A lost English translation of Chrysostom’s Letters?

My interest was sparked by a sentence in Richard W. Pfaff, The Library of the Fathers: The Tractarians as Patristic Translators, Studies in Philology 70 (1973), p.329f.  This paper discusses the history of the Oxford Movement series of English translations.  On p.335-6 he says:

Two of the envisaged volumes of Chrysostom never appeared: a selection of letters and the treatise On the Priesthood.  The translation of letters had been undertaken before the series began by John Jebb, bishop of Limerick (d. 1833) and was completed by his son, also John, by at least 1852, but for some reason was never published.

Now this is exciting stuff!  For there is no English translation of the letters of Chrysostom, even now.  Just imagine if this manuscript were still around. 

No reference for this claim is given. I asked Dr. Pfaff, but after 35 years, quite naturally he can no longer remember where he got this information.  It’s not in H.P.Liddon’s biography of Pusey, which is the main source for the history of the ‘Library of the Fathers’.   The Dictionary of National Biography has an entry for Bishop John Jebb, and also indicates that the younger Jebb was a nephew, not a son.

I then asked Alan Acheson, biographer of John Jebb.   He referred me to the collected letters of John Henry Newman, volume 5:

Among these (Vol. 5, p.380) is a letter of J.H.Newman. My note on that reads thus: ‘On Jebb’s translation of De Sacerdotio [N. of Chrysostom] – in his nephew’s possession’. Newman then wrote: “Will write to Jebb tonight…connect the name of so popular a writer with our undertaking”. The year, by the way, was 1836 – after Bishop Jebb’s death in 1833 – so Newman was referring to the younger Jebb.

I’ve not yet checked the text in Newman.  But that is the answer, isn’t it?  Clearly Jebb had worked on “On the priesthood”, and somehow when Pfaff was editing his piece he didn’t have his notes before him (hence the lack of reference), moved the phrases around and inadvertently attributed the wrong work to him. 

There have been several translations of “On the priesthood”, including one in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, so it then becomes clear enough why it was never published.

4 Responses to “A lost English translation of Chrysostom’s Letters?”


  1. Eric Sowell

    There are apparently a few letters translated and included in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers set. Know where the original text of the other letters might be found? Migne? Otherwise?

  2. Roger Pearse

    The 236 letters of Chrysostom fill volume 52 of the Patrologia Graeca. They all date from his second and final exile. Most are pretty brief; 17 letters to the widow and deaconess Olympias are the long ones; 2 letters to Pope Innocent are important historically, the first describing the rioting in Constantinople when Theophilus of Alexandria and his gang arrived.

  3. Roger Pearse

    Actually on looking I was misled. They don’t fill the volume; they just cover columns 529-791, or 131 columns of Greek.

    At 10 cents a word, and presuming each column comes out at $40 (400 words), that comes out at around $6,000 to hire a translator to do them.

    So not a huge job.

  4. Thoughts on Antiquity » Blog Archive » J.H.Newman and the Library of the Fathers

    [...] A lost English translation of Chrysostom’s Letters? [...]