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11 A War of Words: Sermons and Social Status in Constantinople under the Theodosian Dynasty

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Chapter Summary

Sermons were social events. Addressing an important share of the local Christian population, they offered the bishop or presbyter a unique opportunity for moral and spiritual instruction. Focusing on a unique social environment, late fourth-century and early fifth century Constantinople, this chapter demonstrates that the Second Sophistic nexus of rhetorical performance, social status, patronage, and material benefits can be seen operating among Christian preachers. For most of the bishops of Theodosian Constantinople we possess explicit statements about their rhetorical talent or the lack thereof: as we have seen, John and Nestorius were explicitly chosen for their golden mouths, whereas Nectarius, Atticus, and Flavian were reputed to lack talent in this respect. The emphasis on rhetorical talent is unsurprising: sermons were a very common form of interaction between a bishop and his community, and thus important occasions for asserting one's leadership.

Keywords: bishop; Christian preachers; fifth century Constantinople; social events



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