John Chrysostom had little patience with sins of any sort, but he was especially piqued at the misuse of wealth:

“It is foolishness and a public madness,” he once preached, “to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and our likeness to stand naked and trembling with the cold so that they can hardly hold themselves upright.… You are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?”

This type of preaching—eloquent and uncompromising—would eventually earn John of Antioch the name by which he is now distinguished: Chrysostomos, “the golden mouth.” It would also contribute, though, to his exile and premature death.

Pleading Mother

Anthusa, a pious Christian woman, gave birth to her only son near the middle of the fourth century in Antioch, the city where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” Her husband, Secundus, a senior government official, died when she was about 20, leaving her with John and a daughter, both quite young. Shunning remarriage, Anthusa devoted the rest of her life to her children.

John was given the best education available in Antioch, a leading intellectual center of the day. He studied under Libanius, the famous pagan rhetorician. Rhetoric—the practice of public address used in the courts and politics—was the leading science of the era; teachers of rhetoric were the pride of every major city. Libanius had traveled the world, having been a professor in Athens and Constantinople; he believed in the pagan cults and disdained Christianity.

John apparently was planning a career in law. But sometime in the years of his formal education, ...

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