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21.08.04 De Wet/Mayer, Revisioning John Chrysostom

The Medieval Review

21.08.04 De Wet/Mayer, Revisioning John Chrysostom


[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

For one of the best known early Christian authors, there has been a remarkable dearth of handbooks or guides for scholars on research related to John Chrysostom. Even as nearly a hundred Master’s or Ph.D. dissertations over the last twenty years have focused on or featured extended treatments of Chrysostom, few have been published, and there remains no central scholarly society or regular conference dedicated to Chrysostomic studies. This provocative and extensive volume seeks to highlight recent research on Chrysostom by bringing together over twenty studies that utilize a diverse range of methods. As the editors highlight, nearly half of the contributors have received their doctorates within the last five years or are in the process of completing them. With any luck, this means that the current volume is a foretaste of how the next generation of Chrysostom studies will take shape.

As noted in the preface, the editors deliberately did not divide the articles into subsections so as to predetermine the way they would be read. Instead, they urge readers to read the book in its entirety “to discover to the fullest extent what is emerging in this field” (xi). That notwithstanding, the introduction (Chapter 1) offers one approach to grouping the essays: studies on (1) Chrysostom’s biography, (2) social history, and (3) theology. The editors demonstrate how each of these aspects of Chrysostomic studies has been rethought, either in complementary or competing ways, by the studies in this volume. The introduction thereby succeeds in offering a guide to the volume as a whole and pointing out areas of convergence between contributions that are not always explicit within the articles themselves. In the following, I will offer one complementary approach to understanding the connections among the various contributions by organizing them under four themes: (1) preacher and audience, (2) medicine, health, and healing, (3) philosophy and theology, and (4) social history.

The first five chapters exhibit a range of approaches to the relationship between the preacher and his audience. Chapter 2 (Courtney Wilson VanVeller) analyzes Chrysostom’s anti-Jewish polemics by examining Chrysostom’s portrayal of Paul as a master rhetorician who, like a physician, seeks to heal the sickness of his audience’s soul. By looking at Chrysostom’s depiction of Paul in Acts or his statement to become “a Jew to the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20), VanVeller uncovers a deeply embedded anti-Jewish perspective that permeates Chrysostom’s works and goes beyond a narrow focus on the Adversus Judaeos homilies. By way of contrast, Chapter 3 (Wendy Mayer) takes the Adversus Judaeos homilies head on, differing from VanVeller in interpreting them as directed against Jews rather than Judaizing Christians. Mayer offers a fresh look not only at the historical background of these homilies but offers an innovative combination of moral psychology and cognitive linguistics to suggest that the anti-Jewish rhetoric in these homilies had real-life consequences, as the homilies could not have had a benign effect on their audiences when viewed through the lens of modern theories. Chapter 4 (Isabella Sandwell) takes a more general approach to the question of the audience’s reception of Chrysostom’s preaching. Sandwell likewise draws on cognitive science--here the cognitive science of religion--to argue that the success of preachers like Chrysostom was not due to their audiences’ reception of their teachings, doctrinal or otherwise, exactly as the preachers would have formulated them but rather due to the audiences’ ability to take these teachings and make them their own. Chapter 5 (Geert Roskam) advocates for investigations of individual homilies where the preacher’s interactions with the audience can be understood in context. Roskam’s close reading of the relatively neglected homily Peccata fratrum non evulgandathereby complements more general studies of Chrysostom’s audience. Chapter 6 (Jan R. Stenger) takes a different approach to audience by employing cognitive poetics and text-world theory to suggest that Chrysostom’s rhetoric should be understood as creating “worlds” for his audience. This formed part of Chrysostom’s pedagogical strategy in which he taught his audience how to perceive and inhabit the biblical thought world, liturgical spaces, and their social environment.

The next set of articles deals with themes related to the study of religion, medicine, health, and healing. Chapter 7 (James Cook) addresses Wendy Mayer’s influential treatment of Chrysostom’s homilies as philosophical-medical treatises and therapy for the soul. [1] Cook emphasizes the theological background to Chrysostom’s thought, which he sees as minimized in Mayer’s model. To this end, the article examines the influence of the biblical text and the Christian tradition on the way that Chrysostom shaped his therapeutic thought. In Chapter 8 (Blake Leyerle), analogies between human bodies and animal bodies come to the fore. Some animals function mimetically in that they reveal central Christian teachings such as the Fall and the resurrection, while others are invoked semiotically and encourage specific ethical behaviors. Chapter 9 (Yannis Papadogiannakis) offers a wide-ranging treatment of emotions in Chrysostom’s homilies and identifies extended quotations in which his corpus can contribute to the history of emotions. This includes an informative discussion of practices in which Chrysostom invokes the emotions, such as the kiss of peace, to encourage specific ways of perceiving activities and to foster ethical behaviors. Chapter 10 (Peter C. Moore) analyzes the use of emotions in Chrysostom’s Homilies on Matthew 15 and 32. Moore develops a concept of communities of emotional mutuality, defined as a human group that shares a common emotional experience or are bound together for mutual support. The focus of this chapter forms a nice complement to the previous one, but the anxieties of Chrysostom’s day that enabled the construction of a community of emotional mutuality could be more clearly defined. Chapter 11 (Jessica Wright) examines Chrysostom’s use of the brain in therapeutic contexts. The analogy between the human body and society/the church enables Chrysostom to portray himself as a physician of the communal body. Chrysostom’s demonstration of his knowledge about the brain situates himself as an authority who can help cure both individual bodies/souls and the communal body. Chapter 12 (Chris L. de Wet) focuses on psycho-somatic health, including diet, eating, exercise, sleep, and bathing. Here Chrysostom functions as a “psychic iatrosophist,” “a teacher of the health and pathologies of the embodied soul” (411). De Wet reveals the connection between medical discourse and masculine ideals of psycho-somatic health.

The following six chapters discuss Chrysostom’s engagement with various philosophical and theological topics. The first three focus on three philosophical schools. Chapter 13 (Samuel Pomeroy) takes a close look at Chrysostom’s citations of Plato’s Timaeus. Pomeroy analyzes whether he accessed this work through Eusebius of Caesarea’sPreparatio evangelica, which in turn acts as a lens through which to view Chrysostom’s appropriation and engagement with Greek philosophical traditions. Chapter 14 (Constantine A. Bozinis) examines Chrysostom’s engagement with natural law, drawn especially from the Stoics and with reference to the tradition of Greek paideia. Through focused studies on family law, slavery, wealth, and usury, Bozinis demonstrates how Chrysostom frames nature as a teacher of humankind. Chapter 15 (Paschalis Gkortsilas) turns to Chrysostom’s engagement with Cynicism, first situating his broad engagement with the Cynics as models and then turning to a specific study of the Cynic idea of “self-sufficiency” (autarkeia). As the Cynics, Chrysostom promoted a concept of self-sufficiency “about restricting need to what is truly necessary” (558). The following three chapters turn to theological themes. Chapter 16 (Demetrios E. Tonias) looks at the figure of Abraham as a model for Christian philanthropy, who emerges as both as “a Stoic sage and a Christian saint” (566). His use of Abraham reveals a reworking of the classical concept of euergetism in which the love and care for the poor is emphasized as the end of philanthropy, an ideal that should be lived out within the Christian household. Chapter 17 (Pak-Wah Lai) again turns to models for the faith to reevaluate Chrysostom’s doctrine of salvation, which has often been seen as wanting when compared to the soteriology of the Reformers. By examining the portraits of angels, Adam, and Paul, Lai is able to show Chrysostom’s understanding of recapitulation by which Christians can transcend their humanity through the Holy Spirit to participate in or recapitulate the image of God. Chapter 18 (Samantha L. Miller) examines Chrysostom’s demonology in conversation with deliverance theology, a modern “movement emphasizing exorcism and relief from evil spirits” (613). While both deliverance theologians and Chrysostom coach their congregations in how to recognize the tactics of the devil, deliverance theology teaches people to fear the devil while Chrysostom portrays the individual Christian’s “ability to choose” (proairesis) as a reason not to fear.

The final four chapters address social history. Chapter 19 (Benjamin J. Dunning) offers a study of Chrysostom’s understanding of sexuality, specifically same-sex eros, in the Homilies on Romans 3-5. Dunning situates his study as a response to Kyle Harper’s portrayal of Chrysostom’s thought as a major turning point in the history of sexuality in which same-sex eros as such could be criticized without reference to traditional points of critique related to status and gender. [2] Building on the work of Chris de Wet, Dunning argues both that Chrysostom played on ancient points of critique even as he disregarded them and that his criticism of same-sex eros is not so reductionist as has otherwise been asserted. [3] Chapter 20 (Jonathan P. Stanfill) examines the evidence for Chrysostom’s use of processions as a means of performing Nicene Orthodoxy with particular attention to the involvement of Gothic Christians. Drawing on Judith Butler’s performative theory of assembly, Stanfill argues that Chrysostom’s inclusion of Gothic Christians in the processions--at a time when they were often regarded as anti-Nicene and uncivilized--served as a means of promoting his vision of Nicene Christianity that had reached to the ends of the earth. [4] Chapter 21 (Leslie Dossey) turns to the evidence from Chrysostom’s homilies for the transformation of time that occurred in late ancient metropolises. While recent studies on time have often pegged the early modern period as marking a growth in time-pressure, Dossey reveals that many phenomena associated with this period were already present in Chrysostom’s Antioch and Constantinople. Far from opposing this faster pace of life, Chrysostom recognized it as a ground for competition and encouraged his urban population to substitute leisure activities with Christian ones. Chapter 22 (Justin M. Pigott) offers a new perspective on the severe picture of Chrysostom’s episcopal management of the clergy in Constantinople. Pigott argues that the distinct situation of Constantinople--which was still establishing itself as an episcopate at this time--created an environment in which Chrysostom’s tactics were perceived as unnecessarily harsh. His management would have been regarded differently had he become the bishop of Alexandria, Antioch, or Rome.

The end matter comprises a useful bibliography of ancient sources and John Chrysostom’s works (including information about editions and translations), an index of ancient sources, and a subject index. In a volume of this magnitude, these indices will prove especially important both for checking whether a specific part of Chrysostom’s vast corpus has been discussed in this volume and for making connections in subject matter between the diverse approaches taken in the essays.

As a whole, this volume forms a welcome consolidation of scholarly literature surrounding John Chrysostom. By reading through this volume--indeed in its entirety--one gains a new appreciation for the diverse ways in which scholars are approaching late antique homilies in general and the particular contribution of Chrysostomic studies. The individual contributors often engage directly with the ideas of other chapters, which results in robust discussions about approaching Chrysostom’s works. This volume will pave the way for studies on Chrysostom for years to come and can be recommended for all interested in a refreshing take on the study of late antiquity, the integration of modern theory and the study of historical texts, and the use of sermons as sources for pre-modern history.

Authors and Titles

1. Approaching and Appreciating John Chrysostom in New Ways, Chris L. de Wet and Wendy Mayer

2. John Chrysostom and the Troubling Jewishness of Paul, Courtney Wilson VanVeller

3. Preaching Hatred? John Chrysostom, Neuroscience, and the Jews, Wendy Mayer

4. Preaching and Christianisation: Communication, Cognition, and Audience Reception, Isabella Sandwell

5. Emancipatory Preaching: John Chrysostom’s Homily Peccata fratrum non evulganda (CPG 4389), Geert Roskam

6. Text Worlds and Imagination in Chrysostom’s Pedagogy, Jan R. Stenger

7. “Hear and Shudder!”: John Chrysostom’s Therapy of the Soul, James Cook

8. Locating Animals in John Chrysostom’s Thought, Blake Leyerle

9. Homiletics and the History of Emotions: The Case of John Chrysostom, Yannis Papadogiannakis

10. Bound Together for Heaven: Mutual Emotions in Chrysostom’s Homilies on Matthew for Well-Ordered and Fruitful Community in Anxious Times, Peter C. Moore

11. Brain, Nerves, and Ecclesial Membership in John Chrysostom, Jessica Wright

12. The Preacher’s Diet: Gluttony, Regimen, and Psycho-Somatic Health in the Thought of John Chrysostom, Chris L. de Wet

13. Reading Plato through the Eyes of Eusebius: John Chrysostom’s Timaeus Quotations in Rhetorical Context, Samuel Pomeroy

14. The Natural Law in John Chrysostom, Constantine A. Bozinis

15. “Dogs Priced at Three Obols”: The Reception of Cynicism in John Chrysostom, Paschalis Gkortsilas

16. The Iconic Abraham as John Chrysostom’s High Priest of Philanthropy, Demetrios E. Tonias

17. Exemplar Portraits and the Interpretation of John Chrysostom’s Doctrine of Recapitulation, Pak-Wah Lai

18. The Devil Did Not Make You Do It: Chrysostom’s Refutation of Modern Deliverance Theology, Samantha L. Miller

19. John Chrysostom and Same-Sex Eros in the History of Sexuality, Benjamin H. Dunning

20. The Body of Christ’s Barbarian Limb: John Chrysostom’s Processions and the Embodied Performance of Nicene Christianity, Jonathan P. Stanfill

21. Night in the Big City: Temporal Patterns in Antioch and Constantinople as Revealed by Chrysostom’s Sermons, Leslie Dossey

22. Capital Crimes: Deconstructing John’s “Unnecessary Severity” in Managing the Clergy at Constantinople, Justin M. Pigott

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Notes:

1. See, for example, Wendy Mayer, “Shaping the Sick Soul: Reshaping the Identity of John Chrysostom,” in Christians Shaping Identity from the Roman Empire to Byzantium: Studies Inspired by Pauline Allen, ed. Geoffrey D. Dunn and Wendy Mayer, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 132 (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 140–164.

2. Kyle Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity, Revealing Antiquity 20 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

3. Chris L. de Wet, “John Chrysostom on Homoeroticism,” Neotestamentica 48, no. 1 (2014): 187–218.

4. Judith Butler, Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly, The Mary Flexner Lectures of Bryn Mawr College (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).