"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Popular Patristics

Mary B. Cunningham, trans.,  Wider than Heaven: Eighth-Century Homilies on the 
Mother of God (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008), 267pp.

Nonna Verna Harrison, trans., Festal Orations: St. Gregory Nazianzus (Crestwood, NY:
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008), 194pp.

Both of these books are part of the “Popular Patristics Series” brought out by SVS Press, which now numbers thirty-six volumes under the general editorship of John Behr. Both have been not merely translated by Harrison and Cunningham, but very helpfully and skillfully introduced by them. The compact size, affordable price, and the wisdom so lucidly set forth should all contribute to the success of these volumes.

Harrison’s text features a forty-five-page introduction to the life and work of him whom many Eastern Christians otherwise know as Saint Gregory the Theologian. Much of her introduction (which is largely biographical, but also features comments on Gregory’s Trinitarian theology and his theological anthropology) is draws on her own and other recent scholarship, including Brian Daley’s 2006 volume Gregory of Nazianzus, and John McGuckin’s 2001 Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography. Those readers who cannot read those two works (inter alia) for whatever reason will find that Harrison’s introductory essay does a very good job at giving an overview of the life and work of this towering Cappadocian, six of whose Orations are to be found here: the first (“On Pascha and His Slowness”), the thirty-eighth (“On the Nativity of Christ”), the thirty-ninth (“On the Baptism of Christ”), the fortieth (“On Baptism”), forty-first (“On Pentecost”) and forty-fifth (“On Holy Pascha”). A short bibliography rounds out the collection, as does an appendix which shows when Gregory’s orations are read liturgically in the Byzantine Church.

Cunningham’s volume also begins with a forty-page introduction which not merely provides very short overviews of the life of the authors whose homilies she has translated, but also deals briefly with the development of Marian feast days in the early Church, the structure of the homilies, the sources for them, and biblical and exegetical references and issues. The first homily (styled an “oration”) is by that of John the Damascene on the nativity of the Theotokos. Four homilies on the nativity follow from Andrew of Crete, and one by him on the Annunciation. Next, from Kosmas Vestitor (a “shadowy” figure who “probably lived in Constantinople sometime between AD 730 and 850” as a functionary at court and lay preacher) we have a “Sermon on the Holy Joachim and Anna, Glorious Parents of the Theotokos.” We have two homilies from Germanos of Constantinople on the entrance of the Mother of God into the temple, a third on the Annunciation, and a fourth on the consecration of a church under her patronage. From John of Euboea (about whom little is known for certain, including the spelling of his name and his provenance, which is thought to have been either Euroia in Greece or Euaria in Syria) we have a “Homily on the Conception of the Theotokos.” A short glossary and bibliography round out the collection. 

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