Une soutenance de thèse en histoire sociale à Oxford : James Cook sur la prédication chrysostomienne

Nous avions écouté James Cook au congrès de patristique d’Oxford de 2015. Il était alors intervenu pour parler de l’aspect médical ou thérapeutique de la prédication chrysostomienne (« Therapeutic preaching. The use of medical imagery in the sermons of John Chrysostom« ).

Ce jeune chercheur anglais a soutenu au mois d’avril 2016 sa thèse de doctorat en histoire ancienne (spécialité : études tardo-antiques et byzantines), devant un jury composé des professeurs Mark Edwards et Frances Young. L’intitulé de la thèse est le suivant : Listening to the Golden Mouth: The role of preaching within the local Christian community, as seen in the sermons of John Chrysostom.

Il s’agit, après les recherches d’Isabella Sandwell et de Jaclyn Maxwell, de revenir sur l’image que l’on se fait de la prédication chrysostomienne, comme d’une prédication qui ferait violence à un auditoire dont les préoccupations et les valeurs seraient bien différentes de celles du prédicateur. En s’appuyant sur plusieurs éléments de la culture antique (les dimensions scholastique, thérapeutique, prophétique et liturgique), James Cook montre que l’auditoire de Jean Chrysostome était en réalité en phase avec le prédicateur. Et surtout : qu’il convient d’être très vigilant avant d’utiliser des sermons comme textes sources pour l’histoire sociale (voir ci-dessous le résumé de la thèse en anglais).

La publication de la thèse serait d’ores et déjà prévue dans une collection scientifique d’Oxford.

Résumé :

The rise of Late Antiquity as a separate discipline, with its focus on social history, has meant that the vast homiletic corpus of John Chrysostom has received renewed attention as a source for the wider cultural and historical context within which his sermons were preached. Recent studies have demonstrated the exciting potential his sermons have to shed light on aspects of daily life, popular attitudes and practices of lay piety. In short, Chrysostom’s sermons have been recognised as a valuable source for the study of ‘popular Christianity’ and the extent of Christianization at the end of the fourth century.

This thesis, however, will question the validity of some recent conclusions drawn from Chrysostom’s sermons regarding the state of popular Christianity. A narrative has been developed in which Chrysostom is often seen as at odds with the congregations to whom he preached. On this view, the Christianity of élites such as Chrysostom had made little inroads into popular thought beyond the fairly superficial, and congregations were still living with older, more culturally traditional views about religious beliefs which preachers were doing their utmost to overcome. It is the argument of this thesis that such a portrayal is based on a misreading of Chrysostom’s sermons, and which fails to explain satisfactorily the apparent popularity that Chrysostom enjoyed as a preacher.

What this thesis sets out to do, therefore, is to reassess how we read Chrysostom’s sermons, with a particular focus on the harsh condemnatory language which permeated his preaching, and on which the image of the contrary congregation is largely based. To do this, this thesis sets out to recover a neglected portrayal of Chrysostom as a pastor and preaching as a pastoral and liturgical activity, through an exploration of four different but overlapping aspects of the socio-historical context within which his preaching was set. A consideration of the scholastic, therapeutic, prophetic and liturgical nature of his preaching will shed light on the pastoral relationship between the preacher and his congregation and will, significantly, provide a backdrop against which his condemnatory language can be explained and understood. It will become clear that his use of condemnatory language says more about how he understood his role as preacher than about the extent of Christianization in late-antique society. Through focussing on the issues of the social composition of the congregation and the level of commitment to (Chrysostom’s) Christianity, it will be argued that sermon texts are in their nature resistant to being used as sources for this kind of social history. Despite this, however, glimpses will also emerge of a very different picture of late-antique Christianity, in which Chrysostom’s congregation are rather more willing to listen and learn from their preacher than is often assumed.


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