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Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke (1859) Preface. pp.i-xx.











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When I undertook the task of preparing for the press the Syriac Version of S. Cyril's Commentary upon the Gospel of S. Luke, discovered among the manuscripts lately obtained from Egypt, and deposited in the British Museum, I was aware that my labours would be of little practical benefit, unless I also made it accessible to theologians generally by means of an English translation. In the performance of this duty, my chief assistance has been derived from the Nova Bibliotheca Patrum of Cardinal Mai, published in 1844-58 at Rome: for so miserably defective is even the best Syriac Lexicon, that it has repeatedly happened that I have only been able to arrive with something like certainty at the meaning of a passage, by waiting until I found in some extract in Mai the equivalent in Greek of the word or phrase in question. Wherever this help has failed, I have carefully examined the use of words, in other Semitic dialects, or in the numerous Syriac works which during the last few years have issued from the press, and in which I had been in the habit of noting the occurrence of all new and unusual terms. To |iv have discussed these difficulties in notes, would have been only to crowd my pages with matter not generally interesting, and for which, I trust, I shall hereafter have a more fitting opportunity. I think, however, that I can safely say, that in no case have I come to a conclusion except upon reasonable grounds, and that, after due allowance made for possible errors, my translation will be found to convey a correct and adequate representation of the original work.

Of the value of the Commentary, I shall probably not be considered an impartial judge: still my conviction is, that it can scarcely fail of being regarded as an important addition to our means of forming an accurate judgment of what was the real teaching of one of the most famous schools of thought in the early Church. It has not indeed gained entire acceptance; its philosophy was too deep, its creed too mysterious, its longings too fervently fixed upon the supernatural, for the practical mind of the West readily to assent to doctrines which mock rather than exercise the powers of even the subtlest reason. And while the names of its doctors have become household words with us, and we owe to their labours the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity in its main outlines as we hold it at present, still the student of Church History is aware, that in many minor, though still important particulars, the teaching of the Alexandrine school was in excess of what we at present hold. The Athanasian Creed does not embody the actual tenets of Athanasius, nor of the other great masters of Alexandria, except in the form in which they were modified and altered by the influence of rival schools: and |v in like manner S. Cyril, the inheritor at once of Athanasius' throne, and of his views, often uses arguments which the Monophysites could fairly claim as giving a colour to their belief, that after the union of the two natures in Christ it was no longer lawful to distinguish their separate limits.

It was the Nestorian controversy which called out the argumentative powers and the fiery zeal of S. Cyril; and it is certainly true that in that controversy he used Nestorius unfairly, taxing him with deductions, which, however logically they might seem to follow from his opponent's teaching, yet Nestorius himself expressly denied: but it is not true that the controversy led him into statements of doctrine beyond what his predecessors in the see of Alexandria had taught. For constantly what he opposed to his rival's views was the very doctrine of S. Athanasius; and the passage which he quotes in his treatise De recta Fide, ad Imperatrices, from that father's treatise on the Incarnation of Christ, is never exceeded in any of his own dogmatic statements. Its words are as follow:---- ὁμολογοῦμεν, καὶ εἶναι αὐτὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ θεὸν κατὰ πνεῦμα, υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου κατὰ σάρκα· οὐ δύο φύσεις τὸν ἕνα υἱὸν, μίαν προσκυνητὴν καὶ μίαν ἀπροσκύνητον· ἀλλὰ μίαν φύσιν τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένην καὶ προσκυνουμένην μετὰ τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ μίᾳ προσκυνήσει. This was S. Athanasius' doctrine, this also was S. Cyril's; and it is only a falsification of the facts of history to endeavour to bring the Alexandrine school into verbal accordance with the decrees of the general council of Chalcedon. The doctrine which prevailed there was that of the rival school of Antioch, which had always firmly stood by the literal interpretation of |vi the plain letter of Scripture; a sound, judicious, common-sense school, which had never depth enough to have fought the battle of the Arian heresy with the profoundness of conviction which gave such undying energy to the great chiefs of Alexandria; but which nevertheless had under Providence its due place in the Church, and corrected the tendency of Athanasius and Cyril to a too immoderate love of the supernatural and mysterious.

That S. Cyril however felt that there was no insuperable barrier between the two schools is shown by his reconciliation with John of Antioch, and their signing common articles of faith. For essentially both Cyril and John of Antioch held the mean between the extremes of Nestorius and Eutyches; only Cyril's leaning was towards Eutyches, John's towards Nestorius. And when subsequently the council of Chalcedon, A. D. 451, modified, happily and wisely, the decrees of the previous general council of Ephesus, A. D. 431, and adopted as their standard of faith the teaching of the Antiochian school as embodied in the famous Epistola Flaviana of Leo, Pope of Rome, they acknowledged this substantial agreement between Antioch and Alexandria,----between themselves and the council of Ephesus,----by their declaration that Λέων εἶπε τὰ τοῦ Κυρίλλου,----that what Leo wrote was the same that Cyril taught. And that in the main they were right this present Commentary will shew; for S. Cyril's doctrine in it is essentially moderate. There are indeed passages in which he apparently confounds the limits of the two natures in Christ, but many more in which he gives to each its proper attributes, and bears witness to the existence of both |vii the godhead and the manhood in the one person of our Lord, inseparable, yet unconfused.

But when Mai would go further, and deny that the Monophysites had any ground for claiming S. Cyril's authority in their favour, his uncritical turn of mind at once betrays him: for he rests chiefly upon the treatise De Incarnatione Domini, Nov. Bib. Pat. ii. 32-74:, ascribed by him to S. Cyril upon the testimony of a MS. in the Vatican. But independently of other internal evidence that this piece was written subsequently to the council of Chalcedon, it is absolutely impossible that Cyril could ever have adopted the very keystone and centre of Nestorius' teaching, the doctrine I mean of a συνάφεια (pp. 59, 71), a mere juxtaposition, or mechanical conjunction of the two natures in Christ, in opposition to a real union.

In the West, under the guiding minds of Augustine and Ambrose, the council of Chalcedon met at once with ready acceptance; but not so in the East. It was there that the controversy had been really waged against Arius, and the reaction from his teaching led many of the fathers into overstrained arguments which ended in heresies, ejected one after another from the Church. As in the process of fermentation there is a thick scum upon the surface while the work of purification is going on below, so each extraneous element, after mingling for a time with the great mass of Christian truth, was at length rejected with an ease or difficulty proportioned to the intense-ness of its admixture with sounder doctrines. And thus the general orthodoxy and invaluable services of the Alexandrine school caused whatever there was of |viii exaggeration in their views long and violently to resist this purifying process in those parts of the world which had been the nearest witnesses of their struggles in defence of the doctrine of the consubstantial nature of the Son. Up to the time also of the council ofChalcedon the language of the Fathers had been vague and confused: and the expression of S. John i. 14, that "the Word was made flesh;" as it had led the Arians to affirm that the Logos was a created being, so it had led orthodox Fathers to speak as if Christ's human body was "very God." And thus the Monophysites could count up a long array of all the great names in the Church, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clemens of Rome, Irenaeus, Melito of Sardes, Felix and Julius of Rome, the Gregories, Athanasius, Basil, and many more, who had confounded in Christ the human with the divine. With such authorities on their side the conflict was long and dubious, and in Justinian's time they seemed likely to gain the ascendancy: for the Pope then was the mere creature of simony, and consequently there was nothing to balance the tendencies of the Eastern Church. Accordingly in A. D. 533 Justinian, though nominally opposed to their tenets, decreed that "one of the holy and consubstantial Trinity was crucified:" and twenty years after, the fifth general council of Constantinople authoritatively ratified the same doctrine. But in the subsequent weak reign of Justin, the Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Jurist, thwarted by the Monophysite monks whom Theodora had planted in the capital, took such vigorous measures against the leaders of the party, that their principles have since exercised no appreciable influence in the Church. |ix 

As the Monophysites had only pushed to excess the tendencies of the Alexandrine school----and it must be remembered that they are by no means to be confounded with the Eutychians, according to the fashion of Church histories in general, whereas really they anathematized them ---- the above sketch may place the reader in a position to judge of the statements of S. Cyril regarding this doctrine,----a doctrine after all of metaphysical rather than of practical importance. But, as a general rule, he will find the Commentary written in a tone of moderation, as might be expected in homilies addressed by a teacher to his own people, far from the baleful atmosphere of controversy, and in a place where his views were in full and hereditary possession of the teacher's chair. There is too a practical tone throughout, and while in his interpretation of the Old Testament he follows the usual tendencies of the fathers to see nothing there but types and allegories, in the New he chiefly follows the obvious meaning, and considers each parable or narrative or discourse as a whole, the key of which he generally finds in the occasion which gave rise to it. He even warns us against pushing the minutiae of parables into too prominent a position, by means of which the machinery to enforce a moral lesson becomes the medium for conveying some cabbalistic mystery: as when, instead of inferring the certainty of our having to give an account of the use of our worldly means from the parable of Dives and Lazarus, commentators use it to unveil the secrets of the future world; or discover the two sacraments in the pence given by the Samaritan to the host at the inn. |x 

Like many other patristic Commentaries, it was delivered in a course of short Sermons, preached extemporaneously: for so we may conclude, not only from the opening sentences of Sermon III, and the reiteration of favourite texts, but also from their evidently being quoted from memory. Repeatedly S. Cyril's reading agrees neither with the Septuagint nor with any other Greek version of the Old Testament, though occasionally he (apparently) purposely follows Theodotion. In the New Testament he was evidently most familiar with S. Matthew's Gospel, and not only does he make his ordinary quotations from it, but even introduces its readings into the Commentary, after correctly giving S. Luke's text at the head of the Sermon. And as increased attention is now being paid to the collection of the various readings of Holy Scripture contained in the works of the fathers, the caution may not be out of place, that certainly in S. Cyril, and probably in the patristic writings generally, no importance is to be attached to the substitution of the words and phrases of one Gospel for those of another.

In the headings however placed before each Sermon, we have a most valuable addition to our materials for biblical criticism: for evidently they give us the received Alexandrine text as it was read in the beginning of the fifth century; and that S. Cyril was fully aware of the importance of correctness on this head is evident from his constant allusions to the readings of the other Gospels. Its value however will best appear by a comparison between it and the chief extant authorities, and I have therefore collated it in the margin, 1°. with the readings of the great |xi Vatican MS. published posthumously by Cardinal Mai, and which I have marked as B.; 2°. with the seventh edition of Tischendorf, now in process of publication, T.; 3°. with Griesbach, G.; and, 4°. with the textus receptus, ς. I have not however considered it necessary to notice unimportant transpositions in the order of words, and where Griesbach is equally in favour of two readings, I have usually omitted his name; as also I have done with the Syriac, represented by S., in the few cases in which it corresponds as much with the one as with the other Greek reading. It will be noticed that in all cases I have represented the Syriac by its equivalent in Greek, which rule I have also followed wherever it has appeared expedient to give in the margin the original word; often however of course the Greek is actually taken from the remains in Mai.

The most cursory glance at the margin will shew that the high expectation naturally formed of the probable value of so ancient a text is fully carried out in fact. Its readings are almost always supported by one or other of the chief authorities, far more so than those of B. itself. And even where it seems to stand alone, an examination of the readings in Tischendorf will almost universally shew that there is a strong array of evidence in its support among the most valued MSS., while it contains nothing which modern criticism has definitely condemned. One observation is however necessary, namely, that the Syriac language indulges in a fuller use of pronouns even than our own; and though I have noticed in the margin their addition wherever they might possibly |xii exist in the Greek, yet, like those in italics in our own version, they are really not to be regarded as variae lectiones, but only as the necessary result of the idiom of the language.

It may however be asked, whether the Syriac translator may be depended upon in his rendering of the. original Greek text. To this I can answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative: wherever the Greek is extant in Mai's collection, the exactness with which it is reproduced in the Syriac without the slightest alteration of tense and number, and with the most curious expedients for rendering those compound words in which Greek delights, is marvellous. Wherever also Mai has misunderstood a passage, or wrongly punctuated a sentence, it is as a usual rule correctly given in the Syriac, and though occasionally it has erred, as in rendering σχοῖνος, in Jer. viii. 8, by "cord," whereas it really means "pen," still such instances are extremely rare.

At the same time the translator has been guilty of one fault, which I am the more anxious to mention, as otherwise it might be laid to my own charge, namely, that he has taken no care to render each quotation always in the same words. The most glaring instance of this occurs in Is. i. 23, where no less than three different renderings are given of "Thy princes are disobedient" one only of which is the exact equivalent of the Greek ἀπειθοῦσι, though none deviate far from it; while the Peschito gives a fourth word, the equivalent of the Hebrew "rebellious." Similarly the words σωρηρίους ἐπιφανείας in Amos v. 22, have greatly puzzled the Syriac translator, who renders |xiii them sometimes by "your appearances for salvation," sometimes "the salvation of your appearances," the language not admitting of a literal rendering on account of its scanty use of adjectives. And though the same Greek text naturally suggested to the translator the same Syriac rendering, still he has not troubled himself about maintaining verbal identity in the various places in which the same text occurs. For my own part, originally I made an entry of each text upon translating it, for the purpose of retaining as much verbal accuracy as possible; but when I found these variations in the Syriac, I gave up the attempt, and following the same plan as my predecessor, have contented myself with carefully rendering each text as it occurred, without comparing it with previous translations, and I think it will be found that neither of us have gone far astray from the exact sense of the original.

I need scarcely mention after the above, that the Syriac translator does not take his quotations from the Peschito. Of course in the Old Testament this was impossible, as that version represents, not the Septuagint, but the Hebrew. For the same reason, the use of our own version was equally an impossibility to myself, since, as is well known, the Greek differs too considerably from the Masoretic text, of which ours is a translation, for one to be at all the equivalent of the other. I am by no means however prepared to join in the general condemnation of the Septuagint, stamped as it is by the approval of our Lord and His apostles; and though parts of it are done far less efficiently than the rest, |xiv yet whoever neglects it throws away one of the most important means for attaining to a knowledge of the original Scriptures; and I know of no more difficult question than the adjudication between the vocalising and arrangement of the Hebrew text as represented by the Septuagint, and that which gives us the subsequent tradition of the Jewish schools. Not that there is the slightest room for doubting the authenticity and genuineness in all substantial points of the Scriptures of the Old Testament; for the question affects only the vowels and the division of words; and the vowels in Semitic languages are not so important as in those of the Indo-Germanic family. To the present day no Jewish author ever expresses them in writing, though they have so far adopted modern customs as no longer to string their consonants together in one unbroken line. Necessarily, however, under such circumstances reading in ancient times was a matter of no slight difficulty, and hence the dignity of the profession of the scribe, and the wonder of the Jews at our Lord and His apostles possessing the requisite knowledge. The Septuagint therefore possesses especial value, as being both the first attempt at fixing the meaning of the uncertain elements in the Hebrew language, and as dating prior to the establishment of Christianity: and though Jewish tradition subsequently grew more exact, and eliminated many mistakes into which the authors of the Septuagint had fallen, still the fact that these subsequent labours of the Jewish schools first found their expression in the version of Aquila, who had deserted Christianity, and published his translation as a rival |xv to the Septuagint, and certainly with no kindly intention towards the religion which he had abandoned, may well make us hesitate before we so unceremoniously decry a version, the mistakes of which can be ascribed to nothing worse than simple inefficiency. That from such hands and under such auspices the Masoretic text is so trustworthy, and so free from any real ground of suspicion, entirely as regards its consonants, and to a great extent as regards its vowels, is the result, under God's Providence, of the extreme reverence of the Jews for the letter of those ordinances which had been entrusted to their keeping, since the Christian Church was by no means aware of the importance of an exact inquiry into the true meaning of the earlier Scriptures, and contented itself with receiving what the Jews provided for its use; even Jerome himself scarcely giving us more than what his Jewish masters taught him, and Origen's knowledge of Hebrew being about as much as could be expected from the time it took him to acquire it.

In the New Testament the case was different: for of course it was just possible there to have used the words of our authorized Version. But so to have done would have brought me into constant opposition to my text; for I had not the Greek before me, but a Syriac rendering of it, punctuated to an extreme degree of nicety, and fixing the meaning to one definite sense. It seemed therefore my only honest course to reproduce as exactly as I could the version of the Syriac translator. Whether I should myself in all cases have given the same meaning to the original |xvi Greek is an entirely distinct thing; for the duty of a translator is not to give his own views, but those of his author. Still, as the memory naturally suggested the language of the authorized Version, it will no doubt be found to have exercised no little influence upon the words which I have used.

But it seemed to me expedient for another reason to reproduce as exactly as possible the renderings of the Syriac translation. For the perfecting of the English translation of the Inspired Word is one of the noblest tasks which the mind of man can undertake: and though there may be evils attendant upon interfering with our present noble Saxon Version, still none can be so great as its being regarded by a gradually increasing proportion of the community as deficient in correctness. To commission however any body of scholars, however competent, to undertake a completely new version, or at present even a general revision of what we have, would be, in my opinion, at least premature. The controversy ought to be carried on in a region distinct from the book which we use in our worship and devotion: and such at present is the case, the attempts at improvement being made by individuals, and not by any constituted authority. When, however, there has been gained a sufficient mass of results generally received, the time will have come for the proper steps to be taken for admitting them into the authorized version. And possibly in the New Testament the labours of so many scholars and commentators may in a few years bring matters to such a pass as may justify the proper authorities in undertaking its revision: but in |xvii the Old Testament the case is very different, and a lengthened period of far more profound study of Hebrew literature than at present prevails, carried on by many different minds, is required before anything more could be done than to bring the translation in a few unimportant particulars nearer to the Masoretic text.

In the present translation, therefore, I have used the utmost exactness in rendering all quotations from Holy Scripture, in the hope that it might not be without is value to shew in what way the New Testament was understood and rendered by so competent and ancient an authority as the Syriac translator of this present work.

It remains now only to mention the relation in which the Syriac Version of the Commentary stands to the Greek remains collected by Mai, and of which I have given a translation wherever the MS. of the Syriac was unfortunately defective.

As early then as the year 1838 Mai had shewn the great value of this Commentary by the extracts published in the tenth volume of his Auctores Classici: and from that time he laboured assiduously in making his collection as complete as possible, until at length in the 2nd vol. of his Bib. Pat. Nova, the fragments gathered by him from twelve different Catenae, together with a Latin translation, occupy more than 300 quarto pages.

But the critical acumen of Mai was by no means commensurate with his industry. With the usual fault of collectors, the smallest amount of external |xviii evidence was sufficient to override the strongest internal improbability: nor apparently did his reading extend much beyond those Manuscripts, among which he laboured with such splendid results. At all events, though Cyril was an author whom he greatly valued, not only does he ascribe to the Commentary a vast mass of matter really taken from Cyril's other works, but even numerous extracts from Theophylact, Gregory Nazianzen, and other writers, whose style and method of interpretation are entirely opposed to the whole tenor of Cyril's mind.

Although it scarcely belonged to my undertaking to sift these extracts, yet, as it might have thrown a suspicion upon the genuineness of the Syriac Version to find it unceremoniously rejecting nearly a third of what Mai had gathered, I have in most cases indicated the work or author to whom the rejected passages belong. A few still remain unaccounted for; but as the principle of Niketas, the compiler of the chief Catena upon S. Luke, confessedly was to gather from all Cyril's works whatever might illustrate the Evangelist's meaning, and as in so doing he often weaves two, or even three distinct extracts into one connected narrative, it is no wonder if it was more easy to gather such passages than to restore the disjecta membra to their original position. Several extracts also which escaped me at the time have since met my eye, of which the only one of importance is the remarkable explanation of the two birds at the cleansing of the leper, conf. Com. on Luke v. 14, and which is taken from a letter of Cyril to Acacius. |xix 

But the value of the Commentary does not arise simply from the uncertainty attaching to what Mai has gathered, but also from the superior form in which it gives what really is Cyril's own. As a general rule, the Catenists give conclusions without premisses, striking statements separated from the context which defines their meaning, results as true generally which are only true particularly, or which at least are greatly modified by the occasion which led to them. As it is moreover the manner of the Catenists often to introduce extracts by a summary of what precedes them, or where their length precluded their admission to give an abstract of them in briefer words, it often happens that a passage really Cyril's is followed in Mai by an abstract of itself taken from some smaller Catena: and thus an amount of confusion and repetition is occasioned which contrasts unfavourably with the simplicity of arrangement and easiness of comprehension which prevail throughout the Commentary itself.

Nevertheless Mai probably took the best course in confining himself to the simple collection of materials: and at all events his works are carefully edited, punctuated intelligibly, and translated with very considerable correctness. No one, in using his very voluminous works, however much he may be inclined to regret his want of critical ability, will accuse him of an inefficient treatment of the materials before him. The very reverse is the case with the other Catena which I have used, and which was edited by Dr. Cramer.

In itself it is of considerable intrinsic value, but is |xx entirely untranslateable, except by one who will take the trouble of restoring the text, and entirely altering Dr. Cramer's punctuation.

In conclusion, I have to return my thanks to the Delegates of the University Press for undertaking both the publication of the Syriac Version of S. Cyril's Commentary, and also of the present English translation.

Oxford, Jan. 1859.

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