Jean-Marie de Bourqueney
Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
The biblical texts were initially written to be heard before they were read. Few people knew how to read. Christians wanted to make what they reckoned to be “Good News” heard. The writing of these texts involved a great complexity and a construction sometimes worthy of a cathedral. Yes, provided that they are heard! Now when we listen to a text, it has to fill our brain as quickly as possible, to convince us without our having to return to the previous page. The style of “paraenesis” responds to this need. We could translate the word as “exhortation”. But it is more than that: it is setting a choice before the listener. To do that, we have to push the point.
The “paraenetic” style is not primarily looking for the subtlety of a rational choice, but it touches our heart. For example, throughout the letters of Paul, and the others, the writers confront us with questions. They “exhort” us to a choice, which we might formulate in this way: ”And you, what would you do in this situation?”
That affects ethics, moral choices, but also faith. Sometimes it can seem to us on the edge of caricature but, once again, that acts on our immediate perception as a listener. What is more, we have to relate that to the context of the period.
Paraenesis can also employ an apocalyptic style. This is nothing more than the science fiction of the period, taking a cosmic approach to present reality, in order to focus each person’s conscience. The last judgement of Matthew 25 and the book of the Apocalypse exhort us and challenge us: and you – to quote a more up-to-date reference, from Star Wars – will you tip over “to the dark side of the Force”?
Paraenesis then invites us to choose, to be free of our convictions.
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