Sunday, 3 May 2015

Justus Ghormley: Gratitude: A Panacea for the Passions in John Chrysostom's Commentary on the Psalms

In recent decades, scholars have increasingly appreciated the cognitive dimension of emotions. Classicists point to Greek writers-from Aristotle to Plutarch-for whom the emotions were "responsive to cognitive modification" (Nussbaum 1996, 78). Early Greek Christian thinkers-including John Chrysostom-who were reared within a Greek philosophical milieu, took such an understanding of the emotions for granted in their exegesis of Christian scripture and in their articulation of the moral life. For Chrysostom, the emotion gratitude, in particular, played a central role in the moral development of the Christian. In his largely overlooked commentary on the Psalms, the Antiochene preacher repeatedly flags the importance of thanksgiving in the Christian's struggle against the passions, most especially avarice. While avarice impedes individuals from enjoying the blessings generously bestowed by the Christian God-the heavenly patron-gratitude changes one's perception about reality so that one may enjoy the benefits of life even in the midst of suffering. Through the cultivation of gratitude, the Christian may rise above suffering and escape from the pain inflicted by greed. Given the importance of gratefulness in overcoming the passions-especially greed-Chrysostom prescribes for his audience various therapeutic mental exercises designed to foster gratitude. By turning one's attention to the marvels and mercies of God manifested in creation and in salvation history, the Christian will succeed in cultivating gratitude and thereby will overcome the passions.

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