Seen on Twitter this week, via David Walsh:
Jesus: ‘If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek’.
Chrysostom in 387AD: ‘Slap them in the face!’
– something lost in translation there.
It is always good practice to verify your quotations, but this is entirely genuine. The reference is to the Homilies on the Statues, 1, 32. In the NPNF version this reads:
32. But since our discourse has now turned to the subject of blasphemy, I desire to ask one favor of you all, in return for this my address, and speaking with you; which is, that you will correct on my behalf the blasphemers of this city.
And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; go up to him and rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so.
Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify thy hand with the blow, and if any should accuse thee, and drag thee to the place of justice, follow them thither; and when the judge on the bench calls thee to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels!
For if it be necessary to punish those who blaspheme an earthly king, much more so those who insult God. It is a common crime, a public injury; and it is lawful for every one who is willing, to bring forward an accusation.
Let the Jews and Greeks learn, that the Christians are the saviours of the city; that they are its guardians, its patrons, and its teachers.
Let the dissolute and the perverse also learn this; that they must fear the servants of God too; that if at any time they are inclined to utter such a thing, they may look round every way at each other, and tremble even at their own shadows, anxious lest perchance a Christian, having heard what they said, should spring upon them and sharply chastise them.
When I first read this, without considering the context, it looked like the utmost expression of arrogance, of the attitude of those in power. But this is to ignore the circumstances.
In 387 the emperor Theodosius imposed an extraordinary tax on the city of Antioch, and the enraged citizens rioted and threw down the statues of the emperor. The emperor then threatened to destroy the city, and negotiations took place between the emperors representatives and the townsfolk.
Paganism was still the official religion of the empire. But it seems that pagans and Jews were taking advantage of the crisis to jeer at the Christians of the city, and perhaps even at the religion of the emperor. This in turn couldn’t help the negotiations, when the survival of the city is at stake. This is a reaction to a threat to everyone, not a gratuitous attack on unbelievers. The citizens are appealing to the feelings of a Christian emperor – and, he reflects, these people are screwing it up! Slap them in the face if they won’t pipe down. It’s politics, in other words, and John Chrysostom speaks as the bishop of the city, almost in Byzantine terms as the ethnarch, rather than personally.
But Christ did not give his teaching conditionally. Christians often feel a great deal of reluctance to endorse the actions of the church, post-Nicaea. This is one reason why. Here we have a popular preacher, and a gifted expositor of the bible, who, faced with a pagan reaction, incites his congregation not to turn the other cheek but instead to go out and do battle in the streets, for the benefit of the community as a whole. It’s understandable; but somehow we are not in the same world any more.