This is the 7th blog in this series which began with The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church. The immediately preceding blog is St. John Chrysostom (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. This is the third blog dealing with St. John Chrysostom.
The basic method of teaching which St. John Chrysostom advocated was the careful and creative use of biblical stories. First the parents take turns telling the child a biblical story on several different occasions. The story can be used to address a specific problem in the child’s life or behavior. Then the parents tell the story asking the child to fill in details or asking them questions about the story’s details. Then, the child should be asked to tell the complete story in his or her own words. Then the lessons begin to focus on the story’s meanings for daily living.
Beside the use of story and repetition, Chrysostom relentless advocated teaching by example. He believed that many things that Christ did as a human being were done as an example to us for how we are to behave as humans. Prayer and fasting were not “needed” by the Son of God, but as the perfect man, he shows us the way to perfection.
But, as I was going to say to prevent you from suspecting that Christ had a lowly nature because of the lowliness of what he did, listen to what he said to them after he washed their feet. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Do you see that he did many things so as to give an example. A teacher who is full of wisdom stammers along with his stammering young students. But the teacher’s stammering does not come from a lack of learning; it is a sign of the concern he feels toward the children. In the same way, Christ did not do these things because of the lowliness of his essence. He did them because he was condescending and accommodating himself to us” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, p. 248).
As teachers, we are to imitate Christ and be examples to our students. As St. Peter wrote to church leaders, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). This is as true for bishops as for priests, teachers or parents.