Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VIII/Introductory Notice

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII
Philip Schaff et al.
Introductory Notice

Introductory Notice.

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This volume completes the American series, according to our agreement.  But it will be found to afford much material over and above what was promised, and the editorial labour it has exacted has been much greater than might at first be suspected.  The Bibliography with which the work is supplemented, and which is the original work of Dr. Riddle, has been necessarily thrown into the Index by the overgrowth of this volume in original matter.

The Apocryphal works of the Edinburgh collection have been here brought together, and “Fragments” have been sifted, and arranged on a plan strictly practical.  To my valued collaborator Dr. Riddle I have committed a task which demanded a specialist of his eminent qualifications.  He has had, almost exclusively, the task of editing the Pseudo-Clementina and the Apocryphal New Testament.  To myself I assigned the Twelve Patriarchs and Excerpts, the Edessene Memoirs and other Syriac Fragments, the False Decretals, and the Remains of the First Ages.  I have reserved this retrospect of historic truth and testimony to complete the volume.  As in music the tune ends on the note with which it began, so, after the greater part of the volume had been surrendered to forgery and fiction (valuable, indeed, for purposes of comparison and reference, but otherwise unworthy of a place among primitive witnesses), I felt it refreshing to return to genuine writings and to authentic histories.  The pages of Melito and others will restore something of the flavour of the Apostolic Fathers to our taste, and the student will not close his review of the Ante-Nicene Fathers with last impressions derived only from their fraudulent imitators and corrupters.

The editor-in-chief renews his grateful acknowledgments to those who have aided him in his undertaking, with whose honoured names the reader is already acquainted.  Nor can he omit an expression of thanks to the reverend brother[1] to whom the hard work of the Indexes has been chiefly committed.  It would be equally unjust not to mention his obligations to the meritorious press which has produced these pages with a general accuracy not easily ensured under difficulties such as have been inseparable from this undertaking.[2]  The support which has been liberally afforded to the enterprise by Christians of divers names and communions ought not to be recognised by words of mere recognition:  it is a token of their common interest in a common origin, and a sign, perhaps, of a longing for that precious unity and brotherhood which was the glory of the martyr ages, for which all should unite in praise to God.  To the Christian press a grateful tribute is due from the editor and his publishers alike; more especially as it has encouraged, so generally, the production of another series, of which the first volume has already appeared, and which will familiarize the minds and hearts of thousands with the living thought and burning piety of those great doctors of the post-Nicene period, to whom the world owes such immense obligations, but who have been so largely unknown to millions even of educated men, except as bright and shining names.

It is a cheering token, that, while the superficial popular mind may even be disposed to regard this collection as a mere museum of fossils, having little or no connection with anything that interests our age, there is a twofold movement towards a fresh investigation of the past, which it seems providentially designed to meet.  Thus, among Christians there is a general appetite for the study of primitive antiquity, stimulated by the decadence of the Papacy, and by the agitations concerning the theology of the future which have arisen in Reformed communions; while, on the other hand, scientific thought has pushed inquiry as to the sources of the world’s enlightenment, and has found them just here,—in the school of Alexandria, and in the Christian writers of the first three centuries.  “It is instructive,” says a forcible thinker,[3] and a disciple of Darwin and Huxley, “to note how closely Athanasius approaches the confines of modern scientific thought.”  And again he says:  “The intellectual atmosphere of Alexandria for two centuries before and three centuries after the time of Christ was more modern than anything that followed, down to the days of Bacon and Descartes.”

It would be unmanly in the editor to speak of the difficulties and hindrances through which he has been forced to push on his work, while engaged in other and very sacred duties.  The conditions which alone could justify the publishers in the venture were quite inconsistent with such an editorial performance as might satisfy his own ideas of what should be done with such materials.  Four years instead of two, he felt, should be bestowed on such a work; and he thought that two years might suffice only in case a number of collaborators could be secured for simultaneous employment.  When it was found that such a plan was impracticable, and that the idea must be abandoned if not undertaken and carried forward as it has been, then the writer most reluctantly assumed his great responsibility in the fear of God, and in dependence on His lovingkindness and tender mercy.  Of the result, he can only say that “he has done what he could” in the circumstances.  He is rewarded by the consciousness that at least he has enabled many an American divine and scholar to avail himself of the labours of the Edinburgh translators, and to feel what is due to them, when, but for this publication, he must have remained in ignorance of what their erudition has achieved and contributed to Christian learning in the English tongue.

And how sweet and invigorating has been his task, as page after page of these treasures of antiquity has passed under his hand and eye!  With unfailing appetite he has risen before daylight to his work; and far into the night he has extended it, with ever fresh interest and delight.  Obliged very often to read his proofs, or prepare his notes, at least in their first draught, while journeying by land or by water, he has generally found in such employments, not additional fatigue, but a real comfort and resource, a balance to other cares, and a sweet preparation and invigoration for other labours.  Oh, how much he owes, under God, to these “guides, philosophers, and friends,”—these Fathers of old time,—and to “their Father and our Father, their God and our God”!  What love is due from all who love Christ, for the words they have spoken, and the deeds they have done, to assure us that the Everlasting Word is He to whom alone we can go for the words of life eternal!

A. C. C.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. The Rev. C. W. Hayes, M.A., of Westfield, N.Y.
  2. The Boston Press of Rand Avery Company.
  3. John Fiske, The Idea of God, Boston, 1886, pp. 73, 86.