[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
May 18th, 1853
I was not able to make the search which you requested till last night. The copy of Chrysostom which our Library possesses is that of his collected works in 8 vols. folio, edited by Sir Henry Savile, Eton, 1612. The treatise περι 'Ιερωσυνης occurs in the 6th volume. I have looked with some care through the entire treatise, but cannot find the exact words which you quote; although in the first book and at the opening of the second, an equivalent sense occurs repeatedly. Perhaps I cannot do better than transcribe a few passages which I have marked.—Justifying the deception which he had practised on his friend Basilius, from its being designed to render him a service, Chrysostom goes on to say—
ει δε oυκ αυι τo πραγμα (σχιλ. η κλoπη) επιβλαβες, αλλα παρα την των χρωμενων πρoαιρεσιν, γινεται φαυλoν η καλoν, αφεις εγκαλειν τo ηπατησθαι, δειξoν επι κακω τoυτo τεχνησαμενoυς. ως εως αν τoυτo απη, μη oτι μημψηις και αιτιας επαγηιν, αλλα και απoδεχεσθαι τoν απατωντα δικαιoν αν ειη τoυς γε ευγνωμoνως διακεισθαι βoυλoμενoυς. τoσoυτoν γαρ εαρ εχει κερδoς ευκαιρoς απατη και μετα της oρθης γινoμενη διανoιας, ως πoλλoυς, oτι μη παρεκρoυσαντo, και δικην δoυναι πoλλακις.—Lib. I. p. 6.
In the ensuing paragraph he asserts that a victory gained by deceit, as involving less loss of blood and treasure, is more to be esteemed than one obtained by force of arms; and quotes the instances of Michal and Jonathan employing deceit for the purpose of saving David's life, as a further confirmation of his own view. I observe that he constantly appeals to the Scriptures for proofs and arguments furnished by the characters there introduced. I was hardly aware how early this perverse and mischievous use of the Scripture had struck root in the Christian Church. In reference to Paul's temporising about the circumcision of Timothy, he adds—
πoλλη γαρ η της απατης ισχυς. μoνoν μη μετα δoλερας πρoσαγεσθω της πρoαιρεσεως. μαλλoν δι oυδε απατην τo τoιoυτo δει καλειν, αλλα oικoνoμιαν τινα και σoφιαν και τεχνην ικανην πoλλoυς πoρoυς εν τoις απoρoις ευπειν και πλημμελειας επανoρθωσαι ψυχης.—Ibid. p. 7.
He refers to the deceptions employed by physicians for the benefit of their patients; and argues that the purpose changes the character of the act; and that neither Phinehas nor Elijah were guilty of murder: for if we admit that they were, and exclude all consideration of their motives, then must we charge Abraham with intending the murder of his only son, and the other patriarchs with fraud and deceit.—You are perhaps acquainted with the work of Barbeyrac, "Sur la Morale des Peres." In the 14th chapter he cites more striking instances of the strange perversion of Chrysostom's moral sentiment than any which I have met with in the treatise "De Sacerdotio"—one especially from his 45th Homily on Genesis, where the holy Father in his zeal to vindicate Scripture characters at any cost, not only justifies Abraham's deceit in denying Sarah to be his wife, but even Sarah's adultery with Pharaoh. Bayle (who is referred to by Barbeyrac) has touched on these extraordinary concessions of Chrysostom and other Fathers in his Dict. Hist. et Crit. article Sara.—It is really frightful to reflect, to what guidance the moral sentiment of mankind was committed for many ages; and Chrysostom is usually considered one of the best of the Fathers. How remarkable it is, that the very writers who are looked up to as authorities by the extreme mystics and spiritualists, should approximate in their moral theory to the extreme Benthamite school, and justify actions as right, from their immediate utility to the parties concerned! Judging from the slight inspection I have now made of this treatise of Chrysostom, I should say he had no perception of the true nature of moral distinctions. Qu. May not the perverseness of patristical morality arise from two causes: 1st, from the assumption (dictated by the legal tendencies of the age) that the Scriptures contain a literal code of precept and example for the regulation of the entire life of man; and 2ndly, from the application to Scripture so understood, of the morbid dialectic subtlety which subsisted in the Greek intellect, when its higher and nobler action had become impossible with the disappearance of ancient freedom? . . .