This is the 5th blog in this series which began with The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church. The immediately preceding blog is Clement of Alexandria (B). This series is a preliminary look into some of the ideas, theory or theology of education that we can glean from the early church fathers.
We will now consider St. John Chrysostom, the famed preacher and bishop of both Antioch and Constantinople (d. 407 A.D.), who is one of the greatest teachers in Church history. His volumes of sermons and writings inspired Orthodox Christians from his day to our own.
As a great thinker and pastor, St. John was concerned with the educational upbringing of his flock. He constantly exhorted his people to know God and live according to God’s teachings and commands. Chrysostom, like other Patristic writers believed salvation was achieved within the Church community “through the process of making the kingdom of God present to an unbelieving world” (Vigen Guroian, “Family and Christian Virtue in a Post-Christendom World: Reflections on the Ecclesial Vision of John Chrysostom”, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol 35, No. 4, 1991, p. 330) As Chrysostom said:
“When we teach our children to be gentle, to be forgiving, to instill virtue in their souls, we reveal the image of God within them. This then is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment seat?… How can we be worthy of the kingdom of heaven?” (St. John Chrysostom on Marriage and Family Life, tr. Catherine Roth & David Anderson, p. 71).
St. John Chrysostom’s ADDRESS ON VAINGLORY AND THE RIGHT WAY FOR PARENTS TO BRING UP THEIR CHILDREN cannot be dated with certainty. Historians now generally agree that it was written sometime around 400 AD. It is one of few Patristic documents directly envisioning the goals and purposes of education, though it is limited by its focus on the responsibility of parents in educating their children.
Chrysostomus Bauer, St. John’s Twentieth Century biographer, has written of this work:
“In its substance, the little book enjoys the distinction, from the first page, of being a history of Christian pedagogy. It is actually the oldest comprehensive teaching on Christian education which is not exclusively directed to Christian children…. It may well be that other writers have incidentally inserted shorter or longer discussions of children’s education in their writings; but no one had yet supplied a complete and independent treatise on this subject.
So this little book occupies a special place of honor in the history of Christian catechetics. The author has brought together in his treatise (Chapters 39 and 43) two standard catechisms for children, in order to demonstrate to parents, by means of these two examples, how they should train their children from early youth onward in the Holy Scriptures….” (Chrysostomus Bauer, John Chrysostom and His Time, p. 172).
St. John’s main theme, which he repeats three times, is “We are raising an athlete, let us concentrate our thought on that” (M.L.W. Laistner, Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire, p. 112). He envisions education as a great training process in which we form and condition the Christian. From Chrysostom’s point of view this task is not an easy one and requires diligence and perseverance on the part of parents. St. John places heavy emphasis on studying the Scriptures and teaching virtues. His methodology is repetition and storytelling. St. John is quite compassionate toward children and is very concerned about their sensitive souls.
Next: St. John Chrysostom (B)