Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. X:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom.: Section II
II. Extent and Character of Chrysostoms Exegetical Labors.
1. The exegetical labors of Chrysostom are embodied in his Homilies, of which more than six hundred have been preserved. These are for the most part expository in their character, usually forming a continuous series upon some book of Scripture. The parts of p. xx the Bible thus treated are: in the Old Testament, Genesis and the Book of Psalms; in the New Testament, all the books except the gospels of Mark and Luke, the Catholic Epistles and Revelation. “Commentaries, properly so-called, he wrote only on the first eight chapters of Isaiah and on the Epistle to the Galatians” (Schaff 4 ). Most of the Homilies were preserved by short-hand reports, but some were published by Chrysostom himself. 5 There are internal evidences that in many cases the spoken discourse had not been previously written, e.g., the rebuke of applause and of inattention on account of some distracting incident. Previous study is equally manifest in the expository portions; but the method of delivery as well as the method of preservation must modify our judgment of the preachers exegetical accuracy. Probably many of the inconsistencies and inexact citations, noticeable in the Homilies, are due to one or the other of these causes.
From an exegetical point of view the Homilies on the Old Testament rank lowest, those on the Pauline Epistles highest. The reasons for this are easily discovered. For the exposition of the Old Testament Chrysostom did not have the necessary equipment, being ignorant of Hebrew. In explaining the Gospels he fails to discuss the historical questions with fullness. This was owing no doubt to his distinct homiletical purpose. For the same reason he passes over most of the harmonistic questions, or answers them indefinitely. But in expounding our Lords longer discourses the same qualities as an interpreter which fitted him so well for explaining the Pauline Epistles enable him to rise to his full eminence.
2. In all the Homilies there is apparent a proper conception of the relation of the Old Testament and the New. Chrysostoms treatment of the two parts of revelation agrees in many respects with the methods now generally accepted in the subdivision of Exegetical Theology technically termed Biblical Theology. He recognized the progressive movement; thus holding to the essential unity of Scripture, but also admitting the incompleteness of the Old Testament and superiority of the New. The distinction between the two is never regarded as an antagonism. Indeed some of the severest utterances in the Homilies is in opposition to the error that denies the authority of the Old Testament as a revelation from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the unity of the two parts of Scripture are not maintained at the expense of the historical sense of the Old Testament. While Chrysostom finds in the older revelation a prophecy of Christ who was to come, “he fails not also to point out the moral aspect of prophecy as a system of teaching rather than prediction, as preparatory to the advent of Jesus Christ in the flesh, not only by informing mens minds, but disciplining their hearts to receive Him.” 6 Probably the absence of any polemical purpose against the Jews aided him in attaining a position more correct than most of some of the earlier Fathers. His view of the relation of Christ to the law is set forth in Homily XVI. on Matthew. 7 In his view of inspiration Chrysostom recognized the Divine-human character of the Scriptures. While he does not formally state his theory, the method he adopts implies the value of each and every part of the Bible, the importance of marking the sense of every word. But the mechanical theory is nowhere suggested: it is in fact opposed by his statements regarding the variations in the Gospels. 8 Indeed no one could be such an expositor as Chrysostom was without an acceptance alike of the Divine authority and human authorship of the Scriptures. These not in antithesis, but in synthesis. Denying the former, there could have been no such power in preaching; ignoring the latter, there would have been no such care in his comments. This view of the Bible was the result of his profound and constant study of it. The same study gave him the p. xxi wealth of Scriptural illustration and suggestion so noticeable in his Homilies. Knowledge of the whole Bible and love of the whole Bible are manifest everywhere.
3. In textual criticism Chrysostom does not afford us the help that might be expected from the extent of his labors. Origen is incomparably more useful to the textual critic. Even in citing the LXX. many inaccuracies occur, and the Hebrew text is ignored, except in a few cases where doctrinal discussion had arisen. 9
As Westcott and Hort have shown, 10 the Syrian text of the New Testament had become dominant in the Eastern church about A.D. 350. It held in the time of Chrysostom very much the same position afterwards allowed to the received text during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Accordingly we find few indications of any critical investigations of the text, and the variations from the Syrian text in the Homilies are neither numerous nor important. Yet the differences from the received text of our day are worth noticing. 11 In all such matters, however, there enter several elements of uncertainty, combining to subtract from the value of the Homilies or critical purposes. 12 In the case of Chrysostom we know that the Homilies were taken down by others. Hence we are not sure how accurately the preacher made his citations, how correctly they were reported, nor how much of change has been made by copyists in the interest of conformity to the text prevalent at the time of transcription. Quite frequently the same passage occurs in two forms within the limits of the same Homily. The labors of Mr. Field on the Greek text of Chrysostom show how much remains to be done before we can cite this Father as a trustworthy witness in regard to the minor variations of the New Testament text. Fortunately Tischendorf, who had access to a very ancient codex of the Homilies on Matthew, 13 has given the results of his collation in his painstaking way. As this codex was not included in the apparatus criticus of Mr. Field, the supplementary value of Tischendorfs citations is increased.
Some peculiar readings occur in the Homilies on Matthew; the most remarkable is, however, a reading of Luke ix. 31. In Homily LVI. 3 (p. 346 of this volume), Chrysostom expressly reads δξαν for ἔξοδον, commenting upon the word. It seems altogether probable that there was no such reading prevalent in his day, but that the word δξ, which stands immediately before in Luke ix. 31, was accidentally substituted for ἔξοδον. This might happen from a slip of the memory on the part of Chrysostom, or some scribe might have made the blunder in an isolated copy used by the preacher. In other respects Chrysostom is a witness for the prevalence of the Antiochian or Syrian text, from which our received text has descended. He ignores the pericope of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53, John 8:11), as do all the Greek Fathers before the eighth century.
The minor variations do not fully appear in the Oxford translation, owing to the habit of using the text of the Authorized Version, even when its differences from the text of Chrysostom were quite obvious. Accordingly the emendations of the Revised Version have been given, without comment, in the additional foot-notes to this volume, wherever that Version represents more accurately the readings in the Homilies.
4. As already intimated, Chrysostoms ignorance of Hebrew detracts from his trustworthiness as an Old Testament expositor. In the New Testament he is much superior. Yet even here he is open to criticism. Besides an occasional allegorizing comment, he shows much inaccuracy, sometimes inconsistency, in dealing with the historical questions that arise in connection with the Gospel History. He seems to have no taste for the dis p. xxii cussion of such questions. Augustin shows far more judgment in his treatment of these problems. But the ethical purpose probably debarred Chrysostom from such investigations. As regards the length of our Lords ministry, the vexed question of our Lords brethren, the identity of Mary Magdalene and the woman who was a sinner, etc., we derive little satisfaction from these Homilies. Occasionally topographical and archæological topics are referred to in terms that are misleading or positively erroneous. Hence the Homilies on the Gospels are usually estimated as less valuable than those on the Epistles.
But where the exegesis deals with the human heart, its motives, its weakness, or with the grace and love of Jesus Christ, there Chrysostom rises, and remains “the Master in Israel.” Few have made advances beyond him in commenting upon the parables, the miracles of healing, the great discourses of our Lord. His sturdy common sense enabled him to expound the great eschatological discourse (Matt. xxiv, xxv.) in a manner so free from chiliastic extravagance, that to-day his exposition can be used with little alteration.
These characteristics of his exegesis fitted Chrysostom to excel in his exposition of the Epistles. Here there is more of continuated and logical method than in the Homilies on the Gospels. Each Epistle he is careful to consider “as a connected whole; and, in order to impress this on his hearers, he frequently recapitulates at the beginning of a Homily all the steps by which the part under consideration has been reached. In his introduction to each letter he generally makes useful observations on the author, the time, place, and style of composition, the readers for whom it was intended, the general character and arrangement of its contents.” 14 The Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews is accepted in all the references to that book which occur in the Homilies or other portions of Scripture.
The doctrinal positions of Chrysostom naturally influence his explanations of certain portions of the Epistle, but these are to be judged by the stage of development attained by the theology of the Eastern Church in the Post-Nicene period.
The minute attention necessary in editing this volume has compelled the writer to note the excellence of the great Greek Father as an exegete. Beginning the task with some prejudice, mainly due to a knowledge of the inaccuracy of Chrysostoms citations, he now gladly pays his humble tribute to the genius of the author, hoping that students of the volume will be enabled to echo the praises that for so many centuries have been bestowed upon John of the Golden Mouth.
History of the Christian Church, III., p. 939.xx:5
Stephens, St. Chrysostom, p. 427. He refers to Tillemont, Memoires, vol. xi. p. 37.xx:6
Stephens, pp. 423–4.xx:7
See pp. 103, etc. in this volume.xx:8
See p. 3, in this volume.xxi:9
See, for example, on p. 32, where the pre-eminence of the LXX. version is asserted, in the discussion of Isa. viii. 3.xxi:10
Westcott and Hort, Greek Testament, vol. ii. pp. 135–143.xxi:11
In this volume most of the variations from the received text are indicated in the additional foot-notes.xxi:12
On the untrustworthiness of patristic citations, see Scrivener, Introduction to Criticism of New Testament, 3d Ed., pp. 416–7. The labor bestowed on the present volume enables the editor to endorse, con amore, the judgment of Mr. Scrivener.xxi:13
The codex is of the sixth century (Wolfenbüttel), designated in Tischendorfs notes as Chrgue. See Scrivener, Introduction, etc., p. 419.xxii:14
Stephens, St. Chrysostom, p. 425.
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