Saturday, 11 April 2015

Samantha Miller: John Chrysostom's Demonological Discourse as Homiletic Tool

John Chrysostom is known for inciting fear in his congregation as a motivational tool, but about the devil and his demons Chrysostom tells his congregation to fear not.  Instead, the congregants should think of demons and be emboldened to choose virtue.  Demonological discourse thus becomes a homiletic tool.  Though one tradition of scholarship has dismissed Chrysostom as “just” a moralist, I hope to show that there is a sophisticated line of reasoning behind Chrysostom’s choice for method of persuasion.  Through an analysis of his De diabolo tentatore and supplemental passages from his Catechetical Homilies, I argue that Chrysostom’s choice to speak about demons is practical and in service of an overarching goal: to encourage his congregation to pursue virtue.

I make my argument in three parts.  First, I demonstrate the practicality of Chrysostom’s rhetoric about demons by showing that Chrysostom’s immediate goal in speaking about the devil is often to eradicate fear of the devil from his audience.  Second, I evaluate Chrysostom’s use of the term προαίρεσις in his rhetoric about demons in order to show the proportional relationship between his emphasis on προαίρεσις and his admonishments against fear.  Finally, by exploring the nuances of this relationship, I demonstrate that Chrysostom’s demonological discourse is aimed at exhorting his congregation to virtue.  In doing so, this study offers one approach for thinking about the various methods patristic preachers used to encourage their congregations to the pursuit of virtue and the possibility of seeing preachers as more than “mere moralists.”

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