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Chrysostom: A Study In The History Of Biblical Interpretation

THE influence of the Syrian Antioch on the destinies of the Christian Church did not cease, like that of Jerusalem the first Metropolis of the Faith, when the earliest victories had been won. The city, where in the first half century the name Christian, and early in the second the phrase, The Catholic Church, became current coin, was still three centuries later the centre of important movements. It is the object of this Introductory Chapter to give a rapid sketch of the history of the exegetical school which took its name from Antioch.

The origin of a school of thought or criticism is commonly hidden in the undefined but potent influences at work in the days which immediately precede its first manifestations of vigorous life. We can mark the precise spot where the river rises, but the spring itself may be further off than we at first think.

The name of Malchion is the only one which calls for special remark in the first three centuries; and the little we know of him shews that the Church of Antioch had that in it round which a school of thought could gather, rather than that such a school had actually arisen.

In the year 269 there met at Antioch the last of the three Councils which assembled to deal with the case of the Bishop Paul. Hitherto by promises or by evasion he had outwitted his accusers. At length his heresy was exposed by the presbyter Malchion.

This Malchion, Eusebius tells us in his account of the Synod, was an eloquent and wise man, president of the school of Greek learning at Antioch, and deemed worthy of the office of presbyter by reason of the wonderful purity of his faith in Christ. Brief as the notice is, it is important as affording evidence that there was at Antioch shortly after the Decian persecution some institution similar to the Catechetical School of Alexandria, in which sacred studies were not divorced from secular learning.

Of the subsequent history of the school three periods are clearly marked off. The first opens with the work of Lucian; the second with that of Diodore; while the third is a period of decay, the result of the Nestorian and Monophysite troubles.

I. Lucian, with whose name the annals of the Antiochene School begin, was born at Samosata about the year 240 A.D. He is said to have learned theology in the schools of Edessa and at Caesarea, and thus to have united in himself what Syria, Alexandria, and Palestine had to contribute to the study of Scripture. The Biblical School of Antioch indeed as a whole was deeply influenced by the two schools above mentioned, and it is convenient at this point to note the character and extent of these influences.

The great Origen, when driven from Alexandria, found a second home in Caesarea. “His removal to Palestine was certainly important in its consequences, an opportunity being thus given him of labouring also from that point for the diffusion of a liberal scientific spirit in the Church; and long were the traces of his activity discernible in these districts”. The most cursory survey of Origen’s work in Exegesis shews its twofold character. He is at once the most mystic of allegorists and the most scholarly of critics.

The tendency towards transcendentalism was strong at Alexandria, and made its influence felt on interpretation. Philo, following in this the suggestions of the earliest of the Targums, had allegorised the Old Testament. The Neoplatonists had idealised Homer. The same tendency appeared in the Christian Church in the writings of Justin Martyr, of Barnabas, of Clement of Alexandria. But what had been before a pious instinct was moulded by Origen into a system. In his hands the theory of mystical interpretation received the sanction alike of Platonic intuitions and of the Christian Scriptures. A single passage will at once supply a statement of his principles and an illustration of his practice. “Inasmuch as some Scriptures have not the bodily element, we must at times search only for the soul as it were and the spirit of Scripture. And perhaps it was for this cause that the water pots set, as it is written, for the purifying of the Jews, contain two or three firkins apiece. The history (τοῦ λόγου) gives us a hint of those who are, as the Apostle says, Jews in secret, telling us that they are cleansed by the Word of Scripture; and Scripture contains sometimes two firkins, that is, so to speak, the psychic word and the spiritual word (τὸν, ἵνα οὕτως εἴπω, ψυχικὸν καὶ τὸν πνευματικὸν λόγον); and sometimes it contains three firkins; inasmuch as in some Scriptures the bodily element (τὸ σωματικὸν) withal over and above the aforesaid elements has the power to edify”.

But Origen was much more than the prince of allegorists. “He stands as far first of all the Ante-Nicene Fathers in critical authority as he does in commanding genius, and his writings are an almost inexhaustible storehouse for the history of the text … The testimony which Origen bears to the corruption of the text of the Gospels in his time differs from the general statements [of other early writers] as being the deliberate judgment of a scholar and not the plea of a controversialist”. But Origen’s work in the sphere of grammatical exposition bore even more lasting and more precious fruit. Here he was breaking new ground. He has the honour of well nigh originating a new method of interpretation, which is still rich in promise to-day. “In spite of Origen’s very patent faults, which it costs nothing to denounce, a very considerable part of what is valuable in subsequent commentaries, whether ancient or modern, is due to him. A deep thinker, an accurate grammarian, a most laborious worker, and a most earnest Christian, he not only laid the foundation, but to a very large extent built up the fabric, of Biblical interpretation”.

Such were the two influences which Origen bequeathed to the Church. The two centres of his work divided the rich inheritance. The Church of Alexandria appropriated that which was most allied to the bent of her genius. Caesarea received and handed on the better part of his bequest. For the School of Antioch, as it will appear, was the expression of a reaction against the undue tendency to allegorise, and developed, on the positive side, a system of exact logical and grammatical interpretation. The leaders of this school, raised their protest against the Allegorist, but were the disciples of the Critic and Scholar. “For its grammatical precision, and for its critical spirit generally, this school was largely indebted to the example of Origen, whose principles were transmitted to it through Lucian of Antioch and Pamphilus of Caesarea, both ardent Biblical critics and both Martyrs in the Diocletian persecution; but in its method of exposition it was directly opposed to the great Alexandrian, discarding the allegorical treatment of Scripture, and maintaining for the most part the simple and primary meaning”.

We pass on to notice the other typical influence which is said to have moulded the teaching of Lucian. The Syrian schools at Edessa and Nisibis stood in a double relation to the Graeco-Syrian School of Antioch. They were the cradle of its infancy; its asylum when in later years its strength was sapped by conflict, and its good name held in contempt. Christianity early gained a firm position in Mesopotamia, and Edessa is marked out by tradition and history alike as a stronghold of the Faith. There are moreover various indications of vigorous theological movements in these regions. The Syriac Translations of the New Testament reach back into far antiquity. It is probable that the original language of the Diatesseron of Tatian, the contemporary of Justin, was Syriac. The teaching of Bardesanes shews that this activity found strange outlets. And, what is more important for our present purpose, Edessa became the seat of Theological schools, in which Lucian studied under Macarius, and where somewhat later Eusebius of Emesa had his training, not only in the interpretation of Holy Scripture, but also in Greek learning. It was not till the beginning of the 4th Century that Nisibis rose into importance under Jacob as teacher and Bishop. In the latter character he was present at the Council of Nicaea. But his chief importance lies in the fact that Ephraim was his pupil. This great Syrian teacher, born probably at Nisibis, continued there till the town was taken by the Persian Sapor, when he found a second home at Edessa. His character as an expositor throws some light on the system of interpretation in vogue in the Syrian schools. His position is a mean between that of Origen and that of the Antiochene School. Theoretically he perhaps sides rather with the latter. If he allows his poetical instincts to carry him at times into fanciful allegory, he also explains words and geographical details, and is at pains to bring out the literal sense. He died in 378. A large number of scholars were enthusiastic in maintaining his teaching.

In this brief description of the Syrian schools we have been carried into a later period. We now return to the beginning of the 4th Century.

Lucian united in himself, as we have seen, the results of Origen’s scholarly labours and of the cultured piety of Edessa. If Kihn over-states the case when he says, that whatever Origen was to the School of Alexandria, that Lucian was to the Antiochene School, yet he was a teacher of no ordinary influence. Several of the most prominent Arians of the next generation boasted of their right to call themselves Συλλουκιανισταί. But whatever some of his scholars may have become years after his death, the Creed which bears his name is sufficient proof of his orthodoxy, before the use of the word ὁμοούσιος was an indispensable guarantee.

Eusebius, who must have known much, tells us in his brief notices of Lucian next to nothing. His life was ascetic; he was well versed in sacred studies; he was a Presbyter of Antioch; before his martyrdom at Nicomedia he made a defence in the presence of the Emperor himself. Jerome mentions some tracts “de Fide” still in circulation, short letters to several friends, and above all his recension of the LXX—a revised text which was in use in the Churches of Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Antioch. It is indeed in connexion with his critical work that Lucian has for us the greatest interest. Neander conjectured that Lucian prepared a revision of the text of the New Testament, and the question of an Antiochene revision, whether due directly or indirectly to Lucian, is the main problem with which textual criticism has now to deal. Of his Commentary on Job a meagre fragment is still preserved, and it is said that he was acquainted with Hebrew. Jerome and Chrysostom bear witness to his proficiency in classical learning.

Dorotheus shares with Lucian the honour of having laid the foundation of this later School of Antioch. Eusebius, who tells us that “he himself had heard him ably expounding the Scriptures in the Church,” depicts him as an eloquent man, a Biblical scholar, able to read even the Hebrew Scriptures, distinguished for his general culture and proficiency in Greek learning.

Thus the scattered and brief hints which we have reviewed place before us the two men who, if any, deserve the title of founders of the Antiochene School, the one as scholar and critic, the other as scholar and preacher. Their successors, as it will appear, shewed an almost complete indifference in matters of textual criticism. In other departments the work done by Lucian and Dorotheus in the first decade of the 4th Century was fruitful of result.

Of the Lucianists one deserves a brief notice. Eusebius of Emesa was a native of Edessa, and there he was trained from his earlier years in the study of Scripture, and later in Greek learning. Subsequently he continued his Biblical studies under Eusebius of Caesarea, and Patrophilus Bishop of Scythopolis. After a residence at Antioch, he migrated to Alexandria that he might avoid the burden of the Episcopate, and became a pupil of the philosophical teachers there. When Athanasius was deposed by a council held at Antioch, his namesake of Nicomedia wished to intrude Eusebius into the see of Alexandria, in the hope that one so pure in life and so eloquent would wean the people from their allegiance to Athanasius. But if Eusebius was an Arian, he had learned to estimate rightly the spell of Athanasius’ influence, and declined to be made his rival. Shortly afterwards he became Bishop of Emesa, a town on the Orontes. Thus Eusebius is a connecting link between great teachers and great schools of learning. Jerome tells us that he wrote “innumerable books,” and that his style was rhetorical and showy. The Catenae preserve a few fragments from his commentaries, and among these some brief excerpts from the “Ten books on the Galatian Epistle,” which Jerome specially mentions. The same Father notes in the writings of Eusebius the love of the historical method which characterised the Antiochene School.

II. The second main period, the period when the School of Antioch wrought its highest and most permanent work, grew out of a crisis into which were crowded issues of vital moment to the Christian Church. On the one hand under Constantine Christianity became the recognised religion of the Empire. The change in her outward fortunes wrought a corresponding change in the activities of her inner life. Her energies were no longer needed for self-defence, and could be turned into nobler channels. The Apologist became the Interpreter of Holy Scripture. On the other hand it can hardly be doubted that the long struggle with Arianism left its mark on the systems of exegesis prevailing in the Church. Long before, the Gnostic controversies had brought out the authoritative character of the New Testament Scriptures. They were felt to be instinct with a Divine life. The words of Evangelists and Apostles demanded and repaid close and earnest study. And now, when the last great persecution had practically settled the question of the Canon, Arianism raised the question of interpretation. Here was a controversy which was not hushed up in the corner of some obscure diocese. The whole Church, the whole Empire, watched the struggle; and in it not the only weapon, but a very powerful one, was the appeal to Holy Scripture. The works of Athanasius “are one continuous appeal to Scripture.” Hence, when proof texts had to be investigated and their exact bearing on the problem in hand accurately stated and defended, insensibly the Church began to recognise the value of sober, logical, and exact methods of interpretation. Thus it is worthy of remark that Athanasius “has a greater leaning to the literal meaning than we should expect to find at Alexandria. Allegory with him is secondary and ornamental, and never long kept up”. The Blüthezeit then of the Antiochene School may be regarded as the product of internal proclivities and external circumstances. It is remarkable that Diodore, the teacher of Chrysostom and Theodore, first learned his powers as the champion of orthodoxy in the dark days of Meletius’ Exile.

Few men have so profoundly influenced the Church’s study of Holy Scripture as Diodore. A fellow student of Basil and the future Emperor Julian at Athens, he was ready to become a defender of the faith at Antioch alike against Julian’s attempt to restore paganism, and the Arian policy of paganising Christianity. He and Flavian are described by Theodoret as standing firm as rocks to break the waves of heresy. But it was as a teacher rather than as a controversialist or an apologist that Diodore did his greatest work. His influence was indirect, making itself felt through his scholars. The picture which Julian in his bitterest mood draws of the emaciated body, sunken cheeks, deep wrinkles of this assailant of the heavenly Gods, puts before us a man strong in his weakness. The letters of Basil addressed to Diodore shew the respect and affection which he called forth. Such was the Head of the Ascetic Brotherhood, of which Theodore and Chrysostom were members. The greatness of his influence over these teachers must be measured not so much by Chrysostom’s panegyric of his master, as by the direct parallels which we can trace between the extant fragments of Diodore and the writings of Theodore, still more those of Chrysostom.

The works of Diodore were voluminous, though little but their names have come down to us. Even so however we see that they included within their range discussions on Plato and Aristotle, on Hipparchus the astronomer, and Porphyry; a criticism of Eusebius the Historian on points of chronology; controversial works, works on Christian doctrine, a work on principles of Biblical interpretation, above all commentaries on a large portion of both the Old and the New Testament. One of Basil’s letters, a model of friendly criticism, together with other indications, seems to shew that in literary style Diodore was too prone to diffuseness and rhetorical ornament. There is no doubt however as to the tone of his Biblical Expositions. The express assertion of Socrates that he avoided allegory and investigated the literal sense of Scripture is fully borne out by the remaining fragments of his works. It is said that the Arians burned many of his books; it is certain that he paid a penalty for his influence over his scholars in the suspicion and dislike with which his name together with that of Theodore was regarded, and later perhaps in the formal condemnation of an Oecumenical Council.

It is no part of the present essay to enter at any length into the history of Chrysostom’s life. It will be enough to indicate the influences which moulded his mind and character, and the surroundings amidst which he did his work. The life of Chrysostom falls into two main divisions; the first of which comprises some thirty years, years of preparation: the second is a period of a little more than a quarter of a century—the period of active work; and this again is naturally subdivided when the scene changes from Antioch to Constantinople.

(1) “John of Antioch” came of a noble family. The date of his birth cannot be exactly determined. It must however have fallen within those few years of comparative calm in the storm of the Arian controversy, which followed the return of Athanasius to Alexandria in the autumn of 346. To the early influence of Anthusa, the widowed mother of an only son, we may perhaps trace the tenderness and the insight into home life which in after years not unfrequently startles us in the sermons of the ascetic preacher.

The influence of the Teacher succeeds to that of the Mother. Libanius the rhetorician is not the least interesting among the last defenders of paganism. He had studied and taught at Athens, Nicomedia, and Constantinople, before he settled in his native Antioch, to remain there nearly forty years. There he watched with more caution perhaps than enthusiasm the attempt of his imperial friend to restore paganism: there afterwards he wrote the apology for the oldworld religion which he addressed to Theodosius. Libanius belonged to the ornate or Asiatic school of rhetoric. His writings “for the most part are the vain and idle compositions of an orator who cultivated the science of words, the productions of a recluse student, whose mind, regardless of his contemporaries, was incessantly fixed on the Trojan war, and the Athenian commonwealth”. Yet this lingerer in the past was a power, and the Christian Church owes much to the blind sorrowful sophist of Antioch for his part in the training of her typical orator and expositor.

But the influence of friendship had its part to play. Common studies and hopes drew closely together Chrysostom and Basil, a fellow-student in the lecture room of Libanius. The early decision of Basil for an ascetic life of “true philosophy” strengthened, if it did not create, the passion for devotion which became a ruling power in Chrysostom’s life.

A new stage in Chrysostom’s life of preparation begins with his baptism by Meletius about the year 370. Shortly afterwards relinquishing his hopes of success as an advocate, together with three fellow-students, Basil, Theodore, and Maximus afterwards Bishop of the Isaurian Seleuceia, Chrysostom found a higher scope for his activities in the study of Scripture under Diodore and Carterius. Here the foundations for a vast superstructure were laid. The time of preparation closes with a period of still greater seclusion from the world. About the time of the rescript of Valens, one of the earliest signs that monasticism was spreading deep and wide in the East, Chrysostom retired to a monastic community on the heights south of Antioch. For a short time he aimed at a more exacting rule as a solitary anchorite, but broken health drove him back to Antioch. So some four years of a life dedicated to the work of prophesying against the corruptions of society were spent in flight from its contamination. So far as we can trace it, the influence of these years on Chrysostom’s subsequent life was neither wholly good nor wholly bad. They produced a constitutional delicacy, an ignorance of common life and the character of men, perhaps an impatience and irascibility, which went far to mar his usefulness. On the other hand rich stores of thought and knowledge were then gathered, upon which the active worker could draw afterwards in years of constant demands and of scant leisure.

(2) In the year 381, important in general Church history as marking the paralysis of Arianism within the boundaries of the Empire, the contemplative life for Chrysostom passed into the practical. Meletius, just before he set out for the Council of Constantinople, ordained Chrysostom deacon.

Five years later he was advanced to the Priesthood by Bishop Flavian. The student now becomes the preacher, and Chrysostom as a preacher is before all else the Interpreter of Scripture. Thus with him investigation is not an end in itself. His point of view is that of the scholarly pastor rather than of the accurate, conscientious commentator. Hence the peculiar importance of the associations of time and place.

The twenty remaining years of Chrysostom’s life were years of strongly marked characteristics. The days of the Empire were numbered. With the death of Theodosius all claim to greatness passed away. Life was already ebbing. The body, strengthless and decaying, was there. The vultures were gathering for their work. But great dangers have a fascinating power. The revellers who forgot in their story-telling the plague which was ravaging their home are typical. Like them the people of Antioch and Constantinople at the close of the fourth century ate and drank and sold themselves to frivolity, for no one knew what the political morrow might bring.

Turning to the Church, we mark that the long war with paganism was drawing to a close. Outwardly the Church was the conqueror, but the victory was not won without loss. If the Church killed paganism, some of the poison of paganism entered into her own veins. Chrysostom’s homilies shew the gravity of the danger.

Again, after a war of half a century Catholicism had deprived Arianism of political power. But Arianism lived as a potent religious influence both at Antioch and Constantinople, and Arianism was backed by a formidable phalanx of other distorted or false faiths—Marcionites, Valentinians, followers of Paul of Samosata, Novatians, Manichaeans, all swelled the motley train. Thus in the hands of Chrysostom the Bible became perforce the manual of the Controversialist.

In passing on to speak of the associations of place we return to the main course of the history.

Antioch, “the Gate of the East” before the establishment and growth of Constantinople, was still the point where the magnificent luxury of the East met the now emasculated and corrupt civilization of the West. In the early days of the Empire the Roman Satirist had described the worst vices of the Eastern world, reaching and contaminating the life of Rome, under the figure of the Orontes flowing down into the Tiber. The city had not mended its ways when Julian visited it some twenty years before Chrysostom’s pastorate. “Julian was heathen and serious, Antioch was Christian and frivolous.” “I make my escape from a city full of all vices, violence, drunkenness, incontinence, impiety, avarice and impudence.” Such was the Emperor’s farewell. In a population made up of pagans, Jews, heretics and inconsistent Christians, every vice which characterised an age of disintegration was intensified. The Antiochenes’ love for the foulness of the theatre and the barbarities of the racecourse is a sufficient index of their character.

Such were the people to whom Chrysostom preached either in the ‘Great Church’ or in the ‘Church of the Apostles’ at least twice a week, sometimes on several successive days; such the people who came in crowds to listen open-mouthed to his outspoken denunciations, and enthusiastically to applaud them. It cannot be too carefully remembered that Chrysostom’s expositions are the first part of sermons delivered ex tempore, though after careful preparation, before these excitable and not very intellectual congregations, expositions interspersed with, and followed by, burning appeals designed to touch the conscience and influence daily life. The conferences of Lacordaire at Notre Dame in their environments and inspirations may serve in some respects to illustrate the preaching of the presbyter of Antioch in the fourth century.

The “economy” which Chrysostom practised upon his friend Basil returned upon his own head, when he was taken by force to occupy the archiepiscopal throne of Constantinople. For six years he bore the unsought burden (398–404). The character of Constantinople did not differ materially from that of Antioch; but the conditions of Chrysostom’s labours were changed.

The court of the weak Arcadius was the busy scene of plots and counterplots. Into their dangerous eddies the Archbishop was drawn. The state had perils enough without; but the worst lay within, in the jealousies and cabals of low-born courtiers and scheming women. It is sufficient at this point to recall the names of the Gothic commanders Tribigild and Gainas, of the imperial ministers Rufinus and Eutropius, of the Empress Eudoxia.

The politics of the Court were only too faithfully copied in the politics of the Church. To the “Bishop of New Rome” the Council of the hundred and fifty had assigned “honorary preeminence after the Bishop of Rome.” Chrysostom therefore wielded a great, if a somewhat undefined, authority. It was in all probability largely through the influence of his great name that nearly fifty years after his death this “honorary preeminence” was converted into a well-defined jurisdiction. But the reformer himself who used and stretched his authority for the correction of abuses was not spared. The severity of his rule at home, his extension of it abroad, gained him many enemies. The intrigues of ecclesiastics swelled the current of the intrigues of the Court, and at length the Archbishop was overwhelmed.

In the June of 404 Chrysostom became an exile, and such he continued till his death three years later. If the story of his forcible appointment and of the trials which followed reminds us of one of our greatest English primates, the exile of Chrysostom is in some respects a sad contrast to the exile of Anselm. Though the three years spent at Cucusus have been called by Gibbon the most glorious of his life, yet except for his letters to his friends, his literary activity was over. At Constantinople his work as teacher and expositor was marred by the cares of other things; it ended when he left the Imperial City.

This brief review of Chrysostom’s life will have thrown some light on his general position as an interpreter of Scripture.

His religious character was the result of steady and sure progress. There was no volcanic outburst of conviction and repentance, as with Augustine, to leave its grim scars behind. Not unconnected with this is another fact. Here too unlike Augustine, unlike Theodore his fellowstudent, Chrysostom was the founder of no school of theologians. No critic can trace to his teaching or influence any shadow darkening the page of later theology. No General Council has anathematised him. No controversy is specially connected with his name. No bigots have ever claimed him as their own. Speaking generally, there is a breadth about his Biblical work, the freedom of one who was not pledged to support a favourite doctrine from every passage or every book.

Chrysostom suggests a parallel between John the Baptist and himself. It reaches deeper than outward analogies. Ascetic himself, no man ever more powerfully brought religious teaching to bear upon the common life of men. No Commentator ever spoke or wrote more profoundly influenced by the needs of his own generation. Penetrated by love of Scripture, Chrysostom like Luther felt the words of the Bible to be ‘living Creatures with hands and feet’.

Like Chrysostom Theodore was trained for his future work under Libanius, under Diodore, under Bishop Flavian. The boldest and most original of the Antiochenes, he carried out the principles and the tendencies of the school with fearless ability, if not with dangerous self-confidence. As to doctrine, while he was a firm and active champion of the Nicene faith, his position in regard to Christology and Anthropology may be briefly defined as one which strongly, often with exaggeration, upheld the dignity and high destiny of humanity. As an expositor, he is said to have written commentaries on the whole of the Bible. As to the Old Testament he was condemned for making internal character the criterion of Canonicity, rejecting the Book of Job as the Drama of a heathen poet, the Song of Songs as a mere Epithalamium. His views on Messianic Prophecy will call for notice later on. His work on the Epistles of St Paul (for of his New Testament commentaries, with the exception of considerable fragments on St John’s Gospel, little else has come down to us) has been thus described by Dr Swete. “On the whole the chief value of Theodore’s commentaries on St Paul consists in their constant endeavour to expound the sequence of thought, their careful examination of the clauses and phraseology, their frequent dashes of characteristic and suggestive exegesis, the light they occasionally throw on the condition of the Eastern Church at the beginning of the fifth century, and perhaps not least, the clear and well nigh complete view which they present of the Antiochene theology both in its indebtedness to, and in its divergence from, the theology of St Paul.” The works of Theodore, condemned during the Nestorian and Monophysite struggles by the orthodox Greek Church, were translated, it would appear, into Syriac, Armenian, and Persian, and held a high position among the Nestorians, who gave him the title of The Interpreter.

A brother of Theodore, Polychronius of Apamea, is the next writer who claims our attention. All that is known of his life is contained in the words with which Theodoret closes his Ecclesiastical History. “Polychronius the brother of Theodore was nobly tending (ἐποίμαινεν) the Church of Apamea, distinguished for the grace of his speech and the grandeur of his life”. The word ἐποίμαινεν is ambiguous. In all probability the tense implies that Polychronius was alive when the historian finished his book, the expression itself that he was Bishop of the Church of Apamea. As far as it appears, Polychronius did not extend his exegetical labours beyond the Old Testament. Portions of his commentaries on Daniel, Ezekiel, and Job, and a fragment of a treatise on ‘the Reasons of the obscurity of Holy Scripture,’ still survive. Even these meagre remains shew that he was more conservative in his views than his brother. He controverts, without however naming him, the theories of the latter on the Book of Job, and quotes from the Book of Ezra and the first Book of the Chronicles. Like others of the Antiochenes he raised a direct protest against the allegorising method of Origen. He appears to have had some knowledge of Hebrew; and in his notes on Daniel he often appeals to the Syriac Version. He further made use of the translations of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. But exegesis appears to have been his strong point, and he is remarkable not only for his accuracy in matters of language, but still more for his tact, his sympathy with his author, and his grammatical and archaeological knowledge. Less diffuse than Chrysostom, free from Theodore’s occasional eccentricities, more original than Theodoret, he has been called, “the most genuine Exegete of the Antiochene School.”

Severian, Bishop of Gabbala in Syria, first the protegé, afterwards the opponent of Chrysostom, is a far less important member of the Antiochene School. He is described as a man who plumed himself upon his culture, but could not speak Greek without a foreign brogue. Besides several Homilies, fragments from his expositions are frequent in the Catenae. Cramer has published a very large number on the Book of the Acts and on St Paul’s Epistles. Severian is not unfrequently the somewhat servile follower of Chrysostom.

The name of Theodoret, a native of Antioch and afterwards Bishop of Cyrus, closes this period of growth and activity. In the controversies of his time Theodoret was a prominent actor, and his history belongs to the general history of the Church. Besides his works bearing on contemporary questions and his Ecclesiastical History, commentaries of his have come down to us on difficult passages in the Octateuch and the four Books of Kings, on the Psalms, on all the Prophets, and on the Pauline Epistles. He is emphatic in disclaiming originality in his work. Yet he fully uses a disciple’s privilege of modifying his master’s principles. His position in regard to allegorising interpretations is a compromise between the method of the Alexandrians and the strictly historical and grammatical exegesis developed by Theodore. No less remarkable is his revolt from his master in his treatment of Messianic prophecies. Theodore claims for all the utterances of the prophets, a very few excepted, an immediate application to contemporary persons or events. Theodoret vindicates for such passages a primary prophetic character. They were spoken in direct reference to the Messiah and to Messianic times. “For application, terseness of expression, and good sense [Theodoret’s commentaries on St Paul] are perhaps unsurpassed, and, if the absence of faults were a just standard of merit, they would deserve the first place; but they have little claim to originality, and he who has read Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia will find scarcely anything in Theodoret which he has not seen before”.

III. It remains to notice briefly the period of decline, and to point out the directions in which the influence of the Antiochene School made itself felt.

A generation did not pass before the reproach of Chrysostom’s exile was, as far as posthumous honours availed, rolled away. The Bishops of the West were strong in the cause of the persecuted Saint, ‘the great teacher of the world,’ as Theodoret is proud to call him. The name of the Archbishop was admitted first into the diptychs of his own Church; and later the same tardy reparation was made by Cyril, the nephew and successor of Chrysostom’s unscrupulous enemy. It was reserved for Chrysostom’s pupil, who in 434 became Archbishop of Constantinople, amid enthusiasm which might have recalled the picture which the preacher himself had drawn of the translation of the body of Ignatius, to bring back the martyr’s remains to his own city. Thus the censure which had rested on Chrysostom in the closing years of his life only served to increase the veneration which surrounded his name after his death.

The honour of the teacher himself was vindicated. But already the struggle had commenced which brought suspicion on the school to which he belonged, and completely paralysed its energies. The school had quickly risen to unparalleled influence; it as quickly fell. If the whole Eastern Church suffered irreparable harm in many ways through the Nestorian disputes and the angry and fruitless controversies which sprang from them, the check given to Biblical studies was not the least of these evils. As the scholars of Diodore and their immediate contemporaries died off, no line of teachers arose to take their place.

The originating power of the school ceased; but it is possible to trace its influence working still in three different directions.

(1) If the reputation of Diodore and of Theodore was deeply compromised by their supposed position as forerunners of Nestorianism, the works of Chrysostom were comparatively unsuspected. It is chiefly through Chrysostom, to some extent through Theodoret, that the Antiochene exegesis survived in the orthodox Eastern Church after the fall of the school.

There were not wanting those who claimed to be the followers of Chrysostom. Isidore, a native of Alexandria, a theologian and eminent ascetic teacher, though not without a tendency to Alexandrian mysticism, on the whole took Chrysostom as his guide in matters of interpretation, as his voluminous correspondence still testifies. Nilus a monk of Mount Sinai, Victor a priest of Antioch, were both pupils of Chrysostom. The former commented on the Song of Songs, the latter on the Gospel of St Mark.

But it is in the work of the Greek Catenists from the 6th century and onwards that the influence of the School of Antioch is most plainly seen. In many cases the exposition of Chrysostom forms the basis of these compilations, and the remains of other of the Antiochenes, Severian, Theodoret, and to some extent Theodore, were laid under contribution.

John of Damascus in the eighth century, Photius in the ninth, Oecumenius in the tenth, Theophylact in the eleventh, contributed but little that was new to the study of exegesis, but all drew largely from the mine of expository wealth which they found in the writings of the Antiochenes, and especially in those of Chrysostom.

(2) From the Greek Church we turn to Syria. When after the Ephesian Council the Nestorians found no protection within the Roman Empire, they sought a refuge in the kingdom of Persia. Political exigences favoured their suit, and in time Nestorianism became the one form of Christianity tolerated in that country.

Edessa, ‘the Athens of Syria,’ just within the borders of the Empire, had long been the seat of a flourishing school for the education of Persian divines. In this school Nestorian influence now reigned supreme. Ibas, the most prominent of these teachers, translated the works of Diodore and Theodore into Syriac, and himself succeeded his opponent Rabulas as Bishop of the see. Fifty years later (489) the theological school of Edessa was broken up by the Emperor Zeno on account of its Nestorianism. Meanwhile Barsumas, who had been driven from Edessa by Rabulas, had employed an episcopate of more than fifty years in promoting a school of theological learning at Nisibis. Here the fugitives from Edessa found a home, and the energies of both colleges were now brought into a single focus. The effect of this consolidation was great. Till the ninth century the theological school of Nisibis continued its work; it was celebrated for its Biblical studies, which reflected the spirit of Theodore; it was the centre of a missionary activity, which played a noble part in spreading Christianity in Eastern Asia.

Thus, while Chrysostom was regarded in the Greek Church as the representative teacher of the Antiochene School, the influence of Theodore, ‘the Interpreter,’ was supreme in the Churches of the East outside the limits of the Empire.

(3) In the West also the studies of the Antiochenes bore fruit. It must be sufficient to indicate some points of unexpected but immediate contact.

It has been pointed out that Pelagius in his commentaries on the Pauline Epistles is indebted to the Antiochenes, especially to Theodore. Had the work of the Western Haeresiarch been preserved entire, it would perhaps have been easier to estimate the exact nature and extent of his debt. But “strangely enough in the middle of the 6th century, when Cassiodorus wrote, learned men assigned [the commentaries of Pelagius] to Pope Gelasius. Stranger still they have at a later time been fathered upon Jerome, and are generally printed in the editions of his works”. Thus Antiochene influence, through the medium of a heretic, took to itself the disguise of the highest names of the Western Church. It is perhaps an even more startling instance of the irony of fate that the commentary of Theodore on parts of St Paul gained currency in the Latin Church bearing the name of Ambros.

Again, the Latin church had in all probability to thank another Pelagian, Anianus a Deacon, for the translation into Latin of Chrysostom’s Homilies on St Matthew and his Panegyric on St Paul. But it was Cassianus, the father of Western Monachism, who did perhaps more than any other to make the influence of the Antiochenes felt in the West. Closely connected with Chrysostom during the last two years of his work at Constantinople, holding him in loving and reverent remembrance, he could not fail to inspire those whom he gathered round him in his monastery at Marseilles with something of his own feeling. It has indeed been conjectured that here or in some allied monastery in Gaul, the Latin translator of Theodore must be sought. At least it is a striking fact that the man who influenced the monasticism of the middle ages at its source, had been united by close ties to Chrysostom.

One other special point of contact between the Antiochene School and the West remains. Primasius, the Bishop of Adrumetum, chanced to be one of a deputation of African Bishops which, a few years before 550, waited on the Emperor Justinian. At the Court he met with Junilius, a fellow-countryman, high in office. In answer to Primasius’ questions as to Eastern Theologians, Junilius told him of, and finally undertook to translate for his benefit, an introduction to the Scriptures by Paul of Nisibis. This Paul, the Persian,’ afterwards Metropolitan of Nisibis, had been, it would appear, the teacher of Junilius, and had himself received his theological education in the school at Nisibis under Mar Abbas. As we have already seen, the works of Theodore were held in the highest estimation there; and Kihn has shewn that the ‘Instituta regularia divinae legis’ of Junilius is in fact nothing more than a summary of Theodore’s teaching alike on Biblical questions and on matters of doctrine. Again therefore we mark the irony of history. Admiring copyists and scholars of after days transformed the translator into an author, the courtly layman into a Bishop; while a treatise which contained the quintessence of the condemned opinions of Theodore gained favour in the West, and took its assured place among the Fathers of the Church. Ancient Libraries are indeed ‘temples of silence and reconciliation’.








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