Tomorrow is the Memorial (for Roman Catholics) of St. John Chrysostom
. Here's a tiny bit about him from Wikipedia ...John Chrysostom (349– ca. 407, Greek: Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος, Ioannes Chrysostomos) was the archbishop of Constantinople. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was given the Greek surname chrysostomos, "golden mouthed", rendered in English as Chrysostom ....
Whenever I read about him, I feel conflicted - on the one hand, he wrote outstanding sermons about the care of the less fortunate, but on the other hand, he wrote eight sermons which played a considerable part in the history of Christian antisemitism
and were used by the Nazis in their ideological campaign against the Jews. You can read the eight homilies, along with a short bibliography of books on the subject, and with an introduction on context, here
- Medieval Sourcebook: Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407) : Eight Homilies Against the Jews
Was John Chrysostom antisemitic? On the face of it, I'd say yes. I came across an interesting discussion on this subject - Notes on Reaction to the Posting of the Chrysostom Text on the Jews
- at the Internet Medieval Source Book
from Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies
, a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. The page begins with some quotes from back in the day, that give a bit of perspective .....Augustine: they subsist for the salvation of the nation, but not for their own
Chrysostom: the Jews are always degenerate because of their odious assassination of Christ. For this, no expiation is possible, no indulgence, no pardon
Aquinas: Jews, in consequence of their sins, are, or were, destined to perpetual slavery
Luther: [ in his last sermon, four days before he died, ] called for practical measures: burn their synagogues, confiscate all books in Hebrew, prohibit Jewish prayers, force them to do manual labour, but, best of all, drive them out of Germany.
And here below is the beginnings of the discussion with Paul Halsall, ORB, editor of the Internet Medieval Source Book, and those who emailed him on the subject. I found it pretty interesting ....
*********************************On August 12 1998, Normon (Dionysios) H. Reddington posted the following to the Byzantine studies list.
First off, these homilies are about Judaizers, not Jews. He attacks the Jews, using a standard method of classical rhetoricians, to win back their sympathizers to his own camp. Hence the lack of interest in converting Jews, and the irrelevence of the remark "und ebensowenig werden solche Reden faehig gewesen sein die Juden mit Sympathie fuer das Christentum zu erfuellen." That wasn't his purpose. Think "Quartodecimanism".
Actually, compared to later anti-Semitism, these sermons are exceedingly mild. True, they don't support the view that Judaism is on a par with Christianity. Given that Chrysostom believed that Judaism was a false religion, and one which clearly had a major attraction for some of his parishioners, I'm not sure what else he could have said. The florid invective was the Greco-Roman style; most of the offensive statements were just rhetorical devices ........Response to the Above [Halsall]
I do see your point, and I am quite happy to historicize these anti-Semitic patristic writers, just so long as in doing so, one does not then think that other things they say (which happen to agree with some modern prejudice) are not historicizable. They are interesting historical documents, after all .....
receive similar exculpatory messages rather commonly about the long extracts from Luther's On the Jews I have put online. One frequent comments is that Luther only began to hate Jews late in life [although his early letters to Spalatin - now also on line - indicate differently]. Another, to which I had no adequate response, is that Luther did not have much later effect - after all Striecher "only quoted him twice".
It seems to me that churches can either face up to this history or not. The RC church has gone a long way towards this in recent decades, by any account. And, as far as I can see, so the Orthodox have also begun the process: when the breakaway Old Calendarists here in Queens were recently received back into the arms of the Patriarchal Church [and St. Irene's Cathedral became a "patriarchal and stavropegal monastery"] the local Old Calendarist bishop was forced by the Patriarch to sign a formal and very public renunciation of his "classical rhetoric", which had involved denunciations of Jews. Some work needs still to be done, of course, on the texts of the liturgy.
*The following was a repsonse in private correspondence [hence the anonymity here] from a commentator at an Antipodean Catholic University.
I am not sure why you feel compelled to post an obscure and obviously poor (let alone partial) translation of the 8 homilies to the web. There is a very good and reliable translation of all 8 in the Fathers of the Church series, vol. 68 (1979) by Paul Harkins. Prefacing it with the intro. that you mention, is also somewhat misleading, since the definitive work on the series is by Robert Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the late fourth century (1983). I am rather tired of Chrysostom being misrepresented, especially to students, who tend to read things on the web uncritically.
The homilies are in any case not "On the Jews", but against Judaisers. The exaggerated rhetoric is admittedly hostile towards the Jews, but should be read strictly within this context. In other sermons (a fact of which many scholars are unaware) he can be quite admiring of the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina. One of the reasons his invective is so extreme in the current set of homilies is that he is trying desperately to persuade his audience that the practices of the Jewish community (which are very attractive and a long-standing and intimate part of Antiochene civic life) ought to be avoided, because Judaism and Christianity are two distinct religions. Not all of the Christians at Antioch had got the point. Consequently, they should be read with great care and the sentiments in them taken with a large grain of salt. It is subsequent use of these same sermons in the anti-semitic campaign that you should be concerned about.Response to the Above [Halsall]
I did not feel "compelled" to post the texts. [Are such unwarranted assessments of people's motives really called for?] The translation was already on the web. My post to LT-ANTIQ was a request to locate its source. I have written to Prof. Wilken asking if it is his, or if he knows whose it is. "There is a very good and reliable translation of all 8 in the Fathers of the Church series, vol. 68 (1979) by Paul Harkins."
But this is not on the web, nor likely to be for 70 years or so. However, I will add the reference for those who want a more up-to-date and reliable
translations [one, for instance, which idenitifies the citations.] Prefacing it with the intro. that you mention, is >also somewhat misleading, since the definitive work on >the series is by Robert Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the late fourth century (1983).
I do believe that you will find my bibliographical advice is indeed to Wilken's work. But what exactly is wrong with Parke's account of the sermons? Parkes was a significant scholar in that he was among the first Christian scholars to address the history of Christian anti-Semitism. This history is clearly one that many people still seek to deny or minimize. "I am rather tired of Chrysostom being misrepresented, especially to students, who tend to read things on the web uncritically. The homilies are in any case not "On the Jews", but against Judaisers. The exaggerated rhetoric is admittedly hostile towards the Jews, but should be read strictly within this context."
A wonderful word that "context", isn't it? Odd that conservative scholars seem so unwilling to "contextualize" other statements which they so often support. Until this text cropped up in my web browsing, all I had actually posted of Chrysostoms was his Easter Homily and links to his sermons in the AN&PNF series. In fact, it may be that, too often students are given too rosy a picture of the early church fathers, as people they should "admire". If you are willing to say that the sermons Against the Jews
[the title is as given in Migne after all, and was used by Mervyn Maxwell in his Chicago dissertation: given the content Chrysostom is against both Jews and Judaizers. I must mention that the word "Judaizer" is in and of itself anti-Semitic, and so find it odd when a modern scholar does not interrogate him or herself about the word] need to be seen in rhetorical context, why not say the same thing about the Easter Sermon
, which, after all, is simply rhetorical verbiage which he did not actually mean. In other sermons (a fact of which many scholars are unaware) he can be quite admiring of the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina.
This is genuinely interesting. Send me references and I will add them, send me texts and I will post them. I am not out to make points in the texts I post. I simply post what comes along and looks interesting. One of the reasons his invective is so extreme in the current set of homilies is that he is trying desperately to persuade his audience that the practices of the Jewish community (which are very attractive and a long-standing and intimate part of Antiochene civic life) ought to be avoided, because Judaism and Christianity are two distinct religions. Not all of the Christians at Antioch had got the point.
Is this some supposedly desirable point to reach? And if so, is it a historians' judgement to make? This was not a time when Christians were in any danger from non-Christians; it was a time when they were busy [I am sad to say - as a practising Catholic] depriving others of really rather basic rights. [if you check my website right now, you will see a summary of Christian legislation on the Jews: its is a pretty dire record, and one which I will use in class when students read Islamic legislation on hristians.] Consequently, they should be read with great care and the sentiments in them taken with a large grain of salt. It is subsequent use of these same sermons in the anti-semitic campaign that you should be concerned about.
Of course I take them with a grain of salt, but then I take much of what the fathers' write with a grain of salt [e.g.. about women or about homosexuals], but this is not the recommended approach by current ecclesiastical authorities, nor those modern scholars who wax lyrical about the great intellectual achievements of the fathers.
The question as to degree an author is responsible for subsequent use of his or her texts is very interesting - poor Nietzsche gets slammed all the ime - but I find eight sermons [and especially number 6] to be more than a little problematic. These were sermons after all - designed to get out into the public and to have an effect. They were not made in a vacum in which Chrysostom did not know about the effects of Christian hostility, but in a world were law after law was passed depriving Jews of rights they had hitherto enjoyed. As I have said, I am willing to post any additions, citations, etc.
There is much more to the discussion and the whole thing is worth a read. I think Paul Halsall makes a good point .... are we justified in historicizing away the bad stuff, while non-judgmentally clutching the good stuff to our breasts? I know I tend to do this, even with what's in the gospels, but it gives a whole new meaning to the concept of cafeteria Christianity, and perhaps it's not only dishonest but unfair to those whose words we revere.