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Chryso'stomus, Joannes or St. Chryso'stomus

*Xruso/stomos, (golden-mouthed, so surnamed from the power of his eloquence), was born at Antioch, most probably A. D. 347, though the dates 344 and 354 have also been given. His father Secundus was a general in the imperial army, and his mother Anthusa was left a widow soon after his birth. From her he received his first religious impressions, so that she was to him what Monica was to Augustin, though, unlike Augustin, Chrysostom from his earliest childhood was continually advancing in seriousness and earnestness of mind, and underwent no violent inward struggle before he embraced Christianity. To this circumstance, Neander (Kirchengesch. iii. p. 1440, &c.) attributes the peculiar form of his doctrine, his strong feeling that the choice of belief or unbelief rests with ourselves, and that God's grace is given in proportion to our own wish to receive it. Libanius taught him eloquence, and said, that he should have desired to see him his successor in his school, if the Christians had not stolen him. Before his ordination, he retired first to a monastery near Antioch, and afterwards to a solitary cavern, where he committed the whole of the Bible to memory. In this cavern he so injured his health that he was obliged to return to Antioch, where he was ordained deacon by the bishop Meletius, A. D. 381, who had previously baptized him, and afterwards presbyter by Flavianus, successor to Meletius, A. D. 386. At Antioch his success as a preacher was so great, that on the death of Nectarius, archbishop of Constantinople, he was chosen to succeed him by Eutropius, minister to the emperor Arcadius, and the selection was readily ratified by the clergy and people of the imperial city, A. D. 397. The minister who appointed him was a eunuch of infamous profligacy, and Chrysostom was very soon obliged to extend to him the protection of the church. Tribigild, the Ostrogoth, aided by the treachery of Gainas, the imperial general, who hated and despised Eutropius, threatened Constantinople itself by his armies, and demanded as a condition of peace the head of Eutropius, who fled to the sanctuary of the cathedral. While he was grovelling in terror at the altar, Chrysostom ascended the pulpit, and by his eloquence saved his life for the time, though it was afterwards sacrificed to the hatred of his enemies.

The sermons of the archbishop soon gave great offence at Constantinople. The tone of his theology was always rather of a practical than a doctrinal kind, and his strong sense of the power of the human will increased his indignation at the immorality of the capital. He was undoubtedly rash and violent in his proceedings, and the declamatory character of his preaching was exactly adapted to express the stern morality of his thoughts. He was also disliked for the simplicity of his mode of living, and the manner in which he diverted the revenues of his see from the luxuries in which his predecessors had consumed them, to humane and charitable objects. Many of the worldly-minded monks and clergy, as well as the ministers and ladies of the court, became his enemies, and at their head appeared the empress Eudoxia herself, who held her husband's weak mind in absolute subjection. His unpopularity was spread still more widely in consequence of a visitation which he held in Asia Minor. two years after his consecration, in which he accused several bishops of simony and other gross crimes, and deposed thirteen of them. (Comp. Hom. iii. in Act. Postt.) Meanwhile, a contest had arisen in Egypt between Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, and certain monks of Nitria, who followed the opinions of Origen. At their head were four of one family, known as the Tall Brothers (ἀδελφοὶ μακποί), against whom Theophilus seems to have been prejudiced by a strictly private quarrel. (Palladius, apud Chrysost. ed. Montfauc. vol. xiii.) He excommunicated them, and they fled to Constantinople, where they sought the protection of Chrysostom and of the empress. A long dispute followed, in the course of which Theophilus, by artfully working on the simplicity of Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, and other prelates hostile to the opinions of Origen, prejudiced them against Chrysostom as implicated in the charge of heresy with which those views had recently been branded by a synod. Eudoxia, who had summoned Theophilus to Constantinople to answer the charge of persecuting the Nitrian monks, became his warm friend when she saw in him her instrument for the destruction of Chrysostom; and he arrived at the capital of the East not as an accused person, but as the judge of its archbishop. But the same causes which had brought on Chrysostom the hatred of the higher orders had made him the idol of the people; and as it was thought unsafe to hold a synod against him within the city, it was summoned to meet on an estate at Chalcedon, called the oak, whence it is known by the name of su/nodos pro\s th\n dru/n. The accusations against him were various; his inhospitality was especially put forward (ὅτι τὴν φιλοξενίαν ἀθετεῖ, μονοσιτίαν ἐπιτηδεύων, ὅτι μόνος ἐσθίει, ἀσωτῶς ξῶν Κυκλώπων Βιόν, Phot. Bibl. 59), and the charge of Origenism was used to blind the better part of the assembly. Before this council Chrysostom steadily refused to appear, until four bishops, notoriously his enemies, were removed from it, who are called by Isidore of Pelusium (1.152) σύνερλοι υᾶλλον συναπόσταται with Theophilus. He was therefore deposed for contumacy, forty-five bishops subscribing his sentence, to which was added a hint to the emperor, that his sermons against Eudoxia subjected him to the penalties of treason. At first he refused to desert the flock which God had entrusted to him; but, on hearing that there was a danger of an insurrection in his favour, he retired from Constantinople, to which he was recalled in a few days by a hasty message from the empress, whose superstitious fears were alarmed by an earthquake, which the enraged people considered as a proof of the divine anger at his banishment. But in two months after his return he was again an exile. The festivities attending the dedication of a silver statue of Eudoxia near the cathedral had disturbed the worshippers, and provoked an angry sermon from the archbishop, who, on hearing that this had excited anew the enmity of the empress, began another sermon with this exordium: -- "Herodias again rages, once more she dances, she again requires the head of John." This offence Eudoxia could not forgive. A new synod of Eastern bishops, guided by the advice of Theophilus, condemned Chrysostom for resuming his functions before his previous sentence had been legally reversed, and he was hastily conveyed to the desolate town of Cucusus, on the borders of Isauria, Cilicia, and Armenia.

Chrysostom's character shone even more brightly in adversity than it had done in power. In spite of the inclement climate to which he was banished, and continual danger from the neighbourhood of Isaurian robbers, he sent letters full of encouragement and Christian faith to his friends at Constantinople, and began to construct a scheme for spreading the gospel among the Persians and Goths. He met with much sympathy from other churches, especially the Roman, whose bishop, Innocent, declared himself his warm friend and supporter. All this excited jealousy at Constantinople, and in the summer of A. D. 407 an order came for his removal to Pityus, in Pontus, at the very extremity of the East-Roman empire. But the fatigues of his journey, which was performed on foot under a burning sun, were too much for him, and he died at Comana in Pontus, in the 60th year of his age. His last words were those of Job,-- δόξα τὧ Θεὧ πάντων ἕεκεν, and formed a worthy conclusion of a life spent in God's service. His exile nearly caused a schism at Constantinople, where a party, named after him Johannists, separated from the church, and refused to acknowledge his successors. They did not return to the general communion till A. D. 438, when the archbishop Proclus prevailed on the emperor Theodosius II. to bring back the bones of Chrysostom to Constantinople, where they were received with the highest honours, the emperor himself publicly imploring the forgiveness of heaven for the crime of his parents, Arcadius and Eudoxia. Chrysostom, as we learn from his biographers, was short, with a large bald head, high forehead, hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes. The Greek church celebrates his festival Nov. 13, the Latin, Jan. 27.


The works of Chrysostom are most voluminous. They consist of:
  • 1. Homilies on different parts of Scripture and points of doctrine and practice.
  • 2. Commentaries, by which, as we learn from Suidas, he had illustrated the whole of the Bible, though some of them afterwards perished in a fire at Constantinople.
  • 3. Epistles addressed to a great number of different persons.
  • 4. Treatises on various subjects, e. g. the Priesthood (six books), Providence (three books), &c.
  • 5. Liturgies.
Of the homilies, those on St. Paul are superior to anything in ancient theology, and Thomas Aquinas said, that he would not accept the whole city of Paris for those on St. Matthew, delivered at Antioch, A. D. 390-397. The letters written in exile have been compared to those of Cicero composed under similar circumstances; but in freedom from vanity and selfishness, and in calmness and resignation, Chrysostom's epistles are infinitely superior to Cicero's. Among the collection of letters is one from the emperor Honorius to his brother Arcadius in defence of Chrysostom, found in the Vatican, and published by Baronius and afterwards by Montfaucon.


The merits of Chrysostom as an expositor of Scripture are very great. Rejecting the allegorical interpretations which his predecessors had put upon it, he investigates the meaning of the text grammatically, and adds an ethical or doctrinal application to a perspicuous explanation of the sense. The first example of grammatical interpretation had indeed been set by Origen, many of whose critical remarks are of great merit; but Chrysostom is free from his mystical fancies, and quite as well acquainted with the language of the New Testament. The Greek expositors who followed him have done little more than copy his explanations. The commentary of Theodoret is a faithful compendium of Chrysostom's homilies, and so also are the works of Theophylact and Oecumenius, so much so that to those who wish to gain a knowledge of the results of his critical labours, the study of the two latter may be reconmmended as perfectly correct compilers from their more prolix predecessor.

Of Chrysostom's powers as a preacher the best evidence is contained in the history of his life; there is no doubt that his eloquence produced the deepest impression on his hearers, and while we dissent from those who have ranked him with Demosthenes and Cicero, we cannot fail to admire the power of his language in expressing moral indignation, and to sympathise with the ardent love of all that is good and noble, the fervent piety, and absorbing faith in the Christian revelation, which pervade his writings. His faults are too great diffuseness and a love of metaphor and ornament. He often repelled with indignation the applause with which his sermons were greeted, exclaiming, " The place where you are is no theatre, nor are you now sitting to gaze upon actors." (Hom. xvii. Matt. vii.) There are many respects in which he shews the superiority of his understanding to the general feelings of the age. We may cite as one example the fact, that although he had been a monk, he was far from exalting monachism above the active duties of the Christian life. (See Hom. vii. in Heb. iv.; Hom. vii. in Ephes. iv.) " How shall we conquer our enemiies," he asks in one place, "if some do not busy themselves about goodness at all, while those wvho do withdraw from the battle ?" (Hom. vi. in 1 Cor. iv.) Again, he was quite free from the view of inspiration which prevailed at Alexandria, and which considered the Bible in such a sense the word of God, as to overlook altogether the human element in its composition, and the difference of mind and character in its authors. Variations in trifles he speaks of as proofs of truth (Hom. i. in Matth.); so that he united the principal intellectual with the principal moral element necessary for an interpretator of Scripture, a critical habit of mind with a real depth of Christian feeing. At the -amie time he was not always free from the tendencies of the time, speaking often of miracles wrought by the relics of martyrs, consecrated oil, and the sign of the cross, and of the efficacy of exorcism, nor does he always express himself on some of the points already noticed with the same distinctness as in the examples cited above. His works are historically valuable as illustrating the manners of the 4th and 5th centuries of the Christian aera, the social state of the people, and the luxurious licence which disgraced the capital. (See Jortin, Eccles. Hist. iv. p. 169, &c.)

Further Information

Ancient Authorities in the Life of Chrysostom

The most elaborate among the ancient authorities for Chrysostom's life are the following:--

1. Palladius, bishop of Helenopolis, whose work (a dialogue) was published in a Latin translation at Venice A. D. 1533, and in the original text at Paris in 1680. It is to be found in Montfaucon's edition of Chrysostom's works, vol. xiii.

2. The Ecclesiastical Histories of Socrates (lib. vi.), Sozomenus (lib. viii.), Theodoret (5.27).

3. The works of Suidas (Ἰωάννης), and Isidore of Pelusium (ii. Epist. 42), besides several others, some published and some in MS.,of which a list will be found in Fabricius (Bibl. Graec. vol. viii. pp. 456-460).

More Modern Writers

Among the more modern writers it will suffice to mention Erasmus (vol. iii. Ep. 1150. p. 1331, &c., ed. Lugd. Bat.), J. Frederic Meyer (Chrysostomus Lutheranus, Jena, 1680), with Hack's reply (S. J. Chrysostomus a Lutheranismo vindicatus, 1683), Cave (Script. Eccl. list. Litter. vol. i.), Lardner (Credibility of the Gospel Hist. part ii. vol. 10.100.1118), Tillemont (Memoires Eccle/siastiques, vol. xi. pp. 1-405, &c.), and Montfaucon, his principal editor. Gibbon's account (Decline and Fall, xxxii.) is compiled from Palladius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Tillemont, Erasmus, and Montfaucon. But the best of all will be found in Neander (Kirchengesch. 2.3, p. 1440, &c.), who has also published a separate life of Chrysostom.


Latin Editions

Chrysostom's works were first published in Latin at Venice in 1503, Comment. impensa et studio Bernardini Slaynini Tridinenisis et Gregorii de Gregoriis. Several editions followed at Basle, also in Latin, and in 1523 the Homilies on Genesis were translated there by Oecolampadius (Hauschein). In 1536 his works were published at Paris, but the most famous edition which appeared in that city was cura Frontonis Ducaei, 1613, whose translation is much commended by Montfaucon.

Greek Editions

In Greek were first published at Verona, 1529, the Homilies on St. Paul's Epistles, edited by Gilbert Bishop of Verona, with a preface by Donatus, addressed to Pope Clement VII. In 1610-13, the most complete collection of Chrysostom's works which had yet appeared was published at Eton by Norton, the king's printer, under the superintendence of Henry Savil, in 8 vols.: this edition contained notes by Casaubon and others. In 1609, at Paris, F. Morell began to publish the Greek text with the version of Ducaeus, a task which was completed by Charles Morell in 1633. Of this edition the text is compiled from that of Savil, and that of an edition of the Commentaries on the New Testament, published at Heidelberg by Commelin, 1591-1603. In 1718-38 appeared, also at Paris, the editio optima by Bernard de Montfaucon, in 13 vols. folio. He has endeavoured to ascertain the date of the different works, has prefixed to most of them a short dissertation on the circumstances under which it was written, with an inquiry into its authenticity, and has added very much hitherto unpublished, together with the principal ancient lives of Chrysostom. Montfaucon was a Benedictine monk, and was assisted by others of his order.

Of separate works of Chrysostom the editions and translations are almost innumerable. Erasmus translated some of the homilies and commentaries; and the edition of two homilies (those on 1 Cor. and 1 Thess. iv.) "Gr. Lat. interprete Joanne Cheko, Cantabrigiensi, Londini, ap. Reyner Vnolfuin. 1543" is interesting as the first book printed with Greek types in England. Some of the homilies are translated in the Library of the Fathers now publishing at Oxford, and those on St. Matthew have been recently edited by the Rev. F. Field, Fellow of Trin. Coll. Cambridge.


The number of MSS. of Chrysostom is also immense: the principal of these are in the royal library at Paris, the imperial library at Vienna (to which collection two of great value were added by Maria Theresa), and that of St. Mark at Venice.


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