Milpitas Christian Church

St. John Chrysostom (347-407)

Archbishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the (Catholic) Church

The Gist

  • Mostly famous for his preaching, which was passionate, pastoral, and very eloquent. He explained Scripture very clearly so that the common people could understand it better. He also refused to compromise to anyone.

  • Chrysostom in an epithet given to him after he died. It means “golden-mouthed,” because of how powerfully he spoke

  • His preaching eventually led to his exile and death

Lawyer to Monk to Preacher

  • Son of a high-ranking military officer who died while he was young. Raised by his Christian mother in Antioch, Syria, the same city as Ignatius

  • Studied law under a famous pagan and showed lots of promise, but gave up law practice in order to study theology. At age 20, he decided he wanted to be baptized.

  • Became a hermit-monk at age 23

    • When he told his mother he wanted to leave the city and become a monk, she made him promise that he would never leave her

    • So he turned their home into a small monastery, and 3 other friends moved in to also become monks

    • When his mother died, he joined the monks in the Syrian mountains

  • After several years he returned to Antioch and quickly became a deacon (AD 381), and then a priest/presbyter (AD 386)

  • For the next decade, he became a very popular preacher

  • 386 - he calmed a riot in Antioch, thus preventing them from suffering strict reprisals from the emperor

    • He delivered a sermon series known as “The Homilies on the Statues” that became famous. (the riot had to do with statues of the emperor being disrespected)

Archbishop of the Imperial Capital

  • 397 - Constantinople needs a new bishop, and the eastern emperor Arcadius appoints John, because of his fame as a preacher

    • Problem: he is so popular in Antioch that the citizens are unwilling to give him up

    • Solution: Kidnapping! The emperor’s officials invited John to preach at a small church outside of Antioch, and while he was there, they forced him into a carriage and took him to the capital city, where he was ordained as bishop

    • No, I don’t know why involuntary ordination was so common among the church fathers!

  • Turns out, John’s appointment to the archbishopric of Constantinople was due to political intrigues

    • The palace chamberlain, Eutropius, was the de facto ruler of the city, as the emperor Arcadius was incompetent. Eutropius was vain and ambitious, but he had supported John’s appointment because he hoped to be granted favors by John

    • John himself may not have been completely aware of all the political stuff going on behind the scenes

  • The church in Constantinople–already called the Hagia Sophia–had many problems:

    • Many priests who claimed to be celibate kept mistresses whom they claimed were just “spiritual sisters”

    • Many clergies in the capital city lived as luxuriously as the decadent nobles and did nothing to care for the poor

    • The church’s finances were mismanaged

    • Spiritual issues had been neglected; clergy would only work when it was convenient for them and their richest members of the congregation and didn’t care about what was inconvenient for the poor and working classes

  • John set about reforming:

    • He separated clergy from their mistresses and insisted that the clergy live more austere lifestyles

    • Put the church’s finances under close scrutiny

    • The fancy items that adorned the bishop’s house/palace were sold to feed the hungry

    • He ordered that clergy work and keep the churches open at times that would allow everyone to come and use them, even the poor and working classes

    • He also preached to all church members to sell their luxuries and give to the poor

  • All this reforming, done in John’s fiery, uncompromising way, won him a lot of respect but also a lot of enemies

Conflict and exiles

  • The right of asylum

    • Some people were fleeing from the soldiers of Eutropius, the chamberlain, and ran to hide inside John’s church

    • John refused to let the soldiers enter the church

    • Eutropius protested to the emperor, hoping to get John disciplined

    • But John preached on the subject so strongly that the emperor sided with him

  • Eutropius’ public loss to John was one factor in his political downfall. Once he himself was out of a job, Eutropius found himself being chased through the city by mobs of the citizens he had oppressed while he was chamberlain. Where did Eutropius run to? To the Hagia Sophia, to beg asylum from Archbishop John!

    • John stopped the mob at the church doors the same as he had done to Eutropius’ soldiers. He insisted that everyone has a right to claim asylum at a church altar

    • John even defied the emperor, who wanted to get revenge on Eutropius

    • Eventually, Eutropius got too frightened to hide in the church and ran away. He was eventually captured, banished, and soon beheaded

  • Now John’s chief enemy became Eudoxia, the emperor’s wife. She loved her luxurious lifestyle and hated John’s preaching about austerity and helping the poor. She felt that his preaching caused people to look down on her

    • She tried to bribe him by gifting lots of money to the church, but he just thanked her and kept preaching
  • Eventually, Eudoxia used her influence to gather some bishops together and pressured them to accuse him of a bunch of trumped-up charges

    • John ignored them and kept preaching and managing the church

    • But this tiny synod of bishops found him “guilty” and appealed to the emperor

    • The emperor was weak-willed and easily manipulated, and he banished John from the city

  • The citizens of the city were so furious at the emperor’s decision that they nearly revolted

    • Other regional clergymen gathered in the capital to support John, urging John to call them officially together as a synod so they could condemn the emperor’s action

    • There was a very real possibility that John could have provoked the city to revolt against Arcadius

  • But John loved the peace and voluntarily left the city

    • However, the citizenry was so hostile to the emperor and his wife that the royals dared not walk out in the streets, even with their soldiers

    • That night there was an earthquake, which many took to be a sign of God’s displeasure

    • Finally, Empress Eudoxia got so fearful that she begged John to return to the pulpit, which he did

  • But a few months later, it all happened again–more intrigue and conflict, and John was again banished. Again, he left the city peacefully

    • But this time, the citizens of Constantinople wouldn’t have it. They rioted, and the army was sent in.

    • The main church and many other buildings caught fire

    • People died, and some of John’s supporters were tortured or banished

Writing in Exile

  • John was banished to a small village without a church. However, he began writing prolifically, and his writing was sent all over

  • Bishop Innocent of Rome publicly supported John’s cause and criticized Emperor Arcadius of the east

  • Remember, the Roman Empire is divided into two. While they are united in many ways, the West and the East have separate emperors with their own policies

  • So Arcadius is now being criticized by almost anyone

  • Churches in the West are especially taking notice of this scandal because of the Bishop of Rome, and they pressure the western emperor, Honorius, to appeal to Arcadius

  • So Emperor Honorius of the West sends a strong letter to Arcadius advising that he convene a proper synod and give John a fair hearing,in the presence of the Western delegation. If the Western delegation could not be convinced that John’s banishment was just, then they would insist that John be fully restored

  • However, Arcadius didn’t want to give in to someone else telling him what to do, so he mistreated the western delegation

    • He had them imprisoned, tortured, and tried to bribe them. Then he sent them home on a leaky boat. They barely made it back to Italy

    • Arcadius then began exiling more of John’s supporters in the east

Illness and death

  • John’s health began to deteriorate in that small, distant village

  • Then he was moved to somewhere even more remote, and his guards stopped taking care of him, knowing that Arcadius wouldn’t care if he died. They even overworked him to make his health worse

  • Sensing his death was near, he visited a small church by the road, where he took communion and bid farewell to those who were present by saying, “In all things, glory to God. Amen.” Soon he died

Reaction to his death

  • Outrage was so great at John’s mistreatment that many in Constantinople refused to accept the new bishop that was appointed to his place

    • This led to a schism in the church in Constantinople that lasted for 31 years and only ended when the ruling bishop honored John’s memory and brought his body back to the city for a respectful burial

Major Works


  • He wrote and preached thousands of homilies, of which we have a LOT

  • Most famous is the “Paschal Homily,” which is still read every Easter in Eastern Orthodox Churches.

    • It’s short and really good. I kind of wish I had read it for us this Easter!
  • Preached a lot against paganism and hedonism, which were the culture of the big city

  • “Against the Jews/Judaizers,” which is a series he preached against Christians who were participating in Jewish festivals, practices, and possibly even synagogue worship. He didn’t want Christians to give up Christ for the old Mosaic law. His sermons, however, were so fierce against the Jews that they may have contributed to antisemitic sentiments in the Church

  • Against Homosexuality,” which is pretty self-explanatory

Against Those Who Oppose the Monastic Life

  • A treatise in favor of the monastic life, especially as a training ground for clergy

  • This gives evidence that monastic communities were known as centers of learning, and people would send their sons to monks for education


  • He heavily revised eastern liturgy in ways that still affect the Eastern Orthodox Church


  • Increasing differences between the East and West in church-state relations

    • Whereas Ambrose defied his emperor in the West and won, John’s defiance led to his exile and death. The Western Church was slowly growing too powerful to be pushed around by the government, but the Eastern churches were being made subservient to the government

    • The Western Roman Empire was weakening and would soon fall to barbarians, whereas the Eastern Roman Empire lasted for another 1000 years under the name of the Byzantine Empire

  • While he mostly influenced the Eastern Orthodox Church, even the Catholic catechism cites him many times

  • His liturgy has inspired many musical works throughout the centuries, even into the modern times


  • González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: HarperOne, 2010.
  • St John Chrysostom
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