Sunday, August 8, 2010

P&P: The Eastern Fathers and the Papacy Part 1

*St. John Chrysostom*

The name might be familiar to some of you from my mentions of the Divine Liturgy. He wrote (designed? compiled?) the most commonly used form of the Divine Liturgy, which bears his name, The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Apparently, he is a saint that the Roman Church claims as one of her own, a 'faithful son who unhesitatingly accepted and insisted on the primacy of St. Peter and therefore the supreme universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome as St. Peter's successor.' Mr. Whelton calls his adoption by the Roman Church a 'curious choice'.

Many quotes of St. John Chrysostom apparently find their way into Roman Catholic works. A 'classic' example of which can be found in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Satis Cognitum. Pope Leo quotes from St. John Chrysostom's treatise, On the Priesthood, to show him in support of the claims of Rome: "Why has He shed His blood? To buy sheep which He handed over to Peter and his successors." From this, Pope Leo concludes, "For this reason the Pontiffs who succeeded Peter in the Roman Episcopate receive the supreme power in the church."

In an apologetic work by Stephen K. Ray (Upon This Rock), St. John Chrysostom's quote is extended:

"For what purpose did He shed His blood? It was that He might win these sheep which He entrusted to Peter and his successors. Naturally then did Christ say, 'Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord makes ruler over His household."

Ray comments on the passage:

"In this document St. John Chrysostom, and Eastern bishop, recognizes the primacy of Peter and the continued authority that would be carried out through Peter's successors. Peter and his successors were the shepherds who had been given authority over the whole flock, 'one flock with one shepherd' (Jn 10:16). If the shepherd is commanded to govern the sheep, the obverse is also true: the sheep are commanded to follow and obey the shepherd."

By extrapolation, (since there is no direct reference to the powers of the pope in this, or (according to Mr. Whelton) in any of St. John Chrysostom's works), Ray has him recognizing the pope's right to demand obedience from the entire church. This is an example of apologists anticipating that any reference to Peter as the head of the apostles, Peter and the keys, the seat of Peter, etc. must, per force, confirm Rome's supreme universal authority. Something of see something there because it's an assumed factor in your thinking. Therefore it must be there.

*St. John Chrysostom: Who Is He?*

I'd guess a good question would be, what's all the fuss over this one particular saint? Why does everybody want him to be on 'their side'? So, a bit of a bio, before we go on.

First, he is called Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) because of his eloquence. He is considered one of the greatest preachers the universal Church has known. He is possessed of a spotless reputation, is one of the most widely read and quoted saints, and his literary output is massive (six hundred homilies and commentaries, numerous moral and ascetic treatises, letters, and so on.) His reputation is so great that he is considered a Doctor of the Church in the Western Church. A Doctor of the Church is a title given since the Middle Ages to those saints whose writing and preaching have proven to be an outstanding spiritual beacon in guiding souls throughout the Church's history.

Chrysostom was born in Antioch in 347, to a military officer and his exceptionally pious wife. After the death of his father, St. John Chrysostom's mother raised and educated both him and his elder sister, refusing all offers of marriage and devoting her life to her two children. At the edge of eighteen Chrysostom decided to become a monk. Upon the death of his mother, he retired to a cave in the mountains to practice self-mortification. He denied himself sleep and continuously read the Bible. The result of his extreme asceticism was the permanent ruin of his digestive health.

He was baptized and ordained a lector in 370 at the age of twenty-three by St. Meletius, Bishop of Antioch, and was ordained a deacon by the same prelate in 381. It was on his ordination to the diaconate that he returned to Antioch and began his public life as a preacher. In 386 he was ordained to the priesthood by St. Meletius' successor, St. Flavian (who John considered his spiritual father). St. John's reputation for sanctity and preaching that in late 397 he was chosen (against his will), to become the patriarch of Constantinople upon the death of the incumbent, Nectarius.

He brought to the position a new style. The previous bishop, Nectarius, had been lax and there was urgent need for reform. Chrysostom made sweeping changes - he substantially reduced the expenses of the episcopal household, eliminated the frequent banquets, and demanded holiness from his clergy. He preached against the extravagances of the wealthy and openly criticized the older women for their ridiculous manner of dress, reminding them that their age should have shielded them against such vanities. "He offended the men by repeatedly proclaiming that a woman had as much right to demand fidelity of her husband as a man of his wife. His unsparing sarcasms about feminine luxuries, delivered in the scathing tradition of Juvenal or Seneca, were not relished by ladies of high fashion."

St. John Chrysostom lacked the polished manner, diplomatic refinement, delicate tact, discretion, and deference that the emperor's court expected, especially from the patriarch. He delivered the Gospel message in a blunt, candid, and unvarnished style to paupers, nobility, and royalty alike. This made him popular and respected amongst the common people, but not so much with the royalty.

In 404 he was banished to the extreme, rugged boundaries of the empire after comparing Empress Eudoxia to Herodias and Jezebel for her scandalous living. While in exile, he wrote two letters to the bishop of Rome, Pope Innocent I, seeking aid and sympathy. He died on September 20, 407, in Comanan in Pontus, after being forced to make long marches in inclement weather. His last words were: Glory be to God for all things.

*The Facts - A Closer Look*

So, that's a really basic over view of St. John Chrysostom's life.

As noted previously, he was baptized, ordained a lector and later ordained to the diaconate by St. Meletius, and ordained to the priesthood by St. Meletius' successor, St. Flavian. This string of facts introduces the first obstacle to the claims that Chrysostom supported papal claims. Under Patriarchs Meletius and Flavian, Antioch was not in communion with Rome. By accepting ordination from both of these saints, St. John unreservedly recognized them as genuine successors to the see of Antioch. In accepting ordination at their hands, he knowingly placed himself outside of communion with Rome. It's not like the schism was a secret or anything. It was only after his elevation to the see of Constantinople that St. John came into communion with Rome, and he died nine years later.

The majority of his clerical life was spent outside communion with Rome, and this includes his most productive writing years.

Once he came into communion with Rome, though, did he act in any manner that indicated acknowledgement of this bishop of Rome as the supreme head of the Church? No. There is no evidence that he ever considered Rome to be supreme. If anywhere, one would expect that his appeal to Rome after his exile would include the acknowledgement and plea for aide of a subordinate to a superior. Rather, the letter is addressed from one bishop to another - brother to brother. In fact, St. John Chrysostom addressed the same letter to two other Western prelates, Venerus, Bishop of Milan, and Chromatius, Bishop of Aquileia. If Rome were supreme, why appeal to two other bishops, in the exact same language?

The Roman Catholic Benedictine historian, Dom Chrysostom Baur, has this to say about St. John Chrysostom's 'appeal' to Rome:

"This letter has usually been classed among the great 'appeals' which apologists and dogmaticians quote in proof of the recognition of the Roman primacy. But such significance cannot be given to this 'appeal', which Chrysostom addressed not only to Pope Innocent, but also at the same time and in the same words, to the Bishops of Milan and Aquileia. The essence of the letter is this: Chrysostom begs the Pope and the two named bishops, that they would be pleased not to let themselves be drawn to the cause of injustice by the efforts of his enemies, not to acknowledge this unjust banishment, and above all that they would not bring to an end the fellowship of the Church with him, but help according to their power, that the injustice which had been done him would be reversed, and the guilty persons judged by an impartial ecclesiastical court. He could naturally have written thus to any bishop. Actually Chrysostom demanded nothing so formal and consequential as the calling of a new impartial synod, and that was just what the Pope sought, with all his energy to attain. So one cannot very well state that Chrysostom had appealed from the unjust judgment of a synod to the personal decision of the Pope."

Pope Innocent was, in fact, sympathetic to St. John Chrysostom's plight, and recognized that a general council was needed to correct the situation. He therefore wrote to the emperor of the Western Empire, Honorius, urging him to write to his brother Acadius, emperor of the Eastern Empire, to convene a council in Thessalonica (about half way between the two capitals). Honorius heeded this call, and wrote to his brother, as well as passing along letters from Pope Innocent and the bishops of Milan and Aquileia. (Note that the pope did not just declare a council, or a solution, but asked the Emperor to convene one, not just on his own word, but that of two other bishops.) However, Emperor Acadius ignored their requests. And so no council ever happened.

To Pope Innocent's credit, he refused communion with St. John Chrysostom's persecutors, and worked until his name was restored to the diptychs. The diptychs are the recognized symbol of unity, consisting of lists which each patriarch keeps in the churches of his jurisdiction in order that prayers may be offered during the Liturgy for patriarchs past and present with whom he has been in communion.

*An Orthodox Perspective*

Even assuming that St. John had always been in communion with Rome, it is not possible to marshal his Petrine quotations in favor of Rome's claims of supreme universal jurisdiction. While he certainly taught a primacy of St. Peter, he never claims that the bishop of Rome has a right to the same position in the universal church. If he had thought this, he had more than ample opportunity to express it in his voluminous works. Nothing exists. A Catholic Encyclopedia entry recognizes this point when it states that in his writings, "there is no clear and direct passage in favour of the primacy of the pope."

So, essentially, it's a quote out of context here, or there. I think a part of the appeal to 'claiming' St. John Chrysostom, aside from the fact that he's a very saintly Saint, is that he is so respected in the Eastern Church. If one of their 'favorite' saints can be shown to support papal claims, then it (theoretically) might lead some Orthodox over to the Roman side.

Meh. Anyway, I've decided to break this chapter up into each Father that it covers, because it's getting long enough as it is. I intend to have the next part up in less time than it took me to get this one up.


  1. Enjoyed this! I just read and posted about John the Baptist's death and when I was reading this I thought how similar John C's message was. Then I saw how he'd compared the lady to Herodias and was like "aha...see?"

    I really enjoyed the background info on him.

    This guy was featured in this month's Voice of the Martyr in their ancient martyr section so it was timely to read this from you.

    Glad you shared. Thanks!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I saw your post, but I'm like...three posts behind on you! We can either blame it on me being busy, or lazy. Take your pick! :)

    Really? I'm curious, what was your impression of him from the article, what did they say?

  3. Basically what you covered about his life and banishment/martyrdom after having spoken out against "Herodias." ;)

    It was just a half-page bio. They feature a Christian Martyr each month (some are ancient, some not) and this time it was John Chrysostom so I liked that you wrote about him as well!


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