Notes on the Cyrillian Catena on I Corinthians 14:15

The challenges and discoveries related to translating the catena of I Corinthians 14:15 attributed to Cyril of Alexandria.

The catena on I Corinthians 14:15 has a high difficulty level for translation. First of all, it uses older Greek forms than New Testament Greek.

There is no subjunctive used here. Mostly the infinitive, and infrequently the optative, are utilized instead. This condition is unusual. The Greek language removed the infinitive used as a subjunctive and the use of the optative centuries before.

This situation may reflect that Alexandria was a city of imported Greek. History demonstrates that the language of ethnic groups who have moved to a foreign country retain, protect, and propagate a static form of their language. This state may be the reason why this text appears with such old Greek forms.

It could also be that the Alexandrian Christians treated Christian texts much like many do the King James Bible. Their old Greek was the language of religion, while their contemporary Greek was street talk.

The Migne Patrologia Graeca version has less text to work with, but it reads much smoother. The Mount Athos version has an expanded text, but it is much more unconnected. Catenas are not commentaries but brief excerpts from important texts relating to a subject. The thought does not always flow smoothly between paragraphs because this was not the intention. There is an expectation for the reader to read between the lines. One is to intuitively know the history of the thought and what the author intended. The quotes are like mnemonic devices. However, understanding the authors’ thoughts and the movements that surrounded those writings are difficult to piece together. Followers in the fifth century would have had access to Cyril’s commentaries and would have known the details. We do not have the same privilege.

The reference to prophecy being superior to tongues is a traditional position. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century used this similar argument as his basis for his lectures on I Corinthians 14 The Aquinas text parallels closely to what the Cyril has written, but Aquinas goes into much more detail.

The last section that starts with overseer is in italics because of its high-level of translation difficulty. I hesitate to forward this as a final copy because it may change as new pieces of evidence on grammar or morphology appear. However, it is a good start. For those who could contribute or improve on this translation, here is the Greek text.

It is clear that the Cyril text only uses the doctrine of tongues when it relates to liturgy, and especially to that of Psalm singing. Psalm-singing was an entrenched rite in his community, and it appears here that one could perform it in a different language. Also, there is mention of an overseer — an office considered lower than a bishop but higher than the laity. The function of the overseer was to compare it to sound doctrine for acceptance or rejection.

The catena on 14:15 is better understood reading the preceding translations on I Corinthians, especially 14:12

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