After Easter Jesus once again calls Peter, who had denied being his disciple (Jn 18:25-27), to follow (Jn 21:19), which will end in death; the disciple whom Jesus loved had already been introduced into postEaster followership (Jn 21:20). In Johanine theology, union with Jesus and followership coincide: the one who follows him as the light of the world does not walk in darkness but will have the light of life and is saved (Jn 8:12). To accept Jesus and his word means to accept the one who sent him (Jn 13:44ff.). The acceptance of Jesus, the typical Johanine form of followership, effectively means the act of faith, listening to the word of Christ (Jn 10:27). The image of the Good Shepherd displays this well: he knows his sheep, who listen to his voice and follow him (Jn 10:27). In the NT, with a few exceptions, followership does not have God for its object, but the earthly Jesus and the risen Christ. The following of Christ in the Fathers is an argument that had a surprising development from the very beginning. It is used in both the etymological sense of to follow, with the noematic nuances already indicated, and in the spiritual sense and the sense of testimony to express the concept of the imitation and assimilation of Christ. Here we will give only an indication of the numerous instances of its use. Clement of Rome establishes, at a distance, an ethical confrontation between the truth, a way to be followed (Cor. 35,5) and the precepts of the Lord (Cor. 40,4). Christians follow the local customs of the society in which they live, but their way of life is admirable and extraordinary (Ad Diog., 5,4). In the Testament of Asher 6,1, to follow the commandments of the Lord in truth is the same as to be coherent. For Ignatius, what he suffers from the soldiers who guard him is a school for becoming more fully a disciple of Christ (Ad Rom., 5,1.3), imitating him by dying and rising with him (ibid., 6,1.3). To follow includes the concept of being ever more a disciple and imitator of Christ. In Irenaeus of Lyons, what are followed are God or his Word and the apostolic tradition. The human being has been taught to follow God without the constraint of the law (Ad. haer. 4,13,2.4). The Savior, the light that enlightens and the font of glory (ibid., 4,14,1), saves the one who follows him (ibid., 3,18,4). The Lord (Christ), having surpassed the propaedeutic precepts of Moses, manifested God as Father and taught humanity to follow his Word (ibid., 4,12,5; 16,5). Authentic following only has one true master, and his words are the rule of truth (ibid., 4,35,4; 5, prol.). The Spirit of God gives salvation, based on faith in the one God and the following of his Word (ibid., 4,33,15; 28,2). Christ, present in the prophecies and symbols of the OT, prefigured and foretold the things to come, educating the people of the two covenants in obedience to God, to live as strangers in the world and to follow the Word of God (ibid., 4,21,3). The element of faith characterizes the life of Abraham, making him a model for the believer, who follows the Word; in the footsteps of the Word one becomes a foreigner on earth, so as to become his fellow citizen (ibid., 4,5,3-5; 25,19). Attending to the testimony of the apostles one encounters the truth (ibid., 3,4,1; 9,1; 15,1). In Clement of Alexandria the concept to follow is rendered both by the forms of the verb avkoluqew/ and by the forms of the verb e;pomai; both are very frequent. Regarding the relationship that should be maintained with the Logos, he says that many have not asked themselves if they should follow someone, whom and in what way. As the Logos is, so must be the life of the faithful so as to be able to follow God, who from the beginning leads all things directly to their proper end (Strom. VII, 100,2.3). This concept is restated in another way: one who obeys the Lord and faithfully follows the prophecy given by him will become in the end an image of the master, a god going about in a body; obviously, those who do not follow God wherever he leads will not reach these heights (ibid., VII, 101,5). The knowledgeable Christian follows God with wisdom, holding fast to the truth (Protr. 122, 2; Paed. II, 36,2; III, 12,4); he accompanies him, observing his commandments (Strom. II, 39,5; 125,4-5), which are so many ways to salvation (ibid., I, 29,3). To follow Christ is salvation (Paed. I, 27,1; III, 43,1). Following God leads one to become like him (Strom. II,100,4). By the term road (Paed. III, 87,2), which goes toward heaven, Clement expresses the externalization of his vision that all of humanity is on its way to God. Associated with this idea is that of accompanying or following the Lord (Strom. II, 70,1). Sometimes the road is called one, that of faith and knowledge (ibid., I, 38,6; II, 4,2; V, 8,3; VI, 2,3; VII, 94,5; 103,6; Paed. III, 87,22; Quis dives 1,3), but it is also royal (Strom. I, 38,6; IV, 2,3; VII, 73,5; VI, 91,5; Quis dives 38,1). There are different roads, appropriate to the people and to individuals, on which we are led to God (Strom. I, 27,1; 29,4; 38,6; IV, 45,1; VII, 7,6) Protr. 85,1; Paed. III, 87,2). In Origen’s lexicon the term to follow ranges from the most obvious and generic meaning of to follow to the fuller meaning of following the will of God, following Christ and listening to his word. In Ex. ad mart. 12, following is not just to follow the master but also to take up his cross to the point of martyrdom, which is the most perfect image of him who redeemed humanity with his blood. The cross (denial of self) and followership are the ways to gain eternal salvation, toward which Christ is the guide who walks ahead (Ex. 13; 36; 41-44). To follow Christ is a radical choice, requiring renunciation of self and the repudiation of one’s past life to the point of being crucified with him (Com. in Mt. 12,24; see Hom. in Jdg. 9,1). The point of departure for such a drastic decision is the Father’s revelation that Christ is justice, holiness, wisdom, peace, truth, the way that leads to him and the true life (Com. in Mt. 15, 21-22). Besides the meanings of succession (C. Eun., 11, Hom. in Cant. 13, Serm. Cat. 16) and of the paths of life (C. Eun. 11: PG 45, 869), for Gregory of Nyssa avkolouqi,a means, negatively, the consequences of original sin: humanity’s banishment from paradise, the deterioration of the beauty of creation and ongoing sin. Positively, it means the way of return to the original beatitude (Verg. 12), the progressive salvation and deification of the person attentive to God’s commandments (Hom. in Cant 5., Serm. Cat. 24; C. Eun. 2). John Chrysostom repeatedly uses the image of Christ going before us to make the path easier and to show us that it is possible to observe the commandments (De fut. vitae ben.: PG 65, 351; see Augustine, Sermo 141, 4).
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