Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.01.63

Rodney A. Whitacre, A Patristic Greek Reader.   Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.  Pp. 300.  ISBN 978-1-59856043-5.  $29.95.  

Reviewed by Oleh Kindiy, Ukrainian Catholic University (
Word count: 1224 words

Table of Contents

The reader produced by Rodney A. Whitacre is a helpful and well-organized tool for those who wish to study patristic texts. As the author announces in the introduction, the two goals of the book are to provide an introduction to the rich legacy of the fathers and to offer further reading to those who have studied biblical Greek and wish to continue their exercise in the language (p. xv). Both goals are successfully achieved.

Those who regularly read BMCR reviews are familiar with several recent books of similar purpose in other fields of Classical Studies, such as a reader on Pre-Socratic authors by Patricia Curd,1 selected sources on Alexander the Great by Ian Worthington,2 texts of Catullus by Ronnie Ancona,3 and the Legamus reader by Thomas J. Sienkewicz and LeaAnn A. Osburn.4 This reader stands in the same category of the instrumenta studiorum with those on Classical, Hellenistic, New Testament, and Byzantine Greek. It is aimed at partially filling in the gap between a well-established cluster of textbooks for the study of classical texts, on the one hand, and for the study of Biblical texts (Septuagint and New Testament), on the other. In addition, it makes a propitious connection between the introductory acquaintance with patristic literature one can easily make from numerous English translations and the highly-developed critical editions of Greek patristic texts that are too difficult for a beginner to work with. Even though there exist several handy tools for reading the church fathers, this is the first reader of its kind in the field of patristics.5

The book contains an introduction and two parts, the first of which has Greek patristic texts and notes, and the second offers a fresh English translation of the texts furnished by the author of the book. The two parts are followed by three appendices: Appendix A contains a list of commonly used Greek words and their English equivalents; Appendix B gives principal parts of common verbs; and Appendix C is a list of the texts arranged by difficulty level. The book concludes with a short bibliography indispensable for beginners who wish to learn about available dictionaries, lexicons, grammars, syntaxes of Greek, as well as bibliographical references to the Greek and English texts, translations, and studies on patristic authors and their writings that are presented in the book.6

The 24-page introduction is not overburdened with theological or philological information. It clearly explains the goals, the author's understanding of the term "patristic," his approach to reading the church fathers, justification for the selection from their writings, a methodological explanation of the Greek notes that accompany the selections, and several instructions on how to use the reader and for further reading in patristic literature. Since the book is intended specifically for students, the understanding of the term "patristic" is introductory. The book suggests that the literature of the church fathers is a continuation of biblical theology, unfolded, interpreted, and organized by the Christian theologians of the first millennium. Even though the legacy of the church fathers is not monolithic, early Christian writers participated in molding one philosophical and theological Weltanschauung that defined dogmatic, anthropological, social, political, and moral categories, and shared what George Florovsky called the "mind of the Fathers," which was a reflection of the "Scriptural mind." (p. xviii)

The preface and the introduction of the book contain reflections more readily understood by seminarians, theologians, and faith-seeking students, yet this does not prevent it from being academically sophisticated and precise. The book is called for not so much to delve into the problems of theology as to simply give access to various genres and styles of different levels of theological and philological difficulty: sermons, poems, treatises, letters, texts of an apologetic nature, as well as historical and narrative accounts. One will find here whole works or some selections from The Didache, First letter of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch's To the Romans, The Epistle to Diognetus, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Justin Martyr's First Apology, Melito of Sardis' On Pascha Clement of Alexandria's Miscellanies, Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History and Life of Constantine, Athanasius' On the Incarnation, several of Gregory of Nazianzus' Orations, Apophthegmata Patrum of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, John Chrysostom's Homiliae in Matthaeum, Hesychios the Priest's On Watchfulness and Holiness, and Symeon the New Theologian's Hymns. Each passage is 5 to 20 pages long in the Greek text (with notes) and 3 to 7 pages long in the English translation.

The texts are generally ordered chronologically, but Appendix C of the book also gives an alternative order, i.e., by the level of difficulty of the Greek. This "rough guide" (p. 271) will be helpful for students who wish to make progress in reading the texts gradually without regard to content but rather to the lexical and grammatical difficulty. The level of difficulty is weighed on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 as the easiest), based on the editor's comparative assessment of different texts. In result, among the Easiest Texts one will find Didache and Gregory's Orations 1 and 29 that are assessed as the easiest, while 1 Clement, Ignatius' To the Romans, and Martyrdom of Polycarp belong to the levels 1 and 2. The Intermediate Texts contain selections from the Apophthegmata Patrum of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Gregory's Orations 31 and 45, John's Homiliae in Matthaeum, which are on the levels of 1-3; Hesychios' On Watchfulness and Holiness are on the levels of 2-4; while Symeon's Hymns -- 3-4. Athanasius' On the Incarnation, Clement's Miscellanies, Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, and Justin's First Apology belong to the Advanced Texts and are placed on the levels of 3-5. The most difficult text is Gregory's Oration 2, which is given the level of 4-5.

A brief introduction precedes each text and gives a historical note about the author and the text, as well as the structure of the text and important theological themes that are found in it. The introduction concludes with information about the English editions used in the book and the level of difficulty of the Greek text. For further work with patristic texts, one could recommend a short introduction to some foreign critical editions, such as the French Sources chrétiennes or the German Fontes Christiani, but it might well be superfluous for intermediate level students. The principal value of the book is in its notes, which accompany the Greek texts at the bottom of each page. The notes are intended to enable the student to read the passages without constantly consulting the dictionary. Standard New Testament and Classical Greek lexicons and grammars are cited. In a few cases the notes contain additional brief commentaries or explanations of particular words.

In terms of its production, this book is excellent. The paperback edition is affordable, and the Greek texts with the notes are easy to follow. The choice of the length of texts and the concurrent notes will fit well for individual reading by a beginner or for a guided group reading in a seminar course. In sum, the book is an important and happy sign that there is a growing interest among students and young scholars in patristic literature. I recommend it to every teacher of intermediate Greek and for students who wish to discover the richness of early Christian literature not only in modern languages but even more profoundly in the originals.


1.   Patricia Curd (ed.), A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996). Reviewed by Daniel J. Schoos in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1996.7.1.
2.   Ian Worthington, Alexander the Great. A Reader (London/New York: Routledge, 2003). Reviewed by Peter C. Nadig in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.03.20.
3.   Ronnie Ancona, Writing Passion. A Catullus Reader. Latin Text, Notes, Vocabulary (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2004). Reviewed by P. A. Roche in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.11.31.
4.   Thomas J. Sienkewicz, LeaAnn A. Osburn, Vergil. A Legamus Transitional Reader (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2004). Reviewed by Edith Foster in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.09.38.
5.   Whitacre refers to several important tools, such as by Patrick H. Alexander, John F. Kutsko, Jamas D. Ernest, Shirley A. Decker-Lucke, and David L. Petersen, eds., The SBL Handbook of Style for Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999); H.P.V.Nunn, A Short Syntax of New Testament Greek (5th ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938); Clarence B. Hale, Let's Read Greek: A Graded Reader (Chicago: Moody, 1968); Allen Wikgren, with the collaboration of Ernest Cadman Colwell and Ralph Marcus, Hellenistic Greek Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947); F. C. Conybeare and St. George Stock, A Grammar of Septuagint Greek, With Selected Readings from the Septuagint According to the Text of Swete (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988); and St Gregory of Nazianzus: Poemata Arcana (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), edited with a textual introduction by C. Moreschini, introduction, translation, and commentary by D.A. Sykes, and English translation of textual introduction by Leofranc Holford-Strevens. Whitacre organizes his notes to the Greek texts in the similar way as it is done in the book by James J. Helm, Plato: Apology. Text, Grammatical Commentary, Vocabulary (Wauconda, Ill.: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1997).
6.   The press may have overlooked that the abbreviation PLG of G.W.H.Lampe's A Patristic Greek Lexicon p.273 should be PGL as correctly used throughout the notes of the book.

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