Catenae: Were They an Attempt to Simplify Things?

The history of New Testament commentary began when the early Church Fathers started interpreting the Bible in the form of commentaries or of homilies. At some point around the seventh century a more handy form was introduced. The previous bulk of knowledge was compiled into a new product called catenae, which could be used as a handbook. The compilers assembled comments of the Church Fathers on passages of the New Testament and, furthermore, in some cases they contributed their own interpretation. The catenae are an invaluable source, since they preserved parts of otherwise lost works. Among the thousands of pages of commentaries of the Church Fathers the reader could also find explanations and clarifications of words in the biblical text. Inevitably, but also fortunately, some of these were transmitted in the catena manuscripts with the help of the compilers. The interest of this lies in the fact that there was clearly a need for the explanation of a word or phrase from a text originally written in Greek, in our case the New Testament, for a Greek speaking audience not many centuries after the time that the New Testament was written. Did this happen because the Greek language had changed over time, or did the author of the exegetical work simply want to clarify the meaning of the words for congregations which also included illiterate people? It might also reveal an attempt at a preliminary unsophisticated intralingual translation. The aim of this paper is to show the several ways that ancient exegetes explained the meaning of a word or a phrase, with examples from the Pauline catena manuscripts.