February 1, 2011

Was Saint John Chrysostom An Antisemite?

Some modern readers have claimed that, based on a reading of St. John's Orations Against the Judaizers, the saint was an Anti-Semite. Indeed, a glance over these writings could lead one to believe as such. Many Anti-Semitic groups throughout history have certainly tried to justify their beliefs and actions by using the writings of St. John.

What is unfortunate is that this misuse of the saint's words is based significantly on a mistranslation of the title of the sermons, translated as Against the Jews, rather than Against the Judaizers, which is the rendering the most up to date translations are now using. By this adjustment, sermons intended by the saint to be polemics against those in 4th century Antioch who would try to Judaize the Christians are being read as racist invective.

Because of this misunderstanding, I am working to compile information to show that Anti-Semites who wish to justify their hate will have to look elsewhere -- the Golden-Mouthed saint did not hate Jews, but in fact in many other sermons overlooked by such racists (and often anti-racists who want to discredit St. John as a racist!), the saint is "quite admiring of the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina," in the words of one Roman Catholic patristics scholar quoted on a webpage of debate and commentary concerning this matter.

In the meantime, I am offering the following references for your use:


- Robert Louis Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: rhetoric and reality in the late fourth century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) -- "...very convincingly demonstrates not only that St. John Chrysostomos was not an anti-Semite, but that his supposed writings against the Jews are actually against the 'Judaizers,' a terrible mistranslation which convicts him unfairly of racism, when in fact his words are addressed to a theological element in the Christian Church. This work was published in 1983 and is a 'must' for anyone wishing to understand the issue at hand." (Quote from "an anonymous Orthodox scholar.")

- Eugene J. Fisher (ed.), Interwoven Destinies: Jews and Christians Through the Ages (Paulist Press, 1993) -- contains "a series of articles by Jewish and Christian writers providing contrasting views of the slow separation of the two communities over time, including both a Jewish and a Christian look at Chrysostom's 'Against the Judaizers'. (Both agree that, while Chrysostom's bombastic rhetoric is pretty offensive to modern ears, he's not coming down on the Jews out of a clear blue sky - he's primarily rebuking Judaizing Christians who attend Synagogue on Saturday and Church on Sunday, still trying to live in both worlds, and who teach others to do the same.)" (Quote from Silouan Thompson)

- John Chrysostom, Discourses against Judaizing Christians, translated by Paul W. Harkins. The Fathers of the Church; v. 68 (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1979) -- "This is apparently the most up to date translation, and should be used by anyone wanting to comment on these texts in written work." (Quote from Paul Halsall)


- Medieval Sourcebook: Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies Against the [Judaizers] -- contains the full text of an older translation of the first six of the eight orations. Also contains some scholarly commentary.

- Medieval Sourcebook: Notes on Reaction to the Posting of the Chrysostom Text on the Jews -- contains quite a bit of useful commentary, information and historical background to these orations. Well worth the read.

- Real Questions, Real Answers!: St. John Chrysostom and the Jews -- a brief "Ask Father" sort of column containing some useful information in response to this very question.

- Was St. John Chrysostom Anti-Semitic? -- some off-the-cuff remarks about this issue by an "anonymous Orthodox scholar," hosted by an Orthodox website identifying itself as "traditionalist."

- Orthodoxy and Antisemitism -- an article by South African missiologist Steve Hayes giving a sober and reasoned analysis of the alleged antisemitism inherent in Orthodox Christianity.