John Chrysostom

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John Chrysostom

John of Antioch (Ἰωάννης τῆς Ἀντιόχειας, * 349 or 344 in Antioch on the Orontes ; † September 14, 407 in Comana Pontika ) was presbyter in Antioch and Archbishop of Constantinople and is considered one of the greatest Christian preachers . In the 6th century he was given the nickname Chrysostomos ( Greek Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος, Goldmund), by which he is known today. In the Eastern Orthodox churches he has been venerated as one of the three holy hierarchs since the 10th century , along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen . For Western Christianity , he is one of the four Church Doctors of the East (together with Athanasius of Alexandria and the aforementioned Basil and Gregory).

He was revered as an ascetic and was known for his talent in public speech as well as for his stand against the abuse of church and state authority. His massively negative statements about Jews in his earliest surviving sermons are controversial .

Church historical circumstances

Chrysostom was born in the middle of the Arian controversy and was ordained a deacon at the time of the First Council of Constantinople . As a theologian, he was a generation younger than the Cappadocian fathers Basil of Caesarea , Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa and a contemporary of Ambrose of Milan and of the Western Doctor of the Church Augustine of Hippo . John Chrysostom was friends with Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodore of Tyana .

The theological rivalry between the patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch also played an essential role in his life .


John was born in Antioch to highly respected parents: his father Secundus, a high-ranking officer in the high command of the Roman Eastern Army, died soon after his birth; he was raised by his Christian mother, Anthusa, with whom he had a close relationship. At the age of 14 or 15, school was over. Because his mother was wealthy, he was able to continue studying at the "School of Rhetors and Philosophers", namely law under the pagan teacher Libanius .

Baptism and ministry as a monk and cleric

At the age of twenty he had himself registered as a catechumen , studied under Diodorus, Bishop of Tarsus , a director of the newer Antiochene school , and was baptized three years later by Bishop Meletius of Antioch , whose assistant he became during this period (the probationary and study time for baptismal candidates) and who designated him 371 as a lecturer .

His desire to withdraw into solitude as a monk met with strong opposition from his mother. He promised her not to leave her while she was alive and led a monastery life with three like-minded friends in their home. After her death in 372, he joined the monks in the Syrian mountains and spent four years with them and two more years in complete solitude. He withdrew to a cave, read the Bible constantly, and allowed himself a minimum of sleep. Eventually, his poor health forced him to return to Antioch. John was ordained a deacon in 381 and a presbyter by Flavian of Antioch in 386 . Over the next twelve years he gained great popularity throughout the Greek-speaking Church for his oratorical talent.

In Lent 387, the population of Antioch destroyed the statues of Emperor Theodosius I and his family in protest against new taxes . The next day, some residents, including children, were killed in retaliation. In the following period of fear of further imperial reprisals, Chrysostom gave admonishing, calming and comforting twenty sermons and thus kept the situation under control until Bishop Flavian in Constantinople had achieved the emperor's pardon. These sermons are said to have made such an impression that many pagans converted to Christianity.

Appointment as Patriarch of Constantinople

John Chrysostom after a Russian miniature, 13th century

In 397, against his wishes, John was appointed Archbishop of Constantinople , the richest city of the Roman Empire at the time. He took office as patriarch a few years after Theodosius I's death, at a time when court intrigues were flourishing. Emperor Arcadius , who ruled Constantinople, was influenced by his ambitious favorite Eutropius , who, however , was not favored by the Empress Aelia Eudoxia . The election of Chrysostom was brought about by Eutropius, contrary to the wishes of the Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria , who had lobbied for a candidate of his own theological direction. Regardless of this, Chrysostom was enthroned on February 26, 398.

The Church of Constantinople at that time did not always act according to Christian ideals. Priests who pretended to be celibate - which was never a duty in the Eastern Church - shared the household with so-called “spiritual sisters” or lived in luxury similar to that of the imperial potentates. The financial situation of the church was dire and hardly anyone cared about the congregation. Services were held at times that were comfortable for the wealthy but were not open to working people. During his tenure as bishop John refused to hold lavish banquets and instead looked to clergy reform. He ordered the “spiritual sisters” to move out of the homes of unmarried priests, forced the priests to live more modest lives, sold the luxuries in the Episcopal Palace to feed the hungry, and rigorously controlled the finances of the Church. He also ordered that churches be opened when working people could visit. These measures earned him reputation among the people, but the resentment of the wealthy and the clergy. In a sermon soon after his arrival, he said, "The people praise the predecessor in order to depose the successor."

Power struggles and intrigues, first banishment

Eutropius had hoped for church tolerance towards his way of life from the choice of Chrysostom and now regretted his election as a bishop. Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria was also waiting for an opportunity to strike. He had reprimanded four Egyptian monks (known as "the long brothers") for supporting the teachings of Origen . They fled and were taken in by the deaconess Olympias of Constantinople, who was a friend of John, and welcomed by John.

In January 399, Eutropius fell from grace and the people tried to take revenge on him. Eutropius fled to Hagia Sophia and sought asylum at the altar . When his persecutors came, Chrysostom stood in their way and defended the life of his enemy, first against the people, then against the army and finally against the emperor himself. When Eutropius secretly left the church at night, however, he was seen, captured and killed .

Shortly thereafter, there was another crisis: In league with the Gothic military leader Tribigild, the imperial general Gainas Arcadius blackmailed him to be appointed commander-in-chief of the army and to leave him with two high-ranking men as hostages. Chrysostom negotiated with Gainas and obtained the hostages' release. Shortly afterwards, Gainas, also an Arian Goth, demanded one of the churches of Constantinople for himself and his soldiers. Chrysostom negotiated again, but objected so vigorously that Gainas finally gave in. Meanwhile, however, the population was in an uproar, so that several thousand Gothic soldiers were killed in one night.

Chrysostom, however, had another enemy in Eudoxia , the wife of the emperor Arcadius, who felt struck by his sermons against the folly of luxury. To influence him, she gave large donations to the church. Chrysostom thanked him but continued to preach. Eventually Eudoxia, Theophilus, and others forged an alliance against him. In 403 they called a synod to accuse John, among other things, of having represented Origen's false teachings . He was deposed and banished, but Eudoxia immediately recalled him because the people were extremely angry about his departure and viewed an earthquake as a sign of God's wrath.

Second exile and death

The peace was short-lived. When a silver statue of Eudoxia was erected near his cathedral , John refused to perform the dedication ceremony, saying, “ Herodias is racing again ; again she falls mad; again she asks for John's head on a bowl ”(alluding to the death of John the Baptist ). Again he was exiled, this time to Cucusus in (then Greater) Armenia (now Göksun in Turkey), located at an altitude of 1400 meters in the middle of the Antitaurus. Johannes Cassianus (around 360-435), the deacon of John Chrysostom, was sent to Rome to see Pope Innocent I with a request for support . In 404/405 the latter caused a diplomatic delegation (including Gaudentius von Brescia ) to be sent to Constantinople, which, however, met with bitter resistance from the Eastern Roman authorities. Gaudentius only narrowly escaped tougher reprisals. In gratitude for his commitment, Johannes wrote him several letters.

The letters of John had great influence in Constantinople. Thereupon he was banished even further, to Pityus (on the eastern edge of the Black Sea ), at that time the easternmost outpost of the Roman Empire. (Today the place is called Pizunda and is about 75 kilometers northwest of Sukhumi in Georgia.) He did not achieve this goal, however, because he died on the forced march there near Comana Pontica (today Gümenek in northeastern Turkey). He was buried in the chapel of the martyr Basiliscus, in today's Bizeri. The Doctor of the Church Cyril of Alexandria opposed Chrysostom's rehabilitation and was convinced of his guilt for a long time.

The bones of Chrysostom were on January 27, 438 by Proclus of Constantinople Opel transferred to a solemn procession to Constantinople Opel and there buried in the Church of the Apostles, where in 1204 the Fourth Crusade seized by Latin Christians, brought to Rome and there 800 years St. Peter kept were. It was not until November 27, 2004 that Pope John Paul II gave it back to the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I ; since then they have been exhibited for veneration in a shrine in St. George's Church in Istanbul's Phanar district .


John Chrysostom

Chrysostom was clearly on the side of the ecclesiastical consensus vis-à-vis Arians and Novatians , but he was little concerned with the intricacies of dogmatics and theological controversy. He emphasized practical piety instead of sterile, purely dogmatic orthodoxy.


His interpretations of biblical passages and his moral instruction became famous. His most valuable works are the homilies on various biblical books. His direct understanding of Scripture (in contrast to the Alexandrian allegory ) made the subjects of his sermons extremely realistic and social, as they dealt with a Christian way of life. He rejected the contemporary tendency towards allegory , instead speaking plainly and simply and derived applications for everyday life from the biblical passages.

Social criticism

Among the church fathers, Chrysostom, along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen, was one of the sharpest critics of luxury at the expense of the poor. He set great store by giving alms and took care of the spiritual and worldly concerns, especially of the poor. He also accused the abuse of wealth and personal property, for example, in the case of the Empress Eudoxia, he was very undiplomatic.

With regard to the social conditions of his time, he assumed that man, man and woman, had been created free and equal by God. Due to the fall of man, however, he lost the ability to govern himself and came into a threefold submission: women under man, slaves under master, subjects under ruler. This submission is a divine means of discipline. On the one hand, these conditions were justified and, on the other, condemned in principle. He called for superfluous slaves to be released and exhorted to treat slaves humanely and to train them so that, when released, they could fend for themselves. On the other hand, like his contemporaries Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo , he urged the slaves to obey for Christ's sake. In practice, even during his exile, Chrysostom bought prisoners of war free from slavery with funds sent to him by his spiritual daughter Olympias of Constantinople . His letters to her also prove that he had at least this woman in great respect and saw her intellectually, spiritually and characteristically on the same level as a man.


Chrysostom often condemned and mocked Jews in his works and is therefore considered a representative of Christian anti-Judaism . Thus he wrote around 390 in the sixth of his sermons adversos Iudaeos, which were indirectly directed against Judaizing Christians:

“Because you killed Christ, because you raised your hand against the Lord, because you shed his precious blood, therefore there is no recovery for you, no forgiveness and no apology either. For at that time the attack went on servants, on Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Even if wicked actions were taken at the time, what was done was not yet worthy of death. But now you have overshadowed all the old crimes by your rage against Christ. Therefore you are being punished more now. For, if this is not the cause of your present dishonor, why did God endure you when you committed child murder, whereas now, when you did nothing of the kind, he turns away from you? So it is clear that by murdering Christ you have committed a much worse and greater crime than child murder and any violation of the law. "

Chrysostom, however , confirmed the election of Israel in the interpretation of Romans, which was also preached in Antioch .


As Bishop of Constantinople , Chrysostom also placed an emphasis on the mission of the Gentiles in his work . On the one hand he wanted to Christianize the adherents of the old cults, on the other hand he wanted to expand the influence of his bishopric.

He consecrated u. a. the Gothic priest Unila to the bishop and sent him to work among the Goths in the Crimea . He wanted to have the Gospel preached among the rural population in Thrace and exhorted the large landowners of his preaching community to have a church built on their country estates and to employ a priest. He was also interested in the fate of Christians in Persia and, through an envoy, achieved that the Christians there were met with more tolerance and that the building of churches was permitted.

In order to push back the old cults, he supported efforts aimed at the closure of temples: In 401, for example, he made it possible for Porphyry, the bishop of Gaza , to have an audience with the Eastern Roman empress Eudoxia . At their instigation, Emperor Arcadius was induced to have the temples in Gaza destroyed by imperial troops.

While still in exile , he called on himself for his mission. As a hermit for his hermitage to leave and after Phenicia to go (roughly modern Lebanon) in the mission. Missionary concerns are also clear from his correspondence with Olympias .

Sermon style

Chrysostom prepared his sermons well, but always spoke freely without holding a slip of paper in his hand. The sermons were recorded by stenographers. He then revised their shorthands and published them.

Regarding the preacher's mission, John Chrysostom said:

“We only hold the rank of admonishing advisor. The counselor expresses his opinion without compelling the listener; he leaves it up to him to decide for or against what has been said. He is only responsible for this if he does not speak to the best of his knowledge and belief. "

Chrysostom was a very popular preacher who needed to be close to his audience. He was extremely popular with the common people; less among the wealthy because he sharply criticized the possession of wealth, as well as the fashionable behavior of the upper class women:

"You are not rich if you have a lot, but if you need little - you are not poor if you have little, but if you want a lot."

He basically insisted that the preacher's words want to bite. At the same time, he tried hard to correct his listeners without hurting them. His language is very direct and (mostly) coupled with an otherwise rare empathy.

In his sermons he takes up prejudices in which people were trapped, deals with parodies of scriptures, interweaves quotes from Greek poets and philosophers, as well as proverbs of his time. He uses a lot of pictures, often from the field of medicine, the world of sports and war, and brings in many observations from everyday life.

He compares the Holy Scriptures with a "meadow strewn with flowers", a "rich mine" or a "collection of precious stones". When interpreting Scripture, he pays close attention to the differences between the individual biblical books. In his sermons and other writings there are around seven thousand quotations from the Old Testament and about eleven thousand from the New Testament.

He devotes a large part of the sermon to exhortation, whereby he sees himself particularly as an advocate for the poor and demands a Christian way of life from all his parishioners.

“If you are tired of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling and not listened to him.” “Not because you stretch out your hands [note: ancient prayer position], you will be heard become. Do not stretch your hands to heaven, but to the poor! ”He also alludes to the silver chamber pots of some rich people:“ While one is hungry, the other is mad and full; While one of them is doing his necessities on silver, the other does not even have a piece of bread. What madness! What boundless wilderness! "

The following can be said of the diatribes that he led primarily against the Judaizers, but also against others:

The terrible and gruesome as well as black and white painting corresponded to the taste of the time. The famous rhetoric professor Libanius taught his students, including John Chrysostom, to use thick colors in their speeches. Libanius himself did not shy away from obvious exaggerations. He has z. B. Monks attacked, they eat more than elephants and are big drunkards. In a way, Chrysostom corresponded to the style of his time. He thought not only opponents, but also his own community with hearty words:

“We preach that Christ did a great work of making angels out of people. If you then demand the evidence and demand that we should provide examples from our herd, then we have to be quiet out of fear, instead of angels in reality showing pigs from the pigsty and horny stallions ... Truly, everything is rotten and corrupted in the present : the church is no different from an ox, donkey and camel shed, and when I go around looking for a sheep, I can't find one. They all lash out like horses and wild asses and make everything around filthy, they talk like that. "

But there is also the exuberance of feelings in a positive sense. On the occasion of the transfer of martyrs ' relics to Constantinople , he said, for example:

“What should I say, what should I talk about? I jump and am beside myself ... I fly and dance and feel lifted up and am drunk with spiritual joy. "

Or about the weight of the psalms in the liturgy:

“Nothing can uplift and inspire the soul so much, create distance from the earthly, free it from the earth, from the bonds of the body and lead it to meditation as the sounding of voices and the divine melody that emerges from it raises. "

All in all, he was a preacher who enthused his audience and accordingly earned a lot of applause.


No church father has survived as many works as Chrysostom's: treatises, sermons and letters. Among the sermons there are commentary series on books of the Old and New Testaments, sermon series on specific topics and numerous individual sermons. The 238 letters received were all written in exile.

The Divine Liturgy

Two of his writings deserve special mention. John harmonized the liturgical life of the Church by reforming the prayers and passages of the Divine Liturgy, as well as the celebration of the Holy Eucharist . The Byzantine Rite Orthodox Churches usually celebrate the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, along with the Byzantine Rite Catholic Churches associated with Rome . These churches of the Byzantine rite also read out a catechetical homily ascribed to Chrysostom for every Easter festival, the largest festival of the church year .


John was an excellent preacher. As a theologian, he is still of immense importance for Eastern Christianity , but of less importance for Western Christianity . His banishment showed that during this period secular power ruled the church. They also showed the rivalry between Constantinople and Alexandria, which were in a heated battle of rank. These mutual hostilities contributed to the decline of the Church of the Eastern Empire. Meanwhile, Rome had risen to the undisputed primacy in the West by the fourth century . An interesting point in the further development of the papacy is the fact that the protests were of no use to Innocent: they demonstrated the dwindling influence of the Roman bishop in the east.

It is interesting to see a comparison between John Chrysostom and his contemporary Ambrosius of Milan , who both represented a similar ethic. Even then, the church's dependence on the state in the west and in the east varied in strength. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan (not the Patriarch of Rome), confronted Theodosius I , the most powerful emperor of his time, and got the upper hand. Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople, on the other hand, was deposed and banished by the weak emperor Arcadius.

Remembrance day

  • Orthodox: November 13th
  • Catholic / Protestant / Anglican: September 13 - before the calendar reform of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the day of remembrance was January 27 .


John Chrysostom is the patron saint of worshipers, speakers and preachers.


His attributes are a beehive or an angel.


  • The Russian city of Slatoust in the southern Urals is named after Johannes Chrysostomos ( Church Slavonic Иоанн Златоуст - Ioann Slatoust) .
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's baptismal name is "Johannes Chrysostomos Wolfgangus Theophilus" - corresponding to the day of remembrance of the saint on whom he was born and which was only moved after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965).

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ivor J. Davidson: A Public Faith, p. 154.
  2. About the statues (online text, English).
  3. Sermon on Eutropius (English)
  4. ^ Rudolf Brändle, Johannes Chrysostomus, Stuttgart 1999, 11 and 154
  5. [1]
  6. quoted from Andreas Mertin: Ecce homo ; English translation
  7. Sermons on Romans, Sermon 18
  8. Hiltgart L. Keller: Reclam's Lexicon of Saints and Biblical Figures - Legend and Representation in the Fine Arts, Stuttgart 1996, p. 636


  • Rudolf Brändle : Johannes Chrysostomus. Bishop, reformer, martyr. Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-17-013780-8 .
  • Gerhard Fittkau : The concept of the mystery in Johannes Chrysostomos. An examination of the concept of the "cult mystery" in the teaching of Odo Casel . Bonn 1953.
  • Andreas Heiser: “Are you a Christian? Why are you so zealous with the Jews? ”Christian Sabbath observation in the mirror of the polemics of John Chrysostom . In: Anselm Schubert (Ed.): Sabbath and Sabbath observance in the early modern period . Heidelberg 2016, pp. 18–38
  • Peter Klasvogt : Life to Glorify God - Message of John Chrysostom. A contribution to the history of pastoral care. Bonn 1992, ISBN 3-923946-22-8 .
  • Jan Stenger : Johannes Chrysostomos and the Christianization of the Polis: "So that the cities become cities". Tübingen 2019.
  • Claudia Tiersch : Johannes Chrysostomus in Constantinople (398–404). World view and work of a bishop in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Tübingen 2002.
  • Karl Heinz Uthemann:  Johannes Chrysostomos. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 3, Bautz, Herzberg 1992, ISBN 3-88309-035-2 , Sp. 305-326.
  • Stephan Verosta: Johannes Chrysostomus. State philosopher and theologian of history. Graz 1960.

Web links

Commons : John Chrysostom  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files
Secondary literature
  • Thomas N. Hall: John Chrysostom (PDF; 129 kB), appears in: Ders. (Ed.): Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, Vol. 5 (Julius Caesar to Pseudo-Cyril of Alexandria), Medieval Institute Publications, Kalamazoo.
  • John Chrystomos in the Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints, including the Easter sermon
predecessor Office successor
Nectarius Archbishop of Constantinople
Arsacius of Tarsus