CHRYSOSTOM. St John Chrysostom (Gr., golden-mouthed), the most famous of the Greek Fathers, was born of a noble family at Antioch, the capital of Syria, about A.D. 345 or 347. At the school of Libanius the sophist he gave early indications of his mental powers, and would have been the successor of his heathen master, had he not been stolen away, to use the expression of his teacher, to a life of piety (like Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Theodoret) by the influence of his pious mother Anthusa. After his baptism (about 370) by Meletius, the bishop of Antioch, he gave up all his forensic prospects, and buried himself in an adjacent desert, where for nearly ten years he spent a life of ascetic self-denial and theological study, to which he was introduced by Diodorus, bishop of Tarsus, a famous scholar of the Antiochene type. Illness, however, compelled him to return to the world; and the authority of Meletius gained his services to the church. He was ordained deacon in his thirty-fifth year (381), and afterwards presbyter (386) at Antioch. On the death of Nectarius he was appointed archbishop of Constantinople by Eutropius, the favourite minister of the emperor Arcadius. He had, ten years before this, only escaped promotion to the episcopate by a very questionable stratagem - which, however, he defends in his instructive and eloquent treatise De Sacerdotio. As a presbyter, he won high reputation by his preaching at Antioch, more especially by his homilies on The Statues, a course of sermons delivered when the citizens were justly alarmed at the prospect of severe measures being taken against them by the emperor Theodosius, whose statues had been demolished in a riot.
On the archiepiscopal throne Chrysostom still persevered in the practice of monastic simplicity. The ample revenues which his predecessors had consumed in pomp and luxury he diligently applied to the establishment of hospitals; and the multitudes who were supported by his charity preferred the eloquent discourses of their benefactor to the amusements of the theatre or of the circus. His homilies, which are still preserved, furnish ample apology for the partiality of the people, exhibiting the free command of a pure and copious vocabulary, an inexhaustible fund of metaphors and similitudes, giving variety and grace to the most familiar topics, with an almost dramatic exposure of the folly and turpitude of vice, and a deep moral earnestness. His zeal as a bishop and eloquence as a preacher, however, gained him enemies both in the church and at the court. The ecclesiastics who were parted at his command from the lay-sisters (whom they kept ostensibly as servants), the thirteen bishops whom he deposed for simony and licentiousness at a single visitation, the idle monks who thronged the avenues to the court and found themselves the public object of his scorn - all conspired against the powerful author of their wrongs. Their resentment was inflamed by a powerful party, embracing the magistrates, the ministers, the favourite eunuchs, the ladies of the court, and Eudoxia the empress herself, against whom the preacher thundered daily from the pulpit of St Sophia. A favourable pretext for gratifying their revenge was discovered in the shelter which Chrysostom had given to four Nitrian monks, known as the tall brothers, who had come to Constantinople on being excommunicated by their bishop, Theophilus of Alexandria, a man who had long circulated in the East the charge of Origenism against Chrysostom. By Theophilus's instrumentality a synod was called to try or rather to condemn the archbishop; but fearing the violence of the mob in the metropolis, who idolized him for the fearlessness with which he exposed the vices of their superiors, it held its sessions at the imperial estate named "The Oak" (Synodus ad quercum), near Chalcedon, where Rufinus had erected a stately church and monastery. A bishop and a deacon were sent to accuse the archbishop, and presented to him a list of charges, in which pride, inhospitality and Origenism were brought forward to procure the votes of those who hated him for his austerity, or were prejudiced against him as a suspected heretic. Four successive summonses were signified to Chrysostom, but he indignantly refused to appear until four of his notorious enemies were removed from the council. Without entering into any examination of the charges brought before them, the synod condemned him on the ground of contumacy, and, hinting that his audacity merited the punishment of treason, called on the emperor to ratify and enforce their decision. He was immediately arrested and hurried to Nicaea in Bithynia.
As soon as the news of his banishment spread through the city, the astonishment of the people was quickly exchanged for a spirit of irresistible fury, which was increased by the occurrence of an earthquake. In crowds they besieged the palace, and had already begun to take vengeance on the foreign monks and sailors who had come from Chalcedon to the metropolis, when, at the entreaty of Eudoxia, the emperor consented to his recall. His return was graced with all the pomp of a triumphal entry, but in two months after he was again in exile. His fiery zeal could not blind him to the vices of the court, and heedless of personal danger he thundered against the profane honours that were addressed almost within the precincts of St Sophia to the statue of the empress. The haughty spirit of Eudoxia was inflamed by the report of a discourse commencing with the words - "Herodias is again furious; Herodias again dances; she once more demands the head of John"; and though the report was false, it sealed the doom of the archbishop. A new council was summoned, more numerous and more subservient to the wishes of Theophilus; and troops of barbarians were quartered in the city to overawe the people. Without examining it, the council confirmed the former sentence, and, in accordance with canon 12 of the Synod of Antioch (341), pronounced his deposition for having resumed his functions without their permission.
He was hurried away to the desolate town of Cucusus (Cocysus), among the ridges of Mount Taurus, with a secret hope, perhaps, that he might be a victim to the Isaurians on the march, or to the more implacable fury of the monks. He arrived at his destination in safety; and the sympathies of the people, which had roused them to fire the cathedral and senate-house on the day of his exile, followed him to his obscure retreat. His influence also became more powerfully felt in the metropolis than before. In his solitude he had ample leisure for forming schemes of missionary enterprise among Persians and Goths, and by his correspondence with the different churches he at once baffled his enemies and gave greater energy to his friends. This roused the emperor to visit him with a severer punishment, though Innocent I. of Rome and the emperor Honorius recognized his orthodoxy and besought his return. An order was despatched for his removal to the extreme desert of Pityus; and his guards so faithfully obeyed their instructions that, before he reached the sea-coast of the Euxine, he expired at Comana in Pontus, in the year 407. His exile gave rise to a schism in the church, and the Johannists (as they were called) did not return to communion with the archbishop of Constantinople till the relics of the saint were, 30 years after, brought back to the Eastern metropolis with great pomp and the emperor publicly implored forgiveness from Heaven for the guilt of his ancestors. The festival of St Chrysostom is kept in the Greek Church on the 13th of November, and in the Latin Church on the 27th of January.
In his general teaching Chrysostom elevates the ascetic element in religion, and in his homilies he inculcates the need of personal acquaintance with the Scriptures, and denounces ignorance of them as the source of all heresy. If on one or two points, as, for instance, the invocation of saints, some germs of subsequent Roman teaching may be discovered, there is a want of anything like the doctrine of indulgences or of compulsory private confession. Moreover, in writing to Innocent, bishop of Rome, he addresses him as a brother metropolitan, and sends the same letter to Venerius, bishop of Milan, and Chromatius, bishop of Aquileia. His correspondence breathes a most Christian spirit, especially in its tone of charity towards his persecutors. In exegesis he is a pure Antiochene, basing his expositions upon thorough grammatical study, and proceeding from a knowledge of the original circumstances of composition to a forceful and practical application to the needs of his day and of all time. With his exegetical skill (he was inferior in pure dogma to Theodore of Mopsuestia) he united a wide sympathy and a marvellous power of oratory.
The voluminous works of Chrysostom fall into three groups. To the days of his early desert life is probably to be assigned the treatise On Priesthood, a book full of wise counsel. To the years of his presbyterate and episcopate belong the great mass of homilies and commentaries, among which those On the Statues, and on Matthew, Romans and Corinthians, stand out pre-eminently. His letters belong to the last years, the time of exile, and with his other works are valuable sources for the history of his time.
The manuscripts are very numerous, and many of them are of great antiquity, as are the Syriac and other translations. The best edition is that of Bernard de Montfaucon in 13 vols. fol. (1718-1738), reproduced with some improvements by Migne (Patrol. Graec. xlvii.-lxiv.); but this edition is greatly indebted to the one issued more than a century earlier (1612) by Sir Henry Savile, provost of Eton College, from a press established at Eton by himself, which Hallam (Lit. of Europe, iii. 10, 11) calls "the first work of learning, on a great scale, published in England." F. Field admirably edited S. Matthew (Cambridge, 1839) and Epistles of S. Paul (Oxford, 1849-1855). J.A. Bengel's edition of De Sacerdotio (1725) has been often reprinted (e.g. Leipzig, 1887).
As authorities for the life, the most valuable are the ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret; and amongst the moderns, Erasmus, Cave, Lardner and Tillemont, with the church history of Neander, and his monograph on the Life and Times of Chrysostom, translated by J.C. Stapleton. More recent are the lives by W.R.W. Stephens (London, 1871), R.W. Bush (London, 1885) and A. Peuch (Paris, 1891). F.W. Farrar's romance Gathering Clouds gives a good picture of the man and his times. For monographs on special points such as Chrysostom's theological position and his preaching, see the very full bibliography in E. Preuschen's article in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyk. iv.; also A. Harnack, Hist. of Dogma, iii. and iv. Some of the commentaries and homilies are translated in the Oxford Library of the Fathers.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)