Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Look at the Re-Issue of the Newman Edition of the Catena Aurea

The recently re-issued edition of Aquinas' Catena Aurea, edited by the Venerable John Henry Newman, has arrived since my last mention of it a few days ago, which provides a welcome opportunity to give it a brief review.

As this is a classic text whose contents are already well known to many, I will first focus on the particular physical characteristics of this reprint.

The first point which I would note is that despite not being a newly typeset edition, the book is quite legible and usable as a resource. (If a newly typeset edition were to be considered in the future, my only recommendation would be to make the names of the various patristic commenters slightly more visibly distinct, and I might also consider not using abbreviated forms of the Fathers' names for the sake of easier and quicker reference. Still, this is not a problem with this particular edition, and to my knowledge, there is no edition that uses that of which I speak.)

I was particularly pleased to see that each volume comes with a sewn ribbon within, which will make for a convenient marker for reference, and which would surely be useful for those who are using this either devotionally, to read through the gospel passages successively, or who are using it as a general reference.

The books themselves are bound in hardcovers, though without dustjacket. Here I might have preferred a cloth hardcover binding (preferably with dustjacket), which tends to best stand up to repeated use; still, the set is well bound and I am glad the publishers chose some form of hardcover and a sewn binding, which will certainly make the work far more durable than a softcover or non-sewn reprint. I should expect the set will remain quite solid for many years to come.

Let us now turn to a consideration of the contents of the Catena for those less familiar with the work itself. I would first note that the work is quite well summarized by its full title:

Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels collected out of the Works of the Fathers by St. Thomas Aquinas

Each of the volumes is setup accordingly. The relevant passages of the Gospel in question are listed in their successive verses. Each series of successive verses (which are presented in larger type) are then followed by the various commentaries of the Fathers which have been included for those particular verses. These in turn have more detailed references as to the specific sources for these commentaries listed within the margins. (See second image)

A wide variety of Fathers, both the Eastern and Western, are referenced within the Catena. (See image above right) A sampling of some of the patristic authors referenced for the volume on St. Matthew include the likes of St. Cyprian, Eusebius, St. Athanasius, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril, St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, Ven. Bede and more. An impressive listing to be certain, and more impressive when one considers it is only a partial listing.

In his preface to the work, Newman discusses the history of the various "catenas", or "strings or series of passages selected from the writings of the Fathers" and has this to say of Aquinas's Catena Aurea:

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... 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 ... -- but a thorough acquaintance with the whole range of ecclesiastical antiquity...

Evidently, in pursuing a consideration of the detailed thought and commentaries of the Fathers of the Church on the Sacred Scriptures, directly accessing the primary sources will always remain unsurpassed -- as is always the case whatever the field -- but the Catena provides a good point of condensed reference and will no doubt also provide an impetus for delving into further and deeper considerations of patristic thought and sources.

I have no hesitation in recommending this reprinting, and for the amount of book one is receiving, the price is quite reasonable.

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Ordering Information:

Catena Aurea (Preserving Christian Publications)
2840 pages in 4 volumes,
9" x 5¾”,
$118.00 USD

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