Years ago, when teaching at a seminary, I was responsible for the course on the ancient church. In every class I have ever taught, I have regarded it as my chief task to introduce students to the great primary texts on the subject at hand; in this course, I made sure that they became acquainted with John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood. Of course, any book with the word “priesthood” in the title was not an obvious choice for the Presbyterians who generally populated my classes, but it was nonetheless a text that proved popular and, if emails from graduates are any basis for judgment, useful to those who went on to ordained ministry.
Orthodox and Catholics may be surprised by that. Chrysostom’s conception of the ministry is, after all, highly sacramental, with baptism and the eucharist at its heart. But it is not just the sacraments that are at the heart of Chrysostom’s understanding of ministry. As his nickname indicates, he was an outstanding preacher. On the Priesthood demonstrates that the proclamation of the Word was a vital part of his conception of the ministry.
His chapter on the ministry of the Word is, perhaps unintentionally, one of the most amusing. In a section on how to handle responses to sermons, he advises preachers to pay no attention to criticism from laypeople as, untrained as they are, they are incompetent to offer such. The sting in the tale, of course, is that the same principle applies to praise. The admirer is no more competent than the critic; and just as criticism should not cause the preacher to be despondent, so praise should not tempt him to pride.
Amusing pearls of wisdom aside, Chrysostom’s greatest lesson for the church today is arguably the importance he ascribes to the preached Word in his account of the priesthood and in his own ministry. In our day, secular indifference to religion is rapidly changing to positive hostility throughout much of the West. And while yes, Chrysostom was highly sacramental, it was not his administration of baptism and the eucharist that led to his persecution. It was his preaching—part of the church’s prophetic office—that upset Empress Eudoxia and led first to his exile and then to his death. Read more»
Carl R. Trueman | “Why Preaching Is Central To Priesthood” | January 20, 2022
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