These are Volumes 65 and 66 of the Ancient Christian Writers series initiated by The Newman Bookshop (now the Newman Press, taken into the Paulist Press family in 1962), the first volume of which, with the epistles of Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, appeared in 1946 under the general editors Johannes Quasten and Joseph Plumpe. Like their predecessors, these most recent two volumes are good resources for the amateur and expert alike. The introductions provide useful guides for reading; the endnotes are quite extensive and thorough, offering commentary on translation issues, historical context, and theological implications.
Jerome’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes was the first of his attempts at exegesis, following upon his earlier translation into what became the standard Latin text of the gospels (and following his ejection from Rome). As the Editors’ thirty-page introduction notes, Ecclesiastes is an odd choice. Though its world-weary attitude meshed with the strong Christian asceticism of the time, it seems to undercut any believe in Providence or purpose to life. Pessimistic Epicureans could be as comfortable with it as Christians. In Irenaeus first book against gnostic heresies most space was devoted to describing Valentinian, and sometimes Marcionite, doctrines, with occasional criticisms. Book 2 focuses mainly on a critical analysis of gnostic ideas, seeking to show internal contradiction, with occasional appeals to Christian beliefs and scripture. The editors opine that this Book was intended to provide others mostly with rational arguments they could use to combat heresy. (Book 3 leans more on arguments from scripture.)
In both of these volumes the thorough and clear commentary or notes following the translated text are very useful. What had been a good 43 pages of endnotes in Volume 1 of this series has now turned into 108 helpful pages of commentary following the 102 page translation of Ecclesiastes. The volume with Book 2 of Against the Heresies, has 56 pages of clear notes and commentary following the 97 pages of translation.
These commentaries/notes show some signs of the times in which they were composed. In the 1946 volume the notes interpret one of Clement’s comments as alluding to “sanctifying grace.” These words are not in the text; the editor was trusting later theology to interpret Clement. Similar he found Clement’s simple reference to the body of Christians to adumbrate Pius XII Mystici Corporis. It was more difficult to find such somewhat anachronistic comments in the two 2012 volumes, though at least twice the translators were at pains to insist that unclear statements by Irenaeus about the soul could not be understood to undercut what later became clearer doctrine on the soul’s immortality.
Those who regularly read volumes in this Newman Press series will be at home with them, perhaps using their own expertise to criticize the translations and commentaries. As one who does not find enough occasions to read such work, I have to say it is a more than pleasant task to learn so much so easily from such relatively brief and clear sources. We should be thankful that Paulist Press supports the Newman Press in continuing the series.