Fire in the Valley: John Chrysostom’s Thoughts on The Land of Sodom

In: RePresenting Magic, UnDoing Evil: Of Human Inner Light and Darkness
Author: Stephen Morris

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In his arguments in support of monasticism and monastic education of young men and in his later commentary on Romans, John Chrysostom uses the image of ‘Sodom’ as a weapon to violently castigate same-sex behaviour. But in his preaching on the actual episode concerning Lot and Sodom, where we might reasonably expect to find a great deal of discussion of the sin of the Sodomites which had provoked such divine retaliation, we find primarily that John urges his congregation to practise hospitality to as heroic an extent as did Abraham and - even more so - his nephew Lot. While condemning same-sex intercourse in his discussion of Sodom, John does not take the opportunity to rail against sexual misbehaviour and vice as much as he takes advantage of the chance to spur his listeners on to the virtue of caring for others. In fact, despite his assertion that it was the sin of same-sex intercourse which was most unpardonable among the sins of Sodom, John - in the end - follows the example of the prophet Ezekiel for castigating Sodom more for its lack of concern for others, i.e., its inhospitality; it is this care for their neighbours, this fundamental hospitality, that John is more eager to nurture in his congregation.