also must give account of his poverty, whether he has borne it with courage and resignation, or with murmurs and complaints against the divine Providence which has left him in straits, side by side with the rich reveling in opulence and pleasure. Has he himself obeyed the precept concerning alms-giving? for no one is absolved, not even the poor, as witness that poor widow of the Gospel who gave only two mites, and whose modest offering surpassed the bounty of the rich.
Magistrates and judges will also be compelled to give account of their administration: whether they have corrupted justice by giving decrees through favor or prejudice, have surrendered it to the seductions of flattery, and have abused their authority to condemn the innocent. Ministers at the altar too will be examined with no less severity. They above all must experience a most rigorous inquiry. Charged with the keeping of the holy word, they will have to answer as to whether they have left their people ignorant of anything which it concerned them to know; whether they have suffered any negligence in their teaching; whether they have faithfully practiced what they preached. Even more particularly must the bishop, from the preeminence of his dignity, render account of the instruction of his people, of the care of the poor, of his ordination, and of all the details of his ministry. We shall be asked not only as to our actions but also as to our words, as to the part we have taken in slanderous and calumniating conversations, even as to our thoughts. The apostle advises of this, saying, "Therefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will manifest the counsels of the heart."
Apply, then, the parable to all ages, conditions, and sexes. Think upon that dreadful judgment! Recall all the sins of thy life. They may be effaced from thy memory; they are always present to the eye of God, unless thou hast expiated them by penitence, confession, and sincere conversion. Why will he cause us to give account? Not that he who knows all things before they come to pass is ignorant of our works; but to convince thee, his servant, that thou legitimately owest thy debt to him; or rather, not simply that thou mayst recognize all thy debts, but that thou mayst pay them. With this purpose it was that he gave to his prophet to proclaim to the house of Israel their iniquities, that they might perceive them, and, above all, correct them.
"And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents."... Man, when he gets the mastery of his debtor, thinks of him as his prey; he congratulates himself, and neglects no means for making him pay. If the poverty of the debtor makes it impossible for him to obtain anything, he gets his pay out of his person in the bad treatment to which he makes him submit. God does quite the contrary. He leaves nothing undone to set the debtor free. We enrich ourselves with the debts which are paid to us. God is enriched in remitting our debts.
"But forasmuch as he had not to pay." He had nothing to pay? A new proof this of his unfaithfulness. "He had not to pay" means that he was destitute of good works; that he had nothing to compensate for his sins; that he had to redeem him neither good works nor sufferings. As says the apostle, who declares, in connection with good works, that "when a man worketh not but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness"; and as to tribulations, that "such a man is to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his soul may be saved." This man devoid of all good works was overwhelmed with the great weight of his iniquity. "But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold." Nevertheless, the rest of the parable proves that the order was not executed, thanks to the indulgence of the lord. If he had intended to do it, who would have prevented him? Why then command it, if he did not wish to sell him? That he might intimidate him by the threat, might make him a suppliant, and so do him favor. He could without doubt have remitted his debt, pardoned him before being besought by him, before making him give an account; he preferred, however, to make known to him first the greatness of his debt, then to remit it to him entirely. You are to see how harsh and unmerciful he was toward his companion after these menaces to himself and after the pardon which was granted him: what would it have been if the Lord had not employed these means to soften him? The Lord did everything that was possible to subdue the harshness of his soul; if he was not corrected, it was not the fault of the master, but of himself, who refused all the means used for his correction.
"He fell down and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me and I will pay thee all."... Let us all learn, if negligent in praying, what efficacy there is in prayer! The servant had, to bring forward, neither fasting, nor voluntary poverty, nor any sort of merit; but he prays, and this is enough to obtain for himself commiseration. Let us not cease, then, to pray! You have not heard this man so stained with iniquity say, "I am afraid, I dare not speak to my lord; how shall I bring myself to speak to him?" The language, this, of those sinners whom the demon of fear overcomes. Thou art timid, O my brother! for this reason it is that thou shouldst approach, that thou mayst gain confidence. Is he whom thou wouldst appease a man, that thou shouldst blush to pray to him? No, it is God, who more than thou thyself desires to remit to thee thine offenses; is more intent than thou thyself upon thy salvation. How many proofs has he not given thee? Thou lackest confidence? That, indeed, is the very thing which should give it to thee. The less we think ourselves worthy of grace, the surer we are of obtaining it. To pretend to be just in the eyes of God would be the strangest kind of temerity, and, whatever justice one might have with regard to everything else, this presumption would destroy all merit of it. But to be persuaded that one is the last of men is a real title to justice: witness the Pharisee and the publican. Let us, then, not lose courage; let not the sense of our sins cast us down in dejection;, but let us draw nigh to God, cast ourselves at his feet, implore his mercy as the servant did here. Happy had he persevered! but his conduct was soon to belie itself.
"Then the lord was moved with compassion, and loosed him and forgave him the debt." The servant had asked only for delay; the lord gives to him a full discharge; he has thus obtained more than he asked. This is what led Saint Paul to say, "He who is able to do exceeding abundantly more than we can ask or even think." No, thou knowest not how to imagine all that God is able to do for thee. Have, then, no shame; if thou blushest, let it be only on account of thy sins, but do not despair; do not give up prayer; draw nigh, sinner that thou art, in order to soften thy master and give him occasion to signalize his mercy in the pardon of thy sins.....
"But the same servant went out and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him three hundred pence, and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest."
Can anything more criminal be conceived? The kindness of his master is still very recent, and already he has forgotten it. You see what advantage there is in preserving the memory of one's sins. If the servant of the gospel had not forgotten his, he would not have become so harsh and so barbarous. Therefore it is that I repeat to you and shall not cease to do so, how useful and necessary it is to have always present to our thought the sins which we have committed, because nothing is more suited to preserve us in the moderation of sweetness and fraternal love.... This man forgets both his debt and the favor which had been done to him. His ingratitude makes him cruel, and by his inhumanity he loses all that the divine compassion had availed him. "He laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest." He does not say, Pay me a hundred pence: he would have been ashamed to name so small a sum; but, "Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, Have patience with me and I will pay thee all." The same words are used to win him to which he owed his pardon. To grant pardon after he had himself been pardoned was thus a binding obligation rather than an act of generosity. What a difference, again, in the nature of the debt and in the character of the creditors! On the one hand ten thousand talents, on the other a hundred pence; here a lord offended by his servant, there a man of the same condition as the servant....
"So when his fellow-servants saw what was done they were indignant." They are the first to condemn him, Scripture says. The goodness of the lord becomes still more apparent by this. He, having learned what had happened, summons the servant cites him anew to his tribunal. But, having pronounced sentence, he still deigns to enter into a discussion. "Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt." Wicked! when the offense was personal to himself he had not used this term. It is only as the servant shows himself harsh toward his fellow-servant that he is irritated and indignant, in order to teach us that he pardons our offenses toward himself more easily than our sins toward our brethren....
"And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors." What, then, more fatal than the spirit of vengeance, since it recalls an act of the divine bounty? What the other sins have not been able to do to the heart of God, hatred against one's neighbor has effected. However, it is written, "The gifts of God are without repentance." Why, then, revoke his favor in this case? Because there is no sin more odious than the spirit of vengeance. Others may find favor; this alone, far from obtaining pardon, causes even those to revive which pardon had effaced. The spirit of vengeance thus produces a double evil: first, that of being inexcusable in the sight of God; again, that of recalling and reproducing all other sins even after they have been pardoned.... Let us labor to banish from our hearts all resentment, to conciliate the affections of those whom we might have for enemies, persuaded that neither prayer, nor fasting, nor almsgiving, nor participation in the holy mysteries, nothing, in a word, will be able to defend us in the last day if we have maintained animosity against our neighbor; and that if, on the contrary, we give up our resentment, whatever may be the number of our sins, we may be able to obtain pardon. It is not I who say this, but God himself, who is to judge us. "So, likewise," he says to us in his gospel, "shall my heavenly Father do also unto you if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
Sermons upon Doctrinal Subjects.
These are comparatively few in number, the more noteworthy among them being six sermons against the Jews, six upon the incomprehensible nature of God, against the Anomoeans, and a discourse upon consubstantiality.
It is only for convenience that we give this name to a single class of Chrysostom's discourses, for they almost all enforce strenuously some moral obligation. The score or more of homilies, however, which are so designated treat of such topics as penance, fasting, prayer, alms-giving, gluttony, laziness, meekness, despair, etc.
Homilies upon Festival Days and on the Saints.
Among these are sermons upon Christ's nativity, baptism, passion, resurrection, and ascension, upon the Holy Week, and upon Pentecost. The panegyrics embrace one upon all the saints, one upon all the holy martyrs, and about thirty upon various scriptural and later saints and martyrs.
We have sermons preached when he was made a priest, when he was banished, when he returned from his exile, etc.; but the most celebrated of all these special discourses are the sermons on the statues, of which we give an account.
Sermons on the Statues.
In preaching this series of sermons, Chrysostom found the opportunity of his life for winning men from the world unto God, an opportunity which he nobly used. Other sermons of his were more carefully elaborated, these being preached in almost daily succession and in the midst of the most distracting scenes; others, like the homilies on John, moved upon a higher plane of thought; but viewed with regard to the true ends of preaching the Word to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, to comfort and convert the homilies on the statues were the grandest sermons of the grandest preacher of what was only then ceasing to be a grand age of Christianity. The occasion of these sermons was the throwing down by a mob of the statues of the imperial family in the city of Antioch, and the consequent apprehension of the vengeance of Theodosius upon the city. No public calamity could, in these days of responsible power, be foreboded with such feelings of terror as racked the citizens of Antioch. What Theodosius was capable of doing, and what they might expect from his unrestrained wrath, was shown three years later, when for a seditious offense, he gave over the city of Thessalonica to the fury of barbarian troops, who in three hours butchered seven thousand people. Many of the wealthier citizens fled from what they thought a doomed town. The great mass who remained cowered before the expected blow, which could only be averted by the intercession of the bishop, Flavian, who had hastened to Constantinople to implore the Emperor's mercy. It was now at the beginning of Lent; never was a penitential season more marked with gloom, and never did a Christian preacher meet the demands upon him of such an occasion more worthily than did Chrysostom. The first sermon of the series had been preached a few days before the sedition, and the burden of its exhortation had been the sin of blasphemy to which the Antiochians would seem to have been especially addicted. The heroic treatment which John suggested for the cure of this sin, and the bold claim which he then made, that the Christians were the saving elements in the city, gave promise of the spirit with which he would throw himself into the work of castigating and comforting the afflicted people! In the first sermon after the outbreak, he portrays most vividly, in contrast with its former glory, the present desolation of the city. "The forum is deserted; men sit trembling in their houses, with their servants, or are seized and dragged to the courts without ceremony and just as chance directs. The very nature of the air and even the circle of the sun's beams now seem to me to look mournful, and to shine more dimly." Here he could have wished to stop, for his anguished hearers, like the Jews of old time who, while slaving at the mud and bricks, could not listen to Moses as he told them of great things awaiting them, would feel too sad to hear. Nevertheless, his message, he expects, will be as the sun dissipating gloomy clouds, and he will ask their attention. Had they done as he had asked, and rebuked the blasphemy and insolence of the few, the whole city had not now been in terror. "These things I foretold, and they have now actually taken place, and we are paying the penalty of that listlessness. You overlooked the insult that was done unto God. Behold, he hath permitted the Emperor to be insulted, and peril to the utmost to hang over all." Yet even now, "chastised by our present calamity, let us restrain the inordinate madness of these men. Let us shut up their mouths, even as we close up pestiferous fountains; let us turn them to a contrary course, and the evils which have taken hold of the city shall be entirely stopped." The sermon then proceeds upon the subject of riches, from the text, "Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded." In the beginning of the third homily, Chrysostom encourages the people by foretelling the favorable influence of Flavian upon the emperor. The very appearance of the saint will have power. "He will also call to his aid the season, and bring forward the sacred festival of the Passover, and will remind him of the season when Christ remitted the sins of the whole world. He will exhort him to imitate his Lord. He will also remind him of the parable of the ten thousand talents and the hundred pence. I know the boldness of our father, that he will not hesitate to alarm him from the parable and to say, 'Take heed lest thou also hear it said in that day, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee, etc.'" After declaring the more than princely dignity of the bishop, and showing that the people's hope is in God, he addresses himself to his work of awakening penitence.' Fasting is a true medicine, but it must be rightly used, and is useless except we abstain from sin. Evil and calumnious speaking is to be abjured, for as we judge we shall be judged. But, if we may not thus lift up our tongues against men, how much more heinous is our conduct toward God! Notwithstanding this, what a contrast there is between the forbearance of God and the dreadful punishments now being meted out by the authorities of the city! "Blessed be God," begins homily four, for already the people are flocking from all sides to the church as a refuge from the storm. The exhortation, continued also in the next homily, is mainly upon fortitude and patience, the examples of Job, the three children of Babylon, and the Ninevites being used. Both homilies, as indeed do most in this series, conclude with an appeal against the use of oaths. The subject of the fear of death, which had been brought up in the fifth, is treated further in the sixth homily, and men are urged to fear not them that kill the body but are not able to kill the soul.
Hope is held out that Flavian will succeed with the emperor, and the usual exhortation is given upon oaths. In the several homilies following, the preacher gets entirely away from the present, and discourses upon the truths of revelation and upon various themes of natural theology. Not a few pagans had been driven to the church as the only place where they could now find solace. To these Chrysostom would offer something besides his scathing denunciations of sin, and happy words of consolation. They must know the grounds of his hope, and the scope of the argument upon which he now enters shows that he was laying for them broad and sure foundations upon which they might step forward into the fold. Homily thirteen once more gives a large space to the affairs of the city at the time when the court was sitting to try offenders, and pictures of the misery which Chrysostom had then seen are used to soften the hearts of his hearers. The next discourse treats for the most part of the use of rash vows, enjoining the people therefrom by the examples of Herod, Jephthah, and Saul. At the beginning of the fifteenth, the advantages of fear are set forth, and the happy effect upon the city of their troubles. A scathing rebuke is given the people in the sixteenth, on account of their pusillanimity on the occasion of the entrance into the church of the prefect, a heathen, who had come to assure them against an alarm which had been started in the city. The following discourse speaks of the band of monks who came into the city from the neighboring mountains and met the imperial commissioners, and by their saintly presence compelled their mercy until they should receive further instructions from the Emperor; also of the part that the clergy had borne in the deliverance of the city. After mentioning the humiliation which the Emperor had justly put upon their once proud metropolis, and speaking of the puerile lamentations over the same which he had heard in the forum, the preacher asserts that the true title of Antioch to greatness is her relations to Christianity: because there first the disciples were called Christians; because of the charity of those early Christians at the time of famine; and because of their zeal to uphold pure doctrines in opposition to Jewish observances. The three succeeding sermons treat of various practical subjects appropriate to the penitential season, such as fasting, sympathy for the afflicted, impatience, swearing, malice entertaining which we should not communicate carelessness in devotion, perseverance, and repentance, the twentieth closing with threats of discipline toward those who shall have failed to free themselves entirely from the habit of swearing, before Easter. The last homily, pronounced after the return of Flavian, gives an account of the bishop's mission to the emperor, his reception, his address, and the emperor's magnanimous response. The series concludes with an appeal to the people, in view of such signal blessings, to show the true gladness. "What, therefore, ye did then (when the news of pardon came) in crowning the forum with garlands, in lighting lamps, in spreading couches of green leaves before the shops, and keeping high festival, as if the city had been just now born; this do ye, although in another manner, throughout all time: being crowned not with flowers but with virtue; lighting up throughout your whole souls the luster that is from good works; rejoicing with a spiritual gladness.
1. "But since our discourse has now turned to the subject of blasphemy, I desire to ask one favor of you all, in return for this my address and speech with you: which is, that you will correct on my behalf the blasphemers of this city. And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God, reproach, rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so. Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify thy hand with the blow, and if any should accuse thee, and drag thee to the place of justice, follow them thither; and when the judge on the bench calls thee to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels. For if it be necessary to punish those who blaspheme an earthly king, much more so those who treat him contemptuously. It is a common crime, a public injury, and it is lawful for every one who is willing to bring forward an accusation. Let the Jews and Greeks learn that the Christians are the saviors of the city, that they are its guardians, its patrons, and its teachers. Let the dissolute and the rebellious also learn this: that they may fear the servants of God too; that if at any time they are inclined to utter such a thing, they may look around every way at each other, and tremble even at their own shadows, anxious lest perchance a Christian, having heard what they said, should leap forward and sharply chastise them." Hom. 1:12.
2. "Let us not, then, despair of our safety, but let us pray; let us make invocation; let us supplicate; let us send an embassy to the King that is above with many tears. We have this fast too as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession. Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep, and the soldier burnishes his arms and makes ready his steed for the battle, and the husbandman sharpens his sickle, and the traveler boldly undertakes long journeys, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest, so, too, when the fast appears, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen, let us sharpen our sickle; and as sailors, let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travelers, let us set out on the journey toward heaven; and as wrestlers, let us strip for the contest.... Hast thou observed the wrestler? Hast thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behooves thee to stand armed at all points for the battle. How, then, are both these things possible, to be naked and yet not naked? to be clothed and yet not clothed? How? I will tell thee. Divest thyself of worldly cares, and thou hast become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual armor, and thou hast become a soldier. Strip thyself of worldly thoughts, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe thyself with a spiritual panoply, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons." Hom. 3:3.
3. "Permit me that I now say to you at a fitting time, Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children.' For this is a childish terror of ours, if we fear death, but are not fearful of sin. Little children, too, have a fear of masks, but fear not the fire. On the contrary, if they are carried by accident near a lighted candle, they stretch out the hand without any concern toward the candle and the flame; yet a mask which is utterly contemptible terrifies them, whereas they have no dread of fire, which is really a thing to be afraid of. Just so, we too have a fear of death, which is a mask that might well be despised; but have no fear of sin, which is truly dreadful, and, even as fire, devours the conscience. So that, if we were once to consider what death is, we should at no time be afraid of it. What, then, I pray you, is death? Just what it is to put off a garment. For the body is about the soul as a garment, and after laying this aside for a short time, by means of death, we shall resume it again with the more splendor. What is death, at most? It is a journey for a season; a sleep longer than usual. So that, if thou fearest death, thou shouldst also fear sleep. If, for those who are dying, thou art pained, grieve for those too who are eating and drinking, for as this is natural so is that. Let not natural things sadden thee; rather let things which arise from an evil choice make thee sorrowful. Sorrow not for the dying man; but sorrow for him who is living in sin." Hom. 5:3.
4. "Wherefore it is necessary for me again to have recourse to the same entreaty that I made before. For lately I besought you that each one taking the head of John, just cut off and the warm blood dropping from it, you would thus go home and think that you saw it before your eyes, while it emitted a voice, and said, 'Abhor my murderer, the oath!' What a rebuke did not effect, this oath effected; what a tyrant's wrath was insufficient for, this, the necessity of keeping an oath, brought about. And when the tyrant was publicly rebuked in the hearing of all, he bore the censure nobly; but when he had thrown himself into the fatal necessity caused by oaths, then he cut off that blessed head. This same thing, therefore, I entreat; and cease not entreating that wherever we go, we go bearing this head, and that we show it to all, crying aloud as it does and denouncing oaths. For, although we were never so listless and remiss, yet, beholding the eyes of that head fearfully glaring upon us, and threatening us if we swear, we should be more powerfully kept in check by this terror than by any curb, and be easily able to restrain and curb the tongue from its inclination toward oaths." Hom. 14:1.
5. "Seest thou what advantage is come of fear? If fear were not a good thing, fathers would not have set schoolmasters over their children, nor lawgivers magistrates for cities. What can be more grievous than hell? Yet nothing is more profitable than the fear of it: for the fear of hell will bring us the crown of the kingdom. Where fear is, there is no envy; where fear is, the love of money does not disturb; where fear is, anger is quenched, evil concupiscence is repressed, and every unreasonable passion is exterminated. And even as in a house where there is always a soldier under arms, no robber, nor house-breaker, nor any such evil-doer will dare to make his appearance, so also, while fear holds possession of our minds, none of the unruly passions will readily attack us, but all fly off and are banished, being driven away in every direction by the power of fear. And not only this advantage do we gain from fear, but also another which is far greater. For not only, indeed, does it expel our evil passions, but it also introduces every kind of virtue with great facility. When fear exists, there is zeal in alms-giving, and intensity of prayer, and tears warm and frequent, and groans fraught with compunction. For nothing so swallows up sin, and makes virtue to increase and flourish, as the nature of a perpetual dread. Therefore, it is impossible for him who does not live in fear to act aright; as, on the other hand, it is impossible that the man who lives in fear can go wrong.
"Let us not, then, grieve, beloved, let us not despond on account of the present tribulation, but let us admire the well-devised plan of God's wisdom. For by these very means through which the devil hoped to overturn our city, hath God restored and corrected it. The devil animated certain lawless men to treat the statues of the emperor contemptuously, in order that the very foundations of the city might be razed. But God employed this same circumstance for our greater correction, driving out all sloth by the dread of the expected wrath, and the thing has turned out directly opposite to what the devil wished, by the means which he had himself prepared. For our city every day becomes more purified, and the lanes, and crossings, and places of public concourse are freed from lewd and effeminate songs, and turn where we will there are supplications, and thanksgivings, and tears, instead of rude laughter; there are words of sound wisdom, instead of obscene language, and our whole city has become a church, the workshops being closed, all being engaged throughout the day in these general prayers, and calling upon God with much earnestness with one united voice. What preaching, what admonition, what counsel, what length of time had ever availed to accomplish these things?" Hom. 15:1.
6. "And as soon as he came to that great city, and had entered the royal palace, he stood before the emperor at a distance speechless, weeping, with downcast eyes covering his face, as if he himself had been the doer of all the mischiefs; and this he did, wishing first to incline him to mercy by his posture, and aspect, and tears, and then to begin an apology on our behalf; since there is but one hope of pardon for those who have offended, which is to be silent, and to utter nothing in defense of what has been done. For he was desirous that one feeling should be got rid of, and that another should take its place; that anger should be expelled, and sadness introduced, in order that he might thus prepare the way for the words of his apology.... The emperor, therefore, when he saw him shedding tears, and bending toward the ground, himself drew near, and what he really felt, on seeing the tears of the priest, he made evident by the words he addressed to him; for they were not those of a person provoked or inflamed, but of one in sorrow; not of one enraged, but rather dejected, and under constraint of extreme pain."
[The emperor pleaded his benefactions to the city and his declared purpose to visit it, and urged that he had not deserved such unkind treatment. The bishop responded in words from which the following are taken:]
"We must confess, O emperor, this love which you have shown toward our country. We can not deny it. On this account especially we mourn that, thus beloved as she was, the demons should have envied her, and that we should have appeared ungrateful toward her benefactor, and have provoked her ardent lover. And although you were to overthrow, although you were to burn, although you were to put to death, or whatever else you might do, you would never yet have taken on us the revenge we deserve. We ourselves have, by anticipation, inflicted on ourselves a thousand deaths. For what can be more bitter than when we are found to have unjustly provoked our benefactor, and one who loved us so much, and the whole world knows it and sets us down for the most monstrous ingratitude?
"But yet, O emperor, if you are willing, there is a remedy for the wound, and a medicine for these evils, mighty as they are. Often, indeed, has it occurred among private individuals that great and insufferable offenses have become a foundation for great affection. Thus also did it happen in the case of our kind. For when God made man, and placed him in paradise, and held him in much honor, the devil could not bear this his great prosperity, and envied him, and cast him out from that dignity which had been granted. But God was so far from forsaking him that he even opened heaven to us instead of paradise, and in so doing both showed his own loving-kindness and punished the devil the more severely. So, now, also do thou! The demons have lately used all their efforts, that they may effectually rend from your favor that city which was dearest of all to you. Knowing this, then, demand what penalty you will, but let us not become outcasts from your former love!" Hom. 22.
The treatises of Chrysostom are few compared with his discourses, and with one exception are of minor importance. This exception is his celebrated work on the priesthood.
Chrysostom on the Priesthood.
The work, which is in six books, is arranged in the form of a dialogue between Chrysostom and his friend Basil. The friendship of these two had been very intimate, and Basil, in order to have more of the companionship of Chrysostom, who at that time frequented the courts and the stage, proposed that they take up a common residence. This Chrysostom's mother strongly opposed, urging how much need she, a widow, had of her son's company. While this question was pending, it was rumored that both the friends were to be ordained to the priesthood, a report which awakened in Chrysostom great fear and perplexity. Nevertheless, when his friend came to consult about it, he led him to think that he should not avoid ordination, lest Basil also should refuse, and through this deception Basil was ordained, while Chrysostom was not. When all was known, Basil was in great grief over his friend's desertion; but he passed over his personal grievance in his great anxiety to obtain from Chrysostom some answer which he might make to the charges which men were making that he, a stripling, had shown arrogance and contumely in rejecting an office which older and wiser men might have coveted. First answering for the deception of his friend, Chrysostom says that, it being to Basil's profit, such deceit was justifiable, since the evil of deceit is not in the act but in the intent. "For deceit, when well-timed and practiced with a right intention, is so profitable that many have often been punished because they have not circumvented." This principle he endeavors to sustain by illustrations from military and medical practice, and also from Scripture examples.
Book 2. Chrysostom claims that by his course Basil has been led to give evidence of his love for Christ, for said the Lord to Peter, "Lovest thou me?" and when he assented, then said he, "Feed my sheep." This work of feeding the sheep can be intrusted only to men who are pre-eminent over their fellows. "Let the distance between the pastor and his charge be as great as the difference between rational men and irrational creatures, that I say not even greater; because the danger affects much greater interests." This because the loss to one who loses his sheep is the loss of his own soul, and because his enemies are very terrible. The priest must be able to discern men's infirmities, and, using persuasion, not force, he must not be too tender nor yet too severe, so holding the high-spirited and winning back the scattered sheep. Basil asking if, then, Chrysostom does not love Christ, he replies that he does, but that, through his weakness, he is incompetent for such a high trust; unskillful, he would have done harm. His friend, on the other hand, he says, has the requisite love, which is the distinctive Christian mark, and also the needed prudence. As to slights given to men by his refusal of ordination, Chrysostom claims that he has no need to give account to men when it is a question of offending God. Still he has not slighted, but has the rather honored them, by saving them from charges that, passing over mature and devoted men of humble rank in the church, they had from selfish motives laid hands upon mere boys fresh from secular life.
Book 3. As to arrogance in declining the priesthood, Chrysostom declares the charge absurd; for he deems the priesthood of as much greater dignity than a kingship as the spirit is greater than the flesh. As well might one charge human nature with pride in not aspiring to the dignity of angels. The priestly office, though exercised on earth, was instituted of the Paraclete, and is a tremendous trust. The dignity of a priest, as a minister of grace, is above that of archangels. For the priest binds and looses; eternal life and the escape from Gehenna are made dependent upon him. Even Paul was fearful, in view of the greatness of his rule. What ought not I, incompetent, to fear! The loss to be incurred by the unworthy is not of property but of souls, in the abyss of fire. Then, in these times, when so many madly rush into the office from vain-glory, one to be fitted for the office should be free from desire for place, which I am not. A priest, too, should be sober-minded, clearsighted, myriad-eyed, whereas I am sluggish; I should, too, be prone to anger under trials, and all are ready to see at once the failings of a priest and to thrust him down. Besides, a priest has a difficult task in deciding upon the promotion of others to office; in caring for widows, and dispensing the treasures of the church, so that they may not accumulate and may not waste; in the watch-care of virgins, and in exercising the office of judge.
Book 4. "Had you rushed into the ministry of yourself," says Basil, "you might then have been fearful." "Nay," responds his friend," the not desiring the office will be no excuse, as witness the case of Saul and others. Those who hastily ordain others are truly without excuse, for they do not so buy a slave. Still their guilt will not excuse the one ordained. And how great is the trust of a church of Christ! A minister must have great powers for public discourse, must be able to understand and repel all heresies, and must know how to divert men from unprofitable reasonings." "But Paul," says Basil, "confesses himself to be mean of speech." "Were this so," Chrysostom answers, "he had miraculous gifts to sustain him; but he was not without great power in speech, for he was abundantly skilled in doctrine. His eloquence appears everywhere in his speeches and his epistles."
Book 5. Great labor must be given by the preacher to preparing his discourse, and he must learn to despise applause. He must not be wholly unmindful of criticism, nor must he unduly fear it. The learned even more than the unlearned must be diligent, as so much is demanded of them. One should not be too much dejected by the want of appreciation by the ignorant. Only let him prepare his discourse with a sole view to serving God, and forego applause.
Book 6. The watchman set to guard the people will be responsible for their sins. "The soul of the priest should be purer than the very solar rays, that the Holy Spirit may never leave him desolate, and that he may be able to say, 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'" He must be more circumspect than monks, as his charge is so much greater. He has not only himself but the world to care for. What a man should he not be to pray for the world! To exercise this office one must be, not indeed a worldling, but one having such a knowledge of the world that he can preserve himself in his integrity. In the exercise of his duties no part must be neglected. The women as well as the men must be conversed with, consoled, and rebuked. Nor must one subject himself without explanation to any suspicion of evil: for even Paul took precautions against being called a thief. "But," says Basil, "do you, who have avoided this office, think you can save yourself without trying to save others?" "Truly not," is the reply, "yet my peril is not now so great since I do not imperil the souls of others. In my retirement, too, I am measurably secure from the outbreak of my passions. But, beyond all these considerations, my shrinking is from the grief which it would have given me to see the Church of God in unworthy hands. That were like one, espoused to the fair daughter of a king, seeing her married to a base and contemptible servant. It were like the intrusting of a great military and naval armament, confronted by fierce, and powerful enemies, to the command of a country stripling. For me to have taken this trust would have been to become a general for the devil. But why, my friend, do you weep? I am rather to be congratulated." "Yes," replies Basil, "but I? How shall I answer for myself? You, who led me into this place, do not now abandon me." "I will be true to you," says Chrysostom, "and encourage you amid your cares, and I shall hope that through your boldness in the ministry you may receive me also into your eternal tabernacle if I am in danger at that day."
1. "The priestly office is discharged upon earth, but holds the rank of heavenly things, and very rightly so. For not man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete himself instituted this order, and induced those who yet abode in the flesh to make manifest the ministry of angels. Wherefore it behooves him that is consecrated to be pure as one who stands in heaven itself among those powers.
"For when you behold the Lord sacrificed and prostrate, and the priest standing over the sacrifice and praying, and all stained with that precious blood, do you then suppose you are among men and standing upon earth? are you not immediately transported to heaven? and casting out every carnal idea from your soul, do you not with naked soul and pure mind contemplate things which are in heaven? O the marvel! O the love of God to man! He who sits with the Father on high is at that moment held in the hands of all, and gives himself to those who are willing to embrace him and receive him, and then all do this by the eyes [of faith]. Do these things appear to you to be worthy to be despised, or to be such that any one can be lifted up against them?" Book 3, chap. 4.
2. "For if no one can enter the kingdom of heaven except he be regenerated by water and the Spirit, and if he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord, and drink his blood, is excluded from eternal life, and if these things are accomplished only by those holy hands, the priests I mean, how will any one be able without them to escape the fire of Gehenna, or to obtain the crowns which are in store?" Book 3, chap. 5.
3. "What a man ought he to be who is ambassador for a whole city and why do I say for a city? for all the world! and who prays that God will be propitious to the sins of all men, not of the living only, but of the departed? I do not think the boldness of speech of Moses and of Elijah by any means adequate to such supplication. For he draws nigh to God, as though the whole world were committed to his care, and he himself the father of all men, praying that wars may be extinguished everywhere, and that troubles may be brought to an end, and entreating for every man peace and prosperity, and speedy deliverance from impending evils, both privately and publicly. And he must in all things excel all for whom he prays, as much as the ruler must excel the ruled.
"If he has invoked the Holy Ghost, and performed that most awful sacrifice, and constantly touched with his hands the common Lord of all, tell me where we shall rank him? What purity and what piety shall we demand of him? for consider what his hands ought to be which minister these things! what his tongue which utters such words! and what should be so pure and holy as his soul which receives so great a Spirit!
"Angels are there present with the priest, and the whole tribune and space around the altar is filled with heavenly powers in honor of him that is there." Book 6, chap. 4.
The extant letters of Chrysostom, two hundred and twenty-five in number, were written during his exile, and are chiefly letters of friendship. Among them, however, is a circular letter addressed to the bishops of Rome, of Milan, and of Aquileia, bespeaking their good offices toward securing a new and fair judgment upon his cause. There is also a series of seventeen letters to one Olympias, a widow, in which he gives an account of his persecutions.
HOMILETICAL: The principal sermons have already been described. TREATISES: "Six Books of the Priesthood"; three books "In Defense of a Monastic Life"; a "Comparison of a Monk with a Prince"; two books "Of Compunction of Heart"; three books "Of Providence"; a book "Of Virginity"; two exhortations "To Theodorus," in which he urges this person to return from a secular to a retired life; a few minor works; LETTERS: two hundred and twenty-five, written in exile.
Go to the Tables of Contents of The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers
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