Mike Aquilina

Inner Tube

Sunday September 30th 2007, 12:14 am

I just learned about Catholic Tube, a website run by Travis Boudreaux, which posts lots of cool videos. I found one with good patristic content — a video visit to the tomb of St. Gregory the Great.

Jerome Rocks

Friday September 28th 2007, 3:01 am

The memorial of St. Jerome, Sept. 30, is superseded this year by Sunday, the Lord’s Day — except, of course, where the feast is kept with special devotion. And that would include this blog and the homes of its readers.

I’m sure you’ve already made plans to read my post from last year, when I dubbed Jerome “Doctor Cantankerous.” And surely when you’re there, you’ll follow the links.

But since Jerome is so awesome, you’ll probably want to do something more.

And I have just the thing.

Go directly to iTunes and grab yourself a copy of the just-released song about St. Jerome, by my good friend Dion. Yes, that’s THE Dion, who owned a lot of real estate in the Top 40 charts in the 1950s and ’60s. Last year, Dion was nominated for a Grammy Award for his disk Bronx in Blue. He’s followed up that success with another winner in the blues category, Son Of Skip James. (Skip James is to the later bluesmen what Ignatius of Antioch was to the later Fathers. James often addressed his blues directly to Jesus. An ordained minister, he preached his sermons melodically.)

You can get the music on iTunes now. Or you can pre-order the disk from Amazon. The record label, Verve, has posted some basic information.

But you want to know the song about Jerome, so here’s the scoop. It’s track number 8, and it’s called “The Thunderer.” It’s a moody, brooding piece, and it gives a good sense of the saint, whom Dion reveres and emulates in his own intensive study of the Sacred Page.

I have, on this very blog, called Dion “the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame’s resident expert on patristics.” And he is. I love the fact that he quotes Augustine to reporters from the New York Times. I love the chutzpah of a guy who honors St. Jerome just a few blue notes away from Skip James. As Phyllis McGinley said in her own poetic tribute to Jerome: “It takes all kinds to make a heaven.”

When Lou Reed gave Dion’s induction speech at the Hall of Fame, he said, “Nobody’s cooler than Dion.” I say amen to that.

Don’t let the feast day end before you’ve spent your ninety-nine cents to buy “The Thunderer” on iTunes. If you’re really cool, you’ll buy the whole album. I’ll bet Jerome would — though he’d probably get one of those rich Roman ladies to pick up the tab.

UPDATE: Junior points out that the search function on iTunes only turns up the album if you use “Son of Skip James” as your search term. For some reason, it doesn’t come up for a search on “Dion.” He also notes that Apple has the album categorized as “Rap/Hip-Hop,” which is funny.

The Golden Standard

Thursday September 27th 2007, 3:05 am

On Saturday, I’ll be in Youngstown, Ohio, to speak about “St. John Chrysostom and the Mysteries of Marriage.” It’s part of the Society of St. John Chrysostom’s glorious celebration of the 1,600th anniversary of their patron’s death. I’ll be joined on the program by a real patrologist, Rev. Hiermonk Dr. Calinic (Berger). So it’ll be worth the trip, if only for Father Calinic’s contribution! You can listen to him here.

SSJC is an ecumenical group, mostly Catholic and Orthodox, that meets regularly for common prayer and lively discussion. I love them. I hope you’ll be able to join us. The festivities begin with Vespers at 6 p.m. on Saturday (September 29) at Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church, Wick Ave in Youngstown. For reservations (required), call 330-755-5635.

In his audience yesterday, Pope Benedict brought Chrysostom’s life to a fitting conclusion. Here’s the Zenit translation:

Dear brothers and sisters,

We continue our reflection today on St. John Chrysostom. After his time spent in Antioch, he was appointed in 397 the bishop of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. From the beginning, John proposed a reform of his Church: The austerity of the bishop’s palace would be an example to everyone — clergy, widows, monks, people of the court and the rich. Unfortunately, many of those people, implicated by his judgments, distanced themselves from him.

Attentive to the poor, John was also called “the almsgiver.” With careful administration, in fact, he was able to establish charitable institutions that were well appreciated. His initiatives in various fields caused some to view him as a dangerous rival. However, like a good pastor, he treated everyone in a kind and fatherly manner. In particular, he showed kindness toward women and dedicated special attention to marriages and the family. He invited the faithful to participate in liturgical life, which he made splendid and attractive with his creative genius.

Despite his goodness, his life was not serene. As pastor of the capital of the empire, he found himself often involved in political intrigues, because of his ongoing relationship with the authorities and civil institutions. On the ecclesiastical plane, moreover, given that he deposed six bishops in the year 401 in Asia who were unworthily elected, he was accused of having exceeded the limits of his own jurisdiction, and thus became a target of easy attacks.

Another cause of attacks against him was the presence in Constantinople of some refugee Egyptian monks, excommunicated by Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria. Lively disagreement was started when Chrysostom criticized Empress Eudoxia and her courtiers, who responded by discrediting and insulting him. Thus, he was deposed at the synod organized by Patriarch Theophilus in 403, and condemned to a brief period of exile.

After his return, he caused more hostility by protesting the festivals in honor of the empress — which the bishop considered lavish pagan festivals — and banishing the priests who performed the baptisms in the Easter Vigil in 404. So began the persecution of Chrysostom and his followers, the so-called Johannites.

John explained the facts in a letter to the Bishop of Rome, Innocent I. But it was too late. In 406 he had to again go into exile, this time to Cucusa, in Armenia. The Pope was convinced of his innocence, but he did not have the power to help him. A council, called by Rome to pacify the two parts of the empire and between their two Churches, could not take place.

A difficult trip from Cucusa to Pythius, a destination that was never reached, was meant to impede the faithful from visiting him and to break the resistance of the worn-out prelate: The condemnation to exile was truly a condemnation to death!

The numerous letters from exile are moving. John speaks of his pastoral concerns with undertones of sorrow for the persecutions suffered by his followers. His march toward death came to an end in Comana in Pontus. There, the dying John was brought into the chapel of the martyr Basiliscus, where he gave forth his spirit to God and was buried, martyr next to martyr (Palladio, “Life” 119). It was Sept. 14, 407, feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The reconciliation took place in 438 with Theodosius II. The relics of the saintly bishop, placed in the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, were brought in 1204 to Rome, to the early Constantinian basilica, and now lie in the Chapel of the Choir of Canons of St. Peter’s Basilica.

On Aug. 24, 2004, a large portion of the relics were given by Pope John Paul II to Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The liturgical memorial of the saint is celebrated on Sept. 13. Blessed John XXIII proclaimed him patron saint of the Second Vatican Council.

It is said of John Chrysostom that, when he sat on the throne of the New Rome, that is, Constantinople, God revealed him as a second Paul, a doctor of the universe. But in reality, in Chrysostom, there is a substantial unity of thought and action, both in Antioch and in Constantinople. Only his role and situations change.

Meditating on the eight works carried out by God during six days, John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Genesis, desires to lead the faithful from creation to the Creator. “It is a great good,” he says, “to know that which is creature and that which is Creator.” He shows us the beauty of creation and the transparency of God in his creation, which thus becomes a sort of “staircase” to ascend to God, to know him.

But to this first step, he adds a second: This creator God is also the God of condescension (“synkatabasis”). We are weak in our “ascent”; our eyes are weak. And therefore God becomes the God of condescension, who sends a letter to fallen and foreign man, sacred Scripture. In this way, creation and Scripture compliment each other.

In light of Scripture, the letter that God gave us, we can decipher creation. God is called the “tender father” (“philostorgios”) (ibid.), physician of souls (Homily 40:3 “On Genesis”), mother (ibid.) and affectionate friend (“On Providence” 8:11-12).

Added to the first step — creation as a “staircase” leading to God — and the second step — the condescension of God through a letter that he has given us, sacred Scripture — is a third step. God not only gives a letter: He himself descends, is incarnated, he truly becomes: “God with us,” our brother unto death on a cross.

And to these three steps — God is visible in creation, God gives us his letter, God comes down and becomes one of us — is added a fourth and last step. Within the life and action of the Christian, the vital and dynamic principle is the Holy Spirit (“Pneuma”), which transforms the world’s realities. God comes into our own existence through the Holy Spirit and transforms us from within our heart.

Against this backdrop, precisely in Constantinople, John, in his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, proposes the model of the early Church (Acts 4:32-37) as a model for society, developing a social “utopia” (an “ideal city”).

He proposed, in fact, to give a soul and Christian face to the city. In other words, Chrysostom understood that it is not enough to give alms, helping the poor now and then. Rather, it is necessary to establish a new structure, a new model of society, a model based on the New Testament perspective. It is this new society that is revealed in the nascent Church.

Therefore, John Chrysostom truly becomes one of the great Fathers of the Church’s social doctrine: The old idea of the Greek “polis” is replaced with a new idea of a city inspired by the Christian faith. Chrysostom affirmed with Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11) the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as a person, including the slave and the poor man. His project corrected the traditional Greek view of the “polis,” of the city, in which large portions of the population were excluded from the rights of citizenship. In the Christian city, all are brothers and sisters with equal rights.

The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that the city is constructed on the foundation of the person. In the Greek “polis,” on the other hand, the country was more important than the individual, who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. In this way, with Chrysostom, the vision of a society built by the Christian conscience begins. And he tells us that our “polis” is another, “our homeland is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) and this homeland of ours, even on this earth, renders us all equals, brothers and sisters, and obligates us to solidarity.

At the end of his life, from his exile on the borders of Armenia, “the most remote place in the world,” John, going back to his first sermon in 386, once again took up the theme so dear to him — the plan of God for humanity. It is an “unutterable and incomprehensible” plan, but which is surely guided by him with love (cf. “On Providence” 2:6).

This is our certainty. Even if we cannot decode the details of personal and collective history, we know that God’s plan is always inspired by love. Therefore, despite his sufferings, John Chrysostom reaffirmed the discovery that God loves every one of us with an infinite love, and therefore he desires the salvation of all.

For his part, the bishop-saint cooperated generously with this salvation, without holding anything back, throughout his entire life. In fact, he considered God’s glory the ultimate goal of his existence, which — as he was dying — he left as his last testament: “Glory to God for everything!” (Palladio, “Life” 11).

Was His Barque Worse Than His Bait?

Wednesday September 26th 2007, 3:06 am

Archeologists at The Discover Channel are digging up new information on how ancient fishermen — like St. Peter — lured their catches. “Fire fishing” comes up in Plato and other ancient authors. Fascinating.

Fishermen around areas mentioned in the New Testament worked the night shift, suggests fishing gear found in a 7th century shipwreck off the coast of Dor, Israel, west of Galilee, where Jesus is said to have preached.

The standout item among the found gear is a fire basket, the first evidence for “fire fishing” in the ancient eastern Mediterranean. Early images and writings indicate fires were lit in such baskets, which were suspended in giant lantern devices from the end of fishing boats.

Light emitted from the fire both attracted and illuminated fish, as well as other sea creatures, like octopus, which men then speared or captured in nets.

Wait till the textual critics find out. We’ll find footnotes proposing all manner of alternative readings: “I have come to cast fire upon the sea…”

Spirit of Ancient Egypt

Tuesday September 25th 2007, 3:03 am

I stumbled upon this Egyptology site that has great pages on the Copts, some in English, some in Italian. One English page is especially nice, on Coptic textiles. (We posted on the subject here.) If you like what you see, you’ll probably be interested in this book. And it’s impossible for me to mention the Copts without recommending books by my friend Father Mark Gruber, OSB: : Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers and Sacrifice in the Desert: A Study of an Egyptian Minority Through the Prism of Coptic Monasticism. . (My review of Journey Back to Eden is right here.)

Table Talk

Monday September 24th 2007, 3:06 am

If ever you want to pursue a long, fascinating, and ultimately inconclusive study, start to poke around in the ritual banquets of late antiquity. The Fathers speak of the Christian agape, the cena pura, and the refrigerium, among others; the Jewish chaburah and, of course, the sacrificial meals of the Passover and the Todah. Scholars debate whether the banquet Paul describes in First Corinthians is a eucharistic liturgy or connected with a eucharistic liturgy. Dennis Smith’s From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World is an interesting overview (though its low-church conclusions are puzzling). There’s endless and dazzling detail, much of it from primary sources, in the very rare volumes 5 and 6 of Erwin Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period: Fish, Bread, and Wine.

For a fast-food treatment of the subject, though, hop on over to N.S. Gill at About.com. She’s posted some excellent material on banquets: menus, ingredients, even etiquette.

An Ordered Universe

Friday September 21st 2007, 3:06 am

Ben C. Smith alerts us to another eruption of the Patrologia Graeca online. This one actually seems to be coming from Greece. The files, says Ben, are in PDF format and organized by century. This is big news indeed.

Your Kerygmata Ran Over My Dogma

Friday September 21st 2007, 3:03 am

Kevin has posted my favorite passage from St. Basil, on Scripture and Tradition.

Concerning the teachings of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed (kerygmata) or reserved to members of the household of faith (dogmata), we have received some from written sources, while others have been given to us secretly, through apostolic tradition. Both sources have equal force in true religion. No one would deny either source—no one, at any rate, who is even slightly familiar with the ordinances of the Church. If we attacked unwritten customs, claiming them to be of little importance, we would fatally mutilate the Gospel, no matter what our intentions—or rather, we would reduce the Gospel teachings to bare words…

Do read the rest.

Audience Pleaser

Thursday September 20th 2007, 3:07 am

Zenit’s translation of Pope Benedict’s audience talk on St. John Chrysostom:

This year marks the 16th centenary of the death of St. John Chrysostom (407-2007). John of Antioch was called Chrysostom, “golden-mouthed,” for his eloquence. It could be said he is still alive today through his written works. An anonymous copyist wrote that his works “go across the globe like lighting.” His writings enable us — as they did for the faithful of his time, who were repeatedly deprived of him because of his exiles — to live with his books, despite his absence. This was the advice he himself gave in one of his letters written from exile (cf. “To Olympia, Letter” 8:45).

Born around the year 349 in Antioch in Syria (modern-day Antakya, in south Turkey), he carried out his priestly ministry for about 11 years. In 397, he was appointed bishop of Constantinople. He exercised the episcopal ministry in the capital of the empire, before his two exiles which happened within a few years of each other, between 403 and 407. Today we limit ourselves to considering Chrysostom’s years in Antioch.

Orphaned by his father at a young age, he lived with his mother, Anthusa, who instilled in him an exquisite human sensitivity and a profound Christian faith. He completed his elementary and higher studies, crowned by courses in philosophy and rhetoric. Libanius, a pagan, was his teacher. At his school, John became the greatest orator of late Ancient Greece. Baptized in 368 and formed in the ecclesiastical life by Bishop Meletius, he was ordained as a lector by him in 371. This marked Chrysostom’s official entrance into the ecclesiastical “cursus.” He attended, from 367-372, the “Asceterium,” a kind of seminary in Antioch, together with a group of young men, some of whom later became bishops, under the guidance of the famous exegete Diodorus of Tarsus, who taught John historical-literal exegesis, characteristic of the Antiochian tradition.

He retreated for four years among the hermitages on nearby Mount Silpius. And then he continued his retreat for another two years, living alone in a grotto under the guidance of an “elder.” During that time he dedicated himself entirely to meditating on “the laws of Christ,” the Gospels and especially Paul’s letters. Falling ill, he found it impossible to take care of himself, and therefore he returned to the Christian community of Antioch (cf. Palladium, “Life” 5).

The Lord — a biographer explains — intervened at the right time to enable John to follow his true vocation. In effect, he himself would write that if he had to choose between the crosses of governing the Church or the tranquility of the monastic life, he would have preferred pastoral service a thousand times over (cf. “On the Priesthood,” 6:7): Chrysostom felt called to this.

And here we see the decisive turning point of his vocation story: full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated during the years in the hermitage, matured in him the irresistible urgency to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he received during years of meditation. The ideal missionary was thus launched, a soul afire, into pastoral care.

Between 378 and 379 he returned to the city. Ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, he became a celebrated preacher in the churches of his city. He gave homilies against the Arians, followed by those commemorating the martyrs of Antioch and others on principal liturgical feasts: constituting a great teaching of faith in Christ, in light of his saints.

The year 387 was John’s “heroic year,” the so-called statue revolt. The people knocked down the imperial statues, as a sign of protest against tax increases. During those days of Lent and anguish because of the emperor’s punishments, he gave his 22 vibrant “Homilies on Statues,” directed toward penance and conversion. What followed was a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).

Chrysostom is counted among the most prolific Fathers, having written 17 treatises, 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and Paul (Letters to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Ephesians and to the Hebrews), and 241 letters. He was not a speculative theologian. However he transmitted the traditional and certain doctrine of the Church in an age of theological controversies caused above all by Arianism, that is, by the negation of Christ’s divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development of the Church in the fourth-fifth century.

His is an exquisitely pastoral theology, in which there is constant concern for the coherence between the thought expressed by the word and lived existence. It is this, in particular, the common thread of the splendid catecheses, with which he prepared the catechumens to receive baptism. Just before he died, he wrote that man’s value is found in the “exact knowledge of true doctrine and in rectitude of life” (“Letter From Exile”). The two things, knowledge of the truth and rectitude of life, go together: Knowledge must become life. Every one of his discourses aimed at developing in the faithful the exercise of intelligence, of true reason, in order to understand and put into practice moral needs and precepts of the faith.

John Chrysostom tried to assist, through his writings, the integral development of the person, in the physical, intellectual and religious dimension. The various phases of growth are comparable to as many seas in an immense ocean.

“The first of these seas is infancy” (Homily 81:5 “On the Gospel of Matthew”). Therefore “in this first stage inclinations to vice and virtue begin to show.” That is why God’s law must be impressed on the soul from the beginning “as on a table of wax” (Homily 3:1 “On the Gospel of John”). In fact this is the most important age. We must be aware how important it is that in this first phase of life the major orientations that give the right perspective to existence truly enter into man. Chrysostom therefore recommends: “From a very young age, arm children with spiritual weapons, and teach them to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads” (Homily 12:7 “On the First Letter to the Corinthians”).

Then follows adolescence and boyhood: “The sea of adolescence follows that of childhood, where violent winds blow … because concupiscence grows within us” (Homily 81:5 “On the Gospel of Matthew”).

Lastly there is engagement and marriage: “After boyhood comes the age of maturity, in which the duties of family life abound: It is the time to look for a wife” (ibid). He recalls the goals of marriage, enriching them — with an appeal to the virtue of temperance — with a rich tapestry of personalized relationships. Spouses who are well prepared block, in this way, the road to divorce: Everything is carried out joyfully and one can educate their children to virtue. When the first child is born, this is “like a bridge; the three become one flesh, so that the child links the two parts (Homily 12:5 “On the Letter to the Colossians”), and the three make up “one family, a little Church” (Homily 20:6 “On the Letter to the Ephesians”).

Chrysostom’s preaching took place regularly during the liturgy, the “place” in which the community is built up by the word and the Eucharist. Here the assembly, gathered together, expresses the only Church (Homily 8:7 “On the Letter to the Romans”), the same word is addressed to everyone in every place (Homily 24:2 “On the First Letter to the Corinthians”), and the Eucharistic Communion becomes an efficacious sign of unity (Homily 32:7 “On the Gospel of St. Matthew”).

His pastoral project was inserted into the life of the Church, in which the lay faithful, through baptism, assume the priestly, kingly and prophetic office. To the lay faithful he said: “Baptism also makes you king, priest and prophet” (Homily 3:5 “On the Second Letter to the Corinthians”). From this comes the Church’s fundamental task of mission, because each one in some way is responsible for the salvation of others: “This is the principle of our social life … to think not just of ourselves!” (Homily 9:2 “On Genesis”). Everything takes place between these two poles: the big Church and the “little Church,” the family, in a reciprocal relationship.

As you can see, dear brothers and sisters, this lesson of Chrysostom on the authentically Christian presence of the lay faithful in the family and in society, is important today more than ever. Let us pray that the Lord render us docile to the lessons of this great teacher of the faith.

So you can see why I’m nervous about the paper I’m giving on St. John next week, for my dear friends in the Society of St. John Chrysostom. Please pray for me!

The celebration, which will mark the 1,600th anniversary of St. John’s death, begins with Vespers on Saturday, September 29, 6 p.m. at Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church, Wick Ave in Youngstown, Ohio. I’m told that advance tickets are required.

St. John loved to say it throughout his life. It was a fitting coda at the end: Glory to God for all things!

The Pope on Chrysostom

Wednesday September 19th 2007, 8:18 am

Pope Benedict has moved on, in his Wednesday reflections, to St. John Chrysostom. All I can find so far is the official summary:

Our catechesis today focuses on a great orator of the early Church, Saint John Chrysostom: the “golden-mouthed”. After his schooling in Antioch, Saint John went into the desert to meditate on the “law of Christ”. Illness forced him to return to the city, where he heard the Lord calling him to full-time pastoral service. Years of prayer had prepared him to preach the Word of God with tremendous power and persuasion. Chrysostom constantly strove to connect Christian doctrine to daily living, emphasizing life-long human development in a person’s physical, intellectual and religious dimensions. Fundamental to this is the first phase when parents must firmly impress God’s law upon their children’s souls. Young people will thus be strengthened to confront the “storms” of adolescence when they must learn to temper concupiscence and eventually to assume the duties of marriage. Indeed, Saint John taught that the family is a “little Church” within the wider ecclesial community. Consequently, each of us has a responsibility for the salvation of those around us. Through the intercession of this saintly Bishop, may we generously embrace this and all our responsibilities in the Church and in society.

Let’s Get Together

Wednesday September 19th 2007, 7:55 am

There’s just about a month remaining till the annual Letter & Spirit Conference, sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (of which I am vice-president). The theme is “Jesus and the Mysteries.” Once again this year, we’re hosting some of the great names in patristic and biblical studies:

Dr. Scott Hahn, “What Do We Mean By Mysteries?”

Dr. R.R. Reno, “Sonship, Testing, and the Fear of the Lord”

Dr. Brant Pitre, “Jesus and the Mystery of the Temple”

Dr. Daniel Keating, “Baptism, Sonship and Salvation: Is Deification a Christian Doctrine?”

Father Robert Barron, “Banquet, Sacrifice, and Real Presence: A Biblical Perspective on the Eucharist”

Father Francis Martin, “Jesus and the Jewish Festivals” (the third annual Lawler Lecture)

In addition, there will be a panel discussion featuring all the speakers. Holy Mass will be celebrated by His Excellency, Bishop David Zubik. All events take place on the lovely grounds of St. Paul Seminary in Crafton, Pa. (just outside the city of Pittsburgh). Parking is free, and there’s plenty of it.

Admission is just $79. And if you’re a full-time student, it’s only $35. Meals are included, too. You won’t find a better bargain in the entire field of patristics!

Get your registration info online here. Don’t delay in making your reservation. This is our third conference, and the first two were filled to capacity. (Nevertheless, please help us spread the word!)

I’m looking forward to this chance to meet you.

There Is Nothing Like a Game

Monday September 17th 2007, 3:03 am

Archaeology magazine has posted a fine introduction to “the games” — gladiatorial combat, public executions and such — the bloody public entertainment of ancient Rome. Christians were often placed in the center ring as victims in these violent spectacles. But, even in the years of relative peace, the Fathers condemned the blood sports of the arena.

Fitting the Fathers

Sunday September 16th 2007, 9:05 am

Phil is working to figure out where patrology fits in the grand scheme of early Christian studies. He also posted a nice celebration of St. John Chrysostom.

National Treasure

Sunday September 16th 2007, 9:01 am

If you haven’t visited Maria Lectrix in a while, you should. She’s now posted audio of the entirety of St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. And she continues her epic, heroic work to post all of St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies.

John, Golden Mouth

Thursday September 13th 2007, 7:40 am

John Chrysostom (349-407) was a talented young man, the son of a government official who died when John was still a baby, leaving his wife a widow and single mother at age twenty. John’s mother made great sacrifices so that her son could study under the world’s most famous professor of rhetoric, the pagan Libanios of Antioch. John became his star pupil.

At eighteen, John discerned a call to dedicate himself entirely to the service of the Church. He placed himself under the tutelage of the renowned Scripture scholar, Diodore of Tarsus. Soon, once again, John was the most brilliant pupil of his master.

He decided, however, that he was interested in contemplation more than career, and so he stepped out of track for clerical orders and, in early adulthood, went off into a mountain cave, where he lived a hermit’s life for two years, till his health gave out.

When John returned to Antioch, his bishop ordained him first a deacon and then a priest. For twelve years, he was the main preacher in the city’s cathedral church. There, he preached the homilies that earned him his fame. He also served as vicar general for the metropolitan see.

It was his fame as a preacher, however, that brought him to the attention of the wider Church, and especially the imperial court. Thus, when the patriarch of Constantinople died, the emperor unexpectedly summoned John from Antioch to the most powerful bishop’s throne in the East. John declined the honor. But the emperor ordered that John be taken by force or subterfuge, if necessary, and so he was.

John’s habitual honesty and integrity did not serve him well, by capital standards. He was a reformer and an ascetic, demanding much of others, but even more of himself. The clergy of Constantinople were not, however, eager to be reformed or to imitate John’s spartan lifestyle. Nor was the imperial family — especially the empress — interested in John’s advice about their use of cosmetics, their lavish expenses, and their self-aggrandizing monuments. John found it outrageous that the rich could relieve themselves in golden toilet bowls while the poor went hungry. He reached the limits of his patience when the empress went beyond the law to seize valuable lands from a widow, after the widow had refused to sell the property. (John did not miss the opportunity to cite relevant Old Testament passages, like 1 Kings 21.)

Ordinary people found inspiration, solace, and — no doubt — entertainment in the great man’s preaching. But the powerful were not amused. They arranged a kangaroo court of bishops to depose John in 403. In fact, a military unit interrupted the liturgy on Easter Vigil, just as John was preparing to baptize a group of catechumens. Historians record that the baptismal waters ran red with blood.

John was sent away to the wild country on the eastern end of the Black Sea. His health was never good, and his guards took advantage of this. In moving him to a new location, they forced him to go on foot. They marched him to death in September 407.

Yet, immediately, he received popular veneration as a saint. Within a generation, a new emperor was welcoming the return of St. John Chrysostom’s relics to Constantinople.

Chrysostom is not a name John received from his parents. It was the name he earned from the congregations who loved him. Chrysostomos means “Golden Mouth” in Greek.

There’s an excellent online clearinghouse of works by an about St. John. I’ve posted some excerpts of his homilies here, here, and here. A good biography of St. John is J.N.D. Kelly’s Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom-Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop.

Jeff Ziegler gives us these links:
St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, doctor of the Church (traditionally reckoned among the four greatest Eastern Fathers), patron of preachers and Istanbul.
Selected writings.
Today’s readings at Mass: Col. 3:12-17; Ps. 150:1-6; Lk. 6:27-38.
— Where the memorial is kept with special devotion, Eph. 4:1-7 and Mk. 4:1-10, 13-20 or 4:1-9 may instead be read.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.