St. Paul and the Golden Mouth: St. John Chrysostom's interpretation of the Day of the Lord in 1 and 2 Thessalonians - by Gerard McLarney

2008 Summer-Fall -  A peer-reviewed article from an Issue of the Academic Journal "Fedelitas" of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

St. Paul and the Golden Mouth: St. John Chrysostom’s interpretation of the Day of the Lord in 1 and 2 Thessalonians

Gerard McLarney

Gerald McLarney is a Lecturer at St Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta.

The German thinker Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), hailed as the “father of modern hermeneutics,” advocated ahermeneutical method which calls readers “to understand the text at first as well as and then even better than its author.” While Schleiermacher’s hermeneutical approach is of notable significance, focus on divining authorial intent gave way in the 20th century to other concerns, such as the text itself or readers’ engagement with it. This article is not an attempt torevive antiquated hermeneutical theory, but reaches even further into the recesses of time, to late 4th century Constantinople when St. John Chrysostom delivered a series of 16 homilies on 1 and 2 Thessalonians.1

1 St. John Chrysostom was born into a well-off Antiochene family c.349 A.D. His city of origin, Antioch, was a prosperous, diverse, and Hellenized metropolis in northern Syria. While Chrysostom was ordained and served as a priest in Antioch (c.386-397 AD), it was in Constantinople, the imperial capital, that he served as bishop (c.397-404). He most likely delivered the Thessalonians homilies in the capital before being exiled. Chrysostom perished, probably due to harsh traveling conditions, en route to his final destination of exile near the Black Sea, some 1,100 km from Constantinople. Chrysostom was posthumously championed as an orthodox defender of the faith. Within a generation after Chrysostom’s death, he was bequeathed with the title “Chrysostom,” meaning “golden mouth,” and his remains were translated to the Church


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A quick glance at Chrysostom’s homilies reveals an incisive and finely tuned sensitivity toward St. Paul. For Chrysostom, each phrase and word combination unveils the mind of the Apostle. His hopes, admonitions, humility, encouragement, and praises are observantly tracked and highlighted. The life Chrysostom breathes into Paul’s letters in fact appears to fulfill Schleiermacher’s desire that the reader enter into the very mind of the author and know him better than himself. Chrysostom, after all, puts words on the lips of the Apostle and allows him, as it were, to speak directly to his 4th centurycongregation about the imminent “Day of the Lord.”

The approach Chrysostom takes in “speaking” with Paul is not simply instructive in regard to the growing interest in Patristic exegesis or the history of exegesis, but reveals how the Apostle Paul was made known and brought to life for congregations. As we celebrate the Year of St. Paul, this glance at the Golden Mouth’s sermons on the Apostle invites a re-imagining of how Paul can be communicated today.

1. The State of the Problem

The field of Biblical Studies has witnessed incredible growth within the modern era. The resulting increase in Biblical knowledge has been matched by increasingly complex and diverse approaches to interpreting Scripture.2 Manfred Oeming, in Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics, argues that

of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople to be venerated by both the Patriarch and the Emperor.

2 Christine Helmer, “Biblical Theology: Bridge Over Many Waters,” Currents in Biblical Research 3.2 (2005), 171


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“The current diversity of methods and the resulting flood of Biblical meanings,” is not reason for unavoidable confusion,but is a testimony to the richness contained with sacred Scripture. 3 Another scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson, paints a less sanguine picture of contemporary Biblical Studies.4 While he is addressing a specifically Catholic audience, many ofJohnson’s observations apply to other denominational contexts. He states that there are “undoubtedly more people with Ph.Ds in [Biblical Studies] today than throughout all of previous history. . . . At the level of sheer scientia, things havenever been so good.”5 Yet specialization has resulted in arcane divisions and subspecialties. Some are authorities in the book of Daniel or Philemon, for instance, but do not venture outside their expertise. There is a danger, argues Johnson,that the present generation of scholars will approach “the state of idiots savants” who know everything about one small aspect of Scripture, but without an understanding of the Bible as a whole, or its relation to other theological disciplines.6

This perceived lack of integration between Scripture studies and other theological disciplines such as dogmatics, moral, pastoral and spiritual theology has not been lost on others

3 Manfred Oeming, Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics: An Introduction (trans. Joachim Vette; Padstow, Cornwall: Ashgate, 2006), 143.

4 Luke Timothy Johnson and William Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002),

5 Johnson and Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship, 37.

6 Ibid., 38.


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outside of the field. It is not without good reason, for instance, that Pope John Paul II echoes a leitmotif running through various conciliar and papal documents of the past century with his call “for Scripture to become more fully the soul of theology.”7

2. Engaging Patristic Exegesis8

In recent years there have been renewed efforts to turn to pre- modern sources for interpretative guidance.9 Engaging the writings from a world much different than our Post- Enlightenment and Post-Modern context is not without complications and even hazards. Numerous shifts in epistemological, anthropological, cosmological, and socio- cultural viewpoints, as well as historical and textual advances

7 John Paul II, Terito Millennio Adveniente (Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1994), n.36. Italics added for emphasis. See also Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum in The Documents of Vatican II (ed. W. Abbott; trans. J. Gallagher; New York: Guild Press, 1966); Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, 114; Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, 48.

8 The term “exegesis” in reference to Patristic writings is utilized loosely. No Patristic writer engaged in “exegesis” as it has come to be understood in the modern Biblical Studies. In his biography on St. John Chrysostom, J.N.D. Kelly notes that “Neither John, nor any Christian teacher for centuries to come, was properly equipped to carry out exegesis as we have come to understand it. He could not be expected to understand the nature of Old Testament writings” Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom, Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995), 94.

9 A list of reasons for this interest is offered by Brian Daley, “Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms,” Communio 29 (2002): 185-216. See also Steven R. Harmon, “A Note on the Critical Use of Instrumenta for the Retrieval of Patristic Biblical Exegesis,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11 (2003): 95-107.


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in Biblical Studies have transpired. Moreover, it is impossible let alone desirable to adopt a wholly pre-modern worldview. This consideration of pre-modern exegesis, it should be pointed out, is not to advocate a naïve reading of the sources nor is it undertaken for the sake of “edification,” nor, for that matter, is it a rejection of the advances made by modern Biblical scholars. That said, there is a plethora of conversation partners to be found amongst the Patristics, whose vast treasury of writings are often passed over on library selves.10

The advantages of opening a dialogue with these past interpreters are considerable. Their fastidious reading not only witnesses to Biblical fluency, but may assist those seeking to bring scriptural research into an integrated dialogue with the faith life of the Church.11 This concerns not only the so- called “Gabler-gap” between dogmatics and Scripture studies, but also the perceived lack of interaction between Biblical theology and faith life of the Church. To know the Fathers, says Boniface Ramsey, “is to grasp the essentials of Christianity or, in other words, to be educated in the sensus catholicus, in

10 Johnson notes that there are over 380 multi-column volumes in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca (the Fathers of the Church in Greek) and the Patrologia Latina (The Fathers of the Church in Latin). This immense collection, which does not include Coptic and Syriac writings, is “vaster by far than the Babylonian Talmud, and equally complex in its engagement with Holy Scripture,” 45-46.

11 R.W.L. Moberly, for instance, makes this point in The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Despite dedicating a chapter heading to “ancient” exegesis, Moberly does not dialogue with interpreters prior to the 20th century.



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the sense of what is truly Christian.”12 Patristic exegesis not only has the potential of abetting the integration of Biblical Studies with dogmatics, morality, and pastoral theology, it also offers insight into the fundamentals of what it means to be Christian, and above all, insight into the very character of God himself. As Yves Congar notes,

The Bible is, for the Fathers and for all the Middle Ages, a total wisdom. It is not enough merely to say that it contains all the truths necessary for salvation . . . it must also be recognized that it contains the secret of creation itself, since it expresses the thought of God, not of a man.13

Sacred Scripture, in other words, not only reveals doctrine, and humanity’s role in creation, but speaks of God.

3. St. John Chrysostom as an interpreter of St. Paul

In respect to Pauline studies, Chrysostom has garnered particular attention for a number of reasons.14 Not only are

12 Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 18.

13 Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay, (trans. Michael Naseby Oxford: Alden Press, 1966), 65.

14 Margaret Mitchell, The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 28-29. Mitchell outlines the “contemporary resonances” Chrysostom has with Pauline scholarship. John’s Antiochene background, and rhetorical appreciation of Paul’s Epistles, finds affinities with recent trends in Pauline studies focusing on epistolography and rhetoric. Moreover, unlike the Alexandrian tendency to discern dogmatic or philosophical


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Chrysostom’s works the largest extant collection of Patristic writings on Paul’s works,15 but Chrysostom had a particulardevotion to Paul, claiming, “I love all the saints, but I love most the blessed Paul.”16 Chrysostom goes on to say, “I havesaid this, and brought the love which I have for him out into the public eye so that I might make you, too, partners in thislove charm.”17

The Thessalonian homilies themselves, save for the first homily on 2 Thessalonians, provide verse by verse interpretation.18 Typically, only the first half of a homily engages in line by line analysis, while the latter half focuses on

insights in Scripture, John’s view of Paul as a pastor responding to his congregation resonates with the current understanding of Paul as a “practical” theologian.

15 His entire works span a staggering 18 volumes in the Patrologia Graeca series. From this extensive collection, there are 16 Thessalonian homilies, 11 of which are expositions on 1 Thessalonians. John delivered five homilies on 2 Thessalonians.

16 Chrysostom, Hom. 2 Cor 11.1 cited in Mitchell, Heavenly Trumpet,1. This quote, incidentally, provides the basis for the title of Mitchell’s Heavenly Trumpet.

17 Ibid.

18 The reason for this exception, presumably, is that Chrysostom wished to provide an introduction to the second epistle. In the homily, Chrysostom examines Paul’s motives for writing again, the possibility of a forgery, and the issues of the resurrection, and the appearance of the Antichrist. Chrysostom acknowledges that the “perplexity” of the Thessalonians regarding this latter topic “has been profitable to us,” but he cautions against inquiring into things not mentioned explicitly by Paul (513). The homily, which is one of the shortest of the 16, concludes with an exhortation against pride, the root and foundation of evil.


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moral exhortation or engages in tangential topics.19 In his 8th homily, for instance, Chrysostom commences with a closeanalysis of Paul’s account of the general resurrection (1 Thess 4.15-18), and in the latter half turns his attention to topicssuch as God’s mercy, eternal punishment, the Flood, and Josephus’s Jewish Wars. This is not to say that there is a rigid division between exegesis and exhortation. Comments in the latter half of the homilies often make references back to text and cross-references other Scriptural passages for emphasis, while exhortations, either implicit or explicit, are interwoven with his exegesis.

Prior to examining the homilies more closely, two aspects regarding epistolary theory and the role of the rhetor are worth noting. The epistolary letter was “considered the medium of communication between absent friends who desire one another’s company and conversation.”20 Libanius, a renowned pagan orator and one of Chrysostom’s teachers, notes, “there is lioness in honouring one’s genuine friends when present, and in speaking to them when absent (through a letter).”21 An analogous sentiment is also echoed Chrysostom.

Continually when I hear the letters of the blessed Paul read...I rejoice in the pleasure of that spiritual trumpet, and am roused to attention and warmed with desire because I recognize the voice I love, and seem to

19 The one word heading, “moral,” is even found in the first and third 1 Thess. homilies to demark this division.

20 Mitchell, 48.

21 Libanus, Epistolimaioi characters 58 in Mitchell, 48. 92


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imagine him all but present and see him conversing with me.22

While the epistle provided the opportunity for a dynamic interaction with its author, the rhetor, through the creative use of words, had duty of describing and imparting this contact with his or her audience. A primary aim of the rhetor, notes Mitchell, was to “provide in an audience the first-hand emotional experience of something from which they are absent” such as a work of art, letter, or person.23 This re- presentation of the subject matter, known as ekphrasis, was “to affect the audience, by turning them from hears to spectators” by re-creating for the listeners the effect of the subject had upon the viewer or the speaker.24 In this case, it is the subject is Paul and his letters and Chrysostom is the viewer.

While Chrysostom speaks of recognizing “the voice I love” and imaging and conversing with the blessed Paul, this livelyinteraction goes beyond Chrysostom’s understanding of epistolary theory and is influenced by the emerging cult of the saints. Libanius, for instance, understood that the proper pedagogy of Greek gentlemen would “install Demosthenes in

22 Hom. in Rom, (trans. Mitchell) in Mitchell, 37.

23 Mitchell, 132.

24 Mitchell, 103. R. S. Nelson, “To Say and To See,” Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 7 in Mitchell, 103, notes that “In this genre [ekphrasis], the author spoke to an audience about a work of art they shared in such a way as not to belabour the description of what everyone could see, but to offer personal testimony to the emotional character of the representation and thus to enhance the listener’s emphatic reactions.”



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their souls,”25 yet this is to be taken in figurative sense since in pagan thought there was an immeasurable chasm between the living and the dead.26 There is more substance, on the other hand, in Chrysostom remark that the Pauline letters present the opportunity to “gaze into Paul’s soul.” 27 Peter Brown notes by the mid fifth century, a generation after Chrysostom’s death, the “cult of the saints had ringed the populations of the Mediterranean” with “intimate” and “invisible” friends.28Chrysostom himself makes mention of these blossoming friends between deceased Christians and their living counterparts,29 and cultivated a particular devotion to blessed Paul whom he loved most of “all the saints.”30

4. Engaged Exegesis in the Thessalonian Homilies

25 Libanius, Ep. 1261.2 in P. Brown, Cult of the Saints, 7 n.5 in Mitchell, 43.

26 Brown, Cult of the Saints, 5.

27 Chrysostom, Hom. in Gen. 11.5, (trans. Mitchell), in Mitchell, 43.

28 Peter Brown, Cult of the Saints, 50. Brown notes that the veneration of saints, the translation of relics, and shrines dedicated to martyrs were all growing extensively at this time in the Mediterranean world.

29 Chrysostom, Hom. 30 Rom., (trans. Mitchell) in Mitchell, 46. If you wish, you can have him more accurately than they. For even with them the appearance of Paul was not what made them of such character but the words of Paul. Therefore, if you wish you may have both Paul, and Peter, and John, and the whole chorus of the prophets conversing with you continually. For take the books of these blessed ones, and continually read their writings and they will be able to make you like the tent-maker’s wife.

30 Chrysostom, Hom. 2 Cor 11.1 in Mitchell, 1. This quote provides the basis for the title of Mitchell’s Heavenly Trumpet.



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This intimate encounter with the Apostle is evidenced in John’s exegesis. J. Kecskémti, for instance, speaks of John’s objective use of “exégèse engagée” (engaged exegesis).31 The bishop’s engagement with Paul enables him to draw out themeaning of a text by creating “phrases fictives” (imaginative speech).32 That is to say, Chrysostom puts phrases on the lips of Paul in order to explicate the text. The phrases fictives are not fanciful, nominal, or tangential comments but tend to be“objective,” concise, and neutral phrases which do not alter the basic meaning of the text.33 Related to John’s use ofphrases fictives is the phenomenon of conflation between Paul’s voice and Chrysostom’s voice. While speaking of Paul, John tends to oscillate between referring to the Apostle in the third person singular and the first person common. Reference to “we” or “us,” however, some times appear to include both John and Paul. The result is that Paul through John appears to be addressing the Constantinopolitans.

Examples of John’s engaged exegesis, phrase fictivies and conflation, are found in his comments on 1 Thess 1.4-5. Here John begins with two rhetorical questions to elaborate on Paul thanks for “having known” God’s election of the Thessalonians (1.4), who in turn “know” how Paul and Silvanus showed themselves to be minister’s of God’s gospel.

31 J. Kecskémti, “Exégèse chrysostomienne,” Studia Patristica, 22 (1989) : 138.

32 Ibid.

33 Kecskémti, 147, notes that later pseudo-chrysostomian works, such as a commentary in Latin on the Gospel of Matthew, tend to utilize longer phrases and make characters more defiant.


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Knowing what? How “we showed ourselves among you”? Here he also touches upon his own good actions, but covertly. For he wishes first to enlarge upon their praises, and what he says is something of this sort. I knew that you were men of great and noble sort, that you were of the Elect. For this reason we also endure all things for your sake. For this, “what manner of men we showed ourselves among you,” is the expression of one showing that with much zeal and much vehemence we were ready to give up our lives for your sake; and for this thanks are due not to us, but to you, because ye were elect. 34

Chrysostom’s minute attention to Paul’s pastoral sensitivity enables him to elaborate on the Apostle’s discrete mention ofhis apostolic work. This is not to win self-praise but rather to show the ardour and readiness to sacrifice among himself and Silvanus.35 If thanks or praise is to be given for the Thessalonians’ reception of the gospel, it is to be given to God who elected them.

Notice also in this example demonstrates a phrase fictivie. It would seem that John’s attempt to understand Paul’s mind even leads him to put words in the Apostle’s mouth. Not only is there empathy with Paul but a subtle instance of“conflation” as well. Close attention to Chrysostom’s usage of personal pronouns reveals a subtle shift from the first person singular to the first person plural.36 The transition in the

34 Chrysostom, NPNF, 443.

35 Chrysostom previously noted how Paul first “mentions their good actions” in 1.1-3, so “that he may not seem to boast,” 442.

36 See Frances Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 254.


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phrase fictive could be the result of Paul including Silvanus but it is equally plausible that Chrysostom is blending his voice with the Apostle’s and simultaneously addressing his congregation, the elect of Constantinople. This conflationfacilitates the “direct communication” between Paul and the Constantinopolitans through John.

Further examples of conflation can be seen in another homily in which Chrysostom’s comment on the apostles being entrusted with the Gospel and “approved by God” (1 Thess. 2.4). He refers to Paul in the third person singular, as “he”, and then switches to the first person plural “we.” One gets the sense that the transition is not to include Silvanus, but Chrysostom.

As therefore [God] approved us, such we remain, as having been “approved of God”... It is a proof of our virtue, that we are entrusted with the Gospel; if there had been anything bad in us, God would not have approved us...37

While speaking in this blended voice, John also addresses his audience as “you” which reinforces the notion that Paulthrough John, and vice-versa, are addressing the Constantinopolitans.

5. Homily 9: An In-depth Analysis of the Day of the Lord in 1 Thess 5.1-11

Chrysostom’s most sophisticated and sustained analysis of the day of the Lord motif is found in his ninth homily (1 Thess 5.1-11). Here Chrysostom expounds upon the immanent yet

37 Chrysostom, 1 Thessalonians, NPNF1 13, 449. 97


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unpredictable arrival of the day of the Lord (5.1-3). For those in darkness, slumber, and drunkenness it is a day of disaster, (5.4, 7), while for the sons of light (5.5) and those equipped with spiritual armour, it is a day of salvation (5.9) and union with Christ (5.10). This homily provides further examples of how Chrysostom brings the text forward into the world of his listeners. The homily also illustrates the connection the orator makes between the day of the Lord and the life of each person in regard to virtue and holiness.

Chrysostom commences his analysis by taking up the question of the crovnwn kai; tw:n kairw:n (times and the seasons) of this day (5.1).38 “Nothing,” remarks Chrysostom, “is so curious, and so fondly prone to pry into things obscure and concealed, as the nature of men.”39 Just as children repeatedly demand “when will this be?”, the Apostles, prior to Pentecost, ask Christ about the Parousia and the end of the world (Mt. 24.23; Acts 1.6). Chrysostom notes how the Apostles not only cease such inquiries after the sending of the Spirit, but they repress “unseasonable curiosity” among others.40 As seen elsewhere, Chrysostom specifically includes himself and his audience among the minds who are in “haste to learn ... especially concerning the period of the consummation” through the use of the first person common “our.”41 Like all of humanity, they share in an inherent desire to know the unknown. This inclusion implicitly frames Paul’s writings regarding the “times and the seasons” as relevant not only to his original audience but to the Constantinopolitans and people of all ages.

38 Ibid., 1 Thessalonians, 491. 39 Ibid.40 Ibid.41 Ibid.



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Having made these preliminary remarks on natural curiosity, Chrysostom reiterates Paul’s comments regarding the need not to write about the timing of the day of the Lord (5.1).42 The bishop speculates that Paul consciously chose suchwording, rather than saying “no one knows,” or “it is not revealed,” since this would only have grieved, instead ofcomforted, the Thessalonians.43 Paul’s statement is to pre- empt inexpedient inquiry into the period of consummation (suntevleia).44

The bishop provides a further account in regard to the why the day is concealed and comes like a thief. If the case were other wise, no one would cultivate virtue but would simply give up wickedness and seek baptism at the last instant.45 Fear of this day, on the other hand, keeps us sober and gentle, and restrains many.46 Knowing the day ahead of time would cause sloth and would prevent reward and risk taking since the outcome of each life would be foreknown. Furthermore, there would be no advantage in knowing the general end, whether it be 20 or 100 years off, since the end of each individual remains unpredictable.47 If “you make your own a good end,” notes Chrysostom, no harm will come from the other.” Whether it is near or far off, this is “nothing to us.”48

42 Ibid.43 Ibid.44 Chrysostom uses the term “suntevleian” synonymously

with “hJmevra kurivou” (the day of the Lord.) 45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid. More is said of the connection between the day of the Lord and the individual below.

48 Ibid.



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The indifference that Chrysostom exudes regarding the time of the day of the Lord, anticipates the next verse (5.2) which states that the day of the Lord will come as a thief. Notably, Chrysostom understands Paul to be speaking not only of thegeneral day “but that of every individual.”49 The last day of each individual resembles and is related to the general consummation.50 This consummation has begun with Adam and is not yet complete, but the “ten thousand [that] die everyday,” Chrysostom suggests, already experience this end.51

Relating the general end (i.e. the day of the Lord), with the end of each individual is central to Chrysostom’s overall interpretation of this “day” in the Thessalonian homilies. Such a connection provides the bishop with a mechanism to interpret the day of the Lord both as a cosmic or general event and as a forensic or individual event. As seen in this homily, he does not encourage speculations on the timing of the general dissolution. This is made clear in his advice to Greek objections “tell them this, that it will have an end.”52 Chrysostom’s interpretive efforts are instead channeled tounderscore the moral disposition of individuals who may meet death at any moment. In this regard, the significance of this“day” generally rests on the virtue and sanctity of the individual and details surrounding the parousia and final judgment are eschewed.53

49 Ibid., 492. While Chrysostom does not collapse the different between the two days, this close association is paramount in his interpretation of Paul’s warnings regarding “that day.”

50 Earlier in the homily Chrysostom remarks that “Is not the end of his own life the consummation to every individual?”, 491.

51 Ibid., 492.52 Ibid.53 There are some exceptions, as seen above in Hom 4, but these

are rare.


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Despite Chrysostom’s denunciation of “unseasonable curiosities,” the analysis of 5.3 provokes him to ask some “worth while” questions regarding when the day of the Lord will come.54 Chrysostom’s remarks concerning the Antichrist and Elijah provide a fascinating glimpse into his understanding of the last day. More is said of these figures in his homilies on 2 Thessalonians but it should be noted that here Chrysostom touches on a fundamental tension in the eschatology of the two letters. How can the day of the Lord come like a thief (1 Thess. 5.2) and yet be preceded by signs (cf. 2 Thess. 2.1ff)? As the orator notes, these signs “do not permit that day to come upon them unawares.”55 A resolution is offered by distinguishing the anticipatory signs from the “coming of Christ.”56 Despite the manifestations of the former, the latter still remains unexpected. To illustrate this difference, the bishop draws an analogy to childbirth. It is one thing to know a woman is pregnant, but quite another to know the day and hour that labour pains will begin.57

Satisfied with this resolution, Chrysostom turns his attention to Paul’s imagery of darkness and light, (5.4-5), drunkenness and sobriety (5.6-7), and the spiritual armory of faith, love, and hope (5.8).58 The orator interprets and develops these metaphors as successive and interrelating concepts culminating the assertion “whether we are awake or asleep, we should live together with Him” (5.10).

54 Ibid., 492. 55 Ibid., 493. 56 Ibid.57 Ibid.

58 The order of three virtues in 1 Thess 1.3; 5.8 is different than the more familiar sequence “faith, hope, and love” which is found in 1 Cor 13.13.



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The first image of darkness, is related back to the uncertainty, bitterness, and unspeakable pain of sudden birth pangs (cf.5.5), which come upon “those souls, when the Day comes upon them.”59 Those “in darkness” (5.4), such as adulterers, thieves, and tomb raiders, lead “a life that is ark and impure,” says Chrysostom. This unmistakable anomic lifestyle is one reason why the Thessalonians have no need of anything to be written to them (cf. 5.1).60 The arrival of the day may be uncertain, but it will note be a calamity for those who are vigilant and in the light. The “sons of light and sons of the day” (5.5) do the works of light in contradistinction to the “sons of disobedience” (cf. Col 3.6) who do the “works of hell and the works of disobedience.”61

Having developed this contrast between those who do works of darkness and light, Chrysostom interprets Paul’s hortatory subjunctives, “let us not sleep” (kaqeuvdwmen), “let us watch” (grhgorw:men), and “let us be sober” (nhvfwmen) (5.6) asindication “that to be in the day depends on ourselves.”62 In this case it is Paul’s hortatory subjunctives, rather than the orator’s, which serve to include Chrysostom’s audience as the subjects of the address. They are the ones preparing for theday of the Lord in vigilance and propriety. The bishop’s observation that to sleep, which is to “shut the eyes of the soul, and to bring on the sleep of wickedness,” is of our own choice.63 This remark further reinforces the importance of theaudience’s interior disposition and personal response.

59 Ibid., 494. 60 Ibid.61 Ibid.62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.



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Chrysostom likewise notes that drunkenness is not only from wine but comes from “all vices.”64

Aware that the term “vice” is not in the passage, Chrysostom explains “on what account” Paul has called vice sleep.65 A life passed in vice “sees not things that are,” namely spiritual, heavenly, abiding things, but “things that are fleeting, and fly away, and that soon recede from us.”66 Continuing with Paul’s imagery, the bishop elaborates that merely to watch and be sober is insufficient. The Apostle, rather, is showing “that we have need of arms” in regard to faith, love, and hope (5.8).67

Once again, Paul’s recipe, as it were, for preparing for the day of the Lord continues to be interpreted as a direct address to the Constantinopolitans. Having presented Paul’s contrasting imagery of light and darkness, and drunkenness and sobriety, Chrysostom develops the metaphoric language of protective spiritual armament worn by those ready for the last day. The breastplate of faith and love pertains to life and doctrine. In a phrase fictive ̧ Chrysostom has the Apostle elaborate that a sound faith and life of love is a “safe wall to the breast.”68 Chrysostom’s Apostle further exhorts the Constantinopolitans to “surround thy soul with faith and love, and none of the fiery darts of the devil can ever be fixed in it.”69

64 Ibid.65 Ibid.66 Ibid., 495. 67 Ibid.68 Ibid.69 Ibid.


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While the breastplate of faith and love surround the soul, the helmet of hope, protects the head and shelters one’s reason from faltering. Paul’s imagery of this armory, notes Chrysostom, goes beyond the simple exhortation to love. Chrysostom adds that Paul not only commands the audience to “put on and array yourselves,” but the Apostle has also indicated the source from where this armour is produced and made strong: faith, hope, and love. 70

This preparation for salvation is directed to God’s will (5.9). For God “has given (ejvdwken) His own Son for us.”71Chrysostom’s fourfold repetition of “given” (ejvdwken) underscores that this act is what produced hope for believers, who are exhorted to believe and love in God. The comments following 5.9 mark a shift in the homily from the consistent stress on the virtue and readiness of believers before the day of the Lord to the character of God. God’s appointment of our salvation is through Christ “who died for us” (5.10). This loving sacrifice, says Chrysostom, reveals God’s desire that “we should be saved.”72 To this end, “He has given His Son, and not merely given, but given Him to death.”73

The attention Chrysostom draws to this mystery of faith is not simply an aside but serves as the culminating text for thebishop’s verse by verse exegesis. Chrysostom restates that our lack of fear, strong security, and indifference to death, isfounded on God’s “vehement love for us.”74 From “these considerations hope is produced,” and faith is procured, and

70 Ibid.71 Ibid.72 Ibid.73 Ibid.74 Ibid., 496.



Journal of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) Summer-Fall 2008

love is fostered.”75 It would be the “extreme madness for one not to love who has been so treated,” Chrysostom exclaims.76The day of the Lord, in other words, is not understood by Chrysostom as simply a motive for moral rectitude, but has a Christological foundation and orientation.

The remainder of the homily revisits and develops the moral exhortations regarding soul slumber, the drunkenness of vice, and need for love – all of which center on the character of the believer before God. Notably the one verse Chrysostom does not directly address is Paul’s imperative to “build up one another (oijkodomevite) just as you also are doing” (5.11). Rather the orator, as it were, embodies this command through his own series of exhortations to his audience. Chrysostom concludes with the admonishment to have mercy on others in order to obtain mercy from God.77

6. Summary: Chrysostom’s Hermeneutical Bridge

The hermeneutical bridge Chrysostom creates owes its genesis to a variety of sources. These include John’s rhetorical and liturgical context demonstrated in the interpretive techniques he uses such as engaged exegesis, phrases fictives, and empathy and conflation, and the frequent use of hortatory subjunctives. Far from being a detached or disinterested reader, Chrysostom engages these and other techniques to create an ekphrasis, a vibrant exposition of the day of the Lord for the listeners. Through this ekphrasis, generated in Chrysostom’s liturgical context, blessed Paul and the Thessalonians come into dialogue with the

75 Ibid., 495 76 Ibid.77 Ibid., 498.


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Constantinopolitans. As life-like models of virtue and holiness, the saints, and Paul above all, are not only presented before the Constantinopolitans but actively encourage, exhort, and comfort the listeners before the coming day. TheApostle’s exhortations to the Thessalonians become directly applied to the Constantinopolitans. The Constantinopolitans, in turn, become active participants in the life of the text in as much as they respond to Paul’s discourses on the immanent yet unpredictable day of the Lord. John’s own hortatory subjunctives, woven throughout the homilies, particularly in the latter sections, reinforce the inclusion of his audience in the Thessalonians letter. As the bishop says of the warnings, comforts, and exhortations in each letter: this “applies also to us.” 78

While Chrysostom directly applies the day of the Lord motif to the lives of the Constantinopolitans, the text’s historicalintegrity is also upheld. He clarifies the reason for a second epistle, the different issues regarding the resurrection, the perplexities of the Thessalonians surrounding the day of the Lord, and so forth. These matters are not treated as archaeological intrigues, but are valued for their benefited and application to the lives of the listeners.

The distinction between the general and the individual day further highlights the hermeneutical bridge created between the text and the Constantinopolitans. The day of the Lord is understood not only as an eschatological event, but also as a particular event which every person will experience at death. The distinction between the general and the individual day is not collapsed, but rather than entertain speculations on the

78 Ibid., 2 Thessalonians, 518. 106


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general consummation of the world, Chrysostom’s interpretive efforts underscore the immediate need for virtuous living since death can arrive at any moment. The result is that Paul’s warnings, comforts, and exhortations regarding the day of the Lord are made directly relevant to the Constantinopolitans. The general consummation may not have yet arrived, but that is no matter since the “ten thousand [that] die everyday” already experience this end; the need for moral rectitude and holy living remains immanent.

The day of the Lord is understood not only a mechanism for moral exhortation, but has a solid Christological foundation.Chrysostom’s paraenesis betray a fundamental concern to be holy before Christ “who died for us” (1 Thess 5.10). Because of the Son’s vehement love, listeners are exhorted to respond through virtuous living. The concluding remarks of the Thessalonian homilies underscore that a life of holiness is not rooted in a legalistic rubric but is for the glory of God. It is to this end that the bishop seeks to guide his listeners in order to boast of their faith, love, and hope, in the day of the Lord.

Chrysostom’s empathy with the Apostle also leads him to speak paraphrastically on Paul’s behalf. The phrases fictives and conflation with the Apostle’s voice lay bare a deep confidence and intimacy between Chrysostom and Paul. This unique rapport, exhibited throughout his exegesis, goes beyond mere rhetorical flourish and interpretative conventions. It illustrates a true consonance with the apostolic author whose soul is communicated through the epistles and through the invocation of the communion of saints. It also reveals the contemplative disposition of mind, qewria, which Chrysostom, as an interpreter, seeks to achieve with the biblical author. The end result is a dynamic and life-giving


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reading, fostering a consonance among the audience with Christ, and all the saints, who will come to be glorified and marveled at on that day (cf. 2 Thess. 1.10).

7. Chrysostom’s Bridge between the Text and Reader: Implications for Today

The hermeneutical bridge Chrysostom creates between St. Paul and the Thessalonian correspondence with the Constantinopolitans occurs through a complex usage of rhetorical forms delivered within a particular liturgical setting.The question arises as to how such a delivery of Paul’s letters can be re-created. As we celebrate the Year of St. Paul, the question becomes more poignant: how can the Apostle be brought to life? Three points of consideration are offered: 1) the importance of the audience, 2) the role of the interpreter, and 3) Chrysostom’s pastoral example.

7.A The Importance of an Audience and an Interpretive Context

One basic dilemma facing a theologian pertains to his or her audience. If an exegetical undertaking is done for the purposes of publication or academic research it will certainly take on a different form and tone than an oratory homily, orliturgical work. Chrysostom’s interpretation of the day of the Lord, in large part, is engaging because of his hortatory inclusion of the audience. If theologians, Biblical or otherwise, are to develop a theological exegesis, then a major consideration must be the intended audience, the context of delivery, and how the audience can be “included,” as it were, in the exegetical work.


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Anglican scholar, Robert Moberly also speaks about the importance of having a proper context for interpreting Scripture. He argues that the Rule of Faith assists in setting an interpretive context where “God and humanity are definitively understood in relation to Jesus Christ.”79 Accordingly, Scripture has primary meaning in its relation to the Christian Church, which holds that the God of Israel is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. It is within this context that we most fruitfully engage the “question of God in and through the Biblical text.”80

Patristic writers possessed a further advantage in obtaining their theological and pastoral goals due to the unity betweentheir interpretive and liturgical milieus. Chrysostom’s interpretation of Scripture was consistently in relation to the needs of the Christian community. This is not to say that secular tools need be disdained. Chrysostom’s rhetorical training under Libanius provides a clear example of a Patristic writer adopting and adapting the best instruments of the “secular sciences” in order to benefit his reading of the sacred scriptures. Proficiency in historical research, as well as in the social sciences and other related disciplines are thus to be viewed as valuable assets for theological exegesis. The divided attention of biblical theologians between the pulpit and classroom nonetheless is one area in need of further address.

7.B The Role of the Interpreter

79 Robert Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 43.

80 Ibid., 45. Although the term Rule of Faith was not in use throughout the entire Patristic period, Patristic writers shared analogous principles.


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Related to the question of one’s audience, is the acknowledgement of the role of the interpreter. The Rule of Faith, as mentioned, contains certain presuppositions, and the hermeneutical assumptions of pre-modern writers, and Chrysostom in particular, have also been highlighted. These preconceived notions brought to the interpretation of a text need not be viewed as a liability. Bernd Sixtus, for instance, points out that scholars attempting theological exegesis run no more risk of prejudgment and bias than other scholars.81 The Orthodox scholar John McGuckin similarly remarks that reverence for such preconceived notions “is what contemporary criticism would call ‘Grand Narrative imposition’ of a high order” – yet this is what underlies the Church’s “primary drive and instinct of self-recognition across the ages.”82 In regards to future research, the interpreter’s articulation or at the very least acknowledgment, of basic hermeneutical presuppositions, will assist in understanding how the text is to relate to his or her audience.

7.C Following Chrysostom’s Lead

One final question arises as to whether Chrysostom’s artful integration and communication of Paul’s writings can beimitated today. On the one hand, Attic Christians lived in a culture which held a great reverence for skilled rhetorical exhibition, and Chrysostom excelled in living up to their

81 Bernd Sixtus, “Bridging the gap? On some suggestions towards solving the normative problem in ecclesial exegesis,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 58 (2005): 13-38.

82 John A. McGuckin, “Recent Biblical Hermeneutics in Patristic Perspective: The Tradition of Orthodoxy” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 47 (2002), 308.



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expectations in his homiletical discourses. Contemporary appetites and attention spans, however, are vastly different. Even if audiences with analogous dispositions could be cultivated, it is uncertain if a preacher of Chrysostom’s calibercould be found. In many ways, he is an enigma. Thus, for a variety of reasons, it is impossible to attempt a wholesale re- creation of the hermeneutical bridge Chrysostom establishes. On the other hand, there are certain parallels between the late fourth century and today.83 While chariot races and the circus may not draw members of the congregation away from the Sunday liturgy, there are numerous analogous distractions calling for the attention of believers. Chrysostom, as well, may not be surpassed in regards to exegetical excellence, but he can still be imitated and approximated. In regards to the interpretation of the day of the Lord, the same basic cautions, exhortations, and comforts remain. This unexpected day demands vigilance and moral perseverance through the exercise of faith, love, and hope before Christ comes in with his saints in glory.


83 See Johnson, 62-63.