Monday, July 6, 2015

Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Intervarsity Press)

Think about the best book that you have ever read. What makes it so great? How many times have you read it? Is your life changed for the better because of it? Now, imagine if that book had never been finished, or if parts of it were just missing. You saw parts of the picture, but you couldn't see the whole image. How disappointed would you be? Well, that is exactly how Thomas Aquinas felt with the books that I am reviewing today. There exists an incomplete anonymous commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, which Intervarsity Press has published in two volumes as part of their Ancient Christian Texts series. The translator, James A. Kellerman, had this to say in his introduction: "As Thomas Aquinas was approaching Paris, a fellow traveler pointed out the lovely buildings gracing that city. Aquinas was impressed, to be sure, but he sighed and stated that he would rather have the complete Incomplete Commentary on Matthew than to be mayor of Paris itself." Before, I get to what is present in the two volumes, let's cover what is missing. For starters, it abruptly ends at Matthew 25, so that is three chapters missing right there. There are also gaps of Matthew 8:11-10:15 and 13:14-18:35. That's another five complete chapters missing and pieces missing from four other chapters. It's not exactly half of the commentary missing, but I can see how it feels like it.

Volume 1 contains 27 homilies on Matthew, which span from Matthew 1 to Matthew 11, except for those passages I mentioned above. Volume 2 also contains 27 homilies, which span from Matthew 12-25. That is very impressive considering most of the missing texts occur after Chapter 12. The Prologue begins with an explanation of why the Gospel was written. In the time after Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension, there was a great persecution in Palestine, which put Christians at risk of being scattered and without a teacher, i.e, an Apostle or one of his successors, Therefore, they asked Matthew to compose the history of Jesus' life and also "teach the disposition of an evangelical life." For that reason, he ordered his Gospel into seven sections: 1. Christ's birth, 2. His Baptism, 3. His temptation, 4. His teachings, 5. His miracles, 6. His Passion, and 7. His Resurrection and Ascension. 

So what do the homilies look like? Let me put it this way, these are not your typical Sunday morning homilies. In fact, the one on Matthew 1 is approximately 30 pages, and with a book that measures 7" x 10" this is truly an impressive feat. In this homily, the anonymous writer chooses not to gloss over the genealogy of Jesus by picking a few big names out to talk about, but instead he explains the importance of over 25 of Jesus' descendants. He then explains the significance of Matthew's genealogy and also why it is divided into three sections of fourteen. Let that sink in for a minute, and think about your average Catholic Mass-goer. Today, some of us get annoyed/antsy in Mass when a priest's homilies goes over five minutes long. Can you imagine them sitting through this homily? You have to truly admire the faith and thirst for spiritual wisdom of the early Christians.

Matthew Chapters 5 through 7 are where the Sermon on the Mount occurs, and thankfully these the homilies for these important chapters remain intact. The commentary on the Beatitudes was beautiful, but I especially enjoyed reading his exposition on The Lord's Prayer. Matthew 7:21-23 are perhaps some of the scariest in the Bible. In this passage, it talks about people who think they will be saved, but at the very end, Jesus tells them that He did not know them and to depart from Him. After reading the homily on this particular section, I felt a little bit comforted with the Scripture passage. Though, I'm not sure if I was supposed to feel this way or not. The commentator equates those who are cast into the fire as eternal liars. Even after their death, they are still liars. Therefore, it made me feel that those cast in the fire were not ones who did good works for the Father but lacked faith, but instead these were ones who lied about doing good works for the Father when in reality they did not.

The depth and beauty of these homilies make them truly a worthwhile read. The commentator applies an allegorical method in them, but unlike strict allegory, he doesn't ignore the literal meaning of the Scripture as well. If you love the Gospel of Matthew and want to read what St. Thomas Aquinas read, then these are two volumes that you won't want to miss out on!

These books were provided to me for free by Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!