I desire to ask one favor of you all, before I touch on the words of the Gospel; do not you refuse my request, for I ask nothing heavy or burdensome, nor, if granted, will it be useful only to me who receive, but also to you who grant it, and perhaps far more to you. What then is it that I require of you? That each of you take in hand that section of the Gospels which is to be read among you on the first day of the week, or even on the Sabbath, and before the day arrive, that he sit down at home and read it through, and often carefully consider its contents, and examine all its parts well, what is clear, what obscure, what seems to make for the adversaries, but does not really so; and when you have tried, in a word, every point, so go to hear it read. For from zeal like this will be no small gain both to you and to us. We shall not need much labor to render clear the meaning of what is said, because your minds will be already made familiar with the sense of the words, and you will become keener and more clear-sighted not for hearing only, nor for learning, but also for the teaching of others. Since, in the way that now most of those who come hither hear, compelled to take in the meaning of all at once, both the words, and the remarks we make upon them, they will not, though we should go on doing this for a whole year, reap any great gain. How can they, when they have leisure for what is said as a bywork, and only in this place, and for this short time? If any lay the fault on business, cares, and constant occupation in public and private matters, in the first place, this is no slight charge in itself, that they are surrounded with such a multitude of business, are so continually nailed to the things of this life, that they cannot find even a little leisure for what is more needful than all. Besides, that this is a mere pretext and excuse, their meetings with friends would prove against them, their loitering in the theaters, and the parties they make to see horse races, at which they often spend whole days, yet never in that case does one of them complain of the pressure of business. For trifles then you can without making any excuses always find abundant leisure; but when you ought to attend to the things of God, do these seem to you so utterly superfluous and mean, that you think you need not assign even a little leisure to them? How do men of such a disposition deserve to breathe or to look upon this sun?
There is another most foolish excuse of these sluggards; that they have not the books in their possession. Now, as to the rich, it is ludicrous that we should take our aim at this excuse, but because I imagine that many of the poorer sort continually use it, I would gladly ask, if every one of them does not have all the instruments of the trade which he works at, full and complete, though infinite poverty stand in his way? Is it not then a strange thing, in that case, to throw no blame on poverty, but to use every means that there be no obstacle from any quarter, but, when we might gain such great advantage, to lament our want of leisure and our poverty?
Besides, even if any should be so poor, it is in their power, by means of the continual reading of the holy Scriptures which takes place here, to be ignorant of nothing contained in them. Or if this seems to you impossible, it seems so with reason; for many do not come with fervent zeal to hearken to what is said, but having done this one thing for form's sake on our account, immediately return home. Or if any should stay, they are no better disposed than those who have retired, since they are only present here with us in body. But that we may not overload you with accusations, and spend all the time in finding fault, let us proceed to the words of the Gospel, for it is time to direct the remainder of our discourse to what is set before us. Rouse yourselves therefore, that nothing of what is said escape you.
- St. John Chrysostom, 11th Homily on the Gospel of St. John, tr. C. Marriot, ed. Philip Schaff
I find it rather interesting that Chrysostom should emphasize private Scripture reading so strongly. This is typically viewed (both by Protestants and by other Christians) as a characteristically Protestant emphasis (which is not to say that anyone believes that other Christians do not practice private Scripture reading, but simply that they emphasize it less). One reason typically given for this is that the Reformation grew up along side the invention of the printing press, which led to drastic decreases in the cost of books and increases in literacy. What puzzles me most about this passage is that Chrysostom considers the former issue, but never mentions the latter. I noticed earlier in the Homilies on John that Chrysostom discusses how the text should be punctuated (Fifth Homily, discussing John 1:3), and expects his audience to know what he is talking about. Marriott notes in his preface that there is internal evidence that these homilies "were delivered to a select audience at an early hour of the day" and Chrysostom does speak in this passage of his hearers teaching others. So perhaps the homilies were delivered to deacons-in-training or some other such group who had been taught to read already. The homilies are believed to have been delivered between 390 and 398, while Chrysostom was Bishop of Antioch (in 398 Chrysostom became Bishop of Constantinople). Does anyone who happen to be a fount of esoteric historical knowledge and know what the literacy rate was like in Antioch at the end of the fourth century?Posted by Kenny at March 7, 2008 2:44 PM
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