Expanding the Narratives of Scripture

For all the depth hidden in Scripture, it can often appear barebones to the storyteller; frequently only the simplest actions, the most basic order of events, is described. One can hunger for more detail, for more color, for more character. In the Gospels, this is felt even more strongly: shouldn’t the life and times of our Savior be described as effusively as possible? Why didn’t John write more of those books which “the world itself would not contain” (Jn 21:25)?

This is part of the drive that led to the plethora of apocryphal literature in the time of the Apostles and thereafter. What more did Jesus say and teach? The Gospel of Thomas provides a large selection. How was Mary born, and how did she and Joseph meet? The Gospel of James goes into detail. What happened in Jesus’ infancy and hidden years? The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew explains. What else occurred during Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection? The Acts of Pilate tells us. Of course, these writings are called “apocryphal” for a reason: they were “hidden away” because the stories and sayings they added to Scripture were so often contrary to doctrine, tradition, or just good taste. (A particularly atrocious example is a story where the child Jesus is making little pools of water; another boy wrecks the pools and instantly dies; after his parents rightly complain, the child Jesus “smote the back side of the dead boy with his foot and bade him rise,” then resumed his play.)1

Some good could come even from these writings, though: in particular, the stories of Mary’s conception, birth, and childhood, from The Gospel of James (also called the Protoevangelium), were brought into the Church’s general tradition, and they are frequently found in liturgy and art.

This desire for expanded Gospel stories was not exhausted by the early apocryphal books: it continued to be felt. Narrative poets, in particular, felt this need. When a culture became Christian, it did not lose its characteristics: instead, it had to Christianize them. The Greek and Roman cultures loved narrative poetry — Homer’s and Virgil’s epics are the most famous, but there were many others, long and short — and, in becoming Christian, they naturally poeticized Christianity. This was done in accordance with their culture, sometimes in the most blatant ways, as when a Roman noblewoman wove together lines from Virgil, changed a few words, and made a poem in praise of Christ.2: Ex Typographeo Bodmeriano, 1664).] Others, however, were more original in their writing.

We could pluck out Christian narrative poems from throughout the centuries — like Sedulius’ fifth-century Carmen paschale or the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon epic Heliand — but it was during the Renaissance, when a wider range of classical authors had been rediscovered and examined, that the genre truly flowered. It was in the Renaissance that arguably the most famous Christian narrative poem — John Milton’s Paradise Lost — was written.

Paradise Lost is not a retelling of the Gospels, of course — a snippet of that occurs in the oft-disparaged sequel, Paradise Regained — but it is still a Christian poem, and one that is Scripturally based. Others of Milton’s time, and afterward, wrote longer, Gospel-based narratives. Marco Girolamo Vida’s Christiad, a Latin epic on Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, was perhaps the most popular in Milton’s time, as Milton himself suggests: “Loud o’er the rest Cremona’s trump doth sound.”3 Vida’s work inspired a number of other Christiads, many in Spain; France had a terrifyingly prolific burst of such Christian epics, though critics quickly killed the momentum. The trend mainly petered out by the end of the 1600s, but it was not gone for good: the late 1700s, for instance, saw Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s Der Messias, which is longer than the Iliad. There are still poets who write narrative poems based on the Gospels, though the tone is not typically as bombastic as the traditional epic: one example is John W. Lynch’s 1941 poem A Woman Wrapped in Silence, which recounts the Gospel narrative from Mary’s point of view.

The goal here, though, is not to give a detailed history of Scripture-based narrative poetry, but to see how these poems expand upon the bare text of Scripture, especially the Gospels. To go further, we’ll look at three examples: Milton’s Paradise Lost, Vida’s Christiad, and Lynch’s A Woman Wrapped in Silence.

To more strictly follow the theme of expanding on the Gospels, it would perhaps be better to look at Paradise Regained instead of Paradise Lost, and it does provide an example of one method: elongating dialogues. Unfortunately for any sense of plot, there is almost no action in Paradise Regained: practically all of the poem takes place during Christ’s temptation in the desert. There is a short break at the beginning of Book II, where Milton shows the Apostles lamenting the Lord’s disappearance, but it does little plot-wise, especially since Jesus does not even reunite with them at the end, but simply “unobserv’d / Home to his Mothers house private return’d.”4 The rest of the poem is simply back and forth speeches between Jesus and Satan. Expansion of dialogue is one of the basic building blocks in adapting the Gospels into narrative poetry, but it is not sufficient: such a poem requires action and description, not simply dialogue. Otherwise, it is little more than a play with excess stage directions.

Paradise Lost, in contrast, certainly keeps the expanded dialogue, but it also overhauls the plot of Genesis, adding many entirely new characters and events, to the point that the actual events related in Genesis take up very little space at all. (For instance, the temptation and fall itself take up most of Book IX; however, Books V-VIII are mainly comprised of a long talk between Raphael and Adam, where the former recounts the War in Heaven and the Creation — a dialogue certainly never mentioned in Scripture.) Despite the heavy penchant for dialogue and speeches found even in Paradise Lost, it is not what first comes to mind when most people think of the poem: instead, what dominates is the character of Satan.

Milton’s stated aim in the poem is to “assert Eternal Providence, / And justifie the wayes of God to men,” but the most striking character is, instead, he “who durst defie th’ Omnipotent to Arms.”5 In a strictly literal reading of the narrative in Genesis, Satan is not even a character at all: there is simply a talking, tempting serpent. But tradition is practically unanimous in seeing the serpent as Satan in disguise. Milton takes this tradition, then, and expands upon it, describing Satan’s actions leading up to the Fall. All such expansion is, of course, poetic license, but this license is what we are studying here.

Some parts are easy to accept: the council of Satan with his fallen comrades (most likely inspired by a scene in Vida’s Christiad), Satan spying on Adam and Eve in the Garden, etc. Perhaps we could still accept the incorporation of classical mythology into Hell, such as the “four infernal Rivers that disgorge / Into the burning Lake their baleful streams” — after all, Dante did this to a more detailed extent, though his narrative was not Scriptural.6 But Milton gets stranger, as with the strange demonic reproduction encountered in the characters of Sin and Death, or the heavy use of the apocryphal archangel Uriel. Besides the events themselves, we could complain — as many have — about the emphasis in the poem, how Satan seems to be a hero, making an epic journey, succeeding in his quest, and then acclaiming how he has “made one Realm / Hell and this World, one Realm, one Continent / Of easie thorough-fare.”7 Of course, being a good Christian, Milton prophesies Satan’s future defeat by Christ, so that, at the end, Adam and Eve are “both in one Faith unanimous though sad, / With cause for evils past, yet much more cheer’d / With meditation on the happie end.”8 Thus, Satan, though being perhaps the most interesting character of the poem, and the apparent victor, has really only gained a Pyrrhic victory.

Paradise Lost, then, expands on the Scriptural narrative in abundance of ways. There is the simple elongation of dialogue (in this case, speech between Adam and Eve at the Fall, and between both of them and God at the subsequent cursing); there is a greater portrait of the places (Eden) and of the way of life there (both before and after the Fall); there is an expanded description of Scripturally-recorded actions (such as the eating and giving of the fruit). These are easy-to-accept changes. Next, there are new actions on the part of existent characters: here, the characters are more implied in the Scriptural narrative than explicitly present: Satan (as the serpent) and Michael (as the cherub at the gates of Eden, though here he has a whole squadron of assistants). Here we might also include God the Father and God the Son, in their discussion in Heaven, at the opening of Book III. The actions of Michael and God are easy to accept, but Satan’s are a much greater departure from Scripture. They necessitate a slew of new characters: the figures of Sin and her son Death, the various members of the demonic council, as well as the angels Uriel and Gabriel.

Each of these new additions buries the basic Scriptural story, little by little, to the point that they become more interesting than the foundation (or, one might argue, in the long speeches by Gabriel and Michael, they simply kill the plot with little interest whatsoever). What began with Scripture has now taken on a life of its own: it has become its own story. While that might lead to a fantastic work of art, it barely counts as an expanded Scriptural narrative anymore.

Such is one extreme, the extreme of suffocating addition. On the opposite side, one can strive to write a narrative poem with as little expansion as possible: maybe only the dialogues and descriptions are lengthened, with little else changed. A Renaissance epic — Judith by Guillaume de Salluste, Sieur du Bartas — does this, following the Scriptural narrative literally, almost to a fault; the only change is that, whereas the Scriptural account begins with a description of the prior campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes, Du Bartas puts these later in the poem, in a speech given by Holofernes to Judith.9 A more recent narrative poem, Lynch’s A Woman Wrapped in Silence, takes this tack in regards to the Gospel narrative of Mary. Lynch’s poem, though, is a bit of a strange narrative, as the action of the narrative itself takes second place to descriptions of the characters’ psychology. It is a more intimate work, far from “epic” in tone. It is also hyper-focused on accuracy to Scripture: the author, himself a Jesuit, had another priest review the work to bring it “scrupulously within the limits of what is factually contained in the New Testament,” and any section that mentions something out of tradition, rather than Scripture, explicitly states so.10

This scrupulosity severely hampers the ability to craft a narrative. Lynch refrains from so much as placing words into the mouths of the Scriptural personages, aside from a few rare examples: for instance, Joseph once says, “Mary. It is here. / This is Bethlehem,” but, typically, the verse is vaguer, like, “Joseph spoke of angels that had come / . . . and said it was a blessed dream,” but with no actual words being given.11 So Lynch cannot add new events (thus leaving large gaps, especially with his focus on Mary: Jesus’ public ministry is almost completely skipped over, because Mary is absent from it); he cannot even expand on Scriptural dialogues. (Often, instead of rewording Scripture, he will even break out of the poem to simply copy the Scriptural lines, from the Douay-Rheims.) What is left to him? Commentary and description. Much of this description is psychological, diving into the mind and heart of Mary. For instance, after Elizabeth greets Mary at the Visitation, she feels that

            . . . now, the gift that trembled unreleased,

Was free. Was free! The heart could cry of it,

And know no violation in the cry. . . .

The joy of it! The utter gift of it!

The silence ended. Out of it, her song!12

Thus Lynch links Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary’s Magnificat. The psychological descriptions are often even more blunt, as in describing Mary’s feeling immediately after Christ’s death:

                                    He was not there.

He’d left them. They were all alone. Alone.

She was all alone . . .

This was the first time. She was strange in it,

And hushed for it was new. This was the first

Time she was utterly alone, alone,

With nowhere she could think to, or could hope,

Or ask to be. No place where she could say

It was obedience for her to be

Not there. He’d gone from earth. He’d gone. He’d died.13

Alongside these descriptions, Lynch also comments on the style of the Scriptures (“O, Luke had words to tell, but Luke’s good words / Are faltering, and halt before they lead / Beyond the outer margins of the light”), or on how we react to Scripture (on the image of Mary at Cana: “Aye, we have kept this vision in our eyes / Through all the aves we have sped to her”), or on how we add to Scripture with our traditions (legends on the Flight to Egypt are “embroideries of further words to web / The silences [Matthew] left with intricate / Detailing”).14 All of these things are ripe material for poetry, but they can only be secondary in a narrative. Lynch’s stringent adherence to Scripture, though, prevents him from fleshing out his narrative. Certainly, this avoids the extravagances of Milton, but it also drains the action of the plot. Lynch’s approach to Scripture, then, provides a good source for meditation and devotion, but not for narrative.

There can be a mean, though, between the extremes of wild fancy and of non-alteration. The Scripture narratives can be rearranged, altered, and added to in a measured way, so that they can result in properly narrative works that are still faithful to the more general sense of Scripture. As an example of this approach, I would like to offer Marco Girolamo Vida’s Christiad, a sixteenth-century Latin epic.15

The Christiad begins with Jesus announcing His coming death to His disciples, just before raising Lazarus and entering Jerusalem; it ends with Pentecost. As a whole, it follows the path from Palm Sunday to Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection, then up to Pentecost, when “a golden age rises over all the earth, / and dawns the ages’ beautifullest order, by far.”16 Though the basic structure of the work follows Scripture, Vida is not afraid to alter the events for the sake of his narrative. There is the basic technique of expanding dialogue, or adding new ones into Scriptural events, like Judas’ soliloquy before his suicide (“Oh what will I, unhappy do? For what, what age / Afar will ever such a sin forget, not tell? . . .”).17 There are added descriptions, such as the fantastic account of the Harrowing of Hell.18 What is more interesting here, though, is the changing of events.

Books III and IV of the six-book epic are wholesale inventions of Vida’s. Book II ends with Christ’s imprisonment, after a brief meeting with Pilate. In Book III, Joseph (who is still alive and well, despite tradition) and John go to Pilate “to pray for peace and pardon, / and speak against the people’s envy, and their hatred cruel.”19 These long speeches give Vida a chance to recount the prior parts of Jesus’ story: in Book III, Joseph recounts Mary’s childhood and betrothal, and Jesus’ birth and childhood, while, in Book IV, John recounts His public ministry. The latter speech, at least, is slightly plausible — since John mentions how “the other disciple” (himself) was known to the high priest (Jn 18:16), it’s possible he might have gained an audience with Pilate through that connection — though both discourses are obvious narrative crutches, easy ways to add backstory. It is in Book I, in particular, that Vida shows how to form Scripture into a narrative with a lighter hand.

Book I covers, in general, the events of Holy Week up to Holy Thursday, with Judas’ pact with the Pharisees, the Last Supper, and the subsequent events occurring in Book II. This first book begins while Jesus and His disciples are on the way to Jerusalem; they stop in a grove, and the Lord foretells His coming death: “I’ve come to the last, companions. The given times of life / I’ve spent on earth. Now the unutterable day approaches, / And pious shades expect Me.”20 Then a messenger comes from Bethany, and we have the raising of Lazarus and the entrance into Jerusalem, as John recounts (Jn 11-12). But, once Jesus is in Jerusalem, Vida brings in many episodes from other parts of the Gospels. The first event after Jesus’ entrance is the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda (Jn 5); after the cleansing of the Temple — which Luke recounts as taking place after the entrance into Jerusalem (Lk 19) — Jesus meets the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8). Perhaps the most shocking rearrangement, though, is the event that ends Book I: the Transfiguration.

All of these changes are made for the sake of narrative strength: watching these events unfold in the “present” part of the narrative is much more effective than simply having them recounted by John in his long speech later. The splendor of the Transfiguration is especially effective, since it recalls Jesus’ divinity, by which He will triumph over death — hence a line in the description of the Transfiguration, where Jesus is “perfusing all surroundings with unwonted light,” is echoed in the Harrowing of Hell, where the same expression occurs, but with “purple light,” with purple being the color of royalty.21 Vida also hammers this home with a dialogue between Jesus and God the Father, speaking of Jesus’ coming betrayal and victory, and the spread of the Church (the “golden age” that is declared at the end of the poem, and foretold throughout), ending with the Father’s declaration, “Our Godhead’s seat let [Rome] be.”22

So Vida has rearranged the Gospel narratives for his own purpose, while still keeping the same main thread: the approach of the Passion. Like Milton (and probably inspiring him), he also adds more detail to the Enemy, with a glance at the Infernal Council, where Satan directs his followers to go stir up the Pharisees and priests against Jesus. These return to fulfill their duty at the beginning of Book II, where the plan to snare Jesus takes up a surprising amount of space. Yet, unlike in Milton, the demonic adversaries always have a secondary role in the narrative, and they are explicitly and soundly defeated in Book VI, when Jesus shatters the gates of Hell. Again, the additions do not overwhelm the main Scriptural narrative, but complement it.

A final interesting aspect of Vida’s treatment is how he adds backstories to the Scriptural personages. Here, Lazarus is a rich, royal man, who rules the kingdom of Bethany, and his “father reined the giant shores of Syria, / and once, by force, subjected cities captive to himself.”23 The Mary who comes to pour ointment upon Jesus is an orphan who inherited wealth and then “by riches, raging, sought the sweetest loves / of flowering youths,” and came to Jesus — whose beauty and greatness she’d heard of — in order to seduce him, but, instead, she was overcome by His divinity, “and she conceived far different flames within her breast.”24 As a final example, we have the woman caught in adultery: “pallid Susanna, wife to long-aged Manasseh, / to whom her father yoked her, splendid in form, in flowering years, / unwilling and in anguish, not soothing her disgust.”25

Vida’s Christiad, then, uses a number of techniques to make a narrative of Scripture. Sometimes he adds new events: the testimonies of Joseph and John, the Infernal Council, as well as a set of carvings in the Temple which Jesus explains to His disciples, recounting salvation history. Sometimes he rearranges events, like making the Transfiguration take place during Holy Week. Sometimes he adds backstories to Scriptural personages, to expand on their characters. These are all in addition to the more typical changes: expanding dialogues and descriptions. Yet, for all this change and addition, the core narrative of Scripture remains, without getting overwhelmed by newness (as in Milton) or made unalterable (as in Lynch). So, I would say, it is a grand example of how to write a Scriptural narrative poem: faithful, yet original.

But few Christians write narrative poetry. Then how else could the results of this analysis be used? There is another realm where we strive to make the Scriptures into appealing narratives: homilies. This is not without precedent, either: if we look at the homilies of our forefathers, we can see some of these techniques used.

For instance, St. Germanos of Constantinople, in the seventh century, penned a long homily on the Annunciation, most of which is taken up by dialogues between Gabriel and Mary, and between Joseph and Mary. So, when Joseph first sees Mary after the Annunciation, he declares, “Immaculate I received you from the house of the Lord, and as an undefiled virgin I left you in my house; and what is this which I now, that you are an expectant mother and not a virgin?” Mary, however, affirms, “Immaculate you left me in your house, as you said, and, I say, you have found me still unspotted.”26 This is just the beginning of a debate that goes on for quite some time, one wholly written by Germanos himself. (As another example, we might recall the famous “ancient homily on Holy Saturday,” included in the Office of Readings, with its speech of Christ to Adam.)

St. Ephraim the Syrian adds some backstory to Simon the Pharisee, in whose house Jesus dined, by making him one of those Pharisees who beheld His prior miracles, which signs “prompted the Pharisee to invite our Lord as a prophet”; however, he was also one of those who was indignant at Jesus’ claim to forgive sins, and said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”27 St. Gregory the Great expands on St. Matthew’s life when describing Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, saying, “Peter returned to fishing after his conversion, but Matthew did not again sit down to his business of tax collecting” because “no one is allowed to take up again after his conversion those [occupations] that are involved with sin.”28 St. Jacob of Serug has Mary teaching Joseph of the prophecies of Christ, after learning about them from Zachariah and Elizabeth: “She was also reminding him what the prophets spoke; / he trembled while remaining steadfast, and he firmly believed everything, while hesitating.”29 New events from tradition are frequently incorporated into homilies, like Jesus’ appearing to His Mother after His Resurrection, or her Assumption. Even the devil receives a bit of character, in a dim echo of Milton, as in the famous Paschal Homily attributed to St. John Chrysostom: “He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom. He has angered it by allowing it to taste of His flesh! . . . Hades is angered because it is frustrated! It is angered because it is now captive! It seized a body, and lo! It discovered God! It seized earth, and behold! It encountered Heaven!”30

In sum, narrative poetry shows many ways to expand on the Scriptural narratives, among them: adding new events (from tradition or from imagination); adding backstories; adding new characters; expanding descriptions of events; expanding dialogue; re-arranging events. All of these methods are used to make the Scriptural stories more powerful as narratives. Yet narrative is not simply the province of art: it is also a strong means of evangelization. Ours is not simply an abstract faith, one solely revolving around doctrines: it is a historical faith, a narrative faith, a faith of stories. So the means used to expand on the Scriptural narratives in poetry can also be applied to evangelization, and to homilies. In doing so, they can provide adornment to the basic story; however, St. Augustine’s instruction should always be borne in mind: “let the simple truth of the narration that we employ be like the gold which holds together in harmonious arrangement the jewels of an ornament without becoming itself unduly conspicuous.”31 The jewels are splendid, but the gold is the core.

  1. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew §XXVI, qtd. in Montague Rhodes James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 76.
  2. See Faltonia Betitia Proba, Cento Vergilianus, ed. Alessia Fassina and Carlo M. Lucarini (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015). Strangely enough, Proba’s was not the only Christian cento — a poem built out of phrases and lines from a single poet — of Virgil; many, throughout the centuries, cut-and-pasted Virgilian phrases into poems praising the monastic life, recounting the life and death of the Apostles, and even depicting the battle of David and Goliath. In the end, an English poet even built his own Christian Aeneid out of Virgil: see Alexander Ross, Virgili Evangelisantis Christiados Libri XIII (Tiguri [Zürich
  3. John Milton, “The Passion,” l. 26, in The Complete Poetry of John Milton, ed. John T. Shawcross, revised ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 1971), 79. Vida was from Cremona.
  4. Milton, Paradise Regained IV.638–639, in The Complete Poetry of John Milton, 572.
  5. Milton, Paradise Lost I.25-26,49, in The Complete Poetry of John Milton, 252.
  6. Milton, Paradise Lost II.575–576, in The Complete Poetry of John Milton, 285.
  7. Milton, Paradise Lost X.391–393, in The Complete Poetry of John Milton, 461.
  8. Milton, Paradise Lost XII.603–605, in The Complete Poetry of John Milton, 516.
  9. Unfortunately, Du Bartas is not very popular nowadays, and Judith is one of his minor poems; the main English translation, by Josuah Sylvester, was contemporary with the poet. Helpfully, Sylvester’s translation of all of Du Bartas’ works is still in print by Oxford: The Divine Weeks and Works of Guillaume de Saluste, Sieur du Bartas, tr. Josuah Sylvester, ed. Susan Snyder, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). The original French of Judith can be found in The Works of Guillaume De Salluste Sieur Du Bartas: A Critical Edition with Introduction, Commentary, and Variants, in Three Volumes, ed. Urban Tigner Holmes, Jr., John Coriden Lyons, and Robert White Linker, Volume II (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1938).
  10. See the “Bibliography and Acknowledgement” in James W. Lynch, A Woman Wrapped in Silence (New York/Paramus, NJ: Paulist Press/Deus Book, 1968), 277. The one exception Lynch gives is in allowing himself to use the name of Joachim, even though it derives from the Protoevangelium of James, not from Scripture.
  11. Lynch, 38, 84.
  12. Lynch, 15–16.
  13. Lynch, 253.
  14. Lynch, 7, 182, 88.
  15. There are two modern editions of this work, both including Latin text with a parallel prose English translation. The older edition is Marco Girolamo Vida’s The Christiad: A Latin-English Edition, ed. and tr. Gertrude C. Drake and Clarence A. Forbes (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978). The newer one is Volume 39 of The I Tatti Renaissance Library (the Renaissance equivalent of the famous Loeb Classical Library): Marco Girolamo Vida, Christiad, tr. James Gardner (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). Here I am using the Drake-Forbes edition, but all translations are mine based on their Latin text.
  16. Vida, Christiad VI.985-986, in Drake and Forbes, 284.
  17. Vida, Christiad V.34-35, in Drake and Forbes, 194.
  18. “For God, thus so beheld within the halls obscure, / Binding eyes, shimmers forth with light divine, / As when a gem, like unto flame, with glimmering splendor / At night in royal inner chambers shines, and black / Darkness casts out, and clothes, with lavishing light, the place,/ Perfusing all surroundings with its purple light.” Vida, Christiad VI.216-221, in Drake and Forbes, 250.
  19. Vida, Christiad III.34-35, in Drake and Forbes, 96.
  20. Vida, Christiad I.38-40, in Drake and Forbes, 2. Vida uses many classical Latin terms and expressions; here “shades” (manes) refers to the spirits of the just who are residing in the underworld (Sheol), waiting for He Who will “bear the pious shades unto Olympus” (I.7, in Drake and Forbes, 2).
  21. Vida, Christiad I.942, in Drake and Forbes, 42. Compare this line (insolita circum perfundens omnia luce) with the VI.221, in Drake and Forbes, 250 (purpurea circum perfunds omnia luce).
  22. Vida, Christiad I.930, in Drake and Forbes, 42.
  23. Vida, Christiad I.104-105, in Drake and Forbes, 6.
  24. Vida, Christiad I.335-336, 345, in Drake and Forbes, 16.
  25. Vida, Christiad I.729-731, in Drake and Forbes, 34. Here I slightly rearranged the verses, moving the verb (iugarat, “yoked”) from 731 to 730: I couldn’t find a way to keep the verb in its place without mauling the English.
  26. St. Germanos of Constantinople, Oration 5 (PG 98:332A-B).
  27. St. Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord §§XLII, XXI, in St. Ephrem the Syrian, Selected Prose Works, tr. Edward G. Mathews, Jr. and Joseph P. Amar, ed. Kathleen McVey, The Fathers of the Church Volume 91 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), 316, 295.
  28. St. Gregory the Great, Homily 24, in St. Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, tr. Dom David Hurst, Cistercian Studies Series 123 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1990), 180.
  29. St. Jacob of Serug, Homily II, in Jacob of Serug, On the Mother of God, tr. Mary Hansbury, Popular Patristics Series 19 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 57. St. Jacob’s homilies, like many in the Syriac tradition, were metrical.
  30. Saint John Chrysostom, “Paschal Homily,” in Publicans Prayer Book (Boston, MA: Sophia Press, 2008), 310.
  31. St. Augustine, The First Catechetical Instruction, tr. Joseph P. Christopher, Ancient Christian Writers 2 (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Newman Press, 1946), 27.
Brandon P. Otto About Brandon P. Otto

Brandon P. Otto is a member of the St. Louis Byzantine Catholic Mission in St. Louis, MO. He obtained a Master's Degree in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is currently an independent scholar, with particular interest in the Fathers and liturgies of the Eastern Churches, as well as Christian poetry.


  1. Avatar Anne O'Mara says:

    Great – Thank you
    I don’t have time to write a good comment right now-
    Some very important considerations in these times- so many efforts to “flesh out”…
    Chosen and Joseph of Nazareth come to mind.


  1. […] This is part of the drive that led to the plethora of apocryphal literature in the time of the Apostles and thereafter. What more did Jesus say and teach? The Gospel of Thomas provides a large selection. How was Mary born, and how did she and Joseph meet? The Gospel of James goes into detail. What happened in Jesus’ infancy and hidden years? The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew explains. What else occurred during Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection? The Acts of Pilate tells us. Of course, these writings are called “apocryphal” for a reason: they were “hidden away” because the stories and sayings they added to Scripture were so often contrary to doctrine, tradition, or just good taste. (A particularly atrocious example is a story where the child Jesus is making little pools of water; another boy wrecks the pools and instantly dies; after his parents rightly complain, the child Jesus “smote the back side of the dead boy with his foot and bade him rise,” then resumed his play.)1 […]