Pope Benedict XVI eulogized St. John Chrysostom in a letter released today, the 1600th anniversary of the historical preacher’s death, upon the opening of a conference on the saint. The pope praised him as a preacher (his rhetorical ability earned him the sobriquet, “Chrysostom,” or “golden mouthed”).
Yes, Chrysostom preaching some moving sermons.
But how can he praised without also mentioning his vitriolic diatribes, “Against the Jews“? Some apologists say he wasn’t really antisemitic, he was just fighting against Christians who were judaizing. It seems to me quite clear that he had plenty to say against both groups. Here’s how he introduces his topic:
The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now. My homilies against the Anomians can be put off to another time, and the postponement would cause no harm. But now that the Jewish festivals are close by and at the very door, if I should fail to cure those who are sick with the Judaizing disease. I am afraid that, because of their ill-suited association and deep ignorance, some Christians may partake in the Jews’ transgressions; once they have done so, I fear my homilies on these transgressions will be in vain. For if they hear no word from me today, they will then join the Jews in their fasts; once they have committed this sin it will be useless for me to apply the remedy. …
Many, I know, respect the Jews and think that their present way of life is a venerable one. This is why I hasten to uproot and tear out this deadly opinion. I said that the synagogue is no better than a theater and I bring forward a prophet as my witness. Surely the Jews are not more deserving of belief than their prophets. “You had a harlot’s brow; you became shameless before all”. Where a harlot has set herself up, that place is a brothel. But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. Jeremiah said: “Your house has become for me the den of a hyena”. He does not simply say “of wild beast”, but “of a filthy wild beast”, and again: “I have abandoned my house, I have cast off my inheritance”. But when God forsakes a people, what hope of salvation is left? When God forsakes a place, that place becomes the dwelling of demons.
But at any rate the Jews say that they, too, adore God. God forbid that I say that. No Jew adores God! Who say so? The Son of God say so. For he said: “If you were to know my Father, you would also know me. But you neither know me nor do you know my Father”. Could I produce a witness more trustworthy than the Son of God?
If, then, the Jews fail to know the Father, if they crucified the Son, if they thrust off the help of the Spirit, who should not make bold to declare plainly that the synagogue is a dwelling of demons? God is not worshipped there. Heaven forbid! From now on it remains a place of idolatry. But still some people pay it honor as a holy place.
Yes, he was a great preacher. He was kind and sympathetic to the poor, as the pope notes–but only to the Christian poor. His tongue could also drip venom … and we know the historic legacy of such denunciations. How can we mention his name without begging God for forgiveness for that legacy, and separating ourselves from his hate?