by Margaret Schatkin
Margaret Schatkin is an associate professor of theology, having joined the faculty in 1969. A member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, she specializes in patristics, with a special emphasis on the theology of John Chrysostom.
The Gospel of Matthew is thought by some to be the most important book ever written and was more widely used in the early Church than any other Gospel.
St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 349-407) is a Father and Doctor of the Church, who possessed a knowledge of Holy Scripture which few will ever match. His treatises and sermons contain approximately eighteen thousand verses of Scripture, often quoted from memory. Pope Leo XIII designated him “the prince of orators,” and Pius X declared him to be the official “Patron of Preachers.”
Recently the Society of Biblical Literature has undertaken a subseries of volumes translating Chrysostom’s exegetical homilies on the New Testament. The first volume to appear was Chrysostom’s
Homilies on Philippians, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Professor Pauline Allen, Director of the Centre for Early Christian Studies at Australian Catholic University in
Brisbane. It was a great honor, when the Series editor, Dr. Wendy Mayer, asked me to participate in the project. Having previously worked on the sixth-century Wolfenbüttel Codex, the earliest
extant manuscript of Chrysostom, which happens to contain the Homilies on Matthew, I asked Dr. Mayer for the opportunity to translate Chrysostom’s Homilies on Matthew. History
records that Thomas Aquinas once said that he would give the whole city of Paris for a copy of John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Matthew, and still today it is considered the greatest
patristic commentary on Scripture, so, when Dr. Mayer and her editorial team accepted my offer to produce a new English translation, (the last one being 1851), it was a source of joy.
Because of the size and scope of the project (there are 90 homilies, which occupy two volumes in Migne’s Patrology), I decided to consult with Dr. John Nordling, a classical and biblical scholar at Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne. We decided to place an ad in Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology and solicit Greek scholars from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, including someone to add Luther’s comments on Matthew in footnotes. In addition, Fr. Ronald Tacelli, S.J., Associate Professor of Philosophy ay Boston College, recommended some highly skilled Jesuit scholars, including Fr. Brian Dunkle, S.J., who is the new Patristics Professor at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a skilled Hellenist. Altogether we have gathered a talented team of 34 people from many Christian denominations, including a seminarian from Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in Moscow. The willingness of scholars all over the world to contribute their time and talents speaks to the respect in which Chrysostom is held.
In this day and age, it is an amazing experience to enter the mind of St. John Chrysostom and probe his understanding of the Gospel record through his literal exposition of Scripture. “There is,” said Sir Henry Savile (1549-1620), Warden of Merton College and Editor of his complete works, “none of the Greek Fathers so devout, none better, none of superior judgment.”
As we undertake this new translation of his Homilies on Matthew, we pray with our father among the saints, John Chrysostom, “almighty God, grant us in this present age the knowledge of your truth and in the age to come eternal life.”