«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
This phrase is frequently, and somewhat unhelpfully, used by numerous modern Calvin scholars. Cf. Thompson, “Calvin as a Biblical Interpreter,” 71. Thompson qualifies his definition of “authorial intent,” but has nevertheless selected a loaded term in the current hermeneutical discussion. Again, in the dedication of his first commentary, Calvin describes the commentator’s aim as unfolding “the mind of the writer whom he has undertaken to expound, he misses his mark, or at least strays outside his limits, by the extent to which he leads his readers away from the meaning of the author.” Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 1 (italics mine). Indeed this rings of the modern notion of “authorial intent,” but this overstates Calvin’s case. A literal reading of the text serves as a tether, yet the “mind of the author” includes a vast theological framework from which the commentator might draw to reach informed conclusions about the meaning of a passage, both in its historical context and for the modern reader. Steinmetz elucidates that Calvin “was interested in the biblical text less as an historical artifact than as a lifegiving [sic.] instrument of the Holy Spirit... he did not think that the letter of scripture could be so identified with the original setting of a biblical story or oracle that its significance remained limited to and exhausted by the past.
We have already described the second connection between the Fathers and Calvin through the different primary ways in which he relies on Augustine theologically and Chrysostom for his exegetical method. Yet these influences Auditu 12 (1996): 104; Steinmetz argues further that, in terms of the general aims of the Reformation, “What the Protestants advocated was not letter in the historical-critical sense, the reconstructed story behind the story as presented, and not the letter in the sense of mere narrative line, though the narrative line was crucial to their exegesis. What they advocated was a letter pregnant with spiritual significance, a letter big-bellied with meanings formerly relegated by the quadriga to allegory or tropology... it is clear that the repudiation of the quadriga is not equivalent to the advocacy of a hermeneutic that collapses the meaning of a text into its original historical setting or that specifies the conscious intention of the human author who wrote or spoke it as the inviolable boundary of its meaning.” David C. Steinmetz, “Divided by a Common Past: The Reshaping of Christian Exegetical Tradition in the Sixteenth Century,” The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 27, no. 2 (1997): 249.
Lane has published a detailed study of Calvin’s use of the Fathers within the framework of eleven theses. Of particular note are theses II (Calvin’s use of the Fathers “is primarily a polemical appeal to authorities”), III (“Calvin is less interested in authorities but instead debates with other interpreters”), and IV (negative remarks about a patristic source “may be a mark of respect”). Anthony N.S. Lane, John Calvin: Student of the Church Fathers (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), esp. 1–13; see also David C. Steinmetz, “Calvin and the Patristic Exegesis of Paul,” in The Bible in the Sixteenth Century, ed. David C. Steinmetz, vol.
11, Duke Monographs in Medeival and Renaissance Studies (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1990), 116–18.
Walchenbach, Calvin as Biblical Commentator, 21; Thompson, “Calvin as a Biblical Interpreter,” 63.
cooperate in any interpretive endeavour. In this way, Calvin’s reading of 2 Thessalonians is guided both by the content of the epistle and doctrinal motivations. Therefore, doctrinal/theological conceptions characterise the next five impulses that shape his reading of 2 Thessalonians, with particular attention given to his view of Divine sovereignty, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church, the salvific activity of God in Christians, and eschatology.
Connected with this final theological concept is the influence of the papacy and the Roman Church in general on his reading of 2 Thessalonians.
Predictably, this colours his discussion of 2 Thess 2, and functions as the primary referent with which he associates the letter outside of his commentary. Its association with “eschatology” makes this topic a fittingly final receptive impulse to discuss.
2.1 Receptive Impulses: Humanist Rhetoric Similar to Chrysostom, the influence of Calvin’s rhetorical training18 materialises primarily through his attention to the rhetorical tools that Paul employs in 2 Thessalonians. Simply by the nature of its design, the Institutes, as compared with the commentary, does not lend itself to exploring the rhetorical function of biblical texts. Therefore, this section will focus almost exclusively on Calvin’s attention to rhetoric in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians. Additionally, though this section operates under the assumption of Calvin’s humanist education on his reading of the epistle, we also perceive the Reformer’s reaction to renaissance humanist rhetoric in the Renaissance humanist rhetoric entailed a return to classical rhetorical education similar to Chrysostom’s day, though with Quintillian as the pedagogic resource. Robert Black, Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 336–38.
commentary by way of his own stated aim of brevity.19 Nevertheless, Calvin cannot completely escape the pervasive influence of humanist rhetoric in tension with his claimed stark, simplistic clarity of biblical rhetoric.20 The entry point into this discussion comes through Calvin’s dedication of the commentary to his physician, Benedict Textor. Clearly playing on Paul’s sense of obligation to give thanks to God for the Thessalonians (1:3), Calvin prefaces his letter using similar terminology of obligation21 to Textor for his concern over the health of Calvin and his wife, as well as his deep “concern for the common good of the Church” evident in his urgency for healing the Reformer.22 His dedicatory choice matches the tone and content of the epistle. In this way he comes closest to rhetorical flair of Chrysostom.
From the outset, Calvin evaluates the rhetorical function of the letter.
In his argument, he describes 2 Thess 1 as exhortative and the final chapter as both a commendation and encouragement. In the body of the commentary, two particular rhetorical patterns absorb Calvin’s attention: rhetoric designed to affect a response from the readers and the reassertion of divine reality.23 He preferred “lucid brevity” to the eloquence of many rhetors. Thompson, “Calvin as a Biblical Interpreter,” 62; Calvin made a parallel connection between “Divine accomodation” and the necessity of the pastor (or commentator) to accomodate his language to his audience.
Hazlett helpfully clarifies this bridging function of rhetoric as “decorum.” Hazlett, “Calvin’s Latin Preface,” 135–36.
Holder, “Calvin as Commentator,” 242–45.
Compare his comment to Textor, “ego autem bis me potius tibi obstrictum esse sentio,” with his interpretation of “Quemadmodum dignum est” (2 Thess 1:3): “His verbis ostendit
Paulus, nos ad gratias Deo agendas obstringi.” Jean Calvin, In omnes Pauli apostoli epistolas:
Epistolas ad Ephesios, Philippenses, Colossenses, Thessalonicenses, Timotheum, Titum, Philemonem, et Hebraeos complectens, ed. August Tholuck, vol. 2 (Halis Saxonum: Librariae Gebaueriae, 1831), 200 and 202, respectively. The dedication is missing from the CO collection.
Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 385.
Both of these might be classified as deliberative rhetoric, though they are particular themes employed by Calvin. Admittedly, Calvin has several other categories of rhetorical observation, including consolatory rhetoric and assurance, but we have limited the discussion to the two listed above.
I. Effective Rhetoric In the first example of rhetorical evaluation, we hear the voice of Chrysostom through Calvin. Commenting on Paul’s impulse “to give thanks to” God for the faith and love of the Thessalonians, the Reformer observes that the apostle “begins by praising them, so that he may allow himself to proceed to exhorting them. In this way we have more success with those who are already on their way, when without remaining silent about their progress, we remind them how far distant they still are from their goal, and urge them to continue.”24 Paul has observed their growth in these areas since his previous epistle and he wants them to continue such development. Given his reliance on Chrysostom, it is likely that Calvin appropriates this rhetorical observation from his homilies, thereby sustaining a tradition.
On Paul’s invocation of grace, Chrysostom observes the apostle’s tactic as rendering the Thessalonians “well-disposed” so that they would be willing to hear the remainder of the letter, even should it contain rebuke.25As a general concept, Calvin follows the archbishop: Paul desires a particular response from the Thessalonians.26 Yet, significantly, Calvin shifts Paul’s strategy from the grace/greeting to the thanksgiving. In so doing, he moves from what might be considered a manipulative tactic on the part of the apostle (Chrysostom) to a logical process along which one must proceed in speaking with dedicated Christians: encourage them for their advancement, but urge them to continue to their goal. Despite the fact that he uses language of Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 387.
Erasmus’ edition varies slightly from the PG. Erasmus, Divi Chrysostomi, vol. 4, 1145.
The relationship between the two is implicit, along with several other examples from the commentary on 2 Thessalonians. Only four explicit references to Chrysostom appear in the commentary: John Calvin, Commentarius in epistolam Pauli ad Thessalonicenses ii, (CO 52:200, 209, 212, 215).
“success”27 amongst hearers, this has nothing to do with manipulation, in Calvin’s eyes. Instead, the process of encouragement leading to exhortation is the required pastoral response to obedient Christians, which should evoke a particular reaction from them.
Calvin’s implementation of Chrysostom in this way, in the mediation of his new work through the old, lies on “the royal road of aesthetic experience.”28 With Chrysostom serving as a gauge against which Calvin is read, we perceive the aesthetic distance between the two. Though Calvin prefers to relocate Chrysostom’s observation to a later verse, both should be taken up in the horizon of understanding to reshape one’s reading of 2 Thessalonians.
Leaving Chrysostom aside, Calvin turns his attention to the apostle’s confidence that the Thessalonians will do what Paul has commanded (3:4), noting his “confidence… made them much more ready to obey than if he had required an obedience from them that was hesitant or untrusting.”29 In what appears to be a move to, again, prevent Paul from looking manipulative in seeking personal aims, Calvin asserts that the apostle gives them no regulation other than that which has been commanded by the Lord.30 Furthermore, Paul did not even consider between the options of proclaiming confidence or demanding obedience. He simply inscribed what was appropriate to the congregation.
“sic enim plus proficimus apud eos qui iam in cursu sunt.” Ibid., (CO 52:187).
Jauss, “Tradition,” 375.
Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 415.
i. Contemporary Scholarship Scholars from Calvin’s own day produced a number of commentaries on the Pauline epistles.31 Given the restrictions of space for discussion and availability of sources, we will limit the discussion to a select few.
Ulrich Zwingli serves as our earliest interpreter from the period.
Admittedly, he left no commentary on 2 Thessalonians, but the lectures from his Prophezei group include notes on the epistle. The main difference between Calvin and Zwingli in their respective works on the epistle is one of methodology. Zwingli’s loci approach, similar to Melanchthon’s, results in his omitting discussion about these verses altogether, whereas Calvin’s commentary draws out their rhetorical significance within the larger context of the epistle.32 The same follows for Martin Luther, who engages with 2 Thessalonians, though not in a commentary. Luther essentially excavates the epistle for theological resources without necessarily considering the rhetorical function of the particular parts of the letter. This probably accounts for the complete absence of reflection on 2 Thess 1:3 and 3:4 in his works.
The Catholic commentators, Cardinal Thomas Cajetan (1469-1543) and Gulielmus Estius (1542-1613), exegete in a verse-by-verse manner similar
to Calvin. Cajetan, who commented before Calvin or Estius, views 1:3
primarily as the beginning of a commemorative discourse.33 That is to say, he reads it as Paul positively recalling what the Thessalonians have done and For a sample of commentators on Romans, for example, see Steinmetz, Calvin in Context, 65.
In his Greek NT annotations, Zwingli’s only notes on 2 Thess 1:3 are definitions of ὑπεραυξάνει and πλεονάζει. Ulrich Zwingli, Annotationes (CR 99:91).