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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Pastors and Preachers > John Chrysostom


John Chrysostom
Early church's greatest preacher
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

 1 of 2


John Chrysostom
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"Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears."

"It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing," John of Antioch exhorted the congregation, "and allow men who are created in God's image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with the cold so that they can hardly hold themselves upright."

Eloquent and uncompromising preaching was typical of John and earned him the name history would remember him by: Chrysostomos—"golden mouth." But his preaching, though considered the best in the early church, was what got him into trouble and led to his untimely death.

Affair of the statues

John was raised in Antioch, a leading intellectual center of late antiquity, by his widowed mother, Anthusa, a pious Christian woman. His tutor was Libanius, the famous pagan rhetorician who had been a professor in both Athens and Constantinople.

After his education, like many devout men of his day, the spidery John (he was short, thin, and long-limbed) entered monastic seclusion. But his ascetic rigors were so strenuous, they damaged his health (the effects would last his whole life), and he was forced to return to public life. He quickly went from lector to deacon to priest at the church in Antioch.

Timeline

323

Eusebius completes Ecclesiastical History

325

First Council of Nicea

341

Ulphilas, translator of Gothic Bible, becomes bishop

349

John Chrysostom born

407

John Chrysostom dies

410

Rome sacked by Visigoths

During this time, he penned On the Priesthood, a justification for his own delay in entering the priesthood but also a mature look at the perils and possibilities of ministry: "I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise," he wrote in one passage. "And if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help being pained and distraught at losing it."

It was in Antioch where Chrysostom's preaching began to be noticed, especially after what has been called the "Affair of the Statues."

In the spring of 388, a rebellion erupted in Antioch over the announcement of increased taxes. Statues of the emperor and his family were desecrated. Imperial officials responded by punishing city leaders, killing some; Archbishop Flavian rushed to the capital in Constantinople, some 800 miles away, to beg the emperor for clemency.

In Flavian's absence, John preached to the terrified city: "Improve yourselves now truly, not as when during one of the numerous earthquakes or in famine or drought or in similar visitations you leave off your sinning for three or four days and then begin the old life again." When eight weeks later, Flavian returned with the good news of the emperor's pardon, John's reputation soared.

From then on, he was in demand as a preacher. He preached through many books of the Bible, though he had his favorites: "I like all the saints," he said, "but St. Paul the most of all—that vessel of election, the trumpet of heaven." In his sermons, he denounced abortion, prostitution, gluttony, the theater, and swearing. About the love of horse racing, he complained, "My sermons are applauded merely from custom, then everyone runs off to [horse racing] again and gives much more applause to the jockeys, showing indeed unrestrained passion for them! There they put their heads together with great attention, and say with mutual rivalry, 'This horse did not run well, this one stumbled,' and one holds to this jockey and another to that. No one thinks any more of my sermons, nor of the holy and awesome mysteries that are accomplished here."




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