Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on Paul's Epistle to the Romans: Preface to Homilies on Romans.
Preface to Homilies on Romans.
St. Chrysostoms Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans is one of the closest and most argumentative of those he has left us. The style of the Epistle itself called for this, being such as almost constantly to remind an attentive reader of the necessity of forming some notion of the views and feelings of the persons to whom it was originally addressed. To this point St. Chrysostom has paid much attention, and has consequently obtained a far clearer view of the doctinal bearing of the Epistle than most other commentators. His early rhetorical education would probably have given him even too strong a bias toward that kind of exposition, but for his subsequent course of severe discipline and ascetic devotion. As it is, the rhetorical element in his commentary is of very great value. His ready apprehension of the effect intended to be produced by the style and wording of a sentence, is often the means of clearing up what might otherwise seem obscure or even inconsistent. An example of this occurs in the beginning of the seventh chapter, which he expounds in the 12th Homily. The illustration of our release from the Law of Moses by partaking in the Death of Christ, by the dissolution of marriage at death, is so stated in the Epistle as to contain an apparent inconsistency, as though the death of the Law, and the death of the person, were confounded. And the various readings only shift the difficulty, without removing it. This, however, he has very ably shown to be, in fact, an argument a fortiori. Other cases will strike other persons as they happen to have found difficulty in the Text.
A far higher qualification for interpreting St. Paul, in whom, as much as in any of the sacred writers, the Man appears as well as the guiding Spirit, was that peculiar affection with which he regarded him, and which he expresses particularly in the beginning of the introduction, and at the close of the last Homily. The effect of this is perhaps best traced in the commentary on Rom. ix. 3, Hom. xvi.
The elaborate composition of these Homilies, and the close attention which it must have required, has been thought an indication that they must have been delivered before the Author was engaged in the cares of the Bishopric of Constantinople. But Tillemont has detected even surer indications, which place the point clearly beyond all question. In his exortation to Charity, Homily 8 he speaks of himself and his hearers as under one Bishop. It has been objected that he speaks of himself as Pastor, in Hom. xxix. but he does the same in other Homilies, certainly delivered by him when he was only a preacher at Antioch, and the terms are less definite than in the other case, v. ad. P. Ant. Hom. xx. on the Statues. Besides, he seems to address persons who have ready access to the place in which St. Paul taught and was bound, which cannot be shown to tally with Constantinople, but evidently agrees with Antioch. The binding of St. Paul there mentioned is not, however, on record, and it is just possible he may mean in that expression to refer to another place.
Some account of the life of the Author has been given in the Preface to the Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, already translated. 1183 It may be worthwhile, however, to notice particularly, in connection with this work, the manner in which St. Chrysostom was quoted in the Pelagian controversy, as some of the passages were taken from it.
St. Augustin, adv. Julianum. l. 1, c. vi. discusses a passage in a Homily to the newly baptized, which was alleged against the doctrine of Original Sin. He had spoken of infants as not having sins, meaning of course actual sins, as the plural number implies. The words were, however, easily turned in translation so as to bear another sense. St. Augustin quotes on the other side his Letter to Olympias, that “Adam by his sin condemned the whole race of men.” And Hom. ix. in Gen. c. i. v. 28, where he speaks of the loss of command over the creation, as a penalty of the Fall. And finally a passage from the homily before quoted (as ad Neophytos), in which he speaks of our Lord finding us “bound by a hereditary debt;” and one in Hom. x. of this Commentary, viz. that on Rom. v. 14. These are sufficient to make it clear, that St. Chrysostom did not hold any Pelagian doctrine on this point.
With respect to Free-will, he has one or two passages, as in Hom. on the words of St. Paul, 2 Cor. iv. 13. Ben. t. iii. p. 264. “That first believing, and obeying when called, is of our good will; but when the foundation of faith is laid, we need the assistance of the Spirit.” And on St. John i. 38. Ben. 8. p. 107, p. 154, O.T. “that God does not precede our wills with his gifts; but when we have begun, when we have sent our will before, then He gives us abundant opportunities of salvation.” However, in Hom. lviii. in Gen. he says, “though he received help from above, yet he first did his own part. So let us persuade ourselves, that though we strive ever so much, we can do no good thing at all, except we are aided by help from above. For as we can never do anything aright without that help, so unless we contribute our own share, we shall not be able to obtain help from above.” This illustrates his meaning about doing our own part first, and shows that he does not mean to exclude Divine aid in the very beginning of good actions, only not superseding the motion of our will. The word gifts is also to be observed. He probably did not think of its being applicable to the first motions of prevenient grace, intending himself the Evangelical gifts. This view of his meaning seems to solve the difficulties of his expressions, so far as is necessary in a writer more rhetorical than logical. Some passages in this Commentary bear on the point, as Rom. ii. 16, and viii. 26.
In a Letter to Olympias, shortly before his death, he laments the errors of a “Monk Pelagius,” and it is supposed that he means the well-known heretic.
The present Translation is from the text of Savile, except where otherwise noted. For the first sixteen Homilies, several mss. have been collated in Paris, with a view to an Edition of the original, the rest of the collation is not yet come to hand. Four contain nearly the whole of the Commentary, and three more several parts of it: two of these were partially used by the Benedictine Editors, and supply some valuable readings in the latter homilies. There is also one ms. in the Bodleian Library, which has many mistakes, but agrees in general with the best readings in those which have been collated. It contains nearly the whole text as far as Hom. xxx. and has been entirely collated after Hom. xvi and for a great part of the earlier Homilies.
The Editors are indebted for the Translation, and much of the matter contained in the notes, to the Reverend J.B. Morris, M.A., of Exeter College, as well as for the Index.
The Benedictine text having been revised by Mr. Field with singular acumen by aid of collations of all European mss. of any account, it was not thought right to republish this important volume without revising the tranlation by that text. This was kindly undertaken by the Rev. W. H. Simcox, late Fellow of Queens College, and has been executed with the care and exactness to be expected from that accomplished scholar. In other respects, he has with a remarkable modesty left the previous translation untouched.
E. B. Pusey
[For this a more complete sketch of the Life and Work of St. Chrysostom has been given by the Editor in the Prolegomena to the first volume.]
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