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John Chrysostom

c.344/354-407. Bishop of Constantinople. Born at Antioch of exalted Christian parents, he studied philosophy and rhetoric (under the celebrated pagan professor Libanius) before adopting the religious life under the direction of Melitius* and Diodore of Tarsus. Responsibility for his widowed mother curbed his monastic aspirations until about 373, when he became a hermit in the nearby mountains. Harsh austerities impaired his health, and he returned to Antioch to be made deacon by Melitius (381) and priest by Flavian (386), entrusted with preaching in the cathedral. Here in the next decade he delivered most of the series of sermons, chiefly on biblical books, which merited him the sixth-century name chrysostomos, “golden-mouthed.” This most distinguished of Greek patristic preachers excelled in spiritual and moral application in the Antiochene tradition of literal exegesis, largely disinterested, even untutored in speculative and controversial theology. The Homilies on the Statues (387) mastered a congregation terrified of imperial retribution for wrecking statues in a tax riot.

In 398 John was unwillingly appointed patriarch of Constantinople, where his uncompromising reforming zeal and political innocence antagonized Empress Eudoxia and sundry clergy, including Theophilus, bishop of rival Alexandria, who contrived to have him condemned on twenty-nine charges, including Origenist heresy, at the Synod of the Oak* near Chalcedon (403). Deposed and exiled but rapidly recalled, he again infuriated Eudoxia, and after disobeying an imperial fiat to relinquish episcopal duties, which led to bloodshed at the Easter baptisms, he was again exiled (404) to Cucusus in Armenia Secunda; there he proved so accessible and influential that he was ordered to migrate to Pityus on the E Black Sea. He died of the rigors of this forced journey at Comana in Pontus (407). Pope Innocent I broke communion with Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch over John's deposition and resumed it only after his posthumous vindication. John's remains were honorably interred in Constantinople in 438.

John's writings, in an attractive Attic style, have nearly all survived. Besides hundreds of sermons (among them a set of recently discovered baptismal homilies and eight against the Jews), they comprise 236 letters concerning his second exile, and several practical treatises, including The Priesthood discussions on the monastic life, a pamphlet on the nurture of children (ed. A.M. Malingrey in Sources Chrétiennes, 1972; ET in M.L.W. Laistner, Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire, 1951), and a polemical anti-Jewish apologia.

For his straightforward, if artless, integrity and his lively and earnest inculcation of Christian mores, John has enjoyed a wider esteem than any other Father. After Augustine, none was so popular with the Reformers.

J. Quasten, Patrology 3 (1960), pp. 424-82; D. Burger, Complete Bibliography of Scholarship on the Life and Works of St. John Chrysostom (1964).

Works: PG 47-64; several letters and treatises in Sources Chrétiennes series, esp. Baptismal Catcheses (vol. 50, 1957, ed. A. Wenger). For numerous spuria, J.A. de Aldame, Repertorium Pseudochrysostumicum (1965).

ETs: In Library of the Fathers (16 vols., 1839-52) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (1st series, vols. 9-14, 1888-93); many ETs of The Priesthood (esp. T.A. Moxon, 1907); Baptismal Catecheses (tr. P.W. Harkins, 1963); Biographical Dialogue by Palladius (c.408), (ed. P.R. Coleman- Norton 1928, ET by H. Moore, 1921).

Lives by W.R.W. Stephens (1872), D. Attwater (1939), B. Vanderberghe (1958), J.C. Baur (2 vols., 1959, 1961).

Other selected studies include F.H. Chase, Chrysostom: A Study in the History of Biblical Interpretation (1887); S.C. Neill, Chrysostom and His Message (1962); H. von Campenhausen, Fathers of the Greek Church (1963); J. Pelikan, The Preaching of Chrysostom (1966); T.M. Finn, The Liturgy of Baptism in the Baptismal Instructions of St. John Chrysostom (1967).