Category Archives: Reflections from the Fathers…

Some pearls of wisdom from the ancient writings of the Church Fathers…

The Authority of the Septuagint in the Ancient Church as Recorded by St Augustine

septuagintThe Septuagint was first translation from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek language, the Bible used by the first Christians and proves the existence of all the Old books before 300 BC.  Some 1200 + years later some of the books were rejected by protestants as not divinely inspired.  This is in contradiction to the words of St Augustine of Hippo who expounds the sacred nature of the translation.  (See psite of council of carthageicture of original fragment to right)

In the Orthodox Church we accept the complete canon of Scripture affirmed at The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of St Augustine, who considered the Canon a closed issue as handed down from the Fathers of the Early Church…(Site of the council of Carthage seen left)                                                                                                                                            

 

                St-Takla-org_Coptic-Saints_Saint-Augustine-01                   

ST AUGUSTINE – THE CITY OF GOD

By What Dispensation of God’s Providence the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament Were Translated Out of Hebrew into Greek, that They Might Be Made Known to All the Nations.

One of the Ptolemies, kings of Egypt, desired to know and have these sacred books.  For after Alexander of Macedon, who is also styled the Great, had by his most wonderful, but by no means enduring power, subdued the whole of Asia, yea, almost the whole world, partly by force of arms, partly by terror, and, among other kingdoms of the East, had entered and obtained Judea also, on his death his generals did not peaceably divide that most ample kingdom among them for a possession, but rather dissipated it, wasting all things by wars. 

Then Egypt began to have the Ptolemies as her kings.  The first of them, the son of Lagus, carried many captive out of Judea into Egypt.  But another Ptolemy, called Philadelphus, who succeeded him, permitted all whom he had brought under the yoke to return free; and more than that, sent kingly gifts to the temple of God, and begged Eleazar, who was the high priest, to give him the Scriptures, which he had heard by report were truly divine, and therefore greatly desired to have in that most noble library he had made. 

When the high priest had sent them to him in Hebrew, he afterwards demanded interpreters of him, and there were given him seventy-two, out of each of the twelve tribes six men, most learned in both languages, to wit, the Hebrew and Greek and their translation is now by custom called the Septuagint.  It is reported, indeed, that there was an agreement in their words so wonderful, stupendous, and plainly divine, that when they had sat at this work, each one apart (for so it pleased Ptolemy to test their fidelity), they differed from each other in no word which had the same meaning and force, or, in the order of the words; but, as if the translators had been one, so what all had translated was one, because in very deed the one Spirit had been in them all. 

And they received so wonderful a gift of God, in order that the authority of these Scriptures might be commended not as human but divine, as indeed it was, for the benefit of the nations who should at some time believe, as we now see them doing.

 LXX-V747-6r the group of elders with Andreas and Aristeas of Alexandria giving a letter to Eleazar, the High Priest

Above - 11th Century depiction of the group of elders with Andreas and Aristeas 
of Alexandria giving a letter to Eleazar, 
the High Priest (seated right on a cushioned throne). 
In the lower pane an attendant stands by Ptolemy with shield and lance. 
Ptolemy receives the letter from Andreas and Aristeas, 
who are accompanied by Jewish envoys.

 

Of the Authority of the Septuagint Translation, Which, Saving the Honor of the Hebrew Original, is to Be Preferred to All Translations.

For while there were other interpreters who translated these sacred oracles out of the Hebrew tongue into Greek, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and also that translation which, as the name of the author is unknown, is quoted as the fifth edition, yet the Church has received this Septuagint translation just as if it were the only one; and it has been used by the Greek Christian people, most of whom are not aware that there is any other.  From this translation there has also been made a translation in the Latin tongue, which the Latin churches use. 

Our times, however, have enjoyed the advantage of the presbyter Jerome, a man most learned, and skilled in all three languages, who translated these same Scriptures into the Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew.   But although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labor of his to be faithful, while they contend that the Septuagint translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of so many men, chosen for this very great work by Eleazar, who was then high priest; for even if there had not appeared in them one spirit, without doubt divine, and the seventy learned men had, after the manner of men, compared together the words of their translation, that what pleased them all might stand, no single translator ought to be preferred to them; but since so great a sign of divinity has appeared in them, certainly, if any other translator of their Scriptures from the Hebrew into any other tongue is faithful, in that case he agrees with these seventy translators, and if he is not found to agree with them, then we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with them. 

For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good understanding; and could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power, which filled and ruled the mind of the translator.  Some, however, have thought that the Greek copies of the Septuagint version should be emended from the Hebrew copies; yet they did not dare to take away what the Hebrew lacked and the Septuagint had, but only added what was found in the Hebrew copies and was lacking in the Septuagint, and noted them by placing at the beginning of the verses certain marks in the form of stars which they call asterisks. 

And those things which the Hebrew copies have not, but the Septuagint have, they have in like manner marked at the beginning of the verses by horizontal spit-shaped marks like those by which we denote ounces; and many copies having these marks  are circulated even in Latin.  But we cannot, without inspecting both kinds of copies, find out those things which are neither omitted nor added, but expressed differently, whether they yield another meaning not in itself unsuitable, or can be shown to explain the same meaning in another way.  If, then, as it behoves us, we behold nothing else in these Scriptures than what the Spirit of God has spoken through men, if anything is in the Hebrew copies and is not in the version of the Seventy, the Spirit of God did not choose to say it through them, but only through the prophets. 

But whatever is in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew copies, the same Spirit chose rather to say through the latter, thus showing that both were prophets.  For in that manner He spoke as He chose, some things through Isaiah, some through Jeremiah, some through several prophets, or else the same thing through this prophet and through that.  Further, whatever is found in both editions, that one and the same Spirit willed to say through both, but so as that the former preceded in prophesying, and the latter followed in prophetically interpreting them; because, as the one Spirit of peace was in the former when they spoke true and concordant words, so the selfsame one Spirit hath appeared in the latter, when, without mutual conference they yet interpreted all things as if with one mouth.

Six out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel before Ptolemy to 
translate the Scriptures into Greek - 11th Century manuscript

LXX-translators of the LXX

Wisdom from the Desert!

St_ Makarios the Great - St Maximos - St Domadios“The heart itself is only a small vessel,

yet dragons are there, and lions;

there are poisonous beasts

and all the treasures of evil;

there are rough and uneven roads;

there are precipices;

but there too, are God and His angels,

life is there too, and the Kingdom;

there, too, is light, and there the apostles,

and heavenly cities, and treasures of grace.

All things lie within that little space.”

 

St Makarios the Great

St Gregory Nazianzus…

st_gregory_nazianzus

God is Light,

the Most High, the Unnaproacheable;

God cannot be conceived in the mind

or spoken by the lips.

God is the Life-Giver for every rational creature.

God is to the world of spiritual intellect,

what the sun is to the sensory world,

and will manifest divinity in our minds

to the degree that we are purified.”

St Gregory of Nazianzus

Rublev_grigoriy_bogoslov nazianzusWestern thinking espescially after the enlightenment (but even before), tended towards the use of rational philosophical process –  a way of thinking that crept into theological reflection in the thinking of Thomas Aquinas and Thomism for example.  However, a light radiating from the east reflecting the glory of God embraced the profoundness of mystery when considering Divinity and the grace given to the Church in its sacraments.  Whilst the great theologians and Church Fathers of the early Christian centuries brought about a way of life and thinking that far surpassed the platonic philosophers who excelled amongst the philosophical schools, they were still content to embrace the mystery of the Ineffable and Unnaproacheable God.  The incomprehensibility of the Trinity could only be known in the revelation of God, personified in the incarnation of the Word – Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and the life of these Holy Saints was such that they lived ascetic and holy lives spent in awe at the majesty of God which is clearly reflected in their writings.  Although these writings are not considered as ‘Scripture’, they reflect a profound encounter of God and deserve to be read to inspire those of us who would attempt to follow their example with a heart for Christ and a love for God who is salvation…

St Ambrose of Milan on brotherly love and the three holy Hebrew youths…

The following gem comes from the austere preacher and Bishop of Northern Italy St Ambrose who had great impact on St Augustine of Hippo…

ambrose2This quote is dedicated to Fr Youhanna, Fr Moussa, Fr David and Fr James whose love and service to our mission has been greatly appreciated…

Preserve then my sons, that friendship you have begun with your brothers, for nothing in the world is more beautiful than that.  It is indeed a comfort in this life to have one to whom you can open your ear, with whom you can share secrets and to whom you can entrust the secrets of your heart.  It is a comfort to have a trusty person by your side who will rejoice with you in prosperity, sympathise in troubles, encourage in persecution.  What good friends those Hebrew children were whom the flames of the fiery furnace did not separate from the love of each other!”

St Ambrose Duties of the Clergy.

St Augustine of Hippo with a warning for the occassional “Christian”

St-Takla-org_Coptic-Saints_Saint-Augustine-02In his book on the ‘City of God’ St Augustine challenges the contemporary paganism of Rome and its many religious cults and further in his exposition of philosophical thought proves the superiority of Orthodox Christianity.  Writing to those whose history was forged by the Roman idyllic empire, St Augustine pointed them to the celestial city and the Kingdom of Christ in a time when they were looking for someone to blame for the demise of a once great empire…St. Augustine concludes his first book with a stern warning for those who would assume the outward appearance of purity in their religious faith by attending liturgical rites and worship of the Church but live a double standard life, and as such gives an ancient precedent of showing the falsehood evident in modern times of a costless and obligation free salvation, that erroneous notion of once saved always saved…

So too, as long as she is a stranger in the world, the city of God has in her communion, and bound to her by the sacraments, some who shall not eternally dwell in the lot of the saints.  Of these, some are not now recognised; others declare themselves, and do not hesitate to make common cause with our enemies in murmuring against God, whose sacramental badge they wear.  These men you may to-day see thronging the Churches with us, tomorrow crowding the theatres with the godless.  But we have the less reason to despair of the reclamation even of such persons, if among our most declared enemies there are now some, who are destined to become our friends.  In truth, these two cities are entangled together in this world, and intermixed with until the last judgement effect their separation.  I now proceed to speak, as God shall help me, of the rise, progress and end of these two cities; and what I write, I write for the glory of the city of God, that, being placed in comparison with the other, it may shine a brighter lustre.”

                                             Conclusion of Book I of the City of God

May our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ protect us all from the traps of the enemy…