Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. John Chrysostom's Antioch Years
"His Is an Exquisitely Pastoral Theology"
H.H. Benedict XVI
September 19, 2007
Dear brothers and sisters,
This year marks the 16th centenary of the death of St. John Chrysostom
(407-2007). John of Antioch was called Chrysostom, "golden-mouthed,” for
his eloquence. It could be said he is still alive today through his
written works. An anonymous copyist wrote that his works "go across the
globe like lighting." His writings enable us -- as they did for the
faithful of his time, who were repeatedly deprived of him because of his
exiles -- to live with his books, despite his absence. This was the
advice he himself gave in one of his letters written from exile (cf. "To
Olympia, Letter” 8:45).
Born around the year 349 in Antioch in Syria (modern-day Antakya, in
south Turkey), he carried out his priestly ministry for about 11 years.
In 397, he was appointed bishop of Constantinople. He exercised the
episcopal ministry in the capital of the empire, before his two exiles
which happened within a few years of each other, between 403 and 407.
Today we limit ourselves to considering Chrysostom's years in Antioch.
Orphaned by his father at a young age, he lived with his mother, Anthusa,
who instilled in him an exquisite human sensitivity and a profound
Christian faith. He completed his elementary and higher studies, crowned
by courses in philosophy and rhetoric. Libanius, a pagan, was his
teacher. At his school, John became the greatest orator of late Ancient
Greece. Baptized in 368 and formed in the ecclesiastical life by Bishop
Meletius, he was ordained as a lector by him in 371. This marked
Chrysostom's official entrance into the ecclesiastical "cursus." He
attended, from 367-372, the "Asceterium," a kind of seminary in Antioch,
together with a group of young men, some of whom later became bishops,
under the guidance of the famous exegete Diodorus of Tarsus, who taught
John historical-literal exegesis, characteristic of the Antiochian
He retreated for four years among the hermitages on nearby Mount Silpius.
And then he continued his retreat for another two years, living alone in
a grotto under the guidance of an "elder." During that time he dedicated
himself entirely to meditating on "the laws of Christ," the Gospels and
especially Paul's letters. Falling ill, he found it impossible to take
care of himself, and therefore he returned to the Christian community of
Antioch (cf. Palladium, "Life” 5).
The Lord -- a biographer explains -- intervened at the right time to
enable John to follow his true vocation. In effect, he himself would
write that if he had to choose between the crosses of governing the
Church or the tranquility of the monastic life, he would have preferred
pastoral service a thousand times over (cf. "On the Priesthood," 6:7):
Chrysostom felt called to this.
And here we see the decisive turning point of his vocation story:
full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated
during the years in the hermitage, matured in him the irresistible
urgency to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he received during
years of meditation. The ideal missionary was thus launched, a soul
afire, into pastoral care.
Between 378 and 379 he returned to the city. Ordained a deacon in 381
and a priest in 386, he became a celebrated preacher in the churches of
his city. He gave homilies against the Arians, followed by those
commemorating the martyrs of Antioch and others on principal liturgical
feasts: constituting a great teaching of faith in Christ, in light of
The year 387 was John's "heroic year," the so-called statue revolt. The
people knocked down the imperial statues, as a sign of protest against
tax increases. During those days of Lent and anguish because of the
emperor's punishments, he gave his 22 vibrant "Homilies on Statues,"
directed toward penance and conversion. What followed was a period of
serene pastoral care (387-397).
Chrysostom is counted among the most prolific Fathers, having written 17
treatises, 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and Paul
(Letters to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Ephesians and to the
Hebrews), and 241 letters. He was not a speculative theologian. However
he transmitted the traditional and certain doctrine of the Church in an
age of theological controversies caused above all by Arianism, that is,
by the negation of Christ's divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy
witness of the dogmatic development of the Church in the fourth-fifth
His is an exquisitely pastoral theology, in which there is constant
concern for the coherence between the thought expressed by the word and
lived existence. It is this, in particular, the common thread of the
splendid catecheses, with which he prepared the catechumens to receive
baptism. Just before he died, he wrote that man's value is found in the
"exact knowledge of true doctrine and in rectitude of life” ("Letter
From Exile”). The two things, knowledge of the truth and rectitude of
life, go together: Knowledge must become life. Every one of his
discourses aimed at developing in the faithful the exercise of
intelligence, of true reason, in order to understand and put into
practice moral needs and precepts of the faith.
John Chrysostom tried to assist, through his writings, the integral
development of the person, in the physical, intellectual and religious
dimension. The various phases of growth are comparable to as many seas
in an immense ocean.
"The first of these seas is infancy” (Homily 81:5 "On the Gospel of
Matthew”). Therefore "in this first stage inclinations to vice and
virtue begin to show." That is why God's law must be impressed on the
soul from the beginning "as on a table of wax” (Homily 3:1 "On the
Gospel of John”). In fact this is the most important age. We must be
aware how important it is that in this first phase of life the major
orientations that give the right perspective to existence truly enter
into man. Chrysostom therefore recommends: "From a very young age, arm
children with spiritual weapons, and teach them to make the sign of the
cross on their foreheads” (Homily 12:7 "On the First Letter to the
Then follows adolescence and boyhood: "The sea of adolescence follows
that of childhood, where violent winds blow … because concupiscence
grows within us” (Homily 81:5 "On the Gospel of Matthew”).
Lastly there is engagement and marriage: "After boyhood comes the age of
maturity, in which the duties of family life abound: It is the time to
look for a wife” (ibid). He recalls the goals of marriage, enriching
them -- with an appeal to the virtue of temperance -- with a rich
tapestry of personalized relationships. Spouses who are well prepared
block, in this way, the road to divorce: Everything is carried out
joyfully and one can educate their children to virtue. When the first
child is born, this is "like a bridge; the three become one flesh, so
that the child links the two parts (Homily 12:5 "On the Letter to the
Colossians”), and the three make up "one family, a little Church”
(Homily 20:6 "On the Letter to the Ephesians”).
Chrysostom's preaching took place regularly during the liturgy, the
"place” in which the community is built up by the word and the
Eucharist. Here the assembly, gathered together, expresses the only
Church (Homily 8:7 "On the Letter to the Romans”), the same word is
addressed to everyone in every place (Homily 24:2 "On the First Letter
to the Corinthians”), and the Eucharistic Communion becomes an
efficacious sign of unity (Homily 32:7 "On the Gospel of St. Matthew”).
His pastoral project was inserted into the life of the Church, in which
the lay faithful, through baptism, assume the priestly, kingly and
prophetic office. To the lay faithful he said: "Baptism also makes you
king, priest and prophet” (Homily 3:5 "On the Second Letter to the
Corinthians”). From this comes the Church's fundamental task of mission,
because each one in some way is responsible for the salvation of others:
"This is the principle of our social life … to think not just of
ourselves!” (Homily 9:2 "On Genesis”). Everything takes place between
these two poles: the big Church and the "little Church," the family, in
a reciprocal relationship.
As you can see, dear brothers and sisters, this lesson of Chrysostom on
the authentically Christian presence of the lay faithful in the family
and in society, is important today more than ever. Let us pray that the
Lord render us docile to the lessons of this great teacher of the faith.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today focuses on a great orator of the early Church,
Saint John Chrysostom: the "golden-mouthed". After his schooling in
Antioch, Saint John went into the desert to meditate on the "law of
Christ". Illness forced him to return to the city, where he heard the
Lord calling him to full-time pastoral service. Years of prayer had
prepared him to preach the Word of God with tremendous power and
persuasion. Chrysostom constantly strove to connect Christian doctrine
to daily living, emphasizing life-long human development in a person's
physical, intellectual and religious dimensions. Fundamental to this is
the first phase when parents must firmly impress God's law upon their
children's souls. Young people will thus be strengthened to confront the
"storms" of adolescence when they must learn to temper concupiscence and
eventually to assume the duties of marriage. Indeed, Saint John taught
that the family is a "little Church" within the wider ecclesial
community. Consequently, each of us has a responsibility for the
salvation of those around us. Through the intercession of this saintly
Bishop, may we generously embrace this and all our responsibilities in
the Church and in society.
I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at
today's audience, including groups from Viet Nam, India and Nigeria. I
also greet the Catholic and Greek Orthodox pilgrims from the United
States. May God bless all of you!
© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
This page is the work of
the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary