Chrysostom, Judaism, and the Cessasionists

Being born and bred in Pentecostal churches, my ears always perk up when miracles pop up in what I’m reading. I love when God choses to heal bodies, or generally do anything like that. I have plenty of gripes with the charismatic movements, but it’s still my home (and my heritage), and I’m happy to be here for now.

Anyway, here’s an interesting tidbit from John Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Psalms. In this one he’s addressing Psalm 109. It seems that most of the homily is devoted to refuting non-orthodox viewpoints, and he begins by attacking the Jewish interpretation. Here’s an excerpt where he interrogates a rhetorically created Jew:

But if you attack our [beliefs], O Jew,[*] what will you say in defense of the Old [Testament]? If someone were to say to you, “Why are the things of Moses true?” What would you say? “Because we believe them.” Certainly this is not any better than us, for we also believe, and you are but one nation, but we are of the whole world! You are convinced by the things of Moses, just as we are convinced by Christ, and what you make the end, we make the foundation. Do you believe because of the prophecies? But we have many more! So if you do away with ours, you overshadow your own as well. Do you believe because of miracles? But you have none to show except the signs of Moses, and these have come and gone. But we have the miracles of Christ, which are varied and abundant, and which happen even to the present day, and we have prophecies that surpass the brightness of the sun! Do you believe because of the laws? But our philosophy is superior to these. Why then? Because he led you away from the bondage of the Egyptians? But this is not equal at all to the hostile world, which the Egyptians by themselves do not surpass.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Psalm 109 (LXX), from Patrologia Graeca 55.266-267, my own translation.

I bolded the part that jumped out at me. John’s line of reasoning is pretty interesting here. He doesn’t simply cite the miracles of Christ recorded in the gospels, but he cites the miracles that “happen even to the present day,” which is a much bolder claim. This also makes me wonder if the “prophecies that surpass the brightness of the sun” might include more than the prophecies of Christ in the OT. I’d be surprised if he didn’t have Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in mind. He may even have Christian prophets in mind as well, though that would be difficult to argue from this passage alone. The “but we have many more” would lead me to think he’s referring to prophecies that the Jews wouldn’t accept, which would include anything in the NT, but also extra-canonical Christian prophecy.

In terms of representing Jewish belief, I initially thought that John was being unfair here. After all, there were other miracles in the Old Testament. You had Joshua and the Sun, and Elisha and Elijah come to mind. However it looks like he narrows the comparison from OT and NT to Moses and Jesus as points of comparison. Christ as risen Lord would then be able to perform miracles “up until the present day,” while Moses could not. (Though would John have thought dead saints could perform miracles?). Of course, he does move back and forth quite easily between Moses and the Old Testament in general, because he goes on to say, “I say these thing, not to make the Old fight with the New…” I suppose that’s another sign of John’s great rhetorical skill, that he can slip easily between different referents to draw out the one that is most advantageous to him. We may not care for it, but it undoubtedly made for good rhetoric, and would’ve been fun to listen to.

[*] “O Jew” rings loudly in my ears too. I hate the Christianity has a long streak of anti-Semitism, and it’s certainly a nasty, nasty stain for us to bear. But let’s not judge John too quickly, even if he sounds harsh to post-holocaust ears.

6 thoughts on “Chrysostom, Judaism, and the Cessasionists

  1. That is interesting – here’s an apparently different perspective, from his homilies on 1 Corinthians (with the Schaff translation):

    Ἀλλ’ ἐκείνων ἴσως εἴποι τις ἂν, ὅτι Εἰ χρὴ τὸ κήρυγμα κρατεῖν, καὶ λόγων οὐ δεῖται ἵνα μὴ κενωθῇ ὁ σταυρὸς, τίνος ἕνεκεν τὰ σημεῖα κεκώλυται νῦν; Τίνος ἕνεκεν; ἀπιστῶν λέγεις, καὶ οὐδὲ ἐπὶ τῶν ἀποστόλων αὐτὰ γεγενῆσθαι καταδεχόμενος, ἢ ὄντως ζητῶν μαθεῖν; Εἰ γὰρ ἀπιστῶν, πρὸς τοῦτο στήσομαι πρῶτον. Εἰ γὰρ οὐκ ἐγένετο σημεῖα τότε, πῶς ἐλαυνόμενοι καὶ διωκόμενοι καὶ τρέμοντες καὶ δεδεμένοι, καὶ κοινοὶ γενόμενοι τῆς οἰκουμένης ἐχθροὶ, καὶ πᾶσι πρὸς τὸ κακῶς παθεῖν προκείμενοι, καὶ οὐδὲν οἴκοθεν ἔχοντες ἐπαγωγὸν, οὐ λόγον, οὐ περιφάνειαν, οὐ πλοῦτον, οὐ πόλιν, οὐκ ἔθνος, οὐ γένος, οὐκ ἐπιτήδευμα, οὐ δόξαν, οὐκ ἄλλο τῶν τοιούτων οὐδὲν, ἀλλὰ πάντα τὰ ἐναντία, ἰδιωτείαν, εὐτέλειαν, πενίαν, μῖσος, ἀπέχθειαν, καὶ πρὸς δήμους ὁλοκλήρους ἱστάμενοι, καὶ τοιαῦτα καταγγέλλοντες, ἔπειθον; Καὶ γὰρ τὰ ἐπιτάγματα πολὺν εἶχε τὸν μόχθον, καὶ τὰ δόγματα τοὺς κινδύνους· καὶ οἱ ἀκούοντες καὶ πείθεσθαι μέλλοντες, καὶ τρυφῇ καὶ μέθῃ καὶ πολλῇ συντραφέντες ἦσαν κακίᾳ. Πόθεν οὖν ἔπεισαν; εἰπέ μοι· πόθεν τὸ ἀξιόπιστον ἔσχον; Ὅπερ γὰρ ἔφθην εἰπὼν, εἰ σημείων χωρὶς ἔπεισαν, πολλῷ μεῖζον τὸ θαῦμα φαίνεται. Μὴ τοίνυν τὸ μὴ γίνεσθαι νῦν σημεῖα, τεκμήριον ποιοῦ τοῦ μὴ γεγενῆσθαι τότε. Καὶ γὰρ καὶ τότε χρησίμως ἐγίνετο, καὶ νῦν χρησίμως οὐ γίνεται.

    4. But some one may say perhaps, “If the Gospel is to prevail and has no need of words, lest the Cross be made of none effect; for what reason are signs withholden now?” For what reason? Speakest thou in unbelief and not allowing that they were done even in the times of the Apostles, or do you truly seek to know? If in unbelief, I will first make my stand against this. I say then, If signs were not done at that time, how did they, chased, and persecuted, and trembling, and in chains, and having become the common enemies of the world, and exposed to all as a mark for ill usage, and with nothing of their own to allure, neither speech, nor show, nor wealth, nor city, nor nation, nor family, nor pursuit (ἐπιτήδευμα,) nor glory, nor any such like thing; but with all things contrary, ignorance, meanness, poverty, hatred, enmity, and setting themselves against whole commonwealths, and with such a message to declare; how, I say, did they work conviction? For both the precepts brought much labor, and the doctrines many dangers. And they that heard and were to obey, had been brought up in luxury and drunkenness, and in great wickedness. Tell me then, how did they convince? Whence had they their credibility? For, as I have just said, If without signs they wrought conviction, far greater does the wonder appear. Do not then urge the fact that signs are not done now, as a proof that they were not done then. For as then they were usefully wrought; so now are they no longer so wrought.

  2. Hmm, I think I’m reading the Greek right:

    ἡμεῖς δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ πολλὰ καὶ διάφορα ἔτι καὶ νῦν γινόμενα.

    but we have those of Christ, which are many and varied, and still happen to the present day.

    IIRC, Augustine changed his mind on the issue from a cessationist position to a more continuationalist one, though I don’t recall the evidence for that. Maybe John did the same (or the opposite).

    Or maybe I’m just reading the Greek wrong ;-). Am I reading that correctly?

  3. It looks like I was able to get just enough of the google book preview of a published translation (http://books.google.com/books?id=6V8lAQAAIAAJ&cd=1&source=gbs_ViewAPI). Here’s Robert Charles Hill’s translation:

    “But what about the signs? You have no sign of Moses to show, however: they have come and gone, whereas of Christ we have many and varied signs, happening here and now, and his prophecies shining more brightly than the sun.”

    A few quick google searches turned up lots of stuff on his 1 Corinthians and Romans homilies. Now I wish I knew when all of this stuff was written!

  4. Excellent post. I know I’m about oh…2 years late, but I was linked to this post by a friend and really enjoyed the evidence presented. It’s refreshing to meet someone with a similar background (I grew up in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement) who is studying Patristics with an eye out for the miraculous, and is not ashamed to say that they get a bit giddy when talk of the supernatural occurs. I am the same way. Although my current interests involve Preterism in the Church Fathers, I had to spare a post mentioning your work after reading this. Excellent job. http://revivalculture.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/the-charismata-in-the-fathers-intro/

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