Catenae, Biblical

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Biblical catenae (from catena, chain; fuller name, catenae patrum ) are commentaries made up of short excerpts from the Fathers or other ancient writers, strung together like the links of a chain to form a continuous exposition of a passage of Scripture. The first use of the name catena in this sense appears to be in the editio princeps of the Catena Aurea (1484) of St. thomasaquinas, although he himself had described this work as an expositio continua of the four Gospels. Among earlier names were exegetical eclogues, collected explanations and simply interpretations. Some catenae are drawn from one Father exclusively; others from two or three, with an evident attempt to give equal place to the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools of exegesis; still others are based on as many as 80 or more sources. In the better catenae each excerpt is introduced by the name of the commentator or by an identifying abbreviation. Where this is not the case, some excerpts can only be tentatively ascribed to a given Father or be left as of unknown authorship. As this suggests, much research remains to be done in this field. In typical appearance the manuscript has either only relatively few words of text in large letters in the center of the page surrounded by abundant commentary, or the text is immediately followed by the commentary written in parallel columns. There are Greek, Latin and Eastern (mostly Syriac) catenae.

Greek Catenae. These are valuable to both the exegete and the textual critic. For the former, they possess a unique importance in that they offer him a vast storehouse of otherwise unknown patristic exegesis. It is estimated that over half of the commentaries of the Fathers have been preserved through catenae, including passages from heretical writers otherwise doomed to possible oblivion. To the textual critic, as so far studied, catenae reveal many variant readings of the hexapla text. In both these respects Latin catenae are far less important than Greek ones, since they present the Biblical text and much of the commentary only in translation.

Greek catenae first appeared as the golden age of patristic exegesis came to a close at the end of the fifth century. Original, creative commentators gave way to compilers of exposition culled from their predecessors. At the same time the very mass of accumulated commentary created the need for some sort of analysis and methodical classification, if it was to be made generally available. The earliest known Greek to compile extensive catenae is procopius of gaza (d. 538), who edited a commentary on the Octateuch (the Pentateuch plus Joshua, Judges and Ruth) drawn from the writings of cyril of alexandria, basil the great and gregory of nyssa. He compiled catenae also on 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Isaiah and Song of Songs. Among other Greek catenists are Olympiodorus of Alexandria (6th century), John Drungarios (7th century), Andreas the Presbyter (7th century) and Nicetas of Heraclea (11th century).

Latin Catenae. With roots going back to bede's commentaries, Latin catenae came to flower during the 11th century as part of the carolingian renaissance. This medieval revival of learning gave a place of preeminence to the Bible and its patristic exegesis. The compilation of catenae was encouraged, and by the end of the ninth century virtually every book of the Bible had its commentary pieced together from the Fathers. Outstanding among early catenists were alcuin (d. 805), claudius of turin (d. 827), rabanus maurus (d. 865) and walafrid strabo (d. 849). For two centuries following their first appearance, Latin catenae went through a period of deterioration. Compilers were unlearned, their work careless and uncritical, and their exegesis often inconsistent if not in contradiction with itself. Spurred on perhaps by the reform in theological florilegia (for example, Peter abelard's Sic et non ), scripturists undertook to remedy this confused state of affairs. Thus, by degrees, out of the chaos of the 11th century just described and as a by-product of scholasticism, came improvement culminating in the expositio continua of St. Thomas on the four Gospels, later known as the Catena Aurea, a model for all future labors. Its excerpts, drawn from over 80 sources, are gracefully interlocked to produce pleasant as well as instructive reading (repr. Turin 1938; Eng. tr. 4v., Oxford 184145).

Among modern works akin to the medieval catenae are: J. M. Péronne, La Chaine d'or sur les psaumes, 3 v. (Paris 1879); J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Medieval Writers , 4 v. (London 186074); and G. Bellino, Gesù Cristo nelle S. Scritturee nei SS. Padrie Dottori, 9 v. (Turin 191115).

Syriac Catenae. Of Eastern catenae, the following Syriac ones may be mentioned: (1) an anonymous compiler known as Garden of Delights (7th century), (2) Severus, an Antiochene monk (9th century), (3) Bishop Dionysius bar alībī (12th century) and (4) barhebraeus, a commentary on both the Old Testament and the New Testament titled Storehouse of Mysteries.

For the publication of the various catenae, see bibliography below.

See Also: exegesis, biblical.

Bibliography: r. devreesse, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed., l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 1:10841233. k. staab, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, eds., j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 6:5657. w. eltester, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:162728. g. bardy, Catholicisme 2:860862.

[c. o'c. sloane]