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Chrysostom: A Study In The History Of Biblical Interpretation

THE present Essay gained the Kaye Prize three years ago. Since then I have done my best to work through the subject again; and the entire Essay has been recast and rewritten. I have ventured thus to delay publication, partly because I wished to feel that in some small way I had written because I had read, but chiefly because an investigation into the work of the great Antiochene seemed to demand more careful treatment than was allowed by the hungry scramble for material which precedes the sending in of a prize Essay.

A certain unimportance of the subject required this care. On many questions of current controversy a very faulty work may be of the highest use, if it stimulates other labourers, or emphasises the right method. But Chrysostom’s Biblical labours do not immediately touch the problems of our own day, however important may be their indirect bearing on these; and a careless and hasty contribution might most unworthily but effectually check the more earnest and skilful efforts of others. That this Essay in many ways falls far short of the standard which any work on a Biblical subject should reach, I am sadly conscious. The fact that other engagements have often necessitated its being laid aside for a considerable time, will explain, though I do not plead it as an excuse for, some of the many blunders which will be found in it. Moreover many interesting questions have been neglected or barely touched upon. A Syriac Scholar, for example, would have found much to say upon the Schools of Edessa and Nisibis, and their relation to the Graeco-Syrian School of Antioch. Again, I hoped at one time to add in an Appendix a comparison of the fragments of Diodore, Theodore, and Pelagius on the Epistle to the Romans with the Homilies of Chrysostom. But to treat this subject with due care and fulness would have deferred publication too long.

But on the other hand the study of Chrysostom’s exegetical work has a manifold importance of its own. The History of Doctrine cannot be rightly understood apart from the History of Interpretation. If the two are not to be confused, neither are they to be divorced. But the main value which a knowledge of this period of the history of Exegesis possesses lies in a different direction. It would not be difficult to point out many ways in which the crisis through which the Church and the World were passing in Chrysostom’s time resembles the anxieties of our own generation. The comparison which I would suggest is not disproved because we thankfully acknowledge that the outlook now is rich in hopes which could hardly be felt then.

To take but the one point which immediately concerns us,—the views about the Bible which the great teachers of Antioch held were not the same as those which had approved themselves a century before. There had been progress, but there had been no revolution. Newer methods of interpretation were transforming, not destroying, the older system. The responsibility of accurately investigating the actual words of Scripture was keenly felt, but the spiritual side of God’s Revelation through the typical literature of Israel and of the Christian Church was not overlooked. The claims of criticism, so far as they could be understood then, and the claims of devotion were reconciled. And further, this higher and more accurate teaching was not reserved only for the initiated few. The honesty of the scholar passed at once into the fearless generosity of the preacher. Popular expositions were the immediate outcome of the highest critical knowledge of the time. And yet, as the fall of the Antiochene School shews, there was the accompanying danger, the twofold danger of treating as ascertained truths the conclusions of an individual teacher, and of regarding a dogmatic formula as something more than the partial expression of a larger truth.

To point out in detail the significance of this history for our own times is unnecessary. But I would ask leave to emphasise a thought, the importance of which must grow clearer, the longer anyone learns, and tries to teach, Theology. The Bible is not an isolated phenomenon. Were it so, its difficulties might be thought insuperable. Long ago Origen taught that the Bible itself is in a true sense an Incarnation of the Divine Word. In proportion as we believe that the historical Incarnation of the Son of God is the central point of human history and of all life, we feel it natural that God should clothe a revelation of Himself in the fleshly garment of human language and human literature. ‘Factum est propter nos sub sole lumen quod fecit solem. Noli contemnere nubem carnis: nube tegitur, non ut obscuretur, sed ut temperetur’.

I should be ungrateful indeed if I did not record here my indebtedness to two friends—the Rev. H. E. Maddock, late Fellow of Clare College, now Rector of Patrington, and the Rev. C. F. Blyth, Rector of Clipston—for their generous kindness in making time in the midst of other work to read over the proof-sheets.

ST ANDREW’S DAY, 1886.

צְרוּפָה אִמְרָתְךָ מְאֹד וְעַבְדְּךָ אֲהֵבָהּ׃

ⲅⲓⲛⲉⲥⲑⲉ ⲧⲣⲁⲡⲉⲍⲓⲧⲁⲓ ⲇⲟⲕⲓⲙⲟⲓ.

ⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲉⲓⲁⲥ ⲙⲏ ⲉⲝⲟⲩⲑⲉⲛⲉⲓⲧⲉⲡⲁⲛⲧⲁ ⲇⲟⲕⲓⲙⲁⲍⲉⲧⲉⲧⲟ ⲕⲁⲗⲟⲛ ⲕⲁⲧⲉⲭⲉⲧⲉ.

ⲍⲱⲛ ⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ ⲧⲟⲩ ⲑⲉⲟⲩ.








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