Thursday, May 12, 2016

Libanius and the Praise of Widowhood

An interesting passage in Chrysostom's Letter to a Young Widow:

For once when I was still a young man I know that the sophist who taught me (and he exceeded all men in his reverence for the gods) expressed admiration for my mother before a large company. For enquiring, as was his wont, of those who sat beside him who I was, and some one having said that I was the son of a woman who was a widow, he asked of me the age of my mother and the duration of her widowhood, and when I told him that she was forty years of age of which twenty had elapsed since she lost my father he was astonished and uttered a loud exclamation, and turning to those present "Heavens!" cried he "what women there are among the Christians." So great is the admiration and praise enjoyed by widowhood not only among ourselves, but also among those who are outside the Church.

The sophist who taught John Chrysostom was Libanius, who was friends with Julian the Apostate and perhaps the greatest teacher of rhetoric of his day (and in his day, rhetoric was king). Libanius's Funeral Oration for Julian is perhaps the last great expression of the political vision of pagan Imperial Rome.

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