Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Critiquing John Chrysostom's Anti-Semitic Rant (Third Homily)

Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2 let us continue to analyse John Chrysostom's infamous series of homilies, Against the Jews, his denunciation of Jews and Judaizers. Here we shall look at the third homily.

Around AD 388 the Roman Empire remained as a most formidable and awe inspiring political entity. In Antioch it remained supreme. It was still centuries before most of the Middle East would be lost to it. The ancient Olympic Games were still held in Greece although they would soon be banned as part of the Christianization of the Empire proceeded apace.

At this time the bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), made a series of homilies in which he denounced the Jews and Judaizing Christians who had adopted several Jewish practices for themselves contrary to what the church taught them. This writing it often viewed as an unfortunate landmark in the development of the infamous hatred of Jews that is anti-Semitism.

When John Chrysostom made the third homily it was almost time for the Pascha, what is now called Easter in the English speaking world. (Hereafter the word Pascha shall be used to describe that festival imitating the translation of the third homily.) In the days leading up to Pascha the bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostum decided it was time to tell his flock not to worship at the time of the Passover as was observed by the Jewish community. He also condemned Judaizers who observed Passover on the date it was celebrated by the Jewish community contrary to what was taught by the church.

Although this work is entitled Against the Jews some scholars have argued that it would be more accurate to call it Against the Judaizers. They argue that these John Chrysostom's homilies were mainly directed against Judaizers.

First John Chrysostom takes issue with the fact that the Judaizers practice contradicts the practice of the church and he objects to the contentiousness of contradicting the church.
Moreover, the first thing I have to say to the Judaizers is that nothing is worse than contentiousness and fighting, than tearing the Church asunder and rending into many parts the robe which the robbers did not dare to rip. Are not all the other heresies enough without our tearing each other apart? (I, 6.)
The Judaizers are ridiculed as being sick with an illness.
I would be glad to ask those of us who are sick with this illness: What is the Pasch; what is Lent? What belongs to the Jews: what belongs to us? Why does their Pasch come once each year; why do we celebrate ours each time we gather to celebrate the mysteries? What does the feast of unleavened bread mean? And I would like to ask them many more questions which contribute to understanding this subject. (II, 5.)
One objection John Chrysostom makes regarding the Judaizers is that they contradict the decisions of the Council of Nicaea of AD 325 which decided that Christians did not need to rely on Jewish calendar calculations in deciding when to observe Pascha.
But why do I speak on my own account? Three hundred Fathers or even more gathered together in the land of Bithynia and ordained this by law; yet you disdain their decrees. You must choose one of two courses: either you charge them with ignorance for their want of exact knowledge on this matter, or you charge them with cowardice because they were not ignorant, but played the hypocrite and betrayed the truth. When you do not abide by what they decreed, this is exactly the choice you must make. But all the events of the Council make it clear that they showed great wisdom and courage at that time. The article of faith they set forth at the Council show how wise they were, because they blocked up the mouths of heretics and, like an impregnable wall, they repelled the treachery of every hostile attack. They proved their courage during the war waged on the Churches and the persecution which had but lately come to an end. (III, 3,)
HWA and his imitators have also criticized the decisions of the Council of Nicaea. This decision is presented as the great false church of Revelation 17 suppressing the supposed "true church" in order to prop up HWA's teachings regarding the "true church."

John Chrysostom objects that these Judaizers should contradict the decisions of the Council of Nicaea of AD 325. He denounce their disagreement as "unjust and irrational".
Look what you do when you condemn Fathers so great, so courageous, so wise. If the Pharisee lost all the blessings he possessed because he condemned the publican, what excuse will you have, what defense will you make for rising up against these great teachers beloved of God, especially since your attack is so unjust and irrational? Did you not hear Christ himself say: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them? But if Christ is in their midst where two or three are gathered together, was not his presence all the more pervasive among the more than three hundred Fathers at Nicaea? Christ was present there, it was Christ who formulated and passed the laws. Yet you condemn not only the Council Fathers but the whole world which approved their judgment. (III, 5.)
HWA and his imitators have often insisted that since Jesus observed the Jewish festivals mentioned in Leviticus 23 then Christians (those in the COGs) are required to observe them as well. (But inconsistently not Purim or Hanukkah.) But traditionally the vast majority of Christians were not of this opinion at all. John Chrysostom is quite content to state such things but is clearly unimpressed at the implication that Christians should observe them.
Christ did keep the Pasch with them. Yet he did not do so with the idea that we should keep the Pasch with them. He did so that he might bring the reality to what foreshadowed the reality. He also submitted to circumcision, kept the Sabbath, observed the festival days, and ate the unleavened bread. But He did all these things in Jerusalem. However, we are subject to none of these things, and on this Paul spoke out loud and clear: "If you be circumcised, Christ shall be of no advantage to you." And again, speaking of the feast of unleavened bread, he said: "Therefore let us keep festival, not with the old leaven, not with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." For our unleavened bread is not a mixed flour but an uncorrupted and virtuous way of life. (III, 9.)
Contrary to what HWA taught it is clear that as Christianity spread beyond the Jewish community it was decided very early on that Gentile converts did not need to become Jews to remain Christians. The council described in Acts 15 said nothing about observing the Jewish festivals. Paul wrote Galatians to assure the new converts in Galatia that they did not need to be circumcised to be a Christian. The issue of circumcision  It is clear that the early Gentile Christians did not observe these festivals.

It is very unfortunate that HWA and his imitators have exploited these Jewish festivals to make people feel guilty about belonging to a Christian church which does not observe these festivals in order to attract recruits. This is a terrible thing they have done to these Jewish festivals which so treasured by the Jewish community. Jews did not want these festivals to be exploited as a pretext of causing division among Christians as HWA and his imitators have done.

John Chrysostom states that there is no need to take the Eucharist at any specific time since there is no reckoning of time in Heaven.
But why speak of ourselves since we have been set free from all such necessity? We are citizens of a city above in heaven, where there are no months, no sun, no moon, no circle of seasons. (V, 5,)
John Chrysostom mentions another objection to celebrating Passover on the same day as the Jewish community, namely that at times Lent, observed for forty days before Pascha (IV, 5), carries on after the date celebrated by the Jewish community. To him it makes no sense to continue the fasting of Lent for a week after the Passover if Passover was to be observed by Christians as the Judaizers taught.

While discussing the differing dates John Chrysostom vilifies the Jewish community as "hard of heart..., senseless..., indifferent..., [and] despisers" simply for belonging to a different religion. Alas, such hostile attitudes against Jews were too become all too common in later years.
But why must I speak of the Jews? No matter how eagerly and earnestly we wish it, it is not altogether possible for us to observe that day on which He was crucified. This will make it clear. Let us suppose the Jews had not sinned, that they were not hard of heart, nor senseless, nor indifferent, nor despisers; suppose they had not fallen from their ancestral way of life but were still carefully observing it. Even if this was the case, we could not, by following in their footsteps, put our finger on the very day on which He was crucified and fulfilled the Pasch. Let me tell how this is the case. When He was crucified it was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread and the day of preparation. 
But it is not possible for both of these to fall always on the same day. This year the first day of the feast of unleavened bread falls on Sunday, and the fast must still last for a whole week; According to this, after Passiontide, after the cross and resurrection have come and gone, we are still fasting. And it has often happened that, after the cross and resurrection, our fast is still being observed because the week is not yet over. This is why no observance of the exact time is possible. (V, 7-8.)
John Chrysostom encourages his flock to tell the Judaizers to follow the church and renounce their Judaizing practices. He sought to mobilize his flock to persuade these Judaizers to give up their practices contrary to the church.
I say this not only to those who are sick but also to you who are in good health. When you who are well see how many are sick, you will show them great care and kindness, you will pick them out, gather them together, and bring them back to their Mother. Whatever they say against us, however they jump at us, no matter what else they do to us, we must not grow weary and stop until we win them back. For there is nothing comparable to peace and harmony. (VI, 4.)
John Chrysostom lambaste the Judaizers for choosing to follow Jewish teachings in contradiction of what is taught in the Catholic Church and the judgment of the Council of Nicaea of AD 325 regarding the celebration of Pascha.

Also John Chrysostom makes the dreadful accusation that Jews are collectively responsible for Jesus Christ's crucifixion even though that had occurred three and a half centuries ago, long before any human had been born at the time of these homilies. Alas, many Jews would suffer because of this canard for centuries afterwards.
Many are now tearing this peace asunder by destroying us and exalting the Jews. These men consider the Jews as more trustworthy teachers than their own Fathers; they believe the account of Christ's passion and death which is given by those who slew Him. What could be more unreasonable than this? (VI, 6,)
The presence of these Judaizers is venomously denounced as "the devil's doing." He also appeals to peer pressure to seek to get these Judaizers to conform with the teachings of the Church.
Note well that this is of the devil's doing and that it is not a single sin, nor two, nor three, but far more than three. It cuts you off from the flock, it makes you ready to hold so many Fathers in scorn, it hurls you into contentiousness, it thrusts you over to the Jews, and furthermore it makes you a scandal both to your own family and to strangers. How can we blame the Jews for waiting for you in their houses when it is you who go running to them? (VI, 10.)
And so it is seen that John Chrysostom made this homily to condemn Judaizers who followed Jewish dating calculations in deciding when to celebrate instead of observing Pascha as taught by the church and that while discussing that topic he also spoke harshly concerning the Jewish religion. We must give no place to hatred including anti-Semitism.

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