«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
“Hincincipit narratio commemoriatiua augmenti fidei dilectionis & patientie thessalonicensius.” Thomas Cajetan, Epistolae Pauli et aliorum Apostolorum ad graecam veritatem castigatae (Paris: Apud Iod. Badium Ascensium & Ioan. Paruum, & Ioannem Roigny, 1531), 136.
does not consider what Paul may be trying to achieve in writing it. Cajetan’s view is descriptive, while Calvin considers function. The two perspectives can be taken together as correct, for, indeed, 1:3 marks the beginning of the thanksgiving. Nevertheless, Cajetan’s representational description of the verse adds little to understanding the text that cannot be gathered simply from reading it.
When looking at 3:4, Cajetan understands the verse similar to Calvin:
Paul and company’s confidence that the Thessalonians will obey comes from the Lord. Yet Calvin asserts that the confidence is “founded upon” (fundatam)34 the Lord, while Cajetan more clearly perceives it as coming from the Lord. The difference might appear to be one purely of semantics, but Cajetan’s perspective more clearly delineates that their confidence is not selforiginating. Cajetan’s view strengthens Calvin’s reading and his overall perspective of Divine sovereignty. Though again, only Calvin considers the effect of this verse on the hearers in Thessalonica.
Interestingly, Estius draws attention to the relationship between this text and a variation of the Sursum Corda, the Eucharistic prayer in the Catholic and Eastern traditions in which the priest, facing the altar prays “Gratias agamus Deo nostro.” The congregation responds “Dignum et iustum est,” followed again by the priest: “Vere dignum et iustum est, nostibi semper et ubique gratias agere.”36 He describes the function of this Scripture in the context of worship, in which the verse shifts from a thanksgiving for the Calvin, Comm. 2 Thess. (CO 52:210).
Cajetan suplements the confidence of the apostle and co-senders with the phrase “pro suasum autem habemus” as a way making completely clear that the confidence is Divinelysourced and not simply their own strong desire. Cajetan, Epistolae Pauli, 138.
Gulielmus Estius, In omnes Divi Pauli & reliquas Apostolorum epistolas, ed. Jakob Merlo-Horstius (Cologne: Petri Henningii, 1631), 741.
growth of faith and love in the community to a general thanksgiving directed to God (though implicitly having to do with the Eucharistic sacrifice) that should “always and everywhere” be offered. Furthermore, Estius considers their obligatory thanksgiving as “fitting” (1:3) with the righteous demands of God,37 which coheres with Calvin’s view of the phrase as obligation toward God. By associating it with God’s righteousness, he renders the point even stronger.
Along with Cajetan, he clarifies that confidence “in Domino” (3:4) is better understood as “per Dominum, per gratiam Domini Jesu Christi.”38 Again, this more clearly articulates the Divine action that results in their confidence, as opposed to the Reformer’s terminology, which makes the Lord sound conspicuously passive in the process.
ii. Modern Scholarship Given their emphasis on the rhetorical structure of 2 Thessalonians, Witherington and Wanamaker will serve as helpful modern comparisons with Calvin on this topic. Witherington’s rhetorical divisions of the epistle place the beginning of the exordium at 1:3. Following Quintilian, he observes that “sole purpose of the exordium is to prepare our audience in such a way that they will be disposed to lend a ready ear to the rest of our speech.”39 As deliberative rhetoric, which is Witherington’s view of the epistle, Paul uses 2 Thessalonians to affect a change in the Christian community at Thessalonica, and the process begins with the exordium.
The unfortunate result of this rhetorical approach is that it dismisses the epistolary prescript (1:1-2) as having any substantial rhetorical purpose; a Ibid.
Quintilian, Inst. Or. 4.1.5 in Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 186.
perspective with which Chrysostom, a trained rhetor, would disagree. At the same time, it confirms Calvin’s emphasis that 1:3 marks the beginning of Paul’s praise of the Thessalonians, which will eventually allow him to progress to exhortation. Such a process is conducive to success in achieving one’s rhetorical aims.
Nevertheless, Witherington’s (over)emphasis on deliberative rhetoric runs the risk of eclipsing what Calvin has drawn out as well: Paul’s pastoral responsibility of encouragement preceding his exhortation. Over-commitment to a single framework for understanding the biblical literature delimits not only our own understanding, but also the multiple forces at work within a text (e.g. apocalyptic and pastoral concern). Wanamaker’s subtler approach in this regard enables him to describe the opening thanksgiving of the exordium as a genuine expression of praise on the part of the apostle for the Thessalonians growth in faith.40 Still, Calvin provokes the modern horizon in his emphasis on the pastoral necessity of the verse.
On 3:4, Witherington adds little, except to clarify that Paul’s assertion of “confidence” functions as an indirect command to the Thessalonians.41 Wanamaker complicates the situation by adding that Paul’s invocation of the Lord likely reflects “his reservations about the obedience of his converts.”42 He substantiates this with Paul’s claiming a divine sanction to issue commands in 3:6 and 12. Partnered with Calvin’s view of the verse, it gives the appearance that Paul is manipulating his audience, though it seems out of place to question the apostle’s motives (to which we have no access). It would Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 215–16.
Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 243; cf. I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 216.
Wanamaker, Thessalonians, 277.
be more helpful to speak in terms of the potential effect of his wording, or, as Calvin describes these rhetorical moves in both passages, they are selfimposed steps along which Paul must proceed before he moves on to a section of exhortation or instruction. The process is shaped by his pastoral concern for the Thessalonians. In a paradigm that seeks to attain the historical meaning, these perspectives must meet in a “summit dialogue” and be taken collectively into the horizon of understanding.
II. Reassertion of the Divine Reality One of the other, primary ways in which Calvin evaluates the rhetorical structure and function of 2 Thessalonians manifests in his attention to Paul’s language that reasserts the need for and existence in reality as defined by God. In this section, we recognise that Calvin’s rhetoric is shaped both by his humanist education and a particular understanding of God’s sovereignty and Christian obligation within a theological framework, with Paul serving as exemplary of this understanding.
Calvin draws attention to Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians that they may reach a specific “end” (1:11), or goal. The articulation of the prayer in these terms and by what follows regarding their “calling,” Paul reminds them “that they are in continual need of God’s help.”43 The Thessalonians have done well to grow in faith and love, and to persevere under persecution, but they have not attained the goal that they seek, and it will come to nothing if God has not established it. Even the above-mentioned accomplishments they have attained by the sustaining grace of God. Calvin makes precisely such a claim in the Institutes with this same verse, noting that Paul’s prayer evidences
their need for grace, as Christians cannot fulfil what is required of them.44
Thus he extends a specific prayer into a general assertion about Christians:
they must not forget their source and the God-sustained reality in which they exist.
In the later thanksgiving of the epistle (2:13; 2:12 Vg.), which follows on a description of the fate of the wicked, Calvin argues that the “δέ” in the phrase “Ἡµεῖς δὲ ὀφείλοµεν εὐχαριστεῖν τῷ θεῷ πάντοτε περὶ ὑµῶν” (2:13) functions contrastively, drawing a sharp distinction between the wicked and the Thessalonians. This delineation should assure not only the Thessalonians, but also future Christians, that, though the apostasy will come, they need not fear or waver in faith, because he has warned them in advance and his prayer commends “further the grace of God towards them.”45 By this phrase, Calvin clearly indicates his belief in the ongoing effect of this prayer, by which God sustains faithful Christians as the apostasy enters full swing. The prayer warns of what is to come, reminds Christians of the peace in which they exist, and places them in the protection of God.46 In the same verse, Calvin draws attention to the phrase “beloved by the Lord,” which gives the Thessalonians pause to consider that the love of God is all that delivers them “from the all but universal destruction of the world.”47 Paul does not mechanically reuse the phrase from 1 Thess 1:4, it means something within its new context in 2 Thessalonians, particularly in its Calvin, Institutes, 1:3.2.25.
Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 408.
Calvin makes use of 2 Thess 2:13 on several occasions in the Institutes, though always with reference to “sanctification by/in the Holy Spirit.” For this reason, we will attend to it later under doctrinal influences.
Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 409.
contrastive position with the description of the wicked, as Calvin has shown.
The influence of Calvin’s doctrine of grace also sources his reading.
A final example of Calvin’s rhetorical analysis comes in Paul’s reminder to the Thessalonians of his difficult situation resulting from the fact that “not all have faith… but the Lord is faithful” (3:2-3). Perhaps in response to people who have questioned Paul’s ministry, this verse redirects the Thessalonians’ attention to God, who is faithful by nature of his being, over against the easily distracted minds and motives of people. It is a warning for Christians to locate their trust ultimately in God, instead of people. For many within the Church seek to disturb the faith, because many faithless have found their way into the Church by the working of the evil one.48 i. Contemporary Scholarship Zwingli draws attention to the content of the prayer in 1:11, observing that, on that Day, “God will be admired and glorious to those who believe” and that he will bring all good to completion.49 Cajetan comments specifically on the prayer, though he essentially reiterates its content, describing it as about that “small group” who will attain the kingdom of God (cf. 1:5). Then, he connects it with Paul’s instruction at the end of chapter two, which details the means of attaining the kingdom (2:12-16).50 In essence, the two passages function together as a summary doctrine regarding the fate of the elect. Calvin holds a similar perspective overall, though he concentrates first on the rhetorical function of the prayer Ibid., 414–15.
Ulrich Zwingli, “In ii. epistolam ad Thessalonicenses annotationes,” in Huldrici Zuinglii Opera, ed. Melchiore Schulero and Io. Schultessio, vol. 6, 1 (Zürich: Schultessiana, 1836), 240.
Cajetan, Epistolae Pauli, 137.
and he would undoubtedly challenge how the Catholic author understood one could “attain” the kingdom.
Estius clarifies that the apostle’s prayer seeks the glorification and admiration of Christ in the believers at his advent (1:10), by means of his request that God make them worthy of his calling, namely, to accomplish his good pleasure eternally through granting patience in affliction (as “every work of faith”) by his grace,51 so that this glorification comes to pass (1:11-12).52 Like Cajetan and Zwinlgi, Estius’ reading concentrates on the content of the prayer.
Looking ahead at the thanksgiving prayer of 2:13, Estius likewise remarks on the sharp distinction drawn between the elect and the reprobate.
He also exhibits a great deal of text-critical attention to the phrase “primitias” (ἀπαρχήν; 2:13), eventually agreeing with Jerome’s reading against Calvin, Ambrosiaster, and Cajetan (he cites the latter two). The primary influence on his decision has to do with Paul’s use of the phrase elsewhere to designate the first converts from a region. God’s choice of these “firstfruits” emphasise the goodness of God affecting salvation, rather than the merits of the individual.53 Such language closely mirrors the vernacular of the Reformers, perhaps as an implicit effort to discredit their attack on Catholic doctrine. To this, he adds the “sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth” (2:13) as “the effect of “...opus fidei, id est, patietiam in adversis... Nam potentia gratiae Dei maxime perspicitur in tolerandis adversus pro Christi nomini.” Estius, In omnes d. Pauli, 744.
divine election,”54 understanding this “spirit” as the “soul” or “heart” the believer, which “faith in the gospel” (i.e. “the truth”) purifies.55 Cajetan observes the shift from the reprobate to the elect, noting that God has chosen the elect Thessalonians, apart from their merits, to eternal salvation.56 Here, we see a precedent in asserting the subject shift and unmerited grace of God in election, though Cajetan does not note function or the effect of describing the Thessalonians as “beloved by the Lord.” Zwingli draws out this concept of distinction between the reprobate and the elect most clearly. He reads in this transition Paul’s implication of the deluded (2:10-11) as pseudo-religious hypocrites, as compared with the genuinely faithful, “true worshippers,” whom God had elected and sanctified.57 Therefore, Zwingli and Cajetan reflect a common perspective regarding the contrast that this thanksgiving draws between two eschatological groups in which Calvin’s own reading fits. Yet the Genevan Reformer takes the contrast further by considering the epistle from the position of the audience. The thanksgiving certainly delineates between the wicked and the reprobate, but it also solidifies their foundation through Calvin’s view of the impending apostasy by reminding them of God’s grace. Even Estius, whose work parallels elements of Calvin’s exegesis, does not situate this in the discussion looking toward the eschaton.