John Chrysostom on Sexual Immorality

Pleasure is the god of the lost.  Whatever form it takes, sex, drugs, leisure, finance, childolatry, or controlling salvation through works, pleasure remains the goal.  It’s easy to forget that the issues we deal with today are the same issues the early church waded through.  Sexual immorality isn’t an invention of modernism, it’s been an issue since the Fall. Today, we may not have temple prostitutes but the 21st century has porn which is far more accessible and has zero rules of engagement.

John Chrysostom (349 – 407ad) was the Bishop of Constantinople and was such a gifted speaker that he was given the moniker “Golden-Mouth.”  Being the bishop of Constantinople meant that Chrysostom held an important and difficult position. The city was the political center of the Eastern Empire and a vital port making the city both wealthy and influential.  Because of the prestige of the city, there was a variety of opportunities for distractions and indulging in lustful behavior. In the following excerpt from his oration Against the Circuses and the Theatre, Chrysostom drives the point home regarding the nature of lust and the lasting effects of our eyes watching immoral and destructive sexual images. Even though it’s 1600-years old, it’s timely. 

John Chrysostom: Contra Ludos et Theatra 

“Why do I talk about the theatre? Often if we meet a woman in the marketplace, we are alarmed. But you sit in your upper seat, where there is such an invitation to outrageous behavior, and see a woman, a prostitute, entering bareheaded and with a complete lack of shame, dressed in golden garments, flirting coquettishly and singing harlots’ songs with seductive tunes, and uttering disgraceful words. She behaves so shamelessly that if you watch her and give consideration, you will bow your head in shame. Do you dare to say you suffer no human reaction? Is your body made of stone? Or iron? I shall not refrain from saying the same things again. Surely you are not a better philosopher than those great and noble men, who were cast down merely by such a sight? Have you not heard what Solomon says: “If someone walks onto a fire of coals, will he not burn his feet? If someone lights a fire in his lap, will he not burn his clothing? It is just the same for the man who goes to a woman that doesn’t belong to him.” For even if you did not have intimate relations with the prostitute, in your lust you coupled with her, and you committed the sin in your mind.

And it was not only at that time, but also when the theatre has closed, and the woman has gone away, her image remains in your soul, along with her words, her figure, her looks, her movement, her rhythm, and her distinctive and meretricious tunes; and having suffered countless wounds you go home. Is it not this that leads to the disruption of households? Is it not this that leads to the destruction of temperance, and the breakup of marriages? Is it not this that leads to wars and battles, and odious behavior lacking any reason? For when, saturated with that woman, you return home as her captive, your wife appears more disagreeable, your children more burdensome, and your servants troublesome, and your house superfluous. Your customary concerns seem to annoy you when they relate to managing your necessary business, and everyone who visits is an irritating nuisance.

The cause of this is that you do not return home alone but keeping the prostitute with you. She does not go visibly and openly, which would have been easier. For your wife could have quickly driven her away. But she is ensconced in your mind and your consciousness, and she lights within you the Babylonian furnace, or rather something much worse. For it is not tow, naphtha and pitch, but her qualities mentioned above that provide fuel for the fire, and everything is upside down. It is just like people suffering from a fever, who have no reason to rebuke those who attend them, but because of the affliction of their illness are unpleasant to everyone, reject their food, insult their doctors, are bad tempered with their families and furious with those who care for them. Just so those who suffer from this dread disease are restless and vexed and see that woman at every turn. What a terrible state of affairs! The wolf and the lion and other beasts when they are shot at flee the huntsman. But a man, though the most intelligent, when wounded pursues the woman who has wounded him, so as to receive a much more deadly missile and revel in the wound. What is most sickening of all, is that he makes the disease incurable. For if someone does not hate the injury and does not want to be free of it, why would he summon a doctor?

Therefore, I lament and am in torment, because after receiving such a brutal outrage you return from the theatre, and for the sake of a small pleasure you undergo continual pain. For even before the punishment of Hell, you demand the ultimate penalty here. Tell me, does it not merit the final punishment, to nurture such a desire, to be constantly enflamed, and to carry everywhere the furnace of unnatural love and the condemnation of your own conscience? How will you climb those sacred steps? How will you touch the heavenly table? How will you hear the sermon about temperance, when you are full of such injuries and wounds, and your intellect is the slave of your passion? Why should I say anything else? From what is now going on amongst us it is possible to see the pain of your intellect.

Now just as I am speaking these words, I can see some people beating their foreheads, and I am very grateful to you for being such a compassionate people. In fact, I think many of those who have never sinned are beating themselves, because they suffer pain from their brothers’ wounds. Therefore, I lament and grieve, because the devil is tormenting this flock. But if you want to, we can quickly block his entrance. How and by what means? If we could see those who are diseased becoming healthy. If we could unfurl the nets of our doctrine and go around seeking those who have been captured by wild beasts and snatch them from the lion’s throat. Do not say to me “There are only a few who have been taken from the flock.” Even if there were only ten, it would be no ordinary loss. Even if there were five, or two or one. That famous shepherd left behind the ninety-nine sheep for the same reason, and ran after the one sheep, and did not return until he brought it back with him and completed the defective number of one hundred through the restoration of that one which had wandered away.

Do not say “It is only one.” But consider, it is a soul, on whose account everything that can be seen came into being laws, penalties and punishments, and countless wonders, and the infinitely varied works of God. On that soul’s account he did not spare his only-born son. Consider what a price has been paid even for the one man, and do not undervalue his salvation, but go away and bring him back to us, and persuade him no longer to fall into the same mistakes. Then we have a sufficient defense. But if he should not give in, either to our advice or to your entreaties, then I shall thereafter use my power, which God gave us not for destruction but for construction.”


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