“Those Who Do Not Remember the Past …”

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?

6 thoughts on ““Those Who Do Not Remember the Past …”

  1. “But how can he praised without also mentioning his vitriolic diatribes, “Against the Jews“?”

    Good question… perhaps Benedict feels that sufficient apology has been made for Chrysostom’s sins, and that one needn’t refer to them every time the man is discussed publicly.

    Whatever the reason, we know Benedict’s warmth towards our elder brothers, and his desire to see Jewish-Catholic dialogue continue and deepen.

  2. I haven’t heard him or any other pope apologize for the sins that Chrysostom committed in his official capacity. Rather, he was canonized.

    Is Benedict’s attitude so crystal clear? He is the one who advances a “hermeneutic of continuity,” after all.

  3. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t whitewash St. John’s sins by not referring to them whenever he is discussed.

    As to his attitude, I think you know the answer, Bill… it was made clear in the months after his election, by him and by Jewish groups, that his papacy was positive for Jewish-Catholic relations. Again, this is well know.

  4. Lots of platitudes are expressed in the early days of any politician’s tenure. He has to be judged by actions, and there are lots of questions to be asked about Jewish relations under both Benedict and his predecessor. He has this “hermeneutic of continuity” principle, which would demand that any Vatican 2 document be read in continuity with prior magisterial teaching. This can only water down post-Vatican 2 teaching on the Jews. We see the practical impact of this in the Vatican’s refusal to publicly criticize the SSPX’s antisemitism.

  5. Pretty much every Catholic scholar who believes what the Church teaches holds to the hermeneutic of continuity, Bill, meaning that what was true in 1958 is what was true in 1965. Fortunately, this in no way waters down the Catholic teaching on the Jews, as is obvious by the fact that the man in question — Ratzinger — both acknowledges the hermeneutic of continuity and recognizes the role Jews have and continue to play in salvation history. …

  6. What Vatican 2 taught about the Jews is in marked distinction to what was taught throughout the centuries prior. Chrysostom, the prayers against the “perfidious Jews,” persecutions against the Jews, supercessionism, statues of Synagoga vs. Ecclesia–all represent the unbroken legacy of Catholic anti-Judaism from the early centuries through the early 20th. Vatican 2 was a break–an about face. That’s why the SSPX rejects it.

    And the Vatican has never criticized the SSPX for its rejection of Vatican 2’s teachings about the Jews.

    And Benedict says it is OK to say pre-Vatican 2 prayers.

    And Benedict is making overtures to the SSPX without bringing this out on the table.

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