Paul M Blowers

Well into the fourth century, the Christian biblical canon was still being finalised, as betrayed by Cyril of Jerusalem's admonition that believers were never privately to read sacred texts that were not being read publicly in the liturgy.1 For many Christians, moreover, a fully composite Bible was late in coming. Even Augustine knew only acquired clusters of scriptural texts (Psalms, Gospels, Pauline epistles, etc.) on which to comment and preach. Churches were nevertheless confident that the sacred texts authenticating the apostolic rule of faith had already been identified and universally appropriated. Already scriptural narratives, prophecies, psalmody, doxology, confessional formulae and sapiential instruction infused the theological discourse, liturgical rituals, spiritual experience and moral conscience of churches from Mesopotamia to Britain. In an age when Christianity was transitioning from persecuted superstitio to imperial religion, it was also supplanting the hegemony of the Greco-Roman classics with its own 'alternative literary culture' based on the Bible.2

From 300 to 600, as before, virtually every function of the life of Christian communities intersected with biblical interpretation. The developing science, techniques and 'schools' of patristic exegesis in this period, the subject of abundant studies, are only part of a much bigger picture. Interpretation arose in diverse contexts and literary genres - baptismal catechesis, liturgy, scholarly commentary, preaching, apologetics, theological dialectics, conciliar decrees, martyrology, hagiography and monastic spiritual pedagogy. The hermeneu-tical overlap among them, however, was substantial.3 Whether their audience was catechumens, laypersons of variable religious maturity, clergy or ascetics,

2 Frances Young, Biblical interpretation, 49-75, 257-64; Averil Cameron, Christianity and the rhetoric of empire.

3 See Young, Biblical interpretation, 218-20.

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