Was Saint John Chrysostom Anti-Semitic?
Some modern readers have claimed that, based on a reading of St. John's
Against the Judaizers, the saint was an Anti-Semite. Indeed, a
glance over these writings could lead one to believe as such. Many
Anti-Semitic groups throughout history have certainly tried to justify
their beliefs and actions by using the writings of St. John.
What is unfortunate is that this misuse of the saint's words is based
significantly on a mistranslation of the title of the sermons, translated
as Against the Jews, rather than Against the Judaizers,
which is the rendering the most up to date translations are now using. By
this adjustment, sermons intended by the saint to be polemics against
those in 4th century Antioch who would try to Judaize the Christians are
being read as racist invective.
Because of this misunderstanding, I am working to compile information
to show that Anti-Semites who wish to justify their hate will have to look
elsewhere -- the Golden-Mouthed saint did not hate Jews, but in fact in
many other sermons overlooked by such racists (and often anti-racists who
want to discredit St. John as a racist!), the saint is "quite admiring of
the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina," in
the words of one Roman Catholic patristics scholar quoted on a webpage
of debate and commentary concerning this matter.
In the meantime, I am offering the following references for your use:
- Robert Louis Wilken, John
Chrysostom and the Jews: rhetoric and reality in the late fourth
century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) --
"...very convincingly demonstrates not only that St. John Chrysostomos was
not an anti-Semite, but that his supposed writings against the Jews are
actually against the 'Judaizers,' a terrible mistranslation which convicts
him unfairly of racism, when in fact his words are addressed to a
theological element in the Christian Church. This work was published in
1983 and is a 'must' for anyone wishing to understand the issue at
hand." (Quote from "an anonymous Orthodox scholar.")
- Eugene J. Fisher (ed.), Interwoven
Destinies: Jews and Christians Through the Ages (Paulist Press, 1993)
-- contains "a series of articles by Jewish and Christian writers
providing contrasting views of the slow separation of the two communities
over time, including both a Jewish and a Christian look at Chrysostom's
'Against the Judaizers'. (Both agree that, while Chrysostom's bombastic
rhetoric is pretty offensive to modern ears, he's not coming down on the
Jews out of a clear blue sky - he's primarily rebuking Judaizing
Christians who attend Synagogue on Saturday and Church on Sunday, still
trying to live in both worlds, and who teach others to do the same.)"
(Quote from Silouan Thompson)
- John Chrysostom, Discourses
against Judaizing Christians, translated by Paul W. Harkins.
The Fathers of the Church; v. 68 (Washington: Catholic University
of America Press, 1979) -- "This is apparently the most up to date
translation, and should be used by anyone wanting to comment on these
texts in written work." (Quote from Paul Halsall)