St. John Chrysostom on the Priesthood

Sep 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In the Latin Church, today is the memorial of St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople and one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church. He was born in Antioch around A.D. 347, and died on September 14, 407, in exile during a forced march. Today, in honor of St. Chrysostom, I wish to consider six brief selections from his work titled, “On the Priesthood.”

St. John Chrysostom

In this work, “On the Priesthood,” St. John Chrysostom is engaged in a dialogue with his friend Basil, who had just accepted the call to the priesthood. St. Chrysostom is seeking to explain to Basil the nature of the dignity of the priestly office, and so he turns to the Eucharist, of which he writes:

For when you see 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, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh! What a marvel! What love of God to man! He who sits on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. And this all do through the eyes of faith! (On the Priesthood, Book III.4)

Here St. Chrysostom speaks of the priest in his role as one who offers the Body and Blood of Christ to the Father in the Holy Eucharist. St. Chrysostom shows how the divine presence and condescension of Christ in the Holy Eucharist elevates immeasurably the dignity of the priestly office. The greatness of the office of the Catholic priest is shown by the greatness of the Sacrifice he offers:

Would you also learn from another miracle the exceeding sanctity of this office? Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around him, and the sacrifice laid upon the altar of stones, and all the rest of the people hushed into a deep silence while the prophet alone offers up prayer: then the sudden rush of fire from Heaven upon the sacrifice:— these are marvelous things, charged with terror. Now then pass from this scene to the rites which are celebrated in the present day; they are not only marvelous to behold, but transcendent in terror. There stands the priest, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but the Holy Spirit: and he makes prolonged supplication, not that some flame sent down from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace descending on the sacrifice may thereby enlighten the souls of all, and render them more refulgent than silver purified by fire. Who can despise this most awful mystery, unless he is stark mad and senseless? (On the Priesthood, Book III.4)

The priest praying at the altar in the mass, says St. Chrysostom, is the Elijah of the New Covenant, calling down not fire from Heaven, but calling down the Holy Spirit that by the grace of the sacrament the souls of the faithful may be enlightened. To despise the priestly office is to be “stark mad and senseless,” for only one who did not understand the divine work the priest does in his role in the Eucharistic sacrifice would have no regard for the office of priest. What then is the magnitude of the gift of the priestly vocation, the superior dignity of the office of priest?

For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they [i.e. priests] who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them [i.e. the angels], “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) They [i.e. political rulers] who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below, God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, “Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?” (John 20:23) What authority could be greater than this? “The Father has committed all judgment to the Son?” (John 5:22) But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious? (On the Priesthood, Book III.5)

The dignity of a priest is a divine dignity, because the authority of the priest is as much greater than heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies. Since no one can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven except by being regenerated through the water of baptism, and eating the Flesh of the Lord and drinking His Blood, and since these holy sacraments are accomplished only by means of the holy hands of the priest, therefore the priestly office has an immeasurable dignity, because it is only through the office of priest that we are able to avoid the fires of hell and win the crown of heavenly glory. This is a noble and weighty responsibility.

These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these [i.e. our parents] begot us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others [i.e. the priests] are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness— not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. For the latter, although they laid claim to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, and this they evinced by the great eagerness with which they pursued it; but these men [i.e. those who despise the Catholic priesthood], when the office has been better regulated, and has received so great a development, have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others [i.e. Dathan and company], although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in aiming at an honor which does not pertain to one, and in despising such great advantages, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? None whatever, I should say, unless it were one subject to some demoniacal impulse. For I return once more to the point from which I started: not in the way of chastising only, but also in the way of benefiting, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The two indeed differ as much as the present and the future life. For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, procuring for some a milder chastisement, and preventing others from falling altogether, not only by instruction and admonition, but also by the assistance wrought through prayers. For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins. “Is any sick among you?” it is said, “let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15) Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them. (On the Priesthood, Book III.6)

Here St. Chrysostom contrasts the dignity of the Catholic priesthood with the dignity of natural parenthood, and with the Jewish priesthood. He gives reasons showing why the Catholic priesthood far exceeds the other two in dignity. Natural parents can give earthly life, but the priest through baptism gives eternal life, and true freedom, through grace. Our natural parents are unable to heal diseases, but the Catholic priest, through the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, can raise up the sick man. The Jewish priests had the authority to examine those who had been released from leprosy, and declare them clean. But “our priests,” i.e. Catholic priests, have the authority to deal with spiritual uncleanness (i.e. sin), not merely to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away, through the sacraments of baptism and penance.

The Priest’s relations with his people involve thus much difficulty. But if any inquire about his relations with God, he will find the others to be as nothing, since these require a greater and more thorough earnestness. For he who acts as an ambassador on behalf of the whole city — but why do I say the city? On behalf of the whole world indeed — prays that God would be merciful to the sins of all, not only of the living, but also of the departed. What manner of man ought he to be? For my part I think that the boldness of speech of Moses and Elias, is insufficient for such supplication. For as though he were entrusted with the whole world and were himself the father of all men, he draws near to God, beseeching that wars may be extinguished everywhere, that tumults may be quelled; asking for peace and plenty, and a swift deliverance from all the ills that beset each one, publicly and privately; and he ought as much to excel in every respect all those on whose behalf he prays, as rulers should excel their subjects.(On the Priesthood, Book VI.4)

The dignity of the office of priest can be shown by the nature of his intercession. He intercedes by the authority of Christ, to the Father on behalf of the whole world. Only our most excellent men should be selected for such a role, for the role is so great that no one is worthy of it, yet no one should despise its dignity.

And whenever he invokes the Holy Spirit, and offers the most dread sacrifice, and constantly handles the common Lord of all, tell me what rank shall we give him? What great purity and what real piety must we demand of him? For consider what manner of hands they ought to be which minister in these things, and of what kind his tongue which utters such words, and ought not the soul which receives so great a spirit to be purer and holier than anything in the world? At such a time angels stand by the Priest; and the whole sanctuary, and the space round about the altar, is filled with the powers of heaven, in honor of Him who lies thereon. For this, indeed, is capable of being proved from the very rites which are being then celebrated. I myself, moreover, have heard some one once relate, that a certain aged, venerable man, accustomed to see revelations, used to tell him, that he being thought worthy of a vision of this kind, at such a time, saw, on a sudden, so far as was possible for him, a multitude of angels, clothed in shining robes, and encircling the altar, and bending down, as one might see soldiers in the presence of their King, and for my part I believe it. Moreover another told me, without learning it from some one else, but as being himself thought worthy to be both an ear and eye witness of it, that, in the case of those who are about to depart hence, if they happen to be partakers of the mysteries, with a pure conscience, when they are about to breathe their last, angels keep guard over them for the sake of what they have received, and bear them hence. (On the Priesthood, Book VI.4)

Here St. Chrysostom returns to the nature of the Eucharist, and shows how what takes place in the Eucharist places the priest in a rank too noble and lofty to measure. The one who calls down the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Eucharist, ought to be one whose tongue and soul are of the greatest purity. For the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is such that angels stand by the priest, and all around the altar, in honor of Him [i.e. Christ] who lies upon the altar under the appearance of bread and wine. And, says St. Chrysostom, those who receive the Viaticum (i.e. the Holy Eucharist received when in danger of death) when they are about to breathe their last breath, are guarded by angels for the sake of what they have received.

The Body and Blood of Christ, whom the priest with his hands offers to the Father in the mass, and whom the priest with his hands gives to the people to eat and drink, is of infinite worth, being divine. And hence the priest in his priesthood partakes in this divine dignity.

Christ is still calling men to the vocation of the priesthood.

St. John Chrysostom, pray for us, that the men Christ is calling to the holy priesthood will hear and respond in loving obedience, and that we may recognize the dignity with which Christ has invested this sacred office.

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  1. Bryan,

    Thanks very much for the article – both this one and the other ones you’ve written on CtC. I was fascinated to see that St. Chrysostom embraces a “real presence” view of Communion – did not know that. I know he’s highly regarded by the EO church – do you know if the EO church embraces a real presence view of communion too? Regardless, this seems to be yet more proof of what you’ve written elsewhere: an intellectually honest Protestant just has to be willing to say that not only were the vast majority of church fathers wrong about basic stuff (views of communion, baptismal regeneration, etc), but even the particularly smart ones were wrong. (Except for Augustine – and he was only right part of the time. Coincidentally, he’s right just when he agrees with us Reformed Protestants. Fancy that!) ;-)

    On a related note, the site seems to have grown quiet of late. Might I suggest that if you want to get more comments on a blog post, an article be written entitled “All Protestants Will Burn In Hell” or something like that. That’ll get the comments flowing… 8-) Have a blessed evening – I’m off to take a walk with my wife and son. =)

  2. Yes! I love Chrysostom! Every time I hear something of him he has some tyoplogical insight into scripture that just fills me with wonder. Elijah battling the prophets of Baal calls down fire from heaven compared to the Holy spirit descending (or is it us ascending?) in the sacrifice of the mass? That is just simply Beautiful. Chrysostom is a true gift to the Church.

    Thanks Bryan.

  3. Bryan,

    Simply beautiful words on the priesthood by both you and St. John. I am reminded of our Holy Father’s words concerning the connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist. The Pope makes clear that the priest can only be truly understood in relation to the Eucharist. My friend, Father Higgins, in a homily on the 50th anniversary of his uncle’s priesthood, Father Angelus Shaughnessy, “who is a priest? He is everything and he is nothing. He is everything for by his words and his hands he brings us Christ and he is nothing for he lends his mouth and his hands to Christ to work in and through him.” I still get chills of awe when I remember that homily.


    Yeah a post like that would garner some attention. I keep telling my Pastor to put the message “Book of Revelation Revealed” on our parish’s road sign so that we might get a full house to one of our classes :)

  4. St. Chrysostom and St. Cassian are two of my Favorites, when it come to bible exegesis. This work is a classic.

  5. Benjamin,

    Yes, the Eastern Orthodox believe quite firmly in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. So do the Oriental Orthodox.

    in Christ,


  6. Given that this is Called To Communion, the Protestant reader must ask himself:

    Given that St John Chrysostom taught many things considered very heretical to Protestant ears, was St John really a “genuine Christian”?

    If yes, then how could he really be teaching such manifest heresy? Couldn’t it be you that have it wrong?

    If no, then to which “Fathers” do you turn to for historical testimony?

  7. Nick,

    You are right. It is passages like Bryan referenced that led the soon to be Beatified Cardinal Newman to say, “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

  8. … the Protestant reader must ask himself:
    Given that St John Chrysostom taught many things considered very heretical to Protestant ears, was St John really a “genuine Christian”?

    To claim that John Chrysostom taught a doctrine that was heretical is the same thing a claiming that one knows with certainty that there is an opposing doctrine that is orthodox. But how can any sola scriptura espousing Protestant know, with certainty, what constitutes orthodox doctrine?

    If “orthodox doctrine” is redefined to mean an interpretation of the Bible that agrees with how I personally interpret the Bible, then orthodox doctrine for the Protestants would include all the thousands upon thousands of contradictory doctrines espoused by the thousands upon thousands of bickering and contentious sects within Protestantism.

    The real question the Protestant should ask is not whether St John Chrysostom was a heretic, but rather, who, within Protestantism, can exercise the charism of infallibility to irreformably define doctrine. Until the Protestant can answer that question, “orthodoxy” within Protestantism merely means “that in my opinion, and in the opinion of those that already agree with me, every one who calls himself a Christian should believe the same doctrines that I believe … unless, of course, I am wrong, which is at least a possibility, because I also claim that there is no one that can ever infallibly define doctrine when a doctrinal controversy arises within Protestantism. “

  9. Mateo,

    While you are correct in a sense, the Protestant can still ask themself whether they are alone in their view or whether there is historical Christian testimony. While many Protestants could care less, many Protestants (especially of the Anglican variety) would be troubled to find the Early Church Fathers entangled in serious “heresy.” It will get them thinking; and the “thinking Protestant” is precisely the crowd CTC is speaking to. The ‘educated’ Protestant also knows that the Reformers based a lot of the Reformation on the appeal that they were the ones being faithful to the Early Church Fathers and that the Catholics had abused them – now with the widespread availability of the Fathers, the record is once and for all being set right.

    Most Protestants have never even asked themselves the question: Are there three people from the Early Church that I can apply the label of “genuine Christian” to? Most Protestants cannot answer this question, and that’s because they’re aware that the Early Church was not Protestant. This is why more and more scholars in Protestantism appeal less and less to the Early Church Fathers, especially Augustine, because it’s abundantly clear that the ECFs were not Protestant but “Catholic”. This is also why the Oxford Movement failed.

  10. Nick said:

    Given that this is Called To Communion, the Protestant reader must ask himself:

    Given that St John Chrysostom taught many things considered very heretical to Protestant ears, was St John really a “genuine Christian”?

    If yes, then how could he really be teaching such manifest heresy? Couldn’t it be you that have it wrong?

    If no, then to which “Fathers” do you turn to for historical testimony?

    As a Protestant, I’d say in response:

    Given that St John Chrysostom taught that Mary was not sinless, which is considered very heretical to Catholic ears, was St John really a “genuine Christian”?

    If yes, then how could he really be teaching such manifest heresy? Couldn’t it be you that have it wrong?

    If no, then to which “Fathers” do you turn to for historical testimony?

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander :)

  11. Nick, I also hope that the ‘educated Protestant’ that reads the Church Fathers would see that that the Reformers were wrong about many things. But that often does not happen. Why is that?

    Reformed theologians that study patristics are often not moved to change their minds after reading the Early Church Fathers. Indeed, they are quite aware that within the writings of the Early Church Fathers that there exist many teachings that are irreconcilable with Reformed theology – and that doesn’t bother them at all. What is in the mindset of these Reformed men and women that study patristics that enable them to not abandon Calvin?

    I am beginning to see how that happens after watching the embedded video in Bryan Cross’s article,
    Ligon Duncan’s “Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?” .

    The video by Dr. Ligon Duncan is a lecture about why it is a good thing for pastors in the Reformed tradition to study the early Church Fathers. At the beginning of the lecture Dr. Duncan makes these two statements:

    (2:33) The Word of God is our ONLY final infallible rule of faith and practice.

    (3:00) Many brothers have had their faith unsettled in what the scriptures teach by encounters with the Church Fathers.

    I would think that there is cause for hope if many brothers are becoming unsettled in their faith in Reformation theology when they study patristics. But Dr. Duncan tells his audience there is good reason not to get discouraged, and he advances his argument along these lines:

    (4:39) When we study church history, we are studying the history of God’s providence with OUR people.

    (15:00) The sixteenth century Fathers of the Reformation – the magisterial reformers- were masters in the study of the Church Fathers … But when we study the Fathers today, we tend to find two views of the early Church fathers.

    One view of the Church Fathers says that the Father’s teaching shows us that the Reformers theology of grace was wrong … the Reformers were wrong in how they formulated the Gospel, they were wrong in how the formulated justification by faith; atonement; imputation … the argument is, that the Church Fathers were the closest Christians to Jesus and the New Testament, and so their understanding of Christianity and of the New Testament must be determinative and even authoritative for our understanding of the New Testament, and when we read them they do not agree with the Protestant interpretation of the Gospel and of justification. …

    Another view, however – the opposite view – is this: that the Gospel itself was lost from the time of the end of the New Testament to the sixteenth century; and that it was rediscovered, for the first time, by the magisterial Reformers – Luther and following. That the New Testament’s theology of grace was lost as early as the Apostolic Fathers and did not reappear until the day of the magisterial Reformation.

    Neither of those readings of the [Church] Fathers is accurate, sufficient or helpful.

    Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox would agree that one should accept that the Church Fathers have a better understanding of the content of the faith than the “magisterial reformers”; and that the writings of the Church Fathers carry more authority than the opinions of the “magisterial reformers”. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox also agree with Dr. Duncan that not everything written by the Church Father are the infallible teachings of the faith. For example, not everything written by Augustine is the infallible teaching of the faith. The Church Fathers disagreed about understanding the meaning of “thousand years” in Revelation 20:2, etc.

    Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox all agree that scriptures are inerrant. But when a controversy arises on how the scriptures are to be interpreted, what makes a teaching of the faith “deterninative and authoritative” for Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox are the teachings that are received through either the ordinary and universal exercise of the teaching office of Christ’s Church, or the extraordinary exercise of the teaching office of Christ’s Church. The only men in Christ’s Church that have a share in the teaching office of Christ’s Church are validly ordained bishops, and many of the Early Church Fathers were bishops. That alone gives more weight to the authority of the writings of the Early Church Fathers over the opinions of the “magisterial Reformers”. The “magisterial Reformers” were lay men that offered opinions that often contradicted each other.

    The second way of reading the Early Church Fathers could be called the modified Mormon way; i.e. the Church founded by Jesus Christ fell into teaching heresy as soon as the last Apostle died. The truth that Jesus intended to reveal to the world was totally lost to mankind. The truths taught by Christ became known once again, when many centuries after Christ walked on earth, enlightened men began to preach the Pure Word of Truth. (I call this the modified Mormon way, because it wasn’t Joseph Smith that was the enlightened one that brought the light out of the darkness, it was Luther, Calvin, et al. that are the enlightened ones.) In the modified Mormon way, all the early Church fathers are dismissed as irrelevant, because the Church Fathers are suspect in their understanding of scriptures. This view is not uncommon among Protestant evangelicals, and Dr. Duncan admits as much.

    Dr. Duncan dismisses both the first way and the modified Mormon way – or so he claims. After dismissing both ways as wrongheaded, Dr. Duncan says this:

    (17:35) How should we read the Fathers instead? We should read the Fathers respectfully, but carefully, under the authority of scriptures.

    How, exactly, does one read the Early Church Fathers “under the authority of scriptures”? More specifically, how did John Calvin read the Early Church Fathers “under the authority of scriptures”? What made Calvin’s understanding of the scriptures superior to the Early Church Father’s understanding of Scriptures? That is the question that must be answered.

    Dr. Duncan makes an assertion John Calvin was “ an incredible patristic scholar” (20:29). If we grant that Calvin was this incredible scholar of the Church Fathers, the question that needs to be asked is this: What was John Calvin’s view of the Church Fathers understanding of scriptures, since every true expositor of the faith must teach only “under the authority of scriptures”?

    Dr. Duncan, reading from a book by Bruce Gordon that is quoting John Calvin, has this to say about John Calvin’s relationship to the Church Fathers:

    (22:15) John Calvin: “If we discover that they (the Early Church Fathers] have no other tendency than to the pure worship of God, we may embrace them. But if they draw us away from the pure and simple worship of God, if they infect true and sincere religion by their own mixtures, we must utterly reject them.”

    Again, quoting Gordon Brown, Dr. Duncan reads this to his audience:

    (22:33) “Calvin believed that the Church Fathers were human, they disagreed with one another, and could get it wrong. Indeed, Calvin felt no compunction about rejecting their views; in the biblical commentaries, Augustine and Chrysostom not infrequently declared to be dead wrong by Calvin.

    Calvin believed that the Early Church Fathers taught many things that we could embrace, but that they also taught heresy. That is why the Reformed pastors should read the Church Fathers – not everything that the Church Fathers taught was heresy, only some of it. And there lies the problem. How do I know when the Church Fathers were right, and when they were wrong? Dr. Duncan’s solution: I am supposed to accept that John Calvin was not only an incredible scholar of patristics, he was also such a superior scholar of the scriptures that John Calvin could declare when and where the Early Church Fathers erred in their understanding of the Scriptures.

    But why should I buy into this belief that Calvin knew the scriptures better than the Church Fathers. Why should I make Calvin’s understanding of scriptures the foundation of my faith? Would Dr. Duncan claim that John Calvin was infallible when he declared that Augustine and Chrysostom were in error? No, I do not believe that Dr. Duncan would do that.

    Dr. Duncan is doing is merely asserting is that I should accept, on faith, that Calvin had an exalted knowledge of the scriptures – an understanding of scriptures that was superior to even that of the Church Fathers. In Reformed theology, salvation by faith means having faith in John Calvin’s interpretations of scriptures. The Reformed brothers that have their faith shaken when encountering the writings of the Church Fathers should take heart in the knowledge that John Calvin had more authority when interpreting the scriptures than the authority possessed by the Church Fathers themselves.

  12. Oops- I should have written that Dr. Duncan quotes Bruce Gordon at 22:33 minutes into the video, not Gordon Brown.

  13. Steve (re: #10),

    Here’s what St. Chrysostom says:

    For what she [Mary] attempted, came of overmuch love of honour; for she wished to show to the people that she had power and authority over her Son, in nothing ever as yet having given herself airs ([phantazomene]) about Him. Therefore she came thus unseasonably. Observe then her and their rashness ([aponoian]) … Had He wished to deny His Mother, then He would have denied, when the Jews taunted Him with her. But no: He shows such care of her as to commit her as a legacy on the Cross itself to the disciple whom He loved best of all, and to take anxious oversight of her. But does He not do the same now, by caring for her and His brethren? … And consider, not only the words which convey the considerate rebuke, but also … who He is who utters it … and what He {132} aims at in uttering it; not, that is, as wishing to cast her into perplexity, but to release her from a most tyrannical affection, and to bring her gradually to the fitting thought concerning Him, and to persuade her that He is not only her Son, but also her Master.

    Cardinal Newman discusses that passage here, with regard to precisely the question you are raising. And it appears to be the only place St. Chrysostom says this about Mary. We should keep in mid that what is essential and central in St. Chrysostom is not equivalent in weight to what is minor and conjectural. And clearly what St. Chrysostom says about the priesthood (in the quotations I cited) is very central to his understanding of the Catholic faith. But this one statement about Mary, is not. Therefore, the notion the St. Chrysostom’s theology is just as incompatible with Catholic doctrines is at it is with Protestant doctrine is inaccurate. In addition, it took some time for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to develop, as the Holy Spirit continued to guide the Church into all truth. I recommend both of Luigi Gambero’s books on this subject, as well as the audio lecture here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Steve G.… to which “Fathers” do you turn to for historical testimony?

    If you are only looking for historical testimony, then of course one should look to all the Church Fathers. If you want to know what constitutes the true teachings of the Faith, then even the historical testimony given by the early heretics are useful in learning the infallible teachings of the Church founded by Christ. For example, the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (AD 325) infallibly condemned the teachings of Arius. Knowing that the Christology of Arius was infallibly condemned is the reason that I don’t believe the Jehovah Witnesses’ interpretation of scriptures.

    Bryan Cross has done an excellent job in expositing the teachings that St. John Chrysostom concerning the priesthood . Obviously, what St. John Chysostom teaches is far different that what John Calvin teaches.

    Bruce Gordon writes that “Calvin felt no compunction about rejecting [the Church Father’] views; in the biblical commentaries, Augustine and Chrysostom not infrequently declared to be dead wrong by Calvin.” (refernce my comment above).

    What makes John Calvin an infallible authority when he interprets scriptures?

    Why should I accept that John Calvin had a superior knowledge of scriptures than all the Church Fathers put together?

  15. Mateo,

    That was a very helpful post. One thing I’ve noticed is that Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide become the glasses by which a Protestant judges things such that anything that threatens either of those two doctrines must be explained away or outright tossed. This, to me, explains why folks like Calvin could brush off the testimony of the Fathers at his whim without even blushing. I also believe it is no mistake that while the Reformers and major classical Protestant theologians “appealed” to the Fathers, most Protestants and scholars don’t even try to co-opt the Fathers anymore since there clearly is a significant divide.


    Any given Father’s teaching should be taken as a whole, and from there ‘categorized’ into what was central and what was secondary to their overall thought. A Fathers strong testimony on something like the priesthood is not comparable to a conjecture, especially a vague one, about another doctrine. To give an example of the problem of looking at single doctrines rather than the Father as a whole, we can look to any heretic or and note that while they might have been teaching this or that that was fine, overall they were still heretic. A Church Father could have been wrong or misjudged this or that, but ‘overall’ we can still ask if they were closer to Catholicism or Protestantism. Many Fathers are given the title of “Saint” because their *overall* testimony is especially trustworthy for the Catholic Faith.

  16. With reference to Chrysostom being “Catholic”, keep in mind that the framers of the “Mere Protestant” confession are looking at something earlier as “Catholic”. “The Priesthood” as Chrysostom understands it has already gone through multiple evolutions away from the earlier office of “elder”.

  17. Hello John, (re: #16)

    Regarding your reference to the “Mere Protestant” confession, I’m guessing you are responding to my comment #146 under the “Clark, Frame, …” thread.

    As for St. Chrysostom on the priesthood, you wrote:

    “The Priesthood” as Chrysostom understands it has already gone through multiple evolutions away from the earlier office of “elder”.

    That “evolutions away” claim presupposes a point in question, and it is not substantiated or verified by a mere assertion. You would need to show how what St. Chrysostom says about the priestly sacrifice departs in some principled or essential way (that is, in some way other than organic development and unfolding of what was already present) from what the first and second century Fathers such as St. Ignatius, St. Clement, St. Justin Martyr, and the Didache say about it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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