Saturday, September 29, 2007


From this week's general audience:

Therefore, John Chrysostom truly becomes one of the great Fathers of the Church's social doctrine: The old idea of the Greek "polis" is replaced with a new idea of a city inspired by the Christian faith. Chrysostom affirmed with Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11) the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as a person, including the slave and the poor man. His project corrected the traditional Greek view of the "polis," of the city, in which large portions of the population were excluded from the rights of citizenship. In the Christian city, all are brothers and sisters with equal rights.

But does Greek political thought/theory really deny that everyone has "equal rights"? One maybe deprived of the right to hold office, or be a slave, but Greek political theorists could still acknowledge that such a man was human and deserving of the respect due in justice.

The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that the city is constructed on the foundation of the person. In the Greek "polis," on the other hand, the country was more important than the individual, who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. In this way, with Chrysostom, the vision of a society built by the Christian conscience begins. And he tells us that our "polis" is another, "our homeland is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20) and this homeland of ours, even on this earth, renders us all equals, brothers and sisters, and obligates us to solidarity.

Now, I don't think the Holy Father is affirming that the ultimate end is a private one, but aren't we going over territory that has been covered before? Was the individual totally subordinated to the city? According to Greek law and custom? Or Greek philosophy? Or is this a convenient modern caricature that we like to use in portraying the ancients?

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