John Chrysostom vs. Margaret of Cortona

Welcome back for the first FULL WEEK of Lent Madness 2019. If you're just joining in the fun, we're glad you're here! There's plenty of madness to go and we're delighted to have people jump aboard the purple Lenten train at any point in the season.

Over the weekend, in the only Saturday battle of the season, Ignatius of Loyola strode past Tikhon of Zadonsk 65% to 35% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen, where he'll face the winner of Dominic vs. Marina the Monk.

Today we make our first foray into the Miscellaneous quadrant of the bracket as John Chrysostom faces Margaret of Cortona. Perhaps we should have had a play-in round to decide, once and for all, whether the correct pronunciation of "Chrysostom" should have the accent on the first or second syllable. But however you pronounce it, this should prove an intriguing battle to kick off your Monday.

And don't forget, later today, in order to make your Monday complete, Tim and Scott will be releasing another epic episode of everyone's favorite penitential viewing experience: Monday Madness. Stay tuned! (or just binge-watch old episodes).

John Chrysostom
John ChrysostomJohn Chrysostom was born to a wealthy family around 345 ce in Antioch, Syria. His father, a commander of imperial troops in Syria, died at an early age. John felt a call to monastic life early but stayed with his mother, acting as a caregiver. When the time came for his education, John was sent to study with the great pagan orator Libanius. John excelled in his education. (Later, at the time of his death, when asked who should succeed him in the leadership of his school, Libanius is reported to have said, “John, had not the Christians stolen him.”) John would ultimately use his intellect to become one of the great doctors of the church.

Around 373, John became a hermit and took to an ascetic life, continually standing, scarcely eating, and reading the Bible constantly. Like so many at this time, his asceticism would later impact his health. John was made a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386. From 386-398, John would earn his surname Chrysostom (literally, the “golden-mouthed”) through powerful sermons and oratory. In fact, his Easter sermon is still read from pulpits around the world today. Against his wishes John was made bishop of Constantinople in 397.

His focus on reform and care for those who were poor and vulnerable won him a good deal of respect and admiration. But Chrysostom was often blunt and tactless and did not shy away from criticizing people with incredible power. His disputes, first with Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, then with Empress Eudoxia, led to the Synod of the Oak, in which he was deposed. One year later, despite support from Pope Innocent I and much of the Western Church, Chrysostom was convicted of unlawfully resuming his episcopal duties and was exiled.

By this time, Chrysostom was in poor health from his years of asceticism. He was nonetheless forced to march to Pontus in extreme heat. He died in September of 407 from the toll the journey took on his body.

Collect for John Chrysostom
O God, who gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: mercifully grant to all who proclaim your word such excellence in preaching, that all your people may be made partakers of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

-David Creech

Margaret of Cortona
MargaretMargaret of Cortona grew up in Laviano, Italy, where her family farmed the land. Margaret was a beautiful girl and an only child. Her mother died when Margaret was only seven years old. Her father remarried, and Margaret had a treacherous relationship with her stepmother.

When she was seventeen, Margaret met Gugliemo di Pecora, lord of Valiano. She became the nobleman’s servant. Gugliemo recognized Margaret’s beauty and began to offer her gifts and attention. Margaret became Gugliemo’s mistress and had a son.

When they had been lovers for about ten years, Gugliemo went on a journey. When he didn’t return, Margaret became worried. Then Gugliemo’s dog came home alone, went directly to Margaret’s room, and began whining. Margaret followed the dog into the woods until the hound began whimpering over a pile of sticks. Margaret immediately set about moving brush and found the body of her lover in a hole below.

In her shock and distress, Margaret left the home of her murdered lover and took her son to her father’s house. They were turned away, and so Margaret knocked on the doors of the monastery of Cortona. The monks welcomed the mother and son—and her son later became a friar there.

Margaret practiced extreme acts of penance. She clothed herself in rags and slept on hard ground. She cut and bruised her face in order to mar her beauty. When she visited her hometown, she hired a woman to lead her around like a beast on a rope, yelling, “Look at Margaret, the sinner!”

Margaret joined the Order of Saint Francis and chose to live in poverty, often begging for bread to eat. She became a nurse and began a hospital for those who were sick, poor, and homeless. And she was willing to stand up to authority figures, even chastising a bishop for his violence and plundering.

Throughout the rest of her life, Margaret was drawn to God, not through severe acts of self-punishment but through the mystical reality of God’s love for her. She became known as the second Magdalene because of her tears and Christ’s love for her.

Collect for Margaret of Cortona
O God, as your servant Margaret of Cortona found a home where her repentance led to a life of prayer, service, and leadership, Grant that we may always seek to dwell where estrangement yields to reconciliation, through Jesus Christ, who is himself the goal of all our seeking and the answer to our desires, unto whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

-Carol Howard Merritt

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John Chrysostom: Dionisius [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret of Cortona: By Jacopo Alessandro Calvi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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219 comments on “John Chrysostom vs. Margaret of Cortona”

  1. A challenging candidate’s Chrysostom:
    The “golden mouth” hits some and misses some:
    His homilies can vex
    (Those on Jews and same-sex)
    But on Easter it’s hard to rhysostom.

    1. John and Margaret present us with a pair of rather off-putting ascetics. Never sitting down? Engineering one's own public humiliation? Yuck. But my vote goes to Margaret because at least she is not associated with the Church's vile history of anti-Semitism. I like that she lived fully in the broader secular world before shunning it. Her good works in nursing and taking on Church corruption are compelling. And, yes, the story of the dog.

        1. Ok, that did it for me. John's had quite enough veneration for his contributions to humanity, worthy and NOT. Time to recognize the good in another flawed follower of Jesus. Either of them would be crushed in the next round, anyway, so I'm going to give the needy but well-intentioned Margaret some love.

        1. I liked how Margaret served penance for so long, even though her sins weren’t so great.

      1. I agree, Charles. I didn't particularly "like" either of these. I ended up going with the hospital over the oratory.

      2. I hold similar sentiments as expressed by Charles Stuart. The example of self-loathing by dear Margaret and, asceticism by John are Christian "values" that are of little service to the enlightenment of people who are trying to follow Christ in our world. I do not believe that people in the past should be made accountable to current sensibilities; however, I hope we lovers of Lent Madness can make suggests for competitors in the future who reflect a more positive approach to spiritual development.

        1. Same here. This is the first time in my 5+ years of Lent Madness that I can't vote for either one. Glorifying self-harm does not make for a trauma-sensitive church.

        2. I wish more had ben said about John's beliefs and arguments. And I wish Margaret had been placed in her historical context; it was not until you mentioned the Franciscans tha I came out of 4th century thinking. But thanks anyway.

      1. I'm voting for John because of his color commentary with Cranmer. It was a weekly high point for me.

      2. I voted for Margaret because her journey and repentance which she demonstrated through her life of prayer and service is foremost on my mind during this lentant season. I didn’t think we were glorifying self harm; I just saw that as part of her journey. The point being by grace and God’s love we are all forgiven.

  2. The show tune tribute today features one of your favorite songs from many people's favorite musical. Please sing this to "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music"...

    Picture it. Antioch in the 4th Cent’ry.
    Dad’s a commander which means they are gentry.
    Left wealth to get what monastic life brings.
    These were John Chrysostom’s favorite things.

    For several years, John became an aesthetic,
    Then, once ordained, preached his sermons poetic.
    Cared for the poor. Chewed out bishops and kings.
    These were John Chrysostom’s favorite things.

    He was defrocked
    And was exiled
    While his health was bad.
    If John knew his sermons were still preached today,
    Perhaps he would not feel sad.

    After a troubling youth in Laviano,
    St. Margaret served a rich lord in Valiano
    They became lovers. A son the stork brings.
    He was just one of her favorite things.

    When the lord died, how her father would shun her.
    Moved to Cortona with monks. What a stunner!
    Practicing penance with poverty’s sting,
    Nursing the poor was her favorite thing.

    No, she wasn’t mad.
    She challenged authority, cared for the poor.
    Vocation made Margaret glad.

    1. Your verse sparks Lenten joy. So much so that between Lent Madness, lectionary readings, and Lenten study, this season almost doesn't feel sufficiently penitential. Then I remember that I'm fasting, too.

    2. Oh bravo, Michael! Bravo! It’s so much fun to sing your songs to my husband in the morning. Keep ‘em coming!

    3. Well done, Michael! I voted for Margaret, who seems to me a real-life Cinderella. Am I the only one who keeps getting reminded of Disney movies this year?

    4. Awesome Michael! I love "favorite things" and I was able to hum it while I read your poem! Julie Andrews would be so proud of you!
      by the way I voted for Margaret. Very hard decision!

    5. You came through again, Michael!! Great stuff!! I look forward to your posts each day!

      Linda Barnard

  3. I have to say, I don't want to vote for either of these arch-ascetics. The extreme penitence and asceticism practiced by early figures is, in my view, a poor model for the rest of us struggling sinners. I was disturbed by John's harsh practices and then downright appalled by Margaret's self-disfigurement. Today we have girls succumbing to bulimia and anorexia. And John's golden tongue could perhaps have been more valuable had he been willing to persuade and work in alliance with other "social justice warriors" to effectuate the beloved community. I have to share Libanius' regret at the loss of John's gifts. Still, I'm giving John the grudging vote here with the proviso: “John, had not the Christians stolen him.”

    1. Yeah, I didn't really like either of them either. John has baggage I find difficult to deal with (though he wrote brilliantly), so I really felt I couldn't go with him, though he will be the favorite. The thing I liked most about Margaret's story was the dog.

    2. I agree. Neither of the saints spoke to me this morning for the same reasons St Celia gave. I went with Margaret (I liked the story about the dog too; wish I could vote for him) mostly because that's who I have in my bracket.

    3. I'm in the same camp. I don't mind John's bluntness, but the story of Margaret left me with the sense that she spent a lot of time in useless activity until she got the message to concentrate less on herself and more on others.

    4. Yeah, there is a creepiness factor to the extreme asceticism. If only they could have realized that -- if you wait long enough -- life will usually supply you with all the suffering (and joy) you can handle. You don't have to seize the reins.

      1. I’m in agreement with all of you about this asceticism business. I’m glad that is not in vogue so much anymore. There just wasn’t much “there” there, so I voted for John. It’s a real shame when even the pope can’t save you!

      2. And the extreme asceticism often seems to be a bid for attention -- which Matthew figured out early on in Chapter 6 of his Gospel. "When you fast, do not be somber like the hypocrites, who disfigure their faces to show men that they are fasting". Isn't that what both John and Margaret, especially Margaret, were doing?

        Not thrilled with either one of these choices, and I hope whichever one makes it to the next round gets knocked out then.

        And another accidental bishop? I must say I liked Tikhon better than John.

    5. I agree this was a tough one and I was also left the readings with a concern for this faithfull companion dog. I’m going to believe she took the pup with her and they just forgot mention it;)

    6. Please post a link to David Creech's commentary. I am not familiar with it and would like to read it.

      1. St. Celia,
        Click on David's name at the end of his blurb. Scroll down to Nov. 9th and 10th, 2016. I'm impressed he's still writing.

        1. "The next four years (and beyond) look like a big f*cking mountain. Bring it." Wow. Our entire American democracy looks like a big f*cking mountain of injustice right now. It's hard to let God have control of the end game. It's too hard not to freak out. I'm not ready for the bravado of "bring it." I try to hang on and witness where I can. Right now the cost of even small acts of witnessing seems pretty high and pretty painful. But it's good to feel the warmth of others' commitment and righteous anger.

    7. I agree that this choice was difficult today. Neither of these folks inspired me more than the other, but finally I chose John because of his care and work for the poor and vulnerable and his choice to stand up to authority when it was necessary for others' rights.

    8. Interesting you mention anorexia and bulimia. Rudolph Bell, in his excellent book, Holy Anorexia, cited her as one of the medieval ascetics who likely suffered from anorexia. (Often self- harm is a comorbidity). To me, struggling with such issues does more to connect the saints to us other lowly humans (remember, we all have the capacity for sainthood) than not. Also, in that book (which I highly recommend) they point out that the Franciscans did whatever they could to deter her from some of her more extreme penitences.

  4. I have composed a haiku for my favorite of the day:

    Margaret's my vote
    A beauty then a penitent
    She had a good dog

    You're welcome. 🙂

    1. I count eight syllables in the second line: I suggest a revision: "Beautiful then penitent." You're welcome. I keep imagining the dog standing in front of the stepmother's house pointing: J'accuse. I was trying to figure out how the stepmother had dug that hole. The story has holes in it!

  5. I don't blame John because I COMPLETELY understand why he wrote what he wrote, but I can't vote for Hitler's favorite saint. His "On Judaizing" has been used in so many terrible ways he never intended.

    1. I love that prayer, too! It always Speaks for me and to me.. My vote goes to the "golden-mouthed."
      Now I'm off to Google his Easter sermon.

  6. I voted for Margaret in tribute to my old Bronx stomping grounds, Crotona Park! Go, Margaret of Crotona.
    Oh, darn... it's Cortona not Crotona.

  7. Margaret of Cortona had my vote because God calls the least likely (or likable) people to be instruments of His crace. And lets their dogs come along, too.

  8. St Celia, I agree with you! I wonder why such punishing self deprecation was so in vogue in ancient times. When people do that now, they need lots of therapy and love, not a saintly halo. Still, being able to preach eloquently is definitely a gift. I think Margaret was too much a product of her times, painfully so.

    1. I keep thinking that she must have felt her public acts of penitence were the price of finding support for her son. At 10 he would have been approaching puberty. Her exaggerated piety perhaps secured him a future as a friar, which would have given him some toehold on life. The story does not say who was the legitimate heir of the estate. But I suspect property rights were involved. I'm smelling yesterday's fish soup in this story.

    2. You're right! I will take your syllable count (and it makes better sense). But for me today it is all about the dog! Saint Margaret's Dog of Cortona for the win! 😀

  9. John, because reluctant leaders who don’t seek the spotlight but accept it if called are the ones I find most trustworthy. I also respect his willingness to deal plainly with everyone regardless of their station or the potential consequences.

  10. Usually find one who moves me, but these two extreme penitents apparently did not believe God's forgiveness was freely given. I think they misunderstood that Christ's sacrifice does not demand individual martyrdom for salvation and went overboard. John went less overboard, so I voted for him.

  11. I agree that neither one of these ascetics really moves me one way or the other. Margaret is getting my vote simply because her dog was such a good boy.

  12. I voted for Margaret of Cortona today because God can redeem us no matter what. Her father may have disowned her but God's servants welcomed her. That must have been a hard decision. God lead her to an understanding of LOVE conquering all. What a blessing.

  13. It was difficult to relate to either of these saints at first. I voted for Margaret because her repentance and change of heart reflected in her later life was a beautiful example of the first chapter of A Resurrection Shaped Life by Jake Owensby-“Growing Beyond Our Past”. Her knowledge of God’s love brought her freedom.

  14. So this is sad.
    We have just knock out some saints we admire because they are pitted against each other, and now one of these two with not much that one might want to uphold will get through. SEC please... next year...
    The dog was Gugliemo's. There is no indication that Margaret of Cortona brought the dog along with the son back to her Father's house and then the monastery of Cortona.
    Today my vote is for the monks of the monastery of Cortona.
    But between the two put before us:, for what we pray at Evening and Morning Prayer.
    A Prayer of St. Chrysostom
    Almighty God,
    you have given us grace at this time with one accord
    to make our common supplication to you;
    and you have promised through your well-beloved Son
    that when two or three are gathered together in his Name
    you will be in the midst of them:
    Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us;
    granting us in this world knowledge of your truth,
    and in the age to come life everlasting.

    1. I love that prayer, too! It always Speaks for me and to me.. My vote goes to the "golden-mouthed."
      Now I'm off to Google his Easter sermon.

  15. I love dogs and good mothers. I have an aversion to extreme penitence when it takes the form of disrespect for the gift of a healthy body. I cannot vote for a 'cutter' as a role model for young people who are trying to find their purpose in today's world. We are all wonderfully made and in need of role models who treasure God's gifts.

  16. No, neither of these two is particularly inspiring. However, a few years ago, John was one of the two who did a saintly colour commentary for each week, courtesy a cloaked Canadian, so I will vote for him for that. I'm sure the commentaries are in the LM archives somewhere!

    1. LM 2014 posts are where to find the colour commentary featuring John Chrysostom.

  17. Ascetics don’t appeal to me-I’ve never seen the point. It’s John for me-partially because he put his ambitions aside to take care of his mother. And Margaret’s stunt of being dragged around the village just made me cringe

  18. We vote for Margaret because she loved God not for self-punishment but for mystical lovel

    1. A very interesting point, Oliver. I ended up voting for her as well. So good to see you here.

    2. I agree with you Oliver. She may have started with self-punishment but she learned that God loved her and wanted her to help others. She stopped her self punishment and started a hospital. As a nurse, I have to go with a fellow nurse!

  19. John Chrysostom was an eloquent speaker, an ascetic hermit and one of the worst, most vehement, hate filled anti-Semites in a history of shameful anti-Semitism in the Christian Church. His series of sermons against the Jews were used as excuses for actions and teachings against Jesus' own people, against the people from the same people and faith as the Apostles, against the people God chose to the a light to enlighten all the nations, including us. There are indications that he was used as justification by Hitler and his hate-filled followers. Early anti-Semitism among "Christians" is part of the history we prefer to gloss over, but we must not forget it, must stand up against any vestiges left, and must not honor those whose shallow reading of Scripture was used as an excuse to perpetrate and justify it in the name of the Jewish Rabbi we follow today.

    1. You convinced me! I will vote for Margaret despite the fact that I think self mortification is a sin in itself. Whatever happened to the "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit"? I do wonder about what happened to the dog.

  20. Well, this was a difficult choice, for sure! So many similarities between the two, and most of them less than attractive, for me. Their extreme asceticism I found off-putting, to say the least. I finally chose Margaret for no good reason whatsoever.

  21. John gets our vote with all his foibles and golden mouth. Can’t support a cutter, as there are too many young girls going that route these days and I can’t encourage that. Hoping tomorrow ‘s saintly matchup gives us better choices, SEC.

  22. OK...I have to say, I just could not vote for Margaret...disfiguring her face...OH COME ON NOW. As St. Celia said (above) we are in a time when young girls try to live up to those Magazine Models who are rail thin...young girls do anything to be "just like the models". Although I am not waving the John C. flag, (he has a few oddities) I cannot in good conscious vote for a woman that, in my estimation, sets a BAD example for our youth!

  23. It seems that all the astetics at that time had no concept of faith through grace, not acts alone, and therefore thought this was the only way to the love of God. As to the contemplativeness (is that even a word?) of John, spending too much time over-thinking can lead to "stinking thinking" and the publicized hatred of Jews that he espoused. For that reason alone I will vote for Margaret.