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E02671: John Chrysostom composes a tract On Babylas and Against Julian and the Greeks, in which he recounts the martyrdom of *Babylas (bishop and martyr of Antioch, S00061), and the miraculous destruction of the temple of Apollo at Daphne; he mentions the relics of the martyr’s bones and chains. Written in Greek at Antioch (Syria), 378/379.

online resource
posted on 2017-04-07, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, On Babylas and Against Julian and the Greeks (CPH 4348; BHG 208)


1-22. The first part refers to the universal triumph of the Christian faith. Christ promised that those believing in Him would be able to perform the same and even greater miracles as he did (John 14.12), which none of the pagan sages had ever said. This oracle was fulfilled through the miracles of the apostles, described by the Acts of the Apostles. The Christian faith has triumphed through whole world thanks to the grace of Christ, which acted through the persons of simple people like the fisherman Peter and the tent-maker Paul. The miracles described in the Scripture are a living reality in the present era.

23-66. The second part recounts the story of Babylas. A certain emperor concludes a peace treaty with a Persian king. The Persian entrusts his young son to the emperor as a hostage in guarrantee of the peace, and requests that the boy be educated and raised as befits his noble origins. Betraying his trust, the emperor slays the boy. Because of this crime, Babylas, bishop of the Church of Antioch at the time, expels the emperor from his church. The emperor has the bishop arrested, and imprisoned. Babylas dies in gaol, wearing his fetters. He requests to be buried with his fetters, which are still preserved with the saint’s remains.

(63.) Ἵν’ οὖν μή τις τῶν ἀπίστων ἀνάγκην εἶναι νομίσῃ τοὺς ἄθλους καὶ κατηφείας αὐτὰ τῶν ἄθλων τὰ σύμβολα συνταφῆναι κελεύει τῷ σώματι δεικνὺς ὅτι λίαν αὐτὰ ἠσπάζετο καὶ ἐφίλει διὰ τὸ λίαν ἐκκρεμᾶσθαι τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Καὶ κεῖνται νῦν μετὰ τῆς τέφρας αἱ πέδαι πᾶσι παραινοῦσαι τοῖς τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν προεστῶσι κἂν δεθῆναι δέῃ, κἂν σφαγῆναι, κἂν ὁτιοῦν παθεῖν πάντα προθύμως καὶ μετὰ πολλῆς ὑπομένειν τῆς ἡδονῆς ὥστε τῆς ἐμπιστευθείσης ἡμῖν ἐλευθερίας μηδὲ τὸ τυχὸν προδοῦναι καὶ καταισχῦναι μέρος.

(64.) Καὶ ὁ μὲν μακάριος ἐκεῖνος οὕτω λαμπρῶς τὸν βίον κατέλυσε, τάχα δέ τις καὶ ἡμᾶς οἴεται ἐνταῦθα καταλύσειν τὸν λόγον· μετὰ γὰρ τὴν τοῦ βίου τελευτὴν οὐκ εἶναι κατορθωμάτων οὐδὲ ἀνδραγαθίας ἀφορμὰς ὥσπερ οὐδὲ τοῖς ἀθληταῖς μετὰ τὸ παρελθεῖν τοὺς ἀγῶνας στεφάνους πλέκεσθαι δυνατόν. Ἀλλ’ Ἕλληνες μὲν εἰκότως ταῦτα νομίζουσιν ἐπειδὴ καὶ μέχρι τοῦ παρόντος βίου τὴν ἐλπίδα συνέκλεισαν τὴν αὐτῶν, ἡμεῖς δὲ οἷς ἑτέρας ζωῆς φαιδροτέρας ἀρχὴ ἡ ἐνθάδε γίνεται τελευτὴ ταύτης ἀφεστήκαμεν τῆς ὑπονοίας καὶ δόξης. Καὶ ὅτι δικαίως σαφέστερον μὲν καὶ ἐν ἑτέρῳ δείξομεν λόγῳ, τέως δὲ καὶ τὰ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν τοῦ γενναίου κατορθώματα Βαβύλα ἱκανὰ πίστιν μεγάλην τῷ λόγῳ παρασχεῖν.

’63. Thus, lest any of the infidels regard his labours as a matter of coercion or inconvenience, he ordered that the very tokens of his labours be buried with his body, demonstrating that they were most welcome and dear to him, since he was wholly attached to the love of Christ. And now his fetters rest together with his ashes, exhorting all the heads of the churches – whether they have to be fettered, slaughtered, or whatever they may have to suffer – to persevere with willingness and great pleasure, lest they betray and dishonour even the slightest bit of the freedom which has been entrusted to us.

64. So, that blessed man finished his life as brilliantly as that, and one might think that we should also stand our account here. For, after the end of one’s life there are no chances of other achievements, just as it is impossible for athletes to be awarded wreaths of victory after the games are over. And it is indeed natural that the Greeks should have such beliefs, since they have limited their hope within the confines of the present life, whereas we, for whom death in this world becomes the prelude of another happier living, have given up this impression and tenet. And the fact that this is justified we shall demonstrate in another discourse, because noble Babylas’ posthumous feats are indeed able to add great credit to our discourse.’

67-97. A pious emperor (the Caesar Gallus, not named by the author) decides to have Babylas’ remains transferred to Daphne. The presence of the martyr’s shrine brings an end to the licentiousness of the popular suburb, and causes the oracle of Apollo to be silenced. Later another emperor (Julian, also not named), who embraces paganism, attempts to receive an oracle from Apollo. The demon replies that the presence of corpses prevents him from talking, and the emperor orders that the Christian shrine be removed. The remains of Babylas are returned to the place where they had been resting before being moved to Daphne. Fire from heaven destroys the roof of the temple and the statue of the god. The priest of Apollo is interrogated by torture about the perpetrator of the arson, but does not name anyone. The emperor does not dare take revenge, because he is afraid of the martyr.

98-113. This section is a response to a poem of lamentation for the destruction of the pagan shrine, written by the sophist of Antioch (Libanius).

114-126. Conclusions on the reasons why God punished only the demon Apollo and not the emperor.

Text: Schatkin, Blanc, Grillet 1990. Translation and summary: E. Rizos


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Babylas, bishop and martyr in Antioch, and his companions, ob. late 3rd c. : S00061

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Theological works


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

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

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of the cult of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Miraculous behaviour of relics/images Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops Children Pagans Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust


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. John's book On Babylas and Against Julian and the Greeks is believed to have been composed in late 378 or early in 379, shortly after Chrysostom’s return to Antioch from his ascetic retreat, and before the foundation of a new shrine for the martyr Babylas in 379/381 (on which see E00095). It is an apology of the Christian faith against its pagan critics, focusing on the Christian belief in miracles, and the cult of the martyrs. The text is known from 28 Manuscripts, on which see: Schatkin, Blanc, Grillet 1990, 65-85.


Chrysostom’s tract On Babylas and Against Julian and the Greeks is one of a number of pamphlets and essays the author wrote, while serving as a reader in the clergy of Meletios, and in the early years of his diaconate, to which he was ordained in c. 380 (see Kelly 1995, 36-42). The style of the text is predominantly homiletic, even though it is unlikely to stem from a homily. The hagiographic story is not recounted in a continuous and detailed manner, but is treated as the uniting thread for deliberations on themes like the role of miracles, sin and divine justice, Christian freedom and courage, life beyond death, episcopal authority and the behaviour of the ideal bishop, etc. In essence, the text is a defence of the Christian religion against paganism, focusing on the theme of miracles. For Chrysostom, the miracles of the saints, living or dead, are indisputable and prove the truthfulness of the Christian religion as a whole. The growth of Christianity is the result of the continuous activity of divine grace through simple people like the Apostles and the martyrs. The case of Babylas is presented as an exemplar of Christian virtue and freedom, and as a proof of the continuation of life and grace after death. The same thesis constitutes the core argument of another, roughly contemporary or slightly later, work of the author, Christ’s Divinity Proved against Jews and Pagans. Both texts address the pagan and Jewish objections to Christianity, but it is particularly important that our text, which is addressed to pagans only, focuses on the story of a martyr and his cult. The Christian devotion to the martyrs and their tombs was specifically targeted by the pagan critics of Christianity in the fourth century, notably the emperor Julian the Apostate (see E01986; E01990; E01956; also see the analysis of Schatkin and Harkins 1985, 15 ff.). Even though almost twenty years had passed since Julian’s presence at Antioch, his views were apparently still resonating in the intellectual life of the city, especially in the teaching of Libanius and his students. A secondary purpose of the text and of the promotion of the cult of Babylas in general may have been to strengthen the authority of Chrysostom’s bishop, Meletios. In paragraph 63 (quoted here), Chrysostom refers to Babylas as an exemplar for Christian bishops who have to demonstrate unfailing steadfastness and bravery, even if they have to resist an emperor and to face suffering or death. This assertion may be alluding to Meletios’ long exile in Armenia, from which the bishop had just returned to Antioch. Although Meletios seems to have been recognised by most parties in Antioch after 378, his position was still not fully secure (on the context of the Schism of Antioch, see E02056, and Kelly 1995). In his bid for legitimacy, Meletios probably played on the fact that he had suffered for the sake of the Church, posing as the imitator of earlier bishops like the martyr Babylas and the exiles *Philogonios and *Eustathios. From other sermons of Chrysostom, we know that the veneration and memory of Philogonios and Eustathios were also actively promoted by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos (E00071; E02259). The cult of Babylas was so important on the agenda of Meletios that he soon built a new shrine for the saint, where he was eventually buried himself (E00095). As far as the hagiographical information is concerned, the story of Babylas, as recounted by Chrysostom, consists of four themes: the murder of the young hostage prince by the emperor; the emperor’s failure to repent and his public reproach by Babylas; the arrest and death of Babylas; the miracles of Daphne. The first theme (the murder of the boy) is not known from any other source. Chrysostom avoids mentioning the name of the emperor (which he also does when referring to Gallus and Julian the Apostate). Although a number of treaties were concluded between Persians and Romans in the third and fourth centuries, we have no information about hostages being involved in any of them. The second theme (the bishop reproaching the emperor) seems to originate from an old Christian legend about the presumably Christian emperor Philip the Arab (244-249). Eusebius of Caesarea claims that Philip and his family were Christians and that, at some point, while attending the Easter vigil, the emperor was subjected by a bishop to a public confession of his sins and penance (Ecclesiastical History 6.34). Eusebius does not say where this episode took place nor does he associate it with murder. Most importantly, he presents the incident in a positive light, as a proof of Philip’s genuine Christianity and humility: the emperor is said to have humbly obeyed the bishop and accepted to stand among the penitent sinners. Eusebius is unaware of the association of the episode with Babylas (though he was indeed the bishop of Antioch during Philip’s reign). Eusebius ascribes the martyrdom of Babylas to the persecution of Philip’s successor, Decius (6.39.4; E00276). In any case, it seems that the story of Philip’s paschal penance came to be associated with Babylas, and with the story about the murder of the Persian hostage. These three stories were probably unrelated in their original form, but, as they were placed within the broader historical context of the mid-third century, they came to be collated. Their collation, however, was awkward: Chrysostom’s story fails to provide a plausible explanation as to why the murderous emperor visited the church. In the Greek passio of Babylas (E02684), the issue is resolved by eliminating the story of the murder of the hostage. There, the emperor sacrifices to the idols and visits the church at the instigation of the Devil. Chrysostom’s account of Babylas’ death is somewhat elliptical, as the author focuses on the contrast between the spiritual freedom of the fettered bishop and the servitude of the sovereign to sin. We have no explicit reference to how Babylas died, except that he was in fetters. The emphasis on Babylas’ fetters and on the fact that he was buried with them is also known from his passio (E02684). It is unclear if the story known to Chrysostom ended with Babylas’ decapitation, as in the passio, or if it agreed with Eusebius’ report that Babylas died in prison (E00276). It is notable that Chrysostom omits yet another element of the legend of Babylas, namely the account of his interrogation and death together with three young boys. This story seems to have been known in Chrysostom’s times, since he refers to it in passing in his sermon on *Iouventinos and Maximinos (E00069), and it is also echoed in the Hieronymian and Syriac Martyrologies, where the festival of Babylas and the three boys is recorded on 24 January (E00; E01413). The episode is extensively recounted in Babylas’ Greek passio (E02684).


Text editions, translations, and commentaries: Schatkin, M., Blanc, C., and Grillet, B., Jean Chrysostome, Discours sur Babylas (Sources Chrétiennes 362; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1990), 15-275 (edition and French translation). Schatkin, M.A., and Harkins, P.W., Saint John Chrysostom: Apologist (The Fathers of the Church 73; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1985), 1-152. 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). Teitler, H.C., “Ammianus, Libanius, Chrysostomus, and the Martyrs of Antioch,” Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2013), 263-88. Teitler, H.C., The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

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