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Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, LFC 43, 48 (1874/1885).  Preface to the online edition.

Some time ago I became aware that the Oxford Movement Library of the Fathers series contained a translation of the Commentary on the gospel of St. John by Cyril of Alexandria.  The translation was split into two volumes, 43 and 48, each of more than 600 pages.  The first volume was translated by P.E. Pusey, who also edited the Greek text during the 1870's.  The volume is very uncommon, since most collections of this series tend to end with the volumes issued before 1850; all volumes issued during the 1870's are rare.  But still more uncommon is the second volume, which was the last volume in the series and was issued in 1885 after the death of both P. E. Pusey and his father, Oxford Movement founder E. B. Pusey. This was translated by Thomas Randell.  Through the cooperation of a faraway academic library I was enabled to obtain photocopies of both.  The circumstances under which the second volume was produced are detailed in the preface to it by H. P. Liddon, which is online here.

The language of the first volume is called 'quaint' by Liddon.  Readers may find other words for language which might be described as pseudo-Jacobean, except that King James I undoubtedly would have found it as baffling as we do.  I commend to a reader with time on his hands the exercise of modifying a sentence or two into modern English.  My own experience was that a complete recasting was necessary.  It seems that a contemporary reviewer harshly criticised this strange version, thereby inducing Pusey to abandon the effort.  Fortunately Randell's volume is rather more readable.

Volume 1 contained a 50 page preface, mainly by E. B. Pusey.  This hardly refers to the Commentary at all.  I did attempt to scan it, but after scanning 20 pages with great labour I abandoned the attempt.  I will complete this if there is any public demand for it.

The text of Cyril's work has not come down to us complete.  Books 7 and 8 are lost.  However P. E. Pusey included in his edition a number of fragments of these books.  I learn from the Patrology of J. Quasten (vol. 3) that the authenticity of these fragments is questionable, however.  The source of these is unfortunately not indicated by Pusey.  

The preface should have discussed the source of these fragments, and also the manuscript tradition of the work.  In its absence, I have here translated and abbreviated the following from the praefatio to Pusey's edition of the Greek text in 3 volumes, Sancti Patri nostri Cyrilli archiepiscopi Alexandrini In divi Joannis evangelium; Accedunt fragmenta varia necnon tractatus ad Tiberium diaconum duo / edidit Philippus Edwardus Pusey.  Oxford (1872):

These volumes of Cyril's works contain those surviving works of this holy man which comment on the New Testament;---- excluding the fragments of his work on St. Luke, which were edited from the Syriac by Rob. P. Smith, Dean of Canterbury; for many of the Greek and Syriac sources are printed in his English translation ---- and likewise excluding some relics of the lost commentary on St. Matthew.

We have been able to considerably improve the text of Cyril's largest work, the Commentary on John.  Our predecessors had at most access to a single manuscript, the Codex Barbarinus which Aubert also was allowed to inspect; this contains the first six books. Our most diligent helper, Theodorus Heysius, supplied us with this many years ago; see the description of this codex in vol. 1, p. 645.

The Vatican library contains two other manuscripts; Cod. Vat. 592, containing the first four books, and 593, containing the first four and the last four books.  Both are 15th century, and equally well written.  Very close to 593 is the manuscript of San Marco in Venice 121, of the same age, which is a copy of this manuscript.  No other manuscripts are known, and the last four books only exist in Vat. 593 and the Venice manuscript: to which can be added enough material quoted by other writers from this work, that the text has come down to us more or less complete.

These manuscripts are referenced as follows:

B = Codex Barberinus, saec. xii., containing the first six books, newly collated with the greatest care by our friend Heysius.

D = Cod. Vaticanus 592, saec. xv., containing the first four books, collated by Heysius.

E = Cod. Vaticanus 593, saec. xv., containing the first four books and the last four.  This edition is the first to use this manuscript for the first four books, as collated by Heysius.  The last four were supplied for this edition by Hugo Hinckius, Ph.D.  With this agrees

      Cod. S. Marci 121, which we spoke of above; which restores some passages lost in E through ὁμοιοτέλευτον.  Aubert used both of these.  I was unable to obtain a new collation of the Marcianus codex, but I consulted it in many places for the last four books, and refer to it as F.

Books seven and eight have long since perished.  Aubert gave what could be fragments from them, from the Catena on S. John by Nicetas, using a manuscript which once belonged to D. de Harlay, Bishop of St. Malo, now in Paris in the Bibliothèque Imperiale, Ms. Suppl. Gr. 159, bomb. saec. ca. xiv.  But Nicetas cites from many other works of Cyril, and it seemed necessary to omit many on these grounds.

The good quality of B appears clearly from various witnesses and indicators.  One error must be noted, which is common to the other manuscripts also; when the scribe made a careless mistake, often he corrected it, but instead of erasing the mistake he added above it the conjuction καὶ or ἤγουν.

Two further manuscripts of a Catena on St. John have been used.  Both were composed by Nicetas, bishop of Heraclea in Thrace, who flourished in the 11th century.  An older catena, composed by an unknown author, was printed by Corderius at Antwerp in 1630.  The following manuscripts have been used:

a = Cat. in S. Joannem Nicetiana, in the Moscow Library, Cod. 93 (once 94).

b = Cat. on the gospels in the Moscow Library, Cod. 41 (once 42), written in saec. x, cited occasionally from the same source as Corderius.

c = The fragment of the Corderian catena (between p.447 and p.889 in Cod. Bodleian Barrocian. 225, saec. xii.ex.)

I = Some folios of the same text.  Some are preserved in the library of the Holy Synod in Moscow, Cod. 119 (once 120), pp.50; others in codex 2, pp.181, 182, among the Greek manuscripts of Archbishop Wake in the Cathedral Church library at Oxford; others in a codex (containing homilies of Chrysostom, pp.140-147) in the library of S. Dionysius on the Holy Mountain.  These folios seem to have been written after the middle of the 10th century.

Catenae were not used very much for the text of the first four books, as Nicetas does not quote very much from these books, except for bits in the oldest catena edited by Corderius.  (In the same way Nicetas in his great catena on the Psalms derived material from an older epitome of a catena on the Psalms, now extant in Cod. Reg. Par. 139 and Cod. S. Marci. Ven. 17).

In books five and six, Nicetas quotes much, but B gave a better, more complete text.  For books 9-12, some use was made where gaps appeared in the manuscript.  Everything available from the fragments of books seven and eight was used.  I did not dare to go against the authority of the books.

Two other recensions of the Catena of Nicetas on S. John seem to have been produced, of which one appears in a Moscow ms. and a Paris one, which I call k.  The other, visible in the Catena Corderiana, is in the Cod. Harlaiensis, and no copy of this is known to me.

Other quotations from this Commentary on John are given in Euthymius Zigabenus, in Panoplia Dogmatica, and appear in the early pages of the commentary.  For this I used Cod. Viennensis Theol. Nessel 76, membr.  One or more excerpts of S. Cyril exist in Cod. Med. Laur. plut. vi.12, saec. xiv (= p); see vol. 1, p. 552.  But p often stands apart from EF, and seems to have come from the same archetype.

The punctuation is that of Migne.

One very interesting feature of the work is the chapter titles and numeration.  Cyril indicates at the end of the preface that these are authorial, both titles and numbers.  Chapter titles were not generally used in antiquity, although summaries sometimes were prefixed to the start of each book of Greek histories.  The work is therefore one of the first which we know to have been divided by its author into numbered chapters, and the fact that Cyril explicitly discusses this suggests that it was a novel practice in his day.  Since the subject of summaries, chapter titles and numeration is one that the world of scholarship has yet to properly address, this piece of evidence may be of value. 

14th December 2005

POSTSCRIPT: (31st December 2005)

Since writing these words, I have learned of a revision of this translation being undertaken at the moment, from a post in usenet:

Alive in Christ, the official magazine of the Diocese of Eastern Pa. of the OCA [Orthodox Church of America], has been serializing an updated and corrected version of the above text.  The revision process, conducted with frequent reference to Cyril's Greek text,  has included:

  1. updating the language to contemporary English
  2. simplifying the convoluted sentence structure by freeing it somewhat more from that of the original Greek than does Pusey, and adapting somewhat more to English
  3. retranslating some words by reference to Lampe's Patristic Greek Lexicon (which was not available to Pusey) and more recent Greek lexica
  4. correcting some errors in the earlier translation
  5. adding some additional footnotes

This is not a wholesale retranslation; the weaknesses of Pusey's work are also its strengths; namely its attempt to be a faithful translation of St Cyril's work.

A recent installment, #20, is online at and covers John 5:39-6:15. As a sample, here is of a paragraph from Pusey's text,
followed by the revision:

"We will then, looking to what is more profitable and agreeable to what preceded, read it not imperatively, but rather as in connection and with a comma. Of this kind again will be the meaning of the passage before us. For when He saw that they were ever running to the books of Moses, and ignorantly collecting thence materials for gainsaying, but seeking for nothing else, nor receiving what would avail them for due belief: needs therefore does He shew them that their labour in searching for these things is useless and unprofitable, and clearly convicts them of exercising themselves in a great and most profitable occupation in a way not becoming its use. For what tell me (saith He) is the use of your searching the Divine Scriptures, and supposing that by them ye will attain unto everlasting life, but when ye find that they testify of Me and call Me everlasting life, ye will not come to Me that ye might have life? Whence then ye ought to be saved (He saith) ye perceive not that thence ye get the greatest damage to your own souls, ye who are sharpened from the Mosaic books only unto gainsaying, but the things whereby ye could gain eternal life, ye do not so much as receive into your minds."

and here is the revised version:

"Looking then to what is more profitable and consistent with what preceded, we will not read it imperatively, but rather as connected and as with a comma. The meaning then of the passage before us will be something like this. For when he saw that they were always running to the books of Moses and ignorantly gathering from them materials for argument, but not seeking for anything else, nor receiving what would be useful to them for due belief, he therefore necessarily shows them that their labor in searching for these things is useless and unprofitable, and clearly convicts them of exercising themselves in a great and most profitable occupation in a way not becoming its use. For he says, Tell me, what is the use of your searching the Divine Scriptures, and supposing that by them you will attain to everlasting life, but when you find that they testify of me and call me everlasting life, you are not willing to come to me that you may have life? So, while you ought to be saved by [studying] this, he says, you do not perceive that from it you are getting the greatest damage to your own souls -- you who are sharpened from the Mosaic books only for argument, but the things by which you could gain eternal life, you do not so much as receive into your minds."

It is planned to publish the revised revised version now being serialized. The published version will include further emendations and will add most of the critical footnotes and margin comments in the original, some of which are being omitted from the current serialization.

The pace of the serialized version has picked up significantly, and, God willing, publication of the commentary should be completed to the half-way point within about 2 1/2 years. That would be a logical point at which to publish the first of two volumes.

I think we must all commend the initiative of those responsible.  It seems that this will be published commercially, but under copyright.  The work is being done at St. Tikhon's Seminary, which of course has to support itself financially.

POSTSCRIPT: (27th January 2006)

The OCA is not the only group involved in making this work available again.  Some time ago I received a query from Br. John of the Dormition Skete monastery in Colorado.  They were seeking a copy of the second volume, with the intention of making both volumes available again in an edited form.  My own efforts to first obtain and then scan a copy of Cyril on John were prompted by this exchange.  I mentioned the OCA work to him, and he commented:

We are preparing our own edition for printing, and it will be different from the OCA translation. Ours will in general follow Pusey's translation with a few corrections where he has been a little less than exact, where differences in meaning are important.

I have also heard from other people who have been scanning passages of the text, for yet other purposes.  It seems that the availability of this text online fills a long-felt need.  But of course printed editions are more desirable yet.  If anyone else is interested in this work, I am very happy to hear from them using this link.

POSTSCRIPT: (9th February 2006)

I have now examined Pusey's Greek text, and incorporated a chunk of his praefatio into this page.

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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2005. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

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