Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thesis introduction

Here's an early draft of the intro to my thesis:

In recent years traditional schematisations of the history of theological debate during the 4th Century period, specifically those centered around the Councils of Nicaea in 325 and Constantinople in 381, the Trinitarian and Christological issues involved, and the development and resolution of various viewpoints on those issues, have been challenged and largely revised. Firstly there was a revision of our understanding of Arius, and perhaps more significantly, those traditionally labelled ‘Arians’, who now it appears had very little to do with a theological lineage of Arius at all. This resulted in a more complex and nuanced understanding of the theology of those identified as Homoiousians, Homoians, and Anomoians.

Secondly, and more recently, Lewis Ayres has produced a substantial, and not uncontested, revisionist history of the whole period, turning attention from the theologians-formerly-known-as-Arians, to those traditionally identified as Homoousians, Orthodox, or Nicene. He, in concert with Barnes, refers to the pro-Nicenes, as a number of theologians who came to articulate theologies that explicitly or implicitly championed the use of Nicene terminology as an expression of their theology, which has come down to us as Classical Trinitarianism.

A large proportion of this historical work has centered, and rightly so, on those figures traditionally regarded as ‘major players’ in the 4th Century debates: Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine1. In this thesis I propose to turn attention to John Chrysostom. Long regarded as one of the foremost preachers of Late Antiquity, Chrysostom’s enduring legacy as a preacher and commentator continued and continues to have significant influence. Yet, a later contemporary to the Cappadocians, he played no significant part in the resolution of ecclesiastical and theological disputes made and represented by Constantinople 381.

Ayres, in his work, speaks repeatedly of common pro-Nicene ‘strategies’ that tie together the pro-Nicene theologians, and of a shared grammar of theological discourse. The question that begs to be answered in the case of Chrysostom, then, is to what extent does Chrysostom share and exemplify these pro-Nicene strategies.

In order to answer this question, I propose to do four things.

Firstly, I will briefly review some of the relevant historical background to Chrysostom’s preaching. This will include the historical period of Late Antiquity in Chrysostom’s lifetime; socio-cultural factors that may bear upon his preaching; Greek rhetoric as exemplified by Libanios and his school, and as practiced by classically-trained clergy in the Greek East; the city of Antioch; influence and comparison with Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia; the theological scene of the late 4th century in terms of the continuing and resolving Trinitarian debates.

Secondly, I will outline and articulate 9 strategies that I consider representative of pro-Nicene theology. I derive 6 of these directly from Ayres, and 3 from the reading of primary sources directly. In both sets I will attempt to locate these 9 in sources from those theologians identifiable as pro-Nicene.

Thirdly, I will apply these nine criteria to a close-reading of Chrysostom’s homilies on John’s Gospel. There are eighty-eight homilies on the Fourth Gospel, to which I will apply the criteria broadly across the corpus, with particular attention to key contested passages of the period. This will take special reference to the polemical context of the homilies, in terms of the ongoing presence of Anomoians in the lineage of Aetius and Eunomius. Both Anomoians, and John’s contemporary Theodore, provide some measure of control in isolating and identifying pro-Nicene strategies and unique content.

Fourthly I will draw some conclusions from the presence and/or absence of these criteria in Chrysostom’s treatment of the Fourth Gospel. This will include a consideration of pro-Nicene theology outside the major theological ‘players’ of the 4th century, homiletics, and scope for further research.

1 Not because of his role in those debates, but due to the significance of his trinitarian understanding for the development of Western Theological Thought

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This work by Seumas Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.


Mickyd said...

Have fun with that :) are you going to comment on all 88 sermons????

Mike W said...

I'm so jealous that you get to spend a good long time with Chrysostom. I read Ayres and David Gwynn on eusebians in 1st year, it was fascinating, so I'm looking forward to the bits of thesis that get released to blog land

Seumas Macdonald said...


Maybe. I think the structure will be set by the 9 strategies, and so I will comment on whatever sermon seems to demonstrate each.

@Mike W
Perhaps an exciting career in patristics awaits you! I think much of it will end up here. Also, we need to rab a coffee one day around college..