Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Life, Works and Thought of Saint John Chrysostom (Fr. George Florovsky)

 
By Fr. George Florovsky 
 

I. Life.

Chrysostom's life was neither calm nor easy. He was an ascetic and a martyr. It was not in the desert that his feats were accomplished but in the chaos of the world, in the pulpit of the preacher, and on the episcopal throne. His martyrdom was bloodless. He was tormented not by external enemies but by his brothers who proved false to him, and he ended his life in chains, in exile, under interdiction, and persecuted by Christians for his faith in Christ and the Gospel, which he preached as a revelation and the law of life.

Chrysostom was primarily an evangelist and a preacher of the good news of the Gospel. He was also a teacher who had a lively interest in contemporary issues, and the true significance of his teaching can be fully understood only in its historical context. He condemned the Christians of the fourth century who claimed to be living according to the precepts of the Gospel and warned them that they had relaxed their efforts prematurely. This prophet of universal love frequently spoke harshly and severely because it seemed to him that he was preaching and bearing witness before men who were dead. For him the injustice and the absence of love in the Christian world assumed catastrophic, almost apocalyptic significance. "We have extinguished our fervor and the body of Christ has died." The light yoke of love seemed an unbearable burden for the indifferent world. This explains Chrysostom's ultimately bitter fate, for he was driven out for the sake of the truth which he preached. "For this the world will hate you."

Chrysostom was a native of Antioch, and he remained a typical Antiochene in his spiritual temperament and in his religious outlook. The exact year of his birth is unknown but it was probably sometime between 344 and 354. Chrysostom came from a wealthy and prominent Christian family. Both by birth and education he belonged to the intellectual Hellenistic circles of the society of his aristocratic gentility. Chrysostom did not renounce his cultural heritage even when he rejected the world and everything in it.

Chrysostom was a true Hellenist. He studied with the famous Libanius and received a broad and brilliant education. He was not a thinker or a philosopher, and in the classical sense he is best defined as an orator and a rhetorician. The classical rhetorician was a teacher, moralist, and preacher, and Chrysostom was just such a man. Chrysostom's Hellenism is most apparent in his language and style. As an orator and stylist, he can be compared with Demosthenes and even Xenophon and Plato, for the brilliance of the classical Athenians is revived in his writing. Even his contemporaries recognized him as an Atticist. It is incorrect to consider that his Hellenism is purely external or formal because it has penetrated all aspects of his style. It is true that Chrysostom was apparently never stirred by the philosophical problems of Hellenism and he was never forced to reconcile the Hellenist in himself with his Christianity. This, however, was characteristic of the intellectual outlook of the Antiochenes and of the "historical" culture of Asia Minor, which was always more "philological" than "philosophical."

Chrysostom always remained a Hellenist and this is especially evident in his moralism. In a sense moralism was the natural truth of the classical world. This explains and justifies the acceptance and transformation of Stoicism by Christian ethics, in which natural truth is elevated to new heights through Divine grace. In Chrysostom the transformed elements of Stoicism are particularly apparent. He constantly tried to teach moral wisdom and nobility, and moral judgments and evaluations are present everywhere in his writing. However, he saw the full realization of natural truth only in the ideal that is revealed in the Gospel.

None of this implies that Chrysostom was not a mystic. "Moralism" does not exclude "mysticism." It is true, however, that his mysticism had a moral significance. It is a mysticism of conscience, of goodness, of good works and virtue. Ethical considerations are less clearly expressed in Chrysostom. He considered beauty more as an ethical than an aesthetic phenomenon, and he saw beauty primarily in active goodness. For him the Gospel is most significant as a book about the beauty of virtue as revealed in the image of the God-man, and this determined the course of his own life. Chrysostom's moral character was formed very early in his youth. The example of his mother was reinforced and strengthened by the lessons of his devout mentors, including Meletius of Antioch, Diodore, and the ascetic Carteria.

Chrysostom was not satisfied by any secular vocation, and even before he was able to withdraw from the world he began to practice ascetic discipline in the home of his parents. Only after the death of his mother in 374 or 375 did it become possible for him to retire to a monastery not far from Antioch and became a friend of Theodore of Mopsuestia. He spent two years there, followed by two years in the desert. His novitiate was of short duration, however, and he returned to the world in order to continue his austerities amid the world. Chrysostom always considered asceticism more as a spiritual orientation than as a specifically regulated form of daily life. And this state could be achieved primarily through renunciation, through internal freedom and independence from the external circumstances and conditions of fife in the world. In this sense Chrysostom remained an ascetic throughout his life.

Chrysostom returned to the world to preach the necessity of ascetic renunciation. It was not his intention to exhort men to make an external withdrawal from the world by leaving their cities. "I frequently prayed," Chrysostom wrote in these years, that the need for monasteries would pass away, and that I would be able to find even in cities such goodness and such order that no one would ever again have to flee to the desert." Chrysostom wanted to transform life in the cities and towns so that it would accord with the principles of the Gospel and with the spirit of "the higher philosophy." To this end he became a pastor and preacher.

Chrysostom was made deacon in 381 by Meletius of Antioch, and he was ordained priest by his successor Flavian in 386. Chrysostom discusses his new vocation in his famous six books On the Priesthood [De sacerdotio] (which actually deal with episcopal duties). The exact dates of these works are unknown but they were probably written before his ordination. Chrysostom takes the ideas of Gregory the Theologian as the point of departure for his own exposition, which has two main emphases. In the first place, he describes the highest goal of the holy calling as the performance of the sacraments. "Sacred service takes place on this earth but it also has a place among the heavenly powers." This is because the priesthood has been established by the Spirit of the Comforter Himself. How can it be that we remain on earth when we see the Lord Whose body is offered to us, and when we become incarnadined with His blood? The priest participates at the sacrificial table, which stands in the heavens. He is given the heavenly power of the keys which has not been received even by the angels.

In the second place, Chrysostom sees the priest as a teacher, mentor, preacher, and pastor of souls. He devotes most of his attention to the teaching responsibilities of the priesthood, and in this respect he places the priest even higher than the monk. There is more love in pastoral work than in monastic isolation, and the pastor's service to his neighbors is a service of active love. "The whole universe would be upset if we were to think that only monks need severity and discipline in their lives, while the rest of us can live freely," he writes.

As a priest and pastor Chrysostom himself was first of all a preacher. It is difficult to enumerate all of the themes with which he dealt. From among the homilies delivered in Antioch particular mention should be made of the Homilies on the Statues [Homiliae 21 de statuis] and also of a long series of exegetical homilies on Matthew and John, on the epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, Titus, possibly Ephesians and Romans, and probably also on Genesis. The orations against the Jews and against the Anomoeans were written at this same time. Chrysostom never concerned himself with abstract themes. His homilies are lively and based on actual experience because they are intended for living people, and the presence of the audience and the preacher himself can be sensed in them. Chrysostom usually concludes his homilies with appeals to the wills of his listeners and with practical exhortations. His primary goal is to teach love but he also tries to encourage integrity and responsibility. Chrysostom spoke with authority, but this authority was based on the convictions of his faith. He emphasizes that personal transformation can be achieved through the strength of the spirit and even more through the strength of love. It was love which kept Chrysostom in the world with his flock.

In 398 Chrysostom was elevated to the see of Constantinople. The clergy, the court, and the laity were all united in summoning him for his recognized ability as a pastor and teacher. Chrysostom continued to preach in Constantinople, and Sozomen remarks that it was his habit to take a place among the congregation at the reader's ambo so that his listeners could sit closely around him. His sermons were more like conversations than speeches. During this period Chrysostom wrote commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles, the Psalms, and many of the epistles of Paul. A large number of his homilies were recorded by stenographers as they were being delivered, and these records preserve the liveliness of the spoken word. At this time Chrysostom saw his main task in the reformation of the morals of lay society. It was his impression that he was preaching to people for whom Christianity had become no more than a fashionable garment. "From among so many thousands," he said, "it is impossible to find more than one hundred who are truly saving their souls, and I am not even sure that there are that many."

Chrysostom was troubled by the very fact that there was such a large number of "Christians": "This is all the more fuel for the fire." He spoke with bitterness about their prosperity: "In matters of piety, freedom from oppression is the worst form of persecution. It is worse than any other persecution. No one understands or senses this danger because safety gives birth to carelessness. It weakens the soul and lulls it to sleep, and the devil destroys sleeping men." The preacher's voice became harsh and severe because around himself he saw only chaff fit for the fire. Chrysostom was deeply concerned with the immorality of his society. He was troubled not only by debauchery, but even more by the tacit lowering of standards and ideals which he saw in the laity and in the clergy. Chrysostom fought with both words of denunciation and acts of love. "No one would remain a pagan if we were true Christians," he said. He spent a great deal of time in charitable work and organized hospitals and refuges for the homeless. He demanded practical activity from everyone and this caused dissatisfaction and opposition not only in Constantinople but in other dioceses as well.

The hostility against Chrysostom manifested itself on several occasions, and his altercation with the empress Eudoxia was only the final pretext for the ultimate outburst. Chrysostom had enemies everywhere, especially among the clergy and in particular among the wandering monks. He also had opponents in the wealthy society of the court. The shameful history of Chrysostom's deposition and condemnation at the "Synod of the Oak" is too complicated to be recounted here. Traitors were found even among the bishops, who were led by Theophilus of Alexandria, and others who were actively hostile included Acacius of Beroea, Severian of Gabala, and Antiochus of Ptolemais, all of whom at some time had been insulted by Chrysostom. The accusations against Chrysostom were many, and he was also charged with Origenism. He was deposed and his sentence was confirmed by the emperor. His exile was of short duration and at his return he was greeted by popular rejoicing. However, the hostility against him had not died down. The very fact that he had returned without obtaining a revocation of the synod's decree was used against him because, according to the fourth canon of the Antiochene council, this made him liable to be deprived of his rights, even if his sentence was unjust. Chrysostom recognized neither the legitimacy of the synod which condemned him (and in this he was not alone) nor the legitimacy of the Antiochene canon, and he demanded the convocation of a new council so that he could exonerate himself. The bishops condemned him for a second time. He carried on with the duties of his office but the unrest continued to grow. In June of 404 he was again exiled and sent first to Cucusus in Lower Armenia and then to Pityus, a wild area on the eastern end of the Black Sea. Chrysostom did not survive the hardships of his journey and died while traveling on September 14, 407.

The injustice of Chrysostom's condemnation soon became evident, and in 417 Atticus, bishop of Constantinople, readmitted his name to the Church diptychs, claiming that this was the will of the people. Cyril of Alexandria protested violently: "If you include John among the bishops, why not include Judas among the apostles? And if there is a place for Judas, then where is Matthew?" By 419, however, Chrysostom was rehabilitated even in Alexandria. In 438 his remains were brought to Constantinople and interred in the Church of the Apostles. The sentence of the "Synod of the Oak" was revoked by the general testimony of the Church.

II. Works.

The literary heritage of Chrysostom is enormous. It is difficult to determine its exact extent because with time Chrysostom's reputation became so great that the homilies and orations of other writers were ascribed to him. Some writings can be unquestionably identified as the work of Chrysostom, and some writings clearly do not belong to him, but there are still many compositions which are doubtful, especially those which cannot be definitely attributed to another author.

The majority of Chrysostom's writings are sermons, homilies, and orations. Among these his exegetical works are of particular importance. The remainder are on a variety of different themes, but mention should be made of the homilies for feasts and saints' days, all of which were intended for oral delivery. Another category of Chrysostom's writings consists of exhortations and instructions which were intended for private reading. Particularly significant are his compositions on ascetic themes and his books on the priesthood, which were written in his younger days. About 236 to 240 of his letters have been preserved, all of which date from the period of his second exile. They provide important material for an understanding of Chrysostom's personality and religious attitudes.

The problem of Chrysostom's liturgy is extremely complex. The oldest copy, which is contained in the eighth century Barberini euchologion, does not mention his name, but there is a reference to his liturgy which dates from the sixth century. It is difficult to determine exactly what should be ascribed to Chrysostom from the later liturgy known by his name. In this respect comparison with the liturgical material contained in his homilies, especially the earliest, is helpful. In any event there is no doubt that he was deeply concerned with the regulation of the divine service, and particularly with the rite of the Eucharist.

Chrysostom's influence was enormous. He became the "universal teacher and prelate" in actuality even before he was distinguished by this title. He was called Chrysostom, "Golden Mouth," as early as the sixth century, and by the eighth century this epithet was generally accepted. Chrysostom's exegetical works in particular have been considered exemplary and authoritative. Almost all of the later Byzantine commentators, especially Theophylact of Bulgaria, were greatly influenced by them. The history of Chrysostom's influence is one of the brightest chapters in the history of Church literature and patristic tradition.

III. Thought.

Chrysostom as Teacher.

Chrysostom was a gifted writer with a lively and authoritative style. He had the temperament of an orator, and this is the secret of his power of persuasion. He loved to preach: "I have commanded my soul to undertake the duties of a preacher and to fulfill the commandments for as long as I continue to have breath and God sees fit to extend my life, whether there is anyone to listen to me or not." Chrysostom understood pastoral work primarily as a service of teaching and persuading. A pastor is an authority, but his jurisdiction is realized through words which attempt to convince, and this is the basic difference between spiritual power and secular power. "The emperor forces; the priest convinces. One acts by command; the other by persuasion."

The Importance of Spiritual Freedom.

A pastor must focus his attention on the free will of the individual. "We have been commanded to bring salvation to people by the strength of the word, by gentleness, and by persuasion," Chrysostom said. He saw the greatest meaning of the life of a Christian in freedom, which expresses itself in good works and ascetic discipline. The individual's freedom and self-motivation are constant themes in his homilies, for it is in free will that he sees man's "nobility" and the image of God which he has been given. Chrysostom was a consistent voluntarist and considered morality a matter of will. He identified the source of sin as the movement of the will, which was also the source of virtue. It was his opinion that Christ "came not to destroy nature, but to correct our wills." Each action of God's grace in man takes place "in such a way that it brings no harm to our power over our selves." In other words, God Himself acts not through compulsion, but through persuasion. "He comforts, advises, and warns us away from possible evil but does not force us to do anything." A pastor should follow the Divine example. 

His Opposition to Any Form of Coercion.

By temperament Chrysostom was a maximalist and on occasion he could be harsh and severe. However, he was always an opponent of force and coercion in any form, even in the fight against heresy. He was against the use of civic measures and political pressure in matters of faith and morality. "It has been specifically forbidden for Christians to correct those who have fallen into sin by force," he said. "We are not fighting to bring death to the living but to bring the dead back to life, and in our struggle we must be meek and humble . . . I persecute not by deeds, but by words, and I want to cast out not heretics, but heresy . . . I am accustomed to endure oppression, but not to oppress, and to bear persecution, but not to persecute. Christ was victorious in being crucified and not in crucifying others. He did not strike out, but He accepted blows." Chrysostom endured the condemnation of those who did not think as he did, and in this respect his oration On Imprecation and Anathema is a typical expression of his attitude. He saw the true power of Christianity in meekness and endurance, not in force. It is himself with whom each man should be severe, and not with others.

His Moral Ideals Drawn From Dogma.

hrysostom's sermons were mostly written on moral themes but there is no reason to overemphasize this or to call him a teacher of morality and not of faith. On the contrary, he frequently dealt with doctrinal problems, especially in his early years in Antioch, and even more importantly, it was from his dogma that he drew his moral ideals. This is clearly evident in his exegetical homilies, and especially in his commentary on the epistles of Paul. Chrysostom had several favorite dogmatic themes which he continually returned to. In the first place, his teaching about the Church is inseparably connected with his doctrine of redemption as the sacrifice of Christ the High Priest, Who ascended to heaven through the Cross. From this he developed the teaching of the Church as a source of new being, not just as new life. Chrysostom also spoke frequently of the Eucharist as both a sacrament and a sacrifice, and for this reason he has been called the "teacher of the Eucharist."

Chrysostom never elaborated a system of theology, and there is no point in looking for dogmatic or theological formulations in his writings. His Christology and Mariology in particular are not entirely free from the ambiguity and one-sidedness which characterize the language of Antiochene theology. Chrysostom was a witness of the faith, and this explains why his works were so significant in ancient times, especially in the West. His writings are filled with the voice of Church tradition.

Chrysostom set himself a specific task. His activity was aimed not at overcoming unorthodox opinions, but at making people who professed themselves to be Christians understand that the truths of faith are the truths and commandments of life, and that these must be put into actual practice by the individual. At that time too many people had forgotten this. Chrysostom demanded that men live according to their beliefs, and he assumed that the truths of faith were known to his audience. There was no point in trying to go further if men's hearts were indifferent and if the seeds of faith had not yet been implanted in their souls. It is true that Chrysostom himself had no particular interest in speculative theology, but by no means was he exclusively a moralist without any interest in dogma. His own theological beliefs were primarily based on the writings of the apostle Paul, whose teaching centered on Christ and salvation, not morality. Even Chrysostom's "evangelism" had a doctrinal significance because for him all life was connected with the image of Christ not only as a prophet but more importantly as the High Priest and the Lamb. This is related to his mystical attitude towards the sacraments.

It should be added that for Chrysostom it is only a pure life which testifies to pure faith. Moreover, it is only through a pure life that true faith is possible at all, for an impure life usually gives rise to false teaching. Faith is realized and fulfilled only in love, and without love it is impossible to attain faith, or contemplation, or knowledge of the mysteries. Without love, rational theology is no more than an endless labyrinth.

Chrysostom saw before him men who were struggling but who had not yet fully awakened, and he wanted to rouse them to spiritual live and love. In this sense he was an individualist. He had little feeling for worldly intercourse or society but always focused on individual persons, who for him were united only in the Church. This individualism is the reason for Chrysostom's sensitivity and perceptiveness. He never resorts to commonplaces or abstractions but is always concrete and graphic, teaching through examples and applying his material to specific instances. He uses few conventional rhetorical devices, surpassing in this respect even Gregory the Theologian. He never forgets that he is a spiritual pastor, not an orator, and that his goal is not to expound or develop a particular objective theme, but to touch men's hearts and to influence their wills and intellects. For this reason the logical and formal structure of his homilies is of secondary importance but they are held together by an internal integrity. Chrysostom's homilies are a unique dialogue with a silent interlocutor about whom the preacher occasionally gives some information. They are never monologues and they are always directed at an audience.

On Poverty and Wealth.

Chrysostom frequently spoke about poverty and wealth, themes which were set for him by life in the large, noisy city. For him, these and all other social themes had primarily a moral significance, and he dealt with them in relation to the rules of Christian behavior. He judged the life around him on the basis of its morality. Everywhere he saw injustice, cruelty, suffering, and misery, and he understood that this was caused by the spirit of greed and by social inequality. He warned against idle luxury and also against wealth as a source of temptation, since money threatens to corrupt the man who possesses it. Wealth by itself has no value but is only a theatrical mask which covers the true image of man. However, the wealthy man comes to value his riches. He begins to deceive himself and he becomes attached to something which is good in appearance only. In Chrysostom's opinion there is danger not only in wealth which has been acquired by dishonest means but in all forms of personal property. These are not harmful in themselves but they may stimulate the will to desire things which are perishable and transient. "The love for wealth is an unnatural passion," Chrysostom writes. "The desire for wealth is neither natural nor necessary. It is superfluous." This movement of the will is dangerous and riches are a dangerous burden. "Wealth is harmful for you not because it arms thieves against you, nor because it completely darkens your mind but because it makes you the captives of soulless possessions and distracts you from the service of God."

The possession of wealth involves an unavoidable contradiction. By the spirit of greed men are attached to material things, but God teaches us to despise things and to renounce them. "There is harm not only in trying to gain wealth but also in excessive concern with even the most necessary things," Chrysostom writes. "Christ has demonstrated what kind of harm can come from the passion for money but His commandment goes even beyond this. Not only does He order us to scorn wealth, but he forbids us to be concerned that the food we eat is the best we can possibly get: 'Do not worry your soul about what you eat'." This does not exhaust the subject. "It is not enough to despise wealth," Chrysostom writes, "but you must also feed the poor and, more importantly, you must follow Christ." Thus another contradiction is revealed: the worldly drive of greed and the desire for the accumulation and preservation of material goods is opposed to the command of the Gospels to "give all you have to the poor." Against this background we see with greater clarity the injustice of the social inequality in the world. In the face of poverty and misery, all wealth is an unjust and dead thing. It testifies to hard-heartedness and the absence of love.

It is from this point of view that Chrysostom disapproves of the magnificent decoration of churches. "A church is not a place in which to melt gold or forge silver," he writes. "It is a triumphant assembly of the angels. Therefore it is souls which we demand as an offering because it is for the sake of souls that God accepts our other offerings. It was not at a silver table and it was not from a golden vessel that Christ offered His blood to His disciples to drink but nevertheless everything there was precious and called forth reverence, for it was filled with the Spirit. Do you want to honor the body of Christ? Do not scorn to see Christ naked. What good does it do you if here you honor His silken coverlings while outside the Church you continue to tolerate the coldness and nakedness of others? What good does it do you if the altar of Christ is covered with golden vessels, while Christ Himself suffers hunger? You make a golden goblet but you offer no cooling water to go with ft. Christ as a homeless pilgrim wanders and asks for shelter, but you, instead of accepting Him, adorn your floors, your walls, and the tops of your pillars, and you put silver harnesses on your horses. But Christ remains bound in the dungeon and you do not even want to look at Him."

It seemed to Chrysostom that each thing that one man puts aside is taken away from someone else who needs it, for there cannot be a man who is rich without another man being poor because of it. "The source and root of wealth must definitely be hidden in some act of injustice," he writes. Chrysostom did not consider that poverty as such was a virtue. Poverty attracted his attention as a form of need and suffering, and he considered that Christ is present among the poor, since He comes to us in the image of a beggar and not in the guise of a wealthy man. Furthermore, when poverty is voluntarily chosen for the sake of God and accepted with joy, it can be a path to virtue. This is primarily because a man without possessions is freer than a wealthy man and has fewer attachments and worries. It is easier for him to live and to strive to perfect himself.

Chrysostom knew also that poverty could be a heavy burden not only in terms of external and material things, but internally, as a source of envy, spite, and despair. For this reason he tried to fight against poverty, but his attention was always occupied with its moral implications. In this respect he functioned as a spiritual pastor, not as a social reformer. Although it is true that he did have an ideal vision of society, this ideal was primarily moral. It was the ideal of equality because inequality makes true love impossible.

The basic premise of Chrysostom's thought is that strictly speaking there can be no such thing as "personal property" because everything belongs to God and to Him only. All things are given by Him as a gift in the form of a loan. Everything is God's, and all that man can claim as truly his own are his good works. Everything God gives is intended for common ownership. "If the good things we enjoy belong to the Master of all of us, then they all belong equally to our fellow slaves. That which belongs to the Master belongs to everyone in common. Do we not see a similar arrangement in great houses?"

"The possessions of the Emperor, the city, the squares, and the streets, belong to all men, and we all use them in an equal degree. Look at the economy that God has arranged. He has created some things that are for everyone, including the air, sun, water, earth, heaven, sea, light, and stars, and He has divided them equally among all men, as if they were brothers. This, if nothing else, should shame the human race. The Emperor has made other things common to all, including the baths, cities, squares, and streets. There is not the slightest disagreement over this common property but everything is accomplished peacefully. If someone tries to take something and claim it as his own personal possession, then quarrels arise. It is as if the very forces of natures were complaining, and as if at that time when God was gathering them from everywhere they were trying with all their might to separate among themselves, to isolate them selves from each other, and to distinguish their own individual property by coldly saying that 'this is yours but that is mine'. If this were true, quarrels and bitterness would arise, but where there is nothing of this sort neither quarrels nor disagreements occur. In this way we see that for us as well a common and not an individual ownership of things has been ordained, and that this is according to nature itself. Is not the reason that no one ever goes to court about the ownership of a public square the fact that this square belongs to all?"

It seems to Chrysostom that in this respect even the animals are better than men. "They hold everything in common, the earth, and springs, and pastures, and mountains, and forests, and not one of them has more than the others. But you, O man, the most gentle of animals, have become more fierce than the beasts. In a single one of your houses you store up enough to feed thousands and even many thousands of the poor. How can this be, when we have one common nature, and much else in common besides this? We share a common heaven, sun, moon, choir of stars, air, sea, fire, water, earth, life, death, youth, old age, sickness, health, and the need for food and clothing. Our spiritual goods are also common to all: our holy altar, the body of our Lord, His sacred blood, the promised Kingdom, the bath of renewal, the purification of sins, truth, sanctity, redemption, and ineffable bliss. Is it therefore not madness for those who share so much in common, their nature, grace, covenant, and laws, to have such a passion for wealth that it causes them to forget their equality and to exceed the savageness of beasts? This is all the worse since they must of necessity soon leave these things behind them."

Chrysostom sees the source of inequality in man's free will and desire for personal property. Free will determines how an individual will manage the gifts he had been given, and Chrysostom considers that this is the heart of the problem. He does not recommend poverty for all men and, although he denounces superfluous luxury, it is primarily inequality to which he is opposed. Chrysostom demands equality and justice. Material goods are given by God and for this reason there can be no cause to abominate them. However, they must not be used to the personal advantage of one man in such a way that another man suffers for lack of them. Chrysostom believes that the problem can be solved by love because "love seeks nothing for itself." It seems to him that this solution was realized by the earliest members of the Church in the manner described in the Acts of the Apostles. "They renounced property and rejoiced greatly because in this way they gained blessings that were even greater. The cold words 'mine and yours' did not exist, and there was joy at the altar . . . The expression 'mine and yours', which is so harsh and has caused so many wars in the world, was driven out of that holy Church, and men on earth lived like angels in heaven. The poor did not envy the rich, for there were no rich, and the rich did not despise the poor, for there were no poor. At that time things were not the way they are now. Now those who have property give to the poor, but at that time it was not so . . . All of them were equal and all wealth was shared among them." This example has been frequently cited by the supporters of communal monasticism who absolutely reject the right to personal property.

Chrysostom wanted to realize the example provided by monastic communities in the world, having in mind a comparatively small society in Antioch or Constantinople. In his homilies he tried to demonstrate how the voluntary renunciation of property and its equal distribution could provide for the needs of all. This is the way in which the property of the Church was organized at that time. It was held in common and was distributed by the bishop. Part of it was devoted to upkeep of churches and to the support of the clergy, but most of it was the "property of the poor." Chrysostom emphasized that such a socialization of property could be truly effective only if it was voluntary and if it was the expression of true self-renunciation and love.

All of this would presuppose a high degree of moral development and perfection. It would be the ultimate and ideal expression of Christian charity. However, Chrysostom was content to limit his demands to generous almsgiving and works of charity. His conception of charity was very broad, extending from material contributions to consolation and comfort. "Is it not also an act of great charity when a soul, which is overwhelmed by grief, threatened by extreme danger, and held in thrall by the flames (of passion), is freed by someone from this affliction?"

Charity Essential for Christian Life.

For Chrysostom it was unanimity, the feeling of belonging to a community and of common responsibility and concern, that were vital. For this reason he considered that works of charity were indispensable and essential for Christian life. "If someone does not show charity, he remains outside the wedding feast and he will perish. It is not by lifting up your hands that you will be heard. Stretch out your hands not to heaven, but to the hands of the poor." In commenting on the Savior's words about the Last Judgment Chrysostom writes: "There is no other virtue that He mentioned except the performance of works of charity, for charity comes from love, and love is the goal and meaning of Christianity."

Chrysostom's homilies on Christian charity reach the heights of true mysticism. "Do you wish to see the sacrificial altar of the All-Merciful? It has been built by God Himself, not out of stone, but out of a material which is lighter than heaven: out of rational souls . . . This altar was created from the very members of Christ, and the Body of the Master Himself serves as your altar. Worship before it, for you make your sacrifice on the Body of the Master. This altar is more awesome than both the new and the ancient altars . . . But at the same time you honor that altar because it receives the Body of Christ. You fail to pay attention to it when it is threatened by destruction. That kind of altar you can find anywhere, both on the streets and on the public squares, and you can make your sacrifices on it at all times because it is here that the sacrifice is sanctified.

On Civil Authority.

Chrysostom's writings on civil authority also deserve attention, since it was frequently necessary for him to speak about this subject, especially in Constantinople. In his conception authority entails inequality and is a form of enslavement. It has been established by God, but only as a result of sin. In paradise there was no authority because there was no inequality and man was free, but sin has made authority indispensable for the regulation of life in society, and without it there would be no order or peace. However, those who are in power are sinful just like everyone else, and for this reason authority often becomes harsh and unjust. This does not detract from the legitimacy of this authority, and everyone must remain obedient to it. It is only in the Church that secular authority has any limitations, for it cannot enter the Church's confines. Those who serve the Church are summoned to console the injured and the sorrowful. "Courts instill fear, so let priests give comfort. The authorities act by threats, so let the Church give encouragement," Chrysostom writes. "God has arranged for our salvation by means of both one and the other. He has armed the authorities so that they can instill fear in those who are audacious and He has consecrated priests so that they can comfort those who grieve."

At the same time it is also the duty of the priesthood to enlighten those in authority and, when necessary, to denounce them for their abuses. "The ultimate authority of the priest is higher than that of the emperor," Chrysostom writes. "Therefore even the emperor bows his head under the hand of the priest. In the Old Testament it was the priests who anointed the emperors. However, the priest has been given only the right to speak out fearlessly, and he is not allowed to use force. In Chrysostom's eyes civil authority always remains inviolable, but he considers that it is nevertheless under the higher jurisdiction of the Church. In this respect his remarkable orations On the Statues and also his intercession on behalf of Eutropius, are typical. He himself considered this incident a "brilliant victory" for the Church and a "most glorious monument." Hostility and hatred were dissipated at the very threshold of the Church and violence was averted.

On Slavery.

Chrysostom had no definite scheme for the external reformation of society. He recognized and accepted the existing order and wanted not to rebuild society but to transform men. He believed in the triumphant strength of the spirit, and this explains his attitude towards slavery. He recognized it as an unnatural state but did not reject it or demand its abolition. This was not because such a demand would not have been fulfilled: on the contrary, Chrysostom frequently, especially in his severe standards of moral behavior, called for things that were not possible to realize. However, he saw a faster and more direct route to the overcoming of slavery in his advocacy of meekness, concern, and love. He reminded slaveowners of the dignity of man and of the equality of all people before Christ. He called slaves to a higher freedom and exhorted them to submit for the sake of Christ, as this would mitigate their earthly dependence. Chrysostom believed that every blow received in life on earth should be seen in relation to the life of the spirit. No external conditions can effect life in Christ and with Christ, and this is the source of eternal joy and bliss.

Chrysostom as an Exegete.

Scripture as the Indispensable Source for Doctrinal and Moral Instruction.

Chrysostom's work as both teacher and homilist is primarily based on Biblical exegesis. He insists that Scripture is the basic, indispensable, and completely adequate source for both doctrinal and moral instruction. "He who is in agreement with Scripture is a Christian," he writes, "and whoever is not in agreement with it is far from the truth." Chrysostom constantly exhorts each and every man to read the Bible with attention. "Do not wait for another teacher . . . You have been given the word of God, and no one will teach you as this will." Laymen in particular need to read the sacred books. "Monks who are removed from the cities are in a safer position but we who live amidst the sea of sinful desires and temptations need this divine medicine so that we can heal ourselves from the sores which afflict us and guard ourselves from further harm. With Scripture we can destroy the fiery arrows of Satan."

Everything contained in Scripture offers us instruction and healing, "and in one short passage in Divine Scripture we can find great strength and an ineffable wealth of ideas." A man who reads the Bible diligently will constantly discover new depths, and he will hear the voice of God which speaks with authority in every human soul. "The sight of the Gospels alone makes us more able to abstain from sin," Chrysostom writes, "and if we supplement this with attentive reading, then it is as if the soul enters into a mysterious and holy place. It is purified and becomes better, for through these writings it enters converse with God." The holy books are a message which has been written for men by God for all eternity, and this explains the effect that can be gained by reading the Bible. When the all-loving Master sees how eager we are to understand the depths of His Divinity, He enlightens and illuminates our minds and reveals the truth to our souls.

Chrysostom's understanding of Divinely inspired Scripture, including its list of names, salutations, and dates, is almost literal. Scripture contains nothing that is superfluous or has no definite purpose, not even a single iota or a single word, and frequently the addition of even one letter can alter its meaning, as is demonstrated by the renaming of Abraham. Chrysostom considers that the human weakness of the authors of Scripture is a sign of God's lenience towards men and His accommodation for them. He tries to discover the Divine significance of even mistakes and discrepancies, since in his conception the "differences among the Evangelists" are an intentional part of God's plan. "If they were in complete harmony about everything, in relation to the time and the place and the words which were spoken, then none of their enemies would believe that they did not write without consulting among themselves and reaching an agreement beforehand, or that their agreement is true and genuine. Now the very fact that the Gospels contain discrepancies in minor details should allay all suspicion and should triumphantly justify our faith in those who wrote them."

The sacred writers wrote and spoke "in the Spirit" or the Spirit spoke in them, but Chrysostom carefully distinguishes the inspiration of the Spirit from possession by It. Inspiration is a form of enlightenment. The consciousness and intellect remain clear and that which is revealed is fully understood. This is the essential difference between prophecy and mantic divination and this is why the sacred writers never lose their own identities. Chrysostom emphasizes the individual personality of each writer and the circumstances of the composition of the individual books. The image of Paul in particular is clearly present before him. The entire Bible forms a single whole because it is all from God. The individual writers are only the implements of a single great author. 

His Scriptural Studies with Diodore of Tarsus.

Chrysostom in his youth studied not only with Libanius but also with Diodore, and it was in his school that his understanding of the Bible and his exegetical style were formed. Chrysostom always spoke about Diodore of Tarsus with great feeling and gratitude. "He led an apostolic life of poverty, prayer, and the service of the word." "His tongue flowed with honey and milk," and he was a trumpet and a lyre. Chrysostom as an exegete was not an innovator, but followed within a firmly established tradition.

There is much in the history of Antiochene theology which remains unclear. Antioch became a center of Christianity very early but we can distinguish only unconnected links within its uninterrupted chain of tradition. Mention should first be made of Theophilus of Antioch, who was significant as both a writer and a thinker. Later we meet the name of the presbyter Malchion, who headed the Hellenic school and was one of the chief denouncers of Paul of Samosata. This is approximately the period in which the renowned teacher Lucian was active. At this time the presbyter Dorotheus was also teaching in Antioch. Eusebius, who heard his interpretation of Scripture in Church, described him as a learned man and a specialist in the Hebrew language, who had read Hebrew books and also received a Hellenistic education. Thus it is evident that even in the third century Antioch was a major center of Biblical study and that its unique exegetical style had already been formed. The Antiochenes were characterized by a cautious and frequently hostile attitude toward allegorism in exegesis. This is especially true of Eustathius of Antioch, who entered the struggle against the Arian disciples of Lucian.

In general, it was the polemical need to oppose false doctrines that was responsible for the formation of the fourth century school of Antiochene theology best represented by Diodore of Tarsus. He was connected with Lucian through his disciple Eusebius of Emesa, who had also studied in Edessa. Diodore was an ascetic and a defender or orthodoxy, first against the Arians and later against the Apollinarians. He wrote on a variety of themes but was primarily an exegete. From the Old Testament he commented on the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the books of Samuel, and also on difficult passages from Chronicles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and the prophets. From the New Testament he wrote on the Gospels, the Acts, and the first letter of John. Only a few fragments of these writings have been preserved. We also have his short tract On Contemplation and Allegory, in which he sets forth the principles of his exegesis.

Diodore distinguishes among history, contemplation, and allegory. In his conception the Bible is neither an allegory nor a parable. Biblical narratives and pronouncements are always realistic and relate immediately to what is being described. For this reason Biblical commentary should be "historical" and a "pure exposition about that which took place." Allegorical interpretation, on the other hand, is removed from the direct meaning of the narration and "changes the subject" because it assumes that what is meant is not the same as what is said. Allegory must be distinguished from "contemplation," which reveals the higher meaning within history itself. Contemplation does not abrogate historical realism but presupposes it. This is the method that the apostle Paul used in his explanation of Biblical texts.

Apparently Diodore was interested in defending the realism of the Bible as a means of opposing the "Hellenism" he saw latent in allegorical interpretation. At the same time he also refused to acknowledge "Judaism" or strictly literal commentary, which in his view penetrates no further than the individual words. Many things are expressed in the Bible through hyperbole. Its narrations and locutions clearly exceed the measure of time, and this indicates the presence of a secondary meaning which is most frequently prophetic and foretells something else. What Diodore means by "contemplation" is primarily a type of exegetical divination, the discovery of prototypes. He is far from literal rationalism because for him the Bible is a sacred book which reveals a single Divine grace in many forms.

It is difficult to determine how Diodore applied these principles. The historical and literal method of interpretation was ultimately no more reliable than allegorism. On this subject Bolotov has aptly remarked that "the Alexandrian school was in danger of creating its own Scripture, but the Antiochene school, in remaining very close to the letter of Scripture, forgot that there Should be a 'theory' to follow the 'history'." 

The Additional Influence of Eusebius of Emesa and the Cappadocians on Chrysostom's Exegesis.

This danger was realized in the work of Theodore of Mopsuestia, who was a pupil of Diodore. Chrysostom, apparently, avoided Theodore's excesses and was closer to Diodore. It is possible that Chrysostom incorporated his teacher's commentary in his own exegetical work, and there is no doubt that he was influenced by the interpretations of Eusebius of Emesa. On the other hand, he also made use of the writings of the Cappadocians, who were closer to the Alexandrian tradition.

In general Chrysostom's exegesis is consistently realistic. The events in the Bible either teach us something or prophesy other events. This "typological" commentary is quite different from allegorism, and the doctrine of "types" or images is the essence of Chrysostom's understanding of the Bible. Sacred books have a religious significance for every believer and for everyone who reads them at all times and in all places, and this diversity of readership must be matched by the multiplicity of meaning in Scripture. This is especially true for the Old Testament, where pure "historical" interpretation inevitably turns out to be "Judaism." Here the concept of "typology" is especially important. However, genuine "typologism" is possible only on a realistic basis. It is not surprising that it was in the Antiochene school that the doctrine of prototypes and prefiguration was fully developed. In Chrysostom this doctrine is partially explained by the influence of the theology of St. Paul, which to a certain extent was instrumental in the development of all Antiochene exegetical theology.

Scripture is the word of God and it contains a kind of depth or three-dimensionality. For this reason the exegete must penetrate beneath the surface and go beyond the literal meaning. Chrysostom's primary motivation in using this approach is that the literal level of the Bible is often incomplete or unclear. When God speaks to man, He has to "adapt Himself and take into account the weakness of His audience," Chrysostom writes. This is his explanation for the anthropomorphism and anthropopathism in the Bible. "A father does not maintain his full dignity when he prattles with children." This is also how Chrysostom accounts for the occasional reticence of the New Testament. The Savior did not reveal His divine nature to Nicodemus "because this would have been premature and incomprehensible for the listener." For this same reason the apostles frequently speak about Christ as a man, refraining from revealing more than this until the time is right. All of this demonstrates that certain Scriptural passages need to be interpreted, especially in the Old Testament. This is true not only because the time had not yet come for full revelation. The main reason for the obscurity of the Old Testament is that it is directed towards the future. It is a form of prophecy.

Chrysostom frequently uses the term image or type, τυπος. He writes: “Do not expect to find a complete reality in an image. Look rather at the similarity the image has to the reality, and at the superiority of the reality in the New, and therefore only by starting from the New Testament can we recognize the "truth" or meaning of the Old. "An image should not be completely different from the truth because in that case it would not be an image. But it should also not be completely equal to the truth because in that case it would be the truth itself. It should be contained within the boundaries of the truth, not having all the truth within itself and yet not completely distant from it. For if it had everything, then it would be the very truth, but if it had nothing (of the truth), then it would not be an image. It should have something in itself and also leave something to the truth."

A prototype or prefiguration can be identified as individual incidents which indicate other events in the future. "Typology" differs from allegory in that it explains events, not words. An allegorical approach to Scripture sees only parables or pure symbols in the Biblical narration. It distinguishes not two levels of reality, but two understandings of one and the same symbol. For allegorists, the Old and New Testaments are two systems of interpretation or two conceptions of the world but not two stages in the economy of history. Their method is not based on real events. Historical realism does not aim at transforming the Bible into a history of the world, and even Theodore of Mopsuestia cannot be regarded as an historical positivist. In his understanding the entire Bible is a book about the Messiah and Christology, and the Old Testament is a prefiguration and prophecy of the future. He sees the Bible as full of allusions and presentiments, and this is even more true of Chrysostom. It cannot be denied that there is a certain degree of allegorism in his typological interpretation. However, it is not words which are symbolic, but facts. Thus the sacrifice of Isaac signifies the cross, and the lamb of the Old Testament prefigures Christ. The migration into Egypt and the subsequent Exodus foretell Joseph's flight to Egypt with the Infant and his later return to Palestine. Of course, this type of interpretation allows for the same kind of conventionalism and arbitrariness that can arise in the allegorical method.

Chrysostom discerns another system of Biblical prototypes in the words and means of expression themselves, especially in the speeches of the prophets. The prophets speak in a language of images which is, properly speaking, symbolic. However, the actual prophecies contain many meanings and relate to whole series of events, each of which reveals another. They often apply to things which have already taken place in the past. In this way Moses was prophesying when he revealed the nature of the creation of heaven and earth, and Jacob foretold Judas, and Christ as well, at the same time. The Psalms and the New Testament also have a double meaning. The Gospels are historical, but in addition to this the events narrated in them are prefigurations of the future fate of the souls of believers who will come to Christ. Furthermore, the Savior Himself spoke in parables, and it is this which justifies the validity of seeing the Gospels as a guide for moral behavior. All of this explains the religious significance of the "historical-grammatical" method of exegesis. It was not merely an intellectual and empirical interpretation of Scripture, and the "scientific nature" of Antiochene commentary should not be exaggerated.

The erudition of the Antiochene exegetes was no greater than that of the Alexandrians. Neither Chrysostom nor Theodore of Mopsuestia knew Hebrew. Therefore both of them followed the Greek text, which they regarded as the ultimate authority, and the problem of the discrepancies between the Hebrew and Greek recensions remained unresolved in their work. Chrysostom's historical perspective in his interpretation of the Bible is not sufficiently broad. He limits himself to only brief references to the authors of the books, their goals, and the conditions in which they wrote, and then immediately begins his examination of their thought. Chrysostom's commentaries on the new Testament are among the best of his writings, as was recognized even in ancient times, and the reason for this is the tremendous sensitivity with which he perceives even the slightest nuances in the Greek. Chrysostom's orientation as a philologist is apparent when he asks such questions as who is speaking, to whom, and about what? He examines the various shades of meaning in synonyms and explores possible alternative locutions. He always tries to derive the meaning of Scripture from Scripture itself, and his references to tradition are relatively few. For Chrysostom, as for Origen, the Bible is self-sufficient.

Both Alexandrians and Antiochenes alike tried to grasp and interpret the "inner" or "spiritual" significance of Scripture. Their disagreement was limited to their methods and did not extend to their goals. This divergence in methodology can be partially explained by the difference in the philological traditions from which they developed. The distinction and struggle between "allegorical" and "historical-grammatical" approaches can be observed even among the ancient interpreters of classical texts. However, this divergence is primarily connected with the difference in the way that the religious significance of history was perceived by them. It is very indicative that Diodore of Tarsus accused the Alexandrian allegorists of not understanding history. However, their ultimate goal always remained the discovery and explanation of the meaning of Scripture, whether that meaning was found in the word or in the event.

In their approach to the moral significance of Scripture the Alexandrians and the Antiochenes were very similar to each other. Furthest from the Alexandrian tradition was Theodore of Mopsuestia, but as a result of his views on theology and his particular brand of humanism his Biblical exegesis is almost devoid of religious significance. It was in his extreme doctrines that the Antiochene school was condemned. However, the most valuable aspect of the realism of the Antiochene exegetes, their interpretation of Scripture as history, was retained. It is this which is the most outstanding feature of the work of Chrysostom.

From The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century.

 

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