January 27: St. John, the Golden Mouth

Butler devotes scores of pages to this particular saint, best known as St. John Chrysostom (the surname, given to him after his death and meaning “Golden Mouth”). Living from c. 349 – 407, John’s mother saw that he was trained by the finest (albeit pagan) orators of the day, and his eloquence ushered him into the profession of law. Yet, as Butler, reports of John, “In that employment he was drawn by company into the diversions of the world, and sometimes assisted at the entertainments of the stage.” We are told that God opened John’s eyes to the perils facing his soul should he continue to spend his time at theaters and with fellow lawyers, and he was immediately horrified–so much so that he was not content merely to leave this occupation and amusements behind, but John “never ceased to bewail his blindness, and took every occasion to caution the faithful against that lurking place of hellish sirens, but more particularly in his vehement sermons against the stage.”

It was not enough that John found that his eloquence wasn’t best expressed in law or on the stage, but he felt compelled to simultaneously damn and avoid all those in any way connected to the bar and to theaters. And John’s decisions have, for over 1600 years, been held up as exemplary of the Christian life.

Yet isn’t a Christ life presumably one modeled after Jesus Christ…who publicly embraced “hellish sirens” and spent time eating and drinking and partying with those whose professions undoubtedly led to interesting table discussion and whose reputations were anything but estimable?!

It’s hard to believe that Jesus would have lauded John’s use of his Golden Mouth. So why has the Church?

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