The Threatened Series - 14
It happens that the reading in today's office (St Andrew's Day) is a
passage from St John Chrysostom's homilies on John's Gospel. It will
be instructive to reproduce it as an example of Antiochene exegesis:
"When Andrew had been with Jesus, and had learned so much from him, he
did not keep this treasure to himself. He made haste and ran to his
brother, to share with him what he had learned. Notice what he said to
him: 'We have found the Messiah' (which means Christ). Notice the way
in which he shows here what he had learned in such a short space of
time. He shows both the power of the Master in convincing them that he
was the Messiah and their own zeal and persistence, for they had been
concerned about this from the beginning. Andrew's words are those of
one waiting for the Messiah to come from heaven, full of joy that he
has come, and hurrying to tell the great news to the others. This
action of sharing his spiritual gains with others was born of brotherly
love, family ties, and genuine affection.
"But notice also the eager and obedient spirit of Peter. The moment he
heard the news he hurried at once to Jesus with his brother. 'He
brought him to Jesus,' says John. Let no one condemn Peter's
impetuosity in accepting the message without any security. Probably
his brother told him everything carefully and at length. Moreover it
is a characteristic of the evangelists to tell a great deal in a few
words, in the interests of brevity. In any case, John does not say
that Peter believe at once, but only that Andrew brought him to Jesus.
He put Peter into his hands so that he could learn everything from
Jesus himself. The other disciple was there also, and was a partner to
all that happened.
"John the Baptist said, 'This is the Lamb,' and 'he baptizes in the
Spirit,' and left the clarification of this teaching to be expounded by
Christ. Andrew, who was not capable of giving a full explanation, had
all the more reason for doing as John did. He brought his brother to
the source of light itself, in so much haste and joy that he would not
brook the slightest delay."
Notice that Chrysostom is thinking himself imaginatively into the
scene. He is concerned about it as a real event, and comments a good
deal on the feelings and motivations of those concerned: 'zeal and
persistence', 'they had been concerned', 'joy', 'brotherly love,
family ties, and genuine affection', 'eager and obedient',
'impetuosity'. He unpacks the passage, enabling his hearers, or
readers, to enter into it more fully. He has not the slightest
interest in an 'allegorical' or 'spiritual' significance the passage
It is useful to compare this passage with one from Origen's
commentaries on St John, as an example of Alexandrian exegesis. Origen
is commenting on Christ's entry into Jerusalem, and why he is said
(actually by Matthew) to ride 'on an ass and a colt the foal of an
"Now Jesus is the word of God which goes into the soul that is called
Jerusalem, riding on the ass freed by the disciples from its bonds.
That is to say, on the simple language of the Old Testament,
interpreted by the two disciples who loose it: in the first place him
who applies what is written to the service of the soul and shows the
allegorical sense of it with reference to her, and in the second place
him who brings to light by the things which lie in shadow the good and
true things of the future. But he also rides on the young cold, the
New Testament; for in both alike we find the word of truth which
purifies us and drives away all those thoughts in us which incline to
selling and buying. But he does not come alone to Jerusalem, the soul,
nor only with a few companions; for many things have to enter into us
before the word of God which makes us perfect . . ."
Everything represents something else: Jerusalem represents the soul,
the two donkeys represent the two Testaments, the two disciples
represent two expositors of the Old Testament, even the bystanders
represent the 'many things have to enter into us.'
Two very different approaches, two very different traditions, one
firmly based in the reality of this world, and concerned with human
thoughts, feelings, motivations; the other given to mystical flights
of fancy. I think these two passages illustrate very clearly the
difference between the Antiochene and Alexandrian traditions.
The Supple Doctor.
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