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INTRODUCTION OHE EIGHTY-EIGHT HOMILIES comprising the Commentary on the Gospel of St. John were preached by St. John Chrysostom at Antioch in about 390. Homilies 48-88, which form the contents of this volume, continue the exegesis of St. John's Gospel from Chapter 7 to the end, with the exception of the episode of the adulteress (8.1-11). Since this is the only omission, it would appear that St. John Chrysostom was using one of the many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which omit this section. In the homilies of the present volume the commentary grows noticeably less detailed as the series progresses. This is a departure from what is to be observed in the early members of the group, where an entire homily often is centered around the elucidation of a single phrase or clause. In fact, so leisurely and thorough is the discussion that Homilies 1-20 embrace only Chapter 1 of the Evangelist. In striking contrast to thi<; very detailed study, the four concluding chapters of the Gospel (18-21) have but six homilies (83-88) devoted to them. The reason for this unevenness cannot be determined Vll Vlll SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM definitively, but several possible explanations suggest themselves . The homilies follow the sequence of St. John's Gospel very closely and seem to have been delivered consecutively as a series. Internal evidence points to this continuity, especially the frequent references recalling to the congregation the text discussed in the homily immediately preceding. And occasionally the preacher promises to complete the explanation of the day's text next time. Thus, it may have been the limitation imposed by the necessity of completing the series within a given period of time that constrained St. John Chrysostom to develop the texts in a less detailed manner towards the end of the Gospel. It is more than likely, besides, that he felt it essential to treat more exhaustively those portions of the Gospel that particularly concern the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and yet might be somewhat obscure to the average listener. Exegesis of this type was especially timely since this fundamental teaching was then so widely and persistently held in question. Hence, of all the homilies St. John Chrysostom devoted to the study of Scripture, these are the most controversial in tone, for he used them as a means to anticipate and refute the arguments of the Arians and other heretics who denied the divinity of Christ and tried to quote Scripture to their purpose. Or, possibly he was influenced, consciously or unconsciously , by the example of the Evangelists themselves, who exhibited reportorial terseness in narrating the events of the Passion and those which took place after the Resurrection. In any case, though the length of the Gospel text discussed in the individual homily varies, an identical pattern is consistently followed in the form of each one of the eightyeight . As a preface the preacher quotes the text with which he intends to begin his commentary. Then comes a brief introduction , rather formal in tone, containing a few apt reflections suggested by the text of the day. INTRODUCTION IX The commentary on the text follows, rambling in style, often repetitious, and wandering easily onto little by-paths opening out from the subject in hand. This part of the homily is not cast in any set form, but can be engagingly informal or relentlessly logical, as occasion demands. With the dramatic instinct of the born orator, St. John Chrysostom urges his audience to 'see' what is taking place as he graphically unfolds the Gospel story. He makes frequent use of the device of the dialogue in which he himself and an imaginary member of his audience parry question and answer with one another or with one of the Gospel personalities, such as Peter, or Pilate. Often he paraphrases the words of the Evangelist in order to clarify the meaning of a passage. Though this commentary bulks large in each homily, a considerable part of each one is also devoted to the moral exhortation which directly follows the commentary. The teeming oriental city of Antioch furnished abundant matter calculated to be of grave concern to the shepherd of souls. Singling out a vice, or a virtue, or some excess or other, in each homily he drives home salutary moral lessons in a candid , homely style. Tactfully he makes his admonition inoffensive by humbly including himself in the oft-recurring exhortation: 'Let us ... ' All the capital sins are castigated in turn, in the form in which they were most prevalent. Covetousness, in particular, receives frequent mention, as he urges almsgiving, not only the rich to the poor, but also the poor to the poor, giving of what they have (59). He declares: 'Christ did not say, "I was sick and you did not cure Me," but merely "you did not visit Me." He did not say, "I was in prison and you did not get Me out," but "you did not come to Me'" (60). Conscious that he returned so often to this subject, he comments: 'Now, perhaps someone will remark with good reason, "Every day you preach about covetousness." Would x SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM that it were possible to speak of it every night also,' he adds drily (76). Frequently, too, he suggests the thought of death, judgment , and future rewards and punishments as an incentive to the practice of virtue and the avoiding of vice (e.g., 77). He protests against the excessively demonstrative grief displayed by women on the occasion of the death of some close relative (62). He condemns the unbecoming extravagance so prevalent in burial and funeral arrangements in his day. 'These trappings,' he asserts, 'are an expression, not of sympathy for the departed, but of vainglory on the part of those left behind' (85) . From his pithy remarks on the contemporary scene much information can be gleaned, valuable to the historian of life and times; for example, regarding the theater and the races (58), or conditions in prisons (60), or the extravagant adornment of women (69). Despite the fact that his words were addressed to his fourthcentury congregation, much of what he said is remarkably timeless in character. For instance, 'Nothing is more potent,' he declares, 'than a good and prudent woman in molding a man and shaping his soul in whatever way she desires.' But, 'As a woman has great power for good, so she also has it for evil' (61). In urging respect for priests, 'Great indeed is the dignity of the priesthood,' he affirms. Nearly every phase of human morality receives its share of praise or blame: the good use of time (58), the evil of adultery (63), bearing wrongs patiently (83), avoiding bad companionship (57), imitating Christ's meekness and gentleness (60), to mention but a few samples. Finally, the homily always concludes with a brief prayer ending in a doxology. Though the latter is made up of stereotyped phrases, it is not always identical, but there are several recurring formulae. INTRODUCTION Xl Throughout the Homilies, St. John Chrysostom gives evidence of striking familiarity with sacred Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. He draws on them freely for apt quotations and pertinent illustrations, and his own deep reverence and respect for the Word of God shine brightly forth. He repeatedly recommends to his congregation careful study of the Scriptures and thoughtful meditation on their meaning. He notes with regret that in all too many cases attendance at the theater is preferred to listening to sermons in church. People who cannot identify Biblical characters, or even tell the number of the Apostles, can discourse eloquently of horses and charioteers and dancers, he declares (58). The golden stream of the eloquence which earned St. John Chrysostom his name and his title to fame was not, if we may judge by the Homilies on St. John's Gospel, mere oratorical display. There is none of the exaggerated attention to form, at th~ expense of matter, characteristic of so much of the oratory of his day, as popularized by the sophists. However, he did not make the mistake of completely ignoring the taste of his refined and cultured audience by preaching in a plain style devoid of rhetorical embellishments. With unerring instinct he used his talent and education to best advantage in spreading the word of God, always careful not to compromise His interests. From the time he entered upon his apostolate in Antioch, the rhetorician humbly trod behind the preacher, lending his services as needed. Perhaps the secret of the preacher's enduring appeal may lie in the golden thread of his sincerity that gleams with such genuine luster throughout these homilies. The tribute to the Evangelist, so gracefully expressed in the opening homily, might well be applied to St. John Chrysostom himself: 'There is no pretense in him, but with head uncovered he preaches the naked truth.' His eloquence was so well matched by his strict orthodoxy that it has been truly said that the Church xu SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM of the East has but a single Chrysostom and of the preachers of the Western Church only Augustine compares with him. On completing this translation of the H omities, it is a pleasure once again to acknowledge my indebtedness to Sister Mary Eileen, S.C.H., for her generous assistance in the preparation of the typescript of this volume; and to Robert H. Haynes of the Widener Library of Harvard University for many kind services, particularly for arranging loans of texts. SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM COMMENTARY ON SAINT JOHN THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST Homilies 48-88 Translated by SISTER THOMAS AQUINAS GOGGIN, S. C. H., PH. D. Halifax) Nova Scotia ...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813211411
Related ISBN
9780813210254
MARC Record
OCLC
647919787
Pages
507
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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