Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (InterVarsity Press)

Any serious student of the Bible and Patristics is well aware of and perhaps very familiar with InterVarsity PressAncient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). I eyeballed this series for years, read samples, and talked to people about it. One thing always kept me from biting the bullet and purchasing this series. It always just a felt a little incomplete to me. In the ACCS, each passage/verse of Scripture is accompanied by commentary text from various Church Fathers (including Augustine, Chrysostom, and Origen to name just a few). On the one hand, this is great because you get a wide variety of viewpoints on a specific passage. On the other hand, to someone like me who would like to read that Father's viewpoint on the whole book and not just passages, it felt incomplete to me. Luckily for me, and people like me, there is a somewhat new series out called Ancient Christian Texts (ACT). From the general introduction, "This series extends but does not reduplicate texts of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). It presents full-length translations of texts that appear only as brief extracts in the ACCS. I will be reviewing this series on my blog over the coming months/year, starting today with Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians by Ambrosiaster.

For those in the dark, like me before reading this book, Ambrosiaster ("Star of Ambrose") was an anonymous author of the earliest complete Latin commentary on St. Paul's thirteen epistles. The commentary was written during the reign of Pope Damasus, which occurred from 366-384. Originally, these commentaries were attributed to St. Ambrose. However, it was Erasmus who shed doubt on the author being St. Ambrose, and he was later proven right. The Latin text differs from the Vulgate and is probably taken from the Bible version known as the Itala. In fact, it seems he was opposed to St. Jerome's efforts to revise the old Latin version. Ambrosiaster's commentaries do not search for hidden or allegorical meanings, but instead focus on the plain and simple. He is more interested in logical or literal meaning of the text. Knowing this, it clearly distinguishes him from St. Ambrose who was very interested in a higher, mystical meaning of Scripture. To illustrate his writing style, I am going to quote his commentary on a few well-known Scripture passages.

Romans 8:28 - We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

Paul says this because the prayers of those who love God, even if they are inept will not fail them. God knows the intention of their heart and their ignorance, and will not give them things they ask for if they are harmful. Rather, he teaches them what out ought to be given to people who love God. This is what the Lord said in the Gospel: For your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him. Those who are called according to the promise are those whom God knew would be true believers in the future, so that even before they believed they were known.

1 Corinthians 13:13 - So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Love is the greatest because while faith is preached and hope pertains to the future life, love reigns. As 1 John says: By this we know his love, that he laid down his life for us. Love is therefore the greatest of the three, because by it the human race has been renewed.

It is clear just from these two passages how simple and straightforward Ambrosiaster's commentaries actually are. We can also see he has a good knowledge not only of Pauline epistles, but of the Gospels and catholic epistles as well. The beautiful thing about his commentaries are that they are verse by verse. Some ancient Christian writings were "merely" homilies, which covered whole chapters. Therefore, if there was a particularly troubling verse, it might not be covered in the homily. This isn't true with Ambrosiaster. Every chapter and every verse is covered beautifully. I am very pleased with this book Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians and I can't wait to tackle his next book Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon. If you are a lover of Scripture and Patristics, like me, you need these commentaries. Ambrosiaster is a large unknown, and he shouldn't be because he could be the most significant source of Latin Patristics between Cyprian and Jerome.

This book was provided to me for free by InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!