(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Two sermons by Saint John Chrysostom survive from among the hundreds he preached in Antioch in the late fourth century. Though brief, each sermon covers a plethora of theological points. John was born into a wealthy Christian family in Antioch and prepared for a career in law, but ran away from home to begin a career in the Church. His pronounced ascetic practices and his remarkable eloquence caused him to be appointed chief preacher in Antioch, where he acquired the nickname “Chrysostomus,” or “Golden Mouth.” He was consecrated patriarch of Constantinople, the imperial capital, in 398. He immediately began to make powerful enemies for publicly rebuking both clergy and imperial officials for their corrupt and unchristian behavior. After he called Empress Eudoxia a thief to her face during a Sunday service, she had him banished from the city, and Chrysostom died en route to his place of exile.

Most of Chrysostom’s vast literary output exists in the form of sermons on the books of both the Old and New Testaments. Writing and preaching in flawless Greek, he left behind hundreds of sermons from his period as chief preacher in Antioch. Unfortunately, only two of the sermons on baptismal instructions for catechumens survive. They were preached during Lent of 388. Though brief, these two sermons give indications of many topics of which Chrysostom preached in more detail on other occasions. One of these sermons is addressed to male catechumens; the other is addressed to female catechumens. Both groups would have been making final preparations to be baptized into the Church during Easter.

The first sermon is addressed to the male catechumens, who Chrysostom refers to as “those about to be illuminated.” He dwells on the image of baptism as illumination, as a new way of seeing, at length. He wishes the catechumens to be very clear that baptism is not some sort of magic ritual for the forgiveness of sins. Accepting baptism involves a fundamental reorientation of one’s entire existence. One is baptized into the death of Christ. Chrysostom takes this quite literally. On becoming a Christian, one’s former self, one’s previous lifestyle, dies. One now lives not for the possibility of material...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Chrysostom, John. Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist. 2 vols. Fathers of the Church series. Reprint. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000. Contains eighty-eight sermons on the Gospel of Saint John. These sermons are from the time when Chrysostom was in Antioch.

Kelly, J. N. D. Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom, Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop. London: Duckworth, 1995. A detailed biography of John Chrysostom. Includes numerous translated passages from his sermons and the historical context in which these sermons were preached.

Mayer, Wendy, and Pauline Allen. John Chrysostom. New York: Routledge, 2000. A useful introduction to the importance of John Chrysostom’s preaching to later biblical exegesis.