Why Republish Old Christian Writings?

Over the last couple years, under the auspices of St. Polycarp Publishing House I’ve been working on new editions of various classic Christian writings from the first few centuries of the New Testament Church.  So far, I’ve published versions of Justin Martyr’s “First and Second Apologies”, Tertullian’s “Defense of the Christian Faith”, and St. Polycarp’s “Epistle to the Philippians” and the “Martyrdom of Polycarp.”  Each of these includes the English-translated texts as well as my own notes and commentary.  My current project is an edition of Athenagoras’ “Embassy for the Christians” and “The Resurrection of the Dead”.

So, why do this?  Why go through the effort of republishing these works when the original text and good English translations are in the public domain?  Relatedly, why would someone purchase these versions?

First, it’s true that these texts and translations are freely available on the internet.  A great site for accessing them is the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, or CCEL.  This site electronically reproduces public domain texts and has an extensive library of Christian material.

There are a few problems, however:

  • By necessity (due to copyright law) the English translations are nearly 100 years old, or older, and could use some refreshing in certain spots in order to update archaic English to more modern words and grammar.
  • The notes included in these texts are often products of their times and places (typically England or America in the 19th century).  Some notes refer to issues or writers with which we are now unconcerned or unfamiliar.
  • There are also places where there should be notes, but there are none.  In particular, the early Christian writers often reference Greek philosophical works and Biblical passages; notes providing the citations and some context would be helpful in these instances.
  • A related issue is that many of the citations to external works are not of sufficient detail to locate the original text.  For example, there are many instances where the translator cites a particular page number of a specific published edition of a work (which is now long out of print), rather than the chapter or section number of that work.  Thus, the citation is nearly un-locatable without more research.
  • Finally, it can be hard or unappealing to read these works on a website or even in the downloadable electronic formats provided.

Therefore, the St. Polycarp Publishing House editions of these works seek to solve these issues in the following ways:

  • Modernize the archaic language to more readable English while retaining the essential accuracy of the translation.
  • Provide new and updated notes to better explain the arguments which the original Christian authors were making.  Often, this means explaining the Roman and Greek mythologies which the Christians were seeking to counter.  It also means providing more historical context to the writings.
  • Update the citations to external works referenced by the original authors so that these sources can more easily be located.
  • Offer professional print and electronic publications of the works.

The overriding goal of publishing these books is to get modern Christian readers familiar with these important works of the early Church.  They will help Christians better appreciate the apologetical arguments made by the early Church, equip them to answer modern objections, and provide them with a greater understanding of the faith confessed by the early Christians.