Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam

By Thomas Sizgorich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
“The Living Voice of Kindred Blood”:
Narrative, Identity, and the Primordial Past

FROM CHRYSOSTOM’S POINT of view, then, there were certain behaviors and beliefs that served to mark individuals as either inside or outside of the one community of God upon the earth. This was a point of view Chrysostom undoubtedly shared with a good number of his contemporaries.1 The devil, however, was as always in the details. The operative beliefs were invisible unless manifested by behavior, and the behaviors which marked one as a real Christian (or, indeed, a particularly pious Christian) could be deceptively like those which, according to Chrysostom, marked one as an outsider, as something opposite to a real Christian.

Chrysostom urged his congregation, for example, that they should avoid the fasts of the Jews in the season of Passover (and Easter) not because Christians did not fast (for they did), nor because they did not fast in that particular season (for they did), but because the reasons Jews fasted in that season were different from those reasons for which real Christians fasted. Troublingly, however, Chrysostom was up against the semiotic potency fasting carried within his society. Fasting, after all, although a personal act of devotion, was also a social sign, and, moreover, a social sign which stood in for an otherwise invisible referent (that is, the specific reason for which the individual in question fasted). In other words, the act of fasting was, for many of Chrysostom’s parishioners, a social symbol that was invested with an affective and imaginative power independent of whatever specific genre of religiosity it expressed.

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