Lent Madness: John Chrysostom vs. Isaac Watts

The round of the Saintly Sixteen continues with another interesting contest: John Chrysostom vs. Isaac Watts. In recent action, Aelred stunned John the Baptist, beating him by a single vote. See the complete updated tournament bracket here: Lent Madness 2010

Today we have a smooth talker vs. a music maker. John was such a gifted preacher that he was given the moniker “Chrysostom” (meaning “golden mouthed”). So it’s as much his last name as Jesus’ last name is “Christ.” In fact the bee is a symbol associated with John because through eloquence he is said to have been endowed with a “honey tongue.” John served as Archbishop of Constantinople, was a gifted theologian and liturgist, as well as a homilist. He inspired Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of John Chrysostom, composed in 1910.

The Orthodox Church continues to read his Easter Homily on Easter Day and, anecdotally, I know of several priests who read his famous Christmas homily on December 25th.  This is done for two reasons: it’s a powerful sermon and some clergy are tired and lazy come Christmas morning.

Isaac Watts, the “Father of English Hymnody,” started writing verse at an early age. It’s reported that after getting in trouble for keeping his eyes open while saying his prayers he wrote A “little mouse for want of stairs, ran up a rope to say its prayers.” After being whipped for this he cried “O father, father, pity take And I will no more verses make.”

Watts was quite prolific — he’s credited with writing 600 hymns. Here’s a list of some of his hymns from the Cyber Hymnal. His best known hymns are “When I survey the wondrous cross,” “Joy to the world,” and “Jesus shall reign.” You can get a sense of both his brilliance and Calvinistic leanings through this acrostic:

“I” – I am a vile, polluted lump of earth
“S” – So I’ve continued ever since my birth
“A” – Although Jehovah, grace doth daily give me
“A” – As sure this monster, Satan, will deceive me
“C” – Come therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws relieve me.

“W” – Wash me in Thy blood, O Christ
“A” – And grace divine impart
“T” – Then search and try the corners of my heart
“T” – That I in all things may be fit to do
“S” – Service to Thee, and Thy praise too.



6 Comments on “Lent Madness: John Chrysostom vs. Isaac Watts”

  1. (The Rev.) Brian McHugh says:

    Well: the Golden-mouthed or the Dour Calvinist. Given what I know about each of them, I vote for neither! (Could you make that an option??)

  2. Father Tim says:

    Brian — No “None of the Above” option here. The best advice I can give you is to vote against the winner in the next round!

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    John Chrysostom is awesome. We read his Easter sermon every year at the Great Vigil of Easter. Isaac Watts is a well intentioned non-conformist (a.k.a. schismatic). John is clearly the winning saint, if Watts is indeed a saint at all.

  4. Father Tim says:

    I haven’t been voting in these but I will say that I have a specific memory of Watts’ “Joy to the World” that has nothing to do with Christmas. For a brief time my younger brother played the trumpet. Unfortunately all he could play was “Joy to the World.” In August. So I took that mute thing and jammed it into his trumpet. We never were able to get it out and that ended his trumpet playing career.

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    Gotta love “Joy to the world”, the ironically named carol that everyone loves, even though it goes on about original sin at some length.

  6. Tried to vote twice to break the tie…but the technology wouldn’t let me.

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