Chrysostom 347-407

In 04 Post-Nicean Fathers on 2011/12/28 at 9:15 AM

The pulpit had a Midas in John of Antioch given an apt nickname: Golden Tongue, Chrysostom.  He is considered the greatest Father of the Eastern Church and Christendom most outstanding preacher.

Born in Syria to a high ranking Syrian army officer, he was raised by his young widowed mother.  This outstanding woman possessed great intelligence and character.  She molded her son in piety and culture.

Educated in the best Antiochian schools, his writings show him to be a scholar steeped in classical culture. Mentored at one time by a famous pagan orator, life changed for him upon encountering Bishop Meletius. This charming and kind bishop made such an impression on Chrysostom that he abandoned pagan and classical studies and devoted himself to the spiritual life.  Chrysostom attended Meletius’ sermons and studied the Scriptures under his tutelage.

For a short period of time he served the bishop as lector, but then went off into the Syrian desert for six years during which he learned the entire New Testament by heart.  This enterprise served him well for it supplied him with the mastery he used so well in his preaching.

He returned to Antioch as lector because his health could not handle the rigors of the desert life.  Meletius ordained Chrysostom a deacon shortly before presiding over the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople during which he died.

Now under a new bishop, Chrysostom continued assisting him at liturgical functions which now included instructing catechumens, caring for the needy, while continuing his studies.  His ordination to the priesthood, however, it the time that marks his entry into Church history as an orator of great note, whose significance would be historic.  For twelve years preached in an orderly and methodical manner explanations of the Gospel. These orations remain today in his magnificently written commentaries which are a fountain of dogmatic and moral knowledge.  Jerome so admired Chrysostom that he quickly incorporated Chrysostom in his catalog of an opus entitled: ILLUSTRIOUS MEN.  Chrysostom’s fame became known throughout the whole Eastern Empire.

His writings showed his tremendous ability to incorporate the normal daily life of the common man and society.  He dealt with every possible aspect of life, including sports, food, and finances.  His sermons were practical and applicable always prescribing moral guidelines.  Often, he pointed out the overwhelming drive for wealth through investment could make a person less humane. He would make comments like: “Do not become a person who dissolves God.” (Meaning a person who redesigns God to fit themselves which equals a denial of God’s divinitynd divine omnipotence.)  “Don’t be an orphan of a living Father.”

At the completion of what is considered the period of his greatest theological productivity, Chrysostom was consecrated Archbishop of  Constantinople. Constantinople was a difficult assignment; it was considered a pretentious metropolis and very upstart. Constantinople’s character was both Western and Eastern, and its imperial court marked by luxury, intrigue and politics.

While a monk, Chrysostom had written about the duties of a bishop: “Great is the office of a bishop and it needs much wisdom and courage, for Christ teaches us that we must lay down our lives for the sheep: we must never desert them but stand up against the wolf ” Now heading a uniquely heterogeneous clergy, he began to make reforms starting from the top down.  He repudiated the luxury of the Byzantine Constantinople.  He clearly stated: “I am telling you that he who lives in comfort and yet accepts alms is not a religious man.”  He set the example: eating alone instead of giving banquets, walking instead of driving a chariot, and dressing modestly and simply.  Needless to say, bishops and other clergy did not respond cheerfully.

Chrysostom chastised the ordinary people for their passionate addiction to the circus and theater, source of many evils which he condemned.  His people knew that he loved them, and they responded with love.

The current emperor was young and weak so in his place ruled Eutropius, a very sinister eunuch.  Chrysostom preached against the eunuch and his evil Eutropius saw Chrysostom as his archenemy but when his power collapsed it was to Chrysostom that he fled to for refuge.  Eutropious sought asylum in Chrysostom’s cathedral, huddling himself below the altar as Chrysostom was preaching. This was indeed an unprecedented and historic situation.

Chrysostom addressed Eutropius directly: “The Church whom you treated as an enemy has opened her arms and taken you to her heart; but the theater and circus, which you angrily defended against my attacks,has betrayed you.” To the circus and theater crowd in the congregation he said: “Do not give way to your feelings, but ask the God of love to allow him a little longer life, to save him from the death that hangs over his head that he may have time to cleanse himself from his sins.”  Eutropius was saved from death that day but the crowd later killed him.

Now, came the rule Empress Euxodia, a woman not without need for correction. She had it in for Chrysostom who saw her as she truly was.  She forbade him to celebrate the Easter liturgy and perform baptism.  The church was desecrated by the imperial troops, and his enemies succeeded in having him exiled.  The people protested furious and burned the cathedral to he ground.   (The famous Haggia Sophia/Sancta Sophia would be built later on the ruins.)

Chrysostom was never to return to Constantinople. Chrysostom wrote Pope Innocent I asking for justice:! “If such a situation remains uncorrected, anyone who wishes might invade the most distant diocese and depose whomsoever we wished, and rule and govern according to his own pleasure….”   Innocent responded promptly  that Chrysostom deposition was null and void, and that he intended to call a council to review the whole matter. Innocent was one of the strongest of the early popes.He repeatedly emphasized the authority of the Papacy over the whole Church. He had strengthened the laws of the Church on both clerical celibacy and marriage.

While in exile Chrysostom was being harassed to death.  In Caesarea he was attacked in the middle of the night and driven out into the dark. He ended up in a far away town near the Armenian border.  He referred to it as  “the loneliest spot on earth” .  However, from this outpost he was nevertheless able to communicate with his friends and admirers all over the Roman Empire.

When the Empress died, Chrysostom was recalled to Constantinople but he died on the road because of the speed his guards forced upon him through rough mountain trails. Chrysostom died glorifying God. Pope Innocent I posthumously restored Chrysostom to the See of Constantinople which he had defended with courage, commitment and constancy.

At the Council of Chalcedon, Chrysostom was named a Doctor of the Church. Pius X named him patron of preaches, and  Pope John Paul II presided over an ecumenical celebration with the Patriarch of Constantinople on the occasion of the return of the relics of John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen.

This was also the time when the barbaric Huns were on the prowl. They had ravaged the area of Thrace. Also, fifty thousand Ostrogoth barbarians were fighting the Huns.  The Romans had abandoned Britain and Irish pirates were attacking there. The Vandals were on the rampage,  plundering and destroying everywhere.  Mainz, Trier, Reims, Amiens, and Arras fell quickly to the. Then the Vandals swept down the Rhone valley. In 410 Rome fell to the Visigoth Alaric,  almost without a fight. For three days the Visigoths sacked Rome which had not been sacked for 800 years. The shock to Roman pride and traditions was enormous. From the Atlantic to the Euphrates, men trembled for the future.

Although a barbarian, Alaric spared and protected all the Roman churches that he could, particularly St. Peter’s which was left unharmed.  And though all this, the life of the Church went on.

Africa became a sanctuary of the Church where she flourished brilliantly thanks to the presence and influence of one Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church’s  geniuses and holiest of men.


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