25 November 2009

Bl Theophylact Rears His Head, Twice

Yes, readers, my wife has been much occupied of late, and it has afforded me a few more opportunities to make use of her computer for blogging purposes. As I chanced to come across a couple of interesting things yesterday which were linked together in a Logismoic manner, I thought a post appropriate.

First of all, while watching my children play outside I was passing the time by looking through my book of the poems of Edward Taylor—The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton U, 1974)—about which I posted here. Included as an appendix is a catalogue of Taylor’s library, deemed uncommonly large for ‘such a remote settlement as Westfield’ and including some unusual items for that time and place (p. 201). Among these is one that caught my eye and led in part to this post:

15 Theophilact upon the Evangelists fol: 7s.
THEOPHYLACTUS, archbishop of Achrida. In quator Evangelia enarrationes. Cologne, 1532, and later translations. fo. BM.

Turning to Blessed Theophylact for help with a difficult Gospel passage in preparing a sermon, on the edge of what was at the time the American wilderness, little could Taylor have known that almost three hundred years later a Protestant convert to Orthodox Christianity on this continent would produce the first English translation of this very commentary!

The second piece of the post appeared in my e-mail box rather late yesterday evening. Notifying me of a Facebook message from Fr Mark Christian (OCA-Baton Rouge), who has now definitely earned his ‘scene cred’ amongst us emerging ‘Orthodox neo-Trads’, it read:

Just noticed the Ochlophobe's endorsement of your posts on toll-houses. They were quite helpful—thank you!

I was intrigued during last week's sermon prep by an observation made by Blessed Theophylact on the parable of the foolish rich man in Luke 12:16ff. At the end, the voice of God speaks to the rich man saying, ‘Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee’ (or so we read in many English translations). Theophylact, ostensibly reading in Greek (well before there were any English translations), notes this rendering: ‘Fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee.’

Commenting on the mysterious ‘they’, the saintly expositor notes the following:

Notice also the words, they will require. Like some stern imperial officers demanding tribute, the fearsome angels will ask for your soul, and you will not want to give it because you love this life and claim the things of this life as your own. But they do not demand the soul of a righteous man, because he himself commits his soul into the hands of the God and Father of spirits, and he does so with joy and gladness, not in the least bit grieved that he is handing over his soul to God. For him the body is a light burden, easily shed. But the sinner has made his soul fleshy, something in substance like the body and like the earth, rendering it difficult to separate from the body. This is why the soul must be demanded of him, the same way that harsh tax collectors treat debtors who refuse to pay what is due. See that the Lord did not say, ‘I shall require thy soul of thee’, but, they shall require. For the souls of the righteous are already in te hands of God. Truly it is at night when the soul of such a sinner is demanded of him. It is night for this sinner who is darkened by the love of wealth, and into whom the light of divine knowledge cannot penetrate, and death overtakes him. Thus he who lays up treasure for himself is called foolish: he never stops drawing up plans and dies in the midst of them. But if he had been laying up treasure for the poor and for God, it would not have been so. Let us strive, therefore, to be rich toward God, that is, to trust in God, to have Him as our wealth and the treasury of wealth, and not to speak of my goods but of ‘the good things of God’. If they are God’s, then let us not deprive God of His own goods. This is what it means to be rich toward God: to trust that even if I empty myself and give everything away, I will not lack the necessities. God is my treasury of good things, and I open and take from that treasury what I need.

The passage Fr Mark quotes can be found in The Explanation by Bl Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria, of the Holy Gospel According to St Luke, trans. Fr Christopher Stade, Vol. III of Bl Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom, 1997), p. 148.

Concerning the verse Bl Theophylact comments on, I took the liberty of consulting a few of my Bibles (I don’t have many!). In my critical Greek NT, I see that there are no alternate readings for the present active indicative plural ἀπαιτοῦσιν. In my interlinear NT, I see ἀπαιτοῦσιν rendered ‘they require’, with the KJV rendering in the parallel column dreadfully exposed for the change in mood (and consequently, number!—why isn’t Wayne Grudem up in arms about this?) that it is: ‘thy soul shall be required of thee’. The RSV has ‘your soul is required of you’, the apparently materialist NRSV ‘your life is being demanded of you’, the NKJV (the NT trans. duplicated uncritically in the OSB of course, and, in the case of Lk 12:20, with no acknowledgement of the actual meaning of the original or reference to Bl Theophylact’s interpretation) ‘your soul will be required of you’, and the ESV is identical to the RSV.

Of all the translations sitting on my shelf, the only one I found that matched the grammar of the Greek was The Orthodox New Testament, Vol. 1, trans. Holy Apostles Convent (Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1999), p. 254, where at last I read ‘they demand thy soul from thee’. After this, I naturally half-expected to see Bl Theophylact in the endnotes (p. 341, n. 261), but instead I found only St Basil, who in his Homily 6, ‘I Will Tear Down My Barns’, refers to the verse in this way: ‘Those who seek the soul were at hand, and this man was conversing with his soul about food! That very night his own soul would be required of him, and all the while he was imagining he would be enjoying his possessions for years to come’ (St Basil the Great, On Social Justice, trans. Fr Paul Schroeder [Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2009], p. 62).

The lesson to be learned, from the Edward Taylor library as well as Fr Mark’s contribution to materials (here and here) on the passage of the soul, is that Bl Theophylact turns up in the most unexpected places.


St. Matthew the Apostle Orthodox Church said...

I have more English translations of Holy Writ than I care to admit - the only one I've found that conveys the present active indicative plural is the.... Douay-Rhiems!

"But God said to him: Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee. And whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?"

Do I garner "street cred" with the Roman Catholic neo-Trads, too?

- Fr Mark

aaronandbrighid said...

I knew I wanted a Douay-Rheims for some reason!

I'm sure your RC neo-Trad cred went way up...

Esteban Vázquez said...

In his massive, 2-volume, 2,000-page commentary on St Luke's Gospel for the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Darrell Bock writes:

"The oddity of the verse is the third person plural: 'they demand your soul from you.' This has been understood in one of two ways: either as the angelic execution of the task (Grundman 1963: 258 [the angel of death, Satan; Heb. 2:14]; Marshall 1978: 524) or as a Semitic idiom for God (Job 4:19c; 6:2b; Prov. 9:11b; Creeed 1930: 173; Fitzmeyer 1985: 974). It is hard to be certain, since both possibilities make good sense."

Bock goes on to suggest that "it is perhaps more natural to see God referred to here, since the context discusses him and not angels." However, I much prefer Marshall's inference about the nature of this so-called "impersonal plural" in his volume on St Luke for the New Testament Greek Text Commentary if only because it is so much more sensible: "Grundman [....] argues that it is a periphrasis for the angel of death (cf. Heb. 2:14; SB I, 144-149), which is perhaps more likely, since God is here the speaker" (emphasis mine).