Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 45.

Aideen M. Hartney, John Chrysostom and the Transformation of the City. London: Duckworth, 2004. Pp. vii + 222. ISBN 0-7156-3193-4. UKú45.00.

Phoebe Makiello
The Queen's College, Oxford

Although there have been a number of recent works dealing with the use of Christian preaching in the study of ancient history, Aideen Hartney's John Chrysostom and the Transformation of the city is the first to combine this with a thematic approach to Chrysostom's sermons. Unlike much of the scholarship dealing with Chrysostom, she does not focus on the rise of the ascetic movement. Rather, she seeks to examine the homilies of Chrysostom, which were aimed at a mainly urban, non-ascetic audience. This analysis allows Hartney to argue convincingly that Chrysostom, whilst not interested in the destruction of the civic structure, as Brown has alleged,[[1]] rather aimed his rhetoric at a remodelling of the classical city along the lines that he considered appropriate for a Christian community.

This study will be of use to Patristics scholars especially, but is accessible to all ancient historians. Indeed, it provides a useful and brief overview of existing scholarship and a short introduction to the life of Chrysostom, which should enable all to follow the more detailed thematic analysis of his preaching style and his sermons. As an analysis of 'the clash between spiritual and secular' (p. 5), this study of Chrysostom's writings and career will be of interest to any scholar or student of late antiquity.

The first three chapters set the background for Hartney's analysis of gender and wealth as the dual focus of Chrysostom's preaching. In the first chapter on 'Pagan and Christian Cities' (pp. 1-22), she shows that Chrysostom's anxieties were mirrored by pagan orators in late antiquity, which allows her to introduce the idea that, although Chrysostom's aim was the transformation of the city, he did not wish to denounce civic institutions head on. He chose to appeal to the congregation through criticism of their interpersonal relationships in his sermons. The themes of gender and wealth in Chrysostom's sermons are thus related, throughout the monograph, to the preacher's desire to Christianise the ancient city. This is in contrast to Peter Brown's approach, which focuses solely on Chrysostom's worries about wealth and treats his discussions of gender as little more than set pieces.[[1]] Hartney does not, however, neglect Chrysostom's closeness to the ascetic movement, and in the second chapter, 'Nolo Episcopari and the Transformation of the City' (pp. 23-32), she points out that his career reveals his failure to distance himself from the ascetics. Nonetheless, the focus of the rest of the work is on the urban, emphatically non-ascetic context of Chrysostom's preaching and how it functioned as a medium for the translation of ascetic ideals to Christians in Antioch and Constantinople.

Before moving to a more detailed exposition of the themes of gender and wealth in Chrysostom's sermons, Hartney considers the tradition of preaching within the Christian church, and argues that it was mainly an urban phenomenon, whilst wisely allowing that the debate as to what sort of audience the preacher would have dealt with is still open. In the last section of this chapter on 'Christian Preaching and its Audience' (pp. 33-52) she also briefly discusses the classical roots of Christian rhetoric and the ambivalent attitude of several Church Fathers, including Chrysostom towards the classical tradition. This last theme becomes a more important focus in her concluding chapter, where she argues that despite his somewhat hostile attitude Chrysostom has a firm understanding of the classical traditions and values that prevailed in late antiquity.

In preparation for a thematic analysis of Chrysostom's sermons, Hartney examines two homilies on Pauline epistles in some detail. Both are chosen because of their subject matter: Homily IX on the First Letter to the Corinthians deals with excessive wealth (pp. 53-59), and Homily XX on Ephesians concerns the ideal Christian marriage (pp. 59-65). The sermons are well chosen, and it is made clear that they are being examined in order to discern Chrysostom's use of rhetoric and his attitudes towards wealth and gender. On this last matter, however, the sermons are only useful in that they can be considered representative of Chrysostom's attitudes, so it might have been useful to present the reader with some examples from other sermons in this chapter. Instead of moving directly to examine the main themes of Chrysostom's sermons, Hartney decides to give the reader an overview of 'Role Models for the Christian City' (pp. 67-84). Hartney draws out the importance of Biblical models for Chrysostom, and the way in which he attempts to shame the men in his audience by presenting them with female and Jewish examples of virtue, a technique which she returns to several times.

The next chapter, 'Construction of Gender' (pp. 85- 102), is somewhat more interesting since Hartney here redresses an imbalance in most studies of Chrysostom to date. Indeed, she seeks to understand the preacher's attitude to both genders and how they should relate, instead of concentrating purely on his attitude towards women. Where the latter concern is dealt with, she tends to focus on ordinary women rather than ascetics. Chapter 7, 'Gendered Sins' (pp. 103-16), focuses on Chrysostom's underlying understanding of gender roles and how this affects differences between male and female sins and as such follows on well from Chapter 6 which deals with Chrysostom's practical concerns and use of rhetoric. In Chapters 7 and 8 (pp. 117-132), especially, Hartney draws upon his sermons on the Pauline epistles, which she selects judiciously, in order both to show how Chrysostom thought of men and women as well as to gather information on the more general attitudes towards gender in his day. These reflections in turn inform the main argument of the monograph: that Chrysostom appealed to correct behaviour along gender lines as a way of 'bringing his aspirational Christian city into being' (p. 86). Unlike the majority of writers on Chrysostom, Hartney convincingly defends the notion that although he made harsh criticisms of the female sex, he considered men, in their position of God-given superiority as more heavily responsible for their sins. Indeed, she points out that these were likely to be graver as they were more active in nature and more likely to be committed in the public arena -- and so more likely to thwart the realisation of a Christian city.

The last three chapters before the conclusion deal with Chrysostom's attempt to reform his congregation with regard to financial matters. Hartney disagrees with Peter Brown who sees Chrysostom's utterings on sex and gender as simply a side show to his more real concerns about the divisions between rich and poor.[[1]] Indeed, in Chapter 9, 'The Sins of the Wealthy' (pp. 133-50), she draws attention to the different attitude which Chrysostom displays towards the vanity and frivolity which he thought prompted female spending, compared to the male abuse of wealth which he perceives as more public and active and as such not only forfeiting their natural superiority but also more likely to threaten the wider civic order. Hartney deliberately does not attempt a re- examination of Chrysostom's approach to wealth, which has been dealt with in more depth by others.[[2]] Instead, she sets out to demonstrate 'the way in which the issues of wealth and the construction of Christian gender roles are inextricably entwined in Chrysostom's work' (p. 152). She successfully shows that his approach to condemning the misuse of wealth is very similar to his discussion of the virtues and vices exclusive to women and those of men. Through close examination of his homilies, she is able to demonstrate his use of concrete examples to gain his audience's attention whilst condemning the evils of the wealthy.

Engaging with the wider context of classical tradition, Hartney also finds precedents to Chrysostom's attitude towards the grasping who care little for the wider good of the city in Aristophanes and Plato. Hartney's examination of Chrysostom's homilies in Chapter 11 (pp. 171-82) pursues one of the recurring arguments of the monograph and persuasively demonstrates that his 'new version of the polis is to be realised by altering the priorities of the old' (p. 181), rather than by effecting the destruction of the ancient city and its institutions. In the concluding chapter (pp. 183-96), she shows how Chrysostom's rhetoric measured up to the responsibilities incumbent upon an important Christian preacher who actively attempted to Christianise the discourse and outlook of his congregation without thereby altering the form of the civic unit. She further discusses his own conclusions as to how his views on gender relations and money were entwined with his ambition to bring a more ascetic lifestyle to those living in cities.

The central task of this book has, in the words of the author herself, been 'to examine the representation of gender in the homilies of Chrysostom preached on the Pauline epistles and the uses to which the orator put these representations in his pastoral duties' (p. 183). Hartney cogently argues that for Chrysostom, appropriate gender relations form the cornerstone of a well ordered Christian society, and in revealing their importance for him within the financial dealings of the Christian household, uncovers a new lens through which to view Chrysostom's desire for a christianised city.


[[1]] P. Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York 1988).

[[2]] For this subject, see discussions by Blake Leyerle, 'John Chrysostom on almsgiving and the use of money', HTR 87.1 (1994) 29-47.