Friday, 8 May 2015

Blake Leyerle: John Chrysostom’s Strategic Use of Fear

John Chrysostom spoke often about fear, not only in the wake of actual situations of terror, such as the Riot of the Statues, when the populace as a whole quaked in fear, but also in the course of his regular preaching, when he deliberately evoked dread in his listeners by conjuring imaginative scenarios of punishment. So useful was fear in his estimation that the preacher openly wished that he could “always and continually speak about Hell” (De Laz. 2.3, PG 48. 985). Such unalloyed enthusiasm suggests a strongly disciplinary agenda, and we know that Chrysostom was indeed focused on the moral reformation of his listeners.  Fear was a useful ally not only in restraining his listeners from immoral tendencies but also in spurring them to ethical actions. But fear, as Aristotle noted, is a complex emotion and Chrysostom was, among other things, a very astute observer of human nature.  This paper argues, accordingly, that Chrysostom’s appreciation of fear springs not only from its disciplinary utility but also from its capacity to enhance group solidarity and, perhaps most signally, to promote a deliberate state in which values are reassessed and temporal frames clarified.

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