Thursday, March 19, 2015

John Chrysostom - The Man with the Golden Mouth

John Chrysostom was considered a great preacher and teacher of the ancient church. He ended up being the bishop of one of the chief cities, Constantinople. This was despite his preference for a quiet life of contemplation and study. And he ended up going into exile. Ostensibly it was over a doctrinal issue: the teaching of Origin. This was a hot potato in the Christian church at the time. But the real issues were much more over politics than substance. I cannot agree with the teachings of Origen, but the issue seems to be less over affirming the teachings of Origen than whether there was anything valuable in his writing and whether one could associate with someone who would not totally condemn Origen. The whole argument seemed to be not so much an argument of substance but of over-scrupulousness. But the real reasons were even more petty.

There were those who found John's preaching too pointed for comfort, particularly those of the emperor's household. From what I have read of John, he does not strike me as simply a petty legalist. While he puts more emphasis on works than I would be able to agree with, he does have an idea of God's grace and forgiveness. I would conclude that he had problems with the frivolity and extravagance of the court because there were problems with the frivolity and extravagance of the court. In the end, facing exile, he seems to have lost his temper and insulted the empress. This was not the right thing to do, but it was understandable.

There were also problems of church politics. These are difficult to unravel at this distance. We cannot really get a balanced presentation of all views. But on the whole, John's opponents come off as biased people who were bent on attacking him for minor reasons. The fact that they were the ones attacking him seems to me significant. I am not saying he always reacted perfectly, but his opponents seemed to take any slight as a major issue. On the whole, John looks like a good-willed though not perfect person, who was attacked by those who simply wanted their own way. But at this distance it is hard to be sure.       

So I would see John Chrysostom as an example for staying the course, howbeit with perhaps some lack of concern for the feelings of others. John may not have handled the situation perfectly, and we may learn to do better, but we should not just cave to external pressure. We should also learn not to be those who involve ourselves in petty political squabbles, but to be more interested in following Christ and the welfare of His church than in getting our own way.

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