Encouraged by the assured co-operation of competent Patristic scholars of Great Britain and the United States, I have undertaken the general editorship of a Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. It is to embrace in about twenty-five large volumes the most important works of the Greek Fathers from Eusebius to Photius, and of the Latin Fathers from Ambrose to Gregory the Great.
The series opens with St. Augustin, the greatest and most influential of all the Christian Fathers. Protestants and Catholics are equally interested in his writings, and most of all in his Confessions, which are contained in this volume. They will be followed by the works of St. Chrysostom, and the Church History of Eusebius.
A few words are necessary to define the object of this Library, and its relation to similar collections.
My purpose is to furnish ministers and intelligent laymen who have no access to the original texts, or are not sufficiently familiar with ecclesiastical Greek and Latin, with a complete apparatus for the study of ancient Christianity. Whatever may be the estimate we put upon the opinions of the Fathers, their historical value is beyond all dispute. They are to this day and will continue to be the chief authorities for the doctrines and usages of the Greek and Roman Churches, and the sources for the knowledge of ancient Christianity down to the age of Charlemagne. But very few can afford to buy, or are able to use such collections as Migne's Greek Patrology, which embraces 167 quarto volumes, and Migne's Latin Patrology which embraces 222 volumes.
The three leaders of the now historic Anglo-Catholic movement of Oxford, Drs. Pusey, Newman, and Keble, began, in 1837, the publication of "A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, anterior to the Division of the East and West. Translated by Members of the English Church," Oxford (John Henry Parker) and London (J. G. F. & J. Rivington). It is dedicated to "William Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England." The editors were aided by a number of able classical and ecclesiastical scholars. Dr. Pusey, the chief editor and proprietor, and Dr. Keble died in the communion of the church of their fathers to which they were loyally attached; Dr. Newman alone remains, though no more an Anglican, but a Cardinal of the Church of Rome. His connection with the enterprise ceased with his secession (1845).
The Oxford Library was undertaken not so much for an historical, as for an apologetic and dogmatic purpose. It was to furnish authentic proof for the supposed or real agreement of the Anglo-Catholic school with the faith and practice of the ancient church before the Greek schism. The selection was made accordingly. The series embraces 48 vols. It is very valuable as far as it goes, but incomplete and unequal. Volume followed volume as it happened to get ready. An undue proportion is given to exegetical works; six volumes are taken up with Augustin's Commentary on the Psalms, six with Gregory's Commentary on Job, sixteen with Commentaries of Chrysostom; while many of the most important doctrinal, ethical, and historical works of the Fathers, as Eusebius, Basil, the two Gregorys, Theodoret, Maximus Confessor, John of Damascus, Hilary, Jerome, Leo the Great, were never reached.
In 1866, Mr. T. Clark, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and an Elder in the Free Church of Scotland, who has done more than any publisher for the introduction of German and other foreign theological literature to the English reading community, began to issue the valuable "Ante-Nicene Christian Library", edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts, D. D., and James Donaldson, LL. D., which was completed in 1872 in 24 volumes, and is now being republished, by arrangement with Mr. Clark, in America in 8 volumes under the editorship of Bishop A. Cleveland Coxe, D. D. (1884-1886). Mr. Clark, in 1871, undertook also the publication of a translation of select works of St. Augustin under the editorial care of Rev. Marcus Dods, D. D., of Glasgow, which was completed in 15 volumes. The projected translation of Chrysostom was abandoned from want of encouragement.
Thus Episcopal divines of England, and Presbyterian divines of Scotland have prepared the way for our American enterprise, and made it possible.
We must also briefly mention a similar collection which was prepared by Roman Catholic scholars of Germany in the interest of their Church, namely the Bibliothek der Kirchenväter. Auswahl der vorzüglichsten patristichen Werke in deutscher Uebersetzung, herausgegeben unter der Oberleitung von Dr. Valentin Thalhofer (Domdekan und Prof. der Theol. in Eichstätt, formerly Professor in Munich). Kempten., Köselsche Buchhandlung. 1869-1886. Published in over 400 small numbers, three or four of which make a volume. An alphabetical Index vol. is now in course of preparation by Ulrich Uhle (Nos. 405 sqq.). The series was begun in 1869 by Dr. Fr. X. Reithmayr, Prof. of Theol. in Munich, who died in 1872. It embraces select writings of most of the Fathers. Seven volumes are devoted to Letters of the Popes from Linus to Pelagius II. (a.d. 67-590).
"The Christian Literature Company," who republish Clark's "Ante-Nicene Library," asked me to undertake the editorship of a Nicene and Post-Nicene Library to complete the scheme. Satisfactory arrangements have been made with Mr. Clark and with Mr. Walter Smith, representing Dr. Pusey's heirs, for the use of their translations, as far as our plan will permit. Without such a preliminary arrangement I would not have considered the proposal for a moment.
I have invited surviving authors of older translations to revise and edit their work for the American series, and I am happy to state that I received favorable replies. Some of them are among the list of contributors, others (including Cardinal Newman) have, at least, expressed a kindly interest in the enterprise, and wish it success.
The Nicene and Post-Nicene Library will be more complete and more systematic as well as much cheaper than any which has yet appeared in the English language. By omitting the voluminous Patristic commentaries on the Old Testament we shall gain room for more important and interesting works not embraced in the Oxford or Edinburgh series; and by condensing three or more of these volumes into one, and counting upon a large number of subscribers, the publishers think themselves justified in offering the Library on terms which are exceedingly liberal, considering the great expense and risk. It will be published in the same handsome style as their Ante-Nicene Library.
May the blessing of the Great Head of the Church accompany and crown this work.
New York, October, 1886.