Review: Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Opus Imperfectum)

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Translated by ]] and edited by Thomas C. Oden, this addition to the ]] library presents a long forgotten, and unfortunately incomplete, commentary on the Gospel of Matthew written by what is sure to be an Arian, but unknown to us. It was a favorite of the scholastic age of the Church, notably by the likes of Thomas Aquinas, as is a showcase of thought around the fourth century as well as a well written treatment of the Gospel of Matthew. Kellerman provides a solid translation geared to the lay as well as the academic reader, in hopes of reconnecting the modern audience to that of the tangible past.

Noting what a true commentary was (x), the editors write that these patristic commentaries present a ‘decisive pattern and prototype’ of Christian literary genre. It is not, as they note, filled with criticism, textual or otherwise, but in my opinion, serves as a response to the text and through this response helps to buffet the community against other interpreters of the text. While early Christian witness was filled with flourishing styles of rhetoric, later writers simply forgot the practice and instead filled pages after pages with mind-numbingly boring statements. These earlier commentaries are in dialogue with the text as well with other authors presenting diverse views. These divergent views are what makes this commentary in particular so very interesting. It is written by an Arian, and perhaps a Pelagian, who takes to task those who hold to a Tri-unity view of God (which he calls Gentile) and those who hold to a Unity view (which he calls Jewish). Throughout these volumes, there are clues and signals of the author’s theological thought-world as well as his time and place.

Kellerman’s introduction is in depth, but not overly extensive. It is not a thesis statement on the commentary, but includes history, speculation on the author, theological highlights and low points (noting the non-orthodox points), as well as manuscript work and a section on further scholarship on the matter. These presentations are not simplistic, but delve into the heart of the commentary, allowing the reader into the ongoing discussion of who wrote this and what community would have cared for it so much that they preserved it. The Scripture text, like the rest of the Ancient Christian Texts series, is the RSV, unless the subject at hand demands something different. Interesting enough, as Kellerman points out, like most patristic authors, the Majority Text (which is used in the King James Version) is the text which the author seems to be working from. This is not surprising given the close proximity of the author to that of the established Lucian text adopted by Constantine after decades of Imperialist attempts to read the world of the word of God. Further, each volume includes a Scripture index in the back of the book, which is helpful in examining the original author’s canon.

The Incomplete Commentary ends with Matthew 25 with a total of fifty-four homilies having been composed on various verses. An appendix of a bonus homily on Matthew 8 is included. Each homily is neatly divided with the verses in bold and the author’s thoughts in regular. There is a wealth of theologizing happening in these volumes, which thankfully have not been left in the dust bin of history, but have now been preserved in the English language for us all to enjoy.

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