Saturday 11 April 2015

James Cook: Therapeutic Preaching: The use of medical imagery in the sermons of John Chrysostom

The language of the 'cure of souls' was widespread in antiquity, and philosophers in particular often considered themselves to be physicians of the soul. John Chrysostom himself used this language, but, for all the similarities, his own conception of himself as a physician of the soul was in reality very different. This paper will argue that, for Chrysostom, spiritual sickness had less to do with being subject to irrational passions, as was the case with many of the classical philosophers; rather for him, what lay beneath this was a disobedience of God which ran the risk of suffering eternal damnation. A key part of his therapy, therefore, in stark contrast to his philosophical predecessors, was in fact to arouse in his congregation the emotions of fear at the prospect of hell and of love for God.  A further difference can be seen in the role of the sacraments and of God himself in the salvation of the Christian, compared to the emphasis placed on self-help 'spiritual exercises' in the classical tradition.

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