Chrysostom’s threefold aim in preaching

chrysostomPeter Moore has an essay in Sanctification (ed. Kapic) entitled “Sanctification Through Preaching: How John Chrysostom Preached For Personal Transformation.” He outlines Chrysostom’s threefold approach to preaching as follows. Chrysostom desires first to teach (docere), second to delight (delectare), and finally to move (mouere). These are the three levels of persuasion in ancient rhetoric according to Moore. The first level hits the intellect, the second and third hit the emotions. The aim though is never mere stimulation or entertainment. Chrysostom’s aim is always life transformation. He seeks to set forth the plain meaning of Scripture to plain people. Moore cites Chrysostom’s ninth homily on Hebrews as an example:

I am afraid that this may properly be said to you also, that “when for the time you ought to be teachers,” (Hebrews 5:12) you do not maintain even the rank of learners, but ever hearing the same things, and on the same subjects, you are in the same condition as if you heard no one. And if any one should question you, no one will be able to give a satisfactory answer, except a very few who may soon be counted . . . For if our preaching were a matter of display and ambition, it would have been right to jump from one subject to another and change about continually, taking no thought for you, but only for your applauses. But since we have not devoted our zeal to this, but our labours are all for your profit, we shall not cease discoursing to you on the same subjects, till you succeed in learning them. . . . We shall not cease to say the same things, whether you be persuaded or not.

No wonder people consider Chrysostom to be one of Christendom’s greatest orators – preaching that feeds the mind, thrills the heart, stirs the will, and changes lives. There’s a model worth emulating.

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