Local Thief Bites Mother

MESAMBRIA, THRACE — The place of execution offered more than the usual excitement this past Friday as a young man, dripping red at the mouth, loudly berated his mother before going to his death.  She stood nearby, and eyewitnesses noted that she appeared to be bleeding from the side of the head. The bewildered crowd did not know what to make of the scene. After talking with the mother and one of the boy’s fellow students from grammar school, we were finally able to piece together a full report:

“A boy from school filched his classmate’s writing-tablet and brought it to his mother. And not only did she not punish him, instead she praised him! The second time he stole a garment and brought it to her, and she praised him all the more. The boy advanced in years and became a young man. By now he was attempting to steal even greater things. But eventually he was caught in the act, and with his hands tied behind him he was led away to the executioner. Now as his mother followed after him and beat her breast, he said that he wanted to whisper something into her ear.  And as soon as she came to him, he laid hold of her ear and bit it off.  Then she accused him of impiety: As if he were not satisfied with the offenses he had already committed, he also mutilated his mother! To which he said, ‘But before, when I had first stolen the writing-tablet and brought it to you, if you had punished me I would not have come to this, being led away to death.’ The saying is clear: That which is not corrected at the beginning will increase all the more.”

When the judge heard what had happened, he had a mind to punish the mother. But wisely recognizing that parental neglect is its own punishment, the judge decided not to waste his time with a trial and instead took his wife to lunch.


“The Boy Thief and His Mother” is one of Aesop’s fables, and the moral of the story varies slightly depending on the version. Laura Gibbs has, “if you are wise, you will tear out vice by the roots, in other words, at the very beginning of sinfulness and other wickedness, so that the severing of the root will cause the branches to wither away.” A 1484 version by Caxton says, “And therfore chastyse wel youre children / to thende / that ye falle not in to suche a caas” (And therefore chastise well your children to the end, that ye fall not into such a case). Joseph Jacobs concludes with Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart therefrom.” But the point remains basically the same: a bad beginning left unchecked leads to a bad end, whereas correcting the bad leads to good.

Consider:

  • Are children by nature inclined toward good or evil? (see Genesis 6:5, Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-18)
  • What happens to a child when vice goes uncorrected?
  • Secular schools do not agree with Christian definitions of virtue and vice, in some areas (especially the realm of sexual morality) completely reversing the two. Modern educational theories also regard children as basically good by nature. What effect should Christian parents expect such erroneous views to have on their children?

Woodcut by Heinrich Steinhowel, from the book Vite et Fabulae, 1479.

“The Boy Thief and His Mother.” Greek version: Ésope Fables by Émile Chambry, #296. Translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.

Chrysostom Exposes Parental Absurdity

ANTIOCH, SYRIA — After expounding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Pastor John Chrysostom concluded today’s sermon with an exhortation to parents. During these words the Golden Church echoed with the sound of fathers tearing their clothes, mothers wailing loudly, and dull thuds as people smacked themselves in the forehead.

“We have a great trust given to us in children. Let us take care of them accordingly, and let us do all things that the evil one may not bereave us of them. But now everything is backwards with us! For we manage all things so that our estate will be good, and so that we may entrust it to a faithful man. And we seek after a donkey-driver, and a mule-tender, and an administrator, and a smart accountant. But when it comes to that which is more precious to us than everything else — that we should entrust our son to some person who is able to keep watch on his temperance — we take no consideration. And yet this of all things is the more precious possession, and those other things are for this one. So we take care of our possessions for the sake of our children, but we no longer take care of them. Do you see the absurdity?

“Train the soul of your child, and those possessions will be present besides. For when the soul is not good, he will have no advantage from your riches; but when the soul is set straight, he will have no harm from poverty. Do you want to leave him riches? Teach him to be good. For in this way he will also be able to gather riches; though even if he does not acquire them, he will be no worse off than those who have acquired. But if he should be evil, then even though you leave him myriads of things, you have not left him the guard; rather, you have made him worse than those who go into abject poverty. For when it comes to those among the children who have not been trained well, poverty is better for them than wealth. For poverty constrains them in virtue even though they are unwilling. But wealth does not permit those who are willing to exercise self-control; rather, it leads them away, and causes them catastrophe, and throws them into myriad dangers.”

Chrysostom preached this sermon toward the end of the fourth century AD, yet his words are as applicable now as ever. Consider:

  • What are the true riches that Christian parents should entrust to their children?
  • Why are earthly riches harmful when not accompanied by virtue?
  • Chrysostom speaks of a teacher or educator as one who should “keep watch over [the child’s] temperance,” likely referring to the cardinal virtue called Temperance. Why should parents seek teachers of virtue for their children, and not merely teachers of information or teachers of skills?

Quote from John Chrysostom, Homily IX on 1 Timothy.  Translated by Andrew Richard, 2017.