On Caution Regarding Anathematization
An Annotated Translation of the St. John Chrysostomos Homily, "That We Should Not Anathematize the Living or the Dead" 
by Hieromonk Patapios
1. In speaking to you this morning about the incomprehensible knowledge of God and setting forth many arguments, I proved from
the words of Scripture and from natural reasoning, that understanding of the Divine is completely unattainable even for the Bodiless Powers,
living, as they do, an immaterial and blessed life, and yet that we who live in all the slackness and flux of life and are inclined to every evil
are attempting to grasp what is unknown even to the invisible essences; having as the basis of such discourses the judgment of our
own minds and the empty glory that comes from our listeners, neither setting limits to our nature by reason nor following the Divine
Scripture and the Fathers, but dragged down by the madness of our prejudices like a torrent in
winter, we have fallen into such great sin.
Well then, having spoken to you in a reasonable way about anathema and having demonstrated the power of this evil which is reckoned
to be of no significance, let us restrain our unbridled mouths from it as we uncover for you the sickness of those who employ it
haphazardly. For to such a deplorable state of affairs have we been reduced that, even in the throes of death, we are not aware that we have gone
beyond the worst of the passions; hence, the saying of the Prophet finds its fulfillment in us: "It is not possible to apply a plaster, nor
oil, nor bandages" (Isaiah 1:6). For from where shall I begin to speak about this evil? From the demands of the Masters commandments, or
from your irrational stupidity and obtuseness? And surely I shall be mocked by some
when I say this, and be thought to have lost my mind. Shall I not be shouted down, since I am going to speak about
matters that are melancholy and worthy of tears?
But what do I suffer? I am in pain, my mind is sawn asunder, and I am wounded inwardly, seeing such great insensitivity, since we have
surpassed the iniquity of the Jews and the impiety of the pagans. For as I go on, I see men who neither possess minds educated by Divine
Scripture, nor understand anything whatsoever of this Scripture, and in my great embarrassment I keep silent as they rave and quarrel,
"knowing neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (I St.
Timothy 1:7), ignorantly daring to pronounce this very teaching alone as a dogma, and to anathematize things of which they have no
knowledge, such that those who are strangers to the Faith ridicule our affairs, for we are neither concerned about living a good life nor have
we learned to do what is good.
2. Alas for us, alas! How many righteous men and Prophets desired to see what we have seen, and did not see it, and to hear what we
have heard, and did not hear it (cf. St. Matthew 13:17)! And yet we mock them. Pay attention, I beg you, "to the things which we have
heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by Angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience
received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-3). For tell me, what is the
purpose of the Gospel of Grace? Why did the Son of God come in the flesh? So that we may bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15)?
And yet, since the things of Christ are all together more perfect than the prescriptions of the Law, all the more do they require us to
have love. For in one place He says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (St. Matthew 22:39), and in another He tells us to die for our
neighbor (St. John 15:13). Listen to what Christ Himself says: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among
thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a
certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and
looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed,
came where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds,
pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he
departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when
I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said,
He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise" (St.
O the wonder! He did not call "neighbor" the priest or the Levite, but him who, by decree, had been cast out by the Jews, I mean the
Samaritan, the foreigner, the one who blasphemed muchhim alone did He call "neighbor," since in him did He find mercy. These are
words of the Son of God, and this is what He manifested at His coming through His own deeds, not dying only for friends and His own,
but for enemies, for tyrants, for sorcerers, for those who hated Him, for those who crucified Him, of whom He knew, before the
foundation of the world, that they would be such and whom He created with foreknowledge, overcoming foreknowledge by goodness; and for
these He shed His own blood, for these He accepted slaughter. For
"the bread that I will give," He says, "is My flesh, which I
will give for the life of the world" (St. John 6:51). And, enjoining these things,
Paul says: "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). And again, in the Epistle to
the Hebrews, he says that Christ tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).
If, therefore, this is what He did, and the Church fulfills the types of these things, daily making entreaties for all, how do you dare to
utter such words? For tell me, what do you mean by "anathema"? Do you see what you are saying, do you know what you are asserting, and
are you aware of its meaning? And yet, in the Divinely-inspired Scriptures you will find this saying about Jericho: "And thou shalt devote
the whole city to the Lord thy God" (Joshua 6:17). And among all of us, there has prevailed up to the present day the common custom, that
whoever has done such and such a thing brings his offering (anathema)
to this place. Now is this what you mean by "anathema"? And yet this act of making an offering to God is spoken of as something good.
What else, therefore, do you mean by "anathema" than: let this man be consigned to the Devil, let him no longer have any possibility of
salvation, and let him be estranged from Christ (cf.
I Corinthians 5:5)?2
3. And who are you, that you lay claim to such authority and great power? For "when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of His
glory..., He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left" (St. Matthew 25:31-33). How, then, did you obtain such great
dignity, which was granted only to the community of the Apostles and those who truly became their successors in the strictest sense, full of
Grace and power? And they, indeed, having kept the commandment precisely, cast heretics out of the Church as if they were gouging out
their right eye, which shows the great compassion and grief that they experienced at the excision of a vital member. For this is why Christ
called him a right eye, indicating the compassion that ought to be felt by those casting him out. Hence, observing exactitude in this matter,
as in all matters, they censured and cast out heresies, but did not apply this reproach to any of the
heretics. The Apostle, therefore, appears to utter this expression out of necessity only in two places, and without
bringing it to bear on a particular person. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, he says, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let
him be anathema" (I Corinthians 16:22); and, "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed
So then, whereas none of those who received the relevant
authority has exercised it or dared to pronounce this sentence, you dare to do so, acting contrary
to the Masters death and forestalling the Kings judgment?4 Do
you want to know what was said by one of the Saints, a predecessor of ours in Apostolic
Succession, who was deemed worthy of martyrdom? Demonstrating the gravity of this word, he used a
correspondingly weighty example: just as one who is a private citizen, if he clothes himself in royal purple, is slain as a tyrant, along with his
accomplices, so also, those who have recourse to the Masters verdict and separate a man from the Church by anathema, lead themselves
into utter perdition, arrogating to themselves what belongs to the Son.5 Do
you regard it as a trivial matter to condemn someone prematurely with such a verdict, and before a judge has done so? For
anathema cuts one off from Christ completely.6
But what do they say who are entirely adept at evil? That man is a heretic, they say, who has the Devil dwelling inside him and speaks
injustice against God, leading many into the pit of perdition through persuasive arguments and vain deceit, and is, for this reason, cast out
by the Fathers, andmeaning by this either Paulianos or Apollinariscertainly the one who taught him is a heretic, for he has cut off
part of the Church.7 [The
following sentence is corrupted in the original manuscriptTranslator:]
Concerning the difference between each of these, reason, refuting the deception concealed in the
recesses of the most grievous prejudice, has in most cases clearly escaped innovation.8
"In meekness instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the
truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the Devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (II St. Timothy 2:25-26). Spread out the net of love, "lest that
which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:13); show that you
are warmly disposed to make your own good the common good; throw out the sweet bait of compassion and thus, having searched
what is hidden, snatch from the depth of perdition him who has let his mind drown therein. Teach him that what is thought to be good, out of
prejudice or ignorance, is alien to Apostolic Tradition; and if the man who has embraced error is willing to accept this, as the Prophet says,
"he shall surely live" (Ezekiel 18:9) and you will redeem your
soul. If he is unwilling, and remains quarrelsome, in order that you may not become liable for him, simply bear witness with forbearance and
goodness, lest his soul be required from your hand by the Judge Who does not hate, does not turn aside, and does not persecute, but displays
sincere and true love for such a man.
Gain this reward, and if you receive no other benefit, this will be a great benefitthis will be a great gainto cherish and teach
discipleship in Christ. For "by this shall all men know that ye are My
disciples, if ye have love one to another" (St. John 13:35). The Apostle demonstrated that in the absence of this
virtue, neither knowledge of the Mysteries of God, nor faith, nor prophecy, nor poverty, nor
martyrdom for Christs sake is of any avail. For "though I understand all
mysteries," he says, "and all knowledge; and though I have all
faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing; though I speak with the tongues of Angels, and though I bestow all my
goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love,
it profiteth me nothing. Love is kind...love is not puffed up, ...seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked,...beareth all things,
believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" (I
4. None of you, beloved, has displayed such an attitude towards Christ as that holy soul. No man, except for him, ever dared to utter
such words. Aflame in soul, he said: "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh" (Colossians 1:24); and: "I
could wish that myself were accursed [anathema]
from Christ for my brethren"
(Romans 9:3); and: "Who is weak, and I am not weak?" (II Corinthians 11:29). Although he had such an attitude
towards Christ, he did not insult, compel, or anathematize anyone; for if he had, he
would not have brought so many peoples and entire cities to God; but humiliated, beaten, buffeted, and a laughing-stock to everyone, he
accomplished these things by coaxing, beseeching, and imploring.
When, therefore, he introduced himself to the Athenians and
found them all ensnared in the madness of idolatry, he did not rebuke them, saying: "You are all atheists and
completely ungodly"; he did not say: "You regard everything as a deity, denying only God, the
Master and Creator of the universe." But what did he say? "As I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom
therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:22-23). O the wonder, O the
fatherly compassion! He said that the Greeks had piety, although they were idolaters and ungodly. Why? Because they practiced their own
religion in a pious manner, thinking that they were worshipping God, something of which
they had convinced themselves.9
I beseech you all to imitate him, and I include myself among you.
For if the Lord, Who knows beforehand the intention of each man, and knows what will
become of each one of us, acts thus in order to impart the abundant bounties that flow from Him (for God does not
create anything for evil), and in this way bestows His general blessings on us, desiring that all men emulate Him, how is it that you do what
is contrary to this, and come to Church offering the sacrifice of the Son of God? Do you not know that He does not break a bruised reed
and does not extinguish a smoking flax (Isaiah 42:3; St. Matthew
12:20)? But what does this mean? Listen: He did not cast out Judas, nor does He cast out those who come to grief as he did, until each of
them is led astray by deception and surrenders himself to it.10
Do we not offer up supplications for the ignorances of the people? Are we not commanded to pray for our enemies and for those who
hate us and persecute us? Behold the service which we fulfill, behold it, I beseech you: Ordination does not lead a man to power, nor does
it raise him on high, nor does it confer dominion. We have all received the same Spirit, we have all been called to sonship; those whom the
Father has tested, He has counted worthy of serving their own brethren in a position of authority. In fulfillment of our service,
therefore, we implore and adjure you to refrain from such an evil. For the man whom you have chosen to anathematize is either alive and
present in this mortal life, or he is dead. Now if he is still alive, you
commit impiety in cutting off one who is mutable and capable of changing from evil to good; but if he is dead, all the greater is your impiety.
And what do I mean by this? That such a man stands or falls by his own Lord, being no longer subject to human authority, and that it is
hazardous to declare what is hidden to the Judge of the ages, Who alone knows the limits of a man's knowledge and the extent of his
faith. For how do we know, please tell me, with what words he will accuse himself or defend himself on the day when God will judge
mens secrets? Truly "unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For
who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?" (Romans 11:33-34).
Perhaps none of us, beloved, thinks of asking for Baptism, and none of us knows that a judgment is going to take place at some point.
Why am I talking about judgment? We are not even aware of death itself or of our departure from the body, as a result of the distraction of
lifes cares that has befallen us. Refrain from such evil, I beg you. Look, I declare and affirm before God and His chosen Angels, that it
will be the cause of great woe and unquenchable fire for us on the Day of Judgment. For if, in the assembly of the virgins, when the Master
of all Himself saw their deeds, He excluded from His bridal chamber those who had lived lives resplendent with shining faith, on account
of their hard-heartedness (St. Matthew 25:1-13), how shall we, who have
spent our lives in utter wantonness, behaving without pity towards our kith and kin, be counted worthy of salvation?11
Wherefore, I beseech you not to listen in vain to such words as these. For we must anathematize heretical doctrines and refute
impious teachings, from whomsoever we have received them, but show mercy to the men who advocate them and pray for their salvation.
May we all hold fast to love for God and our neighbor, fulfilling the Masters commandments, so that on the Day of Resurrection we may
meet the Heavenly Bridegroom Himself with acts of mercy and shining lamps, offering to Him the multitudes who have gloriously
benefitted from our compassion, by the Grace and love for mankind of the Only-begotten Son of God, to Whom, together with the Father and the
Holy Spirit, be glory, now and ever, and unto the ages. Amen.
Notes and Commentary
1. This important homily by St. John Chrysostomos (Patrologia
Graeca, Vol. XLVIII, cols.
945-952), which we present, here, for the first time in English translation, was probably delivered near the
beginning of 386 A.D., not long after he was Ordained a Presbyter by Bishop Flavian of Antioch. From
internal evidence in the opening paragraph, Bernard de Montfaucon, the primary editor of St. Johns
works, deduces that it was given soon after the Third
Homily on the Incomprehensibility of God, in
which St. John demonstrates that even the Angelic orders are incapable of understanding the Divine nature.
To his credit, Montfaucon refutes the ridiculous arguments put forward by the renowned Roman Catholic Church historian, Louis
Tillemont, against the authenticity of this homily. In response to Tillemonts
contention that it is too short to have been written by St. John and that it differs markedly in style from
other homilies by the same author, Montfaucon notes that some of St. Johns genuine homilies are
not much longer and that in many cases he feels free to diverge from his customary style in order to meet the needs of his audience.
Unlike the editors of the Patristic
Greek Lexicon, who wrongly ascribe this homily to Bishop Flavian, Montfaucon sees no reason
whatsoever to doubt that it was written by St. John Chrysostomos, as Orthodox Church tradition also avers. Protopresbyter Georges
Florovsky cites it in one of the volumes of his Patrology as "a typical
expression" of St. Johns aversion to "force and coercion in any form,
even in the fight against heresy," noting that he "was against the
use of civic measures and political pressure in matters of faith and morality"
(The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century [Vaduz:
Bchervertriebsanstalt, 1987], p. 247). Moreover, since the writings of Bishop Flavian survive only in the form of eleven fragments, we do not have
sufficient textual evidence to use as the basis for any comparison at all, rendering this attack against the authenticity of one of St. Johns
pivotal sermons absurd.
2. The word anathema has
two related, but distinct meanings: one positive and the other negative. In the positive sense, to which St. John
refers in this section of the homily, an anathema is "something dedicated or consecrated to the deity," while in the negative sense, it is
"something delivered up to divine wrath, dedicated to destruction and brought under a curse" (Johannes Behm, in
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed.
Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Vol. I [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981], p. 354). In
classical Greek, anathema is
almost always used in the positive sense, whereas in the Septuaginta and
the New Testament, with few exceptions, it connotes destruction or accursedness.
St. John cites a verse from Joshua to illustrate the positive sense
of this word, but, as often happens to those delivering extemporaneous speeches of
which this homily appears to be an example, he quotes the text from memory and somewhat imprecisely. In the Septuaginta
it reads as follows: "And the city shall be devoted, it and all things that are in it, to the Lord of Hosts." Only Rahab the harlot and
her house are to be spared. In the context of chapter 6, which recounts the destruction of Jericho by the Israelites, "devoted" (anathema)
seems to be a pejorative term. A better example of the
positive meaning that anathema sometimes
bears in the Septuaginta is
to be found near the very end of Leviticus: "And every dedicated thing [anathema]
which a man shall dedicate to the Lord..., he shall not sell it, nor redeem it; every devoted thing [anathema]
shall be most holy to the
In the New Testament, however, with the sole exception of St. Luke 21:5 ("And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned
with goodly stones and gifts [anathemasi]"),
anathema is used in a negative sense. St. Paul applies the term to himself in his sorrow over
the apostasy of his own people, the Israelites, from God: "For I could wish that myself were accursed [anathema]
from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans
9:3). In his commentary on this passage, St. John explains the two different
senses of anathema in
greater detail: "As in the case of a thing dedicated, which is set apart for God, no one would venture so much as to touch
it with his hand or even to come near it; so too with a man who is put apart from the
Church, in cutting him off from all, and removing him as far off as possible, he calls him by this name in a contrary sense,
thus with much fear denouncing to all men to keep apart from him, and to spring away from him" (Homilies
on Romans 16, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First
Series, Vol. XI [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 459). In another Epistle,
cited in the next section of the same homily, St. Paul pronounces a curse (anathema) on
anyone who dares to "preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received" (Galatians 1:9).
3. It is important to understand that in this homily, St. John is not
arguing against the legitimate use of anathema by Bishops and Synods, but rather attempting to dissuade the lower clergy and the
laypeople of Antioch from recklessly applying the charge to those with whom they disagree, and, indeed,
from pretending to a prerogative
that manifestly does not belong to them. In his commentary on the
Canons of the Synod of Gangra, St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite emphasizes that St. John did not forbid anathemas altogether, but insisted
that they could be issued solely by the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, who, when necessary, anathematized both heresies and
heretics (for the rather poor but understandable English text of this commentary, see
The Rudder, trans.
D. Cummings [Chicago: Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1957], p. 522, n. 2).
4. Writing to his friend, Bishop Bosporios of
Colonia, St. Basil the Great denies having anathematized
Bishop Dianios of Csarea; rather he points out that he only broke
communion with him in 361, and this "despite the fact that he deeply loved and revered Dianios and
despite the fact that Dianios had Baptized and Ordained him." He wholly charitably notes that he did so because "Dianios, out of
weakness of character, had signed the un-Orthodox confession of faith of the semi-Arian Council of Constantinople" (St. Basil and
Resistance,"Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVI, No. 1 , p. 9).
St. Basil, as a Hierarch, had the right to anathematize heretics; and yet, he was so reluctant to exercise this right that, as he puts it:
"For so long as I have been in my senses, I know that I never did anything of the kind [anathematizing someone], or had the least wish to
do so." The Saints unwillingness to condemn him undoubtedly contributed to Dianios repentance over his unwitting fall. When he
realized that his end was approaching, Dianios, according to St. Basil, confessed that "in the simplicity of his heart he had agreed to the
document sent from Constantinople, but had had no idea of rejecting the creed put forth by the holy Fathers at Nicaea, nor had had any other
disposition of heart than from the beginning he had always had. He prayed, moreover, that
he might not be cut off from the lot of those blessed three hundred and eighteen bishops who had announced the
pious decree to the world. In consequence of this satisfactory statement I dismissed all anxiety and doubt, and, as you are aware,
communicated [communed] with him, and gave over grieving" (Epistle
51, A Select Library of the
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second
Series, Vol. VIII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], pp. 154-155).
5. St. John is no doubt referring, here, to the Holy Hieromartyr
Ignatios the God-bearer. Although the exact words that he attributes to his eminent
predecessor are not to be found in the received writings of St. Ignatios, the same basic idea is expressed in Chapter Nine of the
Epistle to the Smyrnans (longer
version): "For if he that rises up against kings is justly held worthy of punishment, inasmuch as he
dissolves public order, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who presumes to do anything without the
bishop, thus both destroying the [Churchs] unity, and throwing its order into confusion?" (The
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I
[Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 90). Montfaucons suggestion that the Divine
Chrysostomos is quoting from memory serves to explain the disparity between St. Johns version and the original.
6. At the Seventh cumenical Synod, St. Tarasios of Constantinople made a very similar observation: "Anathema is a terrible thing;
it casts a man far away from God and banishes him from the Kingdom of Heaven, leading him away into the outer darkness" (Mansi, Vol.
XII, col. 987B; Proceedings
of the Holy cumenical Synods [in
Greek], ed. Spyridon Melias, Vol. I [Holy Mountain: Kalyve of the Venerable Forerunner Publications, 1981], p.
7. According to Montfaucon, the Paulianos mentioned here is
Paulinos, one of several claimants to the See of Antioch, while Apollinaris is none other than
the heretic Apollinaris of Laodica, the teacher of Paulinos.
8. Although the final sentence of this paragraph is somewhat
obscureMontfaucon judges the text to be corrupt at this point, the
overall sense of the passage is clear enough. At first sight, it seems
strange that St. John would characterize those who are too quick to anathematize others as "adept at evil."
Can we call them evil
because they condemn heretics for leading people astray? Is it not precisely the
hallmark of a heretic that he uses eloquence to deceive the unwary? Could we not say that the Devil inspires heretics to propagate their
false teachings, and that to this extent he resides in them?
However, if we look at other writings of his where he addresses
the issue of heresy, we can see that what St. Chrysostomos says here is perfectly
consistent with his general attitude towards heretics. For example, in his commentary on the following verse from the Second
Epistle to St. Timothy, "Be gentle unto all men" (2:24), he quotes
two verses from the Epistle to St. Titus, "Rebuke with all authority"
(2:15) and "Rebuke them sharply" (1:13), harmonizing these passages by
pointing out that "a strong rebuke, if it be given with gentleness, is most likely to wound deeply; for it is possible...to touch
more effectually by gentleness, than when one overawes by boldness" (Homilies
on the Second Epistle to St. Timothy 6,
A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First
Series, Vol. XIII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 496).
Immediately after the paragraph under consideration, St. John cites an instructive passage from the same Epistle to St. Timothy: "In
meekness instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that
they may recover themselves out of the snare of the Devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2:25-26). What he says in his
commentary on this Epistle is worth quoting in full: "For he that teaches must be especially careful to do it with meekness. For a soul that
wishes to learn cannot gain any useful instruction from harshness and contention.
For when it would apply, being thus thrown into perplexity, it will learn nothing. He who would gain any useful knowledge
ought above all things to be well disposed towards his teacher, and if this be not previously attained, nothing that is requisite or useful can
be accomplished. And no one can be well disposed towards him who is violent and overbearing"
Now, how is this meek attitude towards those in error to be reconciled with the following verse from the Epistle to St. Titus: "A man
that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject"?
According to St. John, the Apostle "speaks there of one incorrigible, of one whom he knows to be diseased
beyond the possibility of cure. What he says amounts to this. Perhaps there will be a reformation.
Perhaps! for it is uncertain. So that we ought to withdraw only from those, of whom we can show plainly, and concerning whom we are
fully persuaded, that whatever be done, they will not be reformed"
(ibid.). St. John presents a
very similar exposition of the aforementioned verse in his commentary on the Epistle to St. Titus (see Homilies
on the Epistle to St. Titus 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First
Series, Vol. XIII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], pp. 540-541).
As we can see from the many occurrences of the phrase "stop the mouths of the heretics" in his writings, St. John showed not the
slightest indulgence towards false teachings; indeed, much of his life as a preacher was devoted to combatting such heretics as the
Eunomians, the Judaizers, and the Manichans. However, he was resolutely
opposed to the use of violence by the authorities to subdue heretics. And it is this reservation of his that must be carefully understood, if one is
to grasp what may seem to be a contradictory view of heretics. He knew from pastoral experience that heretics were far
more likely to be turned aside from their errors by prayer: "And if you pray for the
Heathens, you ought of course to pray for Heretics also, for we are to pray for all men, and not to persecute. And this is good also for another
reason, as we are partakers of the same nature, and God commands and accepts benevolence and affection towards one another" (Homilies
on the First Epistle to St. Timothy 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene
Series, Vol. XIII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 430). Near the end of this homily on the dangers of
anathematizing others, he says that "we must anathematize heretical doctrines and refute impious teachings, from whomsoever we have
received them, but show mercy to the men who advocate them and pray for their salvation." In other words, we must love the heretic, but hate
9. In line with his earlier remarks about fanatics who accuse heretics of having the Devil living inside them, St. John might well
have observed that the Apostle to the Nations also did not lambaste the Athenians as demon-worshippers.
10. Since St. John refers to St. Pauls sermon on the Areopagos, it is not immediately clear why he suddenly discusses Gods
providence. His point seems to be that St. Paul was acting towards the Athenians in precisely the way that God acts towards His creatures:
"He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food
and gladness" (Acts 14:17). This apparent anacolouthon is another
indication that the homily under consideration was not subsequently revised by Chrysostomos himself, since he was a careful redactor of his
11. In one of his homilies on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Divine Chrysostomos explains that "virginity, though it should
have everything else, if destitute of the good things arising out of almsgiving, is cast out with the harlots, and [Christ] sets the inhuman
and merciless with them. Therefore also He calls them foolish, for that having undergone the greater labor, they have betrayed all for want of
the less. But by lamps here, He meaneth the gift itself of virginity, the purity of holiness; and by oil, humanity, almsgiving, succor to them
that are in need.... For nothing is more sullied than virginity not having mercy; so that even the multitude are wont to call the unmerciful
dark. Where then was the profit of virginity, when they saw not the bridegroom?"
on the Gospel according to St. Matthew 78, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First
Series, Vol. X [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], pp. 470-471).
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVII, No. 1 (2000), pp. 12-23.