John Chrysostom vs. Ephrem of Nisibis

In yesterday's saintly action, Ignatius of Loyola closed the door on Marina the Monk 60% to 40%, paving the way to the Elate Eight. He'll face the winner of Gobnait vs. Paula of Rome in the next round.

Today John Chrysostom squares off against Ephrem of Nisibis, as bishop meets deacon for a shot at the Elate Eight. Will the Golden Mouthed prevail over the Harp of the Holy Spirit? Well, that's up to you.

In case you missed yesterday's exciting episode of Monday Madness, you can watch it here. Tim and Scott dove headlong into the giant sack of viewer mail, plugged books, and reminded everyone on April Fools' Day, what it means to live as a Fool for Christ -- not by anything they actually said, mind you. Oh, and if you actually did neglect to watch Monday Madness, you should head on over to the virtual purple confessional.

John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom, the “golden mouthed,” is remembered for his stirring oratory.

His sermons in many ways speak to a context similar to where we find ourselves today. Antioch was a prosperous city with a fantastic agora that gave people access to just about anything that one could desire. Those who were wealthy made ostentatious displays of their largesse. Philanthropy was a means to improve their social standing. John spoke boldly into that context encouraging his congregants to give particular attention to those who were poor and vulnerable.

He encouraged his listeners to be generous, often extolling the virtues of giving alms. At one point he was so bold as to say, “Almsgiving is an art and better than all arts.” Moreover, he would assert that our giving should have no boundaries: “When it comes to doing good, let every human be your neighbor.” Giving was not to be occasional but a habit, akin to the washing of one’s hands. He so frequently returned to the topic that at one point he pleaded with his audience, “Don’t consider my continual mention of this topic a cause for censure!”

In his sermons there is also a real sense of the gritty realities of economics. In one sermon he notes how “Countless poor people have to go hungry so that you can wear a single ruby.” In another sermon Chrysostom allows for the fact that sometimes wealth is ill-achieved. Such should not, he argues, preclude generosity: “Have you gained ill? Spend well. Have you gathered riches by unrighteousness? Scatter them abroad in righteousness.”

His sermons stress mutuality. In one sermon he boldly asserts, “The poor are the doctors of our soul, our benefactors and patrons.” In another he makes clear that those who are poor are not to be looked down upon but seen as Christ: “Let this then be your thought with regard to Christ also, when he is going about a wanderer, and a stranger, needing a roof to cover him; and you, neglecting to receive him, decorate a pavement, and walls and capitals of columns, and hang up lamps by means of silver chains, but himself bound in prison you will not even look upon?”

His concern for those who were poor and vulnerable was not limited to his sermonizing. When he was elevated to the Patriarch of Constantinople he cut the Bishop’s household budget and used the funds to support one of the hospitals. He also commissioned a leper colony to be constructed just outside the city. Nearly immediately after his exile, construction on the colony ceased.

-David Creech

Ephrem of Nisibis

Ephrem of Nisibis was known as “the Harp of the Spirit,” likely referring to the way he wrote religious poetry that conveyed the power and truth of the Christian message. This knack for writing and poetry can be seen in his Hymns against Heresies. In a time when the early Church was wrestling with what were the fundamentals of Christian truth (amid a swirling context of competing, often contradictory claims), the early councils of the Church were instrumental in discerning the foundational claims of the nascent Christian faith.

When Ephrem of Nisibis wrote Hymns against Heresies, he was kicking butt and taking names - quite literally. In the opening verses to hymn 22, Ephrem names Marcion, Valentinus, The Quqite, Bardaisan, and Mani among those who had erred from the path, describing them as “a bundle of thorns and thistles.” Lest we think that Ephrem’s tell-all hymn was about petty personal rivalry or the early 4th century version of our modern day “call out culture,” the following verses go into detail about the ways that the teachings of these heretics harm the faithful who comprise the church. His basic complaint that he repeats in verse after verse is the way the aforementioned heretics stole people away from the flock of Jesus Christ (and one another) in order to create their own communities. In one particularly stunning verse, Ephrem writes:

See, my brothers, how [with] the image of the king
Every coin is struck,
But a great general is unable
To stamp a penny with his image.
When [someone] stamps the image of the king,
One who stamps it in secret,
He is either burned or cut off.
How indeed he has dared, the one who
Stamped the image of himself instead of [that of] our Lord!
Response: Blessed is the one who stamps us with his name!

For Ephrem, the Church and its members were stamped with the image of Christ and any competing claim was an attempt to decenter the divine in order to center the human. It was nothing less than idolatry. He goes further in the next verse to suggest,

Our savior stamps his beauty.
Who[ever] has believed in the name of God
Receives the stamp of God,
But if he has called himself by the name of a human being,
Then he receives a human stamp,
Because he despises the living name.

For Ephrem, to be stamped with the image of Christ was a “beautiful” thing. He might have a lot to say about a complicated denominational structure that prompts us to refer to ourselves as Episcopalians, or Lutherans, or Baptists before we refer to ourselves as Christians.

-Marcus Halley

John Chrysostom vs. Ephrem of Nisibis

  • John Chrysostom (74%, 5,309 Votes)
  • Ephrem of Nisibis (26%, 1,843 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,152

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John Chrysostom: Wikimedia Commons
Ephrem of Nisibis: 16th-century Russian illustration, unknown. Public domain.


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101 comments on “John Chrysostom vs. Ephrem of Nisibis”

  1. This bracket’s a pitiless system:
    When I filed it, I chose to enlist him;
    But due to my qualms
    At his bigoted psalms
    I say of Chrysostom: rysostom.

    1. Rysostom! Love it! I voted for Efrem, how could I resist the the "Harp of the Spirit", but it's not looking good for him.

  2. Today's musical tribute can be sung to the tune of "Schadenfreude" from "Avenue Q":

    Mellitis was voted out.
    The people wanted Ephrem.

    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    I’ll say.

    And Marge Cortana lost as well
    To Bishop John Chrysostom.
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Sorry, I know it’s confusing.
    Saints compete to win
    Golden Halo!
    In brackets which were made by Scott and Tim.
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    That doesn’t seem very penitent, guys!

    I didn’t say it was penitent! But all the cool kids do it!
    Did ya know Chrysostom means “Golden Tongued”?
    John wrote a killer sermon.

    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    He spoke out bluntly to those in power.
    How he left them squirmin’!
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    And don’t cha know that they deposed him –
    A ruling that John later ignored!
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Who knew?
    BOTH: (sung)
    Golden Halo
    Represents a saint’s added reward.
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Golden Halo as an added reward? What’s that, some kind of Episcopal concept?
    Yup! Two Episcopal priests define it as “the culminating prize of Lent Madness toward which every saint in the bracket strives.”
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    A golden prize that saints strive for. That IS Episcopalian.
    Ephrem was born in Nisibis:
    A diverse Roman city.
    When Persia invades, he has to leave
    ‘Cause things would not get pretty.
    OBSERVER: (sung)
    Writing hymns for female choirs
    Giving them a role in the church!
    BOTH: (sung)
    The Golden Halo
    Seems a lock when you do the research.
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Oooh, how about…
    Eph dies helping famished eat?
    John croaks in the desert heat!
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Dogma’s orthodox Nicene.
    Aid the poor’s his fav’rite scene!
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Intense proto-monk-like movement!
    Sermons offer self-improvement!
    OBSERVER: (spoken)
    Hoping it will be their fate…
    BOTH: (spoken)
    …to make it to the Elate Eight!
    Golden Halo!
    Golden Halo!
    Golden Halo!
    Golden Halo!
    The Church needs people like John and Eph
    Who inspire with their lives,
    ‘Cause when we all see ‘em
    We all want to be ‘em.
    Through them, our faith survives.
    OBSERVER: (sung)
    Who will win today’s election by majority?
    BOTH: (sung)
    Eph? John C.?
    Golden Halo!
    Who will advance to Elate Eight?
    Who will advance to Elate Eight?
    Who will advance to Elate Eight?
    We’ll see!
    Cap-G – O – L – D – E – N – space – Cap-H – A – L – O!

    1. I didn't know "Avenue Q" it all, so it was fun to play it on YouTube and sing your words. Hilarious. I cannot imagine how you do this day after day, but I'm so glad you do, Michael!

      1. I did that, too, I wasn't familiar with it at all. Michael, I am so impressed by your encyclopedic knowledge of show tunes!

  3. I don't feel like today's blog did Ephrem any favors. I had to go back to the original one to remember why I voted for him the first time.

    1. This round is about Quirks & Quotes, so in regards to the Saints one knows less, it is not uncommon to have to re-read the first round posts to assist in recalling the biographical details of those Saints.

  4. Ephrem for me! Ilike Ephrem and voted for him in the last round. None-the-less it would have been Anybdy But Chrysostom, the Jew hater and woman hater. "Women have no souls" indeed!

    1. Where does this idea come from, that Chrysostom said women have no souls? You put it in quotes but I don't think it's actually something the "golden-mouthed" ever said.

  5. As I read the blogs, I found myself leaning toward Ephrem the poet, in honor of the outstanding poetry, prose, and parody in this year's blogs and comments. Any Lenten discipline that replaces Schadenfreude with a Golden Halo makes everybody a winner.

  6. “Countless poor people have to go hungry so that you can wear a single ruby.” How relevant that statement is today.

  7. I voted for Ephrem. He instituted choirs of women to sing his hymns. Without choir, church would be a so much less rich experience for me.

  8. The greatest teachers of public discourse have always argued that eloquence was not enough. What matters was that the eloquent person use that gift for the highest possible purposes. These teachings were well known long before Jesus was born. There are times when the one called Golden Mouth met those standards. However he betrayed the trust given to him with his oratorical gifts when he misused them to brutally attack Jesus' own people, the Jews. I do not accept arguments that this was simply the attitude of the day. He did not open his heart. He did not seek the Spirit's Wisdom with openness and vulnerability. Had he done so, he could not have produced a series of "sermons" which, even today, are unsurpassed for their attack on our Jewish kindred.
    The deacon, Ephrem, by contrast, in his use of his talents, dealt with specific, clear points of disagreement, and did not taint an entire people with his arguments against individuals. He honored his called as a deacon in service to the poor, as a poet and hymnodist and, above all, as a Christian with a deep passion that the Word of Christ be sung out with joy, wonder and thanksgiving. On top of all that, it's about time that a deacon won the Golden Halo.
    For Ephrem the Deacon, give thanks!
    In service to Christ he was frank.
    For love ever seeking,
    For truth always speaking,
    For grace, hope and love highly ranked.

    1. I agree that it would be nice to see a Deacon win the Golden Halo and Ephrem has my vote, but I strongly suspect a certain very well known December-fêted Bishop will probably end up obtaining the Golden Halo.

    2. Thank you, Diana, for sharing this additional information and opinion. Based on the writings offered for this bracket, the decision was difficult. Chystostom's urgeings centered around one of the more important aspects of Jesus' teachings - that of justice, in the form of caring for others. Ephrem brought attention to the error (sin?) of evangelizing to improve one's own standing, rather than for the work of the Lord. Such seeking of power in Jesus' name has injured His body and the world at large. As our society still holds power/wealth, in higher esteem than righteousness and Love, Ephrem's message is more needed in our time and space. Thus, he has already recieved my vote.

  9. Thanks to comments by LM community and a review of the original posts, the choice for Ephrem is clear, despite John's present lead.

  10. "The beauty of woman is the greatest snare. Or rather, not the beauty of woman, but unchastened gazing! For we should not accuse the objects, but ourselves, and our own carelessness. Nor should we say, Let there be no women, but Let there be no adulteries. We should not say, Let there be no beauty, but Let there be no fornication. We should not say, Let there be no belly, but let there be no gluttony; for the belly makes not the gluttony, but our negligence. We should not say, that it is because of eating and drinking that all these evils exist; for it is not because of this, but because of our carelessness and insatiableness." -- John Chrysostom, Homily 15 on the Priesthood

    Well said, Golden Mouth!

    1. A good quotation! I will note that I believe it is Homilies to the Antiochians (or on Statues), number 15. (I tried finding the Greek under the former title and came up short.)

  11. I love poets and what they bring to the imagination; but I voted for Chrysostom because of his emphasis of aiding the poor. Hard choice to make today.

  12. While I love the title, "Hymns Against Heresies," Chrysostom speaks to our day as well as to his own, and his concern for the poor and for wealth inequality is much needed in our world today.

    1. Elaine, apropos of nothing, I just realized in your photo you're holding a coffee cup. All these years, I thought it was a camera with a big lens! Time to go back to the opthamologist!

        1. Like hapax, I loved (and laughed aloud) at:
          “A golden prize that saints strive for. That IS Episcopalian.”


          1. For you and hapax:

            “A golden prize that saints strive for. That IS Episcopalian.”
            This is where this song began. I have been waiting for the right saints to attach it to.

    2. John's anti-semitism and homophobia is enough to overshadow his concern for the poor.

      He may have had a golden tongue but I guess it never occurred to him consider the ethnic & religious background of Jesus, not to mention His mother, the 12, Saint Paul, Saint Stephen, et cetera . . . .


  13. I am going with the saint less heralded in Western Christendom, who wrote in the Syriac/Aramean, close to Jesus' own Aramaic. He lived in brutal and chaotic times and responded with poetry and verse to all the competing claims of other religions and the many Christian sects. His writing is evidence of the great diversity among the followers of Jesus.

  14. Chrysostom’s oratory was “stirring,” all right. After New Zealand, do we need any *more* proof of the power of speech cankered with hatred? Chrysostom preached that Jews were “fit for slaughter.” He preached that homosexual men should be stoned to death. He also wrote a beautiful sermon and inspiring prayer—so what? Richard Wagner created the most inspiring and profound music-dramas imaginable, and no one’s ever claimed *he* was a saint. Add in Chrysostom’s scorn for women, and I wonder why this man is even in the bracket. He is no saint for our times. I fervently hope that multi-cultural, women-respecting Ephrem will take John False-Gold down.

  15. I'm handling today's match-up like the they judge the knock-out rounds on the Voice: based on today's performance (the write-ups)..... the winner is Ephrem. His blogger shined a light on his value during the formative stages of Christiandom. That meant a lot to me.

  16. Hard choice today. John's emphasis on the poor spoke to me. But Ephrem's poetry wins the day. I vote for the poet. I am especially interested in the idea of Christ's image stamped in the people. People are the wealth. I read Nadia Bolz-Weber's Shameless recently; in it she rebukes Tertullian for saying that women rubbed out the image of God in men. She says the imago dei cannot be rubbed away as the image of Caesar can from actual coins. The image of Christ stamped in each human is imperishable. She too speaks of heresy and cites Friedrich Schleiermacher, the 19th-century theologian, as saying that preserving the appearance of Christianity over its essence, of loving one's neighbor, is heresy. Let women sing in choirs. Feed the poor. Welcome immigrants. Protect the earth. Establish a non-fetishistic court system that interprets the constitution according to living concepts of freedom and not according to the dry-as-dung notions of wannabe contemporary slaveholders and rentiers for whom "freedom" means orgiastic profit. Sorry, it's the deacons' job to point out heresy. It sounds better in verse.

  17. For me, not the most inspiring matchup although, as always, my first and best morning read. I voted for John as my historical intuition tells me Ephrem's preoccupation with heretics probably was a little less Christ-like considering the social norms of the era.

    Quite accidentally, I stumbled across a potential nominee for next year, Giovanni Borromeo, an Italian physician in Rome during the Second World War. Wikipedia K Syndrome or the short article in the British publication History Today, March 2019 if you please. Oh, and good morning to all.

    1. There is also a Wikipedia article under Dr. Borromeo's name.

      I see Giovanni Borromeo is recognized as "righteous among the nations," unlike those of his times who would have agreed with John C.'s sermons against the Jews.

    2. You bring up an interesting question: how to assess individual thinkers' motivations from a historical perspective? I don't actually know how to judge either of these men. To what extent were they motivated by piety and Christ-like fervor and to what extent by hate or bigotry? I don't know. I think we are still in the process of trying to figure out what "Christ-like" means and applying it backward. I know from having read so many discussions on LM that the marginalized figures are worth reconsideration. I am trying to expand my notion of what a "saint" means and how that might be a viable category for a faithful life today. It's a struggle, one best done in a supportive community. This small virtual community provides just such a supportive environment. I do think the category of "heresy" might be a fruitful tool with which to face our unjust society today.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Historical perspective and behaviour relative to the period is a perpetual dilemma.

  18. John Chrysostom loved the poor, encouraging us to see Christ in everyone we met, but most of all in the poor, the vulnerable, the foreign er. Ephrem’s hymns defended truths by bashing opponents of the orthodox faith; for me, they condemn without captivating (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson).

  19. John Chrysostom, hands down this time, for his wise advice about giving. I especially like his statement that giving should be an everyday thing, like washing our hands. With God's help (and I'll need it!) I'll try to keep this in mind from now on.

  20. It's interesting to me that, so often, reading the comments would lead one to predict a very different outcome of voting than is actually the case. Do the people in favor of the one who soars ahead not feel a need to talk about their choice, while the ones favoring the one behind want to share the reasons for their vote and encourage others to join them? 64% of the comments as I write this one are in favor of Ephrem, and John Chrysostom is ahead 76% to 24%. I've never known a lead that wide to be overturned in Lent Madness, but I would be glad to see it happen today. Both men were concerned about the poor and right doctrine. Ephrem organized choirs of women and John Chrysostom used his eloquence, among other things, to promulgate hatred for women and Jews. How can there be a choice other than Ephrem?

    1. I have noticed that as well. There seems to be a larger "voting public" that never engages with the discussion thread, and that public sets the margin. There is a small, faithful core that discusses the issues and the saints' relative merits, and that small band (the disciples, let us say) often assesses and chooses differently. (Not saying the crowd isn't faithful, just that it doesn't engage at this level, and that seems to make a difference in the quality of discernment.)

      1. "Quality of discernment"? Really? Sorry, avid participant [I have three churches playing now] but until this, I've never commented. I'm trying really hard to not be offended. Grace to all.

        1. Is this to me? I should clarify that I'm not disparaging other people's votes. Nor am I saying that people aren't thoughtful. I am commenting on Kathy's observation that there seems often to be a wide gap between the actual vote counts and the commentary, which veers in a different direction. The image I had in mind was the crowds around Jesus and the disciples, who quarreled among themselves (and were often wrong). All were seeking enlightenment. By "quality," I was referring to the nature of the discernment, not its value. Some of us sift through the commentaries and filter our thinking through them; others don't. I'm not judging, merely analyzing. Also, just FYI, if your moniker is "Great Unwashed," are you being ironic? Because such a moniker seems to undercut your claim to being offended, if you see what I'm saying. I'm genuinely inquiring. Grace back at you.

      2. Oh, dear, I’m afraid I’m guilty of nonengagement today, and yesterday as well. I’ll try to bear down on the thread tomorrow. Being six hours ahead the US is affecting my already fragile concentration, and tomorrow at 8 am EDT I’ll be in the middle of a six-hour drive from Eisenach south to the shores of Lake Constance.

        But Eisenach! City of Bach, Luther, and Elizabeth of Hungary! Who knew? (Don’t all shout at once — anyway, I didn’t.)

    2. I've noticed that too. I wonder also that if a candidate has some deeply disturbing flaws, those who vote for them are reluctant to defend their choice. "Sure, John was a raging anti-Semite, homophobe, and misogynist, but I'm voting for him anyway."

    3. I think people who don't read the comments or just read a few wouldn't be aware of John's antisemitism and misogyny. They're voting for his generosity and concern for the poor. But to me the comments are the best part of Lent Madness, especially this year with our awesome poets!

      1. I'm one of those people who would have been unaware of John's antisemitism and misogyny if I hadn't read the comments. I was all set to vote for John because I was more impressed with his concern for the poor than with Ephrem's concern with calling out heretics.

  21. I was hoping the comments would sway me - and I've swayed back and forth like I'm dancing. I guess I'll have to make a decision...

  22. "For Ephrem, the Church and its members were stamped with the image of Christ "
    This is akin to one of my favorite parts of Holy Baptism. "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever. Amen."
    Thanks, Ephrem, for this lovely image of being stamped with the image of Christ!

  23. Deacon Ephrem gets my vote!
    Ephrem participated in translating the Hebrew scriptures into Syriac Aramaic, and interpreted these in a manner similar to the Jewish Midrashic approach. It was a a result of his writings that a good number of 4c Jews residing within the region of Syria and Persia were attracted to embrace Christianity. This is in stark contrast to the writings and preaching of bishop Chrysostom who spewed vile anti-semitism from his so called "golden mouth", encouraging the burning of synagogues and violence toward Jews.

  24. What greater heresy is there than the belief that any subset of God's children are somehow less human or less worthy than others? My vote is against heresy and against bigotry. Adding my voice to the chorus of support for Ephrem.