There exists a present and abiding interest in the exegesis done by the Fathers of the church. In addition to the well known Roman Catholic ressourcement movement, of which the current Pope has been a contributing member, Protestant evangelicals also desire to be knowledgeable in what the Fathers had to say about Scripture. Thomas Oden’s “paleo-orthodoxy” and his Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series give evidence of this impetus. Recently, the conversion of Francis Beckwith, now former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, to Roman Catholicism by his own admission was made after careful reflection upon the biblical exegesis of the early church:
I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries.1
It is needless to say, that the import for an understanding of what the church Fathers had to say about the Bible, what they believed the Bible to say, and how they related what they said about the comments of their ecclesiastical contemporaries impinges upon our scholarly conscience. We must understand these things. We must be conversant on what the Fathers taught and how they viewed their own understanding of Scripture relative to what other highly esteemed colleagues thought.
A comparison between the commentaries of church Fathers affords us some opportunity here. It allows us to examine what they believed Scripture to say in light of our current understanding of what it says. It allows us to understand how they viewed each other’s comments. It gives us a sense of how authority is maintained and even transmitted. Further still, it helps us determine where the locus of authority resides: text or church. These are the sort of questions which ought to be kept in the back of our minds while studying the Fathers. Ironically, it was these same questions that allowed Luther to so ably debate Eck, and it is these same questions that cause evangelicals to reexamine their assumptions and enter communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
There are many patristic commentaries, but I have chosen to compare two commentaries on the book of Daniel. These commentaries are the fragment of Hippolytus on Daniel and Jerome’s complete commentary on Daniel. Separated by about 150 years and delving into the apocalyptic genre of the Old Testament, they provide a perspective as the two thought patterns of east and west are placed in juxtaposition. The latter, Jerome, does draw upon the former, Hippolytus. One more important comparison exists; both represent a view that transcends eastern and western factions of the church. Hippolytus, if tradition bears any similarity to the facts of history, is the first post-Apostolic western exegete; but he comes from the east. Jerome, erudite scholar of Bethlehem, makes his pilgrimage from west to east. Both, then, have their ideological “feet” placed in a sort of transculutral melieu.
I will proceed first describing the men and their corpus. Then there will be space for some of the interesting points of their respective commentaries. Finally, a description of the comparisons and contrasts between the two commentaries will be set forth. To my knowledge, this is the only work dedicated to this study, so a close reading of the texts is necessary. We have few secondary sources, especially on Hippolytus’ Daniel fragment, from which to draw. Therefore, we must concentrate on their own reflections upon the text rather than our contemporaries’ reflections upon the reflections of these two men.
1. Francis J. Beckwith, “My Return to the Catholic Church,” n. p., [Cited 8 May 2007], Online: http://rightreason.ektopos.com/archives/2007/05/my_return_to_th.html.
N.B. Please bear with me if you have seen this before. I believe that I may have run this introduction solo at an earlier date. This publishing will be followed by the rest of the paper in serial. The next installment covers the biography of Hippolytus. Thank you for your patience – thank you just for reading!