This is the first volume in a two volume set published by Harvard University Press as part of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. It features, for the first time ever, a critical edition of Maximos the Confessor's Ambigua along with facing English translation. These books are a handsome addition to any library, and they offer both scholars and laymen an important and long-awaited resource for the study of patristic and Byzantine theology.
Nicholas Constas is the secular name of Fr. Maximos of Simonopetra, a patrologist and Byzantinist known for his previous work on Proclus of Constantinople, Symeon of Thessaloniki, Mark Eugenikos, and a variety of theological issues. He is an authority on Maximos and has been the keynote speaker at several symposia related to this Church Father.
The Greek text presented here is a long overdue critical edition of one of the most important theological texts of the early Byzantine period. Although a critical edition of the Greek text of the Ambigua to Thomas (Ambigua 1-5) was released in 2002, the much longer Earlier Ambigua to John (Ambigua 6-71) has hitherto been accessible only in Migne's reproduction of Oehler's 1857 edition. (A critical edition was announced by Corpus Christianorum in the 1980s, but has yet to appear). Oehler's text was known to contain a series of significant and unfortunate problems, and this new edition presents us with a much improved and more reliable text. Of the many examples (see, e.g., pp. 465, n. 6; 468, nn. 9, 11, 15, 17, 21, 22, and 90) one of the more intriguing for theologians, which serves to prove the necessity of a modern edition, is the correction of PG's ποιωθείς τε καὶ μεταποιωθείς to the more accurate (and meaningful) ποιωθείς τε καὶ μεταποιηθείς. This, along with a lengthy list of substantial changes, makes the present volume a welcome and important contribution.
Although this new edition does not represent an exhaustive collation of all extant manuscripts, Constas has put us all in his debt by establishing a reliable edition of this important text (and doing so in a timely manner). To accomplish this he has made use of the most important witnesses, such as Angelicus gr. 120 and Vaticanus gr. 504. But most importantly, his edition incorporates the Latin translation of John Scottus Eriugena (9th c.). This version of the Ambigua, which time and again preserves the readings found in the best Greek manuscripts (e.g., factus et transformatus est for the above-cited example), is the oldest extant witness to the original text of St. Maximos.
We all owe Fr. Maximos our gratitude for supplying us with this important resource.
The translation which faces the Greek was made from the critical edition and is a boon to both scholars and everyday readers. DOML has continued the legacy of the Loeb Classical Library with this series, and we should all be grateful that professional scholarship is extending its labors to the benefit of non-specialists.
Volume 1 contains Ambigua 1-22, which are less than half of all the Ambigua. Because these are substantially longer and more involved than the subsequent forty nine, vol. 1 is still over a hundred pages longer than vol. 2.
Until now, English readers were able to access select Ambigua, either in whole or in part, in the translations of Fr. Andrew Louth (Ambigua 1, 10, 41, 71; Routledge) and of Paul Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken (Ambigua 7, 8, and 42; SVS Press). These translations of course lacked the contextualization of the present volumes, where they now profit from the broader conversation taking place around them. Because these texts are extremely dense and complex, this is not an insignificant point. Many will find that even the Ambigua they already knew are now opened up and clarified by their original context.
Yet it is not only the context that adds to this translation's merits. Upon close comparison, it immediately becomes clear that Fr. Maximos's translation possesses greater fluidity, clarity, and nuance than past versions. Two examples, Ambiguum 7 (previously translated in the Popular Patristics Series) and Ambiguum 10 (in the Early Church Fathers series) illustrate this well. These are arguably among the most important Ambigua, the one treating the subject of the logoi and the other of deification. Here the translator's ability to penetrate and extrapolate the syntax and flow of arguments is on full display. In these complex and intricate Ambigua, Constas shows his skill as a reader of Maximos's extremely difficult Greek and as a theologian of the highest calibre, for the beauty and density of these Ambigua are not easy to convey in English.
It is clear that Fr. Maximos is a conscientious translator who has put a tremendous amount of labor into this project. We all benefit from his efforts.
As previously noted, these books are handsomely produced. They have the standard binding and design of all DOML volumes, of which these are numbers 28 and 29. They are heavy, with sewn binding, and use an attractive typeface.
DOML has stated that this series is "aimed at a global audience," and they have remained faithful to that claim. In one of their most praiseworthy moves, they have made this book accessible to all readers, and not just specialists, by offering it at a very reasonable price. Especially when one compares this volume to other scholarly publications, it is clear that the price tag is a true bargain.
Biblical references are cited only in the Greek text, while PG numbers are cited in the translation. This really should have been the other way around, since a text like this will doubtlessly attract readers who are focused solely on the English, while PG numbering loses its precision when accommodated to an English equivalent, since the word order is changed.
Because the bulk of this text is taken up by the Earlier Ambigua, Christology and anti-monothelite polemics play less of a role than some readers might expect. We have all come to know St. Maximos as "the Confessor," a man who suffered exile and ill-treatment for his faith in Christ's two energies and two wills. But this book, and its Introduction, introduce St. Maximos the Byzantine mystic and the philosopher, a man with a deep grounding in late-antique philosophy, whose construction of the contemplative life was to leave a mark on future generations. Constas does an excellent job introducing this less familiar side of the Confessor in his Introduction and connecting him to the broader context of Byzantine theology.
One wishes Fr. Maximos had provided an even longer Introduction, although this appears to be the standard length for DOML volumes. In the same way, I found myself wishing the theological commentary in the footnotes was more extensive. But these too seem to have been kept to a minimum following the standards of DOML.
We all owe Fr. Maximos our gratitude for this exemplary edition and translation, and to DOML for making it available. These are destined to be a historic contribution to the field of patristics. The field of Maximos studies will never be the same again.