John Chrysostom (349 A.D. – 407 A.D.) may well have been one of the most profound preachers and teachers that the church has ever had. His very name means golden-mouthed, and is an indication of his ability to speak with power and passion. Chrysostom started out his ministry by spending two years in monastic isolation, committing huge chunks of the Bible to memory and rarely sitting down or sleeping. He was a man of the people – teaching the Bible in a very straightforward manner, and urging Christians to give to the poor. You can get the measure of the man by this paragraph, taken from one of his sermons on the book of Matthew:
“Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clothed in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clothed. He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,” and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”… What good is it if the [Lord’s Supper] table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.” (Source: Homilies/Sermons in the Gospel of St. Matthew In Evangelium S. Matthaei, homily 50:3–4, pp 58, 508–509)
In the following sermon, which was a response to the heretical Marcionites and Manichæans, Chrysostom discusses the Incarnation (which both groups denied,) and proposes that one of the chief reasons that Jesus actually came in the flesh – as a human baby – was to teach the way of God in word AND action. Read on!
The doctrine of the Incarnation [Jesus, the Son of God, coming as a flesh and blood baby] was very hard to receive. For the exceeding measure of His lovingkindness and the magnitude of His condescension were full of awe, and needed much preparation to be accepted. For consider what a great thing it was to hear and to learn that God the ineffable, the incorruptible, the unintelligible, the invisible, the incomprehensible, in whose hand are the ends of the earth, who looks upon the earth, and causes it to tremble, who touches the mountains, and makes them smoke, the weight of whose condescension not even the Cherubim were able to bear but veiled their faces by the shelter of their wings, that this God who surpasses all understanding, and baffles all calculation, having passed by angels, archangels, and all the spiritual powers above, deigned to become man, and to take flesh formed of earth and clay, and enter the womb of a virgin, and be borne there [after] the space of nine months, and be nourished with milk, and suffer all things to which man is liable.
Christ having come to earth wished to instruct men in all virtue: now the instructor teaches not only by word, but also by deed: for this is the teacher’s best method of teaching. A pilot for instance when he makes the apprentice sit by his side shows him how he handles the rudder, but he also joins speech to action, and does not depend upon words alone or example alone: in like manner also an architect when he has placed by his side the man who is intended to learn from him how a wall is constructed, shows him the way by means of action as well as by means of oral teaching; so also with the weaver, and embroiderer, and gold refiner, and coppersmith;—and every kind of art has teachers who instruct both orally and practically. Inasmuch then as Christ Himself came to instruct us in all virtue, He both tells us what ought to be done, and does it. “For,” he says, “he who does and teaches the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Now observe; He commanded men to be lowly-minded, and meek, and He taught this by His words: but see how He also teaches it by His deeds. For having said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek,” He shows how these virtues ought to be practiced. How then did He teach them? He took a towel and girded Himself and washed the disciples’ feet! What can match this lowliness of mind? for He teaches this virtue no longer by His words only but also by His deeds.
Again He teaches meekness and forbearance by His acts. How so? He was struck on the face by the servant of the high priest, and said “If I have spoken evil bear witness of the evil: but if not, then why hit me?” He commanded men to pray for their enemies: this also again He teaches by means of His acts: for when He had ascended the cross He said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” As therefore He commanded men to pray so does He Himself pray, instructing us to do so by his own unflagging utterances of prayer. Again He commanded us to do good to those who hate us, and to deal fairly with those who treat us spitefully and this He did by his own acts: for he cast devils out of the Jews, who said that He Himself was possessed by a devil, He bestowed benefits on His persecutors, He fed those who were plotting against Him, He conducted into His kingdom those who were desiring to crucify Him. Again He said to His disciples “Get you no gold nor silver neither brass in your purses,” thus training them for poverty: and this also He taught by His example, saying, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.” And He had neither table nor dwelling nor anything else of that kind: not because He was at a loss to obtain them, but because He was instructing men to go in that path.
Source: “Against Marcionists and Manichæans,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues, ed. Philip Schaff, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 205–206.
As a bit of trivia, it may have been that John Chrysostom, in the 300s AD, was the first to coin the phrase that would ultimately become, “hate the sin, not the sinner: “I lately inflicted a severe stroke upon those who are grasping and wish to overreach others I did this not in order to wound them but in order to correct them; not because I hate the men, but because I detest their wickedness” – This phrase is from the same sermon as is quoted above.