«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
II. Hell and Apocalyptic: 2 Thessalonians 2 Chrysostom holds something of a pragmatic and balanced view of 2 Thess 2:1-12, especially when considering the thoughts of his predecessors.
He perceives this imposed limitation in the text itself, when Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the “traditions” that they received as a corrective of the speculative and false eschatology that presumes to know too much regarding the eschaton. Chrysostom echoes Paul: “It is tradition, do not seek further.”276 This does not, however, prevent Chrysostom from making several observations about this passage. As noted previously, Chrysostom equates the “man of sin” with the Antichrist. He also labels him as the ἀποστασία, because he will cause many to fall away, and the “son of destruction” because he is destined to that end and will lead many to destruction. He denies that Antichrist is Satan, but recognises he is a man and the opponent of God.
Looking at the phrase “taking his seat in the temple of God” (2:4), Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 193–98.
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 4 (PG 62:488).
Chrysostom sees this as a reference to the Jerusalem Temple, but also sees it as the establishment of idolatry in every church.277 Finally,278 Chrysostom alludes to the destruction of various kingdoms in Daniel (Dan 7), noting that the prophet has likewise made this timeline.279 This connection reflects Chrysostom’s awareness of 2 Thessalonians’ place in a genre similar to other apocalyptic material, though he assumes the means of revelation to Paul rather than describes it.
Chrysostom also incorporates a tradition that perceives Antichrist as a man and an antitype of Christ. This is not as highly developed as in other Fathers, but its inclusion is important for revealing Chrysostom’s dependence on his theological predecessors. The clearest example of this antitype reading appears in his fourth homily, in which he relates that Antichrist is “the lawless one, that he is the son of destruction, that his appearance is according to the work of Satan; but contrary [things] concerning the other, that he is the Saviour, that he brings countless blessings.”280 For Chrysostom, instruction on this apocalyptic material is essential for several reasons: 1.) in his broader concern that people keep the fear of the Judgment before their eyes, this passage is particularly vivid;281 2.) it is a crucial doctrine taught by the apostle regarding the end times; 3.) repetition helps people to recognise the signs of the time, keeping them from forgetting, and; 4.) it keeps them from falling into sin by cultivating a mind appropriately John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 3 (NPNF1 13:386). In this suggestion that blends what will become the two major strands of interpretation regarding 2 Thess 2:1-12, Chrysostom predates Augustine, though he emphasises more the literal interpretation of the passage.
Regarding Chrysostom’s understanding of τό κατέχον and ὁ κατέχων, see pp. 110-11.
John Chrysostom, In epist. ii ad Thess. 4 (PG 62:488).
John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 2 (NPNF1 13:382-84).
shaped by eschatological realities.282 We might add to this list the pastoral need to address a theodical concern that rises out of the material, namely Paul’s assertion that God permits the deceit of the wicked (2 Thess 2:10).
Chrysostom responds to this concern that, regardless if Antichrist comes, these people still would not have believed in Christ, as history has already shown.
The coming of Antichrist is a double-condemnation, because they will both deny the divinity of Christ and place faith in Antichrist.283 By attending to these concerns, Chrysostom attempts to ground his congregation in an eschatologically-shaped reality.
i. Contemporary Scholarship In regards to the reading τό κατέχον as the Roman Empire, Tertullian (160-225), whose works were quickly disseminated in both Latin and Greek, was the first to make such an association. He situates this argument, however, in the larger discussion that affirms the doctrine of the resurrection of flesh at the final Judgment.284 At the same time, he exhibits a concern similar to Chrysostom in teaching sound eschatological doctrine.
Victorinus of Pettau (d. 304), another Latin writer, likewise pursued this interpretation in his Commentary on the Apocalypse, though without reference to the nature of the resurrection.285 The closest reading to Chrysostom is found in Lactantius (250-325), another Latin-speaker, who notes, “the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled, will be taken away from the earth.”286 He quickly follows this with a list of various kingdoms that have been destroyed (alluding to Daniel) reflecting a structure similar to John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 3 (NPNF1 13:386-87).
John Chrysostom, 2 Thessalonians 4 (NPNF1 13:389).
“What obstacle is there but the Roman State?” Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh 3.24 (ANF 3:563); McGinn, Antichrist, 62.
Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse 11.7 (ANF 7:354).
Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 7.25 (ANF 7:212).
Chrysostom. Yet Lactantius’ list includes the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Assyrians while Chrysostom lists the Medes, Babylonians, Persians, and Macedonians. Despite the differences, it is clear that the association of the passage with Daniel was received and not created by Chrysostom. The dissemination and translation of Christian texts in the early Church should not be underestimated, particularly from publishing centres like Carthage (Tertullian) and Constantinople (Lactantius).
Hippolytus (170-235), concentrated on a different aspect of this apocalyptic material. He developed a thorough antitype reading of Antichrist in great detail, though without exclusive reference to 2 Thessalonians.287 Pseudo-Hippolytus (mid-fourth century CE) continues this process with reference to 2 Thessalonians, going so far as to describe Antichrist as receiving circumcision so as to mirror Christ.288 This concept of a reversereplica of Christ, therefore, was well-worn before Chrysostom’s day.
Additionally, Chrysostom’s imposed limitation of Scripture as tradition allows him to assert only that Antichrist is a man and counterpart to Christ. This is an interesting selection, given that, at the time, Antichrist was seen diversely as the devil, an individual, a corporate figure, the antitype of Christ, a magician, or a principle.289 In terms of the immediate context of Chrysostom’s homilies, Severian reads τό κατέχον as the Holy Spirit.290 This reading accounts for the neuter gender of τό κατέχον, but Chrysostom’s question remains as to why Paul Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist (ANF 5:204-19); see also Thiselton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 215; Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 31.
Pseudo-Hippolytus, De consummatione mundi 22 (PG 10:925).
Thiselton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 216–17.
A variant reading of Severian says that which restrains is “the gifts of the Holy Spirit;” a view which Chrysostom and Theodore both dismiss, as the gifts had long since ceased in their times and the Antichrist had not yet appeared. Severian von Gabala, “Fragmenta,” 334.
would refer to the Holy Spirit in such an oblique manner. Theodore and Theodoret agree with each other against both Severian and Chrysostom. They perceive “that which restrains” as a temporal limit set by divine decree.291 For Theodoret, this makes more sense of the gospel going into all the world and overcoming “the deception of superstition” as a sign that precedes Antichrist’s arrival.292 These readings encounter the difficulty, however, in explaining how the divine decree can be “taken out of the midst” (2:8).
Generally speaking, the medieval Greek and Latin commentators prefer Chrysostom’s reading. We witness such reading, for example, in John of Damascus, Haimo of Auxerre, and the Glossa Ordinaria.293 Despite the disagreements of Chrysostom, Severian, Theodore, and Theodoret over τό κατέχον, all three advocate understanding the Antichrist as a man and a reverse replica of Christ.294 Chrysostom’s exegesis tends to satisfy his horizon of expectations, though his pastoral emphases are provocative both then and now.
ii. Modern Scholarship Modern scholars have observed that the greatest shift in Paul’s apocalyptic theology comes with the realisation that, though the apocalyptic triumph of God is consummated in the future, the eschaton of God has proleptically punctuated history in Christ’s resurrection.295 This means that the kingdom of God is a present, though partially veiled, reality with wide-ranging Theodore of Mopsuestia, “In epist. ii Thess.,” 52–55.
Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 129.
John of Damascus, In epist. ii ad Thess. (PG 95:920); Haimo of Auxerre, “Exposition of the Second Letter to the Thessalonians,” in Second Thessalonians: Two Early Medieval Apocalyptic Commentaries, trans. and ed. Kevin L. Hughes, TEAMS (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2001), 26–28; de Lyra, Glossa Ordinaria, 6:673–74.
Severian might take this a bit further than the others in arguing that Satan comes in a “complete person.” Severian von Gabala, “Fragmenta,” 334–35; Thiselton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 221; Theodoret of Cyrus, “2 Thessalonians,” 128.
Beker, Paul the Apostle, 111; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans.
Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 531.
effects for the people of God. For this reason, Paul recognises the necessity of a community shaped by the cross and the veracity of God’s eschatological triumph, and he strives to establish his addressees firmly in this ontological realisation. At this point we hear both agreement296 and disagreement with Chrysostom.
Though he may not do so exclusively in his works, Chrysostom tends to use “kingdom” language in his homilies on 2 Thessalonians only with reference to the future. At the same time, his emphatic position of a community living in a manner oriented toward the eschaton resonates with the position above. By asserting the proleptic manifestation of the kingdom in the
interpretation. At the same time, the archbishop’s reading finds concrete expression in a community in a manner that makes 2 Thessalonians more tangible. The apocalyptic material of the epistle is not exclusively addressed to the original audience, but also to the contemporary reader.
Regarding the apocalyptic material of 2 Thessalonians specifically, modern commentators have generally rejected reading ὁ κατέχων and τό κατέχον in relation to the Roman Empire, though they acknowledge the historical duration of this interpretation.297 Bonhoeffer, however, reflects pervasion of this tradition when he asserts that ὁ κατέχων is the “power of the state to establish and maintain order… which still opposes effective resistance We should also add here Rowland’s insight that apocalyptic revelation occurs so that people “may see history in a totally new light,” i.e. God’s grand historical scheme.
Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven (London: SPCK, 1982), 13. Chrysostom sees this need to see reality rightly for both the original, suffering recipients, as well as those historically-distant and comfortable Christians of his own day.
Best, Thessalonians, 296–301; Morris, First and Second Thessalonians, 225–28;
Menken, 2 Thessalonians, 110–13; Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 250.
to the process of decay.”298 Like the Roman Empire, governments are tools used by God for his ends, though they are “not without guilt.”299 Bonhoeffer generalises what the Fathers had made specific.
Röcker, who recognises the historical reading of the Roman Empire in this passage and Bonhoeffer’s uptake of the concept, takes a stance closer to Calvin and situates his interpretation of ὁ κατέχων and τό κατέχον in terms of their relationship to the OT, Qumran texts, and the Little Apocalypse of Matt 24-25. He concludes that τό κατέχον is the proclamation of the gospel and ὁ κατέχων is the one who proclaims the gospel.300 Given his context, Chrysostom’s conclusion regarding ὁ κατέχων and τό κατέχον as the Roman emperor and the Empire, respectively, were appropriate answers to the questions posed by the archbishop, particularly in a framework shaped by an interpretation of Daniel.301 Röcker’s research, however, places 2 Thessalonians in dialogue with a larger body of texts and, in a debate over the historical meaning, his conclusions bear greater weight than
those of Chrysostom. The continuity of their work lies in their question:
“What are ὁ κατέχων and τό κατέχον?” The historical meaning, however, does not exclude Bonhoeffer’s interpretation, because he seeks a principle for a theology of politics rather that the historical meaning of the passage.
Lastly, when considering the “man of lawlessness,” modern scholars often hesitate to equate him immediately with Antichrist, likely because of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Neville Horton Smith (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 108–9.
Röcker, Belial, 487–88 and 514–15.
We should add to this Chrysostom’s historical context, in which Julian attempted to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple— a perceived fulfillment of 2 Thess 2:4. This forms the basis for Wilken’s treatement of Chrysostom’s view of the Jews. Robert Louis Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004); Hughes, Constructing Antichrist, 33.
absence of this title in the Pauline literature. It is clear in Best’s commentary, however, that he interprets this “man of lawlessness” as the “anti-God” over against the Antichrist tradition.302 Other commentators typically repeat the textual titles.
This divergence between the Fathers and modern scholars can be traced to differences in hermeneutical methodologies (i.e. the canonical and eccesial-shaped readings of the early Church versus the historical