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Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom-Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop Paperback – 5 Nov 1998
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"No other author has delved so deeply into the life and work of this complex, influential, and tragic figure of the fourth century and produced such a far-ranging but precise, solidly researched, and eminently readable account. . . . Chrysostom emerges as a sympathetic and tragic figure of great integrity, whose human failings contributed and perhaps led to his downfall. . . . Kelly has used a careful analysis of many of John's writings and sermons to present new insights and to confirm details of Chrysostom's life previously considered doubtful; his comments and summaries stimulate one to turn to the originals. Those who are interested in Chrysostom or in this historical period must read this book."--Catholic Historical Review
"A rewarding . . . read as well as a rich mine of historical information. . . . The book is peppered with new, revisionist insights about . . . Chrysostom's life."--Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"A monumental achievement, which examines with fairness and thoroughness both the primary sources and continuing scholarship on John and his often-stormy episcopacy in Constantinople."--Christian Century
"In Golden Mouth, Kelly displays an outstanding command of the primary sources, using Chrysostom's homilies to shed light on hitherto obscured events in his life. The author, refreshingly to this reader, does not fall victim to the extreme skepticism of many modern Church historians and is willing to accept that many of Chrysostom's statements actually mean what they say. Kelly gives concise summaries of all the major works and of many of the homilies; so sprightly, in fact, are his renderings from Chrysostom and others that one occasionally wishes to see the Greek originals. . . . This book is an outstanding achievement and a most welcome addition to patristic scholarship in English. Golden Mouth often reads like a good, suspenseful novel, and combines readability with open-handed scholarship."--Tim Vivian, Cistercian Studies Quarterly
From the Back Cover
John Chrysostom, or "Golden Mouth", was a famous ascetic and preacher of the fourth/fifth century, a controversial bishop of Constantinople, and a brilliant orator - hence the epithet. This is the first comprehensive study of him in the English language in over a century. In the early chapters John Kelly highlights Chrysostom's youthful experiments with asceticism at Antioch in Syria, his six years as a monk and then a recluse in the nearby mountains, and his influential role as Antioch's leading preacher. The central section of the book shows him as a fearlessly outspoken populist bishop of the capital. Kelly focuses on his authoritarian style, his interventions in political crises, and his clashes with the Empress Eudoxia, as well as his efforts to promote the primacy of the see of Constantinople in the east. The final chapters reconstruct the plots that led to Chrysostom's downfall, the drama of his trial, and his exile and death. Golden Mouth also provides fresh analyses of Chrysostom's principal treatises and public addresses, and discussions of his views on monasticism, sexuality and marriage, education, and suffering.
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You also learn of how long periods of harsh fasting ruined his digestive system, and how for this reason, he preferred to eat alone. You learn of the turbulent and divisive times in which he served as a bishop in Antioch and then in Constantinople.
You also read of his strict views about the role of women in the church and of how strict he was with the monastic communities and with the priests in Antioch and later in Constantinople.
Chrysostom's sermons were powerful and held the attention of the people, even though some of them were fairly lengthy. You also learn of his friendship with Olympias, a godly woman also given to virginity and asceticism.
Finally, you learn about Chrysostom's enemies from within Arianism, and from his fellow clergy, especially Severinus, Eudoxia, Theophilus, and others.
We see that Chrysostom's spicy sermons sometimes got him into trouble, ie. exile.
We also read of his sad death.
The book is occasionally bogged down in historical minutiae, but I thought Kelly did a good job of showing how Chrysostom was affected by the times in which he lived and how he himself affected the times. I also appreciated how Kelly was able to defend the historical reliability of much of the material that we have about Chrysostom from that time period. A very good book.
He breaks it down nicely into three major components of his life: ascetic, preacher, bishop.
The politics of the church and interaction with secular authorities dominate his life, as it does most. John certainly had his prinicples and he chose not to break them. It got him into disfavor with many, thus cumulating at the end in action taken against him. That easily summarizes his end, the buildup of resentment and hatred catches up.
He certainly exhibited a passion for the underpriviledged and sick and devoted his preaching and resources to this. His ascetic beginning permeated this and fueled much of his preacher/bishop energies. This will bring enemy retaliation.
Kelly addresses several controversial aspects. Was Chrysostom really an anti-semite? No. His remarks on the Jews, while unfortunate today, would have applied to any counter-religious group, Christian or otherwise. He saw his sheep defecting to Judaism and so preached a series of sermons rebutting Judaism. His language is extreme at times, but no different than any other preacher.
The truly tragic aspect of his ministry was his relationship with Emperor Arkadia and Empress Eudoxia. But more on that later.
The Origenist Controversy:
When Patriarch Theophilus exiled some Origenist monks for attacking more illiterate monks who held to Anthropomorphitism (e.g., God has a body), the monks, known as the Tall Brothers, came to Constantinople. This was a problem. Origenism taught heretical views but not on this point. Theophilius, patriarch of the most important city in the world, moved in for the kill. One thing led to another, which also tied in with John's making enemies, and John found himself in exile. He later returned and was later exiled again.
Some notes from John's career:
John’s Younger Life
Two main influences:
1. Julian the Apostate’s removal of the martyr Babylas’s relics (Kelly 9)
2. Julian’s granting the Jews privileges to negate Christians.
While John stays well within the Patristic orbit on sexual ethics for the Christian (i.e., better to remain single and celibate), he does occasionally strike new and healthier tones. Patristic writers had long known they could not say married sex was bad. That was Gnostic. However, they did occasionally hint that the pleasure in sex was frowned upon and the point of sex was procreation.
John says something new. According to Kelly’s reading, “It is the pleasure involved in the act, he emphasizes, which welds the two together; and even if no child results, the two still become one flesh” (Kelly 134, quoting Chrysostom, In Col. hom. 12.5-6 (PG 62.388))
Whatever else you may say about Byzantium, no one has ever accused it of being boring. JND Kelly is literally able to take church business meetings and give them "spy flavor" quality all the while maintaining that subtle British humor.
This book's importance goes beyond itself. Later historians of Origenism and Coptic Christianity (Tim Vivian) draw upon Kelly's analysis.
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