The Benedictine editor has already noticed the principal points in which these Homilies differ from others in which St. Chrysostom comments upon Holy Scripture. They are far more controversial than is usual with him, and the part devoted to moral exhortation is shorter. This may be partly owing to the number of passages in St. John which bear on the doctrine of our Lord's Person and His Divine and Human Natures. But it seems further that they were delivered to a select audience at an early hour of the day. For toward the latter part of Hom. XXXI. he contrasts the coolness of the morning, in which they were assembled, with the mid-day heat, in which the woman of Samaria listened to our Lord. And the character of the instruction given almost unquestionably marks the hearers as having been less miscellaneous, and less liable to be supposed wanting in points of common duty, than those whom he generally addressed.
They do not give their own date, but are referred to by the Author, while still at Antioch, as already published, in Hom. VII. on 1 Cor. ii.8. |However, the manner of this way of knowledge and of that hath already been declared in the Gospel; and, not to be continually handling the same topic, thither do we refer our readers.| The place is St. John viii.19 treated in Hom. XLIX.
And since the three first years after St. Chrysostom was ordained Priest, A.D.386-8, seem completely filled up, and the Homilies in St. Matthew were probably prior to these, it is most likely that they were not begun before A.D.390, while those on some of the Epistles of St. Paul seem to have come after them, and still before the year 398, in which he was removed to Constantinople.
In either city there were numerous heretics of the sect against which he is most careful to supply arguments, the Anomoeans, who held that the Son is not even of like [much less of the same] substance with the Father. And even in his less generally controversial works, we often meet with discussions of their tenets. But in these Homilies he is continually meeting with texts which they perverted to the maintenance of their heresy, and turning them into weapons for its confutation. And this he usually does with great success, since the Catholic doctrine of the true and perfect Godhead, united in One Person with true and perfect Manhood, affords a key that easily opens texts which most stubbornly resist any confused notion of an inferior Divinity, or an unreal Humanity. The texts urged by the heretic, put to this test, are found not really to belong to him. They are not even arguments so far for his view of the case, but perfectly consistent with the truth always held by the Church. There may remain a few cases, after attentive study, in which it is difficult to be sure what is the exact meaning, or even whether a given text speaks of the Godhead or of the Manhood, but as to the general doctrine of the whole Scripture, or the consistency of that doctrine with any and every text therein contained, there is no reasonable doubt. There are those whose faith seems to tremble on the balance when such a passage of Scripture is under discussion, but this must be either from an inveterate habit of doubting, or an imperfect apprehension of the real meaning of the Catholic doctrine. The most skillful commentator may occasionally fall into a critical error, but no one who has ever fully entered into the sense of Holy Scripture will dream of the alternative being between such and such an exposition and the acceptance of heresy. Enough is clear to make us very sure what will be the doctrine of any difficult passage, though we may be in doubt of its interpretation. St. Chrysostom is usually right, and not only so, but most ingenious in detecting the rhetorical connection of sentiments and arguments. If anywhere he fails, it is from some over-refinement in rhetorical analysis, and not from any want of apprehension of the main truths concerned.
In the first volume of the Benedictine edition there is a series of Homilies against the Anomoeans, in the first of which he states that he had been unwilling for some time to enter on the controversy, for fear of driving away hearers who held those opinions, but that he had now taken it up at their earnest request. These Homilies were delivered some time before those on St. John, beginning in the first year after his ordination with those |On the Incomprehensible Nature of God,| in opposition to the pretensions of that sect to the perfect knowledge of Divine things. And the Benedictine Editor refers to them as containing a more complete array of the positive evidence of St. John to the Catholic doctrines than even this commentary affords.
The history of the woman taken in adultery is omitted in this commentary, and the Benedictine editor was not able to trace it in any of the works of St. Chrysostom. It is suggested that his copies may have wanted the passage, or that he may have omitted it for fear it should be taken as an encouragement to vice. But he was not the man to shrink from so slight a difficulty, nor would he have failed, in commenting on it, to leave an impression on the hearer by no means calculated to lessen his dread of sin. Such a reason may have prevailed with some copyists to suppress the passage, and it is probable that it was not found in the copy which he used. It is omitted in like manner by St. Cyril of Alexandria.
The text of Savile has been followed, except where the Benedictine edition has supplied improvements. The Benedictine sections are numbered throughout: where the division seemed to be inconvenient, the number is given in the margin. In the earlier Homilies a second series of numbers is employed to mark the sections in the translation; this was discontinued as unnecessary, and the Benedictine only retained. In some of the references to the Psalms, where the Septuagint differs much from the Hebrew, the numbers given are those of the Greek. Care will be taken in the Index of Texts to give always the reference to the Psalm and Verse according to the Hebrew reckoning followed in our own Version.
The editors are indebted for the present translation to the Rev. G. T. Stupart, M.A., late Fellow of Exeter College. It has been kindly carried through the Press by the Rev . J. G. Hickley, B.D., Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. The translation of the remaining Homilies is completed, and will shortly be in the Press.
Feast of St. Andrew, 1848.