Letter-writing among Christian elites served many of the same purposes as in the classical period. Epistles were used to establish or reinforce networks of influence and patronage: for instance, a letter might accompany a gift, or offer a personal recommendation for an individual. For bishops, letter-writing served a number of additional functions in the realm of pastoral care: an epistle could deliver judgments on disciplinary or doctrinal matters; or offer spiritual advice to a member of the flock.
The classical consolatio genre originated as a letter of consolation to someone who had suffered a loss or tragedy, the consolatio ad exulem being an epistle of consolation to an exile, drawing on Stoic philosophy to advocate patient endurance in adverse circumstances. Such letters also functioned as self-consolation, through the exile's application of the lessons of Stoic philosophy to his own situation. Christian authors adapted these elements by incorporating the themes of Jewish exilic literature and a distinctively Christian notion of divine providence. The self-righteous tone of the Christian consolatio also characterised the exilic writings of pagans such as Ovid, Cicero and Seneca the Younger.54
In John Chrysostom's exilic letters,55 we find the concerns of pastoral care struggling against a tendency towards introspection and self-pity. John's major concern, in his pastoral epistles to individual friends, clergy and others who could influence his congregation's direction in his absence, was that his addressees respond in kind with a letter indicating that his correspondence has been appreciated and obeyed.56 This is the consolation that John seeks in exile: the knowledge that he may still intervene effectively in parish affairs in absentia.
John Chrysostom's letter of consolation to the bereaved urban prefect Studius (ep. I97) may usefully be compared with the classical paradigm. John falls back on philosophy as a source of comfort in a similar situation. He asks his friend Studius, who is 'intelligent and experienced in philosophy', to bear the death of his brother with equanimity. The virtue of the departed man should bring considerable consolation. Both this attitude towards virtue
54 J.-M. Claassen, Displacedpersons, 26, notes the difference between the pagan consolationes and the self-denigrating stance of Augustine in his Confessions.
55 Some 240 of these survive: see J. N. D. Kelly Golden Mouth, 260. R. Delmaire gives a comprehensive summary of the letters, their recipients and their dates, in 'Les lettres d'exil de Jean Chrysostome'.
56 See for example Letters 117 (trans. Mayer and Allen, 199), 197 (ibid., 200), 203 (ibid.), 212 (ibid., 200-1), 217 (ibid., 202), 34 (ibid., 203-4); see also Letter 185 to Pentadia (PG 52: 716) and Letter 190 to Brison (PG 52: 718).
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