Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor, c. 347-407
Born the son of an imperial military officer, John studied rhetoric and theology under the best Roman scholars before converting to Christianity in 369. John preferred the simple life of a monk, and in 374, he became a hermit under the guidance of Saint Basil. The austere life undermined his health, however, and he was forced to return home.
John became a deacon in 381 and was ordained in 386 by the bishop of Antioch, whom he served for the next twelve years. It was during this time that his reputation for preaching began to spread. John became noted for the eloquence of his sermons which earned him the surname, Chrysostom, meaning “golden mouth.” In his sermons, John called for justice and charity, enjoining the rich to share their wealth with the poor.
In 397, John became the object of an imperial ruse to make him the Archbishop of Constantinople, then the greatest city in the Roman empire. It was known that if the popular preacher were to leave Antioch, there would be a general uproar by the people. So the emperor’s agent came to Antioch and secretly asked John to accompany him out of the city to the tombs of the martyrs. Once outside the city, John was delivered to an imperial officer who took him straight to Constantinople where he was consecrated bishop in 398.
John immediately instituted reforms in his own household by cutting down on the expenses of the office. The sums which were saved in this manner were applied to hospitals and for the relief of the poor. John’s preaching and Christian practice gained him many enemies, both in the imperial court and among less worthy bishops. In 403, Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria (who had desired the see in Constantinople when John was named archbishop) came to Constantinople and convened a council of thirty-six bishops. Here a list of false and frivolous charges was drawn up against John and handed over to the emperor, who then ordered John to be exiled.
Soon after John left Constantinople, an earthquake struck. This so unnerved the empress Eudoxia, who had been the object of some of John’s sermons and the instigator of his exile, that she implored the emperor to return John to his see.
Some time later, public games were celebrated in connection with the dedication of a statue of Eudoxia in front of a church. John once again spoke out against the evils sponsored by the empress; this time, Eudoxia had enough of John. At her instigation, he was driven into final exile in 404 and died in 407.
Saint John Chrysostom is the patron saint of preachers and orators. We celebrate his memorial on September 13.
John’s message today: Taking an unpopular view is certain to gain enemies. Yet John, like many other saints, spoke out against the excesses of his time. Most people in our times would shy away from pointing out the immoral positions of certain groups.