John Chrysostom, a bishop, doctor, and saint of the eastern church, born in Antioch, according to the best authorities, Jan. 14, 347, died Sept. 14, 407. His name was only John, the appellation Chrysostom (Gr. the golden-mouthed), by which he is usually known, not having been given to him until the 7th century. His father, Secundus, who was magister militum Orientis, died while John was still in his infancy. Arethusa, his mother, left a widow in her 20th year, resolved to remain single in order to devote her whole life to her boy. Intending him to follow the legal profession, she sought for him the best school of eloquence, and placed him with the renowned Libanins, then teaching at Antioch. Libanius, who had formerly had among: his pupils the great Basil of Csesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and his bosom friend Gregory Nazianzen, had also been the master of the emperor Julian, and his most ardent auxiliary in his endeavor to put down Christianity and restore the worship of the old gods. He welcomed John, soon discovered his genius, labored to develop it, and predicted the preeminence which his favorite pupil afterward attained. At the age of 18 he was practising at the bar, where even then more than one great success laid the foundation of his fame.
This, as well as his social position and the virtues of his mother, drew on him the eyes of Mele-tius, bishop of Antioch, who wished to secure as a member of his clergy one so full of promise. He instructed and baptized him, gave him his first lessons in ecclesiastical science, ordained him lector or reader, and assigned him a residence beneath his own roof. This was not what his mother had designed for him; she had set her heart on seeing him foremost in the race for worldly honors, and resisted with all her might his entrance on a career so different. She represented to him that for love of him she had in youth renounced all earthly joys, and that he must not think of forsaking her now when old age and its infirmities were fast approaching. It was all in vain. The same wave of ascetic fervor which was carrying away into solitude and the austerities of monastic life the very elite of Christian youth, bore John into the mountains which surrounded his native city. For six years, two of which were spent in a hermitage, he gave himself up to a life divided between the study of the Scriptures and prayer, mortifying his body meanwhile with such rigor that his limbs were nearly paralyzed.
The urgent solicitations of his friends at length drew him back to Antioch, where the pallor of his countenance and his extreme emaciation touched all beholders with pity or veneration. Several years passed before he was ordained deacon. In 381 Meletius died. A rival Christian faction, with Paulinus as its bishop, had divided the church at Antioch. John, while yet a deacon, strove in vain to heal the schism. Flavian, successor to Meletius, appreciated his learning, eloquence, and disinterestedness. So great, indeed, was the esteem in which he was held throughout Asia Minor, that even before his elevation to the priesthood the neighboring bishops sought to raise him to the episcopal office. He shrank from the honor and responsibility, but induced his friend Basil to accept the proffered rank. In 386 John became a priest, and commenced his course as a preacher. He was justly considered even then as the shining light of the eastern church. In 397 the see of Constantinople became vacant by the death of Nectarius. For three months rival candidates and contending factions sought to no purpose to fill the coveted see.
The eunuch Eutropius, then all-powerful at court, and who had heard John's preaching, submitted his name to the emperor Arcadius. The latter approved of the choice; and forthwith a messenger was sent to Asterius, prefect of the East, who resided at Antioch, bidding him to secure by some stratagem the person of the presbyter John, and send him to Constantinople. John was invited by Asterius to accompany him on a visit to a new church just erected outside of Antioch, and his chariot was driven amid an armed escort toward the Bosporus. After the first emotion of surprise and anger, John thought he saw in all this the hand of an overruling Providence, and submitted passively. The episcopal chair of Constantinople, in which John now found himself, had a few years before been adorned by Gregory Nazianzen. Nectarius, whom Theodosius chose as his successor, had not even been baptized when, to his dismay, he, in the midst of the second general council, saw himself raised to such an exalted rank. But he discharged his episcopal functions with a careful piety, charming Theodosius and his court by his majestic presence and graceful manners, and dispensing in the patriarchal residence a princely hospitality to the many churchmen whom business drew to the capital.
Chrysostom brought a new spirit to these halls. He resolved to make his household a model for every household of churchman and layman within his jurisdiction, and his own life a mirror in which every bishop and priest should see what they must be themselves in order to be true shepherds in Christ's flock. He made a monastic frugality preside over his table and all his domestic expenses. The rich furniture of his predecessors and their abundant wardrobe of silks and cloth of gold were sold at auction, and the proceeds given to the poor. Nectarius had purposed erecting a magnificent basilica, and collected a large quantity of precious marbles and other rare building material. John did not hesitate to sell them for the benefit of the needy classes. The very sacred vessels which he judged too costly for the altar were similarly disposed of. This displeased the clergy, while the people were taught to attribute these reforms to parsimony or avarice. But when the poorly clad archbishop appeared in the pulpit of St. Sophia, his hearers forgot everything but that they possessed a man of God in their midst. It is impossible to study his works without being impressed with his deep devotion to the people.
Hence, in Constantinople as at Antioch, whenever he preached the largest edifices could not contain the crowds who flocked to hear him. They surrounded him in the streets, pouring blessings on his head as he passed along; and when his liberty or his life was threatened at a later period, they watched night and day around his dwelling. "I love you," he one day exclaimed to the worshipping throng - "I love you as you love me. What should I be without you? You are to me father, mother, brothers, and children; you are all the world to me. I know no joy, no sorrow, which is not yours." This popularity constituted one great source of his power, and he used it in his vain attempt at reform both in court and church. Eutropius, who had been mainly instrumental in his elevation, did not find favor with the archbishop, who denounced his tyranny and the corruption which he encouraged in every branch of the administration, He retaliated by having a law passed which repealed or abridged ecclesiastical immunities, and in particular limited the right of asylum granted to churches. John inveighed against the extravagance and licentiousness of the court.
Arcadius dreaded the remonstrances which tended to rouse him from his unmanly love of ease, and the empress Eu-doxia hated the man who dared to reprove openly her illicit amours. The courtiers and ministers of state shared their master's enmity, and only waited for an opportunity to make the archbishop feel the weight of their resentment. Eutropius fell into disgrace and fled for his life to the church of St. Sophia, where Chrysostom gave him a shelter, and protected him against the united rage of the courtiers, the military, and the populace. But it was only for a time. Eutropius was induced to leave his asylum, and perished by the hands of Eudoxia's satellites. She now ruled with absolute sway both the emperor and the empire. Her avarice was equal to her ambition, and she went so far as to take open possession of a vineyard which the owner would neither sell nor give up to her. Chrysostom denounced her from the pulpit as a second Jezebel. This brought matters to a crisis. Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, who had himself aspired to the succession of Nectarius, found new matter of complaint as well as of hatred against Chrysostom in the toleration which the latter extended to some monks expelled from Egypt and excommunicated on account of their attachment to Origen and his doctrines.
This caused the accusation of heresy to be made against the archbishop, although at that time no council had condemned the opinions attributed to Origen. Chrysostom summoned before himself every member of his clergy in order to examine into the scandalous reports about their relations with deaconesses and other women. He reformed or rebuked wherever he found just cause; and thus there was wide-spread discontent among the clergy. It had been reported to him that the episcopal office was bought and sold in the provinces dependent on his patriarchate. In the midst of winter he set out, visiting every diocese, and before; he returned to Constantinople deposed 13 bishops convicted of simony and immorality. He even extended his visitation into provinces which owed him no obedience, and there exercised the same rigor against the guilty. This raised a great outcry against him, and gave the advantage to his enemies. Eudoxia and Theophilus joined hands; and in 403 a council of 36 bishops assembled at Chalcedon, a suburb of Constantinople. There Chrysostom was accused, among other crimes, of pride, oppression of the clergy, inhospitality, avarice, gluttony, undue familiarity with women, and high treason.
He refused to appear before his self-constituted judges until their president, Theophilus, and three other bishops, his declared enemies, had been excluded. Meanwhile he continued to give his usual homilies in the cathedral, and the people watched unceasingly his coming and going lest any evil should befall him. He was found guilty and deposed from his see, and a new bishop was appointed by the council and approved by the emperor. At length his house was surrounded in the night by soldiers, and himself borne off into exile at Nicaea. The people on hearing this rose and besieged the imperial palace, demanding his instant recall. An earthquake happened at this very moment, and seemed even to Eudoxia a manifest sign of the divine displeasure. She rushed into the presence of Arcadius and besought him to lose not one moment in bringing back the exiled archbishop. But his return did not cause the court to mend its morals, nor the city to lay aside its love of the most costly pleasures. The connection of the empress with the count John was now a subject of comment in every household, while the courtiers tried to cloak over the scandal by showing new honor to Eudoxia, and she endeavored to divert the attention of the populace by inventing for them new games in the circus.
The erection of a silver statue to her in the square adjoining the church of St. Sophia was made the occasion of the most extravagant festivities, at a time when the people were suffering from want. The archbishop publicly reproved the people for their love of dissipation, and as openly blamed those whose vanity had caused this display. The empress took mortal offence, and threatened a second exile. The courtiers, too, replied to the archbishop's denunciation by inaugurating a new feast, in which the honors paid to the statue verged on idolatry. Chrysostom was not to be intimidated. On appearing in the pulpit, he alluded in his commentary on the gospel to Herodias dancing, and demanding as a reward the head of John. The allusion was too transparent. This time the court resolved to take no half-way measures. A second assembly of bishops was summoned, more numerous than the first; and, although 42 among the number were faithful to Chrysostom, he was condemned. In 404, six years after he had been forcibly borne off from his native Antioch to assume the spiritual government of the capital, when every appeal to the Roman pontiff had only increased the rage of his enemies, and the efforts made to assemble a full council had proved abortive, ho was compelled to set out for a second exile.
Feeble in body, but unbroken in spirit, the high-souled old man traversed Asia Minor, and took up his abode in Cucusus, a town of the Armenian Taurus. Again the indignant populace arose to demand his recall; but, although in their fury they burned to the ground the senate house and the metropolitan church, the emperor firmly withstood all their clamor. The devoted adherents of the exiled archbishop would not acknowledge while he lived the jurisdiction of any other, and, under the name of "Johannites," they worshipped apart until his remains were brought to Constantinople in 438. For about 18 months Chrysostom resided in Cucusus, when an attack of the Isaurians compelled him to take refuge in the distant stronghold of Arabissus. In the latter place, as in the former, he continued to be the light and life of the Asiatic church. At length a new decree banished him to the remote desert of Pityus. On foot, bareheaded, beneath a burning sun, he was driven pitilessly along by his military escort, until he broke down on reaching Comana in Cappadocia. He felt that the end was at hand; and putting on a white robe, he dragged himself feebly a few miles further to the tomb of St. Basiliscus, where he laid himself down to rest for ever.
The surrounding country flocked to his obsequies, and honored his remains as those of a man of God. Thirty years later the entire population of Constantinople, headed by Theodosius II., welcomed the relics back with solemn pomp and rejoicing. - Chrysostom was a voluminous writer. The best edition of his works is that of the Benedictines, in Greek, with a Latin translation (13 vols, folio, Paris, 1718-'38; reprinted in Venice, 1734-'41; in Paris, 1834-'39; and in Migne's Patrologia, 1859-'60). A translation into English of his homilies is contained in the "Library of the Fathers " (Oxford, 1842-'53). Most of his works are homilies and commentaries on the Bible. A minute analysis of his writings is contained in Butler's " Lives of the Saints." His biography has been written, among others, by Neander (2 vols., Berlin, 1821-'2; 3d ed., 1848), Perthes (English translation, Boston, 1854), Rochet (Paris, 1866), and Stephens (" St. Chrysostom, his Life and Times," London, 1872).