St. John Chrysostom on Speaking in Anger

stchrysostomeudoxia

“St. John Chrysostom preaching before the Empress Eudoxia,” Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)

Considering the state the world is in today (if it’s ever not in this state), I was lead recently back to this selection from Chrysostom’s seventeenth homily on Acts 7:35, where he discusses Stephen’s manner of delivery during his speech before the Pharisees and religious authorities (prior to being stoned).  Chrysostom’s words are a good reminder for us all about how we ought to act when speaking hard truths or speaking publicly.

Such is the boldness of speech of a man bearing the Cross. Let us then also imitate this: though it be not a time of war, yet it is always the time for boldness of speech. For, “I spake,” says one, “in Thy testimonies before kings, and was not ashamed.” (Ps. cxix. 46.) If we chance to be among heathens, let us thus stop their mouths. without wrath, without harshness. (Comp. Hom. in 1 Cor. iv. §6; xxxiii. §4, 5; Col. xi. §2.) For if we do it with wrath, it no longer seems to be the boldness (of one who is confident of his cause,) but passion: but if with gentleness, this is boldness indeed. For in one and the same thing success and failure cannot possibly go together. The boldness is a success: the anger is a failure. Therefore, if we are to have boldness, we must be clean from wrath that none may impute our words to that. No matter how just your words may be, when you speak with anger, you ruin all: no matter how boldly you speak, how fairly reprove, or what not. See this man, how free from passion as he discourses to them! For he did not abuse them: he did but remind them of the words of the Prophets. For, to show you that it was not anger, at the very moment he was suffering evil at their hands, he prayed, saying, “Lay not to their charge this sin.” So far was he from speaking these words in anger; no, he spake in grief and sorrow for their sakes. As indeed this is why it speaks of his appearance, that “they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel,” on purpose that they might believe. Let us then be clean from wrath. The Holy Spirit dwelleth not where wrath is: cursed is the wrathful. It cannot be that aught wholesome should approach, where wrath goes forth. For as in a storm at sea, great is the tumult, loud the clamor, and then would be no time for lessons of wisdom (φιλοσοφεἵν): so neither in wrath. If the soul is to be in a condition either to say, or to be disciplined to, aught of philosophy, it must first be in the haven. Seest thou not how, when we wish to converse on matters of serious import, we look out for places free from noise, where all is stillness, all calm, that we may not be put out and discomposed? But if noise from without discomposes, much more disturbance from within. Whether one pray, to no purpose does he pray “with wrath and disputings:” (1 Tim. ii. 8) whether he speak, he will only make himself ridiculous: whether he hold his peace, so again it will be even then: whether he eat, he is hurt even then: whether he drink, or whether he drink not; whether he sit, or stand, or walk; whether he sleep: for even in their dreams such fancies haunt them. For what is there in such men that is not disagreeable? Eyes unsightly, mouth distorted, limbs agitated and swollen, tongue foul and sparing no man, mind distraught, gestures uncomely: much to disgust. Mark the eyes of demoniacs, and those of drunkards and madmen; in what do they differ from each other? Is not the whole madness? For what though it be but for the moment? The madman too is possessed for the moment: but what is worse than this? And they are not ashamed at that excuse; “I knew not (saith one) what I said.” And how came it that thou didst not know this, thou the rational man, thou that hast the gift of reason, on purpose that thou mayest not act the part of the creatures without reason, just like a wild horse, hurried away by rage and passion? In truth, the very excuse is criminal. For thou oughtest to have known what thou saidst. “It was the passion,” say you, “that spoke the words, not I.” How should it be that? For passion has no power, except it get it from you. You might as well say, “It was my hand that inflicted the wounds, not I.” What occasion, think you, most needs wrath? would you not say, war and battle? But even then, if anything is done with wrath, the whole is spoiled and undone.

Reproduced from St. John Chrysostom 1889. “Homily XVII on Acts VII.35,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Series 1, Vol. 11.  Edited by Philip Schaff.  Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library: 207-208.