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Robert Carter

The future of Chrysostom studies: Theology and nachleben

From ANALECTA Vlatadon, ed. Panayotis Christou, Thessaloniki 1973.

Five years ago at the International Patristic Conference in Oxford I delivered a paper on the future of Chrysostom studies(1). In that communication a program of priorities for Chrysostom studies was proposed in the areas of manuscripts and editions, criteria of authenticity, language and style, life and chronology, and, finally, thought. My purpose now is not to modify that program of priorities, with which I am still in substantial agreement. Nor do I intend to give a progress report on the work which has been done during the last five years in these areas. Rather, following a suggestion made at the time I was invited to this symposium, I should like first to expand my earlier remarks about Chrysostom's thought by discussing the kinds of studies on Chrysostom's theology which I think are needed. Then I should like to introduce another area of future Chrysostom studies—those dealing with his later influence, his Nachleben.

Before we consider future studies of Chrysostom's theology some preliminary observations are needed. Chrysostom's fundamental interests were pastoral and moral rather than speculative and systematic. Therefore it has been fashionable for speculative theologians to dismiss Chrysostom as a conventional moralist whose contribution to the history of theology was minimal. Today theology is much more pastorally oriented. It is concerned with Christian life and action. So it may be that theologians will find Chrysostom more relevant to their concerns than they have in the past. But let us be cautious. Although there are certain constants in human nature and in the demands made by the gospel, Chrysostom's political, social and cultural world is not ours. The pastoral situations which confronted him and the moral decisions to which he summoned his flock are seldom ours. Therefore his significance for us is limited and often of purely historical interest.

This means that studies of Chrysostom's theological thought should be seriously historical and avoid all neo-scholasticism. By this latter term is meant the practice of amassing quotations from the Fathers which support one's own theological or dogmatic thesis while ignoring everything in the tradition which is contrary to one's own position. Such a procedure is merely authoritarian rhetoric which pays pious lip-service to the tradition but in fact, by manipulating it, shows neither respect nor genuine concern for it.

Since Chrysostom was not a systematic theologian, but a popular preacher, we should not try to tailor his thought to fit some later system. Obviously we want to see the relation between different aspects of his thought and we want to make valid generalizations, but such relations and generalizations should emerge from his works themselves and not be imposed from without.

A final caveat.We must not always take Chrysostom literally. This may seem a strange approach to one of the great masters of literal exegesis. But Chrysostom's style is rhetorical. Exaggerations must be seen as such. If in one homily he tells us that vainglory is the root of all evils and in another that love of money is the root of all evils, we are not obliged to conclude that he changed his mind, or that there was a development in his thought, or that all evils have two roots. He was simply employing a rhetorical convention to say that he disapproves of vainglory and love of money.

What topics of Chrysostom's theological thought will be studied in the future are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. What topics should be studied will be suggested both by current theological concerns and by the results of completed studies. Our interest, therefore, is not in the specific content but in the general method of future studies. Not studies about what, but what kind of studies.

Because of the vast extent of Chrysostom's writings one kind of study which will continue to be important for a long time to come is that which gathers together all the passages in Chrysostom dealing with a specific topic. Such studies may use all the works of Chrysostom or a clearly defined portion, as for instance all the homilies on the Pauline epistles or all the letters and treatises from exile. Such studies in themselves leave us unsatisfied, but they render a genuine service. They facilitate future research. Thus they are somewhat analogous to Codices Chrysostomici Graeci [hereafter CCG]. Such studies leave us unsatisfied because they do not put Chrysostom's thought into any kind of context. It is just out there without relation to anything else.

The more satisfying scholarship will be that which relates Chrysostom's thought on a given subject to something else. The first something else could be Chrysostom's other theological concerns. In this way Chrysostom's basic insights emerge as they are seen in his treatment of many different topics. The coherence (and perhaps occasional inconsistency) of his total view gradually becomes apparent. Specific recent examples of such studies—which can be mentioned from among many—are Leduc's articles on vainglory and on eschatology(2), and Hill's article on scriptural inspiration(2). With the accumulation of studies like these a kind of systematic understanding of Chrysostom's unsystematic theological thought becomes possible. For example, attention should perhaps be given to what appear to be the two most important aspects of God for Chrysostom: the divine incomprehensibility and philanthropia. They speak of God in relation to man and they ground the tension between fear and love in Christian religious experience, especially in the liturgy. They point up Chrysostom's fundamentally pastoral orientation. Closely related to God's love for men is his condescension, which is so important for Chrysostom's understanding of revelation, scriptural inspiration and the Incarnation. It should be noted that such a systematization as this is not an imposition of alien categories and concerns from without, but emerges from, and is faithful to, Chrysostom's own thought, even though as systematic understanding it goes beyond that thought.

A second term to which Chrysostom's theological thought can be related is the tradition and the theology of other Fathers. In this way we can see Chrysostom's originality and his traditionalism. In Korbacher's Ausserhalb der Kirche kein Heil?(4) the final section is devoted to the thought of some of Chrysostom's contemporaries, showing that Chrysostom's insistence on belonging to the visible Church as a necessary means of salvation is not a notion peculiar to him but a widely held position of his time. Hay's article on Chrysostom's Christology(5) shows that though Antiochene, his Christology was closer to Athanasius' than to Theodore of Mopsuestia's. It was the conventional orthodox Christology of the fourth century, little influenced by either the Apollinarian controversy or Theodore of Mopsuestia's reaction to Apollinarism. I suspect that other studies along this line may only confirm the traditionalism and at times dreary conventionality of much of Chrysostom's thought.

A third term to which Chrysostom's thinking can be related is his cultural milieu. In this way we can better see what in Chrysostom's thought is Christian and what is non-Christian or culturally conditioned. An excellent example of such a study is Amand de Mendieta's article on the Quod nemo laeditur nisi a seipso(6). The basic theme of this letter from exile, as Malingrey entitled her edition of the text(7), is Stoic. To this Chrysostom added a little Christian garnish. The identification of the non-Christian sources of Chrysostom's thought is important theologically, since not every thought of a Christian is necessarily a Christian thought. However, we should not set up an absolute dichotomy between Hellenism and the gospel. One does not have to have read Harnack to realize that in the early Christian centuries the gospel was hellenized. Yet, as Robert Grant has pointed out(8) there are in the New Testament «bridge» passages which open the Christian message to Greek philosophical interpretations. Future studies of Chrysostom's relation to Greek culture could profitably investigate whether the alien plantings found congenial soil in Christianity. The dominical sayings about turning the other cheek and going an extra mile would seem to offer an opening for the Stoic idea that no one is injured except by himself or the Socratic principle that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it. Attention to the scriptural «openings» or «bridges» can also throw into greater relief the fundamental differences—in spite of accidental similarities—between Scripture and Greek philosophy, and it can enable us to see more accurately which influence, biblical or philosophical, is preponderant in Chrysostom's own thinking.

Besides considering the influence of the cultural milieu on Chrysostom we might also devote more attention to his influence on culture and Christian society. We should not limit ourselves to his influence on the culture and society of his own time but should consider also his influence on future generations. And this brings us to the final part of our paper: Chrysostom's Nachleben.

One way of measuring Chrysostom's later influence is by counting the manuscripts of his different works and seeing which works were more copied and which less during the Byzantine period. Obviously, given the accidents of preservation and loss, which Marcel Richard described so vividly last year at Louvain on the occasion of his honorary doctorate, we may not presume that the proportion of preserved manuscripts gives a totally accurate indication of the proportion of manuscripts which have been made through the centuries. Yet if one work has been preserved in only two manuscripts and another in two hundred I think we may safely conclude that the latter was more often copied and hence was more influential than the former.

Final studies of this sort can only be made after the completion of CCG. But to illustrate in a general way the sort of study I have in mind let us look at the proportion of manuscripts containing Chrysostom's homilies on the New Testament, that is, on Matthew, John, Acts and the Pauline corpus. Of the 824 manuscripts described in the first four volumes of CCG 76, or slightly less than 10 per cent, contain two or more of the homilies on Matthew; 38, or about 4 1/2 per cent, contain two or more of the homilies on John; 16 (about 2 per cent) contain two or more of the homilies on Acts; 12 (about 1 1/2 per cent) contain two or more of the homilies on Romans; 11 (about 1 1/2 per cent) contain two or more of the homilies on I Corinthians; 9, or about 1 per cent, contain two or more of the homilies on Hebrews. All the other series of homilies on the Pauline corpus are found in less than 1 per cent of the manuscripts.

The homilies on Matthew and John were often divided into two books. The homilies on Acts usually were not, nor were those on the Pauline epistles. Hence the ratios are not so dramatic as they at first appear. Still, even when we have halved the number of manuscripts of the homilies on Matthew and John, the homilies on Matthew seem to have been twice as popular as those on John, and about four times as popular as those on the Pauline epistles. Can this be adequately explained by the liturgical and monastic practices of the Byzantine period, or must other considerations be made?

Although the entire series of homilies on the Pauline epistles were less often copied than those on Matthew and John, certain individual homilies enjoyed a wider popularity. To take just one example: the eleven homilies on I Thessalonians are found in only three manuscripts, but the eighth homily of this series is found in eight other manuscripts. In this particular case the reason is easy to find. The eighth homily on I Thessalonians was associated with the liturgical feast for the faithful departed (BHGn2103 mf) and so appeared in seasonal homilaries. The history of this homily does not end here, however. It became part of a new homily. Its doxology was omitted and the last part of Chrysostom's thirty-first homily on Romans was added to it, as Aubineau discovered(9). This composite homily was also used on the same feast
(BHGn 2103mf, des. b) and is found in three other manuscripts of CCG 1-4.

Here we enter upon a new area of Chrysostom's Nachleben, the excerpted and composite works derived from Chrysostom's writings and circulated under his name. The sources of more than 250 such works have already been identified by Haidacher, Andrés, Aubineau and myself(10). Many more will certainly come to light as future volumes of CCG appear. The excerpted and composite works can be very instructive about Chrysostom's later influence. They reveal not only which works but also which passages of which works were of special interest to the Byzantine age.

A clearly defined genre within the excerpted and composite literature is that of the ethica. These moral exhortations at the end of the sermon were often quite unrelated to the subject of the sermon. So from the beginning they had a kind of independence. Detaching them and circulating them as separate pieces was therefore not a major act of mutilation. The first four volumes of CCG provide some interesting statistics. There are 21 occurrences of ethica from the homilies on Matthew, and five from the homilies on John but 98 from Acts, 86 from I Corinthians, 66 from Romans, 50 from Ephesians, 35 from Hebrews, 34 from II Corinthians, 20 from I Timothy, 12 from II Timothy, and 16 from the homilies on the other Pauline epistles. From this we see that the ethica from the homilies on Acts and Paul seem to have been more popular than those from the homilies on Matthew and John.

Admittedly our statistics are inadequate, drawn as they are from 824 of what will probably prove to be 3,000 to 4,000 manuscripts, but they suggest certain things about Chrysostom's influence in the Byzantine period which future studies should confirm, modify, or disprove: 1) Chrysostom was more popular as a moralist than as an exegete. 2) His exegesis of the Gospels was more popular than his exegesis of Paul. 3) His exegesis of Matthew was more popular than his exegesis of John. From these three points there arises a suspicion, and at this stage it is only a suspicion, that Christians of the Byzantine period were more interested in morality than theology, and more interested in a legalistic morality (Matthew) than in a love ethic (John and Paul). If this should ever be confirmed, they would seem to have been like the majority of Christians throughout the history of the Church. Counting manuscripts can raise interesting questions for future studies of Chrysostom's later influence, but it cannot tell how Chrysostom influenced individuals, how he changed the minds and hearts and lives of those who came after him. For such studies those of us who specialize in the patristic period must turn to the Byzantinists. Here we have reached the limit of our competence and of our task. Thank you.


1. R. E. CARTER, «The Future of Chrysostom Studies», Studia Patristica 10 («Texte und Unlersuchungen» 107, Berlin 1970) 14-21.

2. F. LEDUC, «Le thème de la vaine gloire chez saint Jean Chrysostome», Proche-Orient chrètien 29 (Jerusalem 1969) 3-32; «L'eschatologie, une préoccupation centrale de saint Jean Chrysostome», Ibid., pp. 109-134.

3. R. HILL, «Saint John Chrysostom's Teaching on Inspiration in Six Homilies on Isaiah», Vigiliae Christianae 22 (1968) 19-37.

4. J. KORBACHER, Ausserhalb der Kirche kein Heil? Eine dogmengeschichtlicke Untersuchung über Kirche und Kirchenzugehörigkeit bei Johannes Chrysostomus («Münchener theologische Studien» II. Systematische Abteilung, 27. Band, München 1963).

5. C. HAY, «Saint John Chrysostom and the Integrity of the Human Nature of Christ», Franciscan Studies 19 (1959) 298-317.

6. Ε. AMAND DE MENDIETA, «L’amplification d'un thème socratique et sto'icien dans I'avant-dernier traite de Jean Chrysostome», Byzantion 36 (1966) 353-381.

7. A. M. MALINGREY, ed., Jean Chrysostome: Lettre d'exil, SC 103, Paris, 1964.

8. R. M. GRANT, the Early Christian Doctrine of God, Charlottesville 1966, p. 5-14.

9. M. AUBINEAU, CCG 1, Paris 1968, Appendix 32, p. 259.

10. Haidacher's identifications have been gathered together from many different publications in J. A. DE ALDAMA'S, Repertorium Pseudochrysostomicum, Paris 1965; the identifications made by G. DE ANDRES were first published in his Catalogo de los Codices Griegos de la real Biblioteca de El Escorial II-III, Madrid 1965-1967 and may also be found in the Appendix of CCG 3; the identifications which Aubineau and I have made are published in the Appendixes of our respective volumes of CCG.

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