Monday, April 15, 2013

8X - Eusebius, 9X - Jerome, 10X - Chrysostom

I have returned my books to the library for a rest. But I must give you at least a briefest of summaries continuing the series, on Brevard Childs' The Struggle to understand ISAIAH as Christian Scripture.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c 260-340) is best known for his Ecclesiastical History and his Onomasticon, but recently "an almost complete commentary on Isaiah, long thought lost," has been discovered. In the spirit of his times, Childs writes, Eusebius "focuses his attention, above all, on showing that the message of the Old Testament was consistent in its promise of God's blessing to the nations who form God's new people into a godly polity."

I guess we shouldn't be surprised at this successionist position. It was the default position up until the middle of the last century.

Eusebius appears to have relegated allegory to the periphery of his interpretive work, but also to have used it. E.g. with respect to the prophecy concerning (not against) Egypt in Isaiah 19:1, he interprets it "according to its 'historical sense' ... as the body that he received when formed through the Holy Spirit by the blessed virgin." I suppose this is more Christological rather than allegorical, but it is not literal as is his interpretation of Isaiah 19:4, where "the hand of a hard master is literally fulfilled ... when, at the end of the Ptolemaic rule, Egypt was conquered by the Romans." And this too is long-distance (400 years) after the fact attribution, hardly a historical reading, but more a shot in the dark.

Of Jerome, the part I noted on my first reading remains the highlight for me. That is his careful attention to grammar and philology. So in Isaiah 6:6, he recognizes an ambiguity "of whether the seraphim covered God's face and feet or their own with their wings". The KJV preserves the ambiguity. Most other translations switch to plural their rather than his. Ottley notes that the LXX switches to the plural. But Isaiah needs protection from the fire, so it would make sense that the angels who always behold the face of God, would cover his face on behalf of the human.

Of the honey-tongued Chrysostom, his concern with the poor and the helpless speaks well of him. With respect to allegory in relation to the Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5), he writes: "We ourselves are not the lords over the rules of interpretation, but must pursue scriptures' understanding of itself, and in that may make use of the allegorical method. ... This is everywhere a rule in Scripture: when it wants to allegorize, it tells the interpreters of the allegory, so that the passage will not be interpreted superficially. ... For Chrysostom, a proper use of allegory is to recognize the figurative dimension implied by the text itself."