Monday, January 24, 2011

Discovering Chrysostom

Having done a sweep through the Bible for passages where my dissertation topic surfaces most prominently, I recently transitioned to a closer analysis of about a half-dozen important passages. In this I have tried, at my supervisor's prodding, to depend less on contemporary commentaries and to delve more intentionally into ancient material. This search has taken me into some of the sermons of the Patristic era -- an eventuality which has brought some significant benefit since mine is a topic with considerable pastoral impulses and ramifications. In retrospect it occurs to me that this is not a bad move. To find what the Tradition has to say about interpersonal forgiveness in the church it may may not be a good idea to let debates about the atonement have the monopoly when I could be reading the things those theologians said to their congregations.

I have to admit my choice of sources has been fairly random (limited as it is to the available texts in our library), but I have had the pleasure in the last couple days of reading homilies by Cyprian, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine (in addition to Calvin and some more recent exegetical commentaries). As it turns out, in regard to three of my selected passages (the Lord's Prayer, Matthew 18 and 2 Corinthians 2) I have found Chrysostom's homilies to be the most theologically and practically insightful, interesting, and even inspiring -- not only in comparison to the other sermons but also to many contemporary texts.

According to the preface of volume XII of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, this accidental discovery of mine may actually have some pedigree to it. In other words, I may have stumbled on to something here. Something which has been discovered before, but which nonetheless feels to me like a bit of a "find". Note the introduction to Chrysostom's homilies:
The history and remains of St. Chrysostom are in one respect more interesting perhaps to the modern reader than most of the monuments of those who are technically called the Fathers. At the time when he was raised up, and in those parts of the Christian world to which he was sent (the Patriarchates, namely, of Antioch and Constantinople), the Church was neither agitated by persecution from without, nor by any particular doctrinal controversy within, sufficient to attract his main attention and connect his name with its history [as was Athanasius with the Arian and Augustine with the Pelagian controversy].... The Church seemed for the time free to try the force of her morals and discipline against the ordinary vices and errors of all ages and all nations. This is why [Chrysostom's homilies have been] useful as models for preaching, and as constraining hints for the application of Scripture to common life and the consciences of persons around us.

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