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St. John Chrysostom was born around 349 A.D. in Antioch and like many of the other Church Fathers we’ve discussed like St. Justin Martyr and St. Athanasius was born into wealth. The affluence of his family allowed him to taught by one of antiquities greatest teachers, Libanius. The famous pagan professor said “It is a pity…that the boy is a Christian—otherwise he could be my successor.”[1] Chrysostom lost his father at an early age and being brought by his mother, Anthusa, as Pope Benedict XVI explains she “instilled in him exquisite human sensitivity and a deep Christian faith.”[2] D’Ambrosio explains that despite having such a formidable education, Chrysostom, “lost his enthusiasm for a life in law or public service. He had met some hermits outside the city and, inspired by their example, decided to join them.[3] He spent four years with the monks on Mount Silpius, “he extended his retreat for a further two years, living alone in a cave under the guidance of an old hermit.”[4]

Pope Benedict, in his General Audience on St. John Chrysostom, gives an account of Chrysostom’s early career in the Church’s clergy as he “between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386 and come a famous preacher in the city’s churches.”[5] It was the next year when Emperor Theodosius had been compelled to increase taxes due to a response to an invasion. The tax increased caused a mob to form who were incensed by the tax. The mob defaced statues of the Emperor and as a response to the vandalism, the Emperor intended to punish the city.[6] At this moment, after the Bishop went to the Emperor to plead for reconciliation, Chrysostom went to the people, led them in prayer and gave twenty-one of some of his most famous homilies called On the Statues. St. John was able to quiet the rage of the mob, which in turn, smoothed over the wrath of the Emperor. In our current cultural climate, perhaps it would be wisdom for both leaders and citizens to reflect on this event.

St. John Chrysostom understands this by developing and defending the doctrine of Eucharist to be called “The Doctor of the Eucharist.”

He writes,

“For When thou seest the Lord sacrificed and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the Victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that Precious Blood, canst thou think that thou art still amongst men and standing on earth…Oh, what a marvel! What love of God to Man!”

Elias left a sheepskin to his disciple, but the Son of God, ascending left us His own flesh!…Let us not lament, nor fear the difficulties of the times, for He who did not refuse to pour out His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood for all and has suffered us to partake of His Blood again—what will He refused to do for our safety?”[7]

As we note above from Fr. Rengers, D’Ambrosio further explains, “One of the most notable themes struck by John is the centrality of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the life of the Church. He insisted that consecrated elements truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.”[8] In D’Ambrosio’s text, he references from Homilies 1 and 2 on the Betrayal of Judas in which St. John Chrysostom’s words become an astounding defense for the Priesthood and the Priest’s role in Christ’s sacrifice at the Mass.

If we break down St. John’s words, when he articulates the idea “It is not man who causes what is presented to come the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself.”[9] This is a perfect example of what is known as In Persona Christi. It’s important to note that we acknowledge this in the beginning of Mass. For example, at the opening of Mass, when we respond “And with your Spirit, It is a response to In Persona Christi—not the priest. And of course, there are other times when the Priest serves in the person of Christ like at the sacrament of reconciliation.

Again, in a Christmas Homily, St. John Chysostom reminds us of the Incarnation during the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Mass by saying, “Reflect, O Man, what sacrificial flesh you take in your hand!” (note the language)

[1] Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers (Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 243.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 98.

[3] D’Ambrosio, 243.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, 98.

[5] Ibid, 99.

[6] D’Ambrosio, 244.

[7] [7] Christopher Rengers and Matthew E. Bunson, The 35 Doctors of the Church (Tan Books: Charlotte, 2014), 112.

[8] D’Ambriosio, 245.

[9] Ibid.

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