Posted on: January 25th, 2024 Chrysostom as a “Single-Speed Guy”?

For about three-and-a-half decades now I have had a dear friend and theological soulmate named Nathan. He & I have literally been conversing for 35 years on philosophy, theology, the Bible, culture, and more.

One of the many many common “foundations” we share is Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which came out in 2007 and wh we have both read. In that book one of Taylor’s nifty intellectual nuggets is his language of “one-speed” (or “single speed”) and “two-speed.” In brief, “single speed” Christians or thinkers hold (or assume) that all Christians are called to live a life of radical, uncompromising holiness, whereas “two speed” advocates think that some Christians (namely monks and nuns) are called to a higher (in some sense) standard, that they are obliged to live a life that is in some sense more radical, less enmeshed in the messiness of the world, more wholly and singularly devoted to God strictly speaking, in contrast to, say, all the ways that the Reformers taught that God is mediated to us in the everyday life of the world (vocation, sex/marriage, & children, for example).

Now, am I one speed or two speed? Not sure. (As Nathan has recently suggested, I think, some folks in our Anglican patrimony—for example Jeremy Taylor and George Herbert—could perhaps be considered “one-and-a-half speed”.) Suffice to say that I am currently “pushing back” on (what I perceive to be) Nathan’s simple two-speed posture.

OK, that leads me to the following quotation (featured in Michel Foucault’s mind-blowing Confessions of the Flesh: Volume IV of the History of Sexuality) from St. John Chrysostom:

For ought the man who lives in the world to have any advantage over the monk, save only the living with a wife? In this point he has allowance, but in others none, but it is his duty to do all things equally with the monk.[1]

Wanting to resist any oversimplification, I am nevertheless led to ask: “Does this not make it seem like Chrystostom is a “one speed guy”?


[1] Foucault, Hist of Sex IV, 194b. Chrysostom, 7th Homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 7; Against the Opponents of the Monastic Life, III, 14.v.

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