An excerpt from Fr. Josiah Trenham’s new book on St. John Chrysostom:
Christian Education of Children
The proper education of children was something that St. John gave much attention to. Though he himself profited greatly from classical Greek education, he made a frontal assault on the educational norms of his society as he argued for an authentic Christian education. The educational goal is to be no longer what had been established by Hellenistic rhetoric, but rather the Christian formation of the child as a spiritual athlete. . . . What Chrysostom was promoting . . . could be compared in gravity to a wholehearted rejection of state education in the post-Christian West. . . . He lamented that so many parents knew how their children were being morally polluted, but tolerated it as the status quo . . . .
The best context for this Christian education is the pedagogy of the monastics, but since that is not always possible, the parents must make sure that the children have as monastic and spiritual an education as possible. It is incumbent on parents to exert the greatest concern regarding their children’s education.
St. John lamented the fact that so many parents direct their efforts to insuring that their children become rich, instead of wise. Typically, parents took great pains to give their children training in arts, literature, and speech, but paid no heed to their acquisition of virtue. Just as some conscientious parents show immense care to insure that their children are progressing in secular learning, so they should show the same care to insure that their children are making progress in the school of the Church and in Christian development.
Though Christian education was a theme that St. John visited in many contexts and at many times, as a priest in Antioch about 388 he delivered a famous homily, On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, which was dedicated to providing a paradigm for the Christian education of children. It is the portion of his corpus most densely given to this subject. In this homiletical treatise he argues the following:
The pedagogical task is the responsibility of parents. They are the ones ultimately responsible for the education of their children. If they are to enlist the assistance of tutors and pedagogues, they must take thorough care that these are positive influences and helpful in the goal of acquiring virtue. Parents are to regard themselves as artists. Like painters or sculptors they fashion their children. As painters place their canvas on the easel and add to it day by day, so parents must inspect their children daily, giving their leisure time to the improvement of the artwork, adding what is lacking and removing what is superfluous.
Christian education must begin from the earliest age, for the lessons learned in early youth remain with the child for good or ill. Parents must make good use of the beginning of their children’s lives. When children are young they are like warm wax and the impress that they receive will soon harden and remain. . . .
Chrysostom considered the most important instruction to be that concerning the Church’s feast days. As God commanded the Jews to do, so Christian parents must teach their children the significance of the Christian feasts. To fail to do so is to be condemned as a neglectful parent, and to be such is to be worse than a murderer of one’s own children. There is nothing worse than to corrupt the soul, and to harm the soul of a child is far worse than to harm the body.
Some parents allow their children to be formed by listening to satanic songs. Such parents need to be severely chastised. It is these neglectful parents who do not teach their children the Scripture stories.
Therefore, in order to fulfill their educational tasks, the parents must have a Christian education themselves and know the laws of Christ, in order to pass them on to their children. If parents wish their children to be disciplined and well educated in virtue, they must be so themselves.
(Trenham, Marriage and Virginity According to St. John Chrysostom, pp. 188-192)
Saint John Chrysostom still speaks, today even louder than in the fourth century. . . . those who have humility will find in him an able instructor, and will find a place of confidence in these confusing times. He radiates amidst the Holy Fathers of the Church as the great defender and sanctifier of the Christian home and city. Adherence to his teaching has produced innumerable saints in the Church, spiritually born both in the monastery and in the Christian home, and is capable of producing the same today.
—from the Afterword by Fr. Josiah Trenham
For further reading on this topic, the following articles are recommended:
- On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children
- Raising Children According to Saint John Chrysostom
- 8 Quotes from St. John Chrysostom on How to Raise Children