Monday, March 2, 2009

Margaret M. Mitchell on St. John Chrysostom

Mitchell's book The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation is an absolutely fascinating read. On a personal note, I find the ancient way of reading texts more refreshing and far more interesting. I've yet to have to wade through 100 pages of an ancient redaction theory before any kind of commentary is provided. Academically, I enjoy reading these texts because of the light it sheds on ancient epistolary theory and hermeneutics in general. Consider Chrysostom's comment on the "inexperienced" reader reading a text:

και επιστολην ο μεν απειρος λαβων, χαρτην ηγησεται και μελαν ειναι. ο δε εμπειδος και φωνης αχοθσεται, και διαλεξεται τω αποντι.

"The inexperienced reader when taking up a letter will consider it to be papyrus and ink; but the experienced reader will both hear a voice, and converse with the one who is absent."[1]

According to Mitchell, it was common to see a letter as a conversation between the reader and the author.

Most interesting in Chrysostom's "author-centered hermeneutic"[2] is the idea of imitation. Essentially, Chrysostom is the best interpreter of Paul because of how much he loves Paul. Chrysostom states that one should look to Paul as a "αρχετυπος ειχων", an archetypal image. This is the "accurate portrait from which copies are to be made."[3] Paul served as the examplar into which Chrysostom tried to mold himself. Mitchell states that imitation is the ultimate goal, and that creating a portrait from the text is the task of hermeneutics.

[1] Margaret M. Mitchell, The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation (Louisville: WJK Press, 2002) 49 (quoted from hom. In 1 Cor. 7.2 [61.56])
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid

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