Thursday, March 9, 2017

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

Continuing from Part 1Part 2  and Part 3 let us continue to analyse John Chrysostom's infamous series of homilies, Against the Jews, his denunciation of Jews and Judaizing Christians. Here we shall look at the fourth homily.

Around AD 387 the patriarch of Antioch, John Chrysostom, decided to make a series of homilies condemning Judaizing Christians who observed various practices of the Jewish religion. These homilies were later written down. Looking in retrospect these homilies are now viewed as a significant moment in the development of that dreadful hatred against Jews, namely anti-Semitism. 

Alas, even today this hatred still seeks to make itself felt as may be seen in the recent dreadful incidents of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vicious vandalism against Jewish graves. May those responsible for such terrible things be swiftly brought to justice before the courts of law.

These homilies will also be of interest for those with a COG background. HWA taught that a "true church" kept itself separate from the Catholic Church and continued to observe the Sabbath. These homilies from AD 387 concern Judaizing Christians in Antioch and the surrounding region. Does John Chrysostom's description of these Judaizing Christians match what the COGs have taught about these supposed "true Christians" outside of the Catholic Church?

This particular homily was delivered near the time of the Feast of Trumpets. He spends most of this homily condemning the Judaizing Christians for observing the fast on the Day of Atonement. He also argues that the Jewish festivals in the Old Testament era were only supposed to be observed in Jerusalem and insists that the Jewish community's observance of these festivals outside of Jerusalem contradict their own religious laws.

He begins with more of his vicious talk against the Jewish community calling them "the most miserable and wretched of all men" and vilifies them as "more dangerous than any wolves".
AGAIN THE JEWS, the most miserable and wretched of all men, are going to fast, and again we must make secure the flock of Christ. As long as no wild beast disturbs the flock, shepherds, as they stretch out under an oak or pine tree and play their flutes, let their sheep go off to graze with full freedom. But when the shepherds feel that the wolves will raid, they are quick to throw down the flute and pick up their slingshots; they cast aside the pipe of reeds and arm themselves with clubs and stones. They take their stand in front of the flock, raise a loud and piercing shout, and oftentimes the sound of their shout drives the wolf away before he strikes. 
I, too, in the past, frolicked about in explicating the Scriptures, as if I were sporting in some meadow; I took no part in polemics because there was no one causing me concern. But today the Jews, who are more dangerous than any wolves, are bent on surrounding my sheep; so I must spar with them and fight with them so that no sheep of mine may fall victim to those wolves. (I, 1-2.)
HWA taught us that the true church observed the Sabbath. However John Chrysostom seemed most focused on these Judaizing Christians' fast on the Day of Atonement. If they observed the Sabbath John Chrysostom seems quite unconcerned about that.
Many days beforehand I am making your souls secure by exhorting  you to flee from that accursed and unlawful fast. Do not tell me that the Jews are fasting; prove to me that it is God's will that they fast. If it be not God's will, then their fasting is more unlawful than any drunkenness? For we must not only look at what they do but we must also seek out the reason why they do it. (I, 5.)
Scholars have argued that these homilies are directly mainly at Judaizing Christians, who observed certain features of the Jewish religion, rather than against the Jewish community per se. One can see why some would think that in this passage in which John Chrysostom denounce the Judaizing Christians who defend their practices as deserving "a stronger condemnation than any Jew."
But before I draw up my battle line against the Jews, I will be glad to talk to those who are members of our own body, those who seem to belong to our ranks although they observe the Jewish rites and make every effort to defend them. Because they do this, as I see it, they deserve a stronger condemnation than any Jew. Not only the wise and intelligent but even those with little reason and understanding would agree with me in this. I need no clever arguments, no rhetorical devices, no prolix periodic sentences to prove this. It is enough to ask them a few simple questions and then trap them by their answers. (III, 4.)
He insists that the Jewish festivals are not to be observed by Christians and that therefore any observance of the fast on the Day of Atonement by these Judaizing Christians is to be condemned.
Let me also say this to those who are our own-if I must call our own those who side with the Jews. Go to the synagogues and see if the Jews have changed their fast; see if they kept the pre-Paschal fast with us; see if they have taken food on that day. But theirs is not a fast; it is a transgression of the law, it is a sin, it is trespassing. Yet they did not change. But you did change your glory and from it you will derive no profit; you did go over to their rites. (III, 8.)
He then points to differences, namely that Christians and Jews observed different fasts.
Did the Jews ever observe our pre-Paschal fast? Did they ever join us in keeping the feast of the martyrs? Did they ever share with us the day of the Epiphanies? They do not run to the truth, but you rush to transgression. I call it a transgression because their observances do not occur at the proper time. Once there was a proper time when they had to follow those observances, but now there is not. That is why what was once according to the Law is now opposed to it. (III, 9.)
He insists that Jews should not observe the Holy Days since (he says) it was only supposed to be observed in Jerusalem with an animal sacrifice.
This is certain not only from what I have said but also from the prophets. What excuse would the Jews of today have when it is clear that the Jews of old never offered sacrifice, nor sang hymns in an alien land, nor did they observe any such fasts as they do today? To be sure, the Jews of old were expecting to recover the way of life in which they could observe these rituals. Therefore, they remained obedient to the Law and did what it commanded, for the Law told them to expect this. But the Jews of today have no hope of recovering their forefathers' way of life. In what prophet can they find proof that they will? They have no hope, but they cannot bear to give up these practices. And yet, even if they were expecting to recover the old way of life, even so they ought to be imitating those holy men of old by neither fasting nor observing any other such ritual. (IV, 9.)
Unlike some today he had no expectation that Jews would migrate to the Holy Land and create an independent state there. No such thing occurred until the modern era. However long before then the Jewish community had ruled that Jews were forbidden from standing where the Temple stood lest they should unknowingly defile the Holy of Holies.

He then asserts that God only ordered Jews to give animal sacrifices that that the Jewish community could be weaned away from giving sacrifices once Jerusalem had been sacked by the Romans in AD 70. (VI.)

He then addresses his flock and seeks to exhort them to tell the Judaizing Christians to stop their observances of Jewish customs. He talks of these Judaizing Christians "running off to the synagogue" indicating that these Judaizing Christians went to synagogues. That is very different from what HWA and his imitators had taught us what to expect from members of the supposed "true church."

He also states his low opinion of the theater as sinful and wicked.
But I must now exhort those of you who are here in church to show great concern for the fellow members of our body. I do not want to hear you say: "What concern is this of mine? Why interfere and meddle in other people's affairs?" 
Our Master died for us. Will you not take the trouble to say a single word? What excuse or defense will you find for this? ... I wish I could know which ones are running off to the synagogue. Then I would not have needed your help but I would have straightened them out with all speed. 
Whenever your brother needs correction, even if you must lay down your life, do not refuse him. Follow the example of your Master. If you have a servant or if you have a wife, be very careful to keep them at home. If you refuse to let them go to the theater, you must refuse all the more to let them go to the synagogue. To go to the synagogue is a greater crime than going to the theater. What goes on in the theater is, to be sure, sinful; what goes on in the synagogue is godlessness. When I say this I do not mean that you let them go to the theater, for the theater is wicked; I say it so that you will be all the more careful to keep them away from the synagogue. (VII,1-3.)
He viciously demonizes the Jewish community as being led by the devil. He also implies that these Judaizing Christians go to the synagogue to hear the trumpets blown during the Feast of Trumpets.
What is it that you are rushing to see in the synagogue of the Jews who fight against God? Tell me, is it to hear the trumpeters? You should stay at home to weep and groan for them, because they are fighting against God's command, and it is the devil who leads them in their revels and dance. As I said before, if there once was a time when God did permit what is against his will, now it is a violation of his law and grounds for punishments beyond number. Long ago, when the Jews did have sacrifices, they did sound their trumpets; now God does not permit them to do this. (VII, 4.)
He makes his displeasure at those of his flock who had allowed the Judaizing Christians to practice what they believed. Here he speaks directly to his congregation.
I blame the Jews for violating the Law. But I blame you much more for going along with the lawbreakers, not only those of you who run to the synagogues but also those of you who have the power to stop the Judaizers but are unwilling to do so. Do not say to me: "What do I have in common with him? He is a stranger, and I do not know him." I say to you that as long as he is a believer, as long as he shares with you in the same mysteries, as long as he comes to the same church, he is more closely related to you than your own kinsmen and friends. Remember, it is not only those who commit robbery who pay the penalty for their crime; those, too, who could have stopped them but did not, pay the same penalty. Those guilty of impiety are punished, and so, too, are those who could have led them from godless ways but did not, because they were too timid or lazy to be willing to do so. (VII, 7.)
He exhorts his flock to persuade the Judaizing Christians to no longer do such things and adhere to what he teaches. The great and powerful so often need ordinary people to get anything done.
Is it some great burden I am asking of you, my beloved? Let each one of you bring back for me one of your brothers to salvation. Let each one of you interfere and meddle in your brother's affairs so that we may come to tomorrow's service with great confidence, because we are bringing gifts more valuable than any others, because we are bringing back the souls of those who have wandered away. Even if we must suffer revilement, even if we must be beaten, even if we must endure any other pain whatsoever, let us do everything to win these brothers back. Since these are sick brothers who trample us underfoot, revile us, and rail against us, we are not stung by their insults; we want to see one thing and only one thing: the return to health of him who behaved in this outrageous way. (VII, 9.)
 And so we see once again John Chrysostom's bitter polemic against Jews and Judaizing Christians and his attempt to persuade the Judaizing Christians to cease listening to the trumpets on the Feast of Trumpets and to observe the fast on the Day of Atonement. But he still was not yet finished. He would produce four more homilies on this subject but the anti-Semitic hatred against Jews continues to contaminate relations and harms innocent people to this day. We must give no place to hatred including anti-Semitism.

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