Chrysostom: Homilies on Acts and Romans

I think I read this sometime in 2010-2011.

This review will differ from a normal review because it is reviewing, not a tightly argued treatise, but a collection of sermons preached on the books of Acts and Romans. One will briefly note Chrysostom’s style, address a series of themes and interesting insights from the ancient world and conclude with final observations on the book.

Chrysostom’s style in the book of Acts is more marked than in Romans. Of course, one should keep in mind that these sermons (in print) are probably a collection of the best that an ancient stenographer could do. Chrysostom briefly introduces the text as a whole, explicates a few verses, and then concludes in a fashion where he recapitulates the whole text and focuses it on a moral application in conclusion. This is the case in his sermons on Acts; it is not so much the case in Romans.

Observations from Chrysostom

(The references will be in the page numbers in the Schaff volume, and not the Homily number itself.)

Tradition: “In fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition” (2).  Comment:  That’s fine, but proving any of these traditions in a non-question begging way is impossible.

Ascetism: (I remember in some groups ascetism was evil medieval monkery and that in our “dominon mindset” we should engage in “biblical feasting” (e.g., drunkeness and gluttony).

Economcis: “This was an angelic commonwealth, not to call anything of theirs their own…No talk of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ then” (47).

Justification and baptism: “Now he justified them by the regeneration of the laver” (453). On this note one should mention, as Thomas Torrance argues, that nowhere in Scripture is “regeneration” (palingenesis) ever referred to as an “inward” conversion process. It is always referred to as the final product of creation or something baptism does. Back to Chrysostom: in case I have misinterpreted Chrysostom’s argument here, the editor notes on the same point in another passage that “Chrysostom cannot mean the gift of faith in regard to baptism” (45).

Ancient Practices of the Church: “Then let us rid ourselves of this demon (passion), at its first beginning let us quell it, let us put the sign of the Cross on our breast” (111). Praying for the recently departed: “This is the greatest memorial…bid them all make for him their prayers” (140).
Communing with the saints: “Let us keep the saints near us” (319).

Angels: There is actually too much on angels. I will simply cite the page numbers: 171, 198, 366, 450,510. In short, each man has his own angel (171).

Sin and Nature: Chrysostom famously rejects original sin in his homily on Romans 5:12. Elsewhere he notes that sin does not have a substance (423). Therefore, it cannot be equated with “nature.” Sin, like everyone in the ancient church taught, is an evil operation of the will. Natures, by contrast, do not change. That is the very definition of nature. Therefore, a nature cannot change from “good” in the garden to “evil” later in life, otherwise it wouldn’t be a nature.

A Reformed Protestant’s best counter to this is to say that sin is a “macula,” or a stain on the nature.


Reading this volume is certainly a healthy exercise in the Fathers. The sermons on Acts are particularly good because they give us a snapshot of what church life was like in the early church (and by contrast what it is not like today. People who prat about wanting to go “early church” never consult the writings of the guys on this topic who, like Chrysostom, were much closer to this reality than we are today). Still, there are a number of flaws in this volume that will keep it from being “re-read.” Like any volume of sermons, it cannot be structured around a theme and thus makes for hard reading. Secondly, the editor feels the need to add his own opinions and latest thoughts to the text when they are almost never needed.


2 thoughts on “Chrysostom: Homilies on Acts and Romans

  1. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on Chrysostom, but every time I come back, I love him more and more. He’s an absolute boss in his ethics, the power of his preaching (with the juevos to call the empress a jezebel), and his attention to the text.

    He gets a bad rap for his emphasis on the freewill, but he’s not talking about metaphysical absolutes or speculative God-man relations, but about the nuts and bolts of day to day moral psychology. I see quasi-Lutheran Calvinists and Forde-Lutherans like to exalt grace, grace, grace and to engage in a cynical firestorm against anything beyond their rock-bottom “low anthropology”. But then you get out of the bubble of pulpit or the one-off experience with a stranger, and these people are dumb as rocks. This theology only makes sense if you live in suburbicon, your neighbors’ sins amount to being jealous about your lawn or your kids’ outfit, and the homeless are seen as frequently as big foot (usually on History channel specials).

    Chrysostom can sound like a moralist, but that’s if you cut-and-paste things from his sermons and don’t take his work as a whole. Instead, you get someone who quite clearly grasps the strenuous need for grace to transform all elements of the Human person, including that person’s use of his will. That we live in a cosmic conflict that knows no boundaries.

    He truly deserves the epithet golden-mouthed; the guy was rock solid.

    Liked by 2 people

    • HIs free will comments don’t bother me. That was standard Greek theology. They were fighting determinism and astrology.

      I don’t think he is as deep as Maximus, but he is a much better exegete. His sermons are fascinating because they give you a window to what church life was like back then.


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