«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
apparently intended to encourage the Thessalonians and thus cause them to take hope in the midst of present trials.”119 With proper training in rhetoric, it would be wise for the former group to follow Chrysostom by considering the structural nature of the GrecoRoman rhetoric and the utilisation of particular tools for a particular effect, and for the latter to consider more carefully the function of a discourse as a whole in a particular setting, as both Menken and Fee have done. For both groups, it is advisable to recognise the distinction between function and meaning. That is to say that, though the function may indicate the meaning in a particular context, it does not govern the range of meanings of a text, as Chrysostom shows in his considerations for the Thessalonians and then for his own congregation.
II. Rhetoric: “Grace” as Invocation In addition to guiding his broader view, Chrysostom evaluates the rhetorical quality of specific verses. He describes the opening grace (1:2) as an invocation120 by Paul on the Thessalonian congregation after having witnessed the greatness of God’s grace and because he desired to render them “welldisposed” toward him for the remainder of the epistle.
i. Contemporary Scholarship Commentators from the same period and locale do not place such an emphasis on the “grace.” Theodoret focuses instead on the relationship of the Father and the Son as equals, while Theodore only comments, “Fashioning the preface of the epistle, he begins thus…”121 Turning to Theodore’s commentary Fee, Thessalonians, 246.
Literally, “He prays this on them” (ταύτην αὐτοῖς ἐπεύχεται). John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 2 (PG 62:473). Chrysostom uses the same language of invocation (ἐπεύχεται) with regard to the greeting in his first homily on 1 Timothy. See John Chrysostom, In epistolam primum ad Timotheum commentarus 1 (PG 62:505) Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In Epist. Ii Thess.,” 42.
on 1 Thessalonians, the reason for such a dismissive reading becomes clear:
“He puts ‘grace’ in the same way that we are accustomed to [writing] ‘greetings’ in the prefaces of epistles.”122 ii. Modern Scholarship In Bornemann, we find a slightly more developed sense of this greeting than Theodore. Commenting on 1 Thessalonians, he observes that χάρις ὑµῖν καὶ εἰρήνη is a Christianisation of the letter-greetings of both Gentiles (χαίρειν) and the Jews (εἰρήνη; shalom), but little more than that.123 Best accepts with the Greek and Jewish roots of this greeting, but notes that Paul has “transformed the customary greeting into one with deep theological import” and speaks to both Jewish and Greek Christians at Thessalonica.124 He adds to this that grace and peace imply “the fullness of God’s free unmerited gift of salvation and a relationship between man and God.”125 Menken and Wanamaker follow Best on the origin of this greeting, though they add it is likely a liturgical formula. More importantly, they recognise the greeting as a prayer by the author by which “it is supposed that grace and peace come on those to whom the words are addressed”126 and it evokes “in his readers a sense of divine blessing upon their lives.”127 This reading follows the available Greek fragment: τὸ χάρις ὑµῖν οὕτως ἡµεῖς τὸ ἐν ταῖς προγραφαῖς τῶν ἐπιστολῶν εἰώθαµεν. Theodore reduces the “grace” to a simple greeting based on its relationship to the term χαίρειν, which is the common epistolary greeting in Theodore’s time. Modern scholars have long recognised this relationship, and some have claimed, like Theodore, that one ought not to make much out of the greeting. Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In epistolam B. Pauli i Thessalonicenses,” 2.
Wilhelm Bornemann, Die Thessalonicherbriefe, KEK (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1894), 51–52.
In fact, if Best recognises this as a prayer, he forgets to mention so. Best, Thessalonians, 63–64.
Menken, 2 Thessalonians, 81.
Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 71.
Chrysostom’s assertion regarding the grace was provocative in its time, and the modern expansions are mediated through his ancient voice.128 Chrysostom’s interpretation functions as the exegetical base. Best and Menken specify how the grace would have affected Paul’s readers and the liturgical perspective leads to the incorporation of the grace in Christian worship. It is no longer just a prayer for a discrete group of believers, but also the prayer of Church. Thus this specific dialogue continues to connect pre-modern and modern interpretation.
III. Rhetoric: Prayer as Encouragement In the same homily, Chrysostom notes the rhetorical function of Paul’s language: “we ought always to give thanks to God for you brothers, as is right” (1:3). By such an expression, “he lifts their spirits, because their suffering is not worthy of weeping and lamenting, but rather of thanksgiving to God.”129 That is to say, by thanking God for the Thessalonians for their enduring faith in suffering, Paul encourages the congregation. Furthermore, this thanksgiving directs their minds away from themselves and toward God, forcing them to consider that someone’s good actions ought to cause others to admire God before the individual.
i. Contemporary Scholarship Theodore omits the former point regarding encouragement, but expands the latter, noting that thanksgiving is obligatory and further reveals the Thessalonians’ need for the grace of God.130 Theodoret, however, appears not to notice the direction or the obligation of the thanksgiving and, though he describes it as a “εὐφηµία,” he does not question the response that Paul strives Jauss, “Tradition,” 375.
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 2 (PG 62:473).
Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In epist. ii Thess.,” 43. See also Thiselton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 182.
to evoke in the Thessalonian church.131 Though all three certainly had rhetorical training, Chrysostom’s focus on preaching causes him to consider the evocative nature of the epistle.
From the Western Church around this time we might also add Augustine’s reading of this verse.132 He notes that Paul attaches the obligation as an addendum to the grace “lest they should make a boast of the great good which they were enjoying from God, as if they had it of their own mere selves.”133 Augustine’s doctrinal concerns generally guide his reading, yet his rhetorical training pierces through the surface as he notes a different dimension of this statement. On the one hand, according to Chrysostom, this verse encourages believers to remain in the faith during persecution, on the other hand, according to Augustine, the verse reminds them that God enables their faith and perseverance by his grace. What Chrysostom only hints at by noting that one’s good actions ought to cause others to admire God, Augustine makes more explicit by revealing God as the source of those good things. If Chrysostom influences Augustine’s reading of 2 Thessalonians in any way, one can assume that the influence is only in one direction.
ii. Modern Scholarship Best breaks from this interpretation by commenting that the obligation arises out of Paul’s personal relationship with the Thessalonians rather than Theodoret of Cyrus, Epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 82:660) Cooper has confidently shown that Anianus of Celeda translated many of Chrysostom’s works into Latin within ten to fourteen years of Chrysostom’s death. Kate
Cooper, “An(n)ianus of Celeda and the Latin Readers of John Chrysostom,” StPatr 27 (1993):
249-55. Altaner traces a relationship between Augustine and Chrysostom several decades prior to Cooper. Berthold Altaner, “Augustinus und Johannes Chrysostomus,” ZNW 44, no. 1 (January 1953): 76-84. Augustine interacted with the work of the bishop in Against Julian within two decades of Chrysostom’s death. On one occasion, Augustine rebuffs Julian of Eclanum’s use of Chrysostom by enlisting Chrysostom to support his position that infants do not have sins of their own, but that does not preclude the effect of original sin. Augustine, Against Julian (FC 35:25–35, esp. 27).
Augustine, On Grace and Free Will 38 (NPNF1 5:460). Against Julian predates this treatise by several years.
out of “the nature of things.”134 Here, he comes up forcefully against the reading of Chrysostom, who strives constantly to refocus attention on God.
Best’s reading reifies the humanity of Paul and his relationships with actual people in Thessalonica in the first century, yet it is questionable whether his interpretation of ὀφείλοµεν as indicative of the personal obligation is not somewhat forced. Fee puts these two interpretations in tension, but sides with Best in placing the emphasis of the thanksgiving on the Thessalonians. Still, he describes Paul as having “a strong sense of divine obligation to thank God for them,”135 which seems to conflate his two options for the obligatory emphasis and reassert the divine impulse for giving thanks. These two modern authors follow Rigaux, who draws a distinction between the use of ὀφείλω, which is personal, and δεῖ which “est dans la nature des choses.”136 Ultimately, all modern interpretations perpetuate Chrysostom’s tradition of considering the direction of Paul’s obligation (i.e. God or the Thessalonians), whether through rejection or acceptance of his conclusion.
Chrysostom’s dual reading considers both the ultimate source and aim of the thanksgiving and the rhetorical effect that the reading of this thanksgiving will have on the Thessalonian church. Reintegrating this into the discussion of 2 Thessalonians would broaden the horizon of understanding to push beyond Greco-Roman epistolary practices and semantics to a more theologicallyconstrained, God-centred reading of the epistle.
IV. Rhetoric: “Bringing Down Their Minds” The dual effect of Chrysostom’s rhetorical training and his Antiochene background appear in his exploration of the meaning of God making the Best, Thessalonians, 249.
Fee, Thessalonians, 248.
Beda Rigaux, Saint Paul: Les épitres aux Thessaloniciens, Études Bibliques (Paris:
Gabalda, 1956), 613.
Thessalonians worthy of his “calling” (1:11). Eyeing the subjunctive in the verse “that God might make/deem you worthy (ἀξιώσῃ) of the calling” (1:1), Chrysostom contends that this indicates the “call” is neither God’s ultimate permission to enter the kingdom of heaven at the eschaton, nor the past calling into a life of discipleship that leads ultimately to salvation. Instead, he connects being “made worthy” with “every work of faith” (1:11), which he describes as “the patient endurance of persecutions.”137 This coincides with his reading of being “counted worthy (καταξιωθῆναι) of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer” (1:5).
What sets Chrysostom’s exegesis apart, however, is his connecting ἀξιώσῃ and κλῆσις, and his contention that the Thessalonians “were not called.”138 The latter point has the rhetorical effect of keeping the readers from becoming overly proud of themselves. The former point appears to work out under several assumptions. In the first case, being “made/deemed worthy” could simply refer to persecution that one suffers in the name of Christ. Being “made/deemed worthy of calling,” however, is that calling to the “bridechamber” (ὁ νυµφίος); an indication that Chrysostom understands this passage as a reference to martyrdom. This perspective is strengthened by Chrysostom’s quotation of Heb 12:4. Only in this way, can the Thessalonians be at the full “persuasion” (πεῖσµα) of God. Chrysostom’s reading reflects the elevated view of martyrdom in the early Church, which understood martyrs as entering immediately into the presence (or “bride-chamber”) of God.139 John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 3 (PG 62:480).
Both the language of being “made worthy” and immediate translation into the “presence of God” is found in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 13.2, thus indicating the early development of this perspective. Similar connections of martyrdom and the “bridal-chamber” appear in Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins 7.3 (ANF 6:332); Leo the Great, Letters Therefore, the bishop confidently contends that the Thessalonians have not yet been called.140 This absence of “calling” functions as a sober reminder to prevent them from becoming “slothful”— a rhetorical strategy to encourage their remaining in the faith and to submit to God’s πεῖσµα.141 i. Contemporary Scholarship This reading differs starkly from those of his contemporaries.
Theodore, for example, notes that the calling has occurred by means of the preaching of the gospel and, though it is the call to a salvific end in the eschaton, the Thessalonians responded to that call prior to the authorship of this epistle. It is possible to fall away from a type of calling, as Chrysostom warns, but Thedore perceives the calling as having already taken place and does not connect it with martyrdom.142 Theodoret essentially reiterates Theodore, though he concentrates on the nature of this prayer for the Thessalonians to produce endurance in persecution (cf. Chrysostom) so that they will remain in the calling.143 John of Damascus even follows Chrysostom’s rhetorical understanding that this verse keeps the Thessalonians, as well as modern readers, from thinking too highly of themselves in their perseverance and good works. This does not, however, 98.3 (NPNF2 12:73); and Chrysostom’s Homilies on S. Ignatius and S. Babylas (NPNF1 9:135-43). We should here add that Chrysostom connects 2 Thessalonians with the Synoptic Apocalypse and the language of Matt 25:1-13.