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In which St. John Chrysostom shows up on another digital bumper sticker

This has been one of the more stressful semesters of my college career. Not quite the most stressful, but there has definitely been plenty of pressure.

I started off with my Latin exam. Then I was going to have a relatively nice and easy semester preparing for my quals, for which I sit on 29 March. Flesh of My Flesh had a cushy-ish research assistantship that could be done from home, so there was supposed to be very little going on to distract from what we needed to do to get through the term.

Er, well, no.

Megan got a last-minute teaching assignment right after I took my Latin exam; one of her faculty members had a personal concern that took him out of the classroom on literally a couple of hours’ notice, and she got handed his class — a 400-level content course in German. It meets an hour before the class I’m assisting with on Monday and Wednesday, and then at the same time as one of my lecture sections on Friday. This means every day is a juggling act with Theodore Harvey Barrett The Second The Bouncing Baby Boy, and has effectively meant that for either of us to get anything done, we either have to have a babysitter or the other person has to get nothing done. In a way, this really has turned out to be an ideal semester to give up having four services a week to chant (although I am chanting at Holy Apostles now, which has been really nice on several levels), but it’s still been, shall we say, less than restful.

I’m also in full-blown “Hi, I’m a professional late antique Roman historian” mode, which means that when I see quotes that purport to be from somebody I study but with no citation, I instinctively start asking questions, as I’ve done before.

So, yesterday, I see a few people start to post this on Facebook:

“A young husband should say to his bride: ‘I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us.’” — St. John Chrysostom

That’s a lovely sentiment, it truly is, and it is one that I would never want to slap down, exactly. If Chrysostom said it, that’s fantastic. Still, something about it felt “off”, and without the citation, it seemed like it would be worth seeing if I could track it down. Part of it was that I’m sure my previous effort likely struck some as an ideological project; I tried to make it clear that it wasn’t an ideological project at all, but rather an accuracy project. If that “quote” about how the rich “will joyfully share their wealth” isn’t legitimate (and so far nobody has come up with anything substantial to indicate that it is), then it doesn’t help anybody’s side to continue to circulate it under Chrysostom’s name. (No, I’m not going to tell you which side I agree with on that — i.e., whether or not I wish it were authentic. My politics are my own business, and current politics are actually among the things in the world in which I am least interested.) So, anyway, if that wasn’t ideological, then I should be willing to do that kind of work even when it’s a greeting-card sentiment that surely everybody should unambiguously approve of, right? Exactly.

Off to Google I went. I couldn’t come up with anything searching on that text except for, well, the quote presented as the quote. A TLG search on Greek keywords like νύμφη (bride) and ὄνειρος (dream) came up with nothing that looked anything like it. I also didn’t find anything in Chrysostom on Marriage and Family Life that resembled the passage in question. None of this necessarily meant anything except that I hadn’t found the right keywords, of course.

Finally, somebody pointed me to this page, which presented the text this way:

The words of one of the greatest-ever preachers, St John Chyrsostom, might deepen the question. He said that a young husband should say to his bride: “I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us” (Homilies on Ephesians, 20,8).

There are a couple of useful bits of information there. There is the citation, of course. There’s also the incipit of the quote as it appears on Facebook, “…a young husband should say to his bride”, except it’s not actually in the quoted text. It’s the introduction to the quote, not part of the quote itself. By the time it gets to Facebook, however, it’s part of the quote. Someday, I’m sure, textual criticism of the Internet will be its own scholarly field. Things like this will be among the phenomena to study, I’m sure.

The citation allowed me to look up the Greek text on TLG. I have to say, at best, the quote is a rather, uh, free paraphrase of the Greek, and it’s also somewhat out of context. Here it is with some context (translation mine):

“For if Paul did not refrain from saying, ‘Do not deceive each other,’ and he was speaking the words of a bridesmaid, or rather not of a bridesmaid but a spiritual soul, by much more we will not refrain from saying [the same thing]. What, then, is it necessary to say to her? With great grace indeed [it is necessary] to be saying to her: ‘I took you, child, as a sharer of life, and I led you in to the most serious and necessary things as one sharing them with me, [namely] in the begetting of children and the leadership [or protection — the word is προστασία, the same word we call the Mother of God in the usual Sunday kontakion — “Protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame…” etc.] of the household. How, then, will I encourage you?’ Rather, before this, speak of the matters of love [ἀγάπη]. For there is nothing that thus avails to persuade the ones hearing to welcome the things said [to persuade one to listen to what you’re saying] than to learn that it is spoken with much love [ἀγάπη]. How then do you show love [ἀγάπη]? If you say, ‘Being able to take many women, both more well-provided-for and of clear lineage, I didn’t choose [them], but I was longing for you, and your conduct, your propriety, your graciousness, your prudence.’ Then immediately from these things prepare a way of words concerning philosophy, and in a roundabout way [lit. ‘with a way around’] denounce wealth. For, on the one hand, if you simply prolong your speech against wealth, you will be burdensome; but on the other hand, if the subject is taken up, you will finish quickly. For you will seem to do this thing in the manner of explanation, not as somebody strict and graceless and of small account. But when you take up this subject in a way related to her [lit. ‘from her things’], it will even be enjoyable.

You, then, will say (for again it is necessary to take up the speech)…”

Here I must pause to note that everything up to this point is what the Facebook quote glosses as “A young husband should say to his bride…”, and we’ve still got some other stuff to go:

“…’it was possible and easily done to marry a rich woman [or, “it was was possible to marry a rich and well-provided for woman”], but I did not suffer it. Why, do you suppose? Not simply, or haphazardly, but I was educated well, that wealth is no possession but a contemptible thing, belonging to thieves and prostitutes and grave-robbers. On which account giving up these things, I came upon the virtue of your soul, which I value above all gold. For an intelligent and free young woman cultivating the fear of God is worthy of the entire known world [οἰκουμένη, which strikes me as also being something of a pun on the idea of the household]. On account of these things…”

…and now we finally get to what the quoted passage says:

“I embraced you for my own, and I am giving you affection [φιλῶ], and I am setting you over my own soul [προτίθημι is the same word used to denote a liturgical offering to God, so Chrysostom may be suggesting something of the sacramental nature of marriage here]. For the present life is nothing, and I pray and I request and I do everything so that we are counted worthy to stand this present life, and to be able to be with each other there in the age to come with much freedom from fear.”

And that’s the end of the quotation. As I said, what’s on Facebook is a rather free paraphrase that shades it more towards notions of romantic love that, while not necessarily wrong, aren’t really what Chrysostom is talking about. The next little bit also seems quite relevant:

“For on the one hand this time [χρόνος, earthly time] is short and perishable; on the other hand, if we, being pleasing to God, are counted worthy to change this life for that one, we will be always both with Christ and with each other with the fullness of pleasure. I set your love [ἀγάπη] before everything, and nothing is thus difficult or burdensome to me as when I quarrel with you. Even if it should be necessary that I lose everything, that I become poorer than Irus [a beggar in The Odyssey], that I endure extreme dangers, that I suffer anything whatsoever, to me everything is tolerable and bearable, as long as matters for you are well-ordered for me. And children will then be desirable for me, as long as you are favorably disposed towards me. But it will be necessary that you do these things too.'”

The whole homily is very much worth reading, but again, it’s pretty clear to me that what Chrysostom is saying is very different than what the short paraphrase suggests. The old Schaff Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation can be found here; if you read Greek, you can find it in TLG (PG 62.146-147).

So, yeah. Don’t trust greeting-card-style quotes that are attributed to Chrysostom, I guess. He was a pretty grumpy saint for such quotes to be reliably authentic.

Back to exams…

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4 Responses to “In which St. John Chrysostom shows up on another digital bumper sticker”


  1. 1 Richard Barrett 21 February 2013 at 6:56 am

    Somebody pointed out to me that the “greeting card” translation originates from the English language version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and indeed it does. That actually clears a number of things up; it means this was generated from a Latin translation of Chrysostom’s Greek into Latin. The thing is, the Latin quoted in the Latin version of the catechism (which is probably the same Latin translation that’s in the PG) is pretty close to the Greek (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism_lt/p3s2c2a6_lt.htm#IV. Offensae contra matrimonii dignitatem ):

    Sanctus Ioannes Chrysostomus iuvenibus uxoratis suggerit ut suis uxoribus hos proferant sermones: « Te sum amplexus et te diligo, et meae etiam animae praefero. Nihil est enim vita praesens, oroque et hortor et omnia facio, ut nos ita digni habeamur qui praesentem agamus vitam, ut illic etiam possimus in futuro saeculo cum magna securitate simul versari. […] Ego dilectionem tuam praefero omnibus; neque est quidquam mihi aeque molestum quam a te umquam dissidere ».

    Saint John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should offer these words to their wives: “I embraced you, and I delight in you, and indeed I put you before my own soul. The present life is nothing, and I pray and beseech and do everything so that in this way we may be thought worthy who lead the present life, so that there yet we are able to dwell together in the age to come with great security. […] I hold your love above everything, and there is nothing grievous to me to the same extent as when at any time I disagree with you.”

    So that’s there in the Latin version of the catechism on the Vatican’s own website, big as life, and the “greeting card” English version is also on the Vatican’s website. I can only assume that the person responsible for the final English language text wasn’t actually familiar with either the Latin or the Greek, and saw only an English-language draft that they thought could be made a bit snappier.


  1. 1 Orthodox Collective Trackback on 20 February 2013 at 6:31 pm
  2. 2 Something doesn’t smell right about the Elizabeth O’Bagy “résumé lie” | Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 13 September 2013 at 8:45 pm

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