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E02291: John Chrysostom, in his tract On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up their Children, recommends that Christians give their children names of saints (biblical figures, martyrs, bishops, and apostles) as a means of edification. Written in Greek in the 390s, at Antioch (Syria) or Constantinople.

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posted on 29.01.2017, 00:00 by CSLA Admin
John Chrysostom, On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up their Children (CPG 4455)

Having recounted the story of Jacob's blessing and naming as 'Israel' (Genesis 28), the author discusses the naming of children by their Christian parents.

645-686

‘(…) Εὐκαίρως δὲ ἀνεμνήσθην καί με νῦν ὑπῆλθεν ἀπὸ τοῦ ὀνόματος καὶ ἕτερόν τι νόημα. Ποῖον δὴ τοῦτο; εὐθέως αὐτοῖς ἀπὸ τῆς προσηγορίας παρέχωμεν ἀρετῆς ζῆλον. Μηδεὶς τοίνυν εἰς τὰ τῶν προγόνων σπευδέτω καλεῖν ὀνόματα τὰ παιδία, τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῆς μητρὸς καὶ τοῦ πάππου καὶ τοῦ ἐπιπάππου, ἀλλ’ εἰς τὰ τῶν δικαίων, τῶν μαρτύρων, τῶν ἐπισκόπων, τῶν ἀποστόλων. Ἔστω αὐτοῖς καὶ τοῦτο ζῆλος· ὁ μὲν Πέτρος καλείσθω, ὁ δὲ Ἰωάννης, ὁ δὲ ἑτέραν τινὰ προσηγορίαν ἑνὸς τῶν ἁγίων.

Καὶ μή μοι τὰ ἔθη τὰ ἑλληνικά. Οὐ μικρὰ γὰρ αἰσχύνη καὶ κατάγελως, ὅταν ἐν οἰκίᾳ χριστιανῶν ἔθη τινὰ ἑλληνικὰ ἐπιτελῆται καὶ λύχνους ἀνάπτωσι καὶ ἀναμένωσιν ἐπιτηροῦντες τὸν σβεσθέντα πρῶτον καὶ καυθέντα, καὶ ἕτερά τινα τοιαῦτα ἅπερ οὐ τὸν τυχόντα ὄλεθρον ἐπάγει τοῖς τοιαῦτα ποιοῦσιν. Μὴ γὰρ δὴ νομίσητε μικρὰ εἶναί τινα καὶ εὐτελῆ τὰ γινόμενα.

Τοῦτο οὖν καὶ ὑμᾶς παρακαλῶ, ταῖς τῶν δικαίων προσηγορίαις ἐπονομάζειν τὰ ὑμέτερα παιδία. Παρὰ μὲν γὰρ τὴν ἀρχὴν εἰκότως ταῦτα ἐγίνετο καὶ ταῖς προσηγορίαις τῶν προγόνων τοὺς παῖδας ὠνόμαζον· παραμυθία γὰρ τοῦ θανάτου ἦν, ἵνα ὁ ἀπελθὼν δοκῇ ζῆν διὰ τῆς ἐπωνυμίας· νῦν δὲ μηκέτι. Ὁρῶμεν γοῦν τοὺς δικαίους οὐχ οὕτω καλοῦντας τοὺς ἑαυτῶν παῖδας· ὁ γὰρ Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ ἐγέννησεν· ὁ Ἰακώβ, ὁ Μωϋσῆς οὐκ ἀπὸ προγόνων ἐκλήθησαν, οὐδέ τινα τῶν δικαίων εὑρήσομεν οὕτω καλούμενον. Πόσης τοῦτο ὑπόδειγμά ἐστιν ἀρετῆς καὶ παράκλησις καὶ ἡ προσηγορία; Ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ ἄλλην εὑρήσομεν τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς μετονομασίας ἢ ταύτην, τὸ ὑπόμνησιν εἶναι ἀρετῆς. «Σὺ γάρ, φησίν, κληθήσῃ Κηφᾶς, ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται Πέτρος.» Διὰ τί; Ἐπειδὴ ὡμολόγησας. «Καὶ σὺ κληθήσῃ Ἀβραάμ.» Διὰ τί; «Ἐπειδὴ ἔσῃ πατὴρ ἐθνῶν.» Καὶ Ἰσραήλ, ἐπειδὴ εἶδεν τὸν Θεόν. Ἐντεῦθεν οὖν καὶ ἡμεῖς τῆς περὶ τοὺς παῖδας ἐπιμελείας ἀρξώμεθα καὶ ῥυθμίζωμεν αὐτούς.

Ἀλλ’ ὅπερ ἔφην, «Εἶδεν κλίμακα τεταμένην εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ φθάνουσαν ἐκεῖ.» Ἐπεισερχέσθω τοίνυν τὸ ὄνομα τῶν ἁγίων εἰς τὰς οἰκίας διὰ τῆς προσηγορίας τῶν παίδων, ἵνα μὴ τὸν παῖδα ῥυθμίζῃ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν πατέρα, ὅταν ἐννοῇ ὅτι Ἰωάννου ἐστὶ πατήρ, ὅτι Ἠλία, ὅτι Ἰακώβου. Ἂν γὰρ μετ’ εὐλαβείας τιθῆται καὶ τῆς εἰς τοὺς ἀπελθόντας τιμῆς καὶ τὴν συγγένειαν ἁρπάζωμεν τῶν δικαίων μᾶλλον ἢ τῶν προγόνων, πολὺ καὶ τοῦτο ὠφελήσει καὶ ἡμᾶς καὶ τοὺς παῖδας. Μὴ γάρ, ἐπειδὴ μικρόν ἐστι, νομίσῃς μικρὸν εἶναι· ὠφελείας γάρ ἐστιν ὑπόθεσις.


‘I have remembered opportunely, and the name suggests another notion to my mind. What is this? Let us afford our children from the first an incentive to goodness from the name that we give them. Let none of us hasten to call his child after his forebears, his father and mother and grandsire and great-grandsire, but rather after the righteous — martyrs, bishops, apostles. Let this be an incentive to the children. Let one be called Peter, another John, another bear the name of one of the saints.

And do not, I pray, follow Greek customs. It is a great disgrace and laughable when in a Christian household some Greek pagan customs are observed; and they kindle lamps and sit watching to see which is the first to be extinguished and consumed, and other such customs which bring certain destruction to those who practice them. Do not regard such doings as paltry and trivial.

And so I urge this on you too, to call your children by the names of the righteous. In early times these other customs were reasonable, and men used to call their children by the names of their forebears. It was a consolation for death that the departed should seem to live through his name. But this is so no longer. We see at least that the righteous did not name their children in this wise. Abraham begat Isaac. Jacob and Moses were not called after their forebears, and we shall not find a single one of the righteous who was named so. How great is the virtue of which this is a token, this naming and calling by name, seeing that we shall find no other reason for the change of name save that it brings virtue to mind. “Thou shalt be called Cephas,” says Christ (John 1:42), “which is by interpretation Peter.” Why? Because thou didst acknowledge me. And thou shalt be called Abraham. Why? Because thou shalt be the father of nations (Genesis 17: 4). And Israel, because he saw God (cf. Genesis 35:9-10). And so let us begin the care and training of our children from that point.

But as I was relating: “He saw a ladder extended and reaching up to Heaven.” So let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children, to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James; for, if the name be given with forethought to pay honor to those that have departed, and we grasp at our kinship with the righteous rather than with our forebears, this too will greatly help us and our children. Do not because it is a small thing regard it as small; its purpose is to succour us.’

Text: Malingley 1972. Translation: Laistner 1951.

History

Evidence ID

E02291

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

390

Evidence not after

400

Activity not before

379

Activity not after

405

Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes Constantinople

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Explicit naming a child, or oneself, after a saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Source

John of Antioch, bishop of Constantinople, who came to be known as Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), was born in 344/354 in Antioch on the Orontes where he studied under Libanius. He joined the Nicene Christian community of Antioch, led by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and was ordained priest by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos in 386. Acquiring a great reputation as a preacher, John was appointed as bishop of Constantinople in 397. Clashing with the bishop of Alexandria Theophilos and the empress Eudoxia in 403/404, Chrysostom was deposed and banished to Cucusus in Cappadocia and died in Comana of Pontus in 407. The tract On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up their Children has survived in two manuscripts, Parisinus graecus 764, foll. 314v-343v, and Lesbos 42, foll. 92v-118r, both of the late tenth or early eleventh century. It is written in the style of a homily and may indeed stem from a lecture or series of lectures given by the author. The text provides no evidence for an estimation of its date and provenance. It may thus date from either the Antiochene or the Constantinopolitan periods of Chrysostom.

Discussion

In this passage, Chrysostom recommends that parents give up the established custom of naming their children after their ancestors, and call them after biblical figures, martyrs, bishops, and apostles. The purpose of his suggestion is to provide a means of edification, by establishing a constant reminder of exemplars of virtue for both the children and their parents. Another purpose is to eradicate old name giving customs, seen by the author as dangerous superstitions. The author alludes to the ritual of choosing a child’s name by using lamps and waiting which one will burn the longest. He refers to that more explicitly in his 12th Homily on 1 Corinthians: Καὶ γὰρ ἡνίκα ἂν καλεῖσθαι τὸ παιδίον δέῃ, ἀφέντες ἀπὸ τῶν ἁγίων αὐτὸ καλεῖν, ὡς οἱ παλαιοὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἐποίουν, λύχνους ἅψαντες καὶ ὀνόματα αὐτοῖς ἐπιτιθέντες, τῷ διαρκέσαντι μέχρι πολλοῦ τὸ παιδίον ποιοῦσιν ὁμώνυμον, ἐντεῦθεν πολὺν αὐτὸ στοχαζόμενοι βιώσεσθαι χρόνον. ‘Whenever a name has to be given to the child, they fail to call him after the saints, but, as men in olden times used first to do, they light lamps and give them names, and then they assign the same name to the child as that of the lamp which burns longest, inferring from that that the child will live long.’ (PG 61, 105) Chrysostom also refers to the edifying value of naming after the saints in his homily on *Meletios (E02056).

Bibliography

Text, French Translation, and Commentary: Malingrey, A.-M. Jean Chrysostome. Sur la vaine gloire et l'éducation des enfants (Sources chrétiennes 188; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1972). English Translation and Commentary: Laistner, M.L.W., Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire: Together with an English Translation of John Chrysostom's Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up their Children (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1951). Further reading: Downey, G., Ancient Antioch (Princeton, 1961). Drobner, H.R., The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 327-337. Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

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Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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