Judaic 102 Home


From: "Medieval Sourcebook"


Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407):
Eight Homilies [i.e. Sermons] Against the Jews

[Note: only the 2nd homily [i.e. sermon] appears below; if you are interested in additional homilies [i.e. sermons] see: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/chrysostom-jews6.html]
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Introduction

John Chrysostom is considered a "doctor of the Church," and among the greatest of the Greek Fathers. He was bishop of Antioch at the time of these sermons, although he became archbishop of Constantinople in 398. He was admired for his eloquence and gifts in preaching. As an introduction to this sermon, here is the discussion by James Parkes. You may skip it if you wish, but be sure to read Saint John Chrysostom's Second Sermon towards the bottom of this page.

CHRYSOSTOM AND THE JEWS OF ANTIOCH, pp. 163-166

from James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism (New York: JPS, 1934)

While in their writings Hilary and Eusebius introduced the pagan world to this strange version of Jewish history, Chrysostom expressed similar theories with much greater violence from his pulpit at Antioch. In eight sermons which he delivered in 387 [C.E.] he speaks with a bitterness and lack of restraint unusual even in that place and century (PG Vol 97). If it were not for the exegetical background which has already been shown, it would be impossible to explain, let alone excuse, his tone. Christianity was no longer in any danger. He himself had not, like Athanasius, ever known any persecution from the Jews, and the period of trial under Julian had been very short. Even had they been a menace in old times, the rich and powerful Jewish community of Antioch was now hemmed in, like every other, by numerous imperial edicts issued under Christian inspiration. Moreover, Chrysostom was a man whose character excited the admiration of his contemporaries. If he was hated by politicians for his unswerving firmness, he was loved by the multitudes, and his commentaries on the gospels are still read and studied in the Orthodox Church because of their deep spiritual beauty.

Such was the man who in eight sermons covering more than a hundred pages of closely printed text, has left us the most complete monument of the public expression of the Christian attitude to the Jews in the century of the victory of the Church. In these discourses there is no sneer too mean, no gibe too bitter for him to fling at the Jewish people. No text is too remote to be able to be twisted to their confusion, no argument is too casuistical, no blasphemy too startling for him to employ; and, most astonishing of all, at the end he turns to the Christians, and in words full of sympathy and toleration he urges them not to be too hard on those who have erred in following Jewish practices or in visiting Jewish synagogues. Dealing with the Christians, no text which urges forgiveness is forgotten: dealing with the Jews only one verse of the New Testament is omitted: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'.

The only explanation of his bitterness contained in the sermons themselves is the too close fellowship between Jews and Christians in Antioch. There is no single suggestion that the Jews were immoral or vicious; no suggestion that Christians were actually corrupted by the contact, either in their morals or their orthodoxy. Only one contemporary event is referred to at all, apart from general denunciations of the visiting of the synagogue at times of Jewish feast or fast. This was the case of a Christian woman who was taken into a Jewish house to take an oath in a business affair, because the Christian with whom she had to deal believed that an oath taken in the Jewish manner was more binding than any other. What the actual affair was we are not told. To Chrysostom's eyes the crime was that a Christian woman had been taken into a Jewish house, not that she had been seduced or taught heretical doctrine or anything else. It was enough that she had been made to enter the house [Sermon I:3].

There is no material in these sermons for a study of contemporary Jewish life. Events and beliefs of centuries earlier are quoted as though still accepted. On the strength of Psalm xcvi, 37, he states that they ' sacrificed their sons and daughters to devils: they outraged nature; and overthrew from their foundations the laws of relationship. They are become worse than the wild beasts, and for no reason at all, with their own hands they murder their own offspring, to worship the avenging devils who are the foes of our life" [Sermon I:6]. It seems almost as if his hearers in Antioch objected to so monstrous a statement, for in his sixth sermon he returns to the charge, and says that even if they no longer murder their own children, they have murdered the Christ, which is worse  [Sermon VI:2, 3]. The synagogues of the Jews are the homes of idolatry and devils, even though they have no images in them [Sermon I:3; based on Jer. vii:11]. They are worse even than heathen circuses [Sermon I:3. The very idea of going from a church to a synagogue is blasphemous [Sermon II:3]; and to attend the Jewish Passover is to insult Christ. To be with the Jews on the very day they murdered Jesus is to ensure that on the Day of Judgment He will say ' Depart from Me: for you have had intercourse with my murderers'  [Sermon III:5 and VI:8] . Some say that the synagogue is hallowed by the fact that the Holy Books of the Law are to be found in it. One might just as well say that the temple of Dagon was hallowed by the Ark being in it, even though the Ark destroyed the idol to prove the opposite [Sermon I:5, ref to I Sam V]. It is truer to say that the fact that these Books are to be found in the synagogues makes them more detestable, for the Jews have simply introduced these Books, ' not to honour them, but to insult them, and to dishonour them'  [Sermon I:5 and VI:6]. The Jews do not worship God but devils [Sermon I:3, based on John 8:19], so that all their feasts are unclean   [Sermon I:6]. God hates them, and indeed has always hated them. But since their murder of Jesus He allows them no time for repentance  [Sermon VI:1]. It was of set purpose that He concentrated all their worship in Jerusalem that He might more easily destroy it  [Sermon IV:6]. The Jewish pretence that their misfortunes are due to Rome are not worthy of attention. ' It was not by their own power that the Caesars did what they did to you: it was done by the wrath of God, and His absolute rejection of you'   [Sermon VI:3]. It is childish in the face of this absolute rejection to imagine that God will ever allow the Jews to rebuild their Temple or to return to Jerusalem. Their experience under Julian should convince them of that [SermonV, passim. The whole sermon is an insulting sneer at their misfortunes and exile, and a gloating over the certainty of their damnation. Cf. the sermon ' That Christ is God: addressed to Jews and Pagans ' in the same volume]. When it is clear that God hates them, it is the duty of Christians to hate them too; and he begins his sixth sermon with a revolting analogy of a beast in the arena, who has tasted blood, and longs for it again. So he, Chrysostom, having once begun to denounce the Jews, cannot leave off [Sermon VI:1] for he who has no limits in his love of Christ must have no limits in his battle with those who hate Him [Sermon VII:1]. ' I hate the Jews ' he exclaims roundly, for they have the Law and they insult it'.

But when in the last sermon he comes to address those miserable sinners who had been frequenting Jewish celebrations his tone is unrecognizable. He insists that they must be dealt with gently, for the true attitude to a sinner is 'whenever we hear any good of him, to tell it to all; but when we hear any evil or wicked thing, to keep it to ourselves, and do all in our power to change It [Sermon VIII:3]. It is evident that Chrysostom's Jew was a theological necessity rather than a living person. If he looked different from the actual Jews living in Antioch it was part of the malice of the Jew, one of the snares of the devil, set to catch the unwary Christian. The comment of a Catholic theologian on these sermons is worth quoting [Murawski]: ' Das Gebot der Nächstensliebe wird man in diesen Reden nicht wiederfinden, und ebensowenig werden solche Reden fähig gewesen sein die Juden mit Sympathie für das Christentum zu erfüllen '. [ English: "One will not find the requirement to love one's neighbour  in these speeches, nor will such speeches have been able to fill the Jews with any sympathy for Christianity".]

Saint John Chrysostom's Second Sermon

But do not be surprised that I called the Jews pitiable. They really are pitiable and miserable. When so many blessings from heaven came into their hands, they thrust them aside and were at great pains to reject them. The morning Sun of Justice arose for them, but they thrust aside its rays and still sit in darkness. We, who were nurtured by darkness, drew the light to ourselves and were freed from the gloom of their error. They were the branches of that holy root, but those branches were broken. We had no share in the root, but we did reap the fruit of godliness. From their childhood they read the prophets, but they crucified Him whom the prophets had foretold. We did not hear the divine prophecies but we did worship him of whom they prophesied. And so they are pitiful because they rejected the blessings which were sent to them, while others seized hold of these blessing and drew them to themselves. Although those Jews had been called to the adoption of sons, they fell to kinship with dogs; we who were dogs received the strength, through God's grace, to put aside the irrational nature which was ours and to rise to the honor of sons. How do I prove this? Christ said: "It is not fair to take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs". Christ was speaking to the Canaanite woman when He called the Jews children and the Gentiles dogs.

(2) But see how thereafter the order was changed about: they became dogs, and we became the children. Paul said of the Jews: "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the mutilation. For we are the circumcision". Do you see how those who at first were children became dogs? Do you wish to find out how we, who at first were dogs, became children? "But to as many as received him, he gave the power of becoming sons of God".

(3) Nothing is more miserable than those people who never failed to attack their own salvation. When there was need to observe the Law, they trampled it under foot. Now that the Law has ceased to bind, they obstinately strive to observe it. What could be more pitiable that those who provoke God not only by transgressing the Law but also by keeping it? On this account Stephen said: "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart, you always resist the Holy Spirit", not only by transgressing the Law but also by wishing to observe it at the wrong time.

(4) Stephen was right in calling them stiff-necked. For they failed to take up the yoke of Christ, although it was sweet and had nothing about it which was either burdensome or oppressive. For He said: "Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart", and "Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light". Nonetheless they failed to take up the yoke because of the stiffness of their necks. Not only did they fail to take it up but they broke it and destroyed it. For Jeremiah said: "Long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds". It was not Paul who said this but the voice of the prophet speaking loud and clear. When he spoke of the yoke and the bonds, he meant the symbols of rule, because the Jews rejected the rule of Christ when they said: "We have no king but Caesar". You Jews broke the yoke, you burst the bonds, you cast yourselves out of the kingdom of heaven, and you made yourselves subject to the rule of men. Please consider with me how accurately the prophet hinted that their hearts were uncontrolled. He did not say: "You set aside the yoke", but "You broke the yoke" and this is the crime of untamed beasts, who are uncontrolled and reject rule.

(5) But what is the source of this hardness? It comes from gluttony and drunkenness. Who says so? Moses himself. "Israel ate and was filled and the darling grew fat and frisky". When brute animals feed from a full manger, they grow plump and become more obstinate and hard to hold in check; they endure neither the yoke, the reins, nor the hand of the charioteer. Just so the Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: "Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer". And still another called the Jews "an untamed calf".

(6) Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: "But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them". You Jews should have fasted then, when drunkenness was doing those terrible things to you, when your gluttony was giving birth to your ungodliness--not now. Now your fasting is untimely and an abomination. Who said so? Isaiah himself when he called out in a loud voice: "I did not choose this fast, says the Lord". Why? "You quarrel and squabble when you fast and strike those subject to you with your fists". But if your fasting was an abomination when you were striking your fellow slaves, does it become acceptable now that you have slain your Master? How could that be right?

(7) The man who fasts should be properly restrained, contrite, humbled--not drunk with anger. But do you strike your fellow slaves? In Isaiah's day they quarreled and squabbled when they fasted; now when fast, they go in for excesses and the ultimate licentiousness, dancing with bare feet in the marketplace. The pretext is that they are fasting, but they act like men who are drunk. Hear how the prophet bit them to fast. "Sanctify a fast", he said. He did not say: "Make a parade of your fasting", but "call an assembly; gather together the ancients". But these Jews are gathering choruses of effeminates and a great rubbish heap of harlots; they drag into the synagogue the whole theater, actors and all. For there is no difference between the theater and the synagogue. I know that some suspect me of rashness because I said there is no difference between the theater and the synagogue; but I suspect them of rashness if they do not think that this is so. If my declaration that the two are the same rests on my own authority, then charge me with rashness. But if the words I speak are the words of the prophet, then accept his decision.

 

To find out more about this subject see:

John Chrysostom, Discourses against Judaizing Christians, translated by Paul W. Harkins. The Fathers of the Church ; v. 68 (Washington : Catholic University of America Press, 1979)
This is apparently the most up to date translation, and should be used by anyone wanting to comment on these texts in written work.

Grissom, Fred Allen, Chrysostom and the Jews : studies in Jewish-Christian relations in fourth-century Antioch,  Thesis (Ph. D.)--Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1979.

Meeks, Wayne A. and Robert L. Wilken, Jews and Christians in Antioch in the first four centuries of the common era, Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, c1978.

Wilken, Robert Louis, John Chrysostom and the Jews: rhetoric and reality in the late fourth century (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983).

 


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Professor: aben-ur@judnea.umass.edu, TA: amolina@history.umass.edu
Judaic and Near East Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst