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His excellence as a Biblical Interpreter.
in a clear light its inexhaustibly rich applications to men's hearts and lives. Before his time, abstruse metaphysical speculations, and the perpetual and exceedingly violent controversies with the so-called heretics, furnished the favorite themes for preachers. He is not himself wholly free from this fault. He falls, also, sometimes, like the preachers who preceded him, into speculative inquiries more suitable to scholars engaged in learned investigations, than to a promiscuous assembly seeking for spiritual improvement. He often violently combats the Jews and the heathen, particularly; and the positions he maintains are often built on the system which then prevailed in the church, rather than on a wide and liberal acquaintance with subjects themselves, and are, therefore, not free from confusion of ideas. Still, he ranked the subtilties of the then prevailing scheme of doctrine far below the practical interests of true piety and morality; and in this, he differed from almost all who had preceded him. The supposed orthodoxy of the church at that time evidently lay less near his heart, than its advancement in inward holiness. He speaks, consequently, in his sermons against the Anomoians with a moderation unusual for his time, while he contends against the existing corruption of morals, often with a too unsparing zeal, and always with great earnestness. Hence, tco, he took great pains to treat the speculative subjects which he was compelled to bring into the pulpit, not only with clearness and earnestness, but also with so copious an interweaving of practical observations, as would prevent hazard to his hearers' improvement in virtue and piety.
It was from this tendency of his mind that his preaching was so much occupied with practical religion. This department was greatly indebted to Chrysostom. It had not, indeed, been wholly neglected by the most celebrated preachers; and individuals among them had devoted special attention to it, even while engaged in their very diversified and violent doctrinal controversies. He is, consequently, by no means the earliest preacher whose extant discourses unfold ethical principles. Nor must we forget,
1 And yet he put a high estimate on correctness in doctrinal views; for he says in one of his homilies on Genesis, that " a correct life is of no worth, unless accompanied with a correct faith.” (Besides the reason presented in the text for the character of Chrysostom's discourses against the Anomoians, he was influenced also by the fact that many of this sect attended on his preaching, and he was desirous to win them over rather than to alienate them, while yet he wished to vindicate the truth. He was disposed even to discontinue preaching on the subjects in controversy, when he saw that many of them were present as attentive listeners. But by their own persuasions he was induced to resume the subject.— Tr.]
that morality, in his view of it, was as far from being the unadulterated ethics of Christianity as was that of the earlier preachers. Indeed, how could the man who had spent six years, as a recluse, on the mountains of Antioch, forget the feelings and customs of ascetic life? How was it possible that a man, who even while sustaining public offices persisted in monastic abstinence from all worldly gratifications, should often express other than partial and contracted opinions respecting earthly enjoyments and a life conformed to the dictates of nature ?1 Accordingly, he not only wrote whole treatises in commendation of monasticism, virginity and widowhood, but there frequently occur, also, in his sermons, remarks which elevate to the very highest point that superhuman perfection, those incessant mortifications, that religious hatred of intercourse with the world, which were considered the appropriate duties of monks, but which all are the sad fruits of a heated imagination. He goes so far as to call the monastic life the highest philosophy, and pronounces " the philosophy of the monks to be more radiant than the sun." And yet his better judgment, his knowledge of the proper sources of human virtue, and his sound interpretation of the Scripture, preserved him from an excessive valuation of even that class of monastic virtues to which his personal tendencies of thought and feeling so much inclined him. Thus, for example, he ascribes a very subordinate value, in itself considered, to the observance of fasting. And while he often used the term, philosophy, for monastic virtue particularly, he also extended it, on the other hand, to Christian virtue in general, and indeed so widely as to make philosophy consist in knowledge, conviction and action. He says : "Jesus calls virtue the entire philosophy of the soul;" and in this respect he sets the Christian philosophy in opposition to the heathen.
The chief leading principle of ethics is, in his view, the freedom of man's will, whereby man can, without compulsion and easily, attain to virtue. While maintaining this principle, how. ever, he does not deny man's need of the grace of God; but as a necessary condition to the acquiring of this grace, he maintains, also, man's free agency. He thus destroys both the grounds for excuses on the part of the vicious, and the proud self-satisfaction of the merely virtuous. “If we are but rightly disposed"-such was his favorite maxim—"not only death, but even the devil,
* A medium course between that which Chrysostom followed and that which seems hinted at by Paniel would, doubtless, be a correct one for the clergyman.TR.
Chrysostom's Manner of Discussion.
cannot harm us;" inasmuch as God has given conscience to man, so that the moral laws of our being are impressed on us by nature. Virtue is nothing else than obedience to the moral law which is natural to us. The manner in which Chrysostom applied this principle to specific cases shows, also, that he had adopted many Stoic doctrines and maxims, and that he used them, as well as the doctrines of Christianity, for practical purposes.
If we lay out of view these excrescences of Chrysostom's ethical system, his commendation of asceticism, his strong inclination to the Stoical philosophy, his unsparing strictness in passing judgment on the conduct of other men, and his occasional mistaking of specific directions, mentioned in the Scriptures as given to certain individuals and their consequent actions, for general principles of conduct, he must be acknowledged to have treated the subject of morals the most purely and fully, the most impressively and attractively of all the preachers of the fourth century. The sermons of no other father of the church are so eminently devoted to this department of instruction. Not merely that he preached special sermons on individual virtues; but that all his discourses are throughout interwoven with lessons of practical religion. These lessons are also-except when he assumes an air of severity-presented in a winning and encouraging manner. was there an orator more accurately acquainted with the human heart, and with men of all stations and classes. Never was there one who could repress all ebullitions of the passions so effectually, or so inexorably destroy all the illusions of self-complacency, or so graphically and vividly portray vices as well as virtues; nor could any one, with a more heartfelt interest, energy and impressiveness, inspire for virtue the weak, the wavering, and the erring. The marked efficiency of his discourses arose, above all, from his rare faculty of seizing the most favorable points for touching and moving the human heart.
Besides the substantial qualities, just mentioned, of Chrysostom's productions, his eminence is equally, perhaps even more, due to his manner of treating subjects. This is not, indeed, free from faults; but it has so many excellences, as to entitle him to the first place among the preachers of the ancient church.
His great adaptation to the popular mind holds the chief place among these excellences.' He knew how to let himself down to the comprehension of the mass of his hearers without becoming undignified, and expressed himself so intelligibly and with such VOL. IV. No. 16.
simplicity and naturalness, as fully accounts for the delight and admiration with which not merely the higher classes, but particularly also the middle and lower, attended on his preaching.
Intimately allied to this quality, is his perfect clearness. He is extremely careful to avoid all obscurity of speech. He always selects the most usual words, and does not avoid even a term of common life, if he judges it necessary to the greater perspicuity of his language. This regard to clearness governs not merely his choice and arrangement of words, but likewise, and in a particular manner, the gradual unfolding of his thoughts. His interpre. tations of Scripture, as also his doctrinal discussions, universally, show with what art and aptitude, when not hindered by attachment to a system, he was able to clear up all obscurity.
In his efforts to adapt himself to the popular mind, to be perspicuous and easy of comprehension, he was aided by his ready command of words, one of his most prominent peculiarities. A genuine orator, evidently, can no more be deficient in copiousness of words than can a genuine poet. Chrysostom, however, possessed this indispensable quality in a remarkably high degree. His copiousness in words and forms of expression was inexhaustible, and speech poured from his lips like a full overflowing stream.
With this rich and luxuriant copiousness of language were combined force, ardor and impetuous vivacity. While explaining a passage of Scripture, he carefully expresses himself in a mode. rately flowing style; but when he is exposing sins and vices, or arguing against the heathen, the Jews, and heretics, his discourse takes a lofty flight and glows with animation; it strikes with force on his hearers' hearts, seizes and captivates their minds, and overcomes all the obstacles which error, delusion and sin may seek to throw in his way. No man knew better than he how to speak in a touching manner, with earnestness and energy. He detaios himself, therefore, in the simple explanations and illustrations which the case seems to demand, no longer than is indispensable to making his hearers, in general, understand the point, or the passage, under consideration. This object gained, he gives himself up at once to the effort of making a deep impression on their minds and hearts. To this one chief aim he bends the whole strength of his mind, the full power of his inexhaustible imagination, and the whole compass of his extensive knowledge. Who can wonder, then, at the uncommon plaudits which he received
1847.) Vivacity and Sublimity of his Style.
619 from his hearers? They sometimes shouted for joy during his discourses, clapped their hands, waved their handkerchiefs in sign of applause, and even uttered aloud their assent. He was always sure, while preaching, to have his hearers' hearts at his command.
With equal skill he could enchain his hearers by the sublimity of his thoughts and diction, and by the elevation and splendor
' In the beginning of his third Homily on the Gospel of John, he says that his hearers pressed into the innermost part of the church, towards the Bema, so as not to lose a word of the discourse.
? Chrysostom confesses that these expressions of approval were somewhat gratifying to his feelings. Yet he acknowledges his grief, that the very persons who seemed the most to honor the truth were, after all, the least improved by it. He, therefore, often requested his hearers to withhold their tokens of approval, or at least to express it, not by words and gesticulations, but by their good works. Thus, he says at the close of the 30th Homily on Acts: “ When in preaching I am applauded, at the moment I have human feelings and am greatly pleased; but when, on returning home, I consider that those who gave applause have received no profit, but that by their very applause and praises they have lost all the good influence they needed, I am overcome with sorrow and feel that I have preached in rain. I say to myself, what good comes from my labors, since my hearers are unwilling to derive from my discourses any solid fruit? And I often think of proposing a law that shall prohibit applauses and enjoin on you to hear with silence and becoming good order. Bear with me, I beseech you, and yield to my wishes ; and, if you please, let us now establish a rule that it shall be unlawful for any hearer to express applause in the time of preaching ; but if any one feel admiration, let him admire in silence. Let all voluntarily join in the purpose and the effort to receive the instructions given.”
At this point, his hearers under the impulse of feeling and through the force of habit clapped their hands. “Why,” he at once asked, “ do you thus appland ? I propose a law; and you cannot bear to hear it.” (After mentioning the heathen philosophers who were not liable to be thus interrupted in their lectures, and referring to our Lord's sermon on the mount, during which no one expressed admiration, and reminding his hearers how much better it would be to treasure up the instructions of the pulpit and thus be able in conversation to express approval of the sentiments they had heard, he proceeds.) “ Nothing is so becoming at church, as silence and good order. Noise is rather befitting theatres, and baths, and processions and markets; but here, where such instructions are imparted, peace and quiet should prevail.”
(As he proceeded, shouts of applause were again uttered. " What does this mean ?" he asked; " are you again applauding? It is not an easy thing; you have not yet had time to correct your practice."] ..." Tell me, do you while celebrating the sacred mysteries indulge in noise ? When we are baptized, when we are performing all those other things, is there not a universal silence and stillness ? ... On this account we are reproached by the heathen, as doing everything for parade and love of praise.”
In similar terms he expresses himself in the 15th Homily on Romans, in the 7th on Lazarus, and the 17th on Matthew.