March 30, 2019

Saint John II, Patriarch of Jerusalem (+ 417)

St. John of Jerusalem (Feast Day - March 30);
Greek miniature depicts the Church of Holy Zion


The president of the perceptible throne of Zion,
Departed for the Zion which is invisible.

Our Holy Father John was born around 356 and succeeded Saint Cyril as Patriarch of Jerusalem in 387. Many scholars today ascribe to him the five Mystagogical Catecheses traditionally ascribed to his predecessor Cyril.

On September 15, 394 Patriarch John officiated in the Consecration of the Church of Holy Zion: the homily pronounced by John was preserved in Armenian and not published until 1973.

In 415, he took part in the translation of the relics of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr from his tomb in the village of Kafargamala to Jerusalem in cooperation with Bishops Eusthonos of Sebaste and Eleutheros of Jericho.

John's authority was harshly questioned twice by Saint Jerome, then abbot in Bethlehem.

The first time was in the frame of the first polemic with Origen's followers, and is narrated mainly in Jerome's treatise dedicated to Pammachius "Contra Ioannes Hierosolymitanum" (Against John of Jerusalem), as well as in other letters of Jerome (n. 51, 82 and 86). Jerome accused John of supporting the ideas of the Origenists.

The Origenist doctrines attributed to John were: (i.) that the Son does not see the Father; (ii.) that souls are confined in earthly bodies, as in a prison; (iii.) that the devil may be saved; (iv.) that the skins with which God clothed Adam and Eve were human bodies; (v.) that the body in the resurrection will be without sex; (vi.) that the descriptions of Paradise are allegorical: trees meaning angels, and rivers the heavenly virtues; (vii) that the waters above and below the firmament are angels and devils; (viii.) that the image of God was altogether lost at the Fall. John ignored the accusations of Origenism and gave assurances about his faith in the Trinity: however, it is probable that John did have certain Origenist leanings.

The immediate occasion of this crisis was the visit of Saint Epiphanios, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, at Jerusalem, in 394. Epiphanios preached, in the Church of the Resurrection, a pointed sermon against Origenism, which was thought to be directly aimed at John. After many unseemly scenes, Epiphanios advised Jerome and his friends to separate from their bishop John. To be fully independent from him, Epiphanios ordained Paulinian (Jerome’s brother) to the priesthood. Epiphanios attempted to defend his irregular action, but John appealed to Alexandria against Jerome and his supporters as schismatics. Theophilos, Patriarch of Alexandria, at once took the side of John. The dispute was thus prolonged for about four years, and, after some attempts at reconciliation, and the exhibition of much bitterness, amounting to the practical excommunication of Jerome and his friends, the dispute was stopped, perhaps by Theophilos. The dispute broke out afresh when Jerome deeply criticized the reception reserved by John for some of the 400 Origenistic monks of Nitria, dispelled by the Egyptian deserts by Theophilos of Alexandria (fifty of these monks went to Constantinople, and found there a cordial welcome with Patriarch John Chrysostom in 401).

The second harsh attack against John was triggered off in 414 by Jerome and concerned Pelagius. Jerome, supported by a Latin disciple of Augustine of the name of Paulus Orosius, took a stand against the deacon Pelagius, who was then received in Jerusalem and not explicitly condemned by the local synod of Diospolis (415). We have a letter of Pope Innocent I who censures John for having allowed the Pelagians to cause a disturbance at Bethlehem and exhorts him to be more watchful over his diocese in future: this letter is dated to 417, the year of the death of both John and Innocent, and it is probable that John never received it. Although sources are more diverse here, the accusation of Arianism seems a little simplistic and it is probable that we do not have all the information needed to understand the situation.

According to the fifth century ecclesiastic writer Gennadius of Massilia, John "wrote a book against those who disparaged his studies, in which he shows that he follows the genius of Origen not his creed."

Probably due to the controversies surrounding his name, the writings of John II were not kept in general under his name, but, besides Mystagogical Catecheses, it is very much probable that certain homilies, in Greek, Georgian or Armenian, must be restored to him, as happened in the second half of 20th century for his homilies upon "the Feast of the Angels", and on the "Consecration of the Church of Holy Zion".

The edition of a liturgical lectionary of Jerusalem, preserved in an old Armenian version, is also attributed to him.