Dio Chrysostom, Paul, Letter 44, and Philippians – Friendship

The cognitive environment for Paul was shared with Dio Chrysostom, in that as Vanderspoel points out, where the Greek language went, so did the Greek culture which included rhetoric and philosophy (124). Paul identified with the Greek heritage, and as other Scripture points out, the Greek people and language played a part in the early Church. If we take Paul, roughly, as a philosopher, or at the very least, a sophist, we may even begin to draw a closer comparison between Paul and Dio Chrysostom, especially in their role as one returning from exile to meet friends who have long since honored him. As the Prusites did for Dio Chrysostom, the Philippians did for Paul (1.7). The settings, then, are similar enough to cause a comparison as far as the emotional setting of the two letters.

One of the features which are shared by both letters is the lack of urgency. Unlike Romans, a city which Paul was fast approaching but had never been too before, or unlike Galatians which saw a church in serious conflict, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is set in a style of almost leisure. There were no real pressing concerns except for that of unadulterated friendship which drove Paul to issue his writings. Dio Chrysostom, likewise, having no immediate threat to conquer, or city to set right in civil matters, found time to write for no other reason than to speak glowingly about his admiration of the Prusites. As Stowers notes (35), the letter writing of this age remained on the fringe of rhetorical devices, but included the “aesthetic entertainment” as its purpose. While, entertainment may not in fact be Paul’s pure purpose, and neither Dio Chrysostom’s, there is a certain amount of expected beauty from both authors in their words to their dear friends. This beauty no doubt muted any expected hardness of tone from the writers. For Paul, gone are the harsh tones of Galatians and the prosopopeia of Romans, replaced instead with an emotional thankfulness to the Philippians. Unlike the city of Tarsus, which Dio Chrysostom seemed to have harsh advice for, the city of Prusa received only gentleness (Stowers:80)

Dio Chrysostom’s Letter 44 was written upon his return to Prusa, a city which had endeavored to hold him in their heart as much as he had held them in his heart during his more than a decade exile. The city, as Dio Chrysostom points out, was new with very little to offer the world. It wasn’t the expected residence of the famous orator, but he had chosen it because of the nearness to heart. The great love shared between Prusa and Dio Chrysostom is evidence by the third paragraph, but before that, the letter starts with heaps of adoration poured upon the receptors of the audience. While not exactly in the normal epistle format (lacking a formal introduction), Dio Chrysostom opens up by praising the city in what could be an Asianic flourish, but given that the ancient rhetor was known rather as an Attic speaker, we are only left with the notion that these were genuine moments of praise offered by the returning speaker.

Paul, after a brief introduction (compared to Romans), launches into extreme praise for the Philippian Christians. Paul writes that in every prayer, he was mentioning the church due to their diligence in sharing the Gospel story. For him, however, the Philippians had made the first move, creating a debt for Paul, because they had first held him in their heart, and had shared with him in his imprisonment. Now, Paul was returning the honor, much like Dio would do to the Prusites, by writing such a glowing letter.

Dio, following Plutarch’s advice in his work How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, quietly speaks to what we can assume to be a present civic need, although one which is not perhaps pressing, in a frank way indicating that he was not just writing to flatter the citizens of the city. In the final two sections of Letter 44, Dio speaks to the Prusites about the need to pursue wisdom along with the already ample supply of eloquence. Further, independence, or some measure of self-governance, must be sought after using their natural qualities, which I would assume would be an open, and noted, warning against active resistance, almost as if Dio Chrysostom is suggesting that the Prusites earn their independence rather than actively seek it. There is also evidence that there is some measure of concern for the role of state morality, in which the author is seeking a “orderly behavior in civic matters”, which had already made ancient city-states grand. All of this plays into Dio Chrysostom’s move to frankness about the idea of independence. The temper of the audience, no doubt, expected the great civic orator, to bring some measure of independence, but he was being a true friend, rather than an Asianic flatter, in urging them to continue to reform towards a goal of self-governance.

Paul, while writing a letter to friend without the great theological or moral crises (1st Corinthians) he had written regarding to other congregations, has an undercurrent of concern for unity in the Philippian church. This breaks through in 2.2-5 (which leads into the great Christological hymn, suggesting that Christ is to be emulated) and 14-15. Perhaps as part of this plea for unity is the spiritual boundaries set out against those who would undo the sought after unity. Paul has stern language for them in 3.2 (cf 3.18-19). With the mention of the three plagues against the audience, Paul again returns to the idea of being of the “same mind” (3.15, 4.2 in which the Apostle specifically cites two people in particular who should be of the “same mind”). This isn’t just an epideictic speech in which Paul is casting praise and blame, but a sincere letter in which he writes to his friends but warns them against certain people, perhaps because the church was showing patience or love to them which was presenting a likely future of threatening to derail Christian unity in the city, and thus the love of the Philippians.

Vanderspoel points out that Dio Chrysostom would often write speeches for the Emperor Trajan in which a particular behavior of the emperor was drawn out and expanded perhaps in order to show what sort of behavior was to be truly emulated (127). It was a desired end, for the civic-minded orator, that the civic rules possess behaviors, virtues, which could be emulated. By drawing out one particular behavior, it was possible that the emperor, and other leaders, would seek to always emulate that one, and thereby, produce a well-rounded and morally capable civic ruler. In the second paragraph, Dio Chrysostom points out that that crowd should listen to him and take his advice. What follows them is the drawing out of certain behaviors of the Prusites. He begins by noting that his father was honored for being a good citizen and an upright administrator. He goes on to note the many honors his family had received for being upstanding citizens, and loyal to the emperor, in the city. After this, he goes on to write about the other cities, which simply do not measure up to Prusa. Finally, he draws a comparison between the beehive and the city of Prusa, citing the former’s morality of granting love to all of its members. Dio Chrysostom is attempting to draw out, then, the tradition in Prusa of honoring his family because of his family’s loyalty to the emperor and their civic morality. As discussed previously, this fits into Dio Chrysostom’s final words of advice to the city, to remain and strength their civic virtue.

If we were to find the same thing in Paul, it would be his urging of the Philippians to continue to share the Gospel while their love continues to increase with knowledge and “full insight” (1.9). In the first part of the letter, Paul focuses on the great love which the Christians have not only for himself, but more abstractly, for sharing the Gospel. This tears at him, as he wants to see the further work of the Philippians, but equally wants to be with Christ. Finally, he is convinced that due to their great love and unfailing loyalty to the Gospel’s message, that he would be better for him to remain. This is the way to stand against those who would seek their own interests and not Christ’s, to continue to share the Gospel in love. There is also, as mentioned previously, the emulation of Christ, which may be comparable to the parable of the beehive in Dio Chrysostom. In 2.2-5, the Philippians are told to have the same mind, and to do this, one must have humility, which is what Christ was said to have as he emptied himself and took upon the form of a servant.

While Paul and Dio Chrysostom were writing nearly a generation apart, the cognitive environment should not be that completely foreign as to disallow a simple comparison. Both men are writing to friends and doing so not in the midst of crisis, but perhaps in a state of pre-crisis, which due to the love of the authors for the audience they feel compelled to head off. Dio Chrysostom writes without the emulation afforded the divine, while Paul, seeking emulation, points backwards to the Philippians and their history of love as well as to Christ for whom Paul was now suffering. Rather, Paul’s letter seeks divine emulation and mission while Dio Chrysostom seeks emulation of other cities for temporal gain. Even with the few differences, the styles are similar in that neither man seeks to be a flatterer, perhaps giving their own personal favor for previous honors bestowed, but seeks to be a true friend in guiding their audience through an impending crisis.

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