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«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»

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The remaining homilies on the epistle focus more specifically on its content and follow the bipartite structure mentioned above that begins with lemma-by-lemma exegesis leading to a sermonic discourse. Typically, a keyword in the concluding verse of exegesis serves as the theme or means to the topic that he discusses in the sermonic portion. Homily 2 exegetes 2 Thess 1:1-8, focusing specifically on the nature of grace, love, patience, and God’s vengeance. This latter topic receives an excursus that goes beyond a description of the Judgment to focus on a cultivated fear that a Christian should have toward hell. For Chrysostom, the appropriate attitude best develops through repeated engagement with the “divine discourse” of Scripture.

The third homily (1:9-2:5) begins with a discussion of hell, likely indicating the series nature of these homilies as well as its connection to the text of the epistle. The mention of the Lord’s “glory” and the saints’ relationship to that glory, and the nature of “calling” absorb his attention in the first four verses. Chrysostom equates “the coming of our Lord Jesus” (2:1) with the general resurrection, and observes how Paul encourages the Thessalonians thoroughly before proceeding to his own doctrine regarding the eschaton. The text leads into a discussion of the “man of sin” (2:3) as Antichrist, which Paul concludes with the question “Do you not remember that I told you these things…” (2:5). Chrysostom capitalises on this expression to teach the necessity of repeated instruction, particularly against the passions of wealth, pride, and sloth, which are countered by continual engagement with Scripture.

Chrysostom’s fourth homily (2:6-3:2) observes first the obscurity of τό κατέχον, which he understands as the Roman Empire, and the “mystery of lawlessness at work,” which he deems to be Nero. He then follows a Danieltype timeline of kingdoms that must precede the arrival of Antichrist. His rhetorical education comes through in the repeated posing of questions,23 namely in regard to how God could allow the “deception of those who are perishing” (2:10). He encourages his audience with the promise of salvation to Mayer and Allen, John Chrysostom, 20. This use of rhetorical questions, in many cases as anticipating arguments of the audience, is replete in his homilies. For a thorough use of structuring questions, cf. Against those who Abandon the Church for the Circus Games and the Theatre (PG 56:263-70).

those who “love the truth” (2:10), i.e. Christ. Chrysostom adds to the apocalyptic timeline that Elijah will precede Christ’s second coming. The closing verses (2:16-3:2) draw Chrysostom’s attention to prayer, leading into an exhortation to pray both because it is a means of God’s grace and because John, in a leadership scenario similar to Paul, greatly needs the prayers of his congregants. He reveals how prayer indicates equal participation for all in the divine.

His concluding homily on the epistle covers the remaining verses (3:3and continues with the topic of prayer, associating it with the Lord’s promise of salvation. Chrysostom observes Paul’s rhetorical move of emphasising the Lord’s prerogative in salvation to keep the Thessalonians from thinking too highly of themselves. This is accompanied by reminders to remain in love and patience, which leads into the topic of the idle. With Paul, Chrysostom emphasises working with one’s hands. He also clarifies the nature of “withdrawal” (3:6) with not wearying in doing good by regarding the admonished as brother (3:13, 15). Chrysostom differentiates this from the treatment of the poor by members of his own congregation. The Christian should always help another in genuine need, without insulting them. The concluding prayer (3:18) is regarded as a real impartation of the grace and presence of Christ. Chrysostom connects this to the promise of Christ’s presence in the Great Commission (Matt 28:20), denouncing idleness and mistreatment of the poor as a contrast with the command to baptise and teach all the nations (28:19), which is the contingency of the promise. He concludes by offering practical ways for every congregant, but particular men, to be “teachers” of doctrine in all aspects of their lives.

II. Influential Impulses for Interpreting 2 Thessalonians The instructive and rhetorical approach exhibited in his sermons reveal the salience with which he perceived the homily as “a powerful educative tool and medium of persuasion, as well as an effective means of forging a bond with those who actively listen to what he has to say.”24 Chrysostom preached with “directness,”25 avoiding the abstract, because of the conviction that the homily could have a profound effect on social behaviour, promoting a form of ascetic-moralism in his congregations.26 When looking specifically at Pauline texts, Chrysostom aims at perceiving the mind of the apostle27 through the historical context of the given epistle and the rhetorical tools employed therein. Part of this task entails Chrysostom querying, “What is Paul doing as a pastor in this letter?” and he works out the answer in terms of Christian formation. This materialises particularly in his repeated themes of wealth, pride, and humility.28 Each of these topics receive attention in his homilies on 2 Thessalonians.

In his reading, Chrysostom strives to illuminate the “meaning” of the text, in one sense, by following Paul’s “purpose” in the letter as a whole. At the same time, he sees the “meaning” of the text in the broader sense of God speaking presently in a way that has “practical” meaning for the congregation.





It is important to note that, though the Antiochene tradition emphasises a literal reading of Scripture, the Scriptures as a canonical whole form the Ibid., 44.

Ibid., 27. Chrysostom owed his interpretive predilection to the instruction of Diodore, who criticised allegory sharply. Kelly, Golden Mouth, 19.

Hartney, John Chrysostom, 33–34; Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops, 170 and 181.

Chase, Chrysostom, 157.

Mayer and Allen, John Chrysostom, 21.

interpretive context, which differs from the construal of “literal”29 interpretation in historical positivism.

One of the greatest influence on his homilies on 2 Thessalonians lies in Chrysostom’s ascetic background. This way of life, itself shaped by an emphasis on certain biblical impulses, leads to a particular view of Scripture’s centrality in the Antiochene ascetic tradition. It is marked by an eschatologically-oriented present in thought and action, constant redirection of attention to God, the promotion of humility, and the renunciation of making money.30 Rather than explore his work according to homily and the order of 2 Thessalonians, I examine aspects that shape Chrysostom’s reading of the epistle, both in terms of literary and social context, and the thematic guidance of the text. These topics (alluded to above) include: 1.) Chrysostom’s Antiochene exegetical heritage; 2.) his esteem for Paul; 3.) his training in rhetoric; 4.) a canonical reading of Scripture; 5.) monastic/ascetic influences;

6.) practical concerns regarding hell and apocalyptic material, and; 7.) general pastoral concerns for his congregation(s). Combined with the (primarily Christian) literature available at his time, these elements constitute the epistemological and interpretive framework with which Chrysostom approaches 2 Thessalonians. Though the text itself primarily provides the “Literal” should be taken in the same way that Pannenberg evaluates Luther’s exegetical approach in which the “literal sense of Scriptures was still identical with their historical content” and doctrine could be identified “with the content of the biblical writings literally understood.” Pannenberg, Basic Questions, 1:6. This canonical unity is taken for granted in the Patristic era. Young, Biblical Exegesis, 7 and 10.

On the likely influence of Diodore here, see Kelly, Golden Mouth, 18; Mayer and Allen, John Chrysostom, 28.

terms and concepts that he discusses, Chrysostom determines which facets he highlights and develops them in a particular direction.31 The list of topics is rather extensive and interwoven, so any decisive division between them is false. Further, The selection of sources might appear erratic or arbitrary, but they seem to me to be the dominant influences in Chrysostom’s reading. The organisation of the topics is not necessarily hierarchical, but an arrangement that reveals how adjacent themes relate to one another. The chapter alternates between describing the paradigmatic elements that lead to a particular interpretation of a text and putting Chrysostom in dialogue with other theologians. On occasion, I concentrate solely on Chrysostom to see how his hermeneutical paradigm constantly returns to the subject matter of Scripture.

Understanding the aesthetic value of Chrysostom’s work requires the temporary stabilisation of a canon of texts from the early Church, with particular attention dedicated to the Greek-speaking East and those from the Antiochene interpretive tradition. Situating it in this literary and historical context should reveal the manner in which Chrysostom’s reading of 2 Thessalonians confronted the horizon of expectations at his time, and how this reading can expand the modern horizon of understanding when compared with recent interpreters on the same book.

2.1. Receptive Impulses: Antiochene Exegetical Heritage The Antiochene tradition of interpretation32 both opens and delimits the direction of Chrysostom’s interpretation.33 Generally speaking, the This is in keeping with Jauss’ distinction of effect and reception. Hans Robert Jauss, “The Theory of Reception: A Retrospective of its Unrecognized Prehistory,” in Literary Theory Today, ed. Peter Collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 60.

Antiochenes aimed to communicate the plain sense of the Scripture, but this did not prevent them from perceiving spiritual insights toward which the text pointed with a method they labelled θεωρία. “For theoria to operate they considered it necessary (a) that the literal sense of the sacred narrative should not be abolished, (b) that there should be a real correspondence between the historical fact and the further spiritual object discerned, and (c) that these two objects should be apprehended together, though of course in different ways.”34 The larger aim of Antiochene exegesis, particularly under Diodore, was paraenesis and instruction. By attending to the “sense of the text, the aim of the speaker, the cause, and the occasion for the composition,”35 the exegete is able to penetrate to the “hidden meaning”36 of the passage. This offered something of a middle ground between the allegory of Alexandria and rigid literalism because it preserved “the text’s underlying unity and logical coherence.”37 Chrysostom divides “Scriptural statements into (a) those which The Antiochene School can be divided into three periods according to its teachers. The first period began under under Lucian; the second, or “golden age,” started with Diodore and extended through to the leadership of Theodore; the final “period of decay” came about through the association of Nestorius with Antioch. Chase, Chrysostom, 2. I accept Fairbairn’s (and many others’) stance against the clear-cut division of Antiochene and Alexandrian hermeneutics. Donald Fairbairn, “Patristic Exegesis and Theology: The Cart and the Horse,” WTJ 69 (2007): 1-19. This position, however, does not undermine the importance of Chrysostom’s Antiochene background or the stance that this period of Antiochene exegetes took against Alexandria.

The use of “direction” over against “meaning” might appear pedantic, but it incorporates better the “senses” of Scripture than the latter.

J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th rev. (London: Continuum, 2001), 76. See also Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 51.

Susan Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian Controversy: The Making of a Saint and of a Heretic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 250. Cf. Chrysostom, Against the Marcionists and the Manichaeans 2, (NPNF1 9:201). Zaharopoulos describes theoria as presupposing typology rather than allegory, because allegory destroyed the historical significance of biblical narratives. Even Paul’s own use of “allegory” to describe an illustration of Sarah and Hager (Gal 4:24) is employed “catachrestically,” according to

Chrysostom. Dimitri Z. Zaharopoulos, Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Bible (New York:

Paulist Press, 1989), 112.

Chrysostom, Against the Marcionists and the Manichaeans, 2 (NPNF1 9:201).

Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria, 250. Wallace-Hadrill contends that one of the main influences on Antiochene exegesis was the mainstream exegetical methodology of Jewish allow a 'theoretic' in addition to the literal sense, (b) those which are to be understood solely in the literal sense, and (c) those which admit only of a meaning other than the literal, i.e. allegorical statements.”38 Compared to allegory, θεωρία features quite prominently in his works. Though not with every verse, certainly with every homily Chrysostom reaches the stage of θεωρία if practical, present meaning can be included in the idea of θεωρία.39 Neither the degree of interpretive flexibility nor the consistent arrival at θεωρία mark the commentaries of his contemporaries Diodore, Theodore of Mopsuestia, or Theodoret of Cyrus.

Other aspects characterising Antiochene exegesis include questions of translation and etymology, attention to metaphorical language, and even comparisons of alternate readings. Much depends on the argument of the text and genre, which Antiochenes measure against other Scriptures, and the background of the particular text in question, most often described in a hypothesis. As mentioned above, paranaesis held the primary place in exegesis with the overall aim of moral, ethical, and dogmatic exhortation.40 Chrysostom overcomes the hermeneutical distance between his time and the

scholars, which held Philo at a distance. D. S. Wallace-Hadrill, Christian Antioch (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1982), 30.

Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 75.



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