John Chrysostom is a leading candidate for the most remarkable yet unknown figure in church history. Preachers may hear about him in seminary—as the golden-tongued preacher or the chief practitioner of “Antiochene exegesis”—but that’s about as much as any of us knows.

John’s relative anonymity is hard to fathom. When you study him and his era, you keep bumping into wild monks, unruly crowds, sleazy bishops, and capricious emperors. You watch intrigue, duplicity, and murder. You hear glorious oratory and witness steadfast conviction on a slow, cruel march to the death.

Why Hollywood hasn’t capitalized on this story, I don’t know. In the meantime, we will. We may want to quibble with John about some doctrines and practices. But at the center of his being is a dynamic and courageous faith that deserves to be praised.

And feared. The fact is, John’s life and preaching not only inspire, they also convict. There was a fire in John’s gut; he loved Jesus Christ and had little patience with Christians who did not lay every ounce of body, mind, and soul at Jesus’ feet. As much as I’m drawn by his spiritual fire, I have to admit, I’m hesitant to get too close lest I get singed.

After John’s death, one of his admirers wrote, “It would be a great thing to attain to his stature, but it would be hard. Nevertheless even the following of him is lovely and magnificent.” And scary.

Mark Galli is managing Editor of Christian History.