Learning from the earliest theologians in the church is something I think every Christian ought to do. InterVarsity Press’s excellent “Ancient Christian Texts” series is one I’ve explored occasionally, and I was excited to see Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews from Cyril of Alexandria pop up for review. Here, fragments of Cyril’s commentaries have been put together sequentially for readers to browse and learn from.
A general introduction and an introduction to this specific work help set the stage. Readers won’t find a simple verse-by-verse commentary here, but rather a pieced together group of comments from various fragments of Cyril of Alexandria. Though this may make it sound like there’s little of value here, the opposite is in fact the case. Reading ancient Christian commentary on scripture is often enlightening for a number of reasons, and Cyril’s comments are no different.
One of the best reasons to read commentaries like this is to find the twofold truth that ancient Christians often were discussing the same questions we have today and also often had their own questions that aren’t as wrapped up in today’s discourse. The latter is especially interesting to me, and examples of this abound throughout this work. One example is found in the discussion of angels and Hebrews 1:4. Here, Cyril only briefly addresses the question of angels before diving in to an argument that the Arians are mistaken about God the Son being “originate” due to their reading of this verse. The latter still has relevance to this day, but Cyril’s brief comment about angels being like servants was striking to me as well. Little insights like this come up throughout the book, even in the scattered fragments of comments that one finds strewn across the books in view.
Longer comments are found as well, with some lengthy discourse occurring–including in Hebrews. Reading what an ancient Christian commentator had to say about this book can also help readers highlight aspects of the text they may not have noticed before. Again, an example may help–in Romans 14:20-22 Cyril is quick to note that we should refrain from some things that are permissible for the sake of others but even more for ourselves, because permissible things could make us fleshly in luxurious passions. A kind of ascetic background looms here, but the broader point of being wary of luxurious excess is a good point to be made. Small comments like this can be found all over the book.
Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews is another excellent entry in the Ancient Christian Texts series. Recommended highly for readers interested in learning about ancient Christian commentary on Scripture.
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