Tag Archives: chrysostom

Calvin’s Interest in Chrysostom

In an essay titled, “Gold without dross: assessing the debt of John Calvin to the preaching of John Chrysostom”, Peter Moore[1], assesses Calvin’s interest and study of Chrysostom. Below, I include some of the quotes from Calvin concerning Chrysostom.

In the preface to the first (latin) edition of the Institutes written to the King of France:

“Moreover, they unjustly set the ancient fathers against us (I mean the ancient writers of a better age of the church) as if in them they had supporters of their own impiety. If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory—to put it very modestly—would turn to our side. Now, these fathers have written many wise and excellent things. Still, what commonly happens to men has befallen them too, in some instances. For these so-called pious children of theirs [Calvin’s opponents], with all their sharpness ofwit and judgment and spirit, worship only the faults and errors of the fathers. The good things that these fathers have written they either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert. You might say that their only care is to gather dung amid gold. Then, with a frightful to-do, they overwhelm us as despisers and adversaries of the fathers! But we do not despise them; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval (109).

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T McNeill, 2 vols., Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 22.

From the outset, the reader ought to bear in mind the kind of literary genre (scripti genus) it is in which I prefer him to others. Although homilies (homiliae) are something which consist of a variety of elements (variis partibus constent) the interpretation of Scripture (scripturae interpretatio) is, however, their priority. In this area, no one of sound judgment would deny that our Chrysostom excels all the ancient writers currently extant. This is especially true when he deals with the New Testament. (111–112)

Hazlett, ‘Calvins Latin Preface’, 144; Calvini, ‘Praefatio In Chrysostomi’, volume 9, column 834.

The chief merit of our Chrysostom is this: he took great pains everywhere not to deviate in the slightest from the genuine plain meaning of Scripture (germana scripturae sinceritate) and not to indulge in any licence of twisting the straight-forward sense (simplici verborum sensu) of the words. I am only saying what will be acknowledged by those who are both in a position to make a correct assessment and who will not hesitate to state the fact (112)

Hazlett, ‘Calvins Latin Preface’, 144; Calvini, ‘Praefatio In Chrysostomi’, volume 9, column 835.

  1. Moore, Peter. “Gold without Dross: Assessing the Debt of John Calvin to the Preaching of John Chrysostom.” Reformed Theological Review 68, no. 2 (August 2009): 109–129.  ↩

Don’t Fall Asleep During the Sermon

Chysostom has no sympathy for those who begin to fall asleep and not pay attention to the sermon. Toward the end of his sermon on John 1:1 he says:

What, then, are these things[1]? I realize that many of you have become listless of the length of my sermon. This happens when the soul is sluggish because of its numerous temporal cares…When it (the soul) is pure and has no troublesome passion, it perceives exceedingly clearly whatever it ought to perceive; but when, made turbid by many passions, it utterly loses its virtue, it cannot easily be satisfied with spiritual things but quickly grows weary and falls back. Giving way to sleep and sloth, it takes no heed of the things pertaining to virtue and of the quite different life belonging to it, and does not approach it with any readiness.

Homily 2 (John 1:1) in St. Chrysostom Homilies on the Gospel of St. John

  1. In this context “these things” are the attacks from secular philosophy on questioning who God is.  ↩

Thoughts on Chrysostom’s First Sermon on Matthew

Chrysostom notes the many difficulties in the text of Matthew. He says that it may be plain at first site but when one focuses on the text many question arises. What is interesting is the amount of preparation for his sermon that he called his congregation to do. He says that they will not get anything out of his teaching if they do not thoughtfully prepare before hand.

In his first homily he asks several question. Here is a sampling:

  1. Why is the genealogy traced through Joseph if he is not Jesus’ biological father?
  2. Why can Jesus be said to come from David when the forefathers of Mary are not known?
  3. Why does Matthew pass over eminent women but focus on four that are “famed for some bad thing?”
  4. Why did he omit three kings in the genealogy?
  5. If he speaks of 14 generations why does the 3rd set not have 14 generations?
  6. Why do Matthew and Luke both trace the genealogy of Joseph but have different number of names and starting points?
  7. How was Elizabeth, who was from the Levitical tribe, kinswoman to Mary?

He tells his congregation that if they are going to learn they must prepare and seek the answers to these questions apart from his preaching. Only then, if he sees an eagerness to learn from them, will he “endeavor to add the solution” but if they are not preparing and seeking out answers on their own he will “conceal both the difficulties and their solution in obedience to the divine law.” His reason is rooted in an allusion to Matthew 7:6, “Give not the holy things to the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet.” And who are these people that are the dogs and swine? They are the ones who do not “account these things as precious and venerable.” This is a serious offense because to Chrysostom the ones who do not prepare before hand are not taking the Scriptures seriously. He laments, “where God is speaking, they will not bear to tarry even a little time.”

This section of the homily brings up some interesting questions:

First, how many people had access to the text of Matthew at this time? From this section it seems that everyone had some type of access to at least the text for the next sermon. How big was his congregation? Did they memorize the passage for the next gathering or copy it somewhere? Did they have some type of “study groups” or was this all individual? Did Chrysostom check in and ask questions to see if they had pondered the passage?

Second, how does Chrysostom go about answers the questions he poses? Many of the questions that he poses are still questions for todays scholars.

Third, what is the history of interpretation of Matthew 7:6 up to this point and where does it go from here. For Chrysostom the holy things are the Scriptures and the interpretation of them. The only other interpretation of this passage that I know of (I would be interested to researching this more) is in Didache 9:5. This passage says, “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: ”Do not give what is holy to dogs.“ For the Didachist the holy things is participation in the Eucharist and you are a ”dog" if you have not been baptized. These interpretations are similar but not quite the same. For Chrysostom, if one is uninterested in the Scriptures then this makes them the dog or swine but for the Didachist baptism is the criteria for being a dog and swine.

I love the quote that Chrysostom ends his homily with. He compares the Gospel of Matthew as entering into a holy city that is leading the reader to the royal throne where Christ sits. He concludes,

If we would order ourselves wisely, the grace itself of the Spirit will lead us in great perfection, and we shall arrive at the very royal throne, and attain to all good things, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and always, even for ever and ever. Amen.

Chrysostom and the reason for the four-fold Gospel

What then? Was not one evangelist sufficient to tell all? One indeed was sufficient; but if there be four that write, not at the same times, nor in the same places, neither after having met together, and conversed one with another, and then they speak all things as it were out of one mouth, this becomes a very great demonstration of the truth.

He goes on to say…

But if there be anything touching times or places, which they have related differently, this does not injure the truth of what they have said. And these thing too, so far as God shall enable us, we will endeavor, as we proceed, to point out; requiring you, together with what we have mentioned, to observe, that in the chief heads, those which constitute our life and furnish our doctrine, nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little.

He then gives a list of doctrines that they agree on:

  1. God became man
  2. He did miracles
  3. He was crucified, buried, rose again, and ascended
  4. He will judge
  5. He has given commandments pertaining to salvation
  6. He brought in a law not contrary to the Old Testament
  7. He is a Son
  8. He is only-begotten
  9. He is a true Son
  10. He is of the same substance with the Father

in Homilies on Matthew: Homily 1

Reading the Church Fathers for the Scholar’s Soul and for Equipping the Church

The scholarly realm is filled with word studies, literary studies, systematic studies, and any other study one can think of. The multiplicity of studies can often be to the detriment to the scholar’s soul. In practice, theological studies is often divorced from the end to seek after the living God. This is where reading patristic exegesis can be fruitful for the soul. Claire McGinnis says that “Christian scholars of the Bible ought to read patristic exegesis because it offers an important antidote to the deadening effects scholarly training can have on the ability to hear in the pages of Scripture the Word of God, and a unified Word at that.”[1] The early church saw no separation between study of Holy Scripture and seeking after Christ. By reading the Church Fathers we can be awakened to the full unity of the Bible and seeking Christ at every step of the way. By seeing the way the early Church read the Bible we can “desire to recover and nurture ways of reading the Bible theologically.”[2] The Bible is not just an ancient text but rather the living Word of God (Heb 4:12).

For the Church Fathers, the purpose of rigorous study was to read and exegete the Bible in a way that lead them to Christ. Theological academics and writing for the church were one in the same. By reading the Patristics we can immerse ourselves in a different type of theological writing that can shed new light on our own exegesis. It will shed new light precisely because it is foreign to us.[3] It presents to us a new way of thinking that is different from current hermeneutical methods today. It gives us time to pause and reflect of the Christological interpretations of our Christian forefathers. Reading the four senses of scripture they often employ may make us uneasy but the four sense’s end goal was to see Christ in all the Bible.

At the recent Scripture and Hermeneutics seminar Craig Bartholomew stated that Christian scholarship is likened to the back lines of an army that is arming the front lines for war. We are arming the front lines, who are the pastors and teachers of the Church. If scholars can better read/write theologically then we can better supply the front lines in the battle. In Christian scholarship our end goal should not merely furthering of theological academics but the strengthening of the Church. Just as doctors in universities study biology, chemistry, anatomy etc. and write in journals for equipping other doctors with the knowledge and methods for fighting disease and injury for their patients, so too should Christian scholarship equip pastors with rigorous theological writing for the advancement of the Church.

An excerpt from one of St. Chrysostom’s homilies on Genesis 6:8–9 will provide a helpful example of the value for the soul in reading the Church Fathers. In this homily Chrysostom has been commenting on the virtue of Noah amidst of the wickedness of the world that he lived in. Chrysostom finds it amazing that Noah was the only righteous person in the world and God found favor in Noah. Chrysostom says[4]:

“‘Noah,’ the text says, remember, ‘found favor in the sight of the Lord God.’ Even though he was not the favorite or darling of any of the human race of the time through his refusal to follow the same route as theirs, nevertheless he found favor in the eyes of the one who haunts the heart, and to him his attitude was acceptable. What harm, after all, tell me, ensued in this case from the mockery and ridicule of his peers, considering the fact that the one who shapes our hearts and understands all our actions proclaimed the man’s deeds and rewarded him? On the other hand, what benefit would it be to a human being were he the object of admiration and praise of the whole world while being condemned on that dread day by the Creator of all and the Judge who is proof against all deceit? Understanding this, therefore, dearly beloved, let us set no store by people’s commendation nor seek praise from them in every way; instead, with him alone in mind who examines heart and entrails, let us practice the works of virtue and shun evil.”

Chrysostom exhorts us to be like Noah, living a life of virtue, not seeking the praise of men but seeking the praise of God. Noah was living amidst of wickedness but did not try to please man but to please God. As Christian scholars, we can take heed to his exhortation, not using theological study for the praise of other men but for the praise of God.

  1. Claire Mathews McGinnis, “Stumbling over the Testaments: On Reading Patristic Exegesis and the Old Testament in Light of the New,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 4, no. 1 (Spr 2010): 15–31, 18  ↩

  2. ibid, 19  ↩

  3. ibid, 16  ↩

  4. Chrysostom, Saint John. Fathers of the Church: Saint John Chrysostom : Homilies on Genesis 18–45. Catholic Univ of Amer Pr, 1990, 93  ↩