Thursday, December 8, 2016

Critiquing John Chrysostom's Anti-Semitic Rant (First Homily, AD 387)

In AD 387 in Antioch, within the Eastern Roman Empire, back when Christianization of the Empire was well on its way to consolidating its triumph, and the second to last of the ancient Olympic games would be held the following year, it so happened that the vile horror that is anti-Semitism gained a terrible boost. The bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostom, a bishop well known for his oratorical skills gave a series of eight sermons in which he used his oratory to vehemently denounce Jews and Christians he viewed as Judaizers.

Let's take a look at his anti-Semitic rant in order to better understand how this terrible hatred developed over time and to note what he says about the Judaizers among Christians of the time that he condemns. There is nothing "natural" about anti-Semitism or any other kind of hatred. Such things are perpetuated by individuals by choice.

In his first homily he complains of what is emotively and manipulatively called a "very serious illness" among Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire at the time.
Another very serious illness calls for any cure my words can bring, an illness which has become implanted in the body of the Church. We must first root this ailment out.... 
What is this disease? 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. ...  
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... (I, 4-5.)
HWA indoctrinated his followers to believe that there was a continuous line of Sabbath keeping Chrisitans. But in this first homily John Chrysostom rarely talks of Sabbath keepers. He objects that some Christians were celebrating Jewish festivals by attending Jewish celebrations, viewing Jewish places of worship as worthy of reverence, listening to the horns sounded on the Feast of Trumpets and keeping the fast of the Day of Atonement. Sabbath keeping in and of itself is rarely discussed in the first homily.

John Chrysostom venomously denounced Jewish synagogues as being like brothels. This declaration is so vicious that even he feels compelled to justify his wild accusation knowing that many among his flock knew better and would take note of his motive in demonizing what John Chrysostum saw as a rival religion.
In Isaiah's day they quarreled and squabbled when they fasted; now when fast, they go in for excesses and the ultimate licentiousness, dancing with bare feet in the marketplace. The pretext is that they are fasting, but they act like men who are drunk. Hear how the prophet bit them to fast. "Sanctify a fast", he said. He did not say: "Make a parade of your fasting", but "call an assembly; gather together the ancients". But these Jews are gathering choruses of effeminates and a great rubbish heap of harlots; they drag into the synagogue the whole theater, actors and all. For there is no difference between the theater and the synagogue. I know that some suspect me of rashness because I said there is no difference between the theater and the synagogue; but I suspect them of rashness if they do not think that this is so. If my declaration that the two are the same rests on my own authority, then charge me with rashness. But if the words I speak are the words of the prophet, then accept his decision. (II, 7.)
John Chrysostom knew that many Christians did not share his hostility against Jews. They had no need of maintaining any kind of ecclesiastical institution and so were not worried about potential competition.
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. (III, 1.)
John Chrysostom knew that the knowledgeable among his flock would know that Jews worship God as well. So he denied that they did and demonized their religion by accusing their synagogues as being "a 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 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. (III, 2-3.)
One issue that John Chrysostom objects to regarding these Judaizing Christians is that they seem to view Jewish synagogues as holy places. John Chrysostom now begins an anecdote to try and make such persons no longer view them in such a way.
Let me tell you this, not from guesswork but from my own experience. Three days ago-believe me, I am not lying-
When I read someone putting so much emphasis on saying it is true it makes me wonder why he says that? Why does he feel that some in his audience would dismiss his following anecdote as a lie? Whatever gave them the idea?

Now let us continue with his anecdote.
I saw a free woman of good bearing, modest, and a believer. A brutal, unfeeling man, reputed to be a Christian (for I would not call a person who would dare to do such a thing a sincere Christian) was forcing her to enter the shrine of the Hebrews and to swear there an oath about some matters under dispute with him. She came up to me and asked for help; she begged me to prevent this lawless violence-for it was forbidden to her, who had shared in the divine mysteries, to enter that place. I was fired with indignation, I became angry, I rose up, I refused to let her be dragged into that transgression, I snatched her from the hands of her abductor. I asked him if were a Christian, and he said he was. Then I set upon him vigorously, charging him with lack of feeling and the worst stupidity; I told him he was no better off than a mule if he, who professed to worship Christ, would drag someone off to the dens of the Jews who had crucified him. I talked to him a long time, drawing my lesson from the Holy Gospels; I told him first that it was altogether forbidden to swear and that it was wrong to impose the necessity of swearing on anyone. I then told him that he most not subject a baptize believer to this necessity. In fact, he must not force even an unbaptized person to swear an oath. 
After I talked with him at great length and had driven the folly of his error from his soul, I asked him why he rejected the Church and dragged the woman to the place where the Hebrews assembled. He answered that many people had told him that oaths sworn there were more to be feared. His words made me groan, then I grew angry, and finally I began to smile. When I saw the devil's wickedness, I groaned because he had the power to seduce men; I grew angry when I considered how careless were those who were deceived; when I saw the extent and depth of the folly of those who were deceived, I smiled. (III, 4-5.)
John Chrysostom then continues to condemn this reverence for Jewish places of worship among Judaizing Christians.
Tell me, then, are their shrines awful and frightening? Who would say so? what reasons do we have for thinking that they are frightening unless someone should tell us that dishonored slaves, who have no right to speak and who have been driven from their Master's home, should frighten us, who have been given honor and the freedom to speak? Certainly this is not the case. Inns are not more august then royal palaces. Indeed the synagogue is less deserving of honor than any inn. It is not merely a lodging place for robbers and cheats but also for demons. This is true not only of the synagogues but also of the souls of the Jews, as I shall try to prove at the end of my homily. (IV, 2.)
But it is not enough for John Chrysostom to merely condemn the Judaizing Christians. He seeks to mobilize the rest of his flock to get these Judaizers to stop and to blame them for the prescence of Judaizing Christians.
The greater portion of the city is Christian, yet some are still sick with the Judaizing disease. And what could we, who are healthy, say in our own defense? Surely those who are sick deserve to be accused. But we are not free from blame, because we have neglected them in their hour of illness; if we had shown great concern for them and they had the benefit of this care, they could not possibly still be sick.
Let me get the start on you by saying this now, so that each of you may win over his brother. Even if you must impose restraint, even if you must use force, even if you must treat him ill and obstinately, do everything to save him from the devil's snare and to free him from fellowship with those who slew Christ.
It is so good that bigoted religious leaders do not have the power that he had anymore. Although they certainly try and have been able to create groups in which they hold great sway.

John Chrysostom knew that many among his flock would not view the Judaizing Christians as a threat to themselves or their religion. So he tried to make those Christians afraid of not following his lead in stopping Judaizing customs.
Since you are the army of Christ, be overly careful in searching to see if anyone favoring an alien faith has mingled among you, and make his presence know-not so that we may put him to death as those generals did, nor that we may punish him or take our vengeance upon him, but that we may free him from his error and ungodliness and make him entirely our own. 
If you are unwilling to do this, if you know of such a person but conceal him, be sure that both you and he will be subject to the same penalty. (IV, 9-10.)
Once again John Chrysostom complains about the Judaizing Christians' reverence for Jewish places of worship.
Since there are some who think of the synagogue as a holy place, I must say a few words to them. Why do you reverence that place? Must you not despise it, hold it in abomination, run away from it? (V, 2.)
It is well known that, historically speaking, Christianity came from Judaism. There is this tension that the Bible was mainly written by Jews and the Christian religion began among Jews but it became mutually agreed that Judaism and Christianity are different religions. Both religions revere the books called by Christians the Old Testament but they nevertheless differ.

But instead of learning to accept these differences and appreciating the common links between them John Chrysostom exploited these differences to incite loathing against Jews. The similarities are used to vilify Jews as worse than those with no historical connection with Christianity. I find this passage particularly repulsive.
For they brought the books of Moses and the prophets along with them into the synagogue, not to honor them but to outrage them with dishonor. When they say that Moses and the prophets knew not Christ and said nothing about his coming, what greater outrage could they do to those holy men than to accuse them of failing to recognize their Master, than to say that those saintly prophets are partners of their impiety? And so it is that we must hate both them and their synagogue all the more because of their offensive treatment of those holy men. ... 
If they did not have the prophets, they would not deserve such punishment; if they had not read the sacred books, they would not be so unclean and so unholy. But, as it is, they have been stripped of all excuse. They do have the heralds of the truth but, with hostile heart, they set themselves against the prophets and the truth they speak. So it is for this reason that they would be all the more profane and blood-guilty: they have the prophets, but they treat them with hostile hearts. ...
Therefore, flee the gatherings and holy places of the Jews. Let no man venerate the synagogue because of the holy books; let him hate and avoid it because the Jews outrage and maltreat the holy ones, because they refuse to believe their words, because they accuse them of the ultimate impiety. (V, 4, 6, 8.)
In other words John Chrysostom was furious that Jews did not share his religious beliefs despite a common reverence for the books of the Old Testament. Their differing views are misrepresented by him as blaspheming the Jewish predecessors of the Christian faith. Reading between the lines one cannot help but wonder that he may have secretly feared that some among his flock might choose to become Jews.
Finally, if the ceremonies of the Jews move you to admiration, what do you have in common with us? If the Jewish ceremonies are venerable and great, our are lies. But if ours are true, as they are true, theirs are filled with deceit. I am not speaking of the Scriptures. Heaven forbid! It was the Scriptures which took me by the hand and led me to Christ. But I am talking about the ungodliness and present madness of the Jews. (VI, 5.)
The Jewish community maintaining their own traditions and their own identity independent of the Christian religion is vilified by John Chrysostom as "ungodliness" and "madness".
What else do you wish me to tell you? Shall I tell you of their plundering, their covetousness, their abandonment of the poor, their thefts, their cheating in trade? the whole day long will not be enough to give you an account of these things. But do their festivals have something solemn and great about them? They have shown that these, too, are impure. (VII, 1.)
One disgusting features of this anti-Semitic drivel is that John Chrysostom quotes various Scriptures from the Old Testament to insist that Jews are bad people. But what he fails to understand is that the prophets of the Old Testament were Jews talking to other Jews. The prophets criticized the society of their time in order to inspire themselves and society in general to build a better society. The prophets criticized their surrounding society out of love and hope. But this John Chrysostom twisted their words to incite loathing, hatred and fear against Jews among his flock thus taking the words of the Old Testament prophets out of context.

With his homily coming to an end John Chrysostom declares that he had tried to stop the Judaizing Christians.
I shall bring my homily to an end here with the words of Moses: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you". If any of you, whether you are here present or not, shall go to the spectacle of the Trumpets, or rush off to the synagogue, ... or take part in fasting, or share in the Sabbath, or observe any other Jewish ritual great or small, I call heaven and earth as my witnesses that I am guiltless of the blood of all of you. (VII, 1.)
He then ends his homily with a call to his flock to denounce the Judaizing Christians among themselves. He could not suppress these Judaizing Christians alone. He needed information to know who to punish. He needed to motivate his flock to denounce such persons.
Do you find it an oppressive burden to denounce those who commit these sins? It is an oppressive burden to remain silent. For this silence makes you an enemy to God and brings destruction both to you who conceal such sinners and to those whose sins go unrevealed. ... (VII, 3.)
In the following passage John Chrysostom tries to make his listeners feel sorry for him and then quickly afterward implies that he would regard those who stay silent as among the "worst enemies" of the church, meaning himself.
Our common Mother (the Church) has lost not a cloak but a brother. The devil stole him and now holds him in Judaism. You know who stole him; you know him who was stolen. Do you see me lighting, as it were, the lamp of my instruction and searching everywhere in my grief? And do you stand silent, refusing to denounce him? What excuse will you have? Will the Church not reckon you among her worst enemies? Will she not consider you a foe and destroyer? ... (VIII, 4.)
He continues discussing his attempt to shame the Judaizing Christians into no longer attenting Jewish festivals and to regard Jewish places of worship as worthy of reverance.
Are you too reluctant to utter a word on this account? I urge you not to be so reluctant. Right after you leave here, stir yourselves to the chase and let each of you bring me one of those suffering from this disease. 
But heaven forbid that so many be sick with it. Let two or three, or ten or twenty of you bring me one man. One the day you do and when I see in your nets the game you have caught, I will set before you a more plentiful table. If I see that the advice I gave today has been put to work, I shall be more zealous in undertaking the cure of those men, and this will be a greater boon both for you and them. 
Do not regard my words lightly. Be scrupulous in hunting out those who suffer from this sickness. Let the women search for the women, the men for the men, the slaves for the slaves, the freemen for the freemen, and the children for the children. Come all of you to our next meeting with such success that you win praise from me-and, before any praise of mine, that you obtain, from God a great and indescribable reward which in abundant measure surpasses the labors of those who succeed. (VIII, 5-7.)
And his venomous homily comes to an end. But he was still unfinished with his anti-Semitic rant. Over the coming weeks he would later produce seven more bile filled homilies denouncing the Jews and Judaizing Christians. In regards to Armstrongite dogma concerning church history it is intriguing that in this first homily John Chrysostom says little about these Judaizers keeping the Sabbath but seemed more concerned about such persons attending celebrations of the annual Sabbaths and revering Jewish places of worship.


  1. Fast forward to Martin Luther, who wrote an anti-Semitic rant that was considered so good by the Nazi party they used it as propaganda.

  2. So horribly true. It is just awful how Jews were scapegoated for so many centuries.