Origin (§ 1).
Meaning of the Term (§ 2).
Sources (§ 3).
Value (§ 4).
Method (§ 5).
Form (§ 6).
Catenĉ Previous to the Fourteenth Century (§ 7).
Medieval Catenĉ (§ 8).
Post-Reformation Catenĉ (§ 9).
The term catena, "a chain" (plural, catenĉ), designates a commentary on Holy Scripture made up by piecing together short extracts from the Fathers and older writers. This plan of construction was suggested by the accumulation of exegetical materials made both by Origen and his school and by the theologians of Antioch in the third and fourth centuries.
The principal motive which impelled later scholars to collect and examine the early utterances was a dogmatic one. After the conversion of Constantine, the Church was anxious to put together in a clear and systematic form the results of previous theological work, and to emphasize the connection of the past with the present. For this purpose in regard to doctrine the decrees of the ecumenical councils answered admirably; but it was not so easy to attain the same result in the exposition of Scripture. The problem was to represent the results arrived at by the recognized commentators in propositions that had a unity of scheme and an admitted authority. The principles of its solution are laid down in the nineteenth canon of the Quinisext (Second Trullan) Council: that Holy Scripture is the standard of truth, that the limits of doctrine already fixed and the traditions of the Fathers are not to be transgressed, and that if any question concerning the Scripture comes up, it is to be expounded in no other way than as the great teachers of the past have given it in their works. The exposition of the Scripture was thus firmly attached to the recognized orthodox doctrine. The second canon of the same council had named some of the "lights and doctors" who were to be followed, and the first canon had given warning against all heretics, not merely against Arius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, and Nestorius, but also against Theodore of Mopsuestia, Origen, Didymus, Evagrius, and Theodoret. It was, however, found impossible to carry out these principles strictly. The writings of the authors suspected of heresy offered material too valuable to be neglected; and it was found impossible to arrive at a unity of results in an anthology of this kind without doing violence to the individuality of the authors and damaging their authority, so that nothing could be done but to put together what was selected.
In this manner arose the collections of extracts which are so characteristic of Byzantine theology, covering all the books of the Bible (especially Genesis, Job, the Psalms, Canticles, Isaiah, Matthew, and John) by extracts from patristic commentators, and setting an example of method which was widely followed in Western and medieval commentaries. These collections are usually known as Catenĉ (Seirai). The origin of the name is obscure, but its meaning is plain. It refers to collections of material put together in a purely external but visible connection, and strung upon the thread of the text. There may have been originally a mystical significance attached to it. As the hermetic chain of the later Neoplatonists symbolized the harmonious conjunction of the bearers of wisdom to the world, hand joined in hand from the earliest to later times, so the line of the Fathers was to hand down the approved expositions of the one true Church.
The first compilers have no fixed phrases to describe their process; but their lengthy titles give an idea of the plan they set before them. They collected their material according to the maxim of Seneca, Quod verum est, meum est ("What is true is mine"). The manner in which literary property was handled in the ancient world permitted not only straightforward appropriation of other people's work, but the utmost freedom in adaptation to the borrower's special purpose. The retention of the original authors' names here is an evidence of the weight attached to their testimony as authoritative expositors; where the compiler adds comments of his own, he is usually careful to distinguish his additions. Great variety is found in the manner of reproduction and in the extent of the material included. In the Catena of Possinus on Matthew we have one constructed on the exact lines laid down by the Quinisext Councila mosaic of verbal citations from commentaries or other writings of orthodox Fathers. Where the compiler, like Nicetas of Serrĉ, added reflections of his own, he generally put them at the head of the group of quotations following a fresh section of the text. Where he adapted and condensed, he either kept to the serial order, or worked over all the material he had accumulated without making divisions for the separate authors. This is the manner adopted by Procopius, (cumenius, and Theophylact, who emphasize at the same time the fact that they are not originators but transmitters. There is no sharp dividing line between this kind of Catena and the Byzantine commentary; for the latter also patristic tradition is the standard, though the sources are not indicated in the margin as is usually the case in the Catenĉ, and the exposition proceeds without a break.
The value of the Catenĉ is measured by their judgment in selecting and their skill in combining the material they borrow. The difficulty of choice is increased by the dogmatic limitations, which are sometimes in inevitable conflict with the scholarly interest. Origen, for instance, the first great Christian critic and commentator, was of inestimable value to exegesis; and for the Old Testament Catenĉ both Philo, who had been studied by all learned theologians from Origen down, and Josephus were invaluable authorities. A compromise was reached in the principle (still followed by Roman Catholic commentators) of Cyril of Alexandria: "We need not avoid or question everything that heretics have said; for they confess many things which we also confess." Another difficulty was found in the occasionally conflicting expositions; their diversity was explained by Drungarius, with reference to the obscurity of the text, as providential. He contents himself with placing side by side the varying renderings and explanations of Isaiah, leaving the reader to form his own judgment.
The simplest method of making a Catena was to follow one principal authority, to whose exposition shorter scholia are added from other sources. Thus Chrysoatom is the main source in the Catena of Possinus on Matthew, as well as in the Gospel commentaries of Euthymius and Theophylact, though all of these differ in the additions they make to what they take from him. Other Catenĉ; are indiscriminate anthologies, no one authority being preferred. Of this type are those of Procopius and Nicetas, and most of those on the Epistles.
The external form of the Catenĉ differed according to their extent. Where they were not too extensive, the text was placed in the middle of the page, surrounded by the exposition, usually in smaller characters, sometimes even in tachygraphy. The names of the authorities are sometimes in the margin, sometimes in the body of the exposition, as a rule abbreviated. Occasionally diacritical marks show the connection between text and commentary. If the Catena is too extensive to allow this arrangement, the sections of the text are followed by the commentary, in separate paragraphs, with the authors' names on the margin, or else written without a break. The manuscripts, of which few date further back than the tenth century, differ much in execution. Some are of admirable workmanship, with illustrations; others are plain copies for students, with the marks of long use upon them, and some seem to have been hastily and carelessly made to supply the demand of the bookselling trade. Besides the commentaries, the Catenĉ contain a good deal of introductory or illustrative matter. Thus the Gospels are frequently prefaced by the canons of Eusebius and his epistle to Carpianus, as well as by arguments and biographies of the evangelists; the Pauline epistles have a life of Paul, a list of his journeys, and an account of his martyrdom.
Whether the beginnings of the manufacture of Catenĉ can be traced back to the patristic period it is impossible to say with certainty, though it seems not improbable. After Eusebius the work of theologians to a great extent took the direction of codifying and criticizing what had been handed down. But Procopius (d. 528) is the first who can be demonstrated to have made Catenĉ. The value of his work, which rests not only upon the Fathers from the third to the fifth century but upon Josephus and Philo and upon some of the teachers before Origen, gave it an epoch-making position. From the manner in which he speaks of his task in the prefaces to Genesis and Isaiah, we may conjecture that he was not an imitator of others but an originator in this line. Other extant Catenĉ were compiled by Andreas the presbyter (seventh to tenth century); Johannes Drungarius (tenth century); Michael Psellus, and Nicetas, bishop of Serrĉ, later metropolitan of Heraclea in Thrace (eleventh century); Nicolaus Muzalon and Neophytus Eucleistus (twelfth century); and Macarius Chrysocephalus (fourteenth century). To these may be added not only the commentaries arranged more or less in catena style, though without names of authorities: cumenius, of whose date and personality we know nothing certain, though he was probably a contemporary of Arethas of Cappadocia; and the Gospel commentaries of Theophylact and Euthymius, composed under the Comneni. There is, however, a much larger number of anonymous Catenĉ; and this fact is surprising, since Byzantine theologians were not given to hiding their light under a bushel. It may possibly be explained by the theory that these Catenĉ were produced not by any one man but by a group of collaborators. Their dates are very hard to determine; the surest way to reach conclusions on this point is by examining their relations to those whose dates we know, which requires a good deal more investigation than has yet been given to them. In fact, what has been done in the way of scientific study of the Catenĉ in general has only covered certain specific points; and those which have been printed cover only a small part of the extant material, and that not always selected with judgment.
The catena form impressed itself as a model upon medieval exegesis in the West, which also imitated the spirit in which the Eastern compilers went about their work. Here too the aim was to preserve the tradition of the Church in a uniform arrangement of Scriptural exposition, "so that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation may follow the norm of the ecclesiastical and catholic sense" (Vincent of Lerins). The principal sources were Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine, and Jerome; less often the Greek Fathers, such as Origen, Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria, are cited. The prototypes of the medieval catena commentaries may be seen in the expositions of Cassiodorus and Isidore of Seville. On the Carolingian period the numerous commentaries of Bede exercised a decisive influence. He knew Greek, and shows some feeling for textual criticism; but he was not an exegetical individuality. He collects
These works lead up to the exegetical collections which were made after the Reformation and under its influence. The expository standpoint was different, but the method of compilation remained the same. They either gave the observations of certain selected expositors side by side without change, or they made groups of extracts from as large a number as possible. Instances of the first method are the Biblia magna of De la Haye (Paris, 1643), the Biblia maxima (ib. 1660), the English Annotations upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament (London, 1645), and the Critici sacri edited by J. Pearson and others (ib. 1660). The second class is represented by Matthew Pole's Synopsis criticorum aliorumque scriptur sacr interpretum et commentatorum (London, 1669), which contains the most varied extracts from more than eighty theologians of all ages and beliefs, even including the Jewish. The Roman Catholic expositors, such as Cornelius a Lapide, Estius, and Calmet, followed the lines laid down by the older Catenĉ, to which, however, with their uncritical subservience to a tradition presupposed as authoritative, they are far inferior.
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