Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IX:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Prolegomena.: Chrysostom Evades Election to a Bishopric, and Writes His Work on the Priesthood.
Chapter IV.—Chrysostom Evades Election to a Bishopric, and Writes His Work on the Priesthood.
About this time several bishoprics were vacant in Syria, and frequent depositions took p. 8 place with the changing fortunes of orthodoxy and Arianism, and the interference of the court. The attention of the clergy and the people turned to Chrysostom and his friend Basil as suitable candidates for the episcopal office, although they had not the canonical age of thirty. Chrysostom shrunk from the responsibilities and avoided an election by a pious fraud. He apparently assented to an agreement with Basil that both should either accept, or resist the burden of the episcopate, but instead of that he concealed himself and put forward his friend whom he accounted much more worthy of the honor. Basil, under the impression that Chrysostom had already been consecrated, reluctantly submitted to the election. When he discovered the cheat, he upbraided his friend with the breach of compact, but Chrysostom laughed and rejoiced at the success of his plot. This conduct, which every sound Christian conscience must condemn, caused no offense among the Christians of that age, still less among the heathen, and was regarded as good management or “economy.” The moral character of the deception was supposed to depend altogether on the motive, which made it good or bad. Chrysostom appealed in justification of laudable deception to the stratagems of war, the conduct of physicians in dealing with refractory patients, to several examples of the Old Testament (Abraham, Jacob, David), and to the conduct of the Apostle Paul in circumcising Timothy for the sake of the Jews (Acts xvi. 3) and in observing the ceremonial law in Jerusalem at the advice of James (Acts xxi. 26).
The Jesuitical maxim, “the end justifies the means,” is much older than Jesuitism, and runs through the whole apocryphal, pseudo-prophetic, pseudo-apostolic, pseudo-Clementine and pseudo-Isidorian literature of the early centuries. Several of the best Fathers show a surprising want of a strict sense of veracity. They introduce a sort of cheat even into their strange theory of redemption, by supposing that the Devil caused the crucifixion under the delusion that Christ was a mere man, and thus lost his claim upon the fallen race. Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome explain the offense of the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch (Gal. ii. 11 sqq.) away by turning it into a theatrical and hypocritical farce, which was shrewdly arranged by the two apostles for the purpose of convincing the Jewish Christians that circumcision was not necessary. Against such wretched exegesis the superior moral sense of Augustin rightly protested, and Jerome changed his view on this particular passage. Here is a point where the modern standard of ethics is far superior to that of the Fathers, and more fully accords with the spirit of the New Testament, which inculcates the strictest veracity as a fundamental virtue. 9
The escape from the episcopate was the occasion for one of the best and most popular works of Chrysostom, the Six Books On the Priesthood, which he wrote probably before his ordination (between 375 and 381), or during his diaconate (between 381 and 386). It is composed in the form of a Platonic dialogue between Chrysostom and Basil. He first vindicates by argument and examples his well-meant but untruthful conduct towards his friend, and the advantages of timely fraud; and then describes with youthful fervor and eloquence the importance, duties and trials of the Christian ministry, without distinguishing between the priestly and the episcopal office. He elevates it above all other offices. He requires whole-souled consecration to Christ and love to his flock. He points to the Scriptures (quoting also from the Apocrypha) as the great weapon of the minister. He assumes, as may be expected, the then prevailing conception of a real priesthood and sacrifice, baptismal regeneration, the corporal presence, the virtue of absolution, prayers for the dead, but is silent about pope and councils, the orders of the clergy, prayers to saints, forms of prayer, priestly vestments, incense, crosses and other doctrines and ceremonies of the Greek and Roman churches. p. 9 He holds up St. Paul as a model for imitation. The sole object of the preacher must be to please God rather than men (Gal. i. 10). “He must not indeed despise approving demonstrations, but as little must he court them, nor trouble himself when they are withheld.” He should combine the qualities of dignity and humility, authority and sociability, impartiality and courtesy, independence and lowliness, strength and gentleness, and keep a single eye to the glory of Christ and the welfare of the church.
This book is the most useful or at least the best known among the works of Chrysostom, and is well calculated to inspire a profound sense of the tremendous responsibilities of the ministry. But it has serious defects, besides the objectionable justification of pious fraud, and cannot satisfy the demands of an evangelical minister. In all that pertains to the proper care of souls it is inferior to the “Reformed Pastor” of Richard Baxter.
Comp. on the patristic views of accommodation, Neander, Geschichte der Christl. Ethik., p. 156 sqq.; and Wuttke, Christl. Sittenlehre, 3d ed. vol. II., 325 sq. Canon Venables of Lincoln (in Smith & Wace, I. 519 sq.) justly condemns Chrysostoms conduct on this occasion “as utterly at variance with the principles of truth and honor.”
Next: Chrysostom as a Monk. A.D. 374–381.
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