Saturday, June 14, 2008

John Chrysostom on Philippians 3

I'm currently finishing a project where I have been exploring the early exegetical history of Philippians 3.2-11, especially by interpreters of the late fourth and early fifth centuries. I have chosen five exegetes to examine: John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Augustine, Pelagius, and Theodoret of Cyrus. The project has been exciting and enlightening, but oh so tiring.

However, when reading through Philip Schaff's English translation of John Chrysostom, I was quite intrigued by a couple of lines in John's tenth homily on Philippians.

Why are we so wedded to unstable objects? Why are we linked to things that are shifting? How long before we lay hold of the things that last?

Wow. What an up-to-the-minute thought for someone writing around sixteen hundred years ago! I read in one of the many sources on John Chrysostom that I have been using that he tends to moralize at the end of his sermons and sometimes this moral injunction have a tenuous at best connection with what came before them. This passage is certainly an example of that. The above quote is the climax of the application section; here is how it began:

Such a course of life, so strictly regulated, and entered upon from earliest childhood, such unblemished extraction, such dangers, plots, labors, forwardness, did Paul renounce, "counting them but loss," which before they were "gain," that he might "win Christ." But we do not even contemn money, that we may "win Christ," but prefer to fail of the life to come rather than of the good things of the present life. And yet this is nothing more than loss...

While the turn in that passage is acute to say the least, John Chrysostom handles it with a grace and style all his own.

You know, I figure that I know at least one person who will really dig this post...


Eric Sowell said...

I enjoyed it, though I would have enjoyed it more if you would have posted the Greek text :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Matt. I looked it up in my electronic copy of the early church fathers. I enjoy how he goes on for a bit about rich people wearing more garments than poor people and sweating more because of it :)

J. Matthew Barnes said...

Thanks Eric and Pat!

Pat, yeah, it was funny how he was making a point that things that we think are gain aren't actually that good. I think I was just surprised by how relevant this passage was!