Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IX:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Prolegomena.: Chrysostoms Youth and Training, A.D. 347–370.
Chapter II.—Chrysostoms Youth and Training, a.d. 347–370.
“Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto Thee; and doest promise, that when two or three are gathered together in Thy name Thou wilt grant their requests: fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of Thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of Thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting, Amen.” 1
This beautiful and comprehensive prayer, which is translated from the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, has made his name a household word wherever the Anglican Liturgy is known and used.
John, surnamed Chrysostom ('Ιω€ννης Χρυσόστομος) is the greatest pulpit orator and commentator of the Greek Church, and still deservedly enjoys the highest honor in the whole Christian world. No one of the Oriental Fathers has left a more spotless reputation; no one is so much read and so often quoted by modern preachers and commentators. An admiring posterity, since the close of the fifth century, has given him the surname Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), which has entirely superseded his personal name John, and which best expresses the general estimate of his merits.
His life may be divided into five periods: (1) His youth and training till his conversion and baptism, A.D. 347–370. (2) His ascetic and monastic life, 370–381. (3) His public life as priest and preacher at Antioch, 381–398. (4) His episcopate at Constantinople, 398–404. (5) His exile to his death, 404–407.
John (the name by which alone he is known among contemporary writers and his first biographers) was born in 347, 2 at Antioch, the capital of Syria, and the home of the mother church of Gentile Christianity, where the disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians.”
His father, Secundus, was a distinguished military officer (magister militum) in the imperial army of Syria, and died during the infancy of John, without professing Christianity, as far as we know. His mother, Anthusa, was a rare woman. Left a widow at the age of twenty, she refused all offers of marriage, and devoted herself exclusively to the education of her only son and his older sister. She was probably from principle averse to a second marriage, according to a prevailing view of the Fathers. She shines, with Nonna and Monica, among the most pious mothers of the fourth century, who prove the ennobling influence of Christianity on the character of woman, and through her on all the family relations. Anthusa gained general esteem by her exemplary life. The famous advocate of heathenism, Libanius, on hearing of her consistency and devotion, felt constrained to exclaim: “Bless me! what wonderful women there are among the Christians.” 3
She gave her son an admirable education, and early planted in his soul the germs of piety, which afterwards bore the richest fruits for himself and the church. By her admonitions and the teachings of the Bible, he was secured against the seductions of heathenism.
p. 6 Yet he was not baptized till he had reached the age of maturity. In that age of transition from heathenism to Christianity, the number of adult baptisms far exceeded that of infant baptisms. Hence the large baptisteries for the baptism of crowds of converts; hence the many sermons and lectures of Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem and other preachers to catechumens, and their careful instruction before baptism and admission to the Missa Fidelium or the holy communion. Even Christian parents, as the father and mother of Gregory Nazianzen, the mother of Chrysostom, and the mother of Augustin, put off the baptism of their offspring, partly no doubt from a very high conception of baptism as the sacrament of regeneration, and the superstitious fear that early baptism involved the risk of a forfeiture of baptismal grace. This was the argument which Tertullian in the second century urged against infant baptism, and this was the reason why many professing Christians put off their baptism till the latest hour; just as now so many from the same motive delay repentance and conversion to their death-bed. Chrysostom often rebukes that custom. The Emperor Constantine who favored Christianity as early as 312, and convened the Council of Nicæa in 325, postponed baptism till 337, shortly before his death. The orthodox Emperor Theodosius the Great was not baptized till the first year of his reign (380), when attacked by a serious illness.
Chrysostom received his literary training chiefly from Libanius, the admirer and friend of Julian the Apostate, and the first classical scholar and rhetorician of his age, who after a long career as public teacher at Athens and Constantinople, returned to his native Antioch and had the misfortune to outlive the revival of heathenism under Julian and to lament the triumph of Christianity under his successors. He was introduced by him into a knowledge of the Greek classics and the arts of rhetoric, which served him a good purpose for his future labors in the church. He was his best scholar, and when Libanius, shortly before his death (about 393), was asked whom he wished for his successor, he replied: “John, if only the Christians had not stolen him from us.” 4
After the completion of his studies Chrysostom became a rhetorician, and began the profitable practice of law, which opened to him a brilliant political career. The amount of litigation was enormous. The display of talent in the law-courts was the high-road to the dignities of vice-prefect, prefect, and consul. Some of his speeches at the bar excited admiration and were highly commended by Libanius. For some time, as he says, he was “a never-failing attendant at the courts of law, and passionately fond of the theatre.” But he was not satisfied. The temptations of a secular profession in a corrupt state of society discouraged him. To accept a fee for making the worse cause appear the better cause, seemed to him to be taking Satans wages.
See the Greek original of this collect in Chrysostoms Liturgy, in Mignes edition, Tom. xii. 908; Daniels Codex Liturgicus, tom. iv.; Fasc. II. p. 343 (comp. the foot-note in tom. iii. 358); and Fr. Procters History of the Book of Common Prayer (11th ed. 1874), p. 245 sq. The precise origin of this prayer is uncertain. It does not occur in the oldest mss. of Chrysostoms Liturgy, but in those of the Liturgy of St. Basil. It precedes the third anthem in the communion service, and was used since the ninth century or earlier in the exarchate of Cæsarea and the patriarchate of Constantinople. In the Oriental churches the prayer is said silently by the priest. See Bjerring, The Offices of the Oriental Church, p. 43. In the Anglican Church, it was placed at the end of the Litany (by Cranmer), in 1544, and at the close of the daily Morning and Evening Prayer in 1661. In the English Homilies (Hom. I.), Chrysostom is called “that godly clerk and great preacher.”5:2
So Montfaucon, Tillemont, Neander, Stephens, Venables, and others. Baur (Vorlesungen über die Dogmengeschichte, Bd. I. Abthlg. II., p. 50) and others erroneously state the year 354 or 355, Villemain assigns the year 344 as that of his birth.5:3
Βαβαὶ, οἷαι παρὰ χριστιανοῖς γυναῖκ™ς εἰσι. Chrysostom himself relates this of his heathen teacher (by whom, undoubtedly, we are to understand Libanius), though, it is true, with immediate reference only to the twenty years widowhood of his mother, and adds: “Such is the praise and admiration of widowhood not only with us, but even with the heathen.” Ad viduam juniorem (Opera, Bened. ed. Tom. i. 340; in Mignes ed. Tom. i., P. II., 601).6:4
Sozomen, Ch. Hist., VIII. 2.
Next: His Conversion and Ascetic Life.
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