Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Book Review: Ancient Christian Texts- Ambrosiaster's Commentaries On Galations-Philemon

Length: 166 pages
9.9 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
Binding: hardcover
IVP Academic (September 30, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0-8308-2920-0
IVP Order Code: 2920

There is a problem in contemporary biblical criticism. Some say it began with Baruch Spinoza, while others trace it back even further to William of Ockham. The problem manifests itself in the historical-critical method, which, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, is a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” It operates on the notion that if certain phenomena are unobservable in our time, then it didn’t exist in antiquity either. This can lead to major problems when it comes to examining the miracles of the New and Old Testaments. They are often explained away as mere pious exaggeration.

Another problem concerning contemporary views of Scripture is the wide chasm between exegesis and theology. This dichotomy is surely of modern invention. When we look back on the great minds of Christianity, we see that this wasn’t always the case. It used to be that the Sacred Page was the soul of theology and Vatican II sought to once again make it so, but like so many other aspects of the Second Vatican Council, it has yet to be fully realized. However, there are a noble few who are working towards implementing this call of Vatican II, both inside and outside of the Church.

One of these few is Thomas Oden and his collaborators in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) series published by InterVarsity Press. This series has served to remind us that the Church Fathers are the locus for the reuniting of exegesis and theology. In the Fathers, exegesis informs theology and theology informs exegesis. More importantly Scripture is read ex corde ecclesiae, from the heart of the Church. In the ACCS series we were introduced to a plethora of Church Fathers, from both East and West, and their line by line commentaries on all of the books of Sacred Scripture (some of which had never before appeared in English). The downside to this format is that you only get little snippets of the Fathers’ commentaries. For those who do not have the means or training to look up the full commentary in the original language, this can leave one burning with a desire for more, yet with no means of which to quench it.

Until now, that is. Oden and Gerald Bray have provided us with the fulfillment of our desire in the form of the Ancient Christian Texts (ACT) series. ACT presents for the first time in English full commentaries by the likes of Ambrosiaster, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cyril of Alexandria, and many others. The translations are fresh and modern (described as a “thought-for-thought translation”) in order for the reader to take away as much as possible. This philosophy of translation allows the commentaries to be accessible to all. Currently in the series are:

Ambrosiaster’s Commentaries on Galatians--Philemon (hardcover)
Ambrosiaster’s Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (hardcover)
Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary on the Gospel of John (hardcover)
Origen’s Homilies on Numbers (hardcover)

Many thanks to Heather Mascarello and the good folks at InterVarsity Press who have provided me with a review copy of Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Galatians-Philemon. Ambrosiaster is an enigmatic Father of the Church, the writings of whom were once thought to be those of Ambrose of Milan. This alone gives witness to the importance of his corpus. His exegetical method is practical and pastoral. He also shows a good knowledge of the Jewish laws and Scripture, which is evidenced especially in his commentaries on Galatians and Philippians. Consequently, his knowledge of Judaism led some to falsely believe that he was the Jewish convert, Isaac of Rome. Regardless of his true identity, his Pauline commentaries are of great importance to the history of exegesis, on par with those of Chrysostom.

The Ancient Christian Texts series is to be highly recommended for anyone who is interested in Patristic exegesis. I look forward to reading the titles already published and wait in anticipation of future volumes.

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