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Chrysostom: A Study In The History Of Biblical Interpretation

THE first question which confronts us in an endeavour to examine more in detail Chrysostom’s principles and practice as an Interpreter of the Old Testament is, what knowledge had he of the original. Few of the Greek Fathers were in any real sense Hebrew scholars, and Chrysostom was not one of these few. A brief examination of one or two passages sufficiently shews that whatever knowledge of Hebrew he seems to possess comes from tradition or from hearsay.

Thus in commenting on the creation Chrysostom notices and condemns the opinion of some that there are many Heavens. “Those,” he says, “who are well learned in Hebrew tell us that the word for Heaven is plural in that language, and those who know the Syrian tongue make a like admission … So the phrase ‘the Heaven of Heavens’ is not used by David because there are many Heavens, but because it is the usage of Hebrew to employ the plural in speaking of a single thing” (iv. 26).

Again, the description of the king “fairer than the children of men” is under discussion. The Commentator finds a certain awkwardness in the expression, ‘oil of gladness.’ Hence to the ἀγαλλιάσεως of the LXX. and the ἀγλαϊσμοῦ of another translator (Symmachus), he adds a transliteration of the Hebrew and a revised version—Σασὼν, τουτέστι καλλωπισμοῦ, δόξης, κόσμου. Etymology and usage alike seem decisive for the accuracy of the LXX. (Comp. vi. 86.)

The interpretation of Hebrew names does not always fare well at the preacher’s hands. Thus, the name Adam is explained to mean, ‘the earthy one’ (ὁ γήϊνος). Eden, it is added, signifies ‘the virgin Earth.’ “And if any one does not believe this, let him question those who are well skilled in Hebrew and he will see that this is the interpretation of Eden.” But hence comes a side-light on Adam’s name. He is called after his mother—Ἐκείνη Ἐδὲμ, οὗτος Ἀδάμ. Noah means ‘rest’: but rest is synonymous with death (Job 3:23 LXX.); and so the patriarch’s name becomes a prophecy of the flood. The addition of a single letter changes Ἄβραμ, which as “those learned in Hebrew know means περάτης,” into Ἀβραάμ, ‘a father of many nations.’ A parallel is found in the name of the Patriarch’s wife, but here the preacher wisely abstains from hazarding an interpretation. Seraphim, to take but one more example, is represented as a compound word signifying ‘burning mouths’ (ἔμπυρα στόματα).

The impression that Chrysostom was no Hebrew scholar is confirmed when we pass on to review his use of the Greek versions.

The account which Chrysostom gives of the origin of the Septuagint is characteristic. Unlike earlier Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, unlike his contemporaries, Epiphanius in the East, and Augustine in the West, he takes no account of the myths which had sprung up round the early history of this Version. With him the history is part of a long story of providential care watching over the Bible. “When war arose the prophets were slain, the sacred Books were burned. But God inspired another wonderful man Ezra, so that from the fragments which remained he re-wrote the Books. Then God so ordered it that they should be translated by the Seventy. They translated them: the Christ comes: He receives them: the Apostles carry them abroad to all men.… How should the Syrian, the Galatian, the Macedonian, the Athenian have known what was spoken of the Prophets, had the Scriptures continued in their obscurity?… Three hundred years before the birth of Christ Ptolemy King of Egypt, in his anxiety to perfect his library, determined to add thereto these Jewish Books. He sent therefore for some Jews from Jerusalem and commanded them to translate the Books into Greek. And the strange and marvellous thing is,” adds Chrysostom with possibly a glance at more credulous exponents of the history, “that it was no lover of the Jews’ religion who took this task in hand, but an idolater and an enemy of their worship”.

Such is Chrysostom’s account of the origin of the great Greek Version. If modern criticism holds that it was the creation of a literary period rather than a work manufactured to a royal order, yet the story as told by Chrysostom has in it nothing to shock common sense.

Recent investigations seem to confirm the obvious conjecture that the particular edition of the Septuagint used by Chrysostom was that usually called ἡ κοινή. It was the work of the martyr Lucian, and according to Jerome was in use in the churches from Constantinople to Antioch.

But besides the Septuagint, Chrysostom in his commentary on the Psalms often refers, though I think never by name, to the Greek Versions of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. And further, as he frequently adds a transliteration of the Hebrew and makes use of renderings which cannot be identified with those of the above-named versions, it seems certain that he used the Hexapla of Origen.

How did Chrysostom use these helps? The great Father of the Western Church “appears to have recognised a prophetic spirit [in the translators of the Septuagint], and not to have doubted that the same spirit which dictated the original did also guide them and preserve them from all error; so that he will not allow any such in their Version, and is in nothing offended by some plain deviations of theirs from the original text”. Chrysostom, as we shall see, shewed in practice too implicit a trust in his guide; but at any rate he enters on his work with no light-hearted confidence. He distinctly places the fact that the Old Testament was read in a translation among the reasons of its greater obscurity.

The preacher does not make much use of the differing versions. They are not his armour and he has not fully tried them. Commonly therefore even if he mentions their variations, he contents himself with discussing the Septuagint text alone. There are however exceptions to this rule, and one or two, which are instructive, may be noticed.

Psalm 8:3. LXX. ἕνεκα τῶν ἐχθρῶν σου. “Another translator,” adds Chrysostom, “describing these enemies more exactly, has διὰ τοὺς ἐνδεσμοῦντάς σε: for they bound Him as He was led to the Cross.”

Psalm 8:6. LXX. δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφάνωσας (תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ) αὐτόν. ἄλλος, δόξῃ καὶ ἀξιώματι στέψεις αὐτόν. Two expositions are possible, the one historical, the other figurative (κατὰ ἀναγωγήν). The one dwells on the glory of man at the creation: the other has in view the glory of redemption, whereby “we are partakers of the Heavenly benefits, and are called to communion with the Only Begotten.” Such is in brief Chrysostom’s comment. The two interpretations are made to answer to the two versions cited.

Psalm 119:4. LXX. σὺν τοῖς ἄνθραξι τοῖς ἐρημικοῖς. ὁ δὲ ἕτερος ἑρμηνευτὴς, … μετὰ ἀνθράκων ἐστοιβασμένων. καὶ ἔτερος δὲ, σὺν ἀνθρακίαις ἀρκευθίναις. The former of the last two renderings emphasises the idea of multitude, the latter lays stress on the nature and the violence of the retribution. The Septuagint, Chrysostom adds, expresses the same general notion; for ἐρημικοῖς is made equivalent to ἐρημοποιοῖς.

Psalm 7:12. LXX. μὴ ὀργὴν ἐπάγων καθʼ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν … ὁ δὲ Ἑβραῖος, κατὰ πᾶσαν ζωήν. Here Chrysostom appears, contrary to his custom, to give a revised translation of the Hebrew. The explanation is not far to seek. The Hebrew hemistich is: וְאֵל וֹעֵם בְּבָל־יוֹם. וֹעֵם probably appeared in the second column of the Hexapla as ζωήμ; this in Chrysostom’s copy was corrupted into ζωήν. The commentator is betrayed by the context into confusing a transliteration with a translation.

Chrysostom however, like all the Greek Fathers, is wont to use the Septuagint as a final authority and to argue from it as if from the original. For example, he draws attention to the use of the same Greek word in two passages. In commenting on the words καὶ ἔθετο ἐκεῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον (Gen. 2:8) he deprecates a too mechanical interpretation of the word ἔθετο, noting that the word had been already used: καὶ ἔθετο αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ στερεώματι τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (1:17). “God commanded the stars to be in heaven as He commanded the man to dwell in Paradise”. But the Hebrew is in the one case וַיִּתֵּן, in the other וַיָּשֶׂם.

A similar mistake is made where greater issues are concerned. Chrysostom gives five reasons which shew that ‘the oracle of Jehovah’ (Ps. 110:1) is not addressed to a mere man. They are, (1) the words, ‘Sit Thou on my right hand’: (2) the fact that the same title Lord is used alike of the Speaker and of Him to whom He speaks: (3) the words, ‘From the womb before the Daystar did I beget Thee’: (4) the ascription to Him of the Priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’: (5) the words ‘With Thee is the rule’ (v. 3). Of these five arguments three fail on reference to the Hebrew. The second is an illustration of the particular point under consideration. The third, it may be added, is a commonplace with Chrysostom and with the Greek Fathers in general. The words of the Septuagint are, ἐκ γαστρὸς πρὸ ἑωσφόρου ἐγέννησά σε. Chrysostom takes them as a clear proof of the Lord’s Divinity. But another interpretation had been started. “Those,” he says, “who wrest the words to their own imaginings explain them in reference to the night in which the Lord was born. He was born before the dawn.” But against this exposition Chrysostom has two objections. It confuses the functions of a prophet, who gives for the most part dark hints, with those of an evangelist. Again, it disregards the special phrase used. The true parallel is not δεῖ … πρὸ ἀνατολῆς φωτὸς ἐντυγχάνειν σοι (Wisd. 16:28), but πρὸ τοῦ ἡλίου διαμενεῖ τὸ ὂνομα αὐτοῦ (Ps. 71:17).

Again, the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 7:16 (πρὶν ἢ γνῶναι τὸ παιδίον ἀγαθὸν ἢ κακόν, ἀπειθεῖ πονηρίᾳ (τοῦ) ἐκλέξασθαι τὸ ἀγαθόν) supplies the preacher with an equally precarious argument for the sinlessness of the Lord.

As to variations of the Septuagint from the Hebrew where numbers are concerned, two examples may suffice. Chrysostom lays stress on the words of the Septuagint at the close of the history of Creation. ‘On the sixth day God ended His work’ (ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ἕκτῃ Gen. 2:2). “See,” he says, “how Scripture repeats the same thing once and again to shew us that before the sixth day closed all the works of creation were finished.” Again, the Septuagint records the cry of the prophet Jonah thus: ‘Yet three days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ Chrysostom does not go so far as St Augustine, and knowingly set up the ‘three days’ of the Septuagint against the ‘forty days’ of the Hebrew as having a meaning and authority of its own. But the verse was a favourite one with him and he is fond of drawing lessons from the shortness of the warning.

More than once Chrysostom takes a blunder of the Septuagint in the inscription of a Psalm as giving the keynote for its interpretation. Thus the inscription of the fifth Psalm, ὑπὲρ τῆς κληρονομούσης, suggests an elaborate parable. ‘Eye hath not seen’ the inheritance to which the Church is heir. It will be given in its fulness hereafter. The Bible is the title-deed. The cry ‘Give ear to my words, O Lord,’ with which the Psalm begins, becomes the prayer of the Church, the heir, to Christ her Divine Bridegroom.

The inscription of the next Psalm according to the Septuagint is ὑπὲρ τῆς ὀγδόης. The life of man in its brevity is but a week. It is soon over. The eighth day, i.e. ‘the great and notable day of the Lord,’ comes. In view of this awful judgment the Psalmist exclaims, ‘O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger.’

The Greek inscriptions of Psalm 44 (45) have for Chrysostom a controversial value. The ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀλλοιωθησομένων is a prophecy of Christianity. Christ has made for us ‘a new creation’: all things are changed. When another translator (Symmachus) uses the phrase εἰς τὸν ἀγαπητόν to represent the Hebrew, ‘A Song of Love,’ Chrysostom finds the reference to Christ unmistakable: εἰς τὸν Χριστὸν ὁ ψαλμὸς οὗτος ἀναγέγραπται. Only the preacher would have had the Jews among his congregation that he might have refuted them out of their own mouth.

Sometimes, it must be added, Chrysostom slips in his interpretation of the language of the Septuagint. Thus in the description of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, the Greek word κέρας is a natural equivalent for the Hebrew קָרֶן, denoting the eminence on which the vineyard was planted. But with Chrysostom the reference is to the horn of the ox, and the metaphor suggests the idea, on the one hand of Divine protection and security, on the other of height: υἱοὺς ἐγέννησα καὶ ὕψωσα. Again, the closing words of the prophecy of Emmanuel’s wonderful birth have been differently rendered, nor is the Septuagint quite clear. But nothing can be said for Chrysostom’s comment: “The land, which thou fearest (ἣν σὺ φοβῇ), i.e. for which thou art afraid (ὑπὲρ ἧς δέδοικας, ὑπὲρ ἧς τρέμεις), shall be forsaken (καταλειφθήσεται), i.e. shall be untouched, free, it shall endure none of the horrors of war (ἀνέπαφος ἔσται, ἐλευθέρα ἔσται κ.τ.λ.).”

To sum up, Chrysostom, knowing nothing of the original Hebrew, accepted the Septuagint Version with its unequally distributed felicities of expression and translation, its obscurities, its obvious mistakes. When we consider him as an expounder of the Old Testament, we really consider him as the expounder of the great Greek Bible which contributed no small share to the heresies and misconceptions, but played a noble part in the building up, of the Christian Church.

The ground is now cleared for an investigation of Chrysostom’s treatment of the Old Testament. The questions suggested have an immediate and special bearing on the anxieties of our own days. “Christianity can never separate itself from its historical basis on the Religion of Israel; the revelation of God in Christ cannot be divorced from the earlier revelation on which our Lord built”. Here is a principle which is, or ought to be, disputed by none. But its admission raises two questions: (1) What are the true methods of interpretation in the case of the Old Testament? (2) What is the history of interpretation? Has the system pursued been so honeycombed by uncritical credulity that it can only be cast aside with contempt? The scholar just quoted gives one answer to this question. “The method of tropical exegesis … reigned supreme in the Old Catholic and Mediæval Church. The ancient fathers laid down the principle that everything in Scripture which, taken in a natural sense, appears unedifying must be made edifying by some method of typical or figurative explanation”.

In dealing with Chrysostom we are dealing with a representative of a great exegetical school in ‘the Old Catholic Church.’ As a preacher he was naturally more prone to ‘make Scripture edifying’ than other members of the school of Antioch. If he is not wholly deserving of this sweeping condemnation, an important exception has been proved.

We must not of course expect to find in a preacher of the fourth century, any more than in an ancient historian, the precision and rigid consistency which a critic of the nineteenth century would demand. It must be enough to gather what is the general tone of his treatment of the Old Testament.

It is significant that Chrysostom is said to be the first writer who uses absolutely the very familiar term τὰ βιβλία, the Bible. There was in his view one library of Books, bound to each other by strong and mysterious ties, and separated from all other literature. This was a leading conception with him, strengthened by the exigences of the times.

The earliest Christian literature discloses to us the picture of the Christian Church with the Old Testament in her hand ‘opening and alleging that Jesus was the Christ.’ The Old Testament is her text-book alike for instruction and for controversy. But this view was fiercely assailed by various Gnostic sects which grew up in the first half of the second century, notably by the Marcionites. The frequent mention of this sect by Chrysostom in sermons delivered both at Antioch and at Constantinople sufficiently shews that its vitality was not exhausted. But its mantle was already falling upon another sect rising into vigorous life. In a sermon delivered probably after he had become Archbishop of Constantinople Chrysostom speaks of the Manichæan heresy as still the youngest of a large and varied family (xii. 89). In the same passage he gives to the Marcionite the first place. In regard to the Old Testament the youngest reproduced the error of the eldest. The ἀντιθέσεις of Marcion finds its counterpart in a work of Adimantus, to which Augustine wrote an answer. This treatise indeed was probably in Latin and was circulated chiefly in North Africa. But its thesis was the doctrine of the whole sect and attracted Chrysostom’s notice (e.g. i. 542, ix. 548). The question then as to the relation of the Old Testament to the New was not one of merely speculative interest.

The Old Testament is the revelation of God. God speaks, the Holy Spirit speaks, through the tongue of the prophet. “The Old Covenant belongs not to the Father alone but also to the Son” (x. 666). Christianity is no late development, no afterthought, no correction of an earlier mistake. The writers of the Old Covenant therefore are kith and kin with the writers of the New. “There is one body, even the faithful, wheresoever in the world they may be, the faithful who are, the faithful who were, the faithful who shall be. The bond is the knowledge of Christ: for the prophets also knew Him. Had they not known Him, they would not have written of Him. They knew Him and worshipped Him withal (cf. John 5:46; 8:56)” (xi. 75).

As between the writers, so also between their writings there is a kinship, and St Paul can use words of Isaiah, their meaning deepened and enlarged (vi. 8, viii. 197). For there is a oneness of purpose which binds together both covenants, and all parts of both. “The aim of both is the same, even the reformation of mankind”.

But this Unity is no Uniformity. One Covenant differs from the other Covenant in glory. The difference, Chrysostom observes, is clearly brought out in the teaching of St Paul. “In his wish to shew the distinction between the Old and the New, he ever and again makes mention of it and dins it into his people’s ears”.

Two great Pauline metaphors are often in Chrysostom’s mind in this connexion. The first brings out the greater glory of the New Covenant: the second lays stress on the unity between the two. The first is the parallel which St Paul draws between the Old Covenant on the one hand and on the other the tables of stone and the veiled face of the Lawgiver. But while Chrysostom traces how step by step the superiority of the New Covenant is brought out, he is careful to notice that the veil is not on the words of the law, but ‘on the reading,’ ‘on the heart,’ just as the veil was not on Moses’ face for his own sake, but “because of the dulness of the Israelites and their fleshly mind.” Had the Law been hostile to Christ, St Paul would have had no right to speak of a glory of the Law; had the Law in itself been bad, it would have continued still shrouded in darkness. The second ruling idea is the Pauline conception of the Law as a tutor. Chrysostom appears to picture Christ as the Master. “The tutor is not opposed to the master but works with him: for the tutor, delivering the child from every vice, prepares him to receive his instruction from the master.”

Starting from this fundamental conception, we pass on to notice two complementary principles, true of both Covenants, but especially of the Old. The Bible owes its very existence to the condescension of God (συγκατάβασις). The Bible is profitable to men because one of its essential characteristics is its minuteness, its detailed significance (ἀκρίβεια). God speaks to man in man’s words. But in that adaptation their tone is not blunted; the articulation is clear.

The great principle expressed by the word συγκατάβασις is of deep and wide application. As in the historical Incarnation the Eternal Word became flesh, so in the Bible the glory of God veils itself in the fleshly garment of human thought and human language. We put this truth in a different form when we say that the Bible is at once the record and the substance of an historical Revelation. If we seek an illustration, it will be the father teaching the son in childhood, in boyhood, in youth, the lessons he needs to learn at the several crises of his life, in those ways which best answer to his growing powers.

There is therefore progress in Revelation. Revelation was conditioned by the instruments through which it came. Being what they were, the products of the past, they could not, unless the human vessels were shattered, give expression to more than a certain range of truth. “Knowledge grows from more to more,” even with those through whom God speaks. The thought is of vast importance, but I do not remember that it receives from Chrysostom illustration or recognition.

But Revelation was also conditioned by the powers of those to whom it was given. If God speaks at a particular period of the world’s history, He speaks so that the men of that generation can apprehend His meaning, if they will. To some extent we have anticipated Chrysostom’s teaching on this point. But more careful study shews an important subdivision. He recognises the principle of progress in Revelation as affecting (1) the form, and (2) the substance, of the Old Testament.

The recognition of the truth that the manner of Revelation is dependent on the character of those to whom it comes, is exemplified in Chrysostom’s treatment of the anthropomorphic expressions of the Old Testament. The Origenistic disputes, which in Chrysostom’s later days drew him into their dangerous eddies, partly at least turned on this question. With a fanatical hatred of Origen’s more spiritual teaching, the wild, untaught monks of Egypt held that God is of bodily shape. But as a teacher at Antioch Chrysostom found the danger at his doors. In the fourth century one Audaeus of Syria founded an ascetic sect whose distinctive doctrine rested on a grossly literal interpretation of Genesis 1:26. It is indeed in dealing with the earlier chapters of Genesis that Chrysostom insists with the most earnest and constant reiteration that Scriptural language on the nature of God is relative and not absolute. In commenting on the words, ‘Let us make man in our image,’ the preacher alludes to the sect referred to above. “From these words,” he says, “some will have it that the Deity wears the form of man (βούλονται ἀνθρωπόμορφον λέγειν τὸ θεῖον) … Can the like of this madness be found?” Without drawing any distinction between the words κατʼ εἰκόνα and καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν, he finds the true explanation defined by the clause which follows:—Man’s likeness to God consists in his sovereignty over created things.

Again, Chrysostom in dealing with the words, ‘and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,’ denounces certain who “moved by their own imaginings and destitute of any worthy thoughts of God, not marking the condescension of the words, venture to assert that the soul is of the essence of God. The reason of the grossness of the expression is simply our weakness.” The true meaning he explains thus: “It pleased God that this body formed of the dust should have within it a soul able to use the members of the body.” So again the days of Creation are to be understood. The form of the record is due “to the condescension of the loving God.… For His Almighty hand and boundless wisdom could have brought forth all things in a single day, aye even in a single moment. But forasmuch as He fashioned all things through love to man, He created the world in successive parts (κατὰ μέρος)”.

To take one more example, Chrysostom repeats the warning when he comes to the words, ‘He took one of his ribs.’ “Mark,” he says, “the condescension of Holy Scripture, what expressions it uses because of our weakness. Do not interpret the expression in a merely human sense, but account the grossness of the phrase as due to human weakness. For had not Scripture used these words, how could we have known these ineffable mysteries? Let us not therefore abide in the bare words, but understand them all in a fashion worthy of God, forasmuch as they are applied to God. For the expression, ‘He took’ and the like are used because of our weakness”.

The clear apprehension of this characteristic of the Bible had a fundamental bearing upon Chrysostom’s principles of interpretation. This method of Revelation on God’s part lays a corresponding duty on man. He must never be so rashly presumptuous as to forget that the words of Scripture do not present matters as they are in themselves, but in strict and constant relation to man’s power of apprehension. Thus when Chrysostom is occupied with the opening words of the Bible, he lays down the rule that “we must accept them with all humble gratitude, not passing beyond our proper measure, nor busying ourselves with things too high for us.”

In Isaiah’s parable of the Vineyard God is represented as saying, ‘I planted it with the choicest vine.’ “God still continues the metaphor,” Chrysostom observes, “and we must not interpret it word for word, but must be content with knowing its drift. Thus some take the tower to mean the sanctuary, the winepress the altar, for all the fruits of each man’s virtue, the offerings and sacrifices, are brought there. But I,” he continues, “repeat what I have already said, that the drift of the metaphor is the one thing to mark.”

But it is even more important to notice that the substance of Revelation is affected by the principle of Divine condescension. And here we are brought face to face with problems which are specially offered to our own times for earnest and reverent investigation. The key to the whole position may perhaps be said to lie in two propositions. (1) God educates the human race towards the great consummation—‘after our likeness.’ But all education must be gradual: it knows nothing of sudden and isolated starts. (2) God would bring out of every state of mankind the highest acts, the highest service both to Himself and to His creatures, which the stage of education attained to by man admits. Thus the morality which is commanded by God, if tried by an absolute standard, may be defective, yet relatively it will always be perfect.

We do not of course expect to find principles like these distinctly formulated or expressly applied in the works, least of all in the sermons, of a Father of the Fourth Century. Yet, if I mistake not, they are latent in Chrysostom’s teaching, and are implicitly recognised.

The main thought may be briefly stated thus in Chrysostom’s own words. God in Scripture “orders each detail with reference to the special crisis for man’s good, thus correcting the weakness of each successive generation”.

Three special applications of this principle may be noticed in illustration.

(1.) In this light the system of rewards in the Old Testament must be viewed. Thus the familiar description of the blessedness of the man ‘that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways,’ suggests the comment, “Forasmuch as He was speaking with those under full age, He lures them on by sensible blessings … But we Christians do not strip for the contest for this present world’s sake, but chiefly to please God, and after that for the hopes of the future.” (Comp. iii. 285, vii. 210.)

(2.) This principle is of special importance as regards the commands of God given in old time. “Some are absolute, some are relative. Among the former are the commands to know God, not to kill, and the like: among the latter, the commands to offer sacrifice, to burn incense, to keep the Sabbath. These last were included in the code not for their own sake, but in order that their observance might wean the people from the worship of demons”. In point of fact there is retrogression. Thus Chrysostom contrasts the hints of a plurality of Persons in the Godhead in the early chapters of Genesis with the uncompromising dogma of the Law. Even when the common duties of life are concerned (ἐπὶ τῶν πραγμάτων), he remarks how “in His condescension for our weakness God lowers His Revelation from a perfect to an inferior standard.” Cases in point are the law of divorce, the distinction between meats, the choice of a special place for worship.

From this point of view Chrysostom deals with the question of sacrifices. ‘Who hath required this at your hands to tread my courts?’ So God asks through Isaiah. “Yet the whole book of Leviticus is taken up with minute legislation as to sacrifices. How then this question? To shew that God’s essential purpose (προηγούμενον θεοῦ θέλημα) was not to legislate on such matters. Such legislation is due to our weakness. The case is parallel with that of divorce. God, desiring to uproot greater evils, permitted the less. He suffered what He did not desire that He might secure that which He did desire”.

(3.) The general principle receives a remarkable sanction from our Lord’s treatment of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount. One or two points in Chrysostom’s exposition are worth noting.

As he reads the Lord’s words, ‘It was said to them of old time,’ they imply a recognition of the different stages of His people’s education. “He spoke thus to shame any hearer who shrank from rising from these commands to higher things; just as a teacher might say to an idle child, Don’t you see the time you have wasted in learning spelling?”

Again, our Lord recognises that the perfect will of God is not expressed in the commands of the Law. Thus His injunction about anger is not opposed to the prohibition of murder; it is rather the completion, a fuller guarantee for the observance, of the Old Law. Or to take another example, ‘an eye for an eye’ seems a harsh enactment. Take into consideration the times and the character of the people, and it assumes a different appearance. First, the safety of society demanded some regulation of wide and easy application. “The lawgiver who lays down no law of vengeance against evil-doers simply equips them with the armour of impunity, and is as one who puts swords into their hands.” Secondly, the rule itself reached the highest stage of philanthropy then attainable. “Inasmuch as the lawgiver would temper justice with mercy, he condemns the author of a great wrong to a punishment less than his deserts, thus educating men, even when they are injured, to display clemency in large measure.” In other words, vengeance in an early stage of society is a necessity. The lawgiver, by enjoining it and controlling it, prevents it from becoming indiscriminate, and so unprincipled.

Connected with the principle just examined there is the other scarcely less important. God condescends to speak to men through men. But human language, raised to so high a use, does not thereby lose its essential characteristics. It is not clouded or obscured. In the Bible definite words have definite meanings. The phraseology of Scripture is capable of analysis. Properly understood, Chrysostom would admit the often quoted maxim of Irenaeus, “Nihil vacuum, nihil sine signo apud Deum.” Mark the exactness of Scripture, and, mark the condescension of Scripture, are appeals which seem to lie parallel. “Mark the exactness of Scripture,” is part of Chrysostom’s comment on Gen. 2:21, to take but one example. “Scripture does not say as before ‘He formed,’ but ‘He built.’ Out of that which had been already formed God took this part and added thereto that which was wanting.” Prophecy supplies many instances of this minuteness. Micah’s prophecy as to Bethlehem “said not He shall remain in Bethlehem, but He shall come forth. So this too was foretold, that He should only be born there.”

The recognition of this characteristic forbids addition to, as well as subtraction from, the inspired Words. There was current in Chrysostom’s time a popular misreading of the well-known passage of Haggai;—“The silver is mine and the gold is mine, and to whomsoever I will I give them” (comp. Lk. 4:6). The passage in this shape was quoted as a divine sanction of ill-gotten wealth:

And thus I clothe my naked villany

With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ;

And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

But the added clause, the preacher urges, “has currency through the ignorance of the many … The craft of the devil is so great that he introduces his deadly doctrines by adding to, or taking from, by distorting or changing, the written words” (vi. 162). The principle is capable of another application, of extreme importance in the exegesis of the Antiochene School. The proverbial estimate of the practice of human law must not be extended to the Bible. It takes account of the most trivial details. In his nervous anxiety to rescue Inspired Words from supposed degradation, a commentator must not reject their obvious meaning. Thus part of Isaiah’s indictment against Jerusalem is, ‘Thy merchants mingle thy wine with water’ (LXX.). Some, Chrysostom tells us, ignorant of the unspeakable wisdom of God, interpreted the phrase figuratively. Isaiah, the high and lofty prophet, did not speak of the trickery of money-changers and the corruption of merchants. By silver, they urged, is meant the oracles of God, by wine doctrine. “For my own part,” Chrysostom adds, “while I do not treat this interpretation with scorn, I hold the other to be the truen … For the only Begotten of the Father has Himself spoken many things about measures and salutations and highest places.”

Thus a recognition of God’s plan of gradual education for the human race, as well as a reverent sense of the detailed significance of Scripture, lay at the root of the position of the Antiochene School, and led these great teachers to a temperate rejection of the methods of mystical interpretation whenever recklessly applied.

In reviewing more in detail Chrysostom’s methods of interpretation, it will be convenient to divide the Books of the Old Testament, as he does himself, into the Historical, the Hortatory, and the Prophetic Books (vi. 316).

The aim of all Scripture is the reformation of mankind” (vi. 314). The importance of this definition is greatest in the case of those Books which have most in common with purely human literature. It is thus that the historical part of the Bible is parted off from all other history. With secular authors the narrative is an end in itself. “They record public events: they bring before the eyes of men wars and battles: they reap a harvest of glory from their writings” (vi. 314). With the Sacred Books it is not so. Here the ruling aim is not literary or artistic, but moral and spiritual. Thus two principles are involved. In the Bible we have real history. Again, there is that in it which makes it yield to the touch of the seeker after spiritual wisdom. But here we reach a principle of interpretation which became the distinguishing mark of the School of Antioch. If the histories of the Bible are not fictions or fairy tales, their genuine historical character must be honestly recognised, or their spiritual significance will surely be missed or marred. The superstructure of doctrine must be built on the rock of historical interpretation; otherwise the floods of heresy and the shifting winds of theological fashion will overwhelm it. And because it will drag down with it, to be buried at least for a time, some of the true and solid treasures of Christianity, its fall will be great.

Chrysostom was not proof against a tendency at times to allegorise, and find meanings from which a more systematic exegesis would shrink. But at least he never revelled in ‘the effeminacies of mystical interpretation.’ A few examples will make his position plain.

(a) We take the history of the formation of Eve from Adam. At least here we might have expected a commentator to dwell largely on a spiritual meaning which St Paul found in the mysterious narrative (Eph. 5:29–32). Elsewhere Chrysostom recognised it. But in the homily on the passage there is, I think, no reference to this view of the passage, but two thoughts seem present to the preacher’s mind. Here he finds the true account of the relation of woman to man. Here too he sees a crowning instance of God’s kindness to man, and on this he founds the moral application with which the sermon ends.

(b) The wonderful meaning which Barnabas discovers in the 318 servants of Abraham is well known They signify to him the mysteries of redemption. Chrysostom also asks the question, why the patriarch chose just so many home-born slaves. His answer is singularly plain and homely. The number is recorded to shew us, “that he did not take all, but those who had been brought up with Lot, in order that they might be the willing ministers of vengeance, seeing that they were fighting for their own master.”

(c) Why was the eighth day chosen for circumcision? The fathers had a ready answer. It was the day of the Resurrection. Such is Justin Martyr’s explanation. It is repeated in an official letter of an African Council under Cyprian. Again Chrysostom is severely sensible. Two reasons may be given, he thinks, why the eighth day was specially appointed ‘by the merciful God.’ When the child was so young, the pain inflicted would be less. Again the Jews had thus a clear proof that the rite did not benefit the soul, but was simply a sign.

(d) The marriage of Jacob with his two wives was a commonplace of mystical interpretation. In this case also Justin Martyr led the way. But in the homily of Chrysostom which deals with the subject, we find an earnest appeal to his hearers to imitate a simpler and purer age as to marriage festivities: we find a brief discussion as to the polygamy of the patriarchs. But of a precarious allegorical interpretation there is not a word.

(e) One more instance will shew how Chrysostom could found a spiritual meaning upon a history which he had discussed as such. “Why,” he asks, “did the Israelites eat the Passover with loins girded? Shall I give you the figurative or the historical explanation? It is the better plan that you should hear the history first.”—So after a description of the historical type, he proceeds;—“We too eat a Passover, even the Christ. We too should eat it with shoes on our feet and loins girded, that we too may be ready for our Exodus, our departure hence. Let none of those who eat this Passover look to Egypt, but to Heaven, to the Jerusalem which is above. For this cause thou so eatest it, to teach thee, that when thou dost but begin to eat the Passover, thou oughtest to be departing and to be on thy way” (xi. 176).

(f) In one class of Biblical histories the temptation to adopt a mystical interpretation was specially great. It wore the garb of excessive reverence. “What good do we gain,” asks Origen, “when we read that Abraham, the great patriarch, not only deceived Abimelech, but also betrayed the chastity of his wife?… Let the Jews hold this view and all who in their company are the champions of the letter and not of the spirit.” And again, “I have often said that in these cases there is no narrative of facts but an introduction of mysteries.” Pressed by the insinuation of Celsus that the defenders of the Bible found a refuge from their difficulties in allegories, he pleads the example of the Stoic philosophers, and urges that the practice of the Sacred Writers themselves is proof sufficient that a figurative interpretation is in accordance with the primary intention of some passages.

Chrysostom is far from being consistent in dealing with the moral difficulties of the Old Testament. Ecclesiastical tradition favoured a dangerous tenderness in treating the lives of the patriarchs. Still it is only at rare intervals that Chrysostom sinks into an allegorist. He points out that “Scripture has recorded not only the good deeds but also the sins of the Saints” (iv. 279; comp. vi. 314).

In the history of Noah’s drunkenness, which he introduces with the remark just quoted, he finds a warning to those who are “sunk beneath the flood of other terrible sins,” while at the same time he discovers a palliation suggested by the words of Scripture: ‘Noah began to be a husbandman.’ He was ignorant of the properties of wine.

But further, Chrysostom ventures to defend Abraham’s cowardice at the courts of Pharaoh and Abimelech by interpreting it as a jealous care for God’s promise. He justifies the conduct of Lot’s two daughters on the ground that they thought that the whole race of man was destroyed. Nor can we wonder that the author of some chapters of the De Sacerdotio finds no fault with Jacob’s deception of his father. Assuming that Rebecca acted not of her own mind, but in obedience to a heavenly command, Chrysostom is able to see in the details of the story simply the outcome of a divine dispensation. In his treatment of the history of Judah and Tamar he goes to still greater lengths. After an allegorical interpretation of the birth of the children, he insists on the duty of marking the aim and the reason of all Scripture histories. “If we get a clear conception of these, we shall acquit the actors in them of guilt, and shall ourselves gain much instruction from them.” Quite different is Chrysostom’s view of David’s sins. “I do not shrink,” he says, “from saying plainly that David committed adultery and murder. For if the Holy Spirit thought it no shame to set forth all this history, much less should we veil it.”

Many solutions have been hazarded of the problem which the Imprecatory Psalms present. Chrysostom’s treatment of one such Psalm is worth remark. He is dwelling on the lamentation of the captives:—‘Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.’ “Though these words,” he says, “are pregnant with rage and vengeance, yet they are the expression of the fury of the captives. Since the prophets often do not speak of their own mind, but represent the passions of others. For if you ask the prophet’s own sentiment, you will hear it when he says, ‘If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me.’ But with other men he depicts their rage and anguish. Such however is not the teaching of the New Covenant. Rather we are bidden there to feed our enemies and give them drink.” If this explanation does not go far enough, at least it is faithful in preserving the literal sense of the passage.

The typical character of the histories of the Old Testament was very distinctly recognised by the greatest teachers of the School of Antioch. Their belief on this point was a leading characteristic of their exegesis, and removed them at once from a servile worship of the letter and from the strange vagaries of the allegorists.

There are three different classes of passages or phrases, Chrysostom remarks in one place, which require as many different kinds of interpretation: (1) “Some passages must be interpreted literally. (2) Some must be interpreted in a different sense to that which lies on the surface, as with the words, ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb’. (3) Yet again others must be taken in a two-fold sense. We must apprehend that which is actual and historical: we must interpret the spiritual meaning (τά τε αἰσθητὰ νοοῦντες καὶ τὰ νοητὰ ἐκδεχόμενοι), as in the case of the figurative history of Isaac. We know the fact that Abraham’s son was offered up, but there is something distinct from this, latent in the conception, which we gather from the words his son, and this is the Cross” (v. 188 C). As to the second of these groups Chrysostom elsewhere points out that in such cases Scripture is wont to interpret itself (v. 169, vi. 91). The third group is the most important, and includes the types of the Old Testament. As to these Chrysostom lays down the rule, “that, while the type must not be wholly different from the reality, else it would cease to be a type, neither must it be on a level with the reality, else it would become the reality” (iii. 235).

Of these ‘prophecies in action’ (vi. 317) the following are some of the most striking which Chrysostom admits. Noah is a type of Christ. The ark is the Church; the dove the Holy Spirit; the olive-leaf the kindness of God. Leah and Rachel are figures respectively of the Jewish synagogue and of the Church of Christ. Of Joseph it is noted that his brethren did not kill but sold him. The bush burning but not consumed pointed onward to the Human Body of the Lord. That body died, but it was not holden by death for ever. Rahab the harlot and Ruth the Moabitess raised from low estate are types of the Church exalted by the love of Christ. The image of Bel bursting asunder when fed by Daniel was a figure of Hades being cleft in twain when the Lord arose. The Temple was a parable of the whole universe, part of which is material, part spiritual; the visible Heavens, like the veil before the Sanctuary, divide the two worlds.

Even in the cases already mentioned few will, I think, deny that Chrysostom is sometimes building a superstructure of fancy. In other instances he is more clearly convicted.

Thus he is commenting on the name Seth. The LXX. uses the word ἐξανέστησε. “For God,” said Eve, “raised me up another seed instead of Abel.” “Mark the exactness of the word,” says the commentator, “she does not say gave, but raised up. See how the first hint of the Resurrection is hereby dimly suggested.”

The history of Melchizedec is a favourite one with Chrysostom, and he had good authority for a typical interpretation of the little which is told us of the priestly king. It is however instructive to compare his treatment of the history with that of the writer to the Hebrews.

The latter, as Chrysostom rightly points out, arguing from the record itself and giving a meaning to its silence, speaks of Melchizedec as a priest, (1) independent of descent, (2) of whose abdication by death or otherwise nothing is known. He stands by himself wholly apart from any priestly line. But Chrysostom loses sight of the analogy between type and antitype when he presses the thought that Christ is “without father, as man; without mother, as God; without genealogy in either nature.” The special bearing of the description of Melchizedec on an Extra-Levitical Priesthood is thus quite overlooked.

Again, it is remarkable that in the Epistle to the Hebrews nothing is said as to a symbolical aspect of the bread and the wine. Chrysostom, following the common exegesis, saw in these a reference to the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist, and found here a striking instance of the foresight of Holy Scripture.

But it is seldom that Chrysostom gives freer rein to a tendency towards mystical interpretation than in his comments on the birth of Phares and Zara. He notes that in our Lord’s genealogy St Matthew mentions the name of Zara besides that of Phares. There must be some reason for this; nor can we suppose, he says, deserting his general principles, that the words of the midwife were recorded for their own sake. Here we have mystic riddles. The partial advance of the Church in Abel, Enoch, &c., the breaking in of the Law, at last the advent of the Church in Christ,—all this is prefigured in the history. “Such is the opinion,” adds Chrysostom, “of those who have accurately examined these things.”

Such are examples of Chrysostom’s own practice in dealing with the histories of the Old Testament. It may be well however to recall two passages in St Paul’s Epistles, where he enforces his argument and gives point to his warnings by a figurative interpretation of the old histories, and to enquire how Chrysostom deals with them.

St Paul uses the history of the Exodus to bring home to the Corinthians the responsibilities of their own position. Only one point in Chrysostom’s exposition need be noticed, viz. his anxiety to preserve the true historical character of the type. “The people, when they saw Moses the first to cross the sea, in their turn braved the waters. But inasmuch as the Apostle wishes to bring the type very close to the reality, he applies the same phrase to the one and to the other:—‘They were baptized.’ It was not the natural rock which sent forth the water, else it had gushed out long before; but another, a spiritual, rock wrought all, even Christ who was with them everywhere.” Chrysostom’s treatment of the other passage brings out this point with greater clearness. St Paul is speaking of the history of the two wives and the two sons of Abraham (Gal. 4:24), and he adds, ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα. The words serve Chrysostom’s friend Theodore as a text for a fierce onslaught against the school of allegorists. Our authors comment is self-restrained but decisive: “The Apostle by a conventional use of words (καταχρηστικῶς) calls a type an allegory. His meaning is this:—Such is the history; it does not only tell us what lies on the surface, but announces to us certain other things, so it is called an allegory.”

Two passages from Chrysostom’s commentaries will best gather up his views and bring the discussion to a close. The one contains a protest, the other lays down a principle.

It is for this reason that Moses records the name of the place (i.e. Paradise), that it might not be possible for the lovers of idle trifling to deceive simple folk, telling them that Paradise was not on earth but in heaven, and to conjure up such-like fairy tales. For, though Scripture speaks thus exactly, certain of those who plume themselves upon their eloquence and secular wisdom (τῇ σοφίᾳ τῇ ἔξωθεν) have not shrunk from uttering what is clean opposed to that which is written, and from saying that Paradise was not on earth … Most people listen not that they may receive profit from Holy Scripture, but for pleasure’s sake. Wherefore, I pray you, closing your ears to all such men, let us closely follow the rule of Holy Scripture.” The plural throughout points to a school rather than to any single individual as the object of this vigorous philippic, a school which was still flourishing and attractive. But it scarcely admits of doubt that, if his followers share in this censure, Origen himself, as the typical allegorist, is prominently before Chrysostom’s mind and indeed suggests some of the counts of the indictment.

In the other passage Chrysostom lays down a principle:—“Here,” he says in his comments on the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, “we learn an important lesson when and where we may allegorise. We are not irresponsible exponents (κύριοι) of the laws on this matter, but may only apply the system of allegorical interpretation when we are following the mind of Scripture. Scripture in this present case speaks of a vineyard, a hedge. It does not leave the hearer without responsibility to attach the words to what persons or events he will, but goes on to interpret itself. ‘For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts &c.’ … And this is the universal law of Scripture when it speaks in allegories, viz. to supply the interpretation of the allegory, so that the uncontrolled passion of those who are bent on allegorising may not be left free to wander and penetrate everywhere without system or principle.” The analogy of Scripture is the best guide in the interpretation of Scripture. So stated the rule is good and useful.

A traveller has observed that the great cathedral of Damascus is still standing. But the Christian Church has been turned into a mosque. Over one magnificent portal remains legibly inscribed in Greek characters the thirteenth verse of the 145th Psalm, with the addition of a single word, ἡ βασιλεία σου, Χριστέ, βασιλεία πάντων τῶν αἰώνων. There stands the clause, in letters unobliterated by time or hostile hands; unheeded by the haughty ignorance of the Moslem; saddening for a moment at least every Christian who can read it as he passes by, ‘Thy kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting kingdom.’ This inscription at least affords evidence how those who reared the Church interpreted and applied the 145th Psalm and with it many other parts of the Psalter.”

We have here only a vivid exemplification of the exegesis of the early Church. In the Psalms and in the Prophets Christ was present, Incarnate, Suffering, Dying, Rising, Reigning. He had Himself said, ‘These are they which bear witness of me.’ He had Himself on the first Easter day, ‘beginning from Moses and all the prophets interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.’ The instinct was a deep and true one: it was often but one side of an intense devotion. Those who hold that the ultimate solution of the deepest and most anxious of life’s problems lies for us men in the facts of the Incarnation and the Resurrection will be the last to deny that ‘the prophets lived a Christward life,’ and that their writings are the fit expression of their life. Yet the most reverent criticism will desire to trace definite laws in the Word of God, and to interpret it according to her knowledge of these laws. It is because she honours it so highly that she cannot surrender its deepest and devoutest parts to the caprice of pious instincts. Our present enquiry then is, how far does Chrysostom, the representative of a great school, recognise definite principles in his exposition of the prophetic writings, and how far are these principles sound?

Chrysostom himself observes that “we may often hear the prophets treating of historical events” (vi. 316). If prophecy may be compared to a pure river, ‘the streams whereof make glad the city of God,’ yet the river bubbles up from, and flows through, the common earth of history. And Chrysostom does more than merely admit this. He welcomes history as a handmaid in the interpretation of prophecy. “It must needs be that the prophet (Isaiah) begins with a note of time, thereby sending the diligent student to the history of the past. For the prophecy becomes clearer and easier if we know in what state the world was, and what the condition of the wounds of the Jewish people, when the prophets applied their remedies” (6:5). A curious example will be found in Chrysostom’s explanation of the special mention of ‘the year when king Uzziah died’ (6:1). He supposes that the sacrilege of the king infected the people; that prophecy was for the time withdrawn and God’s voice silent. But the measure of the king’s life was the measure of the period of God’s anger. When the king died, God at last opened once more the doors of prophecy (vi. 63).

A further step is taken when the historical element is allowed to suggest the interpretation of that which is admitted to be predictive. The third chapter of Isaiah and the first verse of the fourth chapter give companion pictures. On the one hand there is the reckless extravagance and pride of the women of Zion; on the other the deep shame and misery which God would bring upon them. War shall make them desolate, and the men shall fall by the sword, ‘and seven women shall take hold of one man in that day.’ In that day of extreme visitation all natural modesty will be laid aside, and women will go in search of husbands. It has been said that “all the ancient expositors looking at the general tenour of this prophecy have recognised here an evangelical prophecy. These faithful virgin souls which clave to Christ, the one Bridegroom, with pure and holy love, are contrasted with the vain and immodest daughters of Zion.” But Chrysostom is an exception among ‘all the ancient expositors.’ “The prophet wishes,” he says, “to set forth the failure of population arising from the war.” The exposition which follows is remarkable for its severe adherence to a literal interpretation. If it is said, ‘the Lord shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof,’ the commentator would have us see a precise reference to the murders committed in the city, murders, as the phrase ‘from the midst thereof’ implies, committed with shameless publicity. But further the metaphor, πνεύματι κρίσεως καὶ πνεύματι καύσεως, is drawn from the working of metals. When the prophet continues according to the LXX. ‘and He shall come,’ Chrysostom here too steadily adheres to the line of interpretation which he has adopted. “The prophet speaks of His working as His coming.”

If some commentators force prophetic details that they may become accommodated to a mystical interpretation, Chrysostom can hardly escape the charge of unduly seeking historical forecasts. Thus, the last cadence of the hymn of the seraphim, ‘The whole earth is full of His glory,’ suggests the thought of the universal spread of Christianity. But the details of the vision are forthwith pressed into the service. The moving of the lintel prefigures the destruction of the Jewish polity; the house filled with smoke is “an image of the capture which should overtake the house of God, the conflagration kindled by barbarians.” Thus the accompaniments of a Theophany are made prophetic details of the work of Titus.

In turning to the Psalms we might have anticipated a different treatment. We should have expected that the claims of historical exposition would have yielded to the devotional associations of the Psalter. Chrysostom indeed is not consistent here. But in the main the historical setting of the poetry and prophecy of the Psalms is kept in view.

Thus Psalms 7, 8 are made to turn upon the history of Absalom’s rebellion. David hears of the acceptance of Hushai’s advice and of Ahithophel’s death. In the former of these Psalms the king gives expression to his confidence in God, ‘O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust’; he closes the Psalm with a vow of thanksgiving. In the next Psalm he fulfils his vow, ‘O Lord our God, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth.’

Again, Jewish tradition confirms the opinion of many modern scholars that Psalm 44 (45) should be assigned to the Maccabaean period. And here the historical instinct of Chrysostom guides him aright. If his theory of Ezra’s republication of the Sacred Books precluded him from adopting the later date for the Psalm itself, an expedient remained:—“The prophet does not utter this Psalm in his own person, but in the person of the Maccabees, while he gives a prophetic narrative of the events which should happen in their days.” Once more, few expressions have given rise to a larger number of theories than the inscription שִׁיר לַמַּעֲלוֹת or שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת, ὠδὴ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν. Chrysostom mentions two interpretations. (1) There is the historical explanation. The subject of these Psalms is the Babylonish Captivity and the Return. (2) There is the figurative explanation. “For some interpret them thus—These Psalms lead to the path of virtue, a path which conducts the good man upwards by slow degrees, and at last places him in heaven itself.” Others again, Chrysostom tells us, found here an allusion to Jacob’s ladder. “But let us turn to the history, if it be thought well” And it is on the historical interpretation of the inscription that he founds in the main his detailed exposition.

But there is a distinctively predictive element in the Prophets and in the Psalms. The prophet stands before us as at once the enigma and the typical character of the history of Israel. It will be best, in trying to get at Chrysostom’s view of his powers and his position, to describe him by negatives.

The προφήτης is not a μάντις. With the latter inspiration is conceived of as an irresistible, almost a hostile, influence, which maims the intellect, darkens the reasoning powers, in a word makes the man the passive victim of its imperious working. It is not so with the prophet of God. His intellect remains sober: there is no loss of self-control. The Holy Spirit allows him to know what he utters. He is in short a conscious agent. On the other hand Chrysostom allows a certain gentle constraint. The impulse does not spring from the prophet himself. A divine afflatus moves him; a view which Chrysostom deduces from the use of the word ἐξηρεύξατο (Ps. 45:1).

The προφήτης is no στοχαστής. Since the prophet has a higher guidance than mere human sagacity and foresight, he is to be distinguished from the experienced man of the world. The latter, “basing his calculations on the past and rousing his own powers to vigorous action, foresees much which is still future.… The former speaks under the Divine Spirit, contributing nothing of his own. He continually meditates on what he has received from the Spirit, and so at length he tells it to his fellow-men.” The prophet is equally removed from the Pythian priestess of Greek religion and from the Themistocles of Greek politics.

Once more the προφήτης is no εὐαγγελιστής. It is true indeed, especially as the early Church read them, that the prophetic Books give no colourless pictures, no masses of awe-inspiring clouds and weird confusion. “Such is the minuteness of the prophet, that he prophesies of the Lord’s journeys, aye the very intent with which He wrought His works.… So many years before, the prophets speak of the Lord’s trial, His condemnation, of those crucified with Him, of the parting of His garments, the casting lots for them, and other details too many to recount.” But there is a twofold difference between the Prophet and the Historian of the Passion. The duty of the Evangelist is to give the whole history in its proper sequence. The prophet takes some portions and speaks only of them.

Again, we may expect to find that what the prophet does say, he says in the form of riddles (v. 175).

But what is the positive conception of the prophet? He is a man, whose personal characteristics are not lost in his office, whose writings bear the impress of his individuality. Thus Chrysostom begins his comment on Isaiah by pointing out the distinguishing marks of the man and of the book,—frankness, independence, loftiness of thought, tenderness. But the prophet holds unique relations with God. His office may be summed up in one brief pregnant phrase. He is the Interpreter of God, ἑρμηνευτὴς τοῦ θεοῦ.

But if the character and the works of the prophet may be defined thus, the mode of his communications with God transcends words and thoughts alike. “The manner of the vision,” Chrysostom says, “admits of no interpretation in human language. If one may dare to use a dim image, it seems to me that as pure water receiving into itself the rays of the sun is thereby illuminated, so the souls of the prophets, first purified by their own virtue, receive the gift of the Spirit, and being brought into correspondence with that brightness obtain the knowledge of the future” (vi. 4).

From the definition of the prophet himself, we turn to his message.

The prophet is first of all a preacher, a present moral power. The devices of the school of mystical interpretation tended at least to obscure this view of Hebrew prophecy. Chrysostom emphatically recognises it. Prophecy was designed by its warnings and its threats to make men wiser and better; to shew plainly that all things happened according to God’s decree. Its utterances as to the present or the immediate future had, like the miracles of the New Testament, an evidential value. They were the guarantee of its predictions as to the distant future. If a dark cloud hung over some of the prophet’s words, at least “whatsoever dealt with present life and conversation” was clear.

But prophecy dealt also with the distant future. And among the events of a far-off age, there loomed now with greater, now with less distinctness, one fraught with unutterable sorrow, the rejection of the Jewish people. For Chrysostom, as for the chaplain of the Prussian king, the evidences of Christianity were summed up in a single word, ‘The Jews.’ And this element of prophecy according to Chrysostom stamped a peculiar character on the prophetic Books. Why is it that the New Testament, though speaking of higher mysteries, is nevertheless simpler than the Old? The burden of foretelling the crowning calamities of the Jewish nation was laid upon the prophets. But had the Jews understood of what disasters the prophets spoke, the history of Jeremiah is proof enough that they would have destroyed prophets and prophecies alike. Had they known that the Law was to be done away, they would have reverenced the Law no longer. Hence a certain obscurity was allowed to rest upon these portions of the prophecies, that they might not be understood before the time. It is this obscurity of which St Paul speaks as the veil resting on the reading of the Law.

Of the third great subject of prophecy a few words will suffice. The subject has been, and will be again, dealt with. If Chrysostom would carefully distinguish the office of the prophet from that of the Evangelist, he would not abridge the magnificence or undervalue the minuteness of the prophecies which went before. To reject the Messianic prophecies is to make havoc of the larger portion of the prophetic writings. If the New Testament be not received, no one can clearly point out the beauty of the Old (v. 251). The words of Chrysostom’s great predecessor not inaptly express his own belief. “The Gospel hath a singular pre-eminence in the advent of the Saviour, even our Lord Jesus Christ, and His passion and resurrection. For the beloved Prophets in their preaching pointed to Him; but the Gospel is the completion of immortality.”

Four main Canons of Interpretation seem to be implied in Chrysostom’s treatment of the Prophetic Books. His principles are seen with greater clearness, when compared and contrasted with those of Theodore.

(1) The use of a passage of the Old Testament in the teaching of our Lord or of the writers of the New Testament is decisive as to its prophetic character and meaning.

Thus Chrysostom says of the words, ‘The stone which the builders rejected &c.,’ that “it is plain that the phrase refers to Christ: for He Himself adduces this passage in the Gospels.” Again, “to my mind these words (Isaiah 6:9) stand in no need of comment: for John and Paul, who had a perfect understanding of Old and New alike, have already explained them” (v. 325, vii. 671, vi. 71).

A brief review of Chrysostom’s treatment of some of the more important quotations from the Old Testament by writers of the New will best illustrate his method.

Psalm 15 (16):10, (Acts 2:27; 13:35). Chrysostom passes over the quotation in St Peter’s and again in St Paul’s speech without special remark. Theodore on the other hand asserts that David by ‘Thy Holy One’ meant ‘the people,’ declaring “by a metaphor or hyperbolically that it was rescued from danger or destruction (διαφθορᾶς): but the actual and true reality is shewn forth by the Lord Christ.”

Psalm 67 (68):19 (Eph. 4:8). The LXX. has ἔλαβες δόματα: St Paul ἔδωκε δόματα. “Chrysostom contents himself with saying that the two statements are practically the same.” Theodore boldly asserts that the Apostle altered the words to suit his argument.

Hosea 1:10 (2:1); (Rom. 9:25, 26). St Paul, so Chrysostom explains, argues from a greater to a less act of compassion. If God could receive Israel back, who had become estranged after so many benefits, would not those be welcomed who had not so sinned against His goodness? Hence he applies to the calling of the Gentiles words which originally and properly refer to the restoration of Israel. Theodore explains the adaptation because the main thought is, that God does not respect natural position, but makes proof of moral character.

Hosea 11:1 (Matt. 2:15). In answer to Jewish objectors Chrysostom appeals to a law of prophecy to the effect that what is said in application to one person often finds its accomplishment in the case of a different person. Christ is God’s Son in a higher, truer sense than was Israel. “Had not Christ come, this prophecy would not have received its proper accomplishment.”

Joel 3:1 (2:28); (Acts 2:17–21). Theodore’s interpretation of this passage supplies the key to his whole position as to prophecy. He insists upon a primary meaning independent of St Peter’s application. The prophet foretells a great deliverance of God’s faithful people, terrible vengeance on His enemies. As in Joel’s days the Holy Spirit was not revealed as a Person, the promise, which is the foundation of all, ‘I will pour out my Spirit,’ becomes simply a promise of Divine favour:—“I will richly grant unto all my loving-kindness (τὴν κηδεμονίαν τὴν ἐμήν).… This is the obvious meaning.” But Theodore vindicates the Apostle’s use of the prediction on the principle that, all that concerned those of old was mean and shadowy, so that the words have a lofty tone out of all proportion to the event. The truth of the prediction is seen to receive its accomplishment in the Lord Christ. In other words, the signal deliverances of Israel were typical. The language, in which one of these was foretold by the prophet, was so exalted that the primary accomplishment did not exhaust its meaning. The blessings of Christ’s kingdom alone answered to the fulness of his words. Chrysostom on the other hand seems to refer the prophecy directly to the day of Pentecost.

Micah 5:2 (Matt 2:6). Theodore maintains a primary fulfilment in Zerubbabel and explains the phrase, ‘Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting,’ as a reference to God’s ancient promise to David and his seed. The typical nature of the Davidic Kingdom (Ps. 89) explains the use of the passage in the Gospel. Chrysostom rejects this primary reference as an opinion of “some shameless Jews,” on the double ground that the name Zerubbabel implies that he was born in Babylon, and that the terms of the prophecy, ‘whose goings forth &c.,’ could in no sense apply to him.

(2) A prophecy at times lies imbedded, having an apparent but no real connexion with its context on either side.

This Canon is in fact a corollary of the first. When a passage is stamped as having exclusively a Messianic reference, this character must be maintained even against appearances. Thus, as we have seen, Chrysostom holds that the words of the Psalm, ‘The stone which the builders rejected,’ have a primary reference to Christ. “If however the prophecy cuts the context in two, and is an interruption, there is nothing strange or novel in that: for it is thus that many of the prophecies found utterance in the Old Testament, because it was needful that they should be veiled for the time, that the books themselves should not be destroyed. For even the prediction of Christ’s birth, ‘Behold a Virgin shall conceive,’ while it seems to have a close connexion with the history, has really nothing to do with it” (v. 325, comp. v. 165, vi. 26, 72). Chrysostom’s treatment of Psalm 108 (109) is a remarkable application of this theory. Is the passage a prediction or a curse? he asks. The answer is, a prophecy in the form of a curse. Judas is the subject of part of the Psalm, other persons of the rest. “For often we find the construction of a Psalm such that its opening words refer to one person, its remaining portions to some else. Here the Psalmist passes from the fate of the traitor to speak of some one who after the Return plotted against the priesthood.” Thus Chrysostom’s theory is a compromise. By an arbitrary division of the Psalm he tries to satisfy the demands of two methods of interpretation.

(3) Prophecy uses familiar names as indicating in cypher its true subjects.

Perhaps the most startling example of this law is found in the blessing pronounced on Judah by Jacob. “It is mystical, foretelling all things concerning the Christ: His descent among men, the mystery (i.e. the Eucharist), the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection.” Chrysostom does not stand alone among the Antiochenes in this interpretation. It is unnecessary to follow it out in detail. Chrysostom links this principle of interpretation with his favourite explanation of ‘the Obscurity of the Prophets.’ “Had the Messiah been plainly spoken of in connexion with a Universal Church, the rage of the Jewish nation would have destroyed the obnoxious prophets and the obnoxious prophecies” (vi. 20). It is instructive here to compare Chrysostom with his far profounder contemporary and friend Theodore. Theodore insists always on an historical reference; but the history is ever typical, and the words of the prophets are instinct with a life and power which will not allow them to rest on those to whom they primarily apply, as though their force were spent.

(4) The prophecies of the Old Testament interpreted thus afford a solid foundation for a superstructure of distinctively Christian doctrine.

This is the necessary outcome of the principles already discussed. Indeed in the case of ancient commentators who adopted the system of mystical interpretation, such a statement would be too obviously true to need separate notice.

Thus the Psalms supply decisive proofs of the Divine Nature of the Lord. Chrysostom prefaces his exposition of Psalm 109 (110) with almost the same words with which he introduces his comments on the great Christological passage in the Philippian Epistle. The Jewish interpretations, he tells us, are numerous. Some put the Psalm into the mouth of Abraham’s servant. Others interpret ‘my Lord’ of Zerubbabel, others of the whole people. But he himself vindicates the Psalm from such a degradation, and bids us “see the prophecy shining with a clear light above the brightness of the sun.” Again, the viiith Psalm is made a handbook for the champion of orthodoxy. It would be true to say that the Psalm is the Hebrew inspired counterpart of the great Sophoclean chorus: πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει. Both alike are great hymns of humanity, and shadow forth man’s unique position in the world. This exaltation, which man instinctively claims but has never reached, the Incarnate Word, the Son of Man, has perfectly attained. The ideal is absolutely realized in Him. So the Psalm is Messianic and the Apostolic use of it is explained. But Chrysostom upholds its Messianic character on other grounds. In brief there are three stages in his argument. (a) Christ is the subject of the Psalm because of the mention of the children’s praises. Others raised the dead. Him only did babes and sucklings adore. (b) Therefore the Crucified is the Creator of the Heavens:—‘The Heavens are the work of Thy fingers.’ (c) Therefore the Lord’s preexistence is proved.

Again, the witness of prophecy is no less clear to Christ’s true Humanity. The very Psalm which is the most decisive proof of His Divine Nature, as interpreted by Chrysostom, sets before us in a parable His humiliation; ‘He shall drink of the brook (ἐκ χειμάῤῥου) in the way.’ “Here the Psalmist shews the humility, the plainness, of His life, that with no proud bearing, no company of guards, no surroundings of material pomp, He did His work, but rather living so simply that His food was barley loaves, His drink water from the brook.”

One further illustration must suffice. The words, ‘God shall come openly’ (Ps. 49 (50) 3), imply another coming which is not open, the coming in great humility. This advent was secret, because (1) the Virgin herself knew not of the mystery: (2) the devil was ignorant of it, else he would not have asked Him on the mountain, whether He were the Son of God: (3) prophecy had said, ‘He shall come down like the rain upon a fleece of wool, even as the drops that water the earth’ (Ps. 72:6). The third of these points is curious as an interpretation; the second as an almost certain reference to a passage in the letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians.

In his classification of the Books of the Old Testament, Chrysostom places in a separate division the Sapiental Books. Among these the Proverbs is the only one on which any consecutive comments by Chrysostom are preserved, and even in this case they are but fragmentary.

The Commentator’s definition of a proverb throws light on his methods of interpretation. “Proverbs,” he says, “are wise sayings, as riddles, which bear one meaning on the surface, but in a figure (ἐν ὑπονοίᾳ) suggest something quite different.… They are dark words, which appear so plain that the reader is annoyed by their lack of meaning and suggestiveness, but which, when they are examined, reveal the thought which lurks in them.”

So defined, the Proverbs might be thought to offer special scope for the exercise of the Commentator’s ingenuity. In dealing with them, Chrysostom seems to consider himself freer to indulge in allegorical interpretations than elsewhere. The following are examples of his treatment.

6:17. “They shed innocent blood who drink the Blood of the Lord and defile themselves with shameful deeds.”

19:22. The slain beasts (θύματα) are the Divine thoughts or the interpretations of Scripture. The mingled wine (κρᾶμα), the mingling of what is figurative with the history; for no man can receive Divine things when they are unmingled. For this cause in tiny portions and in divers ways Wisdom divides the Divine decrees and the interpretations of Scripture, and turns them into food for those who are becoming disciples. The slain beasts are the blessed Apostles killed in due time by unbelievers.

21:9. The corner of the housetop is a good action, linked with meditation, but it is brought to light by the Sun of Righteousness. The whited house is vice acting the part of virtue.

30:15. The leech is the Devil. For it is he who squeezes out the blood, that is, the vital power, of souls. He has daughters, not sons, because he has nothing in him which is brave, but all pleasure which is effeminate.

Chrysostom’s method of interpretation in these instances seems a large concession to a school from which he commonly held carefully aloof. In some instances he seems directly to follow Origen. Can anything be said in explanation?

As it has been already noticed, Chrysostom’s remarks in the Synopsis prepare us for some variation of treatment. He appears there to allow that the meaning which lies on the surface cannot be the true one. A commentator who even occasionally gives the reins to mystical interpretation might well believe that principles of simple logical and grammatical exegesis failed him here.

But on the other hand it seems more than probable that Chrysostom acknowledged a more literal meaning as the primary one in many, if not in all, cases. We have but fragments of his commentary on this Book, and it is obvious that the allegorical or mystical portions of his work would most commend themselves to Catenists of a later date. In some few cases the remains enable us to verify this supposition. Thus Chrysostom makes the point of the passage, ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard,’ to lie in the irony; man is sent to an irrational animal to learn virtue. The irony evaporates directly doubt rests on the primary meaning. Yet Chrysostom proceeds, “Go to the ant, that is, to the nation set at naught by the rulers of this world but which has hope in Christ.” The case is probably a typical one. The Commentator could himself find teaching in the obvious meaning of the words. But here at least other influences were strong enough to lead him habitually to place side by side with this a secondary mystical interpretation of the passage.








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