John Chrystostom was born mid-century in Antioch, affluent and educated in rhetoric and theology. He wanted to be a monk, but first cared for his mother, and when she died, he joined a hermitage and got sick, so he accepted ordination at 36.
John was an eloquent preacher, but no politician or diplomat. He thrived for 12 years in the biggest church in Antioch, and people flocked to hear him. In a demonstration of the Peter Principle, he was promoted to bishop of Constantinople but was soon exiled to Armenia, and died at 57.
John had more eloquence than tact. Being bishop required more of the latter than the former. His challenges to powerful rulers in Constantinople resulted in ‘mixing the blood of clergy and laity with baptism water’ – reminiscent now of Oscar Romero. On the other hand, he also reminds me of my self-righteous colleagues with mantras of ‘I must be a prophet, else why are they stoning me?’ or ‘I’m really good at conflict – people are always mad at me’!
John’s communion language is realistic or materialistic: we ‘bite into the body of Christ’, ‘a body unbroken on the cross but broke in pieces in the sacrifice of the altar’, with ‘Christ both priest and victim’. The Anglican morning prayer uses his prayer:
Almighty God, who has given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: fulfill now the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for thee; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen
Alexandria was balanced by Antioch as a centre of church and theology with different heretical tendencies in this 4th century. One scholar lines them up in columns:
Allegory Literal Reading
No real incarnation No real atonement
Which column do you prefer? Do you rather pick a side, or dance poetry around both?