St. John Chrysostom

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St. John Chrysostom was born around 349 A.D. in Antioch and like many of the other Church Fathers we’ve discussed like St. Justin Martyr and St. Athanasius was born into wealth. The affluence of his family allowed him to taught by one of antiquities greatest teachers, Libanius. The famous pagan professor said “It is a pity…that the boy is a Christian—otherwise he could be my successor.”[1]Chrysostom lost his father at an early age and being brought by his mother, Anthusa, as Pope Benedict XVI explains she “instilled in him exquisite human sensitivity and a deep Christian faith.”[2]D’Ambrosio explains that despite having such a formidable education, Chrysostom, “lost his enthusiasm for a life in law or public service. He had met some hermits outside the city and, inspired by their example, decided to join them.[3]He spent four years with the monks on Mount Silpius, “he extended his retreat for a further two years, living alone in a cave under the guidance of an old hermit.”[4]

Pope Benedict, in his General Audience on St. John Chrysostom, gives an account of Chrysostom’s early career in the Church’s clergy as he “between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386 and come a famous preacher in the city’s churches.”[5]It was the next year when Emperor Theodosius had been compelled to increase taxes due to a response to an invasion. The tax increased caused a mob to form who were incensed by the tax. The mob defaced statues of the Emperor and as response to the vandalism the Emperor intended to punish the city.[6]At this moment, after the Bishop went to the Emperor to plead for reconciliation, Chrysostom went to the people, led them in prayer and gave twenty-one of some of his most famous homliles called On the Statues. St. John was able to quiet the rage of the mob, which in turn, smoothed over the wrath of the Emperor. In our current cultural climate, perhaps it would be wisdom for both leaders and citizens to reflect on this event.

St. John Chrysostom understands this by developing and defending the doctrine of Eucharist to be called “The Doctor of the Eucharist.”

He writes,

“For When thou seest the Lord sacrificed and laid upon the alter, and the priest standing and praying over the Victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that Precious Blood, canst thou think that thou art still amongst men and standing on earth…Oh, what a marvel! What love of God to Man!”

Elias left a sheepskin to his disciple, but the Son of God, ascending left us His own flesh!…Let us not lament, nor fear the difficulties of the times, for He who did not refuse to pour out His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood again—what will He refused to do for our safety?”[7]

As we note above from Fr. Rengers, D’Ambrosio further explains, “One of the most notable themes struck by John is the centrality of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the life of the Church. He insisted that consecrated elements truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.”[8]In D’Ambrosio’s text, he references from Homilies 1 and 2 on the Betrayal of Judasin which St. John Chrysostom’s words become an astounding defense for the Priesthood and the Priest’s role in Christ’s sacrifice at the Mass.

 

If we break down St. John’s words, when he articulates the idea “It is not man who causes what is presented to come the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself.”[9]This is a perfect example of what is known as In Persona Christi. It’s important to note that we acknowledge this in the beginning of Mass. For example, at the opening of Mass, when we respond “And with your Spirit, It is a response to In Persona Christi—not the priest.And of course, there are other times when the Priest serves in the person of Christ like at the sacrament of reconciliation.

Again, in a Christmas Homily, St. John Chysostom reminds us of the Incarnation during the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Mass by saying, “Reflect, O Man, what sacrificial flesh you take in your hand!” (note the language)
St. John Chrysostom writes in regards to our mission for aiding the poor in Homily 50 on aiding the poor and being a missionary church.

He says:

Wouldest thou do honour to Christ’s Body? Neglect Him not when naked; do not, while here thou honourest Him with silken garments, neglect Him perishing without of cold and nakedness. For He that said, This is My Body, and by His word confirmed the fact, This Same said, Ye saw Me an hungered, and fed Me not; and, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me. For This indeed needs not coverings, but a pure soul; but that requires much attention.

Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honour Christ as He Himself desires. For to Him who is honoured that honour is most pleasing, which it is His own will to have, not that which we account best. Since Peter too thought to honour Him by forbidding Him to wash his feet, but his doing so was not an honour, but the contrary.

Even so do thou honour Him with this honour, which He ordained, spending thy wealth on poor people. Since God hath no need at all of golden vessels, but of golden souls.

And these things I say, not forbidding such offerings to be provided; but requiring you, together with them, and before them, to give alms. For He accepts indeed the former, but much more the latter. For in the one the offerer alone is profited, but in the other the receiver also. Here the act seems to be a ground even of ostentation; but there all is mercifulness, and love to man.

For what is the profit, when His table indeed is full of golden cups, but He perishes with hunger? First fill Him, being an hungered, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Dost thou make Him a cup of gold, while thou givest Him not a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Dost thou furnish His Table with cloths bespangled with gold, while to Himself thou affordest not even the necessary covering? And what good comes of it? For tell me, should you see one at a loss for necessary food, and omit appeasing his hunger, while you first overlaid his table with silver; would he indeed thank thee, and not rather be indignant? What, again, if seeing one wrapped in rags, and stiff with cold, thou shouldest neglect giving him a garment, and build golden columns, saying, “thou wert doing it to his honour,” would he not say that thou wert mocking, and account it an insult, and that the most extreme?

Let this then be thy thought with regard to Christ also, when He is going about a wanderer, and a stranger, needing a roof to cover Him; and thou, neglecting to receive Him, deckest out a pavement, and walls, and capitals of columns, and hangest up silver chains by means of lamps, but Himself bound in prison thou wilt not even look upon.[10]
The Interesting part of when D’ambrosio quotes this particular passage in the text is that immediately my thoughts went to the Gospel of John Chapter 12:

The Anointing at Bethany.Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[The] large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, 11 because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him. [11]

 I thought how can St. John Chrysostom challenge the importance of golden cups on the church’s altar and at the same time come to an agreement with this particular passage. Naturally, I went to the source to find the answer and it’s as if St. John knew I would inquire about such a discrepancy between the Gospel texts, he says:

Why then doth He Himself say, The poor always ye have with you, but Me ye have not always? Why, for this reason most of all should we give alms, that we have Him not always an hungered, but in the present life only. But if thou art desirous to learn also the whole meaning of the saying, understand that this was said not with a view to His disciples, although it seem so, but to the woman’s weakness. That is, her disposition being still rather imperfect, and they doubting about her; to revive her He said these things. For in proof that for her comfort He said it, He added, Why trouble ye the woman? And with regard to our having Him really always with us, He saith, Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. From all which it is evident, that for no other object was this said, but that the rebuke of the disciples might not wither the faith of the woman, just then budding.[12]

St. John’s words stirs in my thoughts the question, on a parish level, how can we properly meet the needs of the poor in our community. In my own parish, a new ministry has started with a chapter of St. Vincent De Paul Society, which appears to be doing good work by helping other churches make and deliver meals, as well as take other donations. One of the issues that I have from a Catholic stand point is that I feel as though we get away from our mission stated in Matthew 25, when I drive around town, I see many Evangelical churches together going out and engaging with the poor. I ask myself, where are the Catholics. In my mind, in regards to our own parish, I wonder what St. John Chrysostom would say in regards to our present parish life.

One of St. John Chrysostom’s most famous homilies is his Easter Homily, which is given as the Homily at every Easter Sunday in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. In fact, the homily is so prestiges that it is getting a new rebirth in Protestant churches as the Homily given at the Easter services. Again, St. John Chrysostom reminds us that we must focus on the importance of the Resurrection in regard to the entirety of our faith. Christ is not like Mohammad, Buddha, or Confucius who wish for us to follow a path, but rather Christ tells us to “Come Follow Him,” and where we ask him where, he replies, “Come and See.” The centrality of our faith relies on Christ and His Resurrection, as we’ve seen by the lives and works of St. Justin Martyr and St. Athanasius. St. Paul reminds us in the First Letter to the Corinthians, “13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. 15 Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.[13]

 

Easter Homily

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

[1]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 243.

[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 98.

[3]D’Ambrosio, 243.

[4]Pope Benedict XVI, 98.

[5]Ibid, 99.

[6]D’Ambrosio, 244.

[7][7]Christopher Rengers and Matthew E. Bunson, The 35 Doctors of the Church(Tan Books: Charlotte, 2014), 112.

[8]D’Ambriosio, 245.

[9]Ibid.

[10]John Chrysostom, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Parts 1 & 2, trans. Bart Prevost, vol. 2, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford; London: John Henry Parker; J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1843–1844), 685–686.

[11]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 12:1–11.

[12]John Chrysostom, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Parts 1 & 2, trans. Bart Prevost, vol. 2, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford; London: John Henry Parker; J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1843–1844), 686–687.

[13]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Co 15:13–17.

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