Paschalis Gkortsilas

Department: Theology and Religion
Discipline: Theology and Religion
Research Centre/Unit: Reception of Christian and Jewish traditions

Project Summary

John Chrysostom and the Greeks: Hellenism and Greek philosophy in the rhetoric of John Chrysostom

The relationship, interaction, and confrontation between Christianity and Hellenism has always been one of the most contested issues in the history of scholarship. The subject of my study, John Chrysostom, lived in an age where Christianity was slowly becoming the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Its interaction with the dominant Hellenic culture of late antiquity is a continuing development, beginning with Clement of Alexandria and reaching its climax with the Cappadocians and their famous synthesis of Christian Hellenism. The main objective of my study is an examination of the relationship between John Chrysostom and Hellenism.

Hellenism being an enormous subject of research, I will limit myself to the study of one of its major aspects, i.e. philosophy. A fair number of early Christian writers and their approaches to Hellenism has already been the subject of academic research. The same cannot be said for Chrysostom, and my project will try to fill that research gap. To accomplish that, I will engage the following research questions: how was the transnational ideal of Hellenism interpreted and appropriated by one of the most important preachers in the history of Christianity? How does John treat “outer” wisdom and the fact that Christianity had to “borrow” the Greek language and philosophical terminology in order to make its message more accessible to the large masses of the Roman Empire? Which aspects of the different schools of ancient philosophy does he approve and what does he discard from the Hellenic tradition? How does he define his Christian identity in relation to the Hellenic and Roman cultural milieus of both Antioch and Constantinople? Are his polemics against paganism a sign of cultural or ethnic denunciation of Hellenism?

As I will attempt to answer these questions, we will see that the prevalent view of Chrysostom as the archenemy of Hellenism is unjustifiable. In this context, Hellenism encompasses both philosophy (as discourse and practice) and rhetoric, a distinction that is necessary on the intellectual level but far from absolute, especially in the late 4th century. This approach will enable us to go beyond a scholarly tendency that only sees an absolute dichotomy between Christianity and Hellenism. In order to do that, I will compare paradigms and worldviews on the philosophical level. This comparison will show the fundamental differences between Scripture and the classical tradition and which influence is predominant in Chrysostom’s thought. The necessity of this contrast becomes imperative when we see how classical symbols and imagery were used by Christian preachers in order to communicate with their audience. I will attempt to delineate this shared heritage and to see if the patristic struggle against paganism was also a denunciation of the Hellenic cultural heritage. To this end, the primary sources will be John’s corpus, particularly passages or works (such as his Homilies on Genesis) that directly deal with philosophical issues. History will be my main guide throughout the process, since John’s ideas had direct implications for the cultural and social milieu of the period under examination.

Supervisory Team

Professor Morwenna Ludlow, Department of Theology and Religion

Dr Richard Flower, Department of Classics and Ancient History

Wider Research Interests

Humanities and Technology; Biblical Studies; Orthodox Theology; Byzantine History; ancient Greek philosophy

Authored Publications/Reports

Paschalis Gkortsilas (August 2014) Review of Andrew Hofer, O.P., Christ in the Life and Teaching of Gregory of Nazianzus. Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), Scottish Journal of Theology

Paschalis Gkortsilas (2011) “Georges Florovsky”, in John McGuckin (ed.), Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, vol I. Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell, 259-260

Paschalis Gkortsilas (December 2014) Translation of Constantine Bozinis, John Chrysostom on the Imperium Romanum: A Study on the Political Thought of the Early Church.

Paschalis Gkortsilas (2011) “Byzantine Christianity”, “Eastern Orthodox Church”, “Georges Florovsky”, “Greek Christianity”, in Thomas Kurian (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, vols I-II. Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell, 340-44, 761-70, 955-56, 1059-63