Chrysostom’s Got Style

I picked up this volume of John Chrysostom’s homilies on Philippians at SBL this year. The text is a diglot (the original Greek text is on the left page; the English translation is on the right). I recently finished translating the first homily. Though I am no expert on 4th century Greek rhetoric, or Greek rhetoric at all for that matter, I can already start to see why he was nicknamed “Golden-Tongue.” I’ve typed up one example. It comes from the conclusion of the first homily. Chrysostom has just finished teaching on the necessity of pity in the believer’s life, which expresses itself in the form of almsgiving. The first word in the quotation below refers to ἔλεος, “pity, mercy, compassion” Notice that the manner in which I have organized the text is not a structural diagram; it is arranged based upon the concepts he elucidates.

  • ταύτην ἀγαπήσωμεν, ταύτην στέρξωμεν,
    • μὴ μίαν ἡμέραν,
    • μηδὲ δευτέραν,
    • ἀλλὰ διὰ παντὸς τοῦ χρόνου,
  • ἴνα ἡμᾶς ἐπιγνῷ.
    • Ἄν αὐτὴ ἡμᾶς ἐπιγνῷ, καὶ ὁ κύριος ἐπιγνώσεται·
    • ἄν αὐτὴ ἀγνοήσῃ, καὶ ὁ κύριος ἀγνοήσει,
  • καὶ ἐρεῖ, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς.
    • Ἀλλὰ μὴ γένοιτο ταύτης ἀκοῦσαι ἡμᾶς τῆς φωνῆς,
    • ἀλλὰ τῆς μακαρίας ἐκείνης·
      • “Δεῦτε οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου·”
      • ἧς γένοιτο πάντας ἡμᾶς ἐπιτυχεῖν,
        • ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν, 
        • μεθ᾽0ὗ τῷ πατρὶ
        • ἅμα τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι
          • δόξα,
          • κράτος,
          • τιμὴ,
            • νῦν
            • καὶ ἀεὶ
            • καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.
  • Let us love it, let us cherish it
    • not  for a day
    • not for two
    • but through all of time,
  • so that it might recognize us.
    • If it recognizes us, so also will the Lord recognize [us].
    • If it does not recognize [us], so also will the Lord not recognize [us].
  • And he will say, I do not know you.
    • But may it never be that we hear this sound,
    • but rather that blessed sound,
      • “Come, blessed ones of my Father, inherit the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
      • Of this sound, may we all meet
        • in Christ Jesus our Lord
        • with whom to the Father
        • together with the Spirit be
          • glory,
          • power,
          • honor
            • now
            • and always
            • forever and ever, Amen.

Two things stuck out when reading this. First, notice how he seamlessly moves from one topic to the next. There are four distinct movements: 1) love and cherish pity, 2) the connection between pity (not) recognizing us and the Lord (not) recognizing us, 3) the words we will hear on the day of judgment, 4) doxology.

The second thing I noticed was a distinct cadence. In the first movement there is the repetition of object + two subjunctives (ταύτην ἀγαπήσωμεν, ταύτην στέρξωμεν; “Let us love it, let us cherish it”), followed by two μη phrases (μὴ μίαν ἡμέραν, μηδὲ δευτέραν; “not one day, or two”), which are then contrasted by the final phrase ἀλλὰ διὰ παντὸς τοῦ χρόνου, “but through all of time.”

The transition between the first movement and the second is brought about through ἴνα ἡμᾶς ἐπιγνῷ, “so that it might recognize us.” This is followed by two conditional clauses marked by the use of ἄν. With few exceptions (dropping ἡμᾶς in the first clause and a shift in tense in the apodosis), the same vocabulary and structure is employed.

The next transition explores God’s response to whether or not pity recognizes us. If it does not recognize us, the Lord will say “I do not know you.” Chrysostom elucidates the concept of the Lord’s response. The section that follows is enclosed by the use of γένοιτο. The first use is a warning: “but may it never be that we hear this sound.” The second use, “Of this sound, may we all meet” expresses hope that we will hear the words “Come, blessed ones of the Father, inherit the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The final section, the doxology, flows out of that final hope. The doxology is structured around the three persons of the trinity (Jesus, Father, Spirit), attributes three characteristics to the trinity (glory, power, honor), and concludes with three markers of time (now, always, and forever).

These two elements, the seamless movement between topics and the repetition/cadence, impacts the reader with great force. Furthermore, it aids in the listener/reader’s ability to memorize/retain the material. I suppose this is why people still read Chrysostom to this day.

As a final thought, a note of application, let us remember Chrysostom’s charge this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I’m not asking you to refrain from Black Friday shopping. I’m not asking that you give up gift giving. What I do think we must remember, however, is to be a people marked and characterized by pity, i.e. almsgiving, i.e. giving to the less fortunate. Have we thought about the needs of others, other than what is on their Christmas list? Have we thought of our missionaries oversees? Have we thought of the poor that walk through our church doors?

Finally, let us be a people marked by pity not just this holiday season, but ἀλλὰ διὰ παντὸς τοῦ χρόνου, “through all time.” As Chrysostom says earlier in the homily, it matters little that we run 9 long laps if we do not complete the 10th.

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