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Sanity, Insanity, and Man’s Being as Understood by St. John Chrysostom

By ELAYNE CLAIRE SALEM

Abstract

This study examines St. John Chrysostom's teaching on two strands of thought. The first relates to a modern Orthodox commonplace holding eastern Christian thought as fundamentally therapeutic, in contrast to a juridical western Christianity. It was hypothesized that 1) neither provides a strong fundamental paradigm because each can be variously interpreted based on one's answer to the question, “What is man?” and 2) the πολιτεία of heaven (the theme, according to Chrysostom, of all the evangelists), might provide a sufficient paradigm. The πολιτεία of heaven does provide a better major paradigm – seamlessly incorporating therapeutic and juridical language and the common Christian understanding of man as a communal being in relation firstly with God and then with creation. However, this paradigm requires fleshing out with various images to avoid being misconstrued. The second strand furthered earlier work on the Orthodox understanding of sanity, insanity, and demonic possession. Chrysostom allowed for non-demonic mental illness, but was far more concerned with the insanity of sin than with mental illness or possession. This view is common, but Chrysostom is remarkable for his enormous compassion for both groups and his vehement insistence that sin is far worse insanity. Both strands show man on a continuum – the lower limit case being the ἄλογος man who lives for himself and temporal things; the upper case, exemplified by the monk – the true member of the πολιτεία of heaven – who loves God and neighbor and seeks heavenly things. The thesis concludes by examining the consequences of these findings for modern Chrysostom scholarship. These include the necessity of 1) taking seriously Chrysostom’s accusations of insanity and demonic possession, 2) examining the effect of materialistic and democratic presuppositions on one’s understanding of Chrysostom’s work, and 3) addressing the question, “How does one study somebody who would consider one insane?

Topics: Chrysostom patristics sanity insanity human
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:etheses.dur.ac.uk:3269
Provided by: Durham e-Theses

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