Thursday, January 10, 2008

Catena Aurea

Catena Aurea, The Golden Chain, is a commentary on the four gospels which St. Thomas Aquinas made by organizing selections from the writings of the early Church Fathers (Basil, Chrysostom, Gregory, etc). In the preface to the english edition, John Newman writes:

All such commentaries have more or less merit and usefulness, but they are very inferior to the 'Catena Aurea,' which is now presented to the English reader; being all of partial and capricious, dilating on one passage, and passing unnoticed another of equal or greater difficulty; arbitrary in their selection from the Fathers, and as compilations crude and indigested. But it is impossible to read the Catena of S. Thomas, without being struck with the masterly and architectonic skill with which it is put together. A learning of the highest kind,—not a mere literary book-knowledge, which might have supplied the place of indexes and tables in ages destitute of those helps, and when every thing was to be read in unarranged and fragmentary MSS.—but a thorough acquaintance with the whole range of ecclesiastical antiquity, so as to be able to bring the substance of all that had been written on any point to bear upon the text which involved it—a familiarity with the style of each writer, so as to compress into few words the pith of a whole page, and a power of clear and orderly arrangement in this mass of knowledge, are qualities which make this Catena {iv} perhaps nearly perfect as a conspectus of Patristic interpretation. Other compilations exhibit research, industry, learning; but this, though a mere compilation, evinces a masterly command over the whole subject of Theology.

The Catena is so contrived that it reads as a running commentary, the several extracts being dovetailed together by the compiler. And it consists wholly of extracts, the compiler introducing nothing of his own but the few connecting particles which link one extract to the next.

The Catena Aurea is available in print from Amazon and is also online in various formats, for example, it is at Catechetics Online in a chapter by chapter format.


Irenaeus said...

Thank you so much! This will be very helpful to me not only for reasons of personal interest but also professionally.

tdunbar said...

You're welcome. I do not know why these books are not more widely known and cited..not flashy enough, perhaps.

They seem especially important nowadays when the Catholic Church's ecumenical focus is towards the East.