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Even the pre-eminent exegetes associated with the school of Antiochene hermeneutics-Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore ofMopsuestia,JohnChrysostom and Theodoret of Cyrrus - all of whom disparaged unwarranted allegory and privileged the 'plain reading' (lexis) of scriptural texts, conceded that sacred historia provided the groundwork of a higher vision (theoria) of the economy of salvation. Allegory having been properly restricted, 'we are not hindered', writes Diodore, 'from reverently envisioning (epitheorein) things and elevating the spiritual substance [of scripture] into higher anagogy'.16

Scripture and mimesis: The formation of faith and virtue

Theoria, even allegoria, were nurtured on sophisticated forms of figural interpretation that fused the biblical narratives 'intertextually' with the narratives or testimonies of the church's contemporary experience.17 Much of catechesis and preaching in the period 300-600, and not least the liturgical and sacramental rituals with which they were connected, looked to construct a common semantic 'world' or horizon inhabited at once by the biblical witnesses, the Christian faithful in the present, and most importantly Christ himself, the Logos who indwells both scripture and the church. One important goal of this interpretive enterprise was to distil patterns of imitation (mimesis), to engrain models of faith and virtue in Christians as the latest dramatis personae in the unfolding economy of salvation.

Some interpretation isolated individual profiles of virtue or vice from the biblical narratives and straightforwardly presented them for imitation or eschewal. When Christians in Antioch panicked over Theodosius' wrath against political insurgents, John Chrysostom recommended the patience and fortitude of Job and the three young Jews who faced Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace.18 Elsewhere he emboldened Christian slaves by pointing to Joseph in Egypt, who found true spiritual freedom precisely in captivity.19 This mimetic pattern naturally pervaded moral preaching but appeared in other genres too. Ambrose of Milan's treatise De officiis, emulating Cicero's classic of the same title, holds up the four cardinal virtues as exemplified by biblical rather than pagan heroes - Abraham embodying prudence, Moses and Elisha justice, Job

17 The notion of'intertextuality' in postmodern literary theory has proved useful in assessing the dynamics of patristic exegesis; see Young, Biblical interpretation, 11, 97-9,103.

18 John Chrysostom, Hom. on the Statues 4 (PG 49: 59-68).

19 John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 19 (PG 61: 156-8).

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