Philo on Psalm 23

I am reading the chapter on Philo in Andrew Louth’s The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, so it warmed my heart during devotions with my wife last night to see the Middle Platonist, Alexandrian Jewish exegete in the Mosaic Holy Bible readings for Easter, Week 4 — with the BCP readings, 1 Pet. 2:19-26 and John 10:1-30, and, of course, Psalm 23. I hope you enjoy his words as much as I do. Philo says:

Indeed, so good a thing is shepherding that it is justly ascribed not to kings only and wise men and perfectly cleansed souls but also to God the All-Sovereign. The authority for this ascription is not any ordinary one but a prophet, whom we do well to trust. This is the way in which the Psalmist speaks: “The Lord shepherds me and nothing shall be lacking to me” (Ps. xxiii, 1). It well befits every lover of God to rehearse this Psalm. But for the Universe it is a still more fitting theme. For land and water and air and fire, and all plants and animals which are in these, whether mortal or divine, yea and the sky, and the circuits of sun and moon, and the revolutions and rhythmic movements of the other heavenly bodies, are like some flock under the hand of God its King and Shepherd. This hallowed flock He leads in accordance with right and law, setting over it His true Word and Firstborn Son Who shall take upon Him its government like some viceroy of a great king; for it is said in a certain place: “Behold I AM, I send My Angel before thy face to guard thee in the way” (Exod. xxiii. 20). Let therefore even the whole universe, that greatest and most perfect flock of the God who IS, say, “The Lord shepherds me, and nothing shall fail me.” Let each individual person too utter this same cry, not with the voice that glides forth over tongue and lips, not reaching beyond a short space of air, but with the voice of the understanding that has wide scope and lays hold on the ends of the universe. For it cannot be that there should be any lack of a fitting portion, when God rules, whose wont it is to bestow good in fullness and perfection on all that is.

XIII. Magnificent is the call to holiness sounded by the psalm just quoted; for the man is poor and incomplete in very deed, who, while seeming to have all things else, chafes at the sovereignty of One; whereas the soul that is shepherded of God, having the one and only thing on which all depend, is naturally exempt from want of other things, for it worships no blind wealth, but a wealth that sees and that with vision surpassingly keen.-De Agricultura or ‘On Husbandry’ 50-54, Loeb translation by F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker

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Select Letters of St Jerome

Select Letters (Loeb Classical Library)Select Letters by St. Jerome

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

St Jerome was a major figure in Latin Christianity in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Besides revising the Latin Bible, his greatest influence lies in giving power to the rising monastic movement in the Latin world. He came from Dalmatia on the Adriatic, spent time as a hermit, then went to Rome before spending years as a monk in Bethlehem.

Although Jerome was a controversialist, little of his polemic is visible on the surface in this selection of letters. Occasionally, you can see him making oblique reference to people who might possibly criticise him for some things, and there is a devastating caricature of his erstwhile friend Rufinus in one letter as well. Furthermore, we read here Jerome’s version of the First Origenist Controversy.

For the most part, though, this selection is Jerome the ascetic, not Jerome the polemicist. We see his ideas about how to be a good monk, a good nun, a good widow, or a good clergyman set down. We see his instructions on how to educate a young girl in Christian discipline. Much is worth thinking on, chewing on, mulling over, and much is also quotable.

We also encounter Jerome here as a source for the Later Roman Empire. Basically, he reads in these letters as though the world were on the precipice, if not already falling into the abyss. Sometimes I know he is being hyperbolic, at other times it is a trope (‘She’s lucky death spared her seeing the world invaded by barbarians’), but at other times there is genuine feeling behind it. Jerome is keenly aware of the catastrophes of his age, but is this because they were that much more acute or because they serve his rhetoric well? I reckon that it is a bit of both.

This selection is well worth reading as an introduction to Jerome and his thought.

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Return to the Sources (Ressourcement)

In the 1920’s, there was a papal call to ‘return to the sources’ which produced a number of Catholic theologians who worked on the ancient and mediaeval theologians, seeking to bring their wisdom to today and seeking to make their words available today, both through scholar editions such as Sources Chrétiennes and translations such as Sources Chrétiennes. This movement was and is the Ressourcement, and produced major works such as Henri de Lubac’s Exégèse Mediévale.

In the English-speaking world, today’s Christian who is seeking to discover the Fathers has many thanks to render unto the Catholics and their publishing houses.

Paulist Press – Ancient Christian Writers and The Classics of Western Spirituality

Paulist Press, the publishing house of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, has produced two great series of English translations and editions, the Ancient Christian Writers and The Classics of Western Spirituality. The former is a series of highly scholarly translations of a vast range of ancient Greek and Latin Christian texts. A full list is available here.

The Classics of Western Spirituality is broader than Ancient Christian Writers, covering mediaeval and modern texts as well, including Protestants such as John & Charles Wesley alongside the Catholic mainstays such as Sts. Francis & Clare of Assisi. This series comes with very competent introductions, but at times the selections have been edited, as with John Cassian’s Conferences which are incomplete (however, the ACW translation is complete). The Patristic resources in this series are:

Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, The of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus by Athanasius, Apocalyptic Spirituality includes selections from Lactantius but is mostly mediaeval, The Life of Moses by Gregory of Nyssa, The Conferences by John Cassian, The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor: Selected Writings, Origen: Selected Writings, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter by Pseudo-Macarius, Hymns by Ephrem the Syrian, and On the Song of Songs and Selected Writings by the Venerable Bede.

While this series covers the Western Church very well for the Middle Ages, it is too bad they are missing much of Western Patristic spirituality.

Catholic University of America – The Fathers of the Church and The Library of Early Christianity

The Fathers of the Church is a long-running, high-quality series of English translations of the Fathers. A list of works translated is available here. This series is very large.

The Library of Early Christianity is a new venture started by CUA, and I’m excited about it. It seeks to present Loeb-style editions of early Christian texts in Latin, Greek, and Syriac (I’m not sure if other languages such as Coptic will be included) with facing-page English translations. This series will be a blessing to many as it gets up and running, I am sure!

Apart from these series of translations, Catholic scholars have been involved in translation projects with Routledge’s Early Church Father’s series, SVS Press’s Popular Patristics Series, Penguin Classics, Oxford World’s Classics, and so forth.

To go into the Ressourcement work beyond translation would be too much for now, but Eerdmans’ Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought series is worth looking into here. The series includes the English translation of Lubac’s Medieval Exegesis.

For later: The Evangelical Ressourcement?