Among the firmament of early Church Fathers, the star of John Chrysostom (347-407) shines especially bright. He’s best known for his homilies and the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, still celebrated in Eastern churches.
As his biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia is at pains to stress, Chrysostom was not one to have his head in the clouds, devoting himself primarily to erudite treatises on arcane matters of dogma or speculative theology (as worthy as those intellectual pursuits may be). Rather, his genius seems to consist in a great depth of theological insight which he communicated to the common man with clarity and richness in language, hence his surname, which means golden-mouthed.
Here are just a few gems of his oratory:
On wealth: Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?
On loving things of this world: [H]ow long shall the love of things present so occupy us, superfluous as they are and unprofitable? since wealth consists in superfluities, in which no advantage is. How long shall we be nailed to vanities? How long shall we not look through and away into heaven, not be sober, not be satiated with these fleeting things of earth, not learn by experience their worthlessness? Let us think of those who before us have been wealthy; are not all those things a dream? Are they not a shadow, a flower? are they not a stream which floweth by? A story and a tale?
On the Incarnation and the Eucharist: It was not enough that He became man, that He was struck in the face, that He was slaughtered, but He also commingles Himself with us; and this not alone through faith. He has in very deed made us His own Body. Who should be more free from sin than one who partakes of such a sacrifice? As spotless as the sunbeam should be the hand that breaks that Body, the mouth that is to be filled with this spiritual Fire, the tongue that is stained by this awesome Blood! Consider with what honor you have been honored; at what Table you feast. That which the Angels tremble to behold, and dare not gaze upon because of Its flashing brightness. It is with This we are nourished, to This we are joined; made one Body and One Flesh with Christ.
On Jesus’ descent into hell: By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?