«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
Turning to modern commentators on this same verse and topic, we observe similar attention to the pride of Antichrist in Rigaux.225 In 2 Thess 2:4, he sees Paul characterises Antichrist by “une opposition orgueilleuse à tout ce qui est divin ou sacré… Impie, orgueilleux, blasphémateur, tels sont les traits qui stigmatisent l'horrible figure.”226 Rigaux shows further that one can trace the opposition and pride against the sacred found here to Dan 11:36.227 This reveals the textual relationship of our passage to the OT, which Chrysostom does not insinuate. In addition to this, Rigaux situates 2 Thessalonians further in the apocalyptic genre by way of comparison with other apocalyptic texts.
Wanamaker follows Rigaux in this regard, commenting on the relationship of the passage to Dan 11:36 as a description of Antiochus Epiphanes. He adds that in the tradition out of which 2 Thess 2:4 originated “the arrogance of the person of rebellion… would culminate or result in his usurpation of the temple of God to declare his own divinity.”228 He extends the argument further by connecting the passage to Ezek 28:1-10 and Isa 14:4in which historical rulers arrogated to themselves the claim of divinity.229 In Chrysostom’s day, these passages were understood as a description of Satan’s fall, and served as the loaded background behind Chrysostom’s statement “Satan fell by arrogance.”230 Wanamaker does not assume such a connection, but continues by grounding 2 Thessalonians in a context of religious-political turmoil, in which the pride of Caligula conflicted with the Rigaux refers to the “man of lawessness” as “anti-Dieu” rather than “Antéchrist.” Rigaux, Thessaloniciens, 658.
Ibid., 658. Emphasis added.
Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 246.
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 1 (PG 62:470).
beliefs of the early Christians. This ruler recapitulated Daniel’s prophecy and served as a contemporary type for the future eschatological enemy of Christ.
Through such rulers, the mystery of lawlessness continues to work, Wanamaker contends. He adds further that modern Christians face similar, yet more complex problems, such as nations and political figures arrogating to themselves “Christian symbols to legitimate their unjust and oppressive practices such as apartheid, militarism, and imperialism.”231 Wanamaker offers a pastoral reflection of the same tone as Chrysostom but locates the attention in a different place.
The history of interpretation shows that readers have understood the activity of Antichrist in terms of arrogance and pride, yet for Chrysostom these terms are couched in an inherited tradition regarding the fall of Satan and an ascetic-moralism that developed out of this tradition. His reading becomes introspective and provides correction, “satisfying” the original horizon of expectations, but his censure of pride has lost its sharpness in the progress of history. Rigaux’s exegesis situates the letter in a literary and political context, which Wanamaker utilises to turn the gaze of Christians outward, that they might become aware of Antichrist-arrogance, systemic sin, exhibited by leaders or nations in the present and stand against it (though he does not specify how). These complementary readings, when taken together, generate a horizon of understanding pride and Antichrist in the world that is denser than any of the readings taken individually. The text is not simply about an eschatological event, but it is also about the manifestation of and identification with this eschatological figure against God in the present.
Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 248–49.
II. Concern for the Poor Connected to the issue of pride, is Chrysostom’s concern for the poor.
In his first homily on 2 Thessalonians, the bishop sees that pride quickly leads to an unhealthy thirst for wealth as well as contempt for the poor.232 He does not qualify a specific “type” of poor. The discussion of the poor resurfaces with greater attention in his final homily on the epistle. On its own, the topic does not appear to have any relationship to the content of the letter. It grows out of reading Scripture that is both conscious of social context and an asceticmoralism that has a developed and holistic understanding of practices described in Scripture.
In his fifth homily, Chrysostom perceives Paul as working night and day (2 Thess 3:8) in order “to assist”233 others. In this way, Paul provides an example in how Christians should work and to what end (i.e. both to keep from being idle and to provide for those in need)234 thereby uniting the issues of idleness and poverty. Chrysostom is clearly speaking of the poor Christians at this point, and potentially even monks, who have renounced both wealth and work. Chrysostom sharpens his chastisement of the congregants for insulting the beggar “who for your sake is poor,”235 rather than giving and admonishing privately, as Paul instructed (3:15).236 John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 2 (NPNF1 13:382).
“ἐπικουρεῖν.” John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 5 (PG 62:494).
As he has laid the groundwork in his first homily for understanding every sin as proceeding from and sustained by pride, the discussion on the topic of sin and almsgiving should not be understood as separate.
The assumption here being that God allows the person to be poor for the sake of the giver’s own “healing.” John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 5 (PG 62:496) Generally speaking, reactions to the structurally poor bordered on hostile. Reactions to the voluntary poor varied from kindness to mistreatment like those above. Chrysostom’s challenge to his congregation to give generously to the poor (particularly the structurally poor) was a battle against the cultural ethos of viewing the poor with suspicion. Wendy Mayer, “Poverty and Generosity in the Time of Chrysostom,” in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society, ed. Susan R. Holman, Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 140-58. Brändle argues that Chrysostom makes almsgiving a soteriological issue, looking particularly at his homily on Matt 25:34-35. Perhaps In the first homily, the concern remains general: Chrysostom wants his congregation to expel pride, so that they might be appropriately concerned for the poor in general. He substantiates this in his sermon on almsgiving, in which he pleads with his congregants to give as Scripture compels them after he witnesses the extreme penury in the winter marketplace.237 The final homily concentrates on the specific manner of giving to the poor and certainly relates to a growing monastic movement within Christendom. The “idle” are not likely so because they believe the Day of the Lord is imminent, as in Paul’s day, but because the degree of their poverty necessitates their begging, even in the case of those who exert themselves constantly in spiritual work rather than physical work by which they can earn a living.
i. Contemporary Scholarship Situating this in the literary context of Chrysostom’s day, we see how far he extends monastic/ascetic-moralism and instruction to his congregants.
In his Longer Rules for monastic communities, Basil not only makes an explicit connection between pride and idleness,238 he also asserts that the “aim and intention with which the workers [monks] must work” is to provide for “those in want, not his own need.”239 Like Chrysostom, he grounds this in Paul’s exhortation and reminder to the Thessalonians to follow the example that he gave them, quoting 2 Thess 3:8, 11, and 12. Both authors mine the text
only an allusion to judgment appears in our text. Rudolf Brändle, “The Sweetest Passage:
Matthew 25:31-46 and Assistance to the Poor in the Homilies of John Chrysostom” in ibid., 127-39.
John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving (FC 96:131–49).
Basil of Caesarea, “The Longer Rules” in Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, 195–96.
for doctrine. For one it relates particularly to governance of monastic communities, but to the other it applies equally to all Christians.240 Likewise regulating monastic communities, John Cassian pursues a similar tack as Basil and Chrysostom, though he expands the discussion and follows his master, Evagrius Ponticus,241 by situating it in the discourse of the eight logismoi. Under the spirit of acedia (weariness) Cassian describes how this “noonday demon” afflicts the monk, but he provides a corrective firmly established in Scripture, particularly 2 Thessalonians. Likely writing in a monastic context at this point, Cassian reminds his readers of Paul’s example through manual labour, the admonition that the idle should not eat, and the proper manner of admonishing the disorderly brethren.242 He does not, however, speak in terms of the aim of labour, like Basil, aside from its capacity to correct acedia. The absence of working so as to provide for the poor might be due simply to the fact that Cassian’s monasticism was coenobitic and withdrawn from society where one would readily encounter the needy. The influence of Evagrius on Cassian appears in the structure and terminology of The 12 Books, but this does not exclude the mutual influence of Cassian and Chrysostom on each other during their time together at Constantinople. Cassian’s reading of 2 Thess 3:6-15 demonstrates a number of affinities with Chrysostom.
Theodore reads 2 Thess 3:6-15 in an interesting light. Certainly, the able-bodied members must work with their hands, so as not to burden the community. At the same time, reading this passage too narrowly puts it in Sterk, Renouncing the World, 146.
The Praktikos is also intended for the monastic community, but Evagrius does not connect this explicitly to 2 Thessalonians. See “Praktikos 12” in Evagrius Ponticus, Evagrius Ponticus: Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, 18–19.
John Cassian, The Twelve Books, 10.7-16 (NPNF2 11:268-72).
conflict with Paul’s challenging comments to the Corinthians about the gospel worker’s right to provision from the community (1 Cor 9:4-15). For this reason, Theodore contends that those engaged in teaching (i.e. priests and bishops) are free from working with their hands in a way that others are not, because they provide an essential service to the community.243 He looks at the text from a position of a bishop who does not engage in manual labour and raises the question of how this exhortation reaches his profession. Theodore does not make a connection between work and provision for the needy. For Chrysostom, the connection is clear: the idle are the poor.244 At the same time, Chrysostom offers a similar perspective to Theodore in a passing comment that alms are given to those who are unable to work and those who “are wholly occupied in the business of teaching.”245 Chrysostom is somehow able to realise both of these answers in the text. The difference in the social contexts (Antioch or Constantinople vs. Mopsuestia) and the audience of the respective works (congregation vs. educated clergy) might account for the difference in the questions posed.
With Chrysostom, John of Damascus reads this passage as referring to those who beg for food, but he quickly follows this up with the comment that they should work, after Paul’s example. He then takes up a position similar to Theodore and Chrysostom in defending the right for “τοῖς τὸ Εὐαγγέλιον κηρύττουσιν” to live from the gospel (1 Cor 9:14),246 likely eyeing his own post.
Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In epist. ii Thess.,” 62–63; see also Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 62–63.
“[Paul] is discoursing concerning the poor.” John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 5 (NPNF1 13:396).
Ibid., 394 John of Damascus, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 95:928).
Centuries later, a significant reader of Chrysostom, John Calvin, exhibits the ongoing influence of the Church Father. Generally speaking, Calvin takes a harsh stance against those who do not labour, especially the monks of his day. Following Augustine in condemning idle monks, Calvin bewails their appeal to an “Order or other and sometimes with the name of some Rule” in defence of their idleness.247 Calvin might have sharpened this accusation had he turned the Longer Rule or Cassian’s 12 Books against them.
Whereas the Fathers’ corrections to the monastic communities stems from intimate association with them as insiders, Calvin’s use of this passage comes as an outside observer.
Calvin finally engages with Chrysostom on this topic at 2 Thess 3:13.
First, he cites Ambrose’s opinion that “this remark has been added so that the rich should not withdraw from motives of envy the assistance which they are giving to the poor.”248 He then follows this with a similar comment from Chrysostom, who contends that the verse means a person who has been justifiably condemned as lazy should, nevertheless, not be deprived of food if they need it. Calvin argues, alternatively, that the intent of the verse is to prevent those who give generously from taking offence at the behaviour of the undeserving or those who take their generosity for granted and thereby retract the hand that gives to those in need. Here he synthesises the perspectives of Ambrose and Chrysostom into one. These Fathers mediate the “new” voice of the Reformer.
John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s Commentaries (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1961), 419.
What does not materialise in Calvin, however, is the characteristic sweetness with which Chrysostom speaks of the poor. Calvin concludes, “however the ingratitude, annoyance, pride, impertinence, and other unworthy behaviour on the part of the poor may trouble us, or discourage and disgust us, we must still strive never to abandon our desire to do good.”249 Chrysostom’s question matures in a context in which he witnesses extreme poverty and the neglect of Christian responsibility to care for the poor. Calvin’s question, alternatively, reflects a diminished gap between the rich and poor, and the evident monastic neglect of biblical commands. Still, Calvin is able to envision the poor to whom Chrysostom refers, and therefore incorporates his thoughts.