Unlikely heroes

"Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." Matthew 7.17


John Chrysostom shared the view of his fellow Early Church Fathers that a person was composed of two parts: body (soma) and soul (physis), both of which were intrinsically good, having been made by God. In order to maintain its virtue, the body must be subordinate to the soul in the same way that a rider controls their horse. This would depend on the person's mindset (gnome) operating in harmony with their power of reasoning (logismos). Since the Fall, human beings have harboured a propensity towards evil and so require the help of the Holy Spirit to restore equilibrium, through adopting an ascetic lifestyle and inspired by biblical examples.


John Chrysostom's favourite example is King David. This may seem surprising, given David's spectacular lapses and the fact that he lived a thousand years before Christ. But these "inconvenient truths" are what illustrate the point. The fact that David exemplifies counter-cultural qualities such as humility and forbearance, so long before Jesus taught about the "upside down" values of the Kingdom are quite simply super-human (or angelic, to use John Chrysostom's language). And because his sin with Bathsheba was so out-of-character, that he readily confessed and repented when encountered with the error of his ways by the prophet Nathan, David's lapse serves as a useful caution against succumbing to rathymia (careless negligence).


Singaporean theologian Pak-Wah Lai draws attention to the seismic change which Christians experienced during the course of the 4th century, going from persecuted sect to triumphant church. The task facing Christian leaders was to chart a way forward while maintaining continuity with the past. The contribution of the Cappadocia Fathers, such as John Chrysostom, was to commend the angelic life as a means of maintaining progress towards Christ-likeness, in the absence of the discipline of persecution. Christians in the 21st century are facing our own seismic change, as the western European-orientated church weakens and the action moves into the multicultural southern hemisphere. What is the vision that will sustain those of us being left behind?

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