Ministering between Heaven and Earth: John Chrysostom's theology and practice of church leadership
Ang, Beatrice Victoria H.
This thesis systematically explores Chrysostom’s theology and practice of church leadership. It identifies major themes from Chrysostom’s treatise, De sacerdotio, and discusses them in the larger context of his theological presuppositions and historical situation. Reflections on the contemporary significance of Chrysostom’s insights are given at the end of each major chapter and in the appendix. Chapter 1 gives the rationale, methodology, and research limits of the thesis. It discusses what is lacking in many theological studies of Chrysostom’s views on church leadership and proposes to address the lack by employing a theological method that emphasises the interrelationship of his theological ideas whilst taking advantage of the revival in Chrysostomian studies that emphasise the historical and sociocultural influences present in his works. After discussing the background of De sacerdotio, interrelated themes are identified for further investigation in the next three chapters. These themes are 1) preaching and soul care; 2) asceticism and angelic virtue; and 3) episcopal authority and management. Chapter 2 discusses preaching and its use in soul care and community building. After presenting a brief review of Chrysostom’s contributions to hermeneutics and preaching as noted in modern scholarship, it argues, from De sacerdotio and various exegetical homilies, that Chrysostom had a much broader definition of preaching than is usually recognised. His understanding and practice of it is better described as persuasive teaching. The discussion is then placed in the larger context of his understanding of the human soul and of “soul care”. Since Chrysostom viewed the soul as embodied, soul sickness, which he often associated with heterodoxy and moral failure due to uncontrolled passions, can and often do have material causes. The natural ability to overcome the passions incited by physical and biological conditions rests in the intellect, a faculty of the soul. The intellect gives human beings the ability to discern, will, and argue. Persuasive teaching is the best remedy for sick souls, as it creates experience and offers content to reinforce, challenge, or even replace a person’s already held beliefs and ethics. Chrysostom exercised persuasive teaching for soul care and community building in several ways, including through preaching homilies, manipulating sacred spaces, conducting liturgical processions, and using exclusion for church discipline. I propose that contemporary theologians and church leaders should similarly expand their understanding of preaching, since one’s approach to preaching and its reception can qualitatively change if preaching is understood not only as the transmission of divine revelation but as a healthy exercise for the soul. Chapter 3 discusses Chrysostom’s pursuit of asceticism and how this influenced his concept and exercise of “angelic virtue,” a moral requirement for priests. Various studies on Chrysostom’s approach to virtue formation have noted his interaction with Greco-Roman values and his strategic use of rhetoric, exemplars, and liturgical rites to achieve his pastoral aims. These strategies can be brought into a cohesive whole by recognising Chrysostom’s presuppositions concerning the nature and destiny of human beings and the problem of sin and evil. Drawing primarily from Chrysostom’s homilies in Genesis and various monastic treatises, I argue that he viewed angelic life as that carefree life which prelapsarian humans were able to live because of God’s gratuitous and supernatural gifts. Because of sin, humanity lost God’s supernatural gifts and the angelic life, but Christ won these gifts back for them. Although the ultimate restoration of the angelic life is at a future resurrection, Christians are presently able to exercise angelic living through synergistic cooperation with the supernatural grace Christ obtained for them. This is angelic virtue. These soteriological presuppositions, along with early and memorable exposure to ministrycentric ascetic training, impacted Chrysostom’s perception of the society in which he lived, the kind of virtues he found commendable, and the ways he attempted to cultivate angelic virtue through the monastery, church, and household. The role of angelic virtue in virtue formation is further explained through Chrysostom’s use of the Christian concepts of rewards and the resurrection to spur his congregation to upright living. I then propose constructive ways that the same can be used to motivate contemporary Christian ministers toward a healthier and more balanced approach to ministry. Chapter 4 discusses episcopal authority and management. For Chrysostom, episcopal authority rests on Christological and apostolic continuity in the areas of orthodoxy, ministry, and the endorsement of other legitimate bishops. His reflections on said categories were necessitated by legitimacy issues in the episcopal situation in Antioch and useful when he ascended to the see of Constantinople as an outsider. His clear convictions about the limits and responsibilities of episcopal authority also impacted his interactions with political powers, his clergy, and various episcopal figures. Chrysostom’s theological ideals were often challenged by the harsh reality of ministry and further complicated by the political environment in Constantinople. While he clung to certain theological commitments, he had to abandon others, leading to choices that had both positive and negative impact on himself and the people under his care. Finally, since Chrysostom’s views on apostolic succession stem from his Christology, I compare his interpretation of Christ’s High Priesthood with that of the Christian priest. For Chrysostom, the priest represents Christ not at the level of being but in the act of ministry—a ministry characterised by condescension and mediation. Inspired by Chrysostom, I argue that it is therefore in the act of ministry that a priest arrives at a mystical identification with Christ, where theosis can be a present reality but also still a reality to come. This privilege also extends to lay ministers, if Chrysostom is right that lay ministry is an extension of priestly ministry. The appendix revisits and expands on four areas for contemporary reflection that were previously introduced. This includes appropriating what was learned from Chrysostom for rethinking the relationship between the laity and the ordained as conversation; exploring the natural and supernatural aspects of synergistic virtue formation in the context of the church; clarifying the interplay of individuality and community in the goals of church leadership; and rethinking the political impact of church leaders in contemporary society.