Monday, May 10, 2010

Thesis: Chrysostom’s Life

From the introductory/background section of the thesis. Feel free to comment on these posts in a critical way, feedback would be helpful! I've left footnotes out of this one.

On one level it seems almost redundant to talk about John Chrysostom’s life. A preacher who by his preaching won the title ‘Golden-mouth’, and has retained it without peer through the history of the church almost needs no introduction. Sadly, many people’s acquaintance with Chrysostom goes little beyond the meaning of his moniker.

Born ca. 349 in Antioch, John forms a later contemporary to the Cappadocian Fathers by some 15-20 years. Decisively, this age gap meant that much of his prime was in the aftermath and triumph of the Council of Constantinople 381. His family was well-off, his father a civil-servant, his mother a devout Christian who declined to remarry after her husband’s death. John undertook the standard education for someone of his class and time, and probably entered Libanios’ tuition aged 14 or 15.
The ecclesiastical situation in Antioch was complicated by divisions that harkened back to 331 when anti-Nicene proponents ousted Eustathios. The complicated politicking of 360 lead to 3 rival claimaints for the see, Euzoios, a moderate anti-Nicene; Meletios, Homoean in language but pro-Nicene in sympathies; and Paulinos, a staunch pro-Nicene.

Completing rhetorical studies in 367, John seemed headed for a top-class career in the imperial civil service, but in conversation with his friend Basil, they decided rather to devote themselves to the study of the scriptures. Around this time John became a close associate of Meletios, was baptised at Easter 368 , and went on to become the bishop’s aide. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle, and encouraged Maximus (later of Seleukis) as well as Theodore (of Mopsuestia) to join his endeavours, while studying under Diodore, who with Flavian had emerged much earlier as prominent lay leaders of the pro-Eustathios faction in the fall-out from 331.

After 3 years in this ‘role’, John was appointed a Reader, ca. 371; shortly thereafter he duped his friend Basil, fleeing an attempt at forced ordination and leaving his friend to it, while he retired to Mt. Silpios and pursued a stricter ascetic regime, firstly in the vicinity of others, then around 376 withdrawing further. This must have been an especially formative time for John, in terms of both his own ascetic practices and later sympathies, as well as study and reflection upon the scriptures. In late 378 he returned to Antioch, forced largely by his deteriorating health which never fully recovered from some of the ill-advised rigours he had put it through. His return coincided with the accession of Gratian, the installation of Theodosius, and the general triumph of Nicene orthodoxy. He was soon ordained Deacon, probably early 381, and then Presbyter in early 386, by Flavian (Meletios’ successor). It is from his time as Presbyter and major assistant to Flavian’s work that much of John’s sermon output belongs. Formative events in this period include his own anti-Anomoean sermons, and the Riot of the Statues during Lent 387.

The particular focus of this study is Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Gospel of John. These are dated to 391. It is thus not my intention to provide an extensive resume of John’s life beyond the Antioch period. In late October 397 John was removed discreetly under imperial guidance to Constantinople, to take up that see. John was an active, vigorous bishop, which garnered him many successes, but equally many enemies. He was not always known for tact either, and some of his downfall may certainly be attributed to both his personal failings and failure to succeed in political maneouvres. The arrival of the Long Brothers in 401 set in motion a chain of events that led to his first, albeit brief, exile in 403, largely orchestrated by Theophilos of Alexandria, and then the second, more definitive punishment and exile from June 20th, 404. This saw John removed temporarily to Nicaea, then more permanently to Cucusos, before a final journey commencing mid-June 407, resulting in the aged and weakened John’s death, September 14th. Though he died in exile and official disgrace, John’s supporters were persistent, and over a number of years his reputation (in the East) was rehabilitated and restored, with the triumphal return of his remains to Constantinople in 438.


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This work by Seumas Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.

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