St John Chrysostom on the one gift our political leaders need

THERE is a name for this: It’s called corporate crony capitalism.

This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk.

No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts, of waste and influence peddling and corporate welfare.

This is the crony capitalism that destroyed Europe’s economies. It’s the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest – to the little guys.

Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaska (Source).


St John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom (+407)


St John Chrysostom would wholeheartedly agree with Gov. Palin, I think. He wrote:

THERE are three types of government.

The first is where one person, or a group of persons, pass laws and issue decrees which everyone must obey.

The second is where every person is his own master, acting as he or she thinks fit.

The third is where God is acknowledged as ruler, and all people seek to follow his way of love.

He argued that type 3 is the ideal, and that if we all had such Christian self-control then government type 2 would be realistic as well.

However, because there is sin in the world this will not happen, meaning that some government of type 1 is regrettably necessary.

HOWEVER no society has ever existed in which every member fully and consistently tries to obey God; there are always people motivated by greed and self-interest.

For this reason there need to be individuals or small groups who pass laws and issue decrees which can be enforced. The existence of the first type of government is a tacit admission of human sin and frailty.

The challenge is to ensure that these lawmakers act on behalf of the people as a whole and not just for their own benefit.


A scene from the House of Commons in the 1980s

“The challenge is to ensure that these lawmakers act on behalf of the people as a whole and not just for their own benefit.” A scene from the House of Commons in the 1980s.


So what kind of leaders should we look for? Scions of some political dynasty? Wealthy businessmen? Inspiring orators of ‘peace and security’? Bipartisan deal-makers? No, no, says St John Chrysostom.

LOOK at those who rule your city or your nation.

Some seem to have no qualities which mark them out for such a task; they hold a position of power through an accident of birth, or through ingratiating themselves with their superiors.

Some have natural authority, so that they inspire confidence and respect in others.

Some possess natural wisdom, so they handle easily the complex affairs of state.

But whether or not they have natural gifts, there is another type of gift which surpasses all others: the gift of knowing right from wrong, and the courage to choose what is right.

St John tells us that this gift is not something we are born with, but something we must acquire “through reflection, education, prayer, and practice”. He even says,

IT would be better that our leaders were poor in natural gifts, but rich in this moral gift, than that they exuded authority and wisdom, but used these natural gifts for their own ends.

Extracts from “On Living Simply” Nos 40 and 42. This book is a selection of passages from the writings of St John Chrysostom, edited and translated by Robert Van de Weyer.

Note: The editor of this fascinating little volume (Amazon US | Amazon UK) warns us that he has translated loosely and occasionally paraphrased; sadly, the original source of each passage is not given, so I haven’t been able to check them out, or translate them afresh.


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