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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by John Malone

By Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347–407)

A STRONG soldier of the Cross and from good fighting stock was that John of Antioch who, among the people that were first of the earth to bear the name of Christian, was called Chrysostom—“mouth of gold.” His father Secundus, who died about the time of Chrysostom’s birth, was a military commander in Syria under Constantine and Constantius II. John was born at Antioch, A.D. 347, when the Eastern Empire and the City of Constantine were new. His young mother Arethusa, a Christian, then but twenty years of age, devoted herself to widowhood and the education of her son in the city of his birth. The youth’s early years were passed under her careful guidance, and at the age of twenty he entered on the study of oratory and philosophy under the celebrated Libanius. In 369 he became a baptized Christian and reader in the house of Melitius the bishop. The unhappy reigns of Valens and Valentinian, when neo-paganism in the West and in the Gothic settlement in the East began to work the Empire’s fall, saw John devoted to an ascetic life, after the example of the monks and hermits who sheltered in the mountains about the gay and queenly city of his birth. His mother’s grief and loneliness brought him back from his cave to an energetic career as an outspoken preacher of God’s Word and the eternal profit of good stout-hearted workaday well-doing. He made himself dear to the people of Antioch, for he had eloquence such as had been unknown to Greeks since Demosthenes, and he shrank not from labor and self-denial. So they called him “golden-mouth,” as the Indians call their tried men “straight-tongues.” On the death of Nectarius, the successor of Gregory of Nazianzus, Theophilus of Alexandria and Arcadius the Emperor made him Metropolitan of Constantinople, A.D. 397. All before this time he was laying about him with good ear-smiting Greek at vice and luxury, of which there was abundance both in palace and in hovel; and his elevation to an Imperial neighborhood did not stay him. He cleared Byzantium of pagan shows, gathered the relics of the martyrs, and sent missionaries to preach to the Goths in their own speech. Not many years of this kind of leadership were allowed him. Arcadius, well disposed but indolent, was under the rule of a willful woman; and when Chrysostom turned his swayful voice against her pet vanities, the vexed Eudoxia intrigued his deposition. In 403 John went to exile in Bithynia, with the words “The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away” upon his lips. A great earthquake so frightened the Imperial City and family that with one outcry they called Chrysostom back. When the fear of the infirm earth had worn away, Eudoxia remembered her enmity and took it back to nurse. So one day when John had said in his sword-like invective that “Herodias was raging again,” she showed less mercy than the Baptist had obtained; for under the plea that his restoration had been unwarranted, the Metropolitan was sent to a forced wandering in the wilds of outer provinces, from which there returned of him only the venerated relics of a martyr. Driven from spot to spot, sometimes in chains, always under the prod of guarding spears, one day of September 407 he dragged himself to the tomb of the martyr Basiliscus at Comana in Pontus, and laid his soul in the hands of God. Thirty years afterward, Theodosius the Younger brought the body back to Constantinople.

In person Chrysostom was small and spare. His life of rigorous fasting and toil made him still more slight and hollow-cheeked, but it is told that there was always a blaze of fire in the deep-set eyes. The work of Chrysostom was chiefly ecclesiastical oratory, in which no one of his own or later time surpassed him. First of the great Christian preachers after the Church came from the caves, he was not less able as a teacher. His letters, full of sweetness and firm honesty, his poetry, delicate and musical, and his philosophic essays, rich with the clear-cut jewels of dialectics, are worthy of his station in the first order of the Doctors of the Church.

[The following extracts are from ‘A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.’ Published by the Christian Literature Company, New York.]