Chrysostom Translation Comparison

When I look at the Nicene Post-Nicene Father’s translation of this same passage, I can’t help but think that a fresh translation of John Chrysostom’s Homilies is long over due. While the NPNF series was published in 1884, mostly they borrowed previous translations. And for Chrysostom here, the translation was originally published in 1840 by J.H. Parker (you can check google books HERE – page 310 is where this passage is).

“Submit to each other”, he declares, “in fear of God.” If you submit because of rulers, money or honor, how much more should you submit because you fear God? There should be an exchange between slavery and submission so that there is no true slavery. No one should sit in the rank of the freeman while another sits in the rank of the slave. Instead, both the master and the slave become slaves to each other. It is so much better to be a slave like this than free any other way. Let me explain: “Subjecting yourselves one to another,” he says, “in the fear of Christ.” For if thou submit thyself for a ruler’s sake, or for money’s sake, or from respectfulness, much more from the fear of Christ. Let there be an interchange of service and submission. For then will there be no such thing as slavish service. Let not one sit down in the rank of a freeman, and the other in the rank of a slave; rather it were better that both masters and slaves be servants to one another;—far better to be a slave in this way than free in any other; as will be evident from hence.
Suppose there is a person with a hundred slaves who would never serve any of them. But suppose there was also someone with a hundred friends, regularly serving each other. Which one would have the better life? Who lives more happily and comfortably. For one of them there is no anger, no irritation, no angst, or anything else of that kind, while for the other there is only anxiety and fear. In one case, they are forced, but in the other, all choose freely. In one case, they are constrained, but in the other, they serve and enjoy mutual benefaction and reciprocity. Suppose the case of a man who should have an hundred slaves, and he should in no way serve them; and suppose again a different case, of an hundred friends, all waiting upon one another. Which will lead the happier life? Which with the greater pleasure, with the more enjoyment? In the one case there is no anger, no provocation, no wrath, nor anything else of the kind whatever; in the other all is fear and apprehension. In the one case too the whole is forced, in the other is of free choice. In the one case they serve one another because they are forced to do so, in the other with mutual gratification.
And that’s God’s desire; that is why he washed the disciples’ feet. But there’s more! If anybody carefully studies this issue, they will find there is indeed an exchange between the slave and the master! Surely your pride won’t suffer by accepting such an exchange of service? When a person makes himself available for service, you must provide for him physically: food, clothing, and shoes. This, I tell you, is the way you should serve, because if you do not follow through on your end, the slave won’t either. He’ll be free and no law will constrain him nor will food convince him. And what’s more, if this is the case for slaves, what’s so unusual about it being the same with freemen? Thus does God will it to be; for this He washed His disciples’ feet. Nay more, if thou hast a mind to examine the matter nicely, there is indeed on the part of masters a return of service. For what if pride suffer not that return of service to appear? Yet if the slave on the one hand render his bodily service, and thou maintain that body, and supply it with food and clothing and shoes, this is an exchange of service: because unless thou render thy service as well, neither will he render his, but will be free, and no law will compel him to do it if he is not supported. If this then is the case with servants, where is the absurdity, if it should also become the case with free men.

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I don’t know about you, but there are several part of the 1840 translation that simply have no meaning to me. I get the sense that this is translation English at its worst. I think the challenge of reading this translation has less to do with the age and more to do with the technique. The translator seems to have tried to be as “literal” as possible and has successfully written a text that is incredibly awkward. I have an easier time reading Shakespeare than I do this!

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