Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Chrysostom's Social Doctrine
"All Are Brothers and Sisters With Equal Rights"
H.H. Benedict XVI
September 26, 2007
Dear brothers and sisters,
We continue our reflection today on St. John Chrysostom. After his time
spent in Antioch, he was appointed in 397 the bishop of Constantinople,
capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. From the beginning, John proposed a
reform of his Church: The austerity of the bishop's palace would be an
example to everyone -- clergy, widows, monks, people of the court and
the rich. Unfortunately, many of those people, implicated by his
judgments, distanced themselves from him.
Attentive to the poor, John was also called "the almsgiver." With
careful administration, in fact, he was able to establish charitable
institutions that were well appreciated. His initiatives in various
fields caused some to view him as a dangerous rival. However, like a
good pastor, he treated everyone in a kind and fatherly manner. In
particular, he showed kindness toward women and dedicated special
attention to marriages and the family. He invited the faithful to
participate in liturgical life, which he made splendid and attractive
with his creative genius.
Despite his goodness, his life was not serene. As pastor of the capital
of the empire, he found himself often involved in political intrigues,
because of his ongoing relationship with the authorities and civil
institutions. On the ecclesiastical plane, moreover, given that he
deposed six bishops in the year 401 in Asia who were unworthily elected,
he was accused of having exceeded the limits of his own jurisdiction,
and thus became a target of easy attacks.
Another cause of attacks against him was the presence in Constantinople
of some refugee Egyptian monks, excommunicated by Patriarch Theophilus
of Alexandria. Lively disagreement was started when Chrysostom
criticized Empress Eudoxia and her courtiers, who responded by
discrediting and insulting him. Thus, he was deposed at the synod
organized by Patriarch Theophilus in 403, and condemned to a brief
period of exile.
After his return, he caused more hostility by protesting the festivals
in honor of the empress -- which the bishop considered lavish pagan
festivals -- and banishing the priests who performed the baptisms in the
Easter Vigil in 404. So began the persecution of Chrysostom and his
followers, the so-called Johannites.
John explained the facts in a letter to the Bishop of Rome, Innocent I.
But it was too late. In 406 he had to again go into exile, this time to
Cucusa, in Armenia. The Pope was convinced of his innocence, but he did
not have the power to help him. A council, called by Rome to pacify the
two parts of the empire and between their two Churches, could not take
A difficult trip from Cucusa to Pythius, a destination that was never
reached, was meant to impede the faithful from visiting him and to break
the resistance of the worn-out prelate: The condemnation to exile was
truly a condemnation to death!
The numerous letters from exile are moving. John speaks of his pastoral
concerns with undertones of sorrow for the persecutions suffered by his
followers. His march toward death came to an end in Comana in Pontus.
There, the dying John was brought into the chapel of the martyr
Basiliscus, where he gave forth his spirit to God and was buried, martyr
next to martyr (Palladio, "Life" 119). It was Sept. 14, 407, feast of
the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
The reconciliation took place in 438 with Theodosius II. The relics of
the saintly bishop, placed in the Church of the Apostles in
Constantinople, were brought in 1204 to Rome, to the early Constantinian
basilica, and now lie in the Chapel of the Choir of Canons of St.
On Aug. 24, 2004, a large portion of the relics were given by Pope John
Paul II to Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The liturgical
memorial of the saint is celebrated on Sept. 13. Blessed John XXIII
proclaimed him patron saint of the Second Vatican Council.
It is said of John Chrysostom that, when he sat on the throne of the New
Rome, that is, Constantinople, God revealed him as a second Paul, a
doctor of the universe. But in reality, in Chrysostom, there is a
substantial unity of thought and action, both in Antioch and in
Constantinople. Only his role and situations change.
Meditating on the eight works carried out by God during six days, John
Chrysostom, in his commentary on Genesis, desires to lead the faithful
from creation to the Creator. "It is a great good," he says, "to know
that which is creature and that which is Creator." He shows us the
beauty of creation and the transparency of God in his creation, which
thus becomes a sort of "staircase" to ascend to God, to know him.
But to this first step, he adds a second: This creator God is also the
God of condescension ("synkatabasis"). We are weak in our "ascent"; our
eyes are weak. And therefore God becomes the God of condescension, who
sends a letter to fallen and foreign man, sacred Scripture. In this way,
creation and Scripture compliment each other.
In light of Scripture, the letter that God gave us, we can decipher
creation. God is called the "tender father" ("philostorgios") (ibid.),
physician of souls (Homily 40:3 "On Genesis"), mother (ibid.) and
affectionate friend ("On Providence" 8:11-12).
Added to the first step -- creation as a "staircase" leading to God --
and the second step -- the condescension of God through a letter that he
has given us, sacred Scripture -- is a third step. God not only gives a
letter: He himself descends, is incarnated, he truly becomes: "God with
us," our brother unto death on a cross.
And to these three steps -- God is visible in creation, God gives us his
letter, God comes down and becomes one of us -- is added a fourth and
last step. Within the life and action of the Christian, the vital and
dynamic principle is the Holy Spirit ("Pneuma"), which transforms the
world's realities. God comes into our own existence through the Holy
Spirit and transforms us from within our heart.
Against this backdrop, precisely in Constantinople, John, in his
commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, proposes the model of the early
Church (Acts 4:32-37) as a model for society, developing a social
"utopia" (an "ideal city").
He proposed, in fact, to give a soul and Christian face to the city. In
other words, Chrysostom understood that it is not enough to give alms,
helping the poor now and then. Rather, it is necessary to establish a
new structure, a new model of society, a model based on the New
Testament perspective. It is this new society that is revealed in the
Therefore, John Chrysostom truly becomes one of the great Fathers of the
Church's social doctrine: The old idea of the Greek "polis" is replaced
with a new idea of a city inspired by the Christian faith. Chrysostom
affirmed with Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11) the primacy of the
individual Christian, of the person as a person, including the slave and
the poor man. His project corrected the traditional Greek view of the
"polis," of the city, in which large portions of the population were
excluded from the rights of citizenship. In the Christian city, all are
brothers and sisters with equal rights.
The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that the
city is constructed on the foundation of the person. In the Greek
"polis," on the other hand, the country was more important than the
individual, who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. In this
way, with Chrysostom, the vision of a society built by the Christian
conscience begins. And he tells us that our "polis" is another, "our
homeland is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20) and this homeland of ours,
even on this earth, renders us all equals, brothers and sisters, and
obligates us to solidarity.
At the end of his life, from his exile on the borders of Armenia, "the
most remote place in the world," John, going back to his first sermon in
386, once again took up the theme so dear to him -- the plan of God for
humanity. It is an "unutterable and incomprehensible" plan, but which is
surely guided by him with love (cf. "On Providence" 2:6).
This is our certainty. Even if we cannot decode the details of personal
and collective history, we know that God's plan is always inspired by
love. Therefore, despite his sufferings, John Chrysostom reaffirmed the
discovery that God loves every one of us with an infinite love, and
therefore he desires the salvation of all.
For his part, the bishop-saint cooperated generously with this
salvation, without holding anything back, throughout his entire life. In
fact, he considered God's glory the ultimate goal of his existence,
which -- as he was dying -- he left as his last testament: "Glory to God
for everything!" (Palladio, "Life" 11).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we continue our reflections on Saint John Chrysostom. In 397, when
he became Bishop of Constantinople, he set an example to the people of
the city by his simplicity of life and his constant concern for the
poor. He did not hesitate to speak out against corrupt or pagan
practices, even in the Imperial Court, and for this he was sent into
exile. In his teaching, he showed how our wonder at the beauty of
creation should lead us to give glory to the Creator. Yet God is also a
tender father, a healer of souls and an affectionate friend. The Creator
of the Universe loved us so much that he did not spare his only Son. The
Holy Spirit also features prominently in Saint John's writings – the
life-force that transforms the world and gives wings to those Christians
who are docile to the Spirit's promptings. This authoritative teaching
earned Saint John Chrysostom the title of a second Saint Paul, Teacher
of the Universe. The exiled bishop continued until his death to proclaim
the infinite love of God, who wants all to be saved. With his last
breath he spoke of the ultimate end of human life – the glory of God.
Let us learn from Saint John's example to love Christ in the poor and to
bear faithful witness to the truth of the Gospel.
* * *
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and
pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Britain and
Ireland, New Zealand, Thailand, and North America. I greet in particular
the new students from the Venerable English College and the priests from
Ireland who are taking part in a renewal course here in Rome. May the
time that you spend in this city deepen your love for Christ and his
Church, and may God's blessings of peace and joy be with you always!
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