“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” writes G. K. Chesterton in this well-known quotation from Orthodoxy. What the Ancient Christian Texts commentary series does is bring classic Christian writings to the table so that they too have a voice in the exposition and application of Scripture.
Like the unknown author of this incomplete commentary on Matthew, who was steeped in an early exegetical tradition, their style and content differ from modern commentators. They see things that those of us who are walking around might miss.
That’s not to say that this particular volume doesn’t have its deficiencies. It’s missing Matthew 8:14-10:15, 14-18 and 26-28. The text consists of 27 homilies covering the balance of the passages and an index.
Theologically, the author has “one of the milder forms of Arianism that survived in the fifth century.” A handful of passages reflect the author’s understanding that the Son is inferior to the Father. The author also has views that have been characterized as Pelagianism, but may be more indicative of an asceticism that may seem Pelagian. The translator explains it like this: “holiness and sanctification receive far more attention than grace and forgiveness, and there is a greater emphasis on the power of the human will to resist evil and to choose good.”
Marriage is seen as something that “ceases to be sin, nonetheless it does not deserve to be called righteousness.” The commentator believes that Joseph never knew Mary after Jesus was born, “Joseph saw that she remained a virgin after her birth…. But after he (Joseph) learned that she had been made the temple of the only-begotten God, how could he have taken possession of this temple?” The attentive reader will encounter other questionable thought. Additionally, some of the allegories are tedious.
Like the previous commentary that I read in this series, what makes this worth reading are the devotional insights, which obviously stem from the devout lifestyle of the commentator. He lifts up a standard of holiness that is challenging. There is much that edifies.
It springs from the author’s practical orientation. This is highlighted in his views on teaching: “Teaching was invented not so much for the sake of revealing obscure matters as much as for the sake of stirring up the heart and spirit…. Let him who teaches be an example of his own words so that he might teach more by his actions than by his speech, as the apostle said to Timothy, ‘Set the believer an example.’”
His devout outlook also lends beauty to his writing: “When the sun is getting near its rising point, before it appears, it sends out its rays and makes the east grow light, that the dawn that goes before it may show the coming of the day. So when the Lord was born into the world, before he appeared, he illumined John (the Baptist) by imparting the splendor of his Spirit to him, that he might go before him and announce the coming of the Savior …”
Rather than read this like a book, which can be wearisome, it’s better to use this as a resource to supplement your own study of Matthew. If one’s heart is focused on what can be gleaned, you can easily pass over the chaff to find what will be beneficial.
The ancients still speak and their voice is still heard. It will be worthwhile to have all the volumes in this series.
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Michael Dalton (mdalton)
I live in Eureka on the coast of Northern California. I am about 250 miles north of San Francisco. Our redwood trees are some of the tallest in the world. I like books, music, movies, … more
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In the translator's introduction to this volume, James Kellerman relates the following story: As Thomas Aquinas was approaching Paris, a fellow traveler pointed out the lovely buildings gracing that city. Aquinas was impressed, to be sure, but he sighed and stated that he would rather have the completeIncomplete Commentary on Matthewthan to be mayor of Paris itself. Thomas's affection for the work attests its great popularity during the Middle Ages, despite its significant missing parts--everything beyond the end of Matthew 25, with further gaps of Matthew 8:11--10:15 and 13:14--18:35. Despite the gaps what remains is quite lengthy, so much so that we offer the work in two volumes, comprising fifty-four homilies. While the early-fifth-century author displays a few Arian propensities in a handful of passages, for the most part the commentary is moral in nature and therefore orthodox and generic. The unknown author, who for several centuries was thought to be John Chrysostom, follows the allegorizing method of the Alexandrians, but not by overlooking the literal meaning. His passion, above all, is to set forth the meaning of Matthew's Gospel for his readers. Here for the first time this ancient work is made available in English, ably translated by James A. Kellerman and edited by Thomas C. Oden.