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SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church, 344-407

It was Saint John's eloquence that earned for him the surname Chrysostom ("golden-mouthed"). This fourth-century Doctor of the Church was born about 344 in the city of Antioch, where he was reared by his mother and educated by Libanus, the most renowned orator of the period. Baptized about 370 by Bishop Meletius, John went to a monastery and later became a hermit, living in the desert for two years until ill health forced him to return to the city. In 386 he was ordained a priest. This year marks the beginning of his importance in Church history.

During the next twelve years John matured as an orator and a writer. He became prominent throughout the East during this time. In 387 he delivered a series of sermons that settled a conflict between the emperor and the citizens of Antioch that arose over the levying of new taxes. Most of his sermons, however, were explanations of Holy Scripture or exhortations to virtue. To this period (386-397) belong most of his theological and ascetical works and his famous book, On the Priesthood, contributions which alone would warrant his high place among the first Doctors of the Church. To this day, many Catholics of the East celebrate Mass "according to the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.."

When the bishop of Constantinople died in 397, the course of John's life was suddenly changed. To settle rivalry over succession to the vacant see, Emperor Arcadius selected John as bishop. But the news was not made public until John could be safely escorted to Constantinople, for fear of protests from the citizens of Antioch. He was consecrated bishop of the imperial city on February 26, 398.

After his appointment all Constantinople felt the force of his zeal. He immediately enforced discipline among the clergy; then, turning his attention to the faithful, he preached against extravagance, lust, and avarice. He erected hospitals and homes for the sick and poor, regulated Church affairs at Ephesus, and revised the Byzantine liturgy.

At first he was in great favor at court, but his uncompromising reforms laid the groundwork for his final banishment. A sermon concerning the vanity of women was taken as a personal affront by Empress Eudoxia, who with the aid of John's enemies influenced her weak husband to send the bishop into exile. Threats of the angered citizens, however, plus some now unknown accident in the palace, prevented the carrying out of this sentence. A few months later, in 404, a more serious incident occurred. A new statue of the empress was erected near the cathedral, and the celebrations that accompanied this event were so extreme that John complained about them, again provoking the empress. This time his exile could not be prevented; he was banished to Cucusus, a city on the eastern frontier of Cilicia. Then in 407, in defiance of Pope Innocent I, who strongly supported John, an order was given to send the saint to a more remote place between the Black and Caspian seas. Exhausted by the journey and the maltreatment he suffered, John died on September 14, 407, near Comana in Cappadocia.

 

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