A Syrian-Christian Perspective on the Supernatural
By Silke Trzcionka
Paper given at the Western Pacific Rim Patristics Society Inaugural Conference (2004)
Introduction: Whenever anyone looks with envy upon beautiful objects, the ambient air becomes charged with a malignant quality, and that person’s breath, laden with bitterness, blows hard upon the person near him. This breath, made up of the finest particles, penetrates to the very bones and marrow, and engenders in many cases the disease of envy, which has received the appropriate name of the influence of the evil eye.
And so Heliodorus, in his novel Aethiopica, presents a perspective on the topic that will form the supernatural focus of this presentation − the evil eye. Providing a context for this supernatural focus is late-antique Syrian society, with a particular emphasis on the attitudes of Christian figures within that society (specifically John Chrysostom). Hence the investigation considers contemporary material and literary evidence including the comments of John Chrysostom (with the views of other non-Syrian church fathers also considered). Given the focus on the evil eye, the concept of envy in Greco-Roman society, and the related ideas of vulnerability and limited good, will be presented as notable, and relevant, concepts for our understanding of the evil eye, and the early church’s discourse with it.