St John Chrysostom
The ambiguity and
intrigue surrounding John, the great preacher (his name means "golden-mouthed") from Antioch, are
characteristic of the life of any great man in a capital city. Brought to Constantinople after a
dozen years of priestly service in Syria, John found himself the reluctant victim of an imperial
ruse to make him bishop in the greatest city of the empire. Ascetic, unimposing but dignified, and
troubled by stomach ailments from his desert days as a monk, John became a bishop under the cloud of
If his body was weak, his tongue was powerful. The content of his sermons,
his exegesis of Scripture, were never without a point. Sometimes the point stung the high and
mighty. Some sermons lasted up to two hours.
His lifestyle at the imperial court was not
appreciated by many courtiers. He offered a modest table to episcopal sycophants hanging around for
imperial and ecclesiastical favors. John deplored the court protocol that accorded him precedence
before the highest state officials. He would not be a kept man.
His zeal led him to decisive
action. Bishops who bribed their way into office were deposed. Many of his sermons called for
concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing from John that
private property existed because of Adam´s fall from grace any more than married men liked to hear
that they were bound to marital fidelity just as much as their wives were. When it came to justice
and charity, John acknowledged no double standards.
Aloof, energetic, outspoken, especially
when he became excited in the pulpit, John was a sure target for criticism and personal trouble. He
was accused of gorging himself secretly on rich wines and fine foods. His faithfulness as spiritual
director to the rich widow, Olympia, provoked much gossip attempting to prove him a hypocrite where
wealth and chastity were concerned. His actions taken against unworthy bishops in Asia Minor were
viewed by other ecclesiastics as a greedy, uncanonical extension of his authority.
prominent personages who personally undertook to discredit John were Theophilus, Archbishop of
Alexandria, and Empress Eudoxia. Theophilus feared the growth in importance of the Bishop of
Constantinople and took occasion to charge John with fostering heresy. Theophilus and other angered
bishops were supported by Eudoxia. The empress resented his sermons contrasting gospel values with
the excesses of imperial court life. Whether intended or not, sermons mentioning the lurid Jezebel
(see 1 Kings 9:1—21:23) and impious Herodias (see Mark 6:17-29) were associated with the empress,
who finally did manage to have John exiled. He died in exile in 407.
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