Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019: Volume 1: Introduction; Historica [1 ed.] 9042947446, 9789042947443, 9789042947450

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Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019: Volume 1: Introduction; Historica [1 ed.]
 9042947446, 9789042947443, 9789042947450

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Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019 Edited by MARKUS VINZENT Volume 1:

Introduction Historica




STUDIA PATRISTICA Editor: Markus VINZENT, King’s College London, UK and Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt, Germany

Board of Directors (2019): Carol HARRISON, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK Mark EDWARDS, Professor of Early Christian Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK Neil MCLYNN, University Lecturer in Later Roman History, Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford, UK Philip BOOTH, A.G. Leventis Associate Professor in Eastern Christianity, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, UK Sophie LUNN-ROCKLIFFE, Lecturer in Patristics, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, UK Morwenna LUDLOW, Professor, Theology and Religion, University of Exeter, UK Ioannis PAPADOGIANNAKIS, Senior Lecturer in Patristics, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London, UK Markus VINZENT, Professor of the History of Theology, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London, UK Josef LÖSSL, Professor of Historical Theology and Intellectual History, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University, UK Lewis AYRES, Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK John BEHR, Regius Chair in Humanity, The School of Divinity, History, Philosophy & Art History, University of Aberdeen, UK Anthony DUPONT, Research Professor in Christian Antiquity, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, Belgium Patricia CINER (as president of AIEP), Professor, Universidad de San Juan-Universidad Católica de Cuyo, Argentina Clayton JEFFORD (as president of NAPS), Professor of Scripture, Seminary and School of Theology, Saint Meinrad, IN, USA


Papers presented at the Eighteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2019 Edited by MARKUS VINZENT Volume 1:

Introduction Historica



© Peeters Publishers — Louvain — Belgium 2021 All rights reserved, including the right to translate or to reproduce this book or parts thereof in any form. D/2021/0602/138 ISBN: 978-90-429-4744-3 eISBN: 978-90-429-4745-0 A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Printed in Belgium by Peeters, Leuven

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION Joseph VERHEYDEN Paul Peeters (8 October 1965 – 22 March 2021) ...............................


Markus VINZENT Editorial ...............................................................................................


Wendy MAYER Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap ................................


HISTORICA Mohamed-Arbi NSIRI Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive ...............................................................................


Ella SAHIVIRTA Christianity as the Downfall of Rome – The Pagan Aristocracy’s Concerns about Christianity at the Turn of the Fifth Century ...........


Luise Marion FRENKEL Alexandria in Control? The Written Reception and Oral Transmission of Festal Letters in the Light of Fifth-Century Papyri ...............


Laura HELLSTEN Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources........................


John WHITTY Rethinking the Disciplina Arcani .......................................................


Robert BUTTON The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World: Cruciform and Thingness in Christian Apologetics ....................................................


David WOODS Respecting the Cross: Praying with Coins in Mid-Seventh Century Constantinople ..................................................................................... 105


Table of Contents

Dimitrios MOSCHOS ‘A Cross of Light’ – The Sign of the Cross amidst Competing Eschatological Views during the 6th and 7th Centuries ................................ 115 Thomas ARENTZEN Some Early Christian Trees ................................................................ 127 Katherin PAPADOPOULOS Remembering Earthquakes in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean


Alexandru PRELIPCEAN The Kontakion ‘On Earthquakes and Fires’ (Εἰς ἕκαστον σεισμὸν καὶ ἐμπρησμόν) of Romanos the Melodist or About the Theological Erminia of History............................................................................... 165


see ASS. Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen Philologisch-historische Klasse, Göttingen. Analecta Bollandiana, Brussels. Antike und Christentum, ed. F.J. Dölger, Münster. Antiquité classique, Louvain. Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum, ed. E. Schwartz, Berlin. Ancient Christian Writers, ed. J. Quasten and J.C. Plumpe, Westminster (Md.)/London. Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, Paris. American Journal of Ancient History, Cambridge, Mass. American Journal of Philology, Baltimore. Archiv für katholisches Kirchenrecht, Mainz. Abhandlungen der königlichen Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin. Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi (Bulletin du Cange), Paris/Brussels. Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft, Regensburg. Analecta Bollandiana, Brussels. Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Edinburgh. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Buffalo/New York. Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, ed H. Temporini et al., Berlin. Anatolian Studies, London. Année théologique augustinienne, Paris. Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, ed. R.E. Charles, Oxford. Archivum Romanicum, Florence. Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, Berlin/Leipzig. Acta Sanctorum, ed. the Bollandists, Brussels. Abhandlungen zur Theologie des Alten und Neuen Testaments, Zürich. Augustinianum, Rome. Augustinian Studies, Villanova (USA). Athanasius Werke, ed. H.-G. Opitz et al., Berlin. Archäologische Zeitung, Berlin. Bibliothèque augustinienne, Paris. Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, Madrid. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, New Haven, Conn. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edn F.W. Danker, Chicago. Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études, Paris. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, Louvain. Benediktinisches Geistesleben, St. Ottilien. Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca, Brussels. Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Antiquae et Mediae Aetatis, Brussels.




Bibliotheca Hagiographica Orientalis, Brussels. Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, Tübingen. Bursians Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Leipzig. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester. Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, ed. F.X. Reithmayr and V. Thalhofer, Kempten. Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, ed. O. Bardenhewer, Th. Schermann, and C. Weyman, Kempten/Munich. Bibliothek der Kirchenväter. Zweite Reihe, ed. O. Bardenhewer, J. Zellinger, and J. Martin, Munich. Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique, Toulouse. Bonner Jahrbücher, Bonn. Bibliotheca sacra, London. Bolletino di studi latini, Naples. Beiträge zur Wissenschaft vom Alten Testament, Leipzig/Stuttgart. Byzantion, Leuven. Byzantinische Zeitschrift, Leipzig. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Berlin. Cahiers Archéologique, Paris. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Washington. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, Turnhout/Paris. Corpus Christianorum, Series Apocryphorum, Turnhout/Paris. Corpus Christianorum, Series Graeca, Turnhout/Paris. Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina, Turnhout/Paris. Church History, Chicago. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Berlin. Classical Philology, Chicago. Clavis Patrum Graecorum, ed. M. Geerard, vols. I-VI, Turnhout. Clavis Patrum Latinorum (SE 3), ed. E. Dekkers and A. Gaar, Turnhout. Classical Quarterly, London/Oxford. The Classical Review, London/Oxford. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Louvain. Aeth = Scriptores Aethiopici Ar = Scriptores Arabici Arm = Scriptores Armeniaci Copt = Scriptores Coptici Iber = Scriptores Iberici Syr = Scriptores Syri Subs = Subsidia Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Vienna. Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonn. Collectanea Theologica, Lvov. Collection des Universités de France publiée sous le patronage de l’Association Guillaume Budé, Paris. Catholic World, New York. Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, ed. J. Hastings, Edinburgh.




see DAL Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. F. Cabrol, H. Leclercq, Paris. Dictionnaire de la Bible, Paris. Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplément, Paris. Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects, and Doctrines, ed. W. Smith and H. Wace, 4 vols, London. Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastique, ed. A. Baudrillart, Paris. Didaskalia, Lisbon. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Cambridge, Mass., subsequently Washington, D.C. Dumbarton Oaks Studies, Cambridge, Mass., subsequently Washington, D.C. Downside Review, Stratton on the Fosse, Bath. H.J. Denzinger and A. Schönmetzer, ed., Enchiridion Symbolorum, Barcelona/Freiburg i.B./Rome. Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, ed. M. Viller, S.J., and others, Paris. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. A. Vacant, E. Mangenot, and E. Amann, Paris. Études augustiniennes, Paris. Enciclopedia Cattolica, Rome. Eastern Churches Quarterly, Ramsgate. Estudios eclesiasticos, Madrid. Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. A. Di Berardino, Cambridge. Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, Neukirchen. Enchiridion Fontium Historiae Ecclesiasticae Antiquae, ed. Ueding-Kirch, 6th ed., Barcelona. Échos d’Orient, Paris. Études Byzantines, Paris. Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, Louvain. Exegetisches Wörterbuch zum NT, ed. H.R. Balz et al., Stuttgart. The Expository Times, Edinburgh. The Fathers of the Church, New York. Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, Berlin. Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, Göttingen. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, Göttingen. Festschrift. Freiburger theologische Studien, Freiburg i.B. Frankfurter theologische Studien, Frankfurt a.M. Freiburger Zeitschrift für Theologie und Philosophie, Freiburg/Switzerland. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller, Leipzig/Berlin. Geschichtsschreiber der deutschen Vorzeit, Stuttgart. Grande Lessico del Nuovo Testamento, Genoa. Gregorii Nysseni Opera, Leiden. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Cambridge, Mass.



Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, Offenburg. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament. Tübingen. Harvard Dissertations in Religion, Missoula. Historisches Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft, successively Munich, Cologne and Munich/Freiburg i.B. Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, Tübingen. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, Tübingen. Handbuch der Orientalistik, Leiden. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Theological Review, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Theological Studies, Cambridge, Mass. Historische Zeitschrift, Munich/Berlin. The International Critical Commentary of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, Edinburgh. Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, ed. E. Diehl, Berlin. Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, ed. H. Dessau, Berlin. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, Münster. Journal of Biblical Literature, Philadelphia, Pa., then various places. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Berlin. Journal of Early Christian Studies, Baltimore. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, London. Journal of Jewish Studies, London. Jahrbuch für Liturgik und Hymnologie, Kassel. Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie, Leipzig/Freiburg i.B. Jewish Quarterly Review, Philadelphia. Journal of Roman Studies, London. Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period, Leiden. Journal of the Society of Oriental Research, Chicago. Journal of Theological Studies, Oxford. Kommentar zu den apostolischen Vätern, Göttingen. Kerk en Theologie, ’s Gravenhage. Kirchliches Jahrbuch für die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, Gütersloh. The Loeb Classical Library, London/Cambridge, Mass. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, Buffalo/New York. Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Oxford. H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, new (9th) edn H.S. Jones, Oxford. Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Freiburg i.B. Septuagint. Moyen-Âge, Brussels. Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua, London. J.D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, Florence, 1759-1798. Reprint and continuation: Paris/Leipzig, 1901-1927. Münsterische Beiträge zur Theologie, Münster.




Miscelanea Comillas, Comillas/Santander. Monumenta germaniae historica. Hanover/Berlin. Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, Louvain. See PG. Mélanges de science religieuse, Lille. Münchener theologische Zeitschrift, Munich. Le Muséon, Louvain. Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th edition, Stuttgart. Nachrichten der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Nag Hammadi (and Manichaean) Studies, Leiden. New International Version. New King James Version. Novum Testamentum, Leiden. See LNPF. New Revised Standard Version. Nouvelle Revue Théologique, Tournai/Louvain/Paris. Neutestamentliche Abhandlungen, Münster. Novum Testamentum Supplements, Leiden. New Testament Studies, Cambridge/Washington. New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, Leiden/Boston. Orbis biblicus et orientalis, Freiburg, Switz., then Louvain. Orientalia Christiana Analecta, Rome. Orientalia Christiana Periodica, Rome. Oxford Early Christian Studies, Oxford. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, Louvain. Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica, Louvain. Orientalia. Commentarii editi a Pontificio Instituto Biblico, Rome. Oriens Christianus, Leipzig, then Wiesbaden. L’Orient Syrien, Paris. Migne, Patrologia, series graeca. A Patristic Greek Lexicon, ed. G.L. Lampe, Oxford. Migne, Patrologia, series latina. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, ed. A.H.M. Jones et al., Cambridge. Migne, Patrologia, series latina. Supplementum ed. A. Hamman. Patrologia Orientalis, Paris. Paulys Realenzyklopädie der classischen Alterthumswissenschaft, Stuttgart. Patrologia Syriaca, Paris. Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen, Bonn. Princeton Theological Review, Princeton. Patristische Texte und Studien, Berlin. Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. G. Wissowa, Stuttgart. Questions liturgiques et paroissiales, Louvain. Questions liturgiques, Louvain. Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, Rome. Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, Stuttgart.

XII RAM RAug RBen RB(ibl) RE


Revue d’ascétique et de mystique, Paris. Recherches Augustiniennes, Paris. Revue Bénédictine, Maredsous. Revue biblique, Paris. Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, founded by J.J. Herzog, 3e ed. A. Hauck, Leipzig. REA(ug) Revue des études Augustiniennes, Paris. REB Revue des études byzantines, Paris. RED Rerum ecclesiasticarum documenta, Rome. RÉL Revue des études latines, Paris. REG Revue des études grecques, Paris. RevSR Revue des sciences religieuses, Strasbourg. RevThom Revue thomiste, Toulouse. RFIC Rivista di filologia e d’istruzione classica, Turin. RGG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. Gunkel-Zscharnack, Tübingen RHE Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique, Louvain. RhMus Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Bonn. RHR Revue de l’histoire des religions, Paris. RHT Revue d’Histoire des Textes, Paris. RMAL Revue du Moyen-Âge Latin, Paris. ROC Revue de l’Orient chrétien, Paris. RPh Revue de philologie, Paris. RQ Römische Quartalschrift, Freiburg i.B. RQH Revue des questions historiques, Paris. RSLR Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa, Florence. RSPT, RSPh Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, Paris. RSR Recherches de science religieuse, Paris. RTAM Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale, Louvain. RthL Revue théologique de Louvain, Louvain. RTM Rivista di teologia morale, Bologna. Sal Salesianum, Roma. SBA Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft, Basel. SBS Stuttgarter Bibelstudien, Stuttgart. ScEc Sciences ecclésiastiques, Bruges. SCh, SC Sources chrétiennes, Paris. SD Studies and Documents, ed. K. Lake and S. Lake. London/Philadelphia. SE Sacris Erudiri, Bruges. SDHI Studia et documenta historiae et iuris, Roma. SH Subsidia Hagiographica, Brussels. SHA Scriptores Historiae Augustae. SJMS Speculum. Journal of Mediaeval Studies, Cambridge, Mass. SM Studien und Mitteilungen zur Geschichte des Benediktinerordens und seiner Zweige, Munich. SO Symbolae Osloenses, Oslo. SP Studia Patristica, successively Berlin, Kalamazoo, Leuven. SPM Stromata Patristica et Mediaevalia, ed. C. Mohrmann and J. Quasten, Utrecht.




Sammlung ausgewählter Quellenschriften zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, Tübingen. Schriften und Quellen der Alten Welt, Berlin. Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, Louvain. Studi Medievali, Turin. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, Leiden. Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, ed. J. von Arnim, Leipzig. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich. Teologia espiritual, Valencia. Theologie und Glaube, Paderborn. Theologische Jahrbücher, Leipzig. Theologische Literaturzeitung, Leipzig. Theologie und Philosophie, Freiburg i.B. Theologische Quartalschrift, Tübingen. Theologische Rundschau, Tübingen. Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament, Stuttgart. Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, Stuttgart. Theologische Zeitschrift, Basel. Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Lancaster, Pa. Theologische Realenzyklopädie, Berlin. Theological Studies, New York and various places; now Washington, DC. Trierer theologische Zeitschrift, Trier. Texte und Untersuchungen, Leipzig/Berlin. Union Seminary Quarterly Review, New York. Vigiliae Christianae, Amsterdam. Vetera Christianorum, Bari (Italy). Vetus Testamentum, Leiden. Word Biblical Commentary, Waco. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, Tübingen. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, Vienna. Yale University Press, New Haven. Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum, Berlin. Zeitschrift für Aszese und Mystik, Innsbruck, then Würzburg. Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Giessen, then Berlin. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins, Leipzig. Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Gotha, then Stuttgart. Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie, Vienna. Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche, Giessen, then Berlin. Zeitschrift für Rechtsgeschichte, Weimar. Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, Tübingen.


Paul Peeters (8 October 1965 – 22 March 2021) With great sadness our scholarly world has received news of the death of Mr. Paul Peeters, Managing Director of Peeters Publishers. For many years, he was the face and driving force of the publishing house. His was a prominent presence at many an international conference, he was especially active in expanding the Peeters catalogue through new acquisitions, and he constantly explored new venues for promoting scientific publications in theology and religious studies, oriental studies, philosophy, and several other disciplines in the humanities. As a journal and series editor who worked with Paul for over twenty years, I have great memories of our many early-morning meetings in his office, talking about manuscripts, projects, and book culture in general. I also fondly remember our dinners together, in Leuven or elsewhere in the world during a conference. The Oxford Patristics Conference occupied a special place in his publishing activity. Paul liked Oxford, the city, its colleges, and its unique blend of learnedness and tradition with a pinch of eccentricity. It was he who urged me years ago to attend the conference, even though the field it covers was not the prime focus of my research. I remember us driving by car to the 2007 meeting, speeding up for the last bit of the journey after we had been delayed, in order to arrive in time for the dinner he had planned in one of the better Oxford restaurants. Of course it was not just about the city and gastronomy. Paul fully recognised the importance of the Oxford Patristics Conference for early Christian studies, and he was committed to continuing the initiative of his father to publish its proceedings in an ever-growing number of volumes. As a matter of fact, in the year 2010 he enthusiastically backed a proposal to turn Studia Patristica into a series that also welcomed other manuscripts in the field. Today the series numbers no fewer than 103 volumes. The proceedings of the 2019 meeting will add another 27 tomes. Rare are those in the discipline who have not published at least one essay in Studia Patristica. Paul Peeters will be remembered as a discreet and most amiable person with a solid and internationally recognised expertise in publishing highly technical books. He loved to work with his authors and editors, encouraging and advising them when needed, generously offering constructive comments, and taking a special interest in furthering the younger generation of scholars by publishing their work. He will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him. Joseph Verheyden (Leuven)

Studia Patristica CIV, 3. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.

Editorial Markus VINZENT

The International Conference on Patristic Studies, held at Oxford in August ‘at roughly four-year intervals … has had a major influence upon Christian scholarship worldwide, and thereby – very importantly albeit discreetly – upon the wider Christian community’.1 Norman Tanner’s view on the 2007 conference holds also for the most recent one, the eighteenth of what is best known as ‘Oxford Patristics Conference’. Although I am giving a less detailed account than Tanner of the fifteenth conference, it is certainly true that the study of the ‘Fathers’ has been widened in many respects. First, the participants are coming from a broader spectrum, geographically, denominationally and with regards to religious and non-religious affiliations. Whereas ‘Catholics were forbidden by the Holy Office in Rome to attend the first meeting’ in 1951, and ‘soon afterwards … were coming in increasing numbers’, the conference today is ‘fully ecumenical’, ‘very international’ with ‘the Fathers (being) treated as an aspect of late Antiquity’ by scholars who are increasingly also applying ‘methodologies of the social sciences’.2 With over 800 lectures and papers given in 2019, Wendy Mayer’s main lecture on ‘Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap’ which opens the set of proceedings here, indicates the need to engage not only with the early Christian female and male writer’s heritage, with that of their non-Christian contemporaries and those who later read and were inspired by them, it shows also how much ‘Patristics is under pressure’ today. Scholars are asked to respond to scandals and discern between sound scholarship and fundamentalist statements. In a time that has gone beyond Postmodernity and where scholars ask ‘historians speak truth to power’ and explain why history is ‘so essential to understanding the multiple pasts which gave rise to our conflicted present’,3 Patristics has become even more important than it always was. As many of the papers given demonstrated, and as the collection of the roughly 475 papers (out of around 530 submissions) shows, this research area provides ‘carriers of traditions’, ‘guardians of deep knowledge’ and Oxford and many other places around the world to be ‘centres of innovation where

1 2 3

Norman Tanner SJ, ‘Oxford Patristics Conference’, Gregorianum 88 (2007), 861-3, 861. Ibid. So on the title of the book Jo Guldi and David Armitage, Manifesto (Cambridge, 2014).

Studia Patristica CIV, 5-8. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



research takes place without regard to profit or immediate application’. 4 Its impact is not to measure in frames of short-termism, but itself aims for significance in the long run. How thorough and innovative the undertaking of both the conference and the edition of its proceedings has become is underlined by their organization and structure. Run under the auspices of the Faculty of Theology and Religion in the University of Oxford, the directors are selected by it and some alternations are made from conference to conference. At present, four women and nine men are serving on the board with two co-chairs (female/male) – still an imbalance which needs to be addressed, just as the need for widening participation for such an international conference is being recognized. The latter can be seen from the published contributions that derive from scholars being located in 45 different countries around the globe, around 30% of all contributors being female. Peer review is undertaken both in the selection of abstracts and, again, in the selection of paper submissions after the conference. The board of reviewers has been broadened this time by adding to the Directors of the Conference as peer reviewers other colleagues who had been nominated by the two big international Patristic societies, the North American Patristics Society (NAPS), and the International Association of Patristic Studies. From the total of papers accepted for publication, roughly 80% were returned to their authors with comments and suggestions by the reviewers in a detailed process that amounted to far over 2000 email exchanges between authors and the editor-in-chief and often also between reviewers, authors and Directors of the conference, particularly the co-chairs Carol Harrison and Mark Edwards, were this deemed to be helpful. Nevertheless, quite a number of times, the question was raised whether it is useful to publish the results of the conference in such a large number of volumes. To this we may say, just as with the broadening of the panel of reviewers, the higher number of papers that were given and the higher number of papers – particularly longer papers of workshop contributions compared to those of short communications that dominated in past times – are a result of the further democratization of the conference. Part of the responsibility was shifted from the Directors to colleagues who planned, submitted proposals, often reformulated these proposals with suggestions by the Directors, structured, organized and also managed the peer-reviewing and pre-editing process of workshops and their contributions. More than ever did workshop organizers and other colleagues provide introductions to individual volumes or even thematic blocks within volumes which makes the articles more accessible to readers. 13 of the finally published 27 volumes, hence, almost half of them, derive from workshops and an additional 4 workshops are represented in the volumes as 4

Ibid. 5.



subsections. Numbers certainly come after content, but without numbers a field of research cannot survive. The growing interest in Patristics – across the very many and different departments of academia – manifests itself in the increasing number of libraries (and individuals) that are purchasing the volumes of Studia Patristica and its sister series Studia Patristica Supplements. They recognize both the importance of Patristics and also its key series. Amongst the almost 300 series of Peeters Publishers, Studia Patristica is one of the most widely distributed around the world. Moving from numbers back to content. The set of 27 volumes follows the structure of the 2015 conference proceedings, providing, after the introductory volume, the individual workshop volumes and those of compact subject matters (vols. II-XIX, ranging from ‘Politics and Society’, ‘Deacons and Diakonia, Bishops, Presbyters’, ‘Remembering Apostles as Martyrs’, ‘Euchologia’, ‘Readings in Irenaeus of Lyon’, ‘Clement of Alexandria’, ‘Origen’, ‘4th Century in Context’, ‘Ambrose of Milan’s Misericordia’, ‘John Chrysostom through Manuscripts’, ‘The Cappadocian Writers’, ‘Ordo Amoris in Augustine’, ‘Augustine and his writings’, ‘Augustine the theologian and polemicist’, ‘“Pelagianism” in the Christian Sources from 431 to the Carolingian Period’, ‘Individuality, Knowledge, Virtue and Existence in Maximus the Confessor’ to ‘John Scottus Eriugena’). These volumes are followed by the more traditional, chronologically structured volumes of the remaining papers, and, as one can see from those eight volumes, the number of published short communications has not much increased compared with the outputs of earlier conferences. Being editor-in-chief and having the pleasure and duty of reading all of these articles, sometimes several times, gives a broad experience of the field and an insight into how it moves, and I wished others could do the same and take time to do just this, read through all the volumes. With still a fair amount of articles addressing minute problems and questions, there are a number of those mapping novel approaches and opening new avenues – just as workshops will be seen as highlights of a new trend in their respective areas. Without picking individual contributions, it struck me, how often material culture has been researched: prayer books, manuscripts, archaeological material and iconography, not only texts which have been the principle focus since the conference exists. Origen seems to have become more prominent as he had been some years ago, the Cappadocian writers have come more to the fore, although I noticed that fields, debates and authors that were more strongly present in past conferences, seem to have fallen off the radar – for example, the first half of the fourth century with the Arian debate and Athanasius are rather thinly represented. Overall, papers that engage with the relation between Jews and Christians and others with ‘gnostic’ topics are rare, and so are articles that engage with philological questions more generally or historiographical methodological ones. While articles dealing with material of oriental languages are increasing, those with a focus on Coptic are few. Perhaps, these short observations may serve as



inspirations for abstract and paper proposals for the forthcoming conference in 2023. Let me finish with a personal remark on the tragic death of one of the great supporters of the Oxford Patristics Conference, its publisher Paul Peeters. This editorial is preceded by Jos Verheyden’s note that recognizes Paul Peeters’ contribution to Patristics, the Conference and its proceedings. To me as editorin-chief, he was the most inspirational, creative and supportive publisher I could have wished for. Together with his colleague Bert Verrept who looked for many months carefully and diligently into every step of the publication process, Paul Peeters has been a driver for keeping the relation between libraries around the world, disciplines and scholars. With his respectful and non-spectacular personal presence in a number of conferences every year, explaining to potential readers and buyers, what and why his authors have written this and that book, chapter and article, and why he has deemed these products to be worthy of being published carrying his own name, he put not only his family weight behind our products, he also lived for us to be able to publish with him. At the SBL conference at San Diego (2019), he introduced his daughter Stephanie to me who was just about to finish her Master’s in Communication at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, before moving into Typography at the Plantin Instituut voor Typografie, while already working in Communication in Peeters Publishers. It was great to see her dedication, and it gives me a great relief and, I hope, it would have made her uncle proud that despite his death and against the odds of a period of a global pandemic the team of his house stood together and brought this major publishing achievement of the set of proceedings of our conference to its end. Thanks to all in Peeters Publishers and to all colleagues, authors, peer reviewers and fellow Directors, we can wish that the published volumes will further encourage colleagues from around the world to come to Oxford in the year 2023.

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap Wendy MAYER, Australian Lutheran College, Adelaide, Australia1

ABSTRACT In the twenty-first century, across universities, theological schools, and countries, patristics is under pressure. The increasing secularism of western countries, the pressures of business- and vocationally-driven educational models, a deep suspicion of institutionalised religion in the wake of nation-wide sex-abuse scandals, and fundamentalist movements – to name but a few social and political factors – are all having their impact. In this paper I argue that these same factors are in fact an opportunity for re-energising and re-investment in the field. A case can be made to governments, society and university or college administrators that patristics is relevant and has something vital to contribute. Examples are drawn from personal experiences since taking up the position of Associate Dean for Research in a small embattled theological college where many of these challenges are encountered in microcosm. My scholarly formation in patristics research, I have found, speaks to those challenges in surprisingly fruitful ways. If Elizabeth Clark famously argued in the 1990s for more church history, less theology in the field, what I will propose are some further avenues which postmodernity challenges us to take up. That vision embraces and lifts up a future for patristics in not just Europe, the United Kingdom and North America, but also Asia and the global South.

Introduction This article is in essence a set of musings about the field. It is delivered very much from an Australian perspective, but my hope is that, as you read these musings, they will resonate with many of you in your own contexts across the world.2 It is about both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is not 1 Wendy Mayer is Professor of Church History and Associate Dean for Research at Australian Lutheran College (ALC), a college of the University of Divinity. The University of Divinity comprises ten theological colleges spread across Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, representing the following Christian denominations: Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Churches of Christ, Uniting Church, Salvation Army. One college, Yarra Theological Union, serves seven Roman Catholic religious orders. In 2020 Wendy took on the additional role, part-time, of Dean of Research Strategy for the University. 2 There are additional studies by patristic scholars around the world that exemplify the trends discussed that might have been referenced in this article, were it not for the strong Australian and personal scholarly biases that inform this thought experiment. For instance, as will be evident, my own research is oriented towards the eastern Mediterranean world. As a result, the works that are

Studia Patristica CIV, 9-32. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



that patristics as a discipline is in decline. Far from it. When I first attended the International Patristics Conference as a doctoral student in 1995 attendance was in the 700s. In 2019, even with many scholars unable to attend due to the shift in date or the expense, attendance has almost doubled, now numbering ca. 1,200. The North American Patristics Society (NAPS), too, is exhibiting continual growth with current membership over 300 and a constantly expanding annual meeting.3 Scholars who reside in Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Japan, and South America may be able to tell similar stories. Since 1995 a significantly greater number of women have taken up the field, as have lay scholars. When I first attended, a majority of paper-givers were male, ordained and/or in religious orders. Increasingly scholars both young and old are in attendance who work not just in divinity schools or theological faculties but in an array of departments within secular universities. As Ken Parry puts it in his introduction to the Wiley Blackwell Companion to Patristics, this is in part because over this period, under the influence of late antiquity, the definition of patristics has become much more expansive.4 What was once more narrowly defined as study of the theological writings of the (Latin and Greek) fathers of the church – ante-, Nicene and post-Nicene – together with the study of heresies and church councils,5 has now come to embrace, among other things: cited are largely suggestive. As you read this article, you are invited to apply to the trends discussed examples from your own networks, sub-specialisations, and regional contexts. 3 Founded in 1970, 75 persons attended the first meeting. See history-and-past-presidents/ (accessed 27 December 2019). In the early 2000s, towards the beginning of my attendance at the NAPS conferences in Chicago, the number of program sessions averaged 38, held in 4 rooms concurrently. In 2018 the total number of programmed sessions was 120, with 10 sessions running concurrently. In recent years, pre-conference workshops by special interest groups, such as Digital Humanities and the Working Group for Religion, Medicine, Disability and Health in Late Antiquity (ReMeDHe), have been added to the program. Since the 1990s the conference has relocated twice in response to the need for improved facilities and expanded capacity, with the venue moving from Loyola University to the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza to its present location at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. 4 Ken Parry, ‘The Nature and Scope of patristics’, in Ken Parry (ed.), The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Patristics (Oxford, 2015), 3-11, esp. 3-5. 5 This approach is exemplified by John A. McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology (Louisville, KY, 2004). See especially his definition at 252-3. The field of study, similarly defined, is also described as ‘patrology’, as per Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. 1-3 (Utrecht, 1949-1959), and Angelo di Berardino (ed.), Patrology, vol. 4 (Eng. trans., Westminster, MD, 1986) and vol. 6 (Eng. trans., Cambridge, 2006). Volume 5 (= Italian edition, vol. 4 [Genova, 1996]), edited by Di Berardino, remains untranslated into English. The chronological definition of the patristic age as extending from the apostolic era to no later than the eighth century CE is characteristic of western scholarship. On the influence on twentieth-century scholarship of the Reformation view that the first five centuries constituted a patristic golden age, see K. Parry, ‘Nature and Scope’ (2015), 7. For a particular example from within Greek Orthodoxy where the upper limit of patristics is located significantly later (at the fall of Byzantium), see Panagiotes K. Chrestou, Greek Orthodox Patrology: An Introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers, ed. and trans. by George D. Dragas (Rollinsford, NH, 2005). The work serves as an introduction to Chrestou’s five-volume Hellênikê patrologia (Thessalonikê, 1976-[92]) On the location of Chrestou’s work within Orthodox

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


writings in a more expanded body of languages; material, visual, epigraphic, papyrological and documentary evidence; and genres that were once less valued if not ignored, such as letter-writing, hagiography, hymnography and homiletics. The time period has expanded to include later Byzantine theology.6 The works and lives of less well-known preachers like Severian of Gabala, of lower-ranked clergy, ascetics or ‘heretics’, and of unknown authors (the pseudonyma), that once languished in the shadows of the great ‘orthodox’ bishops like Augustine and Basil of Caesarea, have now gained their own prominence.7 The field is both the same and significantly different from what it was twenty-five years ago. Challenges Recent reflections by biblical scholars within the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and in Australia suggest that theirs is a discipline under threat in the post-post-modern world.8 As we move into the third decade of the twenty-first approaches to the fathers and for the history of the study of the church fathers in general, see Angelo di Berardino, ‘Modern Patrologies’, in K. Parry (ed.), Wiley Blackwell Companion (2015), 51-67. Christoph Markschies, ‘Patristics and Theology: From Concordance and Conflict to Competition and Collaboration?’, in Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Theodore de Bruyn and Carol Harrison (eds), Patristics Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Proceedings of an International Conference to Mark the 50th Anniversary of the International Association of Patristic Studies (Turnhout, 2015), 367-88, 367-75, provides a useful explanation of the historical development of patristics as a discipline in Europe and its eventual split with ‘systematic’ theology. 6 The 2019 and 2015 International Patristics Conferences are indicative of this change, with the inclusion of papers on Middle Byzantine theology. 7 Characterised, e.g., by the significant financial investment (2022-32) by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften in the production of the first complete scientific edition of Severian of Gabala’s works. See (accessed 27 December 2019). Treated since the Reformation as a second-rate preacher of little value (in comparison to the famous bishop and preacher John Chrysostom), Severian’s works are suddenly being valued for both their biblical exegesis and the data they record concerning the early history of the Byzantine liturgy. For an example of the latter trend, see Harold Buchinger, ‘Festal Homilies and Festal Liturgies in Antioch and Constantinople: Innovation and Convention in John Chrysostom and Severian of Gabala, with Particular Attention to their Epiphany Sermons’, in Johan Leemans, Geert Roskam and Josien Segers (eds), John Chrysostom and Severian of Gabala: Homilists, Exegetes and Theologians, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 282 (= Bibliothèque de Byzantion 20) (Leuven, 2019), 65-86. Concerning an increased interest in pseudonyma, see, e.g., Wendy Mayer, ‘A Life of Their Own: Preaching, Radicalisation, and the Early PsChrysostomica in Greek and Latin’, in Francesca P. Barone, Caroline Macé and Pablo Ubierna (eds), Philologie, herméneutique et histoire des textes entre orient et occident. Mélanges en hommage à Sever J. Voicu, Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia 73 (Turnhout, 2017), 977-1004; and the extensive attention paid to pseudonymous Latin dissenter texts in Brent Shaw, Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Hatred in the Age of Augustine (Cambridge, 2011). 8 SBL job data for 2017-18 (, accessed 29 December 2019), while steady relative to the previous three years, show a marked



century it is an appropriate moment to stop and ask whether this is the case too with patristics. As past president (2003-7) of the International Association of Patristic Studies (AIEP-IAPS), Pauline Allen, has striven over the past two decades to demonstrate, patristics, reconceived as early Christian studies, is in direct continuity with one half of biblical studies, study of the New Testament. The two are sister disciplines.9 This is something new for those of us formed as patristic scholars in the late twentieth century in countries on the margins, and in Australia in particular, where the exclusion of the teaching of divinity from the public university in the early twentieth century led to an emphasis on biblical studies to the exclusion of patristics within Protestant seminaries.10 This reunification of fields that became separated in the twentieth century she exemplified throughout her directorship of the former Centre for Early Christian Studies (CECS) at Australian Catholic University and via the co-founding with Shinro Kato in 2004 of the Asia-Pacific Early Christian Studies Society (APECSS).11 The conferences of APECSS from their very beginning sought to reunite New Testament scholarship with the broader study of Christian literature and society from the first to the eighth centuries. We see the fruits of this approach in the North American annual meetings of SBL, where increasingly panels including late-antique or patristic papers have become normative.12 A similar push is evidenced in South Africa where the Society for New Testament decline in openings in biblical studies and related disciplines from a peak in 2006-8. In 2018 the society launched The Future of Biblical Studies in Undergraduate Liberal Arts Education initiative (, accessed 29 December 2019), designed to ‘actively advocate for the humanities at the institutional level’, suggesting that in the United States the threat is perceived to be humanities-wide and not confined to biblical studies. 9 New Testament studies, which emerged out of patristics, church history and systematic theology in the late nineteenth century, at the beginning embraced early Christian studies as a cognate discipline. See Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Leuven, 2014). I am indebted to Markus Vinzent for this point. 10 See Peter Sherlock, ‘The Foundation of the Melbourne College of Divinity’, Journal of Religious History 40.2 (2016), 204-24. 11 Originally named the Western Pacific Rim Patristics Society, with its first official conference held in Tokyo in 2004 (, accessed 27 December 2019), its foundations go back to 1996 and the first Prayer & Spirituality conference hosted in Melbourne by CECS, attended by Shinro Kato and a small number of Japanese colleagues, Kazuhiko and Miyako Demura among them. CECS became a research centre of Australian Catholic University (ACU) in 1997 and ceased to be supported by ACU in 2016. 12 For much of the twentieth century, early Christian studies was confined to the first three centuries CE, the period before Constantine. In addition to the influence of late antiquity, Qur’anic studies and biblical reception studies are also extending the chronological boundary into later centuries. An example is the relatively new program unit Biblical Exegesis from Eastern Orthodox Perspectives. In the 2019 program there were nine units dedicated to Qur’anic studies and four that explicitly referenced late antiquity. Healthcare and Disability in the Ancient World is another program unit that has in recent years expanded its chronological horizons. The 2019 program unit Jewish, Christian, and Graeco-Roman Travel in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Early Byzantine Periods (300 BCE-600 CE) would have been unconceivable two decades ago.

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


Studies is inclusive of patristics and where the 2018 Classics Colloquium brought together papers that stretched from pre-classical Athens to the end of late antiquity.13 Notably, over this same period, Oxford University’s own Teresa Morgan has led the way in blurring the boundaries between New Testament and classical studies,14 just as Averil Cameron has consistently and successfully brought together the study of late antiquity and of Byzantium, on the one hand, and late antiquity and Islam, on the other.15 Of relevance to the discussion here, among the many paradigm shifts she has influenced or effected, Cameron has highlighted and sought to redress a neglect in byzantine studies of byzantine theology and religious writings.16 In Vienna, Claudia Rapp has also been instrumental in this latter regard.17 I will revisit these trends and their implications for the increased relevance of patristics to twenty-first-century concerns later in this article. For the moment I note simply the presence in the 2019 International Patristics Conference program of sessions on The Primitive Age and New Testament, as well as Byzantine theology, as indicative of these expanding horizons. To return, however, to whether the fates of patristics and biblical studies are mutually entwined, it is instructive to look at some of the concerns about the future of biblical studies that are being put forward. Mark Brett, new general editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature, in a recent article argues that biblical studies, at least in Australia, is ‘well into a new crisis of legitimacy’ and that ‘it is time to take stock and to do some strategic thinking about the future’.18 Brett is known for his critique of the ideological biases of past biblical criticism, 13

Co-convened by Martine De Marre and Chris de Wet, the 19th UNISA Classics Colloquium Making and Unmaking Memory in the Ancient World from the 7th Century BCE to the 7th Century CE, 7-10 November 2018, was admittedly unusually chronologically expansive, but indicative of a growing openness to bringing together previously separate historical periods and disciplines. 14 The success she has achieved is indicated by the invitation to deliver the keynote address at the 40th Australasian Society for Classical Studies Annual Conference, University of New England, 4-7 February 2019, a society that has only recently begun to embrace the study of Christianity and its literature. The paper she delivered, ‘God’s Powerhouse: Piety, Faith and Salvation in Temples and Churches of the Roman Empire’, stems from her multi-volume research project on pistis and fides in the Roman to late-Roman world, for which she has been successful in obtaining Leverhulme (2018-21) and Templeton Foundation (2019-22) grants. 15 With regard to the latter, see her reflections, with literature, in Averil Cameron, ‘Patristic Studies and the Emergence of Islam’, in B. Bitton-Ashkelony et al. (eds), Patristics Studies in the Twenty-First Century (2015), 249-78. 16 See, e.g., Averil Cameron, Byzantine Christianity: A Very Brief History (London, 2018); and her discussions in ead., Byzantine Matters (Princeton, NJ, 2014), Dialoguing in Late Antiquity, Hellenic studies 65 (Washington, DC, 2014), and ‘The Cost of Orthodoxy’, Church History and Religious Culture 93.3 (2013), 339-61. 17 See the Vienna Euchologia Project and subproject, (accessed 31 December 2019). 18 Mark Brett, ‘Past and Future of Biblical Studies in Australia’, Australian Biblical Review 67 (2019), 85-97, 85-6.



for the promotion of postcolonial approaches, and for his lifting up of indigenous theological voices.19 For those of us who work in western universities, theological colleges and divinity schools, where study of the humanities, let alone church history or historical theology, is under threat, and in western countries where church attendance is in dramatic decline, patristics as a discipline barely registers on a university chancellor’s, government’s or society’s radar. As a patristic scholar, sitting on a plane and having a conversation with the person next to you about what you do can generate some very interesting conversations! In some ways patristics has always suffered from a crisis of legitimacy outside of certain confessional circles. In Australia, even in my own collegiate University of Divinity it is vastly overshadowed by systematic, biblical, and practical theology.20 A rare exception within the University of Divinity is the Coptic Orthodox college, St Athanasius (SAC).21 Of the two Australian universities that do give active encouragement to its pursuit, the one – Australian Catholic University – has a historical confessional interest,22 while the other – Macquarie University – although secular, exhibits the legacy of the expansive vision of Edwin Judge, holder of the university’s Second Chair of History and founder of its Ancient History Documentary Research Centre (AHDRC).23 We should note that, although Macquarie is a secular university, Sydney Anglicans were significant supporters of Judge’s vision. What started out in the 1980s as a focus on studying the emergence of Christianity in its historical context with emphasis on documentary papyri and inscriptions of the pre-Constantinian period24 has since expanded to include the study of Coptic 19

See Mark G. Brett, Locations of God: Political Theology in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford, 2019); id., Political Trauma and Healing: Biblical Ethics for a Postcolonial World (Grand Rapids, MI, 2016); id., Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire (Sheffield, 2008); id., Genesis: Procreation and the Politics of Identity (London, 2000); and id., Biblical Criticism in Crisis? The Impact of the Canonical Approach on Old Testament Studies (Cambridge, 1991). 20 Among the disciplines that the university offers ( patristics is not listed. Units in patristics typically come under the fields of Humanities or Christian Thought and History. 21 See, for example, the list of subjects taught by Lisa Agaiby, ms-lisa-agaiby/ (accessed 31 December 2019) in addition to Hagiography and the Cult of the Saint. John Behr, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, New York, teaches intermittent patristic subjects at SAC as an adjunct lecturer. Youhanna Nessim Youssef also contributes to the publications produced by SAC in the area of patristics. 22 It is to be noted that, within this supportive culture, ACU has historically favoured patristics research rather than undergraduate teaching. For the current expansive research programs and staff see (accessed 31 December 2019). 23 See the biography at (accessed 31 December 2019), which includes the information that in 1984 he was Visiting Professor of Classics and History at University of California at Berkeley, standing in for Eric Gruen and Peter Brown respectively. 24 This original focus is exemplified by the series New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (vols 1-6 published by the AHDRC, Macquarie University, 1981-1992; vol. 7 onwards published by Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI).

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


and associated oriental languages, literature and religions, late antiquity, including patristics, and byzantine studies.25 A student interested in the study of Christianities can engage with their material, documentary, and literary culture at almost any period in the first millennium across a wide geographic and linguistic spectrum. Patristics works there because they have been aggressively strategic, they have in essence captured the postgraduate student market in Australia, and have been able to demonstrate to their university that its study, when less ideologically constrained, is economically viable. These are rare foci of patristic endeavour within Australia, however, and for the most part those of us who work in the field do so with little interest or support from our institutions.26 That patristics continues to be obliged to defend its legitimacy is not a new challenge. What is new is the rapid decline across the western world of religious institutions (seminaries and divinity schools, theological departments, and religious orders) that have traditionally supported it. That patristics, under the umbrella of late antiquity, has expanded beyond these into secular universities offers the field some protection, but brings its own challenges. In countries where tertiary education is no longer viewed as a fundamental right, where the university is a profit-generating business, and where students are no longer being educated to produce well-rounded citizens but for employment, it is difficult to argue why patristics – at least as theology rather than history – should have a place in the curriculum. Increasingly students are asking why they should invest time and money in learning the requisite ancient languages. What’s in it for me, rather than what’s in it for society or the church has become a persistent focus. Countries that continue to value free education and humanistic endeavour, such as Finland, Germany or France are able for the present to continue to support the foundational language and history studies required, as well as traditional foundational patristic research – the editing of texts, for instance27 – but they too are coming under increasing pressure. One could also think of the growing threat to academic tenure and of increasing work precarity – otherwise framed as work flexibility and agility in the new gig economy – as additional factors. In these respects one could ask whether the crises that patristics faces in the twenty-first century are not rather centred on stability and quality. Have we reached a peak from which the number of scholars engaged in the field and the quality of the scholarship itself will in the future decline? These are real challenges that cannot be ignored. Rather than 25 See > Our research strengths > Ancient History (accessed 31 December 2019). 26 The analysis presented here diverges from that of Bronwen Neil, ‘Patristics in Australia: Current Status and Future Potential’, in B. Bitton-Ashkelony et al. (eds), Patristics Studies in the Twenty-First Century (2015), 145-61, which has a different focus. 27 See Martin Wallraff, ‘Whose Fathers? An Overview of Patristic Studies in Europe’, in B. BittonAshkelony et al. (eds), Patristics Studies in the Twenty-First Century (2015), 57-72.



dwell on these widely debated pressures and trends, however, what I will do in this paper is indicate how the challenges posed by the twenty-first century mentalité or Zeitgeist and its accompanying socio-political realities – that is, by post- or, more accurately, post-post-modernity – offer remarkable opportunities. In this respect the remainder of the paper will address the question of social relevance or public usefulness and suggest areas in which patristics can have and is in fact already having a voice. Patristics may be concerned primarily with a long-distant past, but it has, I will argue, much to say about the present and the potential to contribute to public discussion concerning a surprising range of global and local fears and anxieties.

Opportunities For the purposes of the argument that follows, it is important to stress that my working definition of patristics is in itself postmodern.28 I use patristics in an expanded sense to embrace the study of Christianities from multiple perspectives, in multiple media and modalities, and across multiple regions from the first Jesus-followers to well after the rise of Islam.29 This view of patristics 28 How the relationship of modernism to postmodernism is approached depends on the discipline from within which it is viewed. Essentially postmodernism emerges as a term among cultural theorists. See Daniel Palmer, ‘Explainer: What is Postmodernism?’, The Conversation, 2 January 2014, (accessed 1 January 2020). Useful for assessment of the relationship with reference to Christianity as religion is Brad J. Kallenberg and Ethan Smith, ‘Modernism and Postmodernisms’, in William A. Dyrness and Veli-Matti Karkkainen (eds), Global Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IN, 2008), 568-74, written from a Roman Catholic perspective. As a working definition I use the heuristics (‘often-discussed’ contrasting tendencies) set out by Martin Irvine, ‘Postmodern to Post-Postmodern: The Po-Mo Page’, version 9.9.13, Communication, Culture & Technology Program, Georgetown University, (accessed 2 August 2019), table reposted at http:// (accessed 1 January 2020). Irvine points out that the image of modernism that postmodernism opposes or deconstructs is itself a postmodern construct. None of the modern or postmodern tendencies Irvine describes is, as he further points out, an absolute. It is also relevant to the present discussion that the post- in ‘postmodernism’ can mean either contra or after modernism, the one approach viewing postmodernism as oppositional, the other as a progression. It can also be taken to refer simply to ‘late capitalism’, characterised by the blurring of identities (national, linguistic, ethnic, and cultural) produced by transnationalism and globalisation. 29 Patristics in this sense – transnational, decentred, localised, pluralistic, contingent – is clearly influenced by the postmodern tendencies listed by Irvine: suspicion and rejection of master narratives of history and culture; pursuit of localising and contingent theories; social and cultural pluralism; scepticism of ideas of progress; multiple conflicting identities; alternative family units, polysexuality, and exposure of repressed homosexual and homosocial realities; loss of centralised control, fragmentation; trust and investment in micro-/identity/local politics; attention to play of relational and horizontal differences/differentiations (surface tropes); hyper-reality as more powerful than the ‘real’/unmediated experience; disruption of the dominance of high

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


is demonstrably different from earlier definitions of the discipline – most notably, as study of the great fathers of the church and their theology or of the great councils of the church as defining moments in the establishment of orthodox doctrine.30 Those definitions were formed by and conform to the expectations of modernism.31 It is also important to disclose that the postmodernity versus post-post-modernity distinction is a discussion that I will gloss over.32 While we could argue about whether postmodernity is dead and how post-post-modernity differentiates itself, what is more important for this discussion is the characteristic social and personal anxieties that the current mentalité both gives rise to and is shaped by. Here I talk predominantly from the Australian experience and from the issues raised in my own work environment. As across much of the western world, institutionalised religion is in Australia currently under deep suspicion. Younger generations dismiss it as irrelevant to the way they view and engage with the world, especially when it has caused culture, hybridity; fragmented, partial, distributed knowledge; many-to-many media; polymorphous sexuality; transcendence of physical limits of print media/web as expandable, centreless, interconnected information system. 30 See n. 5 above. 31 Irvine lists the chief tendencies of modernism as: master narratives of history; history as progress; faith in ‘grand theory’ (totalising explanations); faith in/myths of social unity; hierarchy/order/centralised control; master narrative of progress through science and technology; sense of unified/centred self (individualism); idea of the ‘family’ as the central unit of social order (middle class, nuclear family, heterosexual norms); faith/investment in big politics; root/depth tropes; faith in the ‘real’ beyond media, but crisis in representation of the image as result of mass media; high v. low/popular culture (high culture as normative and authoritative); knowledge mastery (quest for interdisciplinary harmony); centralised knowledge and authority; mass media/ one-to-many communication; middle-class earnestness/seriousness of intention and purpose; phallic ordering of sexual difference; the book as sufficient bearer of the word/the library as complete and total system for printed knowledge; sense of clear generic boundaries and wholeness; clear dichotomy between organic and inorganic (human and machine). 32 A significant debate is emerging online. Kyle Roberts, ‘We are Witnessing the End of Postmodernism and the Beginning of Post-Postmodernism’, 25 July 2016, https://www.patheos. com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2016/07/we-are-witnessing-the-end-of-postmodernism-and-thebeginning-of-post-postmodernism/ (accessed 2 January 2020), for instance, approaching the topic from a progressive Christian social-moral perspective, argues for postmodernity as a period of humility and tolerance of difference, now being swept aside by intensified nationalism and angry tribalism (‘post-postmodernism is tribalism to the extreme and with gloves off’). Alison Gibbons, ‘Postmodernism is Dead. What Comes Next?’, Times Literary Supplement, https://www.the-tls. (accessed 2 January 2020), a literary cultural theorist, agrees that society and culture are in a state of flux, but is less absolute about whether postmodernity itself is dead and the degree to which post-postmodernity extends or rejects postmodern values. Matt McManus, ‘Post-Postmodernism on the Left’, Quillette, 13 June 2018, (accessed 2 January 2020), a human rights lawyer, surveys the directions in which post-postmodern theory is heading from a political-philosophical perspective. For a reflection on the end or otherwise of postmodernity from within the discipline of early Christian studies, see Markus Vinzent, Writing the History of Early Christianity: From Reception to Retrospection (Cambridge, 2019), 5-63, esp. 37 onwards.



irrevocable harm – as in the case of clergy sex-abuse scandals33 – or has failed to come to terms with changing social attitudes concerning climate change, gender fluidity, and same-sex attraction. While in the United States there is much discussion of the rise of the religious ‘nones’,34 in Australia and South Africa research views this as more nuanced. It is not that young people have no interest in religious feelings, mores or beliefs, but rather that they profess to be ‘spiritual, but not religious’ (SBNR).35 This ties in with current Australian legislation concerning care of the ageing, which recognises that spiritual wellbeing is an important component of aged care,36 at the same time as the government and churches are failing to ask and address why our aged feel so worthless. Our young people are deeply concerned about the impact and legacy of a human-centred and hierarchical view of the world on the natural environment. In Australia politicians who cannot agree on greenhouse gas emission reduction have put bipartisan support behind a bill to ban the export of recyclables because their own 10-year-old child tells them that they are deeply concerned for the impact of plastics on marine life.37 The childhood anxiety behind the 33 The 17-volume report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013-2017),, exposed thousands of instances of sexual abuse by institutional Christianity within Australia perpetrated over decades. The Royal Commission conducted 8,013 private sessions with survivors. While the institutions examined were not exclusively religious (they included the YMCA, Scouts, sporting and dance clubs, and Defence training establishments), in the summary to the findings reported in vol. 16 (Religious Institutions) the authors write: ‘we heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to institutions managed by religious organisations than any other management type’. See (accessed 2 January 2020). A side effect of the Royal Commission was an increased interest in and exposure of systemic clergy sexual abuse, leading most famously to the conviction in 2019 of Australia’s most senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal George Pell (subsequently acquitted on appeal). 34 See the detailed update by the Pew Research Center, ‘In U.S. Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace: An Update on America’s Changing Religious Landscape’, 17 October 2019, (accessed 2 January 2020): 40% of millennials are religious ‘nones’. 35 See the summary of the findings of the Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP160102367): Australian Young People’s Perspectives on Religions and Non-religious Worldviews, The Conversation, 17 September 2018, (accessed 2 January 2020). The team’s research complexifies Australian Census, National Church Life Survey, and McCrindle data, defining six spirituality types among Gen Z teens. Their AGZ (Australian Generation Z) survey, focus groups, and interviews found that 26% of Australian teens define themselves as either SBNR or as spiritual ‘seekers’. This is distinct from those who might be described as religious ‘nones’, the 38% who identify as ‘this-worldly’ (‘science-y’) or ‘indifferent’. 36 See n. 47 below. 37 See, announced 9 August 2019. The 10-year-old in question is the daughter of the West Australian Labor premier Mark McGowan, who acknowledged that 10-year-olds will soon be the next generation of voters. See Philip Coorey, ‘ScoMo Enlists the States in the War on Waste’, Financial Review, 9 August 2019, (accessed 2 January 2020).

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


school strike for climate change movement is a widespread phenomenon.38 There is, ironically, deep social anxiety about illegal immigration, even though Australia has in many ways been only lightly impacted by wars on other continents and the resulting mass migrations.39 There is deep anxiety about the hypersexualisation of children through internet porn and about the alienation children feel as a result of their parents’ constant immersion in social media.40 The massive rise in chronic disease, and poor physical and mental health in an age of plenty is a concerning side effect. Terrorism and religiously motivated violence have had far less of an impact in Australia, but arguments about cutting off citizen rights of the radicalised persist and the fear of terrorist acts is fed by politicians.41 Death due to family violence is, sadly, a far more likely 38 In recognition of the global impact of Greta Thunberg’s Skolstrejk för klimatet protest and advocacy for climate action Thunberg was nominated TIME magazine 2019 Person of the Year. See (accessed 2 January 2020). 39 The arrival by boat on Australian shores of unauthorised asylum seekers, leading to the creation of Australian Border Force and Operation Sovereign Borders, has been a contentious issue in Australian politics and for ordinary Australians for the past four decades. For a useful summary of the history of Australian policy in this regard see Nikki Ostrand, ‘Immigration Control Beyond Australia’s Border’, Center for Migration studies, (accessed 2 January 2020). Regarding the attitudes of ordinary Australians see the summary of a longitudinal study by the Lowy Institute: Kelsey Munro and Alex Oliver, ‘Polls Apart: How Australian views have changed on “boat people”’, The Interpreter, 19 February 2019, (accessed 2 January 2020). 40 In October 2016 the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper ran a series of articles raising public awareness about sexting and the ‘toxic’ impact of internet porn on teenage sexual behaviour. See, e.g., Karen Brooks, ‘Porn Crackdown: It’s not an invasion of privacy. It’s parenting’, The Courier Mail, 9 October 2016, (accessed 2 January 2020). Parents in Australia share stories of girls as young as eleven being pressured by male peers to send nude ‘selfies’. Regarding mobile phones and distracted parenting, see the article in the Melbourne Age newspaper by Melissa Cunningham, ‘Digitally Distracted Parenting: A modern day hang-up’, The Age, 24 October 2019, written after well-known Australian cartoonist and social commentator Michael Leunig posted a cartoon accompanied by the satirical limerick: ‘Mummy was busy on Instagram | When beautiful bubby fell out of the pram | He lay on the path unseen and alone | Wishing that he was loved like a phone’. See national/victoria/digitally-distracted-parenting-a-modern-day-hang-up-20191024-p533rt.html (accessed 2 January 2020). The topic is the subject of emerging research. See Brandon T. McDaniel, ‘Parent Distraction with Phones, Reasons for Use, and Impacts on Parenting and Child Outcomes: A Review of the Emerging Research’, Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies 1.2 (2019), 72-80. The flipside of feelings of neglect or resentment on the part of children is feelings of guilt on the part of the parent. 41 On 24 July 2019 the Australian government passed the Counter Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill, allowing the government to exclude Australian ‘foreign fighters’ from returning to Australia for up to two years. Those most impacted by the legislation are noncombatant women and children held in refugee camps in Syria. This follows attempts by the Abbott government in 2015 to strip dual citizens who engaged in foreign wars of their Australian citizenship. On Australia’s ‘over-zealous’ response over the past decade see Nicola McGarrity and Jessie Blackbourn, ‘Australia has Enacted 83 Anti-Terror Laws since 2001. But Tough Laws



and ever present reality.42 Technology is disrupting traditional work patterns, leading to increasing job flexibility but also greater work precarity. The gender wage gap is increasing. Children and teens are increasingly focused on the self. Self-worth is tied up with social media. Truth for teenagers and young adults, as increasingly for the wider population, is not absolute but relative. We are familiar with the phrase ‘fake news’.43 A term like ‘truthiness’ captures the current mindset.44 I have intentionally focused on social effects as well as social and personal anxieties because it is in these aspects of twenty-first-century life that patristics can, I believe, most effectively bridge the gap between past and present and demonstrate its relevance. This is because, despite the emergence of the digital age, there exist significant parallels between the twenty-first-century present and the concerns of the patristic era. Those parallels exist on two levels. Firstly, both are eras of disruption, uncertainty, and transition at the geo-political, socio-cultural and religious levels. Climate change, mass migration, wars, natural disasters, religious conflict, and disrupted or evolving economic and health systems are common to both time periods.45 There are significant commonalities between both in terms of societal anxieties and stressors. Secondly, the ways in which medical philosophers and iatrosophists of the patristic era and neuroscientists in the twentyfirst century view and approach the human person is predicated on markedly similar anthropologies. Ancient to late-ancient medical-philosophical doctrines of the sympathetic relationship between the mind/soul and body are increasingly supported today by cognitive research and neuroscientific studies of the brain.46 The spiritual aspect of at least the ageing human person is now, in Alone Can’t Eliminate Terrorism’, The Conversation, 29 September 2019, https://theconversation. com/australia-has-enacted-82-anti-terror-laws-since-2001-but-tough-laws-alone-cant-eliminateterrorism-123521 (accessed 2 January 2020). 42 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that in Australia one woman is killed by a domestic partner every nine days and one man every twenty-nine days. See Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia: Continuing the national story 2019 (Canberra, 2019), x, https:// 43 For a useful explanation of fake news and its history see ‘A Citizen’s Guide to Fake News’, 29 August 2018, a joint project of graduate students at the Center for Information Technology and Society, University of California Santa Barbara, (accessed 2 January 2020). 44 See Tory Shepherd, ‘In the Dark: When “truthiness” eclipses the truth’, Griffith Review 55 (2017), [54]-62. 45 Significant attention is currently being paid to these factors in late antiquity and their contemporary relevance. See, e.g., Lee Mordechai and Jordan Pickett, ‘Earthquakes as the Quintessential SCE: Methodology and Societal Resilience’, Human Ecology (2018), doi: 10.1007/ s10745-018-9985-y. 46 See, from the perspective of the ancient world, Yitzhaq Feder, ‘Morality Without Gods? Retribution and the Foundations of the Moral Order in the Ancient Near East’, in T.M. Oshima with Susanne Kohlhaas (eds), Teaching Morality in Antiquity: Wisdom Texts, Oral Traditions,

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Australia, recognised by health systems as a significant feature of individual wellbeing.47 Where, due to Cartesian dualism, Enlightenment modernity placed emphasis on the priority in thought processes of human reason, both the patristic and post-modern eras align in their recognition of human decision-making as also involving pathē – the emotions. If we further understand that, due to the slow processes of evolution, the brains of people who lived in the patristic era were cognitively modern – that is, that their brains and our own are in essence physiologically the same – then it is a legitimate exercise to bring human thought and behaviour in the two time periods into conversation. While it is important to also acknowledge that there exist social and cultural differences,48 what bridges the two time periods are those aspects of cognition which are recognised to be universal rather than culturally encoded. The case in support of this I have argued at length – quite literally – in a recently published book chapter.49 When we marry this insight with the commonalities in the societal stressors experienced in both periods, then the case for potential similarities in thinking and response is strengthened. With these insights we can start to acknowledge the value for patristics of multi-and interdisciplinary approaches. This is something that Brett lifts up as a key strategy for biblical studies in Australia with regard to re-establishing its and Images, Orientalische Religionen in der Antike 29 (Tübingen, 2018), 253-64; and id., ‘Contamination Appraisals, Pollution Beliefs and the Role of Cultural Inheritance in Shaping Disease Avoidance Behavior’, Cognitive Science 40.6 (2016), 1561-85. From the view of contemporary biomedicine, the sympathetic mind-body paradigm is increasingly influential in the understanding and treatment of trauma, most notably moral injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). See Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York, 2014), 88: ‘The body keeps the score. If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heart-breaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/ muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.’ The recent increase in research in the area of contemplation science, with a particular focus on the physiological as well as psychological effects of Mindfulness, is also indicative. See Nicholas T. Van Dan et al., ‘Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation’, Perspectives on Psychological Science 13 (2018), 36-61. 47 In 2016 Meaningful Ageing Australia, with Spiritual Health Victoria, produced National Guidelines for Spiritual Care in Aged Care, uploads/2016/08/National-Guidelines-for-Spiritual-Care-in-Aged-Care-DIGITAL.pdf (accessed 3 January 2020), leading to the introduction on 1 July 2019 by the Australian Government Department of Health of national Aged Care Quality Standards, in which the duty of providers to understand each client’s spirituality is no longer optional. Standard 4 (Services and Supports for Daily Living), 3(b) requires of providers that they demonstrate that ‘services and supports for daily living promote each consumer’s emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being’. See https:// (accessed 3 January 2020). 48 For this point see Y. Feder, ‘Contamination Appraisals’ (2016). 49 Wendy Mayer, ‘Preaching Hatred? John Chrysostom, Neuroscience, and the Jews’, in Chris L. de Wet and Wendy Mayer (eds), Revisioning John Chrysostom: New Approaches, New Perspectives, Critical Approaches to Early Christianity 1 (Leiden, 2019), 58-136.



legitimacy and moving forward into the future.50 In his view multidisciplinary collaboration is a vehicle that facilitates public awareness of biblical studies as a discipline that can contribute to public debate on ethical questions. As an aside, for a country that professes to be largely secular and non-religious, a surprisingly large number of Australia’s current politicians place emphasis on Christian values in private and in public debate. ‘Ethical questions’, from Brett’s perspective, relate to societal wellbeing and public goods.51 Scholars with a postmodern view of patristics are already successfully doing interdisciplinary work focused on public as well as individual wellbeing and we should view their endeavours as an important starting point and exemplar. The rapidly growing international working group for Religion, Medicine, Disability and Health in Late Antiquity, which held workshops at both the 2015 and 2019 Oxford conferences and now regularly offers panels at NAPS and SBL, is one such example.52 This group of scholars has done much to drive a new history of medicine that embraces patristic writings and that has in turn demonstrated how Graeco-Roman medicine has influenced emergent Christian theology. It has also helped to break down barriers between Jewish and Christian scholarly approaches to this historical period and highlighted mutual influence. More importantly for the relevance of patristics in the postmodern university and to western health systems, as paradigms shift from a compartmentalised modern biomedical mindset to one that is more holistic and post- (I would argue, pre-) modern, a number of the scholars in this group teach across faculties. They work in the growing discipline of medical humanities. Jonathan Zecher, Heidi Marx, Andrew Crislip, Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, and Meghan Henning, among others, have taught or are teaching subjects from within religion and history departments to students of nursing, science and medicine.53 They successfully use the patristic past to challenge contemporary paradigms of cure as opposed to healing, pain and suffering, and the perceived normativity of physical and mental ability. This is extraordinarily valuable in an age where western biomedicine either continues to label core ancient medical therapies as alternative and quasi-medical – with a concomitant impact on health care policy and economics – or does pursue a multidisciplinary approach to chronic lifestyle diseases, while ignoring both the spiritual dimension of the human person and the contribution of the medical humanities.54 Allied to this is the substantial rise in 50

M. Brett, ‘Past and Future’ (2019), 93-4. Ibid. 90-3. 52 See (accessed 3 January 2020). 53 See (accessed 3 January 2020); and the viewpoint essay by Jared Secord and Jessica Wright with Andrew Crislip, Andrew Langford, Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen and Heidi Marx, ‘Approaches to Teaching the History of Medicine in Late Antiquity’, Studies in Late Antiquity 3.4 (2019), 475-507. 54 See, e.g., the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, (accessed 3 January 2020), created to address ‘lifestyle diseases’. It brings together 51

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


the practice of Mindfulness, Yoga and Pilates in western countries, as people seek holistic physical and spiritual health and meaning. Again this is a space into which patristics can speak with some authority. The rise in the patristic era of asceticism, and of spiritual disciplines and monastic debates about physical labour – to name just a few aspects of this particular development – feed into a variety of ways to view human wellness that bring physiological and spiritual health into alignment. That these developments and what they have to say all occur within a Christian theological framework is important as chaplains in both hospitals and Christian schools struggle with how to blend Mindfulness practices with Christian theology and values, in light of the substantial research that demonstrates the health benefits of Mindfulness as a therapy for the treatment of PTSD, chronic pain, trauma that leads to permanent physical disability, and depression. Patricia Ciner, Rubén Peretó Rivas, Juan Carlos Alby and their colleagues in Argentina have already made investigation into this kind of area in ways that are truly interdisciplinary.55 This brings us to the rapidly growing generations of the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNRs) in western societies. On the one hand, recent debates within classics and patristics – for example, by Brent Nongbri, and Carlin Barton and Daniel Boyarin – about whether religion as a category existed prior to the Reformation have much to contribute to contemporary public debates and concerns in this respect.56 Similar discussions by Maijastina Kahlos and others around concepts of religious tolerance and intolerance in the patristic era have proved fruitful for contemporary debates on and social anxieties concerning researchers from medicine, science, business, environment, and architecture (a strictly bio-social approach). An exception is the recently created Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in Health Systems, Okayama University, profile/philosophy/ (accessed 3 January 2020), which, in pursuit of better outcomes for ageing in Japan, introduces students to perspectives from ‘engineering, medical science, pharmaceutical science, health science, literature (philosophy, ethics, religious studies, history, and cultural anthropology), sociology and social welfare (medical jurisprudence and social innovation)’. 55 For instance, the project of Rubén Peretó Rivas with Santiago Vázquez, exploring the intersection between the psychology of Evagrius Ponticus and third-generation contemporary psychological therapies (e.g. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT], Narrative therapies): ‘La capacidad performativa de la palabra como terapia de la acedia y la depresión en la Patrística y la Edad Media’ (2014-2017) and ‘La capacidad performativa de la palabra como instancia terapéutica de la acedia en la Patrística y la Edad Media’ (2011-2013). See Rubén Peretó Rivas, ‘ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) y Evagrio Póntico. Algunas correspondencias teóricas’, Cauriensia 12 (2017), 579-97. 56 See Brent Nongbri, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven, 2013); Carlin Barton and Daniel Boyarin, Imagine No Religion: How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities (New York, 2016). These kinds of historical discussions have been vigorously critiqued by scholars of the philosophy and sociology of religion. See, e.g., Thomas Lynch, ‘Social Construction and Social Critique: Haslanger, Race and the Study of Religion’, Critical Research on Religion 5.3 (2017), 284-301, who provides a useful review of previous approaches, including that of Kevin Schilbrack.



these topics.57 A flip side of the SBNR phenomenon is that religious orders that have declined in numbers are able to capitalise on the SBNRs who seek to experience and practise spiritual discipline without ultimate commitment.58 In many cases these spiritual practices have their origin in the patristic era. There is an opportunity for discussion with these spiritual tourists around the origins of such practices in terms of the anthropology, spiritual values, and social conditions that gave rise to and shaped them. Paul Dilley’s recent book Monasteries and the Care of Souls in Late Antique Christianity in many ways already speaks into this space, raising useful questions around why people then (and now) choose to engage in such disciplines.59 The current rise in demand for spiritual directors is another flow-on effect. Monastic literature like the apophthegmata patrum, that lifts up and explores master-disciple relationships, speaks directly into this space and is in turn associated with considerations of holistic wellbeing or, alternately, a queering of assumptions about the negative value we typically place on disability. Andrew Crislip’s book Thorns in the Flesh and the recent Journal of Early Christian Studies article by Sean Moberg are both indicative of the insights to be gained from these approaches.60 Concerns about ageing, the value of the ageing person, and about the abled and disabled body are all areas that bear some relationship to the ascetic bent exemplified by the patristic era and that the material turn in late antiquity, so ably lifted up by Patricia Cox Miller in The Corporeal Imagination, brings into 57 E.g., Maijastina Kahlos, Forbearance and Compulsion: The Rhetoric of Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Late Antiquity (London, 2009); Joachim Losehand, ‘“The Religious Harmony in the Ancient World”: Vom Mythos religiöser Toleranz in der Antike’, Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 12 (2009), 99-132; Tessa Canella, ‘Tolleranza e intolleranza religiosa nel mondo tardo antico: questioni di metodo’, Vetera Christianorum 47 (2010), 249-66; and now Peter Van Nuffelen, Penser la tolérance durant l’Antiquité tardive (Paris, 2018). For engagement with the earlier studies in relation to contemporary religious conflict see Wendy Mayer, ‘Re-Theorizing Religious Conflict: Early Christianity to Late Antiquity and Beyond’, in Wendy Mayer and Chris L. de Wet (eds), Reconceiving Religious Conflict: New Views from the Formative Centuries of Christianity (London, 2018), 3-29; Jan Bremmer, ‘Priestesses, Progroms and Persecutions: Religious Violence in Antiquity in a Diachronic Perspective’, in Jitse Dijkstra and Christian Raschle (eds), Religious Violence in the Ancient World: From Classical Athens to Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2020), 46-68. 58 On the search for embodied spiritual experiences as a characteristic of millennial SBNRs, see Stephanie Yuhas, ‘Losing my Religion: Why Millennials are Leaving the Church’, in Randall Reed and G. Michael Zbaraschuk (eds), The Emerging Church, Millennials, and Religion, Volume 1: Prospects and Problems (Eugene, OR, 2018), 137-61, 149-50. Anke Bisschops, ‘The New Spirituality and Religious Transformation in the Netherlands’, International Journal of Practical Theology 19.1 (2015), 24-39, with reference to ‘unbound spiritual seekers’ as clientele, analyses Christian spiritual centres and their visitors in the Dutch context. 59 Paul Dilley, Monasteries and the Care of Souls in Late Antique Christianity: Cognition and Discipline (Cambridge, 2017). 60 Andrew Crislip, Thorns in the Flesh: Illness and Sanctity in Late Ancient Christianity (Philadelphia, 2013); Sean Moberg, ‘The Use of Illness in the Apophthegmata patrum’, JECS 26.4 (2018), 571-600.

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prominence.61 These are all topics that are undergoing increasing investigation by scholars of patristrics, who then simply need to find ways to relate their findings to public debates in the twenty-first century.62 Material, but invisible, demons, to extend this topic, are not just concerns of the patristic era. With the steady, in some instances rapid, rise of pentecostalism in the global south, demonic warfare is a pressing issue within countries whose cultures traditionally view spirits as a natural part of the environment. The worldviews of these cultures have strong commonalities with the patristic worldview of spirits or daemons and their influence on the human person. There is a natural synergy here with patristic monastic concerns with demonic attack, aspects of patristic anthropology and psychology, and patristic understandings of the role of holy men or women in healing. As Samantha Miller has recently shown, dialogue between a patristic approach to the issue and twenty-first-century pentecostal approaches can produce fruitful disagreement, posing questions about the role in perceived demonic warfare of individual human responsibility.63 And when we think of bodies, the mass movement of peoples across borders whether due to civil war, climate change or the genocide of racial minorities is another globally pressing concern that is mirrored to some degree in the patristic era. In the twenty-first century this gives rise to a range of responses prompted by fear of migrants, perceived resource scarcity, and allegations that asylum seekers are cheats and criminals. There is intense public discussion about what response is appropriate in terms of social welfare and government-funded hospitality. Brexit and Trump’s border wall spring instantly to mind. Australia’s policy of detaining ‘boat people’ indefinitely in camps offshore beyond Australia’s borders is another example. These concerns are humanitarian concerns. Patristic texts are concerned with them, too, and contain what may prove helpful discussions on asylum, hospitality for strangers, people smuggling, and racial prejudice.64 The papers in the migration workshops convened on the last two days of the 2019 International Patristics Conference offer an initial taste of some of the possibilities. Patristic responses to natural disasters and the impact of climate change further connect with 61

Patricia Cox Miller, The Corporal Imagination: Signifying the Holy in Late Ancient Christianity (Philadelphia, 2009). 62 For a recent attempt, albeit with regard to obesity, see Chris L. de Wet, ‘The Preacher’s Diet: Gluttony, Regimen, and Psycho-Somatic Health in the Thought of John Chrysostom’, in C.L. de Wet and W. Mayer (eds), Revisioning John Chrysostom (2019), 410-63. 63 Samantha L. Miller, John Chrysostom and African Charismatic Theology in Conversation: Salvation, Deliverance, and the Prosperity Gospel (London, 2021). The book expands on an approach trialed by Miller in ‘The Devil did Not Make You do It: Chrysostom’s Refutation of Modern Deliverance Theology’, in C.L. de Wet and W. Mayer (eds), Revisioning John Chrysostom (2019), 613-37. 64 See, e.g., the discussion by Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil on population displacement in their book Crisis Management in Late Antiquity (410-590 CE). Evidence from Episcopal Letters (Leiden, 2013), 37-70.



postmodern concerns about social and individual resilience. The changes in technologies, in care for the poor and sick, and in political and ecclesiastical systems that took place in the patristic era are all aspects that can fruitfully be brought together with resilience theory.65 Continuing on these themes, Susan Holman has led the way over the past decade and a half in bringing patristic thought and social stresses together with contemporary public health concerns in ways that are genuinely interdisciplinary. Her initial work on the Cappadocians, famine, poverty and welfare has shifted in recent times to embrace humanitarian concerns like water justice.66 Chris de Wet and others have in recent years been tackling the issue of slavery and the contribution of early Christian, especially patristic, thought to millennia of western social blindness.67 Just as we thought slavery had been abolished, we are now seeing renewed kidnapping, trafficking and enslaving of young women by sex rings and a renewed increase in the economic slavery of labourers as a result of employer exploitation of precarious residency systems and of systemic wage injustice. This latter practice is particularly prevalent in the agribusiness, mining, and factory sectors. Both phenomena are global and transnational. Once again, there is much to be explored here and significant potential for patristic responses to comparable issues to contribute to contemporary approaches to and public discussion about these kinds of injustices. Nicoleta Acatrinei has been forging the way by bringing together economic theory and patristic thought, trialling her insights and resultant ideas with students in Chinese universities.68 Helen Rhee has for some time been co-teaching 65

The theme of the Thirteenth Biennial Meeting of Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity, Claremont, California, 14-17 March 2019, ‘Communal Responses to Local Disaster: Economic, Environmental, Political, Religious’, witnesses a recent turn in scholarship to this topic. 66 Susan R. Holman, The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (Oxford, 2001); and, e.g., God Knows There’s Need: Christian Responses to Poverty (Oxford, 2009); ‘Shaping Water: Public Health and the “Medicine of Mortality” in Late Antiquity’, in Chris L. de Wet, Susan R. Holman and Jonathan Zecher (eds), Disability, Medicine, and Healing Discourse in Early Christianity: New Conversations for Narrative Health (London, forthcoming). Her capacity to blend the disciplines of patristics and public health is exemplary. See her curriculum vitae, (accessed 3 January 2020). 67 E.g., Chris L. de Wet, Preaching Bondage: John Chrysostom and the Discourse of Slavery in Early Christianity (Oakland, 2015), The Unbound God: Slavery and the Formation of Early Christian Thought (London, 2018), and The Captive Monk: Slavery and Asceticism in Early Syrian Christianity (London, 2019); Jennifer Glancey, Slavery in Early Christianity (Oxford, 2002), and Slavery as Moral Problem: In the Early Church and Today (Minneapolis, 2011). 68 Illustrated by Acatrinei in her paper, ‘La nature humaine de l’homo oeconomicus: une enquête anthropologique dans le commentaire sur Matthieu de Jean Chrysostome’, delivered 21 August 2019 at the International Patristics Conference, Oxford; see Nicoleta Acatrinei, ‘The Human Nature of Homo oeconomicus: An Anthropological Investigation in the Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom’, SP 128 (2021), 255-68. Her work brings together her training in both patristics and economic theory. See Nicoleta Acatrinei, Saint Jean Chrysostome et l’Homo oeconomicus: Une enquête d’anthropologie économique dans les homélies sur l’evangile

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with an economics professor on the topic of wealth and poverty.69 Ecology and the environment is a burning concern of the twenty-first century, yet there is surprisingly little that has been done to address this topic from within patristic scholarship. And yet that patristic thought has much to contribute has been demonstrated by the Australian contemporary Catholic theologian, Denis Edwards, whose posthumously published book Deep Incarnation spends two of the five chapters exploring the insights on the question of care for the environment of Irenaeus and Athanasius.70 Catholic Social Teaching has always recognised the value of patristic thought for contemporary issues, but as the project of Johan Leemans, Brian Matz, and ethicist Johan Verstraeten at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven has highlighted, there is still work to be done in making the case for a valid intersection.71 Denis Edwards has done this, I believe, carefully pointing out the similarities and dissimilarities in the cultural setting. The emerging recognition of the similarity, if not direct equivalency, in anthropology of the patristic and twenty-first-century worldviews, adds support for increasing the dialogue between patristic and contemporary social thought as an interdisciplinary habit. Gender and sexual identity issues, like the search for spirituality and meaning and care and concern for the environment, are also at the forefront of, at least western, postmodern anxieties and mindsets. Same-sex marriage legislation, increasing gender fluidity, anxieties about clerical celibacy, links between Christian fundamentalism and homophobia, loss of male identity, and rampant intimate partner or family violence are all major social concerns and/or topical issues. Between considerations of gender and asceticism, on the one hand, and sex, gender, sin and shame, on the other, not to mention medical-philosophical conceptions of gender and the social space occupied by the eunuch, the patristic period is a particularly rich one with which to think through twenty-first-century concerns about gender identity, gender roles, and gender fluidity. There has been significant progress by scholars of patristics and late antiquity in the past two decades in this area in particular,72 but again bringing this scholarship de St Matthieu (Orthodox Research Institute, 2008), and Work Motivation and Pro-Social Behavior in the Delivery of Public Services: Theoretical and Empirical Insights, Theses No. 23 (Geneva, 2016). 69 The unit is titled Theology and Economics of Wealth and Poverty. See https://classic. (accessed 3 January 2020). 70 Denis Edwards, Deep Incarnation: God’s Redemptive Suffering with Creatures (Maryknoll, NY, 2019). 71 See Brian Matz, Patristics and Catholic Social Thought: Hermeneutical Models for a Dialogue (Notre Dame, IN, 2014); and Johan Leemans, Brian Matz and Johan Verstraeten (eds), Reading Patristic Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for Twenty-First Century Christian Social Thought, CUA Studies in Early Christianity (Washington, DC, 2011). 72 The names and publications of those working in this area are too numerous to mention. Liz Clark, Kate Cooper, Ben Dunning, Mark Masterson, Mathew Kuefler, Virginia Burrus, and Kyle Harper are only some of the many names that spring to mind.



more intentionally into public discussion would raise its profile and further promote its public utility. On a different note, in a world in which emotional rhetoric is on the rise, facilitated by an increased use of tweeting by politicians and the global use of mobile/cell phones and social media, cognitive linguistics allows us to elide the gap between patristic ideology and language and the twenty-first-century present. The work of Anna Rebecca Solevåg on health and medicine metaphors in Ignatius’ letters,73 Eric Fournier’s work on amputation metaphors in relation to episcopal exile,74 and my own on the metaphors that permeated John Chrysostom’s notorious sermons Adversus Iudaeos,75 all serve to disrupt centuries-long assumptions about the priority of reason over emotion. In the case of Chrysostom’s sermons I was able to show that cognitive approaches destabilise and, I would argue, collapse the long-held distinction between anti-Judaism and antisemitism. When cognitive research is brought to bear, we are obliged to acknowledge that the impact on the listener is separate from the author’s intention. In a recent book that is largely the brainchild of Éric Fournier, I have raised the possibility on the basis of contemporary research in the area of critical rhetoric and cognition that there may in fact have been a literal biochemical neural addiction on the part of patristic audiences to rhetoric that promoted their own group as the exceptional other.76 This kind of research demonstrates how exploration of cognitive linguistics and social phenomena in the patristic period can have substantial implications for current public discussion around issues like white supremacy, antisemitism, religious conflict and violence. The topics of religious conflict and religious violence are two of the most obvious spaces in which patristic scholarship has been able to demonstrate its public relevance for the twenty-first century. Large national and international research projects that explore aspects of these topics have been underway for some time. One thinks of the work of Mar Marcos and her colleagues across Spain,77 73 Anna Rebecca Solevåg, ‘Medical Metaphors in Ignatius’ Letters’, in Ch.L. de Wet, S.R. Holman and J. Zecher (eds), Disability, Medicine, and Healing Discourse (forthcoming). For further examples see the articles published in the special issue of the journal Studies in Late Antiquity 2.4 (2018) on the theme ‘Rethinking Bodily Metaphors: Physiological and Medical Reasoning in Late Antique Christianity’. 74 Éric Fournier, ‘Amputation Metaphors and the Rhetoric of Exile: Purity and Pollution in Late Ancient Christianity’, in Julia Hillner, Jakob Enberg and Jörg Ulrich (eds), Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity (Frankfurt am Main, 2016), 231-49. 75 See n. 49 above. 76 Wendy Mayer, ‘Heirs of Roman Persecution: Common Threads in Discursive Strategies Across Late Antiquity’, in Éric Fournier and Wendy Mayer (eds), Heirs of Roman Persecution: Studies on a Christian and Para-Christian Discourse in Late Antiquity (London, 2019), 317-39. 77 E.g., the project ‘Conflicto y convivencia en el cristianismo primitivo: retórica religiosa y debates escatológicos’ (2009), led by Mercedes López Salvá in collaboration with researchers from Universidad Complutense Madrid, Universidad de Cantabria, Universidad de Granada, Universidad de León, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Spain), and Harvard University

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


of the projects of Gilvan Ventura da Silva and his students in Brazil,78 of the projects in France in which Nicole Belayche, Simon Mimouni, and Pierluigi Lanfranchi have been involved,79 and projects in Germany in which Johannes Hahn has been engaged,80 to name but a very few. In Australia, Pauline Allen, Bronwen Neil and I, together with Chris de Wet in South Africa and a number of doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers, have been engaged in exploring the role of the rewriting of past memory in the destruction of religious sites,81 just as Jitse Dijkstra has been conducting his own Canadian-funded project on religious violence and destruction in Egypt in the patristic era. 82 What has been particularly fruitful in this second regard is bringing historians of religious violence in ancient Greece and Rome into dialogue with scholars of the period after the emergence of Christianity, on the one hand, and these historians collectively into dialogue with senior scholars of sociology of religion

(Department of Classics, and Divinity School). See Mercedes López Salvá (ed.), De cara al Más Allá. Conflicto, convivencia y asimilación de modelos paganos en el cristianismo antiguo (Zarazoga, 2010). And the project of Mar Marcos and José Fernandez Ubiña: ‘Multiculturalismo, convivencia religiosa y conflicto en la Antigüedad tardía (ss. III–VII)’ (2007-2009), funded in a second phase: ‘Estrategias clásicas y cristianas para la resolución de conflictos en la Antigüedad Tardía’ (2010-2012). 78 ‘Imagens da alteridade no Baixo Império: os judeus e a construção de uma identidade romano-cristã’, 2003-2005; ‘Intolerância religiosa e conflito cultural no Império Romano: a propósito de judeus, pagãos e hereges’, 2007-2009; ‘A construção da identidade cristã no Império Romano: João Crisóstomo e o conflito com os judeus e judaizantes de Antioquia’, 2007-2010. 79 E.g., ‘Cohabitations et contacts religieux dans les mondes hellénistique et romain’ (Centre Glotz, 2007-2010), and the resultant publication, Nicole Belayche and Jean-Daniel Dubois (eds), L’oiseau et le poisson: cohabitations religieuses dans les mondes grec et romain, Religions dans l’histoire 6 (Paris, 2011). Cf. Nicole Belayche and Simon C. Mimouni (eds), Entre lignes de partage et territoires de passage. Les identités religieuses dans les mondes grec et romain: “Paganismes”, “judaïsmes,” “christianismes”, Collection de la Revue des Études Juives 47 (Leuven, 2009); Pierluigi Lanfranchi, ‘Des paroles aux actes. La destruction des synagogues et leur transformation en églises’, in Marie-Françoise Baslez (ed.), Chrétiens persécuteurs. Destructions, exclusions, violences religieuses au IVe siècle (Paris, 2014), 311-35, and id., ‘L’usage des émotions dans la polémique anti-juive. L’exemple des discours contre les Juifs de Jean Chrysostome’, in MarieAnne Vannier (ed.), Judaïsme et christianisme chez les Pères, Judaïsme antique et origines du christianisme 8 (Turnhout, 2015), 237-52. 80 ‘Vom Tempel zur Kirche. Zerstörung und Erneuerung lokaler Kulttopographie in der Spätantike’, a subproject of a Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft-funded project, 2000-2003, described in brief by Stephen Emmel, Ulrich Gotter and Johannes Hahn, ‘“From Temple to Church”: Analysing a Late Antique Phenomenon of Transformation’, in Johannes Hahn, Stephen Emmel and Ulrich Gotter (eds), From Temple to Church: Destruction and Renewal of Local Cultic Topography in Late Antiquity (Leiden, 2008), 1-22, 4. 81 Australian Research Council Discovery Project, DP 170104595 (2017-2020), ‘Memories of Utopia: Destroying the Past to Create the Future (300-650 CE)’. A recent outcome is the volume of essays: Bronwen Neil and Kosta Simic (eds), Memories of Utopia: The Revision of Histories and Landscapes in Late Antiquity (London, 2020). 82 ‘“I Wish to Offer a Sacrifice to God Today”: Religious Violence in Late Antique Egypt’, 2015-2021, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.



on the other.83 A similar approach in the first respect – bringing classicists and scholars of early Christianity/patristics into conversation – was pursued at the 2018 University of South Africa (UNISA) Classics Colloquium.84 When we review these projects and their outcomes, they exemplify a postmodern approach that ignores previously sharp disciplinary boundaries and demonstrates the utility of these expanded lenses. Scott Johnson’s encouragement, with other younger scholars, of transnationalist approaches to analyses of (especially eastern) Christianity’s role in the patristic to byzantine Mediterranean world is equally indicative of a twenty-first-century mindset.85 In the process, these approaches are disrupting older paradigms about religious violence and posing new questions of considerable relevance to twenty-first-century anxieties. My own exploration, again, of cognitive approaches from moral psychology, when brought together with insights from cognitive linguistics in the area of cognitive metaphor theory have brought into question the assumed essential relationship between violence and religion, and posed the question whether narratives that memorialise past violence against the group whose stance is validated by the narrative record actual violent events in the past or provoke them in the future.86 Recent conference papers in which I lift up these theories, particularly in the areas of ideological narrative, devoted actors, purity and disgust, have evoked acknowledgement from the audience that the analysis addresses and helps to explain not just the patristic past, but present social and political realities under a Trump presidency in the United States and in a United Kingdom racing towards Brexit.87 This kind of synergy between past and present can be quite gratifying. Given that analyses of patristic claims of temple destruction in light of archaeological evidence by Dijkstra and others indicates that the rhetoric exaggerates and in some cases significantly misrepresents reality, 83 See Jitse Dijkstra and Christian Raschle (eds), Religious Violence in the Ancient World: From Classical Athens to Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2020), developed from papers delivered at an international workshop, Religious Violence in Antiquity: A Religious studies Approach across the longue durée, Montréal-Ottawa, 28-30 September 2017. 84 See n. 13 above. 85 A transnationalist paradigm shaped the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Studies Symposium, ‘World of Byzantium’, 22-23 April 2016, of which Scott Johnson was a symposiarch. See https:// (accessed 3 January 2020). 86 See Wendy Mayer, ‘Religious Violence in Late Antiquity: Current Approaches, Trends and Issues’, in J. Dijkstra and Ch. Raschle, Religious Violence (2020), 251-65. 87 Especially, Wendy Mayer, ‘Reshaping the Past to Claim the Future: Unpacking the Role of Historical Memory in Religiously Motivated Violence’, opening keynote paper, Claiming History – The Role of Historical Reasoning in Religious Conflicts, Istituto Svizzero, Rome, 23-25 October 2019; ‘Heirs of Roman Persecution: Common Threads in Discursive Strategies Across the Late-Antique East’, delivered at the 20th AABS conference, Dissidence and Persecution, Macquarie University, 19-20 July 2019; ‘Memory Rewritten: Exploring the Agency of Narratives of Past Resistance, Violence and Desecration’, keynote paper, Pacific Partnership in Late Antiquity conference, Auckland, 11-13 July 2018.

Patristics and Postmodernity: Bridging the Gap


however, one question we must ask in regard to these kinds of approaches is whether our results are legitimate or circular. Just as scholars in the modern era asked questions prompted by their modernist world view that produced results consistent with that modernist worldview, is the postmodern lens we bring to the patristic era inevitably productive of results that confirm a postmodernist mindset? That is, in the areas of religious conflict and violence is our successful bridging of the gap between the patristic past and the twenty-first-century present really real or only apparent? On the other hand, postmodernism itself gives us a pass, as it were, on this issue. In an era where truth is relative, we could in fact ask: does the question of whether we have successfully bridged the gap, or only appeared to, even matter? Conclusions At this point I bring my set of musings about the field to a close by summing up some of the arguments and putting forward some conclusions. This article has been about bridging the gap between patristics and postmodernity. I have argued that postmodernity offers both challenges to the field and opportunity. In the western post- or post-postmodern academy, there is little to no allowance that a discipline can be of intrinsic value. Each discipline has to demonstrate its economic or public utility on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. This is how research funds, at least in Australia, are allocated. For a discipline that has traditionally been focused on the development of Christian doctrine and in which significant labour is spent on minute philological work, trawling through manuscripts, and editing and publishing texts, proving economic worth can be extremely difficult. As I mentioned at the beginning, patristics is a discipline that has always suffered in terms of its legitimacy. This is the case, at least, outside of divinity schools, theological faculties, and religious orders in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or eastern Christian traditions. And yet interest in the field is growing and it continues to be pursued, increasingly in secular universities, aided by the legitimacy afforded by the now maturing field of late antiquity. In relation to late antiquity patristics can be viewed either as an allied field or a subdiscipline. That optimism for the future needs to be measured against a second challenge posed by postmodernity. In the twenty-first century, Christianity’s institutions themselves are under threat – the very divinity schools, theological faculties, and religious orders that have supported patristics. As patristics increasingly moves into the secular university, it is brought under dual pressures. Bridging the gap between patristics and postmodernity becomes urgent precisely because all forms of institutionalised religion, on the one hand, are increasingly being viewed as irrelevant and because, on the other, humanistic endeavour – within which patristics falls in the secular domain – is held to have little to no economic or



social value. What I hope to have persuaded the reader of this paper is that precisely the opposite is the case. Patristics as a field of study has extraordinary value for governments and societies, precisely because the social conditions of the postmodern and patristic eras, together with their associated worldviews, have significant crossover. Both the patristic world and the postmodern world – to borrow E.R. Dodds’ characterisation – are an ‘age of anxiety’.88 In both eras the human brain – which both view as embodied – is fundamentally the same. When triggered by the same types of rhetoric or societal and environmental pressures, human cognition and the behaviours those cognitive processes give rise to have commonalities that express in consistent ways, regardless of the cultural differences. In this respect we can, I believe, genuinely bridge the gap between the two eras. Exploration of patristics in light of postmodernity, and of postmodern conditions, anxieties and problems in light of patristics, is a two-way street, with significant potential for productive insights.

88 Coined by Dodds in the Wiles Lectures he delivered in 1963 at the University of Belfast, published subsequently as E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge, 1965). See the retrospective by Teresa Morgan, ‘Pagan and Christian: Fifty Years of Anxiety’, in Stephen Harrison, Christopher Pelling and Christopher Stray (eds), Rediscovering E.R. Dodds: Scholarship, Education, Poetry and the Paranormal (Oxford, 2019), 182-97.


Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive Mohamed-Arbi NSIRI, Universität Hamburg, Germany

ABSTRACT The historical analysis of the Christian sources in Late Antiquity reveals several types of literary representations of conversion. The most common evokes an intimate renewal. The conversion can also be intended as a transition to a new lifestyle. The person converting goes through a full process of transformation, which is constantly changing.

Contrairement au grec, qui disposait de plusieurs termes désignant la conversion religieuse ou l’un de ses aspects (ἐπιστροφή, μετάνοια)1, le latin chrétien n’a consacré pour désigner ce phénomène qu’un seul terme technique : conversio, qui traduit à lui seul l’acte de la personne qui se tourne vers la divinité ; ou bien l’influence divine qui provoque cet acte2. Bien que très peu employé dans un sens technico-théologique, le terme conversio s’affirme à partir du IIIe siècle comme un terme à connotation religieuse qui sert pour désigner le retournement ou la transformation3. Déjà chez Arnobe de Sicca, sur vingt occurrences de conversio/convertere, dix-sept revêtent cette signification générale du retournement ou de transformation alors que seuls trois visent précisément le changement d’opinion religieuse. Dans cette approche de conversion comme détournement, un rejet vis-à-vis d’une attitude passée et/ou d’une religion considérée comme mauvaise, certains verront dans ce changement le signe de la transcendance divine ou bien la révélation de la grâce qui fonde la seule vraie liberté4. L’insistance sur le rejet 1 J. Bouffartigue, ‘Par quels mots le grec ancien pouvait-il désigner le passage d’une religion à une autre ?’, dans H. Inglebert, S. Destephen et B. Dumézil (éd.), Le problème de la christianisation du monde antique (Paris, 2010), 19-31. 2 L. Carrion, ‘Latinisation de l’Église d’Occident : regard sur la conversion d’une langue’, dans D. Boisson et É. Pinto-Mathieu (dir.), La conversion : Textes et réalités (Rennes, 2014), 255-65 ; É. Wolff, ‘Le vocabulaire latin de la conversion au christianisme’, dans H. Inglebert, S. Destephen et B. Dumézil (éd.), Le problème de la christianisation du monde antique (Paris, 2010), 33-8. 3 Le mot latin conversio, substantif du verbe convertere, présente certes lui-même dès l’origine un large éventail sémantique. Il regroupe déjà en germe les deux notions principales qui composent le phénomène de la conversion, à savoir la réorientation et transformation. 4 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou, BA 14 (Paris, 1992), VIII, XII, 29, 64-6 : Dicebam haec et flebam amarissima contritione cordis mei. Et ecce audio

Studia Patristica CIV, 35-47. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



du paganisme se retrouve particulièrement développée chez plusieurs chrétiens de l’Antiquité tardive5. Cette rupture avec ce passé païen se concrétise logiquement dans une phase de pénitence, qui colore aussi les définitions de la conversion6. Ainsi, chez Firmicus Maternus c’est la pénitence des péchés passés, c’est-à-dire les croyances et pratiques païennes, qui constitue la conversion. Il est insuffisant de voir la vérité si l’on ne fait pas de pénitence7. uocem de uicina domo cum cantu dicentis et crebro repetentis quasi pueri an puellae, nescio: «Tolle lege, tolle lege». Statimque mutato uultu intentissimus cogitare coepi, utrumnam solerent pueri in aliquo genere ludendi cantitare tale aliquid, nec occurrebat omnino audisse me uspiam repressoque impetu lacrimarum surrexi nihil aliud interpretans diuinitus mihi iuberi, nisi ut aperirem codicem et legerem quod primum caput inuenissem. Audieram enim de Antonio, quod ex euangelica lectione, cui forte superuenerat, admonitus fuerit, tamquam sibi diceretur quod legebatur : uade, uende omnia, quae habes, da pauperibus et habebis thesaurum in caelis ; et ueni, sequere me, et tali oraculo confestim ad te esse conuersum. 5 Cf. Ph. Blaudeau, ‘ Détruire pour construire une identité civique ? L’œuvre de l’évêque homéousien Eleusios à Cyzique’, dans M.-F. Baslez (dir.), Chrétiens persécuteurs ? Destructions, exclusions, violences religieuses au IVe siècle (Paris, 2014), 337-60 ; A. Bodin, ‘Le problème de la contagion païenne : les questions de Publicola à Augustin (Lettre 46)’, Revue des études tardoantiques 2 (2013), 175-201 ; P. Brown, Power and Persuasion : Towards a Christian Empire (Madison, 1982) ; P. Chuvin, Chronique des derniers païens. La disparition du paganisme dans l’Empire romain, du règne de Constantin à celui de Justinien (Paris, 1990) ; M. Gaddis, There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ. Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire (Berkeley, 2015) ; C. Lepelley, ‘La diabolisation du paganisme et ses conséquences psychologiques : les angoisses de Publicola, correspondant de saint Augustin’, dans L. Mary et M. Sot (éd.), Impies et païens entre Antiquité et Moyen Âge (Paris, 2002), 81-96 ; R. MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (New Haven, 1997) ; G. Stroumsa, La fin du sacrifice. Les mutations religieuses de l’Antiquité tardive (Paris, 2005) ; S. Ratti, Polémiques entre païens et chrétiens (Paris, 2012) ; G. Sfameni Gasparro, ‘One God and Divine Unity. Late Antique Theologies between Exclusivism and Inclusiveness’, dans S. Mitchell et P. Van Nuffelen (éd.), Monotheism between Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity (Louvain, 2010), 33-56. 6 Cf. A. Bodin, ‘Manifester sa conversion au christianisme dans l’Antiquité tardive en Italie et en Afrique romaine’, dans D. Boisson et É. Pinto-Mathieu (dir.), La conversion : Textes et réalités (Rennes, 2014), 155-66 ; P. Brown, ‘Conversion and Christianization in Late Antiquity : The Case of Augustine’, dans C. Straw et R. Lim (éd.), The Past Before Us : The Challenge of Historiographies of Late Antiquity (Turnhout, 2004), 103-17 ; W. Evenepoel, ‘Prudence et la Conversion des Aristocrates romains’, Augustinianum 30 (1990), 31-43 ; E. Fink-Dendorfer, Conversio : Motive und Motivierung zur Bekehrung in der Alten Kirche (Francfort-sur-le-Main, 1985) ; Th.M. Finn, ‘ It Happened One Saturday Night : Ritual and Conversion in Augustine’s North Africa’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 58 (1990), 589-616 ; E.V. Gallagher, ‘Conversion and Community in Late Antiquity’, The Journal of Religion 73 (1993), 1-15 ; A. Kreider, The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom (Oregon, 1999) ; É. Rebillard, Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200-450 CE (Ithaca, 2012) ; R.M. Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy : Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2004). 7 Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanarum religionum, éd. R. Turcan, CUF (Paris, 1982), I, XXVIII, 150 : Sequitur autem hoc diuinum uenerandumque pręceptum immortalis domini ac sancta conclusio. Aaddit enim, ut manifestius uiam salutis ostendat, et ita loquitur, «Haec est autem uita aeterna ut cognoscant te unum uerum dominum et quem misisti Iesum Chrislum». Sacrorum mandatorum ordinem scitis ; quid sequi, quid fugire debeatis, ueneranda atque immortali

Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive


Le but de la conversion reste bien toutefois de rejoindre le dieu chrétien et de l’adorer. Nombre de commentaires développent cet aspect positif de la conversion. Zénon de Vérone décrivant les degrés de l’échelle qui conduit à Dieu, indique que la conversion en est le premier degré8. Dans la définition de cet effort pour rejoindre Dieu, il arrive que l’accent soit mis sur les principales qualités de cette démarche : la foi et la volonté. Ainsi, la conversion est désignée comme initium fidei, ou comme principium fidei. Pour Jérôme, le moment de sa conversion est donc traduit par in principio fidei, l’acte de la foi qui précède une instruction plus poussée. De même, Firmicus Maternus évoque la conversion de ses lecteurs par initio fidei9. Ambroise désigne les païens appelés à se convertir comme credituri gentilis populi10. Pour Augustin, la conversion consiste souvent en un acte de volonté, qui procède d’une première assurance, comme il l’indique à la fois pour Victorinus11. On connaît bien dans sa propre conversion les difficultés crées par le déchirement de sa volonté12. Pour celle des autres, il insiste sur la volonté d’être chrétien13. Il suit uoce didicistis. Audite rursus quod maneat contemnentes exitium, quibus illos calamitatibus necessitas uenerandae legis astrinxerit. 8 Zeno Veronensis, Tractatus, éd. B. Löfstedt, CChr.SL 22 (Turnhout, 1971), 104 : Gradus autem eius, fratres dilectissimi, si uultis scire, quid uocentur, audite. Conursio, audientia, intellectus, credulitas, timor, sapientia, sobrietas, mansuetudo, temperantia, castitas, pietas, caritas, fides, ueritas, humilitas, gratia honestas, uerecundia, patientia, perseuerantia, consummatio. Scala autem proprio nómine crux uocatur […]. 9 Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanarum religionum, éd. Turcan, CUF (Paris, 1982), I, XXIX, 3, 154 : Initio fidei positi diuini fauoris incrementa sensistis. 10 Ambrosius, De fuga saeculi, éd. C. Schenkl, CSEL 32/2 (Vienne, 1897), 202 : […] talem cibum quaerebat Isaac, talem cibum esuriebat Petrus, quando uidit credituri gentilis populi mysteria […]. 11 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou, BA 14 (Paris, 1992), VIII, VII, 18, 44 : […] Nempe tu dicebas propter incertum uerum nolle te abicere sarcinam uanitatis. Ecce iam certum est, et illa te adhuc premit umerisque liberioribus pinnas recipiunt, qui neque ita in quaerendo adtriti sunt nec decennio et amplius ista meditati. 12 Sur la conversion d’Augustin d’Hippone la bibliographie est assez fournie. Je me limiterai ici à indiquer les études les plus importantes : F.B.A. Asiedu, ‘Following the Example of a Woman : Augustine’s Conversion to Christianity in 386’, VC 57 (2003), 276-306 ; G. Boissier, ‘La conversion de saint Augustin’, Revue des Deux Mondes 85 (1888), 43-69 ; F. Bolgiani, La conversione di s. Agostino e l’VIII° libro delle «Confessioni» (Turin, 1956) ; P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Londres, 1967), 108-20 ; G. Bonner, ‘Augustine’s “Conversion”: Historical Fact or Literary Device ?’, Augustinus 37 (1993), 103-19 ; P. Courcelle, Recherches sur les «Confessions» de saint Augustin (Paris, 1950), 175-210 ; J.-G. Fredouille, ‘ Les Confessions d’Augustin, autobiographie au présent’, dans M.-F. Baslez, Ph. Hoffmann et L. Pernot (éd.), L’invention de l’autobiographie d’Hésiode à saint Augustin. Actes du deuxième colloque de l’Équipe de recherche sur l’hellénisme post-classique (Paris, 1993), 167-78 ; S. Lancel, Saint Augustin (Paris, 1999), 117-45 ; J.-M. Le Blond, La conversion de saint Augustin (Paris, 1950) ; R.J. O’Connell, Images of conversion in St. Augustine’s Confessions (New York, 1996) ; C. Starnes, Augustine’s Conversion : A Guide to the Argument of Confessions I-IX (Waterloo, 1990) ; M.A. Vannier, «Conversio», «creatio», «formatio» chez saint Augustin (Fribourg, 1997). 13 Augustinus Hipponensis, De Catechizandis Rudibus, éd. G. Combès et J. Farges, BA 11 (Paris, 1949), V, 9, 2, 38 : […] uult fieri christianus ; non fieri uult potius quam fingere.



d’ailleurs en cela Simplicianus, qui attendait que Victorinus déclare christianus volo fieri pour considérer sa conversion comme effective14. De très nombreux emplois du mot conversio ou des adjectifs et participes dérivés recouvrent en fait l’idée de pénitence, soit en raison de l’idolâtrie passée, soit pour réparer une faute particulière. Dans le premier cas, on est encore dans la notion de la conversion proprement dite, mais orientée dans une démarche pénitentielle. Ainsi Jérôme lie conversio et paenitentia au sujet de Fabiola15. Et quand Ambroise fait mention de la conversion de Valentinien II16, il s’agit surtout de sa repentance, bien que le jeune empereur ait été assassiné avant d’être baptisé. D’ailleurs, il emploie conversio et ses dérivés de façon largement majoritaire dans le sens de pénitence17. Dans une autre perspective, socioreligieuse cette fois, la conversion représente un arrachement à un milieu déterminé et l’adhésion à une communauté nouvelle18. Le discours des témoins de la conversion au IVe et Ve siècle ne puisse pas seulement dans une vaste palette de vocabulaire, mais également dans un ensemble d’images littéraires évoquant naturellement ce phénomène. 14 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou, BA 14 (Paris, 1992), VIII, II, 4, 16-8: Legebat, sicut ait Simplicianus, sanctam scripturam omnesque christianas litteras inuestigabat studiosissime et perscrutabatur et dicebat Simpliciano non palam, sed secretius et familiarius: «Noueris me iam esse christianum ?». Et respondebat ille: «Non credam nec deputabo te inter christianos, nisi in ecclesia Christi uidero». Ille autem irridebat dicens: «Ergo parietes faciunt christianos ?». Et hoc saepe dicebat, iam se esse christianum, et Simplicianus illud saepe respondebat et saepe ab illo parietum irrisio repetebatur. Amicos enim suos reuerebatur offendere, superbos daemonicolas, quorum ex culmine Babylonicae dignitatis quasi ex cedris Libani, quas nondum contriuerat dominus, grauiter ruituras in se inimicitias arbitrabatur. Sed posteaquam legendo et inhiando hausit firmitatem timuitque negari a Christo coram angelis sanctis, si eum timeret coram hominibus confiteri, reusque sibi magni criminis apparuit erubescendo de sacramentis humilitatis uerbi tui et non erubescendo de sacris sacrilegis superborum daemoniorum, quae imitator superbus acceperat, depuduit uanitati et erubuit ueritati subitoque et inopinatus ait Simpliciano, ut ipse narrabat : «Eamus in ecclesiam : christianus uolo fieri». At ille non se capiens laetitia perrexit cum eo. Ubi autem imbutus est primis instructionis sacramentis, non multo post etiam nomen dedit, ut per baptismum regeneraretur mirante Roma, gaudente ecclesia. Superbi uidebant et irascebantur, dentibus suis stridebant et tabescebant. Seruo autem tuo dominus deus erat spes eius et non respiciebat in uanitates et insanias mendaces. 15 Hieronymus, Ep. 77, éd. J. Labourt, CUF (Paris, 1954), 2, 40-1 : Unde nouis mihi est efferenda praeconiis, et ordine rhetorum praetermisso, tota de conuersionis ac poenitentiae incunabulis assumenda. 16 Ambrosius, Ep. 25, éd. F. Villegas et A. De Vogüé, CSEL 87 (Vienne, 1976), 2, 176 : Quod ego non pro recordatione iniuriae ueteris exprompsi, sed pro testim onio conuersionis. 17 Il est intéressant de remarquer que dans cette évocation de la conversion/pénitence, c’est le terme conversio qui préféré et affecté, tandis que les formes latines correspondantes de metanoein/ metanoia, c’est-à-dire paenitere/paenitentia, ne sont jamais en revanche entrés de manière aussi exclusive dans la terminologie théologique de l’Antiquité tardive. 18 Cf. A. Beckford, ‘Accounting for Conversion’, The British Journal of Sociology 29 (1978), 249-62 ; H. Clavier, Les expériences du divin et les idées de Dieu (Paris, 1983) ; B. Taylor, ‘Conversion and Cognition: An Area for Empirical Study in the Micro-sociology of Religious Knowledge’, Social Compass 23 (1976), 5-22.

Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive


Les antonymies jour/nuit, lumières/ténèbres contiennent un des motifs symboliques les plus courants du langage chrétien pour décrire le phénomène de conversion. Dans ses Confessions, Augustin d’Hippone l’utilise très fréquemment19. Jérôme présente à son tour une équivalence directe entre la conversion au Christ et la lumière20. À l’opposé, les ténèbres sont synonymes d’erreur et d’errance, d’aveuglement et de malheur ; Cyprien de Carthage en fait déjà mention lorsqu’il raconte sa propre errance à Donat21. Pour sa part, Prosper d’Aquitaine ne manque pas non plus de représenter sa conversion comme une illumination intérieure22. Mais ce n’est pas seulement la conversion des gentils, des païens en général, que désigne cette illumination. Nombre de conversions individuelles s’expriment également de la sorte ; pour Augustin par exemple, le moment exact de sa conversion se traduit précisément par une image qu’on peut qualifier de mystique. Au terme de la profonde tourmente de son âme dans sa retraite à Casiciacum, il exprime sa conversion non pas d’abord par l’irruption de la paix ni de la joie, mais par celle de la lumière23. La rhétorique de la conversion comporte aussi le thème de nouvelle vie qui peut être appréhendé en tant que renaissance ou même comme résurrection. Paulin de Nole utilise la métaphore du nouveau-né au sujet du vieillard Valgius récemment converti24. De même à Aper, converti à la foi chrétienne et à 19 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou (Paris, 1992), VIII, X, 22, 52-4 : Illi enim dum uolunt esse lux non in domino, sed in se ipsis, putando animae naturam hoc esse, quod deus est, ita facti sunt densiores tenebrae, quoniam longius a te recesserunt horrenda arrogantia, a te, uero lumine illuminante omnem hominem uenientem in hunc mundum. Attendite quid dicatis, et erubescite et accedite ad eum et illuminamini, et uultus uestri non erubescent. 20 Hieronymus, Commentaria in Isaiam, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 110 (Paris, 1864), XIII, 49, 591 : Qui postquam conversi fuerint, et clarum Christi lumen aspexerint. 21 Cyprienus, Ad Donatum, éd. J. Molager, SC 291 (Paris, 1982), III, 80 : Ego cum in tenebri [...] iacerem [...] ueritatis et lucis alienus, difficile prorsus opinabar, ut quis [...] in nouam uitam lauacro aquae salutaris animatus, quod prius fuerat, exponeret et [...] hominem animo et mente mutaret. 22 Prosper Tiro Aquitanus, De uocatione omnium gentium, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 55 (Paris, 1846), I, 3, 395 : […] et gratias agentes pro iis, qui salui facti sunt, speremus etiam eos, qui nondum illuminati sunt, eodem diuinae gratiae opere eximendos de potestate tenebrarum. 23 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou, BA 14 (Paris, 1992), VIII, XII, 29, 66-8 : Itaque concitus redii in eum locum, ubi sedebat Alypius ; ibi enim posueram codicem Apostoli, cum inde surrexeram. Arripui, aperui et legi in silentio capitulum, quo primum coniecti sunt oculi mei : «non in comessationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et aemulatione, sed induite dominum Iesum Christum et carnis prouidentiam ne feceritis in concupiscentiis». Nec ultra uolui legere nec opus erat. Statim quippe cum fine huiusce sententiae quasi luce securitatis infusa cordi meo omnes dubitationis tenebrae diffugerunt. 24 Paulinus Nolanus, Ep. 49, éd. W. Hartel, CSEL 29 (Vienne, 1894), 14, 401 : Accipe igitur eum laetus in domino ut bonum Christi odorem, ut agnum mensis nouorum, quem ad unanimitatem tuam de rudi matris ecclesiae fetu inmaculatum candente lanitio pastor exigui gregis sed magni pignoris munerator ut xenium spiritale transmisi.



l’ascétisme, qui se proclame aussi inculte qu’un petit enfant, Paulin répond qu’il est effectivement devenu enfant avec sa conversion25. Dans ce sens, on retrouve employé au sujet des convertis et des néophytes tout un ensemble de termes liés à la naissance et à l’enfance, tel pueri, puellae, infantes26. Outre les exemples que nous venons de citer, Jérôme, rectifiant des erreurs commises lors de ses débuts dans la foi, indique que c’étaient celles d’un tout petit enfant27. Le thème de la guérison est souvent associé à la conversion. Tout récemment converti, Augustin a fait quant à lui une expérience de maladie (une rage de dents) puis de guérison permise par Dieu pour fortifier sa foi28. Le parallèle entre guérison miraculeuse et conversion est encore très éloquent dans la prière qu’Evodius met dans la bouche de Vitula, suppliant saint Étienne de convertir son mari et son gendre29. En quelque sorte, la santé du corps va de pair avec celle de l’âme comme c’est le cas avec la conversion de Volusianus, l’oncle de Mélanie30. Ce Dieu qui permet de guérir par la conversion est donc parfois représenté comme un médecin, medicus et salvator, qui prodigue soins, remède et finalement guérison31. 25 ‘Aper 2’, in L. Pietri et M. Heijmans (éd.), Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas Empire 4. La Gaule chrétienne, 314-614 (Paris, 2013), 156-7. 26 De cette métaphore provint naturellement le choix de certains chrétiens de porter le nom de Renatus/Renata. 27 Hieronymus, Ep. 84, éd. J. Labourt, CUF (Paris, 1954), 6, 131-2 : Sed fac me errasse in adolescentia, et philosophorum, id est, Gentilium studiis eruditum in principio fidei ignorasse dogmata christiana. 28 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou, BA 14 (Paris, 1992), IX, IV, 12, 92 : Dolore dentium tunc excruciabas me, et cum in tantum ingrauesceret, ut non ualerem loqui, ascendit in cor meum admonere omnes meos, qui aderant, ut deprecarentur te pro me, deum salutis omnimodae. Et scripsi hoc in cera et dedi, ut eis legeretur. Mox ut genua supplici affectu fiximus, fugit dolor ille. Sed quis dolor ? Aut quomodo fugit ? Expaui, fateor, domine meus, deus meus : nihil enim tale ab ineunte aetate expertus fueram. Et insinuati sunt mihi in profundo nutus tui et gaudens in fide laudaui nomen tuum, et ea fides me securum esse non sinebat de praeteritis peccatis meis, quae mihi per baptismum tuum remissa nondum erant. 29 Evodius [Pseudo-Augustinus], De miraculis sancti Stephani protomartyris, éd. J. Meyers (Turnhout, 2006), 2, 5, 322 : Inclamabat ergo Vitula mater auribus Amici Dei : «Domine Stephane, ecce adduxi Megetiam tuam ad te, quam tu ipse liberasti de morte. Nec nos in gaudium inimici fecisti uenire, non tradens nos in animas tribulantium nos, qui detrahunt et desperant de Christo Domino nostro, et de te eius tanto amico. Fac, rogo, fac iterum C erubescere eos de tota et de plena Megetiae tuae sanitate, sicut eos iam fecisti erubescere ex eius uteri periculosissimo labore. Non omnino deficies ad minora, qui praestitisti maiora. Quod promisi uiro eius pagano de te, imple propter te. Non confundatur mater in filia, quae praesumpsit in te, quae confugit ad te. Certe ut oculus cordis nondum credentium nobisque insultantium sanetur, os filiae curetur ; et ut acquiratur salus animae illorum, praestetur puellae sanitas membrorum suorum». 30 Gerontius, Vita Sanctae Malaniae, éd. P. Laurence LV, 2-3 (Jérusalem, 2002), 264 : «Cognosce quia baptizatus est auunculus tuus et misit me nuntiare». Statim, ut audiuit beata hunc sermonem, glorificauit Dominum ; et mox omnis dolor recessit, et diabolus confusus est. 31 Augustinus Hipponensis, Enarrationes in Psalmos 130, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 37 (Paris, 1865), 7, 1708-9 : Sic dominus Iesus Christus, medicus et saluator noster, in desperato, qui persecutor ecclesiae fuit, ostendit magnitudinem artis suae, ut non solum eum christianum faceret, sed et apostolum ; nec tantum apostolum, sed sicut ipse dicit, plus omnibus illis laboraret.

Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive


D’autres images comme celle du changement de voie sont intimement liée au sens premier du mot conversio. Arnobe de Sicca dit après sa conversion qu’il était amené sur les chemins de vérité32. On oppose alors couramment « la voie de l’erreur » évoqué par Lactance33, à la voie de la vérité où le catéchiste doit conduire le candidat34. L’image du changement de direction est tout naturellement employée par les auteurs chrétiens de l’Antiquité tardive à la faveur de leurs commentaires sur l’Épiphanie : les mages changent de route pour rentrer chez eux, ce qui symbolise leur conversion, comme l’explique Augustin35. De même, on trouve ce thème dans la bouche des païens, qui l’évoquent pour la démarche inverse36. Il n’est pas étonnant de retrouver également la notion de la soumission dans le répertoire thématique romain de la conversion. Ainsi pour Lactance la conversion consiste à rejeter l’ancienne vie pour pouvoir intégrer la nouvelle37. Se convertir suppose également une adhésion à la foi nouvelle manifestée par la reiectio erroris. Cette nécessité découle logiquement de l’exclusivisme inauguré par le christianisme et qui précisément choque les esprits païens38. 32 Arnobius maior, Aduersus nationes, éd. H. Le Bonniec, CUF (Paris, 1982), I, 39, 2, 166 : Nunc doctore tanto in uias ueritatis inductus omnia ista quae sint scio, digna de dignis sentio, contumeliam nomini nullam facio diuino. 33 Lactantius, Diuinae institutiones, éd. P. Monat, SC 326 (Paris, 1986), I, 1, 21, 40 : […] ab errore quo sunt implicati ad rectiorem uiam reuocandi. 34 Augustinus Hipponensis, De Catechizandis rudibus, éd. G. Combès et J. Farges, BA 11 (Paris, 1949), XVII, 26, 91 : Sunt enim qui propterea uolunt esse christiani, ut aut promereantur homines a quibus temporalia commoda exspectant, aut quia offendere nolunt quos timent. Sed isti reprobi sunt : et si ad tempus eos portat Ecclesia, sicut area usque ad tempus uentilationis paleam sustinet ; si non se correxerint, et propter futuram sempiternamque requiem christiani esse coeperint, in fine separabuntur. Nec sibi blandiantur quod in area possunt esse cum frumento Dei : quia in horreo cum illo non erunt, sed igni debito destinantur. Sunt etiam alii meliore quidem spe, sed tamen non minore periculo, qui iam Deum timent, et non irrident christianum nomen, nec simulato corde intrant Ecclesiam Dei, sed in ista uita exspectant felicitatem, ut feliciores sint in rebus terrenis, quam illi qui non colunt Deum : ideoque cum uiderint quosdam sceleratos et impios ista saeculari prosperitate pollere et excellere, se autem uel minus habere ista uel amittere, perturbantur tamquam sine causa Deum colant, et facile a fide deficiunt. 35 Augustinus Hipponensis, Sermo 202, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 38 (Paris, 1865), III, 4, 1035 : […] ut non qua uenimus redeamus, nec prioris nostrae conuersationis uestigia repetamus. Hoc est enim quod et illi Magi non qua uenerant redierun. 36 Lactantius, Diuinae institutiones, éd. P. Monat, SC 326 (Paris, 1973), V, 2, 5, 136 : Professus ante omnia philosophi officium esse erroribus hominum subuenire atque illos ad ueram uiam reuocare id est ad cultus deorum, quorum numine ac maiestate mundus gobernatur […]. 37 Lactantius, Diuinae institutiones, éd. P. Monat, SC 377 (Paris, 1992), IV, XXVIII, 2, 162 : Quod cum sciret futurum ac subinde diceret oportere se pati interfici pro salute multorum, secessit tamen cum discipulis suis, non ut uitaret quod necesse erat perpeti ac sustinere, sed ut ostenderet quod ita fieri oporteret in omni persecutione, ne sua quis culpa ncidisse uideatur ; ac denuntiauit fore, ut ab uno eorum proderetur. 38 Cf. E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety Some Aspects of Religious. Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine (Cambridge, 1965) ; J.C. Fredouille, Tertullien et la conversion de la culture antique (Paris, 1972) ; P. Hadot, Marius Victorinus. Recherches sur sa vie et son œuvre (Paris, 1971), 57-8 ; C. Lepelley, Les cités de l’Afrique romaine au Bas-Empire,



Augustin évoque ceux « qui de suo scelere compuncti, in Christum postea crediderunt »39 et son discours est toujours le même : pour se convertir, il faut abandonner les dieux païens ; puis il développe cette vision au sujet des conditions d’accès au catéchuménat40. L’évêque d’Hippone va beaucoup plus loin : non seulement ce rejet est la condition de la conversion des chrétiens, mais il est aussi indispensable à la cohérence du témoignage en vue de la conversion des païens41. La question de savoir comment pouvait être appréciée la conversion d’une personne, alors qu’elle conservait toujours certaines pratiques présentant des caractères païens, pouvait alors légitimement se poser à l’Église. Le refus de Simplicianus d’agréer la conversion de Victorinus lorsqu’il lui confie en secret (non palam sed secreto)42 qu’il est chrétien tient certes à la I : La permanence d’une civilisation municipale (Paris, 1979), 331-69 ; M.-Y. Perrin, ‘Christianiser la culture’, dans J.-R. Armogathe, P. Montaubin et M.-Y. Perrin (dir.), Histoire générale du christianisme. Des origines au XVe siècle (Paris, 2010), 479-549 ; S. Ratti, ‘Païens et chrétiens au IVe siècle : points de résistance à une doxa’, Antiquité tardive 21 (2013), 401-10. 39 Augustinus Hipponensis, In euangelium ioannis tractatus centum uiginti quatuor, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 35 (Paris, 1864), LIII, 11, 1779 : Quod uero addidit : Et convertantur et sanem eos : utrum subaudiendum sit, non, id est, non conuertantur, connexa desuper sententia, ubi dictum est, ut non uideant oculis et intellegant corde ; quia et hic utique dictum est, ut non intellegant ? Et ipsa enim conuersio de illius gratia est, cui dicitur : Deus uirtutum, conuerte nos […]. 40 Augustinus Hipponensis, De fide et operibus, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 40 (Paris, 1845), XII, 18, 209 : Si ergo ita quisque ueniat ad sancti lauacri petitionem, ut profiteatur se ab idolorum sacrificiis non recessurum, nisi forte postea quando placuerit, Baptismum tamen iam iamque deposcat, templumque Dei uiui se fieri flagitet, non solum cultor idolorum, uerum etiam in aliquo tam nefario sacerdotio perseuerans; quaero ab istis utrum eum faciendum uel catechumenum censeant : quod procul dubio fieri non debere clamabunt. Neque enim aliud de illorum corde sentiendum est. Reddant itaque rationem secundum testimonia Scripturarum, quae sic intellegenda putant, quo modo huic audeant contradicere, nec admittendum esse confirment reclamantem atque dicentem : Didici et ueneror Christum crucifixum, credo filium dei esse Christum Iesum ; non me ultra differas, nihil amplius iam requiras. Quos per euangelium generabat apostolus, nihil eos nosse tunc amplius quam Christum crucifixum uolebat ; post uocem spadonis, qua se credere Iesum Christum filium dei esse respondit, continuo Philippus eum baptizare non distulit : quid me ab idolorum cultu prohibes, nec ad sacramentum Christi admittis, priusquam inde discessero ? Illud a pueritia didici, consuetudine ibi grauissima premor : faciam cum potuero, cum commodum fuerit ; quod etsi non faciam, non tamen sine Christi sacramento hanc uitam finiam, ne deus exigat animam meam de manibus tuis. Quid huic respondendum existimant ? An placet ut admittatur ? Absit : nullo modo crediderim in tantum eos progredi. Quid ergo respondebunt haec dicenti, et addenti quod nihil sibi de idololatria relinquenda saltem dici debuit ante Baptismum, sicut nihil inde ante mare Rubrum populus ille primus audiuit, quoniam lex hoc habet, quam ex Aegypto iam liberatus accepit. Profecto dicturi sunt homini: Templum Dei futurus es, cum Baptismum acceperis; dicit autem Apostolus: Quae compositio templo Dei cum idolis ?. 41 M. Pignot, ‘Setting rules for becoming Christian: Augustine’s polemical treatise De fide et operibus in context’, REAug 64 (2018), 73-114. 42 Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, éd. E. Tréhorel et G. Bouissou, BA 14 (Paris, 1992), VIII, II, 3, 12-6 : Perrexi ergo ad Simplicianum, patrem in accipienda gratia tunc episcopi Ambrosii et quem uere ut patrem diligebat. Narraui ei circuitus erroris mei. Ubi autem commemoraui legisse me quosdam libros Platonicorum, quos Victorinus quondam, rhetor urbis Romae, quem christianum defunctum esse audieram, in latinam linguam transtulisset, gratulatus

Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive


nécessité de l’intégration à la communauté chrétienne, mais surtout à l’exigence d’une formulation décisive de cette nouvelle appartenance. C’est pourquoi avant la profession officielle, qui vient a posteriori sceller la conversion, il importe que le converti témoigne ouvertement, en privé et/ou en public, de la foi nouvelle qu’il embrasse. Ainsi la conversion d’Arnobe de Sicca avait été accueillie avec beaucoup de méfiance par son évêque, jusqu’à ce qu’il eût manifesté de façon indubitable son rejet du paganisme par son traité contre les gentils43. Quant à la destruction d’un mithraeum par Furius Maecius Gracchus44, Jérôme en parle comme d’un gage de la conversion du préfet de la Ville, donné avant même son baptême45. La conversion au christianisme implique inévitablement un comportement moral accordé à la nouvelle foi. Cette nécessité d’un nouveau mode de vie en accord avec la vision chrétienne est omniprésente dans tous les témoignages de convertis des premiers siècles46. est mihi, quod non in aliorum philosophorum scripta incidissem plena fallaciarum et deceptionum secundum elementa huius mundi, in istis autem omnibus modis insinuari deum et eius Verbum. Deinde, ut me exhortaretur ad humilitatem Christi sapientibus absconditam et revelatam paruulis, Victorinum ipsum recordatus est, quem, Romae cum esset, familiarissime nouerat, deque illo mihi narrauit quod non silebo. Habet enim magnam laudem gratiae tuae confitendam tibi, quemadmodum ille doctissimus senex et omnium liberalium doctrinarum peritissimus quique philosophorum tam multa legerat et diiudicauerat, doctor tot nobilium senatorum, qui etiam ob insigne praeclari magisterii, quod ciues huius mundi eximium putant, statuam Romano foro meruerat et acceperat, usque ad illam aetatem uenerator idolorum sacrorumque sacrilegorum particeps, quibus tunc tota fere Romana nobilitas inflata spirabat populi Osirim et omnigenum deum monstra et Anubem latratorem, quae aliquando contra Neptunum et Venerem contraque Mineruam tela tenuerant et a se uictis iam Roma supplicabat, quae iste senex Victorinus tot annos ore terricrepo defensitauerat, non erubuerit esse puer Christi tui et infans fontis tui subiecto collo ad humilitatis iugum et edomita fronte ad crucis opprobrium. 43 Hieronymus, Chronicon, éd. R. Helm (Berlin, 1956), a. 327, 321 : Arnobius rhetor in Africa clarus habetur. Qui cum Siccae ad declamandum iuuenes erudiret et adhuc ethnicus ad credulitatem somniis compelleretur neque ab episcopo impetraret fidem quam semper inpugnauerat, elucubrauit aduersum pristinam religionem luculentissimos libros et tandem uelut quibusdam obsidibus pietatis foedus impetrauit. 44 L’identification du Graccus de Jérôme avec Furius Maecius Gracchus, corrector de Flaminia et Picenum avant 350-352, est possible, mais pas certaine. Cf. ‘Furius Maecius Gracchus 3’, dans A.H.M. Jones, J.R. Martindale et J. Morris (éd.), PLRE I (Cambridge, 1971), 400. 45 Hieronymus, Ep. 107, éd. J. Labourt, CUF (Paris, 1955), 2, 146 : Ante paucos annos propinquus uester Graccus, nobilitatem patritiam nomine sonans, cum praefecturam regeret urbanam, nonne specu Mithrae et omnia portentuosa simulacra, quibus corex, cryphius, miles, leo, Perses, heliodromus, pater initiantur, subuertit, fregit, exussit et his quasi ante obsidibus praemissis inpetrauit baptismum Christi ? 46 Cf. P. Aubin, Le problème de la « conversion » : étude sur un terme commun à l’hellénisme et au christianisme des trois premiers siècles (Paris, 1963) ; G. Bady, La conversion au christianisme durant les premiers siècles (Paris, 1949) ; B. Colot, Lactance : Penser la conversion de Rome au temps de Constantin (Rome, 2019) ; S. Déléani, Christum sequi. Étude d’un thème dans l’œuvre de saint Cyprien (Paris, 1979) ; D. Ramos-Lissón, ‘La conversion personnelle dans la littérature des martyrs dans l’antiquité chrétienne (Ie-IIIe siècles)’, SP 29 (1997), 101-8 ; A.D. Nock,



L’exigence d’un changement moral serait le plus important parmi les critères de conversion durant les trois premiers siècles47. En revanche, l’affirmation du christianisme parmi les élites romaine de l’époque romaine tardive conduit, petit à petit, à une réduction de ces exigences, et à une insistance reportée sur la doctrine plutôt que sur la moralité. On peut prendre l’exemple de la conversion de Volusianus, où jamais il n’est fait mention de la nécessité d’un changement moral. Mais plutôt que d’affirmer une modification des critères d’exigences d’une conversion, il vaut mieux supposer que le personnage ne prêtait pas le flanc aux reproches d’ordre moral, puisque de nombreuses autres affirmations contemporaines témoignent de cette nécessité maintenue d’une conduite morale accordée à la conversion. C’est le cas chez de nombreux auteurs du IVe siècle, et jusque chez Augustin lui-même, contemporain de Volusianus. Dans un commentaire dédié à Théodose, Ambroise de Milan associe étroitement la foi et les œuvres dans la conversion48. Dans cette même démarche, Augustin développe sa philosophie de la conversion qui affirme que la foi sans les œuvres ne suffit pas49. Ainsi pour l’évêque d’Hippone un pécheur qui recevrait le baptême sans vouloir se corriger ne serait donc pas sauvé50. Plus tard, Cassiodore indique, parmi les conditions d’une vraie conversion, l’instruction et la pieuse conduite51. Conversion : The old and the new in religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford, 1961), 254-71. 47 Cyprienus, Testimoniorum, éd. K. Wotke, CSEL 31 (Vienne, 1894), III, 26, 121 : Parum esse baptizari et eucharistiam accipere, nisi quis factis et opere proficiat. 48 Ambrosius, De apologia prophetae David, éd. P. Hadot et M. Cordier, SC 239 (Paris, 1977), 176-7 : Fide atque opere conuersi, doctrinae remedium salutaris accipiant. 49 Cf. García Mac Gaw, Le problème du baptême dans le schisme donatiste (Bordeaux, 2008), 239-77. 50 Augustinus Hipponensis, De fide et operibus, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 40 (Paris, 1845), XVI, 27, 215 : Hic a me fortasse quaeratur, de ipsa Pauli apostoli sententia quid ego sentiam, et quonam modo intellegendam putem. Fateor, hinc mallem audire intellegentiores atque doctiores, qui sic eam exponant, ut illa omnia uera et inconcussa permaneant, quae supra commemoraui, et quaecumque alia non commemoraui quibus apertissime Scriptura testatur nihil prodesse fidem, nisi eam quam definiuit Apostolus, id est : quae per dilectionem operatur ; sine operibus autem saluare non posse, neque praeter ignem, neque per ignem : quia si per ignem saluat ipsa utique saluat. Absolute autem dictum est et aperte : Quid prodest, si dicat quis se fidem habere, opera autem non habeat ? Numquid poterit fides saluare eum ? […] Tunc enim ille cui hoc uxor dicit, si ueraciter egit poenitentiam ab operibus mortuis, quando accessit ad Baptismum, habetque in fundamento fidem quae per dilectionem operatur, procul dubio plus tenebitur amore diuinae gratiae, quam carnis uxoriae, et membrum quod eum scandalizat, fortiter amputat. Quemcumque autem in hac diremptione dolorem cordis propter carnalem affectum coniugis sustinebit, hoc est detrimentum quod patietur, hic est ignis per quem feno ardente ipse saluabitur. Si autem iam sic habebat uxorem tamquam non habens, non propter concupiscentiam, sed propter misericordiam, ne forte eam salvam faceret, reddens potius quam exigens debitum coniugale ; profecto nec dolebit carnaliter, cum ab illo tale connubium separabitur : neque enim in ea cogitabat, nisi quae sunt dei, quomodo placeret deo. 51 Cassiodorus, Expositio psalmorum, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 70 (Paris, 1847), CXVIII, 79, 862 : […] Quos lectio quidem diuina jam imbuit, sed necdum opera salutaris instruxit.

Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive


La conformité morale est donc une condition expresse de la valeur d’une conversion et conditionne le baptême. C’est pourquoi on attend des nouveaux convertis qu’ils s’engagent en même temps à une transformation morale. Augustin précise bien que cette exigence s’applique dès la conversion52. L’exigence apparaît encore davantage pendant la préparation du baptême. Aux IVe et Ve siècles encore, on continue à s’enquérir une première fois de la profession des candidats avant l’entrée en catéchuménat. Les exigences morales sont maintenues, mais une plus grande souplesse se manifeste quant aux professions des candidats ; les conciles africains de la fin du IVe siècle semblent être exceptionnellement strict comparé aux convertis que l’on voit accueillis. À l’issue de la période d’instruction, une nouvelle enquête est menée sur leur capacité à témoigner d’une éthique de vie compatible avec l’enseignement reçu. Sans aller jusqu’à un bouleversement total comme dans le cas d’Augustin, il s’agit de renoncer à certaines pratiques : spectacles, divinisation, jeux d’argent…, et là encore, les prescriptions des conciles africains et italiens sont nombreuses. Augustin précise encore clairement qu’il faut refuser de baptiser des personnes adultères ou divorcées remariées53. 52 Augustinus Hipponensis, De catechizandis rudibus, éd. G. Combès et J. Farges, BA 11 (Paris, 1949), XXVI, 50, 136 : His dictis, interrogandus est an haec credat atque observare desideret. Quod cum responderit, sollemniter utique signandus est et ecclesiae more tractandus. De sacramento sane quod accipit, cum ei bene commendatum fuerit, signacula quidem rerum diuinarum esse uisibilia, sed res ipsas inuisibiles in eis honorari ; nec sic habendam esse illam speciem benedictione sanctificatam, quemadmodum habetur in usu quolibet : dicendum etiam quid significet et sermo ille quem audiuit, quid in illo condiat, cuius illa res similitudinem gerit. Deinde monendus est ex hac occasione, ut si quid etiam in scripturis audiat, quod carnaliter sonet etiamsi non intelligit, credat tamen spiritale aliquid significari, quod ad sanctos mores futuramque uitam pertineat. Hoc autem ita breuiter discit, ut quidquid audierit ex Libris canonicis, quod ad dilectionem aeternitatis et ueritatis et sanctitatis, et ad dilectionem proximi referre non possit, figurate dictum uel gestum esse credat ; atque ita conetur intelligere, ut ad illam geminam referat dilectionem. Ita sane ut proximum non carnaliter intellegat, sed omnem qui cum eo in illa sancta ciuitate potest esse, siue iam, siue nondum appareat : et ut de nullius hominis correctione desperet, quem patientia dei uidet uiuere, non ob aliud, sicut Apostolus, ait, nisi ut adducatur ad paenitentiam. Sermonis breuioris exemplum. 53 Augustinus Hipponensis, De fide et operibus, éd. J.-P. Migne, PL 40 (Paris, 1845), I, 2, 198 : Ad hanc autem disputationem uidentur impulsi, quod eos mouerit non admitti ad baptismum qui dimissis uxoribus alias duxerint, uel feminas quae dimissis uiris aliis nupserint ; quia haec non coniugia, sed adulteria esse dominus Christus sine ulla dubitatione testatur. Cum enim negare non possent esse adulterium, quod veritas adulterium esse sine ambage confirmat, eisque suffragari uellent ad accipiendum Baptismum, quos huiusmodi laqueo ita captos uiderent, ut si non admitterentur ad baptismum, sine ullo sacramento mallent uiuere uel etiam mori, quam disrupto adulterii uinculo liberari : humana quadam miseratione commoti sunt ad eorum causam sic suscipiendam, ut omnes cum eis facinorosos et flagitiosos, etiam nulla prohibitione correptos, nulla instructione correctos, nulla poenitentia mutatos ad baptismum admittendos esse censerent ; existimantes eos, nisi fieret, in aeternum esse perituros ; si autem fieret, etiam in illis malis perseuerantes saluos per ignem futuros.



Avec la christianisation progressive de l’Empire romain et de ses institutions, le discours élitiste chrétien commence à se méfier des ralliements de masse. Nombre d’auteurs chrétiens de l’époque romaine tardive ne cessent de dénoncer les motifs de conversion arriviste et calculée qu’ils opposent à la conversion sincère54. Cela veut dire que la conversion désigne pour cette élite chrétienne cultivée de l’Antiquité tardive un changement d’esprit et de comportement, marqué par un long cheminement intérieur. Si l’on voulait synthétiser les différents aspects que résentaient les conversions chrétiennes aux communautés elles-mêmes chrétienne, en contraste avec les formes attachées à la spiritualité antique, on pourrait ainsi présenter les trois traits majeurs suivants. En prermier lieu, les plus couramment évoqués insistent surtout sur le renouvellement intérieur, source d’un changement extérieur, en évoquant parfois la rupture avec la situation antérieure. Ensuite, on peut également présenter le passage d’une religion à une autre comme une nouvelle création qui implique un changement de style de vie. Hommes et femmes sont ainsi appelés à s’engager dans une vie dépourvue de tout désir (concupiscentia)55. En dernier lieu, les moyens choisis par le converti pour assumer sa nouvelle foi sont donc placés sous le signe d’une rupture qui demande à être toujours actualisée, de manière vigilante.

54 M.Y. Perrin, ‘Crevit hypocrisis. Limites d’adhésion au christianisme dans l’antiquité tardive : entre histoire et historiographie’, dans H. Inglebert, S. Destephen et B. Dumézil (éd.), Le problème de la christianisation du monde antique (Paris, 2010), 47-62. 55 P. Brown, Le renoncement de la chair. Virginité, célibat et continence dans le christianisme primitif (Paris, 1995), 411-512.

Les représentations de la conversion chez les lettrés romains de l’Antiquité tardive


Les images de la conversion chez quelques lettrés romains latins de l’Antiquité tardive (Tableau récapitulatif) L’image de la conversion chez les lettrés romains chrétiens

Auteurs Ambroise de Milan

Références De officiis, I.

Augustin d’Hippone Confessionum, VIII, II, 3.

Rupture avec le passé / Nouvelle vie

Jérôme de Stridon

Ep., 98.

Paulin de Nole

Ep., 20 ; 21 ; 35.

Prosper d’Aquitaine

De uocatione omnium gentium, I, 3.

Ambroise de Milan

De sacramentis, III.

Action de foi Augustin d’Hippone Confessionum, X, 3-4. De baptismo, 6, 11. Jérôme de Stridon

Ep., 6 ; 22 ; 49.

Christianity as the Downfall of Rome – The Pagan Aristocracy’s Concerns about Christianity at the Turn of the Fifth Century Ella SAHIVIRTA, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

ABSTRACT This article deals with the reactions of the pagan aristocracy to Christianity in Rome. My primary source is a Roman pagan senator, Rufius Antonius Agrypnius Volusianus, and the correspondence he had with Bishop Augustine and their mutual friend, tribune Flavius Marcellinus between 411-413. Volusianus representes the generation of ancient Roman nobility that some scholars have called the last pagans, raised in an Christian Empire but with a pagan identity and tradition, including the religious obligations to pax deorum as a senator of Rome.1 Volusianus’ concerns are those of a senator; he has seen a weak administration run by a Christian dynasty, the restrictions on ancestral tradition, the growing influence of the Church on the Emperor and the turbulence caused in the Empire by Christianity’s internal conflicts. The negative affect on Rome was amplified with the view that Rome had angered her gods, causing the gothic sack of 410. Apart from national concerns Volusianus sees Christianity as unintelligent and overly emotional, with ridiculous doctrines such as the immaculate conception, the unpatriotic pacifism of the Gospels, God in human form and miracles that Romans had seen from magicians before. The new trend of celibate asceticism had reached his family, something that had caused concern among the aristocracy since the 380s. What Volusianus opposed is not the new state religion in itself. He fears that it will lead to Rome’s ultimate defeat as a nation, and losing what it is to be Roman.

This presentation is on tribune Marcellinus’2 letter 136 to Augustine and what it tells us about the concerns that senator Rufius Antonius Agrypnius

1 For an extensive study on the generation of these so-called last pagans, see Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (New York, 2011) and Rita Lizzi Testa, Michele Salzman and Marianne Sághy (eds), Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome (Cambridge, 2015). To summarize, many of the conflicts concerning pagan aristocracy and Christian rulers has a pragmatic and political motivation rather than a religious or cultural one. The idea of a radical pagan revival is, according to Cameron, based mostly on myth rather than factual evidence. A. Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome, 4-10. 2 J.R. Martindale, The Prosopography of Later Roman Empire, vol. II, A.D. 395-527 (Cambridge, 1971), 1184-5. Further on I will use abbreviation PLRE I for volume one, and PLRE II for volume two.

Studia Patristica CIV, 49-54. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



Volusianus3 had about Christianity with regard to state safety. Volusianus has two concerns, the negative impact of Christian emperors on Rome and the damaging effect of Christian teaching on civic duty. Ep. 136 was written in 412 and is part of the correspondence between Volusianus, who is a pagan, Marcellinus, a Christian, and bishop Augustine of Hippo. The letter tells us about the concerns of a circle of aristocrats in North Africa about the impact of Christianity on Rome’s security and image as a strong empire, and to the rights and duties of its citizens. The letter conveys a discussion between both pagan and Christian aristocrats in Carthage attending a dinner and discussing rhetoric, philosophy and Christian teaching.4 Volusianus and Marcellinus both attended the dinner, and both relay to Augustine separate questions that were asked that night.5 Marcellinus writes to Augustine about concerns Volusianus had expressed during the dinner but had left out of his own letter (Ep. 135).6 It is strange that Volusianus left these concerns out. This could be simply out of respect for an important person in the area where he is proconsul in and where his family, the Caeionii, owned vast lands.7 Marcellinus, however, felt confident enough to speak on Volusianus’ behalf. It is possible, that Volusianus did not wish to state his criticism over Christianity and the Empire as the Emperor’s official, but could have been able to present his critique safely through Marcellinus rather than with his own voice. We can assume the two aristocrats were quite friendly, as Marcellinus wrote that they visit each other frequently, and they clearly share the same social circle.8 One could also argue that it was the other way around, that these criticisms are actually Marcellinus’, but given as Volusianus’ opinions.9 Either way, the questions asked by Volusianus at the dinner party 3

PLRE II, 711. Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans (2011), 196. 5 Ep. 135 from Volusianus to Augustine, Ep. 136 from Marcellinus to Augustine. For this paper I will use Augustinus epistulae III (no. 123-184A), ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (Vienna, 1904) for the Latin text, and John E. Rotelle’s and Ramsay Boniface’s translations in Letters 100155. Part 2, vol. 2 (New York, 2003). Subsequently I will refer to these letters only with Ep. 6 Marcellinus writes in Ep. 136.1: ‘If, as he himself states, he had not feared to be verbose in writing, he would have presented to Your Beatitude every doubt that he had’ (ut si, quantum ipse confirmat, litterarum prolixitatem minime formidasset omne Beatitudini tuae quod habere potest insinuasset ambiguum), Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 93-4. 7 Mark Humphries, ‘Roman Senators and Absent Emperors in Late Antiquity’, Acta ad archaeologiam et atrium historian pertinentia 17 (2003), 27-46, 33-34. 8 ‘In fact, driven by the entreaty of his holy mother, I take care to call upon him rather frequently, though in this respect he also deigns to reciprocate’ (Sanctae siquidem matris eius precatione compulsus, cura mihi est eum frequentius salutandi gratia convenire, licet vicem in hac parte reddere etiam ipse dignetur). Ep. 136.1, Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 93. 9 Interestingly, Cameron concludes, that based on the tone of Volusianus’ own letter (Ep. 135) he could also have been a catechumen, who was not able to convert due to the demands of a public career. This would explain him asking only philosophical questions in his own letter, and Marcellinus would have conveyed his own or the wider local aristocracy’s concerns (A. Cameron, 4

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were apparently a part of this group’s reluctance to convert to Christianity, since Marcellinus wrote in that Volusianus is ‘held back from the stability of the true faith by the persuasion of many, of whom there is an abundance in this city’.10 Augustine had previously contacted Volusianus with Ep. 132 after Volusianus had sent his salutations to the bishop, and Augustine invited him to start a correspondence on Christianity and philosophy.11 Volusianus took him up on this offer with Ep. 135. His letter conveys only philosophical questions on virgin birth, God in human form and the miracles in the Gospels. Marcellinus’ letter, however, reveals that the dinner party also discussed the practical negative aspects of Christian teaching with regard to state safety and civic duty, and the critique was not limited to questions about the rationality of Christian concepts. Volusianus was first and foremost a Roman senator, and his main concern in Ep. 136 is that Christianity is not a good basis for a strong Empire. Two years after the sack of Rome a strong Empire was more crucial than in a long time. For many pagan Romans the sack only served to prove that the gods of Rome had abandoned her, and the Christian God and the Christian emperors were not able to protect her the same way.12 According to Marcellinus, Volusianus had said that ‘it is evident that such great evils have befallen the state through Christian princes who for the most part have observed the Christian religion’. Volusianus did not clarify what evils he was talking about, as Marcellinus writes that he ‘says nothing about this aspect’, or why he felt they were the result of Christian governments.13 The fairly popular opinion that Christians had destroyed the pax deorum by denying traditional worship and thus angering the gods could very possibly be behind this rather vague comment. Volusianus had also spoken of evils in plural, which seems to refer to a string of events during decades of dismantling traditional worship that had caused the loss of the pax deorum.14 It is possible, that Volusianus inherited this idea from his The Last Pagans [2011], 196-7). But with the amount of Christian aristocrats holding high office at the turn of the fifth century and the fact that the courts were Christian, I find it very unlikely that this would have been a reason for not converting. Therefore I conclude, that Volusianus would have converted if he would have wanted to. He simply did not want to critizise his Emperor’s religion directly. 10 Accepta autem Venerabilitatis tuae epistola, homo qui a veri Dei stabilitate, multorum quorum in hac urbe copia est persuasione revocatur. Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 93. 11 Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 79. 12 Paavo Castrén, Uusi Antiikin käsikirja (Juva, 2011), 559. 13 Haec ergo omnia ipsi posse adiungi aestimat quaestioni, in tantum ut per christianos principes, christianam religionem maxima ex parte servantes, tanta (etiamsi ipse de hac parte taceat) reipublicae mala evenisse manifestum sit. Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 95. 14 Volusianus would probably have held state priesthoods as a pagan aristocrat, and would have seen the protective rituals him and his ancestors had preformed being dismanteled at the same time Rome was facing severe threats from all fronts. The importance of traditional worship for the remaining pagan aristocracy is clear. As Rita Lizzi Testa states, traditional paganism was



father, Caeionius Rufius Albinus,15 who witnessed first hand Emperor Gratian’s actions against traditional state worship.16 His father’s contemporary Quintus Aurelius Symmachus17 appealed precisely to Rome’s security when he wrote in his Third Relatio in 384, pleading for the restoration of the pagan Altar of Victory to the Senate: ‘Who is so friendly with the barbarians as not to require an Altar of Victory?’18 When considering that Rome was brutally attacked by barbarian Christians while Rome was ruled by Christian Emperors, after Christian worship had taken precedence over Roman worship, it is easy to see why Volusianus would have seen a link between Christianity and the evils that had faced Rome. In addition to this threat to Rome, Marcellinus writes that Volusianus had pointed out during the conversation that Christian teaching was ‘contrary to the practice of the state’.19 He was concerned about the dangerously pacifistic doctrine of Christianity, and Marcellinus wrote that Volusianus had criticized Christ’s teaching on turning the other cheek and sharing one’s possessions even with one’s enemies. According to Marcellinus, Volusianus had asked: ‘Who would permit an enemy to take something from him or would not want to redress an evil by the right of war against a plunderer of a Roman province?’20 In light of the recent attack, it was dangerous to promote a world-view that potentially led to overly pacifistic citizens instead of citizens willing to fulfil their civic duty to defend Rome. These duties were not only about security, however. Citizens also had a duty to their families and a duty to uphold the social structure of the Empire.21 For still publicly practiced in the fifth century precicely to ensure pax deorum. Rita Lizzi Testa, ‘The Famous Altar of Victory Controversy in Rome: The Impact of Christianity at the End of the Fourth Century’, in Johannes Wienand (ed.), Contested Monarchy: Integrating the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century AD (New York, 2015), 405-22, 406. 15 PLRE I, 37-8. 16 Michael Grant, From Rome to Byzantium: The Fifth century A.D. (New York, 1998), 15-8. On the debate over Gratian’s actions among Roman aristocracy see for example R. Lizzi Testa, ‘The Famous Altar of Victory Controversy in Rome: The Impact of Christianity at the End of the Fourth Century’ (2015). 17 PLRE I, 865-6. 18 Quis ita familiaris est barbaris ut aram Victoriae non requirat? Qiuntus Aurelius Symmachus, Third Relatio 4. Latin text extracted from Brepolis Library of Latin Texts – Series A. Translated by J. Vanderspoel (Calgary, 1998). Alan Cameron writes, that this argument would have resonated with even Christians in the Senate and at court in the long aftermath of the devastating defeat at Adrianople in 378. A. Cameron, The Last Pagans (2011), 42. 19 Quae omnia reipublicae moribus asserit esse contraria. Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 95. 20 Nam quis tolli sibi ab hoste aliquid patiatur, vel Romanae provinciae depraedatori non mala velit belli iure reponere? Augustinus epistulae III, ed. A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (1904), 95. 21 Michele Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious change in the Western Roman Empire (New York, 2002), 4-5; Marja-Leena Hänninen, Maijastina Kahlos and Ulla Lehtonen, Uskonnot Antiikin Roomassa (Juva, 2012), 29-32.

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the aristocratic citizen, this meant acting as patrons for their local communities, something Christianity had undermined with ascetic teachers encouraging young patrons to embrace asceticism and to give up the wealth that was essential in maintaining the patronage system.22 According to Marcellinus, Volusianus had quoted Matthew 5:40, where Christ commands people to to give over willingly one’s coat to another who would take it by force. Christ’s teaching to give all against one’s own interest, even to a hostile person, was not only a personal decision. Volusianus had seen this first hand through the rather scandalous case of his niece Melania the Younger and her husband’s decision to renounce their wealth and live an ascetic life.23 The trend of asceticism and excessive acts of almsgiving from the family fortune threatened the entire family’s wealth and the responsibility it entailed. It was not only the right of aristocratic citizens to remain wealthy, it was their duty to do so, as this wealth enabled them to exercise patronage in their communities. The Caeionii were certainly very aware of their responsibility to the people their lands and wealth sustained. Sources show that when Volusianus’ niece Melania and her husband Pinianus decided to become ascetics and give up their wealth caused concern and even embarrassment for both families. family. Augustine’s letters of apology to Volusianus’ sister Albina,24 Ep. 125 and Ep. 126 over the greed of residents in Hippo in regard to Melania’s wealth shows that the family had to intervene in what they saw as exploitation of the Caieonii wealth and good will. Melania’s husband Pinianus’25 brother had to employ all their staff and buy their slaves when Pinianus gave up his portion of his family wealth. Had he not done so, his family, the Valerii, would have been disgraced by a member who had impoverished a community.26 In the light of these very recent events in Volusianus’ own family, his statement about Christianity’s negative effect on civic duty seems to have the backing of personal experience. A religion that promoted withdrawing from community life to pursue a personal relationship with God was essentially promoting selfish behaviour. To conclude, the concerns Volusianus had about the impact of Christianity on Rome’s security and on the mentality of the Empire’s citizens are the concerns of a traditional-minded Roman senator. They are practical, not theological. In his world-view, the survival of Rome depended on pax deorum and on fulfilling one’s civic duty, which included patronage practised by the aristocracy and the 22 Peter Garnsey, Cities, Peasants and Food in Classical Antiquity – Essays in Social and Economic History (Cambridge, 1998), 23-4. 23 On Melania the Younger, see PLRE I, 592-3. Kate Cooper, ‘Poverty, Obligation and Inheritance: Roman Heiresses and the variety of Senatorial Christianity in Fifth-century Rome’, in ead. and Julia Hillner (eds), Religion, Dynasty and Patronage in Early Christian Rome 300-900 (Cambridge, 2007), 165-70. 24 PLRE I, 33. 25 PLRE I, 702. 26 K. Cooper, ‘Poverty, Obligation and Inheritance’ (2007), 165-70.



benefits it had on the entire community. On a personal level, his family had seen how excessive Christian piety can not only embarrass a family, but it also transferred the responsibilities of the ascetic family member to the rest of the family. The patronage system could not afford to lose young aristocrats to monastic life. Volusianus did not oppose Christianity in itself, he opposed the problems this change of state religion had brought. He had seen the negative effects of Christianity both professionally and personally, and he seemed concerned that the Empire he loves and works for is heading to slow ruin as the result of Christianity.

Alexandria in Control? The Written Reception and Oral Transmission of Festal Letters in the Light of Fifth-Century Papyri1 Luise Marion FRENKEL, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

ABSTRACT Contemporary remarks about the circulation of festal letters in the fourth and fifth centuries are usually taken at face value and it is assumed that copies of the letters reached each year all dioceses and communities in Egypt. This is not corroborated by the papyri. They cast doubt on the use of writing, its efficacy and the relevance and impact of the pronouncements of the bishop of Alexandria. The article shows that papyri and ostraca point to a multifaceted textual culture in which more often than not letters were edited and interpolated. Then, it advances that the claims about the circulation of the letters were not reporting common practice, rather, that they were meant as injunctions or pleas for allied clerics and religious people to spread the content of that year as efficaciously as possible in their zone of influence. The article posits that this was probably done orally and in translation into local languages and theological parlance. It also assesses likely uses of the written copies in view of the codicology of the extant fragments of Cyril’s Festal Letters.

Stories about festal letters As good as every publication about late antique Egypt states or simply takes for granted that the region had a network of dioceses in tight control of which was the head of the see of Alexandria at that time. This has been deduced from sources which actually are, especially in the case of the written material, mostly the result of the efforts of the economic, social or cultural elites to engage deliberately with an unusual medium of communication and memorialisation. Just the same the received view about the control exerted by the bishop of 1

Special thanks go to St Edmund’s College (Cambridge, UK), and the Center for Advanced Studies ‘Migration and Mobility in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages’ (Tübingen, Germany), supported by resources of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The Universidade de São Paulo generously granted leaves for the fellowships and the participation at the conference in Oxford where an early version of this article was presented. I am grateful to the organisers of the conference as well as the editors and reviewers of Studia Patristica for their support and trust. I acknowledge with gratitude the many useful comments and questions of Geoffrey Greatrex, David Brakke, Alberto Camplani and the anonymous reviewer.

Studia Patristica CIV, 55-64. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



Alexandria on Egyptian Christianity is so ingrained that corroborating evidence is never provided.2 At best, reference is made to previous more or less specialised literature. It attests the increasing number of literary claims and the much later historiographic record in the guise of a scientific history of the patriarchs of Alexandria.3 Central to this representation are the festal letters, as tokens of pastoral concern and control. However, the more material and written evidence is carefully taken into account, without taking for granted what tradition and scholarship claim about it, the less plausible this seems. In truth, the contemporary reception of the letters and the material remains are scarce indeed. Moreover, it is multifaceted and shows incongruities which actually contradict that consensus was being built and orthodoxy established. This is more compatible with the view about Egypt resulting from scholarship open to the material and spatial turn, and also to revisionist analyses focusing on, for example, agency, colonialism, perspective from below, subaltern patristics to name only a few.4 Most of the literary accounts about early festal letters are deeply embedded in depictions of the see of Alexandria which have had their historicity increasingly challenged. At least Jerome’s, Cassian’s or the patriarchs’ complex narratives about the origins of asceticism, for example, or about the development of the Arian controversy, especially the tenor of Arius’ writings are no longer taken at face value. And yet, it is exactly in works by Cassian and Jerome that we find stories about the existence and distribution of the ἑορταστικαί epistolae.5 2 See Susan Wessel, Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian controversy: The making of a saint and of a heretic, OECS (Oxford, 2004), 39 (as well as 31-2), Philip R. Amidon and John J. O’Keefe (eds), St. Cyril of Alexandria: Festal letters, FC 118, 127 (Washington, DC, 2009, 2012), I 5-6 and W.H. Burns, Pierre Évieux, Louis Arragon, Marie-Odile Boulnois, Marguerite Forrat and Bernard Meunier (eds), Cyrille d’Alexandrie. Lettres Festales 1-6, SC 372 (Paris, 1991), 94-112. 3 The historiographic relevance of authentic or pseudepigraphic letters can be seen in the annalistic Histoire «acéphale» et index syriaque des Lettres festales d’Athanase d’Alexandrie, ed. Annik Martin and Micheline Albert, SC 317 (Paris, 1985), further analysed in Peter Van Nuffelen, ‘Les Lettres festales d’Athanase d’Alexandrie: les «erreurs» chronologiques de l’Index syriaque’, REAug 47 (2001), 85-95, 89-90. On the Greek History of the Alexandrian Episcopate see Alessandro Bausi and Alberto Camplani, ‘New Ethiopic documents for the history of Christian Egypt’, ZAC 17 (2013), 215-47, and ‘The History of the Episcopate of Alexandria (HEpA): Editio minor of the fragments preserved in the Aksumite Collection and in the Codex Veronensis LX (58)’, Adamantius 22 (2016), 249-302. Of the later Copto-Arabic History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria enough evidence is available to show that the text always was an open and dynamic tradition of scribal intervention, as in Perrine Pilette, ‘L’Histoire des Patriarches d’Alexandrie: une nouvelle évaluation de la configuration du texte en recensions’, Le Muséon 126 (2013), 419-50. 4 See Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, ‘“Cultural Turn” oder gar Paradigmenwechsel in der Althistorie? Die politische Kultur der römischen Republik in der neueren Forschung’, HZ 309 (2019), 1-35. 5 See Alberto Camplani, Le Lettere festali di Atanasio di Alessandria: studio storico-critico, Corpus dei manoscritti copti letterari (Roma, 1989), 19-24 and Andreas Külzer, ‘Die Festbriefe (ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΑΙ ΕΟΡΤΑΣΤΙΚΑΙ): Eine wenig beachtete Untergattung der byzantinischen Briefliteratur’, BZ 91 (1998), 379-90, 383-4. Respectively emphasising antiquity and authority, and relevance in monastic circles, the accounts in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica VII 20, 22, ed. G. Bardy, SC 41, 193, 197 and Cassian’s Consolationes X 2, ed. M. Petschenig, CSEL

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A delegation of clerics from Alexandria would travel through Egypt, handing out copies of the festal letters to the suffragan bishops and a number of archimandrites and holy men, the content of which would be made public to the congregations and communities. This is told in the Encomium on Pesynthius, 105-9,6 for example, when it eloquently narrates the presentation of a festal letter by Damian at the turn of the sixth to the seventh century.7 Jerome, in his turn, not only situated festal letters in the literary universe by including them among Athanasius’ writings, but he also translated Theophilus of Alexandria’s Festal Letter in which the arguments from authority are centred in Theophilus’ appeal to the authority of the Roman church. Very conducive for Jerome’s interests, but questions have been raised about the circulation or disclosure of this part in Egypt.8 Just the same, this is the early evidence to which reference is made in the contextualising introductions such as found in editions and translations of fourth- to sixth-century festal letters. The text, which they present in formats approved of by modern readers, is derived from the contents of medieval compilations which are of uncertain origin and have a very problematic relation with the original letters.9 This becomes clear when comparing them to collections of translated letters, as can be done well in the case of the Coptic version of Athanasius’ letters.10 It shows that in the act of compiling collections the 13, II, 286-7 are likewise connected to references or alleged quotations. On Cassian, see Alberto Camplani, Atanasio di Alessandria. Lettere festali. Anonimo. Indice delle Lettere festali, LCPM (Milano, 2003), 18-20, and on Eusebius, see David J. DeVore, ‘Character and Convention in the Letters of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History’, Journal of Late Antiquity 7 (2014), 223-52, 224-30. 6 Encomium on Pesynthius (Short Sahidic Version), Coptic Apocrypha in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, ed. Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge (London, 1913), 75-127. 7 See Phil Booth, ‘Towards the Coptic Church: The Making of the Severan Episcopate’, Millennium 14 (2017), 151-90, 151-2 and Lionel Wickham, ‘Schism and reconciliation in a sixth-century Trinitarian dispute: Damian of Alexandria and Peter of Callinicus on ‘properties, rôles and relations’, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 8 (2008), 3-15. 8 Jerome, De uiris illustribus 87 (PL 23, 713C, 731A-B, 749A). See Krastu Krassimirov Banev, Theophilus of Alexandria and the first Origenist controversy: rhetoric and power, OECS (Oxford, 2015), 49 and Mark Vessey, ‘The Forging of Orthodoxy in Latin Christian Literature: A Case Study’, JECS 4 (1996), 495-513, 510-1. 9 See Rudolf Lorenz, Der zehnte Osterfestbrief des Athanasius von Alexandrien: Text, Übersetzung, Erläuterungen, BZNW 49 (Berlin, 1986), 31-7 and A. Camplani, Lettere festali (1989), 32-66 on Athanasius, and W.H. Burns, P. Évieux et al., Cyrille (1991), 119-22 and Alberto Camplani, ‘La prima lettera festale di Cirillo di Alessandria e la testimonianza di P. Vindob. K 10157’, Aug. 39 (1999), 129-38, 129 on the twelfth-century Ottobon. gr. 488, which is the archetype of the manuscript evidence of Cyril’s Festal Letters. 10 On the differences between the Greek and Coptic transmission, see David M. Gwynn, ‘Athanasius of Alexandria in Greek and Coptic Historical Tradition’, JCoptSt 15 (2013), 43-54 and id., ‘Patronage Networks in the Festal Letters of Athanasius of Alexandria’, in Carmen Angela Cvetković and Peter Gemeinhardt (eds), Episcopal Networks in Late Antiquity: Connection and Communication Across Boundaries, AKG 137 (Berlin, Boston, 2019), 101-16. The earliest evidence suggests that the Coptic translations largely replicated the codicological and palaeographical



texts were converted into writings of general application, to become doctrinal and disciplinary touchstones. When this required changes to the text, they were undertaken as freely as possible.11 The compilers’ creation amounts to an indirect transmission. At first sight, ancient sources such as papyri and ostraca, seem free of the shortcomings which affect the manuscript transmission. Egypt in particular would be a treasure trove of original texts not only because the climate and the use of the land were, until the last century, ideal for the preservation of papyri, but also because of the late-antique culture of parsimonious use of the medium there. Rather than discarding obsolete or unwanted material, blank margins and versos were often used for more pragmatic purposes. If the few extant examples of festal letters were typical, they would have been ideal for reuse. The copies have pompous codicological and palaeographical characteristics which can as well be described as fit-for-scholarly purposes, such as glossing and compiling. These factors would increase the chances of finding fragments of original festal letters, but the corpus remains meagre, despite recent attention to non-classical literary or historical material.12 Early copies of Cyril of Alexandria’s Festal Letters Only half a dozen of papyrus fragments which could be called festal letters have been identified,13 and the fifth-century evidence is unlikely to be what features of Greek festal letters, which were among the texts still being written primarily on papyrus rolls, as described in Sofía Torallas Tovar, ‘Athanasius’ Letter to Dracontius: A FourthCentury Coptic Translation in a Papyrus Roll (P. Monts. Roca inv. 14)’, Adamantius 24 (2018), 22-38, 28 (and 31-3 on the significant textual additions and ommisions). 11 See Malcolm Choat, ‘Monastic letter collections in late antique Egypt: structure, purpose, and transmission’, in Sofía Torallas Tovar and Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala (eds), Cultures in Contact: Transfer of Knowledge in the Mediterranean Context: Selected Papers, Syro-Arabica 1 (Córdoba, Beirut, 2013), 73-90, 90. On the overlap between narrative and legal material, see also Peter Sarris, ‘The Origins of the Manorial Economy: New Insights from Late Antiquity’, English Historical Review 119 (2004), 279-311, 296 pointing to textual techniques and interests behind the compilations of laws. 12 See Ágnes T. Mihálykó, The Christian Liturgical Papyri: An Introduction, STAC 114 (Tübingen, 2019), 6-10; Hélène Cuvigny, ‘The finds of papyri: the archaeology of papyrology’, in Roger S. Bagnall (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology (Oxford, 2009), 30-58; Katherine Blouin, ‘Papyri in Paris: the Greek papyri collection in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France’, in Tomasz Derda, Adam Łajtar, Jakub Urbanik, Grzegorz Ochała and Andrzej Mirończuk (eds), Proceedings of the 27th International Congress of Papyrology: Warsaw: 29 July – 3 August 2013 (Warsaw, 2016), 853-81; and especially David G. Martinez, ‘The Papyri and Early Christianity’, in R.S. Bagnall (ed.), Handbook (2011), 590-622, 599-600. Moreover, extra-canonical or nonChristian material is present in as good as every Christian literary papyrus, as shown by Lincoln Harris Blumell and Thomas A. Wayment (eds), Christian Oxyrhynchus: texts, documents, and sources (Waco, 2015), 285-373. 13 Listed in Guido Bastianini, Francesca Maltomini and Gabriella Messeri (eds), Papiri della Società Italiana: Volume sedicesimo (PSI XVI): ni 1575-1653, Edizioni dell’Istituto papirologico

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would have been taken around in the year of composition. The most ancient witness of Cyril’s Festal Letters, Papyrus Vindobonensis K 10157, shows the prestige of the format of the festal letter as a vehicle for theological teaching and ecclesiastic networking. Moreover, it contains the list of newly appointed bishops in Egypt, an important, albeit not mandatory, feature since Athanasius.14 These lists were not always included in translation, for example in Jerome’s Latin rendering of festal letters by Theophilus. They are also omitted in the compilation of the Greek originals. Substantial editorial interventions can be seen in the transmission of Cyril’s first two festal letters by comparison with the Coptic translation. The much longer concoction which resulted from the merging has redundant topoi and uncharacteristic repetitions. Where the Greek version starts to differ from the Coptic, the text is filled with expressions more often found at the beginning of letters. It replaces a quotation with brief commentary of Cant. 2:8-10 and the formulaic ending. This reading gives more prominence to Cyril’s peculiar interpretation of Ps. 72:7 with reference to Rom. 5:10 in the letter (but to Gen. 1:16 in the Glaphyra in Exodum, PG 69, 424D-425A) in which the moon is identified with the devil. After the list of bishops, the end of the text is indicated graphically and the rest of the recto and verso of the papyrus is used for biblical, moral and monastic admonishments in different hands.15 Most scholars consider this the result of later reuse. This created gradually a florilegium-like compilation of monastic vein, possibly Evagrian or even Origenistic, pretending to have Cyril’s blueprint, which Cyril would probably have criticised rather than espoused.16 The Coptic and Greek handling of the text of Cyril’s Festal Letter 1 points to key features of the ‘tradition’. First, the authority of Cyril’s authorship as guarantee of orthodoxy. Then, the relevance of the formal features of the letters on the day of Easter by the bishop of Alexandria. It is therefore indeed possible to speak of a genre, one which would be recognised even by those who had never received a festal letter (orally or written), but only heard about them from tales and samplers such as this papyrus. Moreover, the merging of the two first festal letters into G. Vitelli 1 (Firenze, 2013), 7 and analysed in Guido Bastianini and Guglielmo Cavallo, ‘Un nuovo frammento di lettere festale (PSI inv. 3779)’, in Guido Bastianini and Mario Naldini (eds), I papiri letterari cristiani: atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi in Memoria di Mario Naldini, Firenze, 10-11 giugno 2010 (Firenze, 2011), 31-45 and Maria Konstantinidou, ‘Festal Letters: Fragments of a Genre’, in Alberto Nodar and Sofía Torallas Tovar (eds), Proceedings of the 28th Congress of Papyrology; 2016 August 1-6; Barcelona, Scripta Orientalia 3 (Barcelona, 2019), 144-52. On the reduced indirect papyri evidence see Marco Stroppa, ‘L’uso di rotuli per testi cristiani di carattere letterario’, Archiv für Papyrusforschung 59 (2013), 347-58, 353-5. 14 See A. Camplani, Atanasio (2003), 27-9. 15 The only edition of the paraenetic texts is still Walter Till, Osterbrief und Predigt in achmimischem Dialekt. Mit Übersetzung und Wörterverzeichnis, Studien zur Epigraphik und Papyruskunde 2, 1 (Leipzig, 1931). 16 See A. Camplani, ‘Prima lettera’ (1999), 153-4. See also M. Konstantinidou, ‘Festal Letters’ (2019), 148. On the doctrinally diverse context, see Hugo Lundhaug, ‘Origenism in Fifth-Century Upper Egypt: Shenoute of Atripe and the Nag Hammadi Codices’, SP 64 (2013), 217-28.



one indicates the scarcity of copies (and memory) of the original letters, at least of unabridged versions, which would have shown the concoction to be a hoax.17 The other papyrus is PSI 1576, a section from a papyrus roll, of some 5 or 6 meters, written on only one side, probably from the Arsinoïte nome. It preserves the Greek text of one column and part of a second of the 9th Festal Letter of Cyril of Alexandria of 421. They were probably the 6th and 7th columns of the roll. Written in Alexandrian majuscule, it is considered the product of the patriarchal chancellery in Alexandria, but it is perhaps more accurate to posit only that someone trained there copied it.18 In the vein of traditional New Testament palaeography and the problematic efforts to deal with papyri of patristic literature,19 editors have jumped on both as wonderful dated specimens and have inserted their linguistic and formal features, such as script, layout and support, into their databases to date more precisely other texts.20 However, this sidelines rashly that the date derived from the identification of the text is only a terminus post quem.21 As shown by the 17 Several studies about the content and formal characteristics of festal letters were published since the paper was presented in Oxford and space prevents engaging with them in details. Suffice it to say that they draw considerably different conclusions about the purpose of the papyri from the codicological features. S. Torallas Tovar, ‘Athanasius’ Letter’ (2018), 29 takes oral delivery of Festal Letters by reading from a written copy for granted to conclude that other texts likewise written on rolls would also be read out aloud and probably circulated together with Festal Letters. M. Konstantinidou, ‘Festal Letters’ (2019) is more careful to assume this at least in the case of copies with considerable textual variation, such as P.Oxy. LXXVI 5074. She likewise points out (150-1) that the monumentalising codicological features suggest display rather than circulation of the text. 18 See G. Bastianini and G. Cavallo, ‘Nuovo Frammento’ (2011), 37. On the cursive script see Guglielmo Cavallo, ‘Greek and Latin Writing in the Papyri’, in R.S. Bagnall (ed.), Handbook (2011), 101-48, 142 and on the replication of formal features in other regions, see S. Torallas Tovar, ‘Athanasius’ Letter’ (2018), 30. 19 See Dirk Obbink, ‘Review of Repertorium der griechischen christlichen Papyri Band 2, Teil 1: Kirchenväter-Papyri Beschreibungen, von Kurt Aland and Hans-Udo Rosenbaum’, JTS 49 (1998), 812-8 on shortcomings of the field, not least that the corpus is defined by recognising a passage of an already known patristic work in the evidence on papyrus only (excluding texts on parchment and ostraka). It is therefore possible that more fragments are actually of festal letters, as can be seen comparing the increasing corpora mentioned in G. Cavallo, ‘Greek and Latin’ (2011), S. Torallas Tovar, ‘Athanasius’ Letter’ (2018) and M. Konstantinidou, ‘Festal Letters’ (2019). 20 See the efforts of M. Stroppa, ‘L’uso di rotuli’ (2013) but also Lucio Del Corso, ‘Osservazioni sulla datazione di alcuni frammenti di codici da Antinoupolis’, in Mario Capasso and Mario De Donno (eds), Scritti paleografici e papirologici in memoria di Paolo Radiciotti, Papyrologica Lupiensia. Supplemento 24 (Lecce, Rovato, 2017), 167-92, 180 (especially note 43), as well as Willy Clarysse and Pasquale Orsini, ‘Early New Testament manuscripts and their dates; A Critique of theological palaeography’, ETL 88 (2012), 443-74, 443 (note 2) and 452 (note 38), in particular. 21 Likewise tenuous is the evidence of archives, mostly derived from sixth-century or later hagiographical literature, such as the reliance on the Life of Aphou by Ewa Wipszycka, The Alexandrian church: people and institutions (Warsaw, 2015), 251 and especially by Alberto Camplani, ‘Setting a Bishopric / Arranging an Archive: Traces of Archival Activity in the Bishopric of Alexandria and Antioch’, in Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich

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earliest papyri, dates were part of the information preserved in copies. The impressively spacious design and the length advanced by the editors for the papyri to contain the text of the festal letters in full raise questions about the financial and physical feasibility of producing and circulating multiple copies.22 Pastoral meaning of festal letters The historiographic importance of the festal letter reflects its actual authority in society, the collective memory of the pastoral concern of previous authoritative bishops as having reached out to the people, for example conveying true doctrine.23 In them the literary image of the pastoral concern is projected to the outside world, with arguments which are relevant there. This leads automatically to a unity and a sense of belonging for those presumed to have been reached. It would have been a marker of ‘being Egyptian’ for those who could attest that their diocese or monastery apparently had been a recipient of Athanasius’ or Cyril’s Festal Letters.24 That is, in what may be the only known original festal letter on papyrus, it exists because it was meaningful for the leaders of Shenoute’s monastery to receive a copy and to keep it, as a sign of their allegiance and Sabine Kienitz (eds), Manuscripts and Archives: Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Studies in Manuscript Cultures 11 (Berlin, Boston, 2018), 231-72, 249-50. On the Life of Aphou see L.H. Blumell and T.A. Wayment (eds), Christian Oxyrhynchus (2015), 638-57. 22 Alberto Camplani and Annick Martin, ‘Lettres festales et listes épiscopales dans l’Église d’Alexandrie et d’Égypte: à propos de la liste épiscopale accompagnant la première lettre festale de Cyrille d’Alexandrie conservée en copte’, Journal of Juristic Papyrology 30 (2000), 7-20, 17-20, show only that the resources were in place for the chancellery in Alexandria to be able to provide a considerable number of copies and that the late-antique networking in Egypt allowed interested individuals and institutions to obtain copies soon. 23 The memorialisation of the pastoral activities has been shown to have been at the centre of the Coptic reception of authentic and spurious Athanasiana, for example by D.M. Gwynn, ‘Athanasius’ (2013) and id., ‘Patronage’ (2019). For Cyril, see Hans van Loon, Living in the light of Christ: Mystagogy in Cyril of Alexandria’s Festal Letters, Late Antique History and Religion 15; Mystagogy of the Church Fathers 4 (Leuven, 2017), especially at 71-119 and Pauline Allen, ‘St Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Pastoral Care’, Phronema 29.2 (2014), 1-20, but also Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ‘Der Schriftgebrauch in den “Apologien” des Athanasius’, in Martin Brecht (ed.), Text – Wort – Glaube: Studien zur Überlieferung, Interpretation und Autorisierung biblischer Texte: Kurt Aland gewidmet (Berlin, New York, 1980), 209-19 on the construction of the authorial persona. 24 On the social function of letters in regard to ethnic cohesion, see Philip Alexander, ‘From Me, Jerusalem, the Holy City, to You Alexandria in Egypt, my Sister…’, in Paola Ceccarelli, Lutz Doering, Thorsten Fögen and Ingo Gildenhard (eds), Letters and Communities: Studies in the Socio-Political Dimensions of Ancient Epistolography (Oxford, 2018), 253-70 and Melissa Harl Sellew, ‘Reading Jesus in the desert: the Gospel of Thomas meets the Apophthegmata Patrum’, in Hugo Lundhaug and Lance Jenott (eds), The Nag Hammadi codices and late antique Egypt, STAC 110 (Tübingen, 2018), 81-106, 90-4. M. Konstantinidou, ‘Festal Letters’ (2019), 150 reaches similar conclusions about P.Oxy. LXXVI 5074.



to the same Christian faction and a proof that the patriarch of Alexandria was on their side, and that both institutionalised spheres of Christian life in the oikoumene were in communion. This retrospective claim from the side of the recipients is the only one which can be taken for granted, but the contrary is usually assumed. The multiplication of a festal letter or its copies did not, at all, define the scope of authority of a bishop, definitely not of Alexandria.25 The list of addressees was a claim for the outside world of what the patriarch believed to be his region of influence and a display of cohesion which was actually far removed from the reality of Christianity. Papyri together with patristic literature show that bishops were approached qua bishops especially for dispute-resolution, petitioning and (letters of) recommendation.26 Papyri and hagiographical tropes suggest that local bishops only stood out among other options of Christian or non-Christian spiritual experts if they were good brokers of local interests multiplying the benefits that could be milked from central sources of authority, and countered those which were detrimental because they depleted the local resources or were counterproductive, in material as well as in spiritual aspects.

Geo-ecclesiology of festal letters If in the fourth and fifth century the see of Alexandria wanted Egypt to be a big player in a project of institutionalised Christianity, it had to present a working case-study of hierarchy, as an advertisement of what it proposed to the administration and to match and rival the network and nodal-point relevance of Antioch, Ephesus, and of the imperial capital, wherever it might be.27 The bishops of Alexandria’s networking with Rome and Milan suggested, for example, by Jerome’s and Cassian’s narratives about festal letters, gains different 25 Pace Marie-Françoise Baslez, Les premiers bâtisseurs de l’Église. Correspondances episcopales (IIe-IIIe siècles) (Paris, 2016), 69 and Eva Baumkamp, Kommunikation in der Kirche des 3. Jahrhunderts: Bischöfe und Gemeinden zwischen Konflikt und Konsens im Imperium Romanum, STAC 92 (Tübingen, 2014), 65-77. On the papyrological evidence, see D.G. Martinez, ‘Papyri’ (2011), 608-9. On the negative reaction against bishops of Alexandria in the fourth and early fifth century, see David Brakke, ‘Canon Formation and Social Conflict in Fourth-Century Egypt: Athanasius of Alexandria’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter’, HTR 87 (1994), 395-419 and Mario Baghos, ‘The Traditional Portrayal of St Athanasius according to Rufinus, Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret’, in Doru Costache, Philip Kariatlis and Mario Baghos (eds), Alexandrian Legacy: A Critical Appraisal (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2015), 139-71, 142-56. 26 See E. Baumkamp, Kommunikation (2014), 316-26. 27 See Annik Martin, Les premiers siècles du christianisme à Alexandrie. Essai de topographie religieuse (IIIe-IVe siècles)’, REAugP 30 (1984), 211-25 and Alberto Camplani, ‘The religious identity of Alexandria in some ecclesiastical histories of Late Antique Egypt’, in Philippe Blaudeau and Peter Van Nuffelen (eds), L’historiographie tardo-antique et la transmission des savoirs, Millennium Studien 55 (Berlin, 2015), 85-119.

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contours if it is not anachronistically taken for granted that the capital for the Eastern parts would be – forever – Constantinople.28 For that, Alexandria needed to set up and people a web of local dioceses. Competent personnel had to step up and run for the office, and people had to bother electing someone. It should not be assumed that either was straightforward in view of what Christianities were like in Egypt, with the predominance of what has poignantly been described as the academic and apocalyptic Christianities,29 even if apocryphal may describe the latter better. Although the notion that festal letters were to be spread and made available everywhere seems feasible and easy enough,30 neither material nor intellectual evidence corroborate it. Most sources were part of a memorialisation of the content or the authorial persona. Still, some papyri are likely to be original festal letters, at least among the letters from the seventh century on.31 For the monophysite patriarchs who sent them, the claims of authority associated with festal letters were advantageous and to be fostered, including the inauguration of the genre by Athanasius.32 For the golden age of the festal letters, I dare say 28 See now Anthony Kaldellis, ‘Constantinople’s Belated Hegemony’, in Peter Van Nuffelen (ed.), Historiography and Space in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2019), 14-35, 21-8. 29 David Brakke, ‘A New Fragment of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon’, HTR 103 (2010), 47-66, 51. See also id. and Andrew Todd Crislip, Selected discourses of Shenoute the Great: Community, Theology, and Social Conflict in Late Antique Egypt (Cambridge, 2015), 14-23 and David Frankfurter, Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity (Princeton, 2017), especially at 189-97. 30 On Cassian’s accounts, see A. Camplani, Atanasio (2003), 18. Festal letters may have been seen especially by Theophilus as a way to project textually the Alexandrian ambition, as argued by Dragoş Andrei Giulea, ‘Simpliciores, Eruditi, and the Noetic Form of God: Pre-Nicene Christology Revisited’, HTR 108 (2015), 263-88, 264 and Geoffrey Smith, ‘Anti-Origenist Redaction in the Fragments of the Gospel of Truth (NHC XII,2): Theological Controversy and the Transmission of Early Christian Literature’, HTR 110 (2017), 46-74, 46. Cyril seems to carry on building on (or building de facto) the ‘tradition’ of Athanasius’ letters initially, producing letters bearing considerable theological and disciplinary content. This wanes and gives way to letters at a simplified and clear level. See Markus Vinzent, ‘Vom philosophischen Apologeten zum theologischen Ketzerbekämpfer. Zur biographischen Verkirchlichung von christlichen Amtsträgern am Beispiel Kyrills von Alexandrien’, in Barbara Aland, Johannes Hahn and Christian Ronning (eds), Literarische Konstituierung von Identifikationsfiguren in der Antike, STAC 16 (Tübingen, 2003), 173-94, 185. The letters were attacked by those who could obtain copies or translations, which is echoed in Cassian’s account about access to Evagrian works. Ps-Arnobius’ Latin version of Cyril’s Festal Letter 17, probably from the first half of the fifth century, points to the early reception for polemical purposes beyond the control of the author, on which see Pauline Allen, ‘The Festal Letters of the Patriarchs of Alexandria: Evidence for Social History in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries’, Phronema 29 (2014), 1-19, 5 and H. van Loon, Living (2017), 11-22. 31 For example, P. Berolin. 10677 is probably an original festal letter by Alexander II, patriarch of Alexandria between 705 and 730. See Kurt Aland and Hans-Udo Rosenbaum (eds), Repertorium der griechischen christlichen Papyri: II, Tl 1, Kirchenväter-Papyri. Beschreibungen, PTS 42 (Berlin, Boston, 1995), 523-41. 32 See P. Booth, ‘Towards the Coptic Church’ (2017), 165. The tradition was expanded with narratives about fourth- and fifth-century figures attested in mostly hagiographical works which



that the date of Easter spread orally, and the idea of a copy allowed clerics to try to communicate relevant doctrinal and disciplinary content here and there. Some sort of original was kept, at the mercy of the patriarchs’ archiving policies, and interested parties could with difficulty get copies of what mattered for them.33 The legacy? A reputation of Alexandria as the place in charge of calculating Easter, which gains traction in the West thanks to Bede.34 A fair recognition of its scientific milieu, but a distorting picture of Egyptian scholarship.

were foremost the output of the historiographic creation of the past from the seventh century. See Cecilia Palombo, ‘Constantinople and Alexandria between the Seventh and Eighth Centuries: The Representation of Byzantium in Christian Sources from Conquered Egypt’, in Nicholas S.M. Matheou, Theofili Kampianaki and Lorenzo M. Bondioli (eds), From Constantinople to the Frontier: The City and the Cities, The Medieval Mediterranean 106 (Leiden, 2016), 241-59, 2468. Much of it was produced by the prolific Severan bishops, as shown by Phil Booth, ‘A circle of Egyptian bishops at the end of Roman rule (c. 600): texts and contexts’, Le Muséon 131 (2018), 21-72. It is the case of the Lives (or Panegyrics) of Manasse and of Moses. Read at face value, they suggest a monastic subordination to the local bishop, or that bishops took interest in monastic matters, for example in P. Sarga 375, as in Mariachiara Giorda, ‘Bishops-Monks in the Monasteries: Presence and Role’, Journal of Juristic Papyrology 39 (2009), 101-6, 51 and Seÿna Bacot, ‘Une nouvelle attestation de «la petra d’Apa Mèna» au sud d’Assiout’, Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 102 (2002), 1-16, 7, respectively. This is at odds with the evidence of parallel or conflicting spheres of influence, as shown by James E. Goehring, Politics, Monasticism, and Miracles in Sixth Century Upper Egypt: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Coptic Texts on Abraham of Farshut, STAC 69 (Tübingen, 2012), 110-7. On the material evidence, see D.G. Martinez, ‘Papyri’ (2011), 608-9, further discussed by David Brakke, Athanasius and the politics of asceticism, OECT (Oxford, New York, 1995), 87 and Theodore De Bruyn, Making amulets Christian: artefacts, scribes, and contexts, OECS (Oxford, 2017), 21-42. 33 On the irregular evidence of a patriarchal archive, see Philippe Blaudeau, Alexandrie et Constantinople, 451-491: de l’histoire à la géo-ecclésiologie (Rome, 2006), 360-4. On the availability and circulation of texts see Alberto Camplani, ‘Fourth-Century Synods in Latin and Syriac Canonical Collections and their Preservation in the Antiochene Archives (Serdica 343 CE – Antioch 325 CE)’, in Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala and Sofía Torallas Tovar (eds), Cultures in Contact. Transfer of Knowledge in the Mediterranean Context. Selected Papers, Syro-Arabica 1 (Cordoba, Beirut, 2013), 61-72, showing their fluidity and mobility rather than the physical existence of an archive. On the terminology, see Katelijn Vandorpe, ‘Archives and Dossiers’, in R.S. Bagnall (ed.), Handbook (2011), 216-55 and Jean-Luc Fournet, ‘Archives and Libraries in Greco-Roman Egypt’, in Alessandro Bausi, Christian Brockmann, Michael Friedrich and Sabine Kienitz (eds), Manuscripts and Archives: Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Studies in Manuscript Cultures 11 (Berlin, Boston, 2018), 171-200. 34 See W.H. Burns, P. Évieux et al., Cyrille (1991), 80-8 and Máirín MacCarron, Bede and time: computus, theology and history in the early medieval world, Studies in early medieval Britain and Ireland (London, 2019), noticing that Cyril pseudepigrapha are also central to this tradition, as shown in Alden A. Mosshammer, The Prologues on Easter of Theophilus of Alexandria and [Cyril], OECT (Oxford, 2017).

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources Laura HELLSTEN, Åbo Akademi University, Åbo, Finland

ABSTRACT Since Johannes Quasten’s patristic classic Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der heidnischen Antike und christlichen Frühzeit (1930) most researchers in the field of the early church have considered dancing to be a pagan worship practice with no established place in the official rites of the church (H. Rahner, Man at Play [1967], 75-6; L. Gougaud, ‘La danse dans les églises’ [1914], 7). A few exceptions to this can be found in Andrew B. McGowan’s Ancient Christian worship: early church practices in social, historical, and theological perspective (2014) and articles by Donatella Tronca (2016; 2017). In this article I will expand further on the work already written in Hellsten ‘Dance in the Early Church: Sources and restrictions’ (2016) examining especially the material found on dance in Clement of Alexandria and his the Paedagogos as well as Gregory of Nazianzus Festal Orations. To support my claims I will bring the theoretical frameworks found in Sarah Coakley’s work on asceticism together with Verna Nonna Harrison’s writing on spiritual formation. This will shed new light not only on the above mentioned patristic sources but also lead to a need to re-investigate the sources on dance, gathered in James Miller’s Measures of Wisdom – The Cosmic Dance in Classic and Christian Antiquity (1986). Concluding how dancing needs to be re-examined as one of many contemplative practices of the early church.

Dance as a Christian worship practice? What role dancing played for the members of the Early Church is a neglected theological question. Why dance as a Christian worship practice has received so little attention might be since many assume – like much earlier research has – that Christianity is not a dancing religion.1 In my research, I have investigated sources describing dance during the Early Church period. Scrutinising, for example, the newly published database on The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity 1 Kimerer L. LaMothe, A History of Theory and Method in the Study of Religion and Dance Past, Present, and Future (Leiden, Boston, 2018), 1-4; Henrik F. Stander in Encyclopaedia of Early Christianity (London, New York, 1993), 317; for a summary of these discussions see Laura Hellsten, ‘Dance in the Early Church: Sources and restrictions’, Approaching Religion 6 (2016), 55-66, 57. For thorough scrutiny of older research by Quasten, Gougaud and Rahner, see Laura Hellsten, Through the Bone and Marrow. Re-examining Theological Encounters with Dance in Medieval Europe (Åbo, 2020).

Studia Patristica CIV, 65-84. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



(CSLA), I found 30 accounts where either the term dance or dancing was referred to.2 These materials give an important indication on how the discussion on dance and dancing need further attention, apart from the list of condemnations usually referred to.3 When bringing forth texts referring to dancing in the Early Church context a common approach is to state as Clemens Leonard does, in ‘Religious Expression in Music and Dance’ (2018), that what is referred to, is not actual dancing but idealized allegorical depictions of dance.4 An alternative interpretation is made by Anne-Marie and Tony Gaston in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (2014).5 They say that when discussions on dancing at feasts and rituals of worship are found, they are part of the practices of early Christian groups including the Gnostics, the Messalians, and the Melatians,6 indirectly stating that the dancers were groups of people that have also been described as heretics.7 Turning instead, towards the emerging field of historic dance research within studies of Late Antiquity, dancing Christians are portrayed in a different light.8 In this article, I will explore the possibilities such research gives for understanding the dancing, which is presumably found in the Early Church from a theological perspective. This means that I will take dancing practices as a ‘given’, asking if they were there, how should we understand them?9 My suggestion is 2 All of these materials will not be dealt with here, but will be presented and analysed in subsequent research. 3 Louis Gougaud, ‘La danse dans les églises’, Revue d’Histoire ecclésiastique 15 (1914), 5-22, 229-45, 10-4. 4 The reference here is to Philo of Alexandria’s writing about the ‘Therapeutae’ in his Contemplative Life, which he considers to be an a-historic depiction. Clemens Leonard, ‘Religious Expression in Music and Dance’, in Josef Lössl and Nicholas J. Baker-Brian (eds), A Companion to Religion in Late Antiquity (Chichester, 2018), 611-34, 626. 5 See also Andrew B. McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, 2014). 6 Anne-Marie and Tony Gaston, ‘Dance as a way of being religious’, in Frank Burch Brown (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (Oxford, 2014), 182-202, 189. See also Encyclopedia of Christianity (2011), 771-2. 7 John Gordon Davies, Liturgical Dance: An Historical, Theological and Practical Handbook (London, 1984), 26-7. Clemens Leonard considers the ‘Dance Hymn’ in the Acts of John as a historic depiction yet only as an example of those practices that are condemned by the Church. C. Leonard, ‘Religious Expression’ (2018), 620. For a discussion with a different approach see Donatella Tronca, ‘Dancing in Ancient Christianity: Initial Research, in Texts, Practices and Groups. Multidisciplinary Approaches to the History of Jesus’, in A. Destro and M. Pesce (eds), Followers in the First Two Centuries (Turnhout, 2017), 433-48, 438-9. 8 Apart from those works that I will refer to in more detail, see Alessandro Arcangeli, Davide o Salomè? Il dibattito europeo sulla danza nella prima età moderna (Rome, 2000); Jennifer Nevile (ed.), Dance, Spectacle, and the Body Politick 1250-1750 (Bloomington, IN, 2008); Gregor Rohmann, ‘The Invention of Dancing Mania: Frankish Christianity, Platonic Cosmology and Bodily Expressions in Sacred Space’, The Medieval History Journal 12 (2009), 13-45; id., ‘Dancing on the Threshold – A Cultural Concept for Conditions of Being Far from Salvation’, Contributions to the History of Concepts 10 (2015), 48-70. 9 One reason for taking such a stance is that the prohibitions against different kinds of dancing continue from one century to another and by the Medieval period, there is plenty of evidence for dancing in and around churches. L. Hellsten, Through the Bone and Marrow (2020).

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources


that writings concerning dance can be understood in a meaningful way particularly in the context of worship and spiritual formation. This task will unfold in two steps. First, I will show how historic dance research argue that dancing was a core element in Plato’s views on formation and the development of the Greek educational system. In this first part, I want particularly to emphasize how Donatella Tronca transfers the Greek notions concerning dance into a Christian context. In the second part of this article, I will show how the research by Tronca and others, can be further developed by bringing her analysis deeper into a theological discussion on Christian spiritual formation practices. For the second aim, it is particularly texts by Clement of Alexandria and the Cappadocian fathers, which will be discussed in the light of writings by Sarah Coakley and Verna Nonna Harrison on Spiritual formation practices. Background Already in 1986 James Miller, in his Measures of Wisdom: The Cosmic Dance in Classical and Christian Antiquity, did thorough scrutiny of the use of the terms chorós10 and choreía11 in the writings of platonic and neo-platonic texts in Antiquity, as well as how they came to influence the thinking of Church Fathers.12 Unfortunately, this study has not been brought forth in theological discussions.13 Maybe this is because Miller concludes that even though dancing was an important practice in Antique society, it never reached the liturgies of the Church, in a concrete and physical form.14 Interpreting any positively tainted statements from writers of the Early Church on dance as only metaphorical or symbolic seems to be the unquestioned default.15 In earlier philosophical research 10

Miller identifies 25 different types of chorus in J. Miller, Measures of Wisdom (1986), 576. Miller identifies 40 different types of choreía in ibid. 575. 12 What is important to understand is that there is no clear definition to be found around the meaning and use of these words. For each time period, the dancing that was referred to, either analogously, metaphorically or in praxis, changed and signified different things. The only processes Miller states as clear, is the fact that there always was a reference to some kind of actual dancing in the use of the terms and that with Christianity, came a stronger spiritualisation and transcendent isolation of the divine centre of the dance. Ibid. 525-9. 13 An exception to this can be found when dance scholars write about the religious nature of historic dances. See for example Donna La Rue’s entry on ‘Tripudium’, in Selma Jeanne Cohen (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Dance 6 (New York, 1998), 193-5. 14 J. Miller, Measures of Wisdom (1986), 529-32. 15 L. Gougaud, ‘La danse dans les églises’ (1914); Hugo Rahner, Man at Play (New York, 1967) scrutinised in L. Hellsten, Through the Bone and Marrow (2020), chapter 2, 167-75. Exceptions to this can be found in Gillis P. Wetter, ‘La danse rituelle dans l’église ancienne’, Cahiers du Cercle Ernest Renan 7 (1961), 1-12. Yet, in this context, the dancing is described as a practice deriving from the more ‘pure’ and ‘original’ mystery cults, that according to Wetter were at the roots of Christianity. G.P. Wetter, ‘La danse rituelle’ (1961), 1-2, 10-2. Only more recent writing amongst theologians such as Angela Yarber in The Dictionary of the Bible and Ancient Media (London, 2017), 73-4, show signs of understanding the place of dance in new ways. 11



on dance, this also used to be the status quo.16 The idea that it is the Platonic worldview – averse to crude matter and negative to bodily pleasures – which, particularly when fused to Christian writings, is the core reason, why dance-arts have been left in a negative light, dominated much scholarly work.17 It is only in more recent years, when scholars such as A.P. David in The Dance of the Muses Choral Theory and Ancient Greek Poetics (2006) and Graham Pont in his article ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008),18 that the writings of Plato on dance have been re-read in a new light. This shift in views on writings on Plato and the role of dance in the Greek society I argue, still needs to be incorporated into the interpretations of Early Church writing on dance. Partly, authors like Ruth Webb in Demons and Dancers: Performance in Late Antiquity (2008) and Nicoletta Isar’s extensive list of publication have already started these discussions.19 Webb shows the importance of dance practices in the Late Antique society, giving both a more complex view on how Christians participated in the arts of the Theater and stage as well as a deeper theological understanding to the aversion against dancing that can be found in the writings of for example John Chrysostom and St Augustine.20 Neither Webb nor Isar takes a clear stance on the possibility of using their work as a ground for arguing that actual dances were part of the worship services21 of Christians in the Early Church. A scholar who goes further than them is Donatella Tronca, who has made claims for the early congregations of Christians dancing as a continuation of Jewish traditions and in relationship to ecstatic practices.22 In her more recent articles, she has been making claims for specific forms of choreographed gestures of men, not only being approved of 16 Francis Sparshott, ‘Why philosophy neglects the dance’, in Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen (eds), What is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism (Oxford, 1983), 94-101, 98-101; Francis Sparshott, Off the Ground. First Steps to a Philosophical Consideration of Dance (Princeton, 1988), 23-5. 17 J.G. Davies, Liturgical Dance (1984), 24-6; Samuel Laeuchli, Religion and Art in Conflict – Introduction to a Cross-Disciplinary Task (Philadelphia, 1980), 83-5. 18 In J. Nevile, Dance, Spectacle, and the Body Politick (2008), 267-82. 19 Isar’s work will not be considered in this paper as it focuses on the concerning the Byzantine Church further complexifying the earlier discussions by Miller on how cosmology and circular movements create a powerful experience of liturgy. Nicoletta Isar, Chorography (Chôra, Chorós) – A Performative Paradigm of Creation of Sacred Space in Byzantium (Moscow, 2006), 77-80; ead., ΧΟΡÓΣ. The Dance of Adam. The Making of Byzantine Chorography. The Anthropology of the Choir of Dance in Byzantium (Leiden, 2011). 20 Ruth Webb, Demons and Dancers: Performance in Late Antiquity (London, 2008), 179-94, 197-215. 21 I have deliberately chosen a broader concept than liturgy or liturgical, to not make this an article concerned only with different definitions. 22 Donatella Tronca, ‘Dancing in Ancient Christianity’ (2017). See also ead., ‘Restricted Movement. Dancing from Late Antiquity through the Early Middle Ages’, in Breaking the Rules. Textual Reflections on Transgression = Journal of the LUCAS graduate conference 4 (Leiden, 2016), 52-63.

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but sought for, in the writings of Church Fathers.23 It is from the interpretations of Tronca on the writings of Clement of Alexandria and the Cappadocian fathers in the light of Platonic thinking, that I want to commence this article. Particularly Tronca’s transference of the main ideas of the Greek educational system into the body of Christ as the Church, is what will be examined in this first part.

Dance in Plato Haven’t you noticed that mimetic acts [mimeseisj] if allowed to continue from youth onward, establish themselves in the habits [ethos] and nature [phusis] of the person’s body, voice, and mind?24

This statement is put into the mouth of Socrates in Plato’s Republic. Ruth Webb argues that it is due to the understanding that imitating the actions of another, one might become transformed, that Plato is weary towards the art of poetics.25 In the Greek view, not only poetry but music itself was always a combination of dance, song and text.26 Following the gestures, movements, tone of voice and manner of speech of the actor or poet, would make manifest not only a social habitus27 on a person, but also shape and influence their soul.28 This is why, Plato argued that a Guardian of the people – the ideal leader of the city-state – should only be mimetically involved with personages of good character.29 The importance of mimetic acts will form the groundwork for the Greek educational system, which I will return to shortly. Before that, there is one more thing to say about Plato’s attitude towards the art of poetics. In Republic X, Plato is irritated at the drama’s and spectacles of poetics, that according to him, draw people into denial or misunderstanding of the world.30 Another problem for Plato is that drama and poetry seem to speak to the emotional states of people. As our emotions and/or passions are part of the chaotic and disorderly aspect of human life, they are powerful forces that like the flux of life, draws everything towards destruction. Thus, Plato is wary of letting 23 Ead., ‘L’uso della danza nella costruzione cristiana dell’alterità religiosa nella Tarda Antichità’, in Adamantius. Annuario di Letteratura Cristiana Antica e di Studi Giudeoellenistici 23 (2017), 205-14; ead., ‘Spectacula turpitudinum. Christian Schemata of the Dancing Body’, RIHA Journal 0227 (2019). 24 Plato, Republic 3, 395d-395e. 25 R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 155. 26 A.P. David, The Dance of the Muses (2006), 22. 27 Plato, Republic 4, 420e-421a. 28 R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 155. 29 Ibid. 30 Plato, Republic 10, 595b, 603a-b.



such ‘energies’ out of control.31 Both the weariness towards emotions, that dancing movements and drama can awaken, as well as the fear towards being under the influence of something unstable and constantly shifting, are aspects that Christian authors came to share with Plato.32 Webb and Tronca further argue, that what became a fundamental view of Christian ascetics was that not only the performers of mimetic movements and dance but also the people watching these, would be transformed by what they saw.33 Thus, it is the powerful mimetic character of dance rather then it’s carnal or merely sexual connotations,34 which makes it a force to reckon with, for Greek thinkers and Christians alike.35 In the end, what Plato seems to want to do in the Republic X is to degrade the mimetic arts like poetry and drama to an inferior level and only promote those imitative arts that speak to the ‘higher levels’ of our mind.36 Reading Plato with only the text of the Republic X in mind, it seems as, both letters/speech and science/mathematics are promoted, over and against choreia and mousike.37 Yet, this would be to draw a too simple conclusion. The mimetic arts of choreia and mousike, have not disappeared from the higher levels of education. Before I can go there, a few things need to be said about the educational system of the Greeks that became the classic system of education also for many leaders of the Early Church.38 31 It is not only the tragedy that is under ban but also laughing at the comical representations of a disordered universe. Plato, Republic 10, 606a-d. 32 R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 81-2, 85-9, 163-6, 189-90. She further writes: ‘The discourse about the theater reveals a wide spectrum of concerns about the impact of the shows on audiences, who may be provoked to riot by the pantomimes (Prokopios of Gaza) or simply to behave in unsuitable ways (Dio Chrysostom, Lucian’s cynic character, and Severus of Antioch), who may be schooled in adultery (Cyprian and Lactantius) or indoctrinated in paganism (Tertullian and Jacob of Serugh), or whose sexual desire might be inflamed (John Chrysostom). In all this, performers are presented primarily as agents who exert a power over their audiences, and this general idea of the spectacle as an active force is present in the generic terminology of festivals’. R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 168. 33 R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 14-5, 168-87; D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). 34 Exceptions to these viewpoints can be found in, for example, Philodemus’ (ca. 110-40/35 BC) views on dance, where he emphasizes that dancing is not at all a mimetic act. Rather, dancing is only connected to a sense of pleasure and relaxation – not altogether negative, yet useless for character formation. Ferguson argues that most Christian authors did not follow this strand of ideas. Preferring instead the Platonic/Pythagorean school of thought. Everett Ferguson, The Early Church at Work and Worship. Volume 3: Worship, Eucharist, Music, and Gregory of Nyssa (Eugene, OR, 2017), 131-41, 164-6. 35 Questions of desire are of course not superfluous when it comes to dancing. Yet, it is important to notice that the topic of desire goes further than questions of sexual arousal, for the writers and thinkers of this period. R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 50-1, 101, 182-7; for a theologically more intricate discussion on desire see Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Oxford, 2013). 36 Plato, Republic 10, 603a-c. 37 A.P. David, The Dance of the Muses (2006), 22; F. Sparshott, Off the Ground (1988), 25. 38 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019).

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources


Graham Pont states that it is not in Plato’s early works of the Republic, but much later in his career in writing Laws, that he develops his views on the organisation of the ideal state and a well-functioning society. The mature Plato positions an educational system – Paideia – at the core of the formation of the ruling class of the Greek polis.39 Paideia was developed into two stages. The first of them being ‘early education’ of children where the emphasis was laid on pre-rational formation of the young mind and body through training in two integrated technics: mousike and gymnastice. There was no gender differentiation.40 Instead, all children attended this combination of training in rhythm, movements and stories. Thus, one can see, that already in Laws, Plato had changed his mind about the mimetic acts of poetry. He did not question the mimetic value of poetry, one only needed to build the Paideia on the works of approved poets.41 The second stage was ‘higher education’ where the mathematical arts were only later preceded by the verbal arts.42 Tronca states that learning to dance was an instrument of Paideia.43 Pont further explains: Through dance (which included posture, deportment, gesture, facial expression, and other bodily movement), the young Greek learned not only to be quick, strong, agile, dexterous, and graceful but (most importantly) to imitate and internalize the characteristic rhythms, movements, and attitudes of the ideally noble Hellene, in peace and war. In this way he acquired the essential rudiments of the quality and virtue of arete…44

In the words of Tronca, putting on correct schemata, a youngster learnt an entire way of life acquiring moral and civic virtues. This included not only ideas about the close relationship between body and soul but moved to aspects extending from the body proper; its clothes, movements in space and manner of conduct. All of these communicated the status a person had, in Greek society.45 Even though there seemingly was a distinction made between ‘early education’ with training through dance, none of the aims of ‘higher education’ could be achieved without the groundwork laid in training of the body in mousike and gymnastice. 39

G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 269. Plato, Laws 6, 764c-d. 41 ‘… the natural movements of the growing child are carefully molded, corrected, and beautified by some years of basic training in the musical or performing arts – principally dancing, singing, playing the flute and lyre, poetry, and dramatic recitation (of Homer and other approved poets). The practical test of a citizen’s early education was his ability to participate in the singing and dancing of the Tragedy’, G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 270. 42 G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 269-70. 43 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019); ‘Thus, through early education in music and dance, the young Greek acquired not only a range of social and survival skills, but also a pervasive sense of harmony – not only of the inner, spiritual harmony of a well-balanced personality but also that of the well-formed figure and of a well-ordered society and its larger environment’, G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 271. 44 G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 270-1. 45 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). 40



Tronca further claims that this training led to the common knowledge of specific schemata applying to persons with specific tasks and positions in the larger community. She states that the ideas on education for acquiring virtues, as well as the importance of displaying correct schemata in social situations, transferred into the ideals of a Christian life.46 Men, who gestured and moved by schemata kala – good bodily attitudes – where honoured as appropriate and harmonious members of the community.47 Furthermore, Tronca makes clear how this behaviour is contrasted by John Chrysostom48, Basil of Caesarea49 and Clement of Alexandria50 in their writings on what happened at banquets and festivities that fell outside the preferred movement patterns and social norms of action, for Christians.51 As many of the platonic attitudes towards bodies and their formation were taken up by Christian writers, this begs the questions: How much of what has earlier been understood as a merely metaphorical language on dance could in light of these new viewpoints, be re-interpreted into practical applications? Heavenly Harmonies The place where choreia becomes important, also for Christian writers, is in the movements of the people of God as well as an idea of the created order, moving within a circle of ongoing life. Tronca explains that even though choreia could be translated into dance, it can also mean a procession or circular motions of stars and planets. Thus, many have presumed that when Church Fathers write about choreia or choros, they are not referring to actual dancing but only the metaphor of dance. Yet, if we look at Plato’s use of these concepts losing the connection to actual dance, all together, make very little sense. Even at the second stage of ‘higher education’ mathematics were never removed from mousike. David explains: ‘Numbers are things you dance, and dancing is stylized counting’.52 Indicating that poetry is measurement of sound, thought, space and these things were learnt through participatory observation.53 The importance of measure within music and movement is further emphasised in Plato’s last piece of work Epinomics. There he states that at the core of wisdom, happiness, goodness and virtue are numbers.54 46 The continuity and discontinuity of paideia in the Christian era is also commented upon by Maijastina Kahlos in Rooman viimeiset päivät (Helsinki, 2016), 227-46. 47 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). 48 John Chrysostom, Homilia in martyres 1-3 (PG 50, 664). 49 Basil of Caesarea, Homilia 14.1 in ebriosos (PG 31, 445). 50 Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 51 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). 52 A.P. David, The Dance of the Muses (2006), 23. 53 Ibid. 54 G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 272-3.

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What is particularly interesting for the case I am making here, is that also the much later Philo of Alexandria, writing at the brink of the Roman period, when it is often concluded, that the teaching of music was already extracted from the word-based literary arts as well as musical theory being separated from the technical know-how of playing instruments, joins the counting of rhythm with the song. It may be a specific feature of Jewish worship, but Philo clearly combines musical theory with the practice of singing and dancing.55 Philo writes: Then the president rises and sings a hymn composed in honor of the Deity, either a new one of his own composition, or an old one by poets of an earlier age. For they have bequeathed many meters and melodies, iambic verse, hymns suited for processions, libations, and the altar, odes sung by the chorus when either stationary or dancing, well arranged metrically for its various evolutions.56

Not only is Philo describing that the community had created hymns to honour God, that were meant to be danced, he also states that different rhythms were used to stimulate different kinds of movements. What Philo shows here is that for the Jewish community, contemporary to Early Christian groups, neither dancing nor musical praxis was separated from a theoretical and metaphorical use of the same. Following the text further one can even read a depiction of how an actual choreographed episode of dance and movements is performed. Philo concludes that this manner of praising has the goal of harmonising thoughts, words and actions.57 As I read it, the music, songs and dance combined as a whole, create a full transformation of the person. Everett Ferguson in The Early Church at Work and Worship (2017) further states that even though the community of the Therapeutae, might be a fictitious invention to promote Philo’s philosophical ideas,58 the descriptions of the musical practices and actions are so detailed, that there is no reason to doubt their concrete resemblance being found in Jewish worship at the time.59 Ferguson focuses solemnly on the meaning of the different kinds of singing and leaves the interpretation of the dancing unattained to. What is clear is, that in this particular text Philo seems to focus on the transformation of the individual humans, while in other passages he emphasises more the harmony of the whole community with the cosmic order.60 In light of these re-readings of both Philo and Plato61, 55

E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 156-7. Philo, Contemplative Life 10.80. The translation is from David Winston, Philo of Alexandria (1981), 55. 57 Philo, Contemplative Life 11.88. 58 One example of this is the fact that Philo argues against the use of drums and other rhythmical instruments as they create chaos. Concurring to his views, the tambourine is not present in the hand of Miriam when she leads the people in a dance of praise. 59 E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 157. See also particularly footnote 160. 60 Philo, Life of Moses II 46.256-7; De somnii 1.6.35-7.37; Virtues 11.72-5. 61 On the similarities between Philo’s and Plato’s writings on dance, see further: L. Hellsten, ‘Dance in the Early Church’ (2016), 59-60, 62-4. 56



I am suggesting that also Christian writings on dance – not only music – need to be re-examined for their theological meaning. Returning now to Plato, he explains that mousike is at the core of understanding all of the cosmos, he also emphasises the importance of physical dancing to stay in tune with, and follow the rhythms of all that is. For those voices who later have wanted to emphasis that the choric dance was part of the ‘children’s education’ while mature men would engage only in the counting of numbers or rhetorics, it is good to remind oneself of Plato’s own refusal of such thoughts in the last part of Laws. He emphasises that rather the contrary is true. The wise elders of the community are the only ones fit to lead the choral dances – only a lifetime of practice creates a person that can keep the rhythm and harmony necessary to lead a whole society to perfection.62 Furthermore, participation in the choreia is not only a question of social order. Plato is very keen on stating that anybody who wants to learn how to be in the world needs to be in tune with the elements of rhythm and harmony that are displayed in creation and cosmos. Already in Timaeus, he speaks about the choreia of divine harmony being imitated in our mortal limbs.63 Pont explains that when Plato looks up at the stars, sees the movements of the planets, experiences beauty and order in cosmos, this is intrinsically interlinked with the fact that his micro-cosmos of body – mind – soul have been trained to be aligned with the bigger order of things.64 Most often, this kind of training is associated with contemplation and a gift of sight. Yet, David explains that even the higher visions of contemplation, wherein the descriptions of Plato always commenced, are the movements of dancing feet.65 Once more, emphasising the bodily movements of a circular-dance, as a way of not only understanding, but most of all 62 ‘We are now once more, as it appears, discovering the fact that these singers of ours (…) must almost necessarily be trained up to such a point that every one of them may be able to follow both the steps of the rhythms and the chords of the tunes, so that, by observing the harmonies and rhythms, they may be able to select those of an appropriate kind, which it is seemly for men of their own age and character to sing, and may in this wise sing them, and in the singing may not only enjoy innocent pleasure themselves at the moment, but also may serve as leaders to the younger men in their seemly adoption of noble manners. If they were trained up to such a point, their training would be more thorough than that of the majority, or indeed of the poets themselves. For although it is almost necessary for a poet to have a knowledge of harmony and rhythm, it is not necessary for him to know the third point also – namely, whether the representation is noble or ignoble; but for our older singers a knowledge of all these three points is necessary, to enable them to determine what is first, what second in order of nobility; otherwise none of them will ever succeed in attracting the young to virtue by his incantations’. Plato, Laws 2, 670c-e. It is rather funny that Plato here clearly recognises the limits of human existence and emphasises that if one’s body has become stale and out of routine with the accumulation of years or one is scared of ‘losing one’s face’, it is quite all right for a wise man to strengthen his body with a little bit of wine before the dancing begins. Plato, Laws 2, 665e-266b. 63 Plato, Timaeus 47d, 80c. See also A.P. David, The Dance of the Muses (2006), 23. 64 G. Pont, ‘Plato’s Philosophy of Dance’ (2008), 271-4. 65 A.P. David, The Dance of the Muses (2006), 43. See also the passage on the gifts of the Muses ibid. 92.

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getting in tune with, God’s creation. This was a bodily practice forming the practitioner, not only a metaphorical image for harmony. Tronca further emphasises that in Laws book two and seven, Plato makes it explicitly clear, that particularly political leadership of people and the polis, requires that one knows how to take part in the civic choruses and choreutic practices.66 In this, the social and divine are combined – only those who know the mousike of the gods can lead society into a prosperous future.67 Building on the connection between the polis and ideal citizens of the Platonic City Tronca argues that writers like John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea and Clement of Alexandria created a similar ideal, not only for the baptised members of the Church but the whole structures of civitas christiania. Harmony is sought, not only in the individual conduct of people but also in the movements of the people of God, as a whole.68 Tronca argues that the idea of correct schemata and alignment with a heavenly choreia, became for the leaders of the Church, even more, significant then it had been in the Greek society with its Platonic ideals.69 Ferguson raises similar views, only emphasising that in the Christian writings the use of voice in its connection to Logos, was given primacy in its ability to harmonise the choreutic community, over other forms of mousike.70 From such a stance Tronca interprets both the writings of Clement of Alexandria in Protrepticus 1.5.1 on a New Song and various other descriptions where analogues are made between human bodies and the harmony of musical 66 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). She writes: ‘In this way, just as nomos in the sense of law is at the basis of social order, it is by following the musical nomos that the collective choreia should guide the social body harmoniously. The term choreia therefore indicates the combined actions of singing and dancing; according to Plato, the link between the two derives from the rhythm and movement of the body. In choral and choreutic performances, just as in social life, voice and body must move in a harmonious way individually, collectively and in relation to their performance space’. Referring to Plato, Laws 2, 664e-665a. 67 ‘Only those who are trained to follow this harmony can live in the Platonic City. He who cannot dance is described as achoreutos and is excluded from the Ideal City, for he will not be able to socialise with other citizens or move in harmony with the rest of the civic choreia. The choreia therefore plays a fundamental civic role in Plato’s work, to the point where failure to move one’s body in harmony with others is seen as immoral and depraved’. D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). The importance of the public cult and the correct leading of the cultic activity was not only a concern of Plato, but also the whole Roman society. Marika Rauhala, ‘Danger and Delusion: Ancient Literary Images of Religious Prejudice’, in Others and the Construction of Early Christian Identities (Helsinki, 2013), 289-94. 68 This theme very well picked up in the Medieval period and discussed in for example Nicholas Terpstra, Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World: An Alternative History of the Reformation (Cambridge, 2017). 69 On the one hand, such claims can be held as true as we do not know if the Platonic ideas ever where implemented in the Greek society while the ideals of a Christian community became, if not in practice, at least theoretically very influential in the society created in Medieval Europe. On the other hand, also the Roman empire used strong measures to strike out any cultic features that would have been seen as a threat to the civic order and state organisation of religion. M. Rauhala, ‘Danger and Delusion’ (2013), 289-306. 70 E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 164-70.



instruments,71 as signs that a Christian musical cosmos can be imitated and bodily attuned to.72 She even takes the writings of Clement of Alexandria in his Paedagogus, to signify a mimetic act. There the bodies of the Christians are tuned like musical instruments to a new kind of song and praise of God73 as much as the whole community of Christians is encouraged to imitate the eternal liturgy of dancing angels.74 To the view of an angelic chorus, she also adds Basil of Caesarea’s writing in Epistola 2.75 For Tronca the connections between Platonic and Christian views on Choreia, Schema, Infamia and Harmonia create for both this life and the life to come, models of harmony. She leaves it open how accepted an idea of dancing with angels in the here and now may have been, as this image might mainly pertained to the afterlife.76 At the same time, the above mentioned concepts created boundaries for how to discipline individual religious behaviours and the social order of the emerging Church. Arguably restricting most forms of spontaneous and eruptive movements to which certain forms of dancing surely pertained. This is how, Tronca sees that the writings and practices of the Greek period were translated and transformed into new Christian patterns of action and behaviour, sustaining particularly the idea of a heavenly choreia worth imitating. As much as I am sympathetic to Tronca’s reasoning, I also have some objections. To these, I will now turn. Christian Spiritual Formation My core objection to Troncas narrative is the way she constructs her arguments without much consideration to the differences there might be between 71 She explicitly brings forth Origen, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo and Cassiodorus (485-585), based on the work of Laurence Wuidar, L’uomo musicale nell’antico cristianesimo. Storia di una metafora tra Oriente e Occidente (Brussels, Rome, 2016). 72 This is also discussed in E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 170-84. 73 Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 74 Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 75 ‘Therefore, choose a place such as ours, removed from association with men, so that nothing from the outside will interrupt the constant practices of the ascetic life. A life of piety nourishes the soul with divine thoughts. What, then, is more blessed than to imitate on earth the choirs of angels; hastening at break of day to pray, to glorify the Creator with hymns and songs, and, when the sun is brightly shining and we turn to our tasks, to accompany them everywhere with prayer, seasoning the daily work with hymns, as food with salt? For, the inspirations of the sacred songs give rise to a joyousness that is without grief’. Basil of Caesarea, Epistola 2, translation is from Basil, Letters (1-185) in The Fathers of the Church: a New Translation Series, ed. Roy J. Deferrari and Agnes Clare Way (Chicago, 1951), 7. 76 The image of dancing angels is shared by both Jewish and Christian writers, while in the Platonic depictions the muses worshipped in dance and song. E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 146-7, 168-9; D. Tronca ‘Dancing in Ancient Christianity’ (2017), 433.

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources


the types of texts she is dealing with. When Clement of Alexandria in Paedagogus, which is an educational treaties, speaks about dancing, I would argue, he addresses very different things then when he speaks about dance in relationship to prayer in for example Stromata.77 My suggestion is thus, to both deepen and complexify Tronca’s discussions on dance by placing them within a narrative of Christian Spiritual Formation. I have found that the way Sarah Coakley in her The New Asceticism – Sexuality, Gender and the quest for God (2015) speaks about the tightly knit relationship between ascetical practices and formation of beliefs, could be helpful for understanding the different roles dancing and speaking about dance, seems to historically have had in a Christian tradition. Coakley brings up the three classical distinctions between different kinds of ascetic practices: purgative, illuminative and unitive ways.78 In the following, I will have room to deal with dancing only in relation to the purgative and illuminative ways, leaving the unitive for later work.79 Coakley explains, that each practice relates to three different levels of spiritual engagement.80 In short, at the first level, that of purgation, much emphasis is put on setting one’s life in a direction different from that of the ‘world’. In the case of the Early Church, this almost always meant, to engage in practices that are largely oppositional to the pagan world that surrounded them. Coakley reminds her readers that these practices remain somewhat legalistically construed.81 In her example, Coakley brings forth Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogos as an almost perfect writing on purgative practice.82 He goes into extreme details about how to dress, what kind of jewellery to wear, what to eat and how to behave in public space. As we already saw in Troncas examples, Clement of Alexandria also speaks about dance in these passages. Tronca explains that Clement is not only providing simple rules about etiquette. He is describing norms for a harmonious life and the conduct of good schemata.83 The scenery is a banquet and Clement is very clear about the fact that participating at drunken parties, indulging in unrestrained sexuality and frenetically worshipping other gods, is not the place to be, for somebody who wants to call themselves followers of Christ.84 Tronca 77

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.7. See also D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). S. Coakley, The New Asceticism (2015), 104. 79 As the unitive ascetic practices deal with contemplation and ecstasy they will need a different paradigm of interpretation then what I have room to display here. 80 Ibid. 81 Ibid. 111. 82 Ibid. 112. 83 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). 84 ‘… let love, and intoxication, and senseless passions, be removed from our choir. Burlesque singing is the boon companion of drunkenness. A night spent over drink invites drunkenness, rouses lust, and is audacious in deeds of shame. For if people occupy their time with pipes, and psalteries, and choirs, and dances, and Egyptian clapping of hands, and such disorderly frivolities, they become quite immodest and intractable, beat on cymbals and drums, and make a noise on 78



picks up an important detail in this passage. It is not stated that plain dancing is problematic, but instead, there is attributed a negative definition to the dance85; it is part of a theatre of drunkenness, disorderly frivolities and instruments of delusion.86 Just like Ruth Webb has pointed out, the underlying challenge for Christians considering to participate in these banquets is that they are aroused to a way of life, that is an illusion, as well as lured into actions that will shape their person.87 Thus, it becomes important to note, that contrasting this kind of choir, Clement of Alexandria also describes a different community. At an appropriate banquet, other patterns of movement and interaction are brought forth. To illustrate the Christian alternative he quotes from a psalm of David where we are encouraged to sing and dance to the glory of God, filled with the Spirit.88 At first, Clement of Alexandria gives a ‘spiritual’ interpretation of how to understand the words of David. In that passage, the dancing described stays on a symbolic level. Yet, at a later point, the text moves more into a mode of description of a new kind of feast, rather than interpretations of a biblical passage.89 As I read this text with the lens of someone who is instructing newly converted members of the Church and assisting them in implementing purgative practices, the nuances become even more distinct. On the one hand, there is a sense of revelry and joyfulness, which can be sensed in the Church and instruments of delusion; for plainly such a banquet, as seems to me, is a theatre of drunkenness. For the apostle decrees that, putting off the works of darkness, we should put on the armour of light, walking honestly as in the day, not spending our time in rioting and drunkenness, in chambering and wantonness’, Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2, 4. 85 D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). 86 Furthermore, as Maijastina Kahlos has pointed out this dancing is also not part of nocturnal or hidden practices that characterised mystery cults, which would have been another way to differentiate a negative practice from a non-harmful one. M. Kahlos, ‘Nocturnal Rituals as an Othering Device: The Long Life of Fears and Labels in Ancient Polemic and Legislation’, in Others (2013), 331-7. 87 R. Webb, Demons and Dancers (2008), 6-7, 197-201. 88 ‘The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings, Praise Him with the sound of trumpet; for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead. Praise Him on the psaltery; for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. And praise Him on the lyre. By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. Praise with the timbrel and the dance, refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin. Praise Him on the chords and organ. Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices. Praise Him on the clashing cymbals. He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips. Therefore He cried to humanity, Let every breath praise the Lord, because He cares for every breathing thing which He has made’. Emphasis is mine. Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2, 4. 89 ‘… let amatory songs be banished far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. Let them praise, it is said, His name in the dance, and let them play to Him on the timbrel and psaltery. And what is the choir which plays? The Spirit will show you: Let His praise be in the congregation (church) of the saints; let them be joyful in their King. And again he adds, The Lord will take pleasure in His people’. Emphasis is mine. Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2, 4.

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources


Christian communities – sometimes including even dances (as is the case at the feasts of martyrs) – and at the same time, this exuberance needs to be distinguished, from mere drunken parties. Particularly, in Book 1, when Clement of Alexandria speaks about the relationship between worshipping foreign gods with dances and the immodest behaviour of those people, he runs into a similar pattern of distinctions. While he condemns the former, he also holds up the attitude of a child that is willing to be taught and imitate their master in dance and play, as prophetic examples of how the Kingdom life is to be lived.90 What I hear him grappling with, in these passages, is how to include the mysteries of the Spirit in motion within a Christian community, at the same time as he knows that these believers do not have the practice needed to gain clear discernment between euphoric states created by drunkenness from the experience of Joy in the Spirit. Coakley further explains that one of the hallmarks of the purgative practices is how they treat sexual desires and the role of women. The initial delineation of non-Christian practices allows no unexpected forms of gender reversal; indeed it is best for men altogether to ‘turn away from the sight of women’.91 This is also sensed in the instructions of Clement of Alexandria. He makes clear that effeminate modes of singing are inappropriate92 and he warns his audience of the women that try to seduce men by sensual dancing.93 Coakley concludes the description of this level of practices with stating: ‘Sexual desire must be carefully managed according to exacting new patterns of self-control’.94 Why this is so, has to do exactly with the power of the Holy Spirit which moves through and with our desires.95 Making it even more interesting then, that dancing all together is not banned completely in Clement of Alexandria’s writing. Rather, the role of the Holy Spirit as that which creates proper praise in us, is emphasised within the writing of several Church Fathers.96 In conclusion. What the narrative of the purgative practices bring forth, is that at a certain point of one’s journey towards God, a Christian might need to take a distance from, or completely expel those kinds of practices that draw her away from the new life and back into destruction. Where I differ from Troncas depictions, is in the fact that I do not think the purgative practices define the whole journey of a Christians life. Meaning that just because Clement 90

Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 1, 5, 7. S. Coakley, The New Asceticism (2015), 113-4. 92 ‘For temperate harmonies are to be admitted; but we are to banish as far as possible from our robust mind those liquid harmonies, which, through pernicious arts in the modulations of tones, train to effeminacy and scurrility’. Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2, 4. 93 Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 3. 94 S. Coakley, The New Asceticism (2015), 114. 95 Coakley’s whole thesis is well concluded in S. Coakley, God, Sexuality and the Self (2013), 340-4. 96 E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 169-70. 91



of Alexandria discourages his audience from part-taking in un-harmonious acts, this does not always mean that he or she will never be able to dance in that way again. Rather, new converts need their body and soul – as in the ‘early education’ of Plato – to be re-trained with another kind of movement patterns. At a later time or under other circumstances, what is understood as the appropriate schemata of a follower of Christ, might change. Just like mousike is a proper way to educate young Christians in their faith through mimesis of singing of Psalms97 I am suggesting, that very harmonious movement patterns might have been accepted as a form of praise, even at the purgative level of formation. Where I further differ with Tronca, is in the detail, that when we read the texts of Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata, these depictions are already part of a more ‘advanced’ level of education. When he is here describing how we are to take part in the choreia, we have already arrived at the illuminative practices.98 Dancing as a practice of Virtue Formation Coakley explains that the second level of illuminative practices is the level at which practices start to shape or reshape belief.99 What is asked for are more repetitive, every-day tasks and simple actions – habits – that might feel like they do not make any difference at all. The examples given are in line with attending to daily prayers even when a personal fervent spirit of prayer is not there or deciding to host guests and give them ones full attention and presence, even when the task-list is making itself heard. Coakley takes help from the Benedictine Rule to explain how bodily acts of worship and attention, even if the mind is distracted, have their integrity and effect – over the haul of a lifetime. It is through endurance in community living that the ‘heart’ comes to be ‘enlarged’ with unspeakable sweetness of love.100 My suggestion is that this is the context in which we might better understand also the earlier writings of Basil of Caesarea, where he joins a constant life of ascetic practices with an 97

Carol Harrison writes about the Inscriptions on the Psalms by Gregory of Nyssa: ‘It is this order which the Psalter follows, since the aim of the Spirit ‘is not to teach us mere history, but to form our souls in accordance with God through virtue’. In the process, the Spirit operates like the ultimate arranger or improviser, choosing whatever tools are necessary and appropriate, not in order to follow a historical sequence, but rather to hallow out the soul in virtue and form the divine image in it’. C. Harrison, The Art of Listening in the Early Church (Oxford, 2013), 266. 98 Tronca writes: Clement invited men to live their lives as an eternal liturgy, a holy panegyris celebrating the solemnity that the true Gnostic – therefore the perfect Christian – should honour every day and at every moment of his life in order to be part of the divine choreia and imitate the angels in everything. D. Tronca, Spectacula turpitudinum (2019). Referring to Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7, 7.49.3-5. 99 S. Coakley, The New Asceticism (2015), 111-2. 100 Ibid. 116.

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources


imitation of angelic choirs. In Ferguson’s theological interpretations of music, the role and ability to be present in worship is also brought forth. He states that particularly Gregory of Nyssa101 and Basil of Caesarea102 make a point about how music can aid the practice of prayer by both a sense of pleasure as well as in the ability to be formed in the likeness of the harmonious community of worshippers in heaven and on earth.103 The interesting question is, that if such encouragement towards harmonious participation in community worship contained elements of dance or rhythmical movements, what significance may such actions have had? The example I have chosen to illustrate a possible scenario of worship containing dance comes from Gregory Nazianzus. The connection I want to make is between liturgical communal worship as ongoing illuminative practices in the life of a Christian. Nazianzus is known for claiming a role for poetry, not only rhetoric, as an ascetic illuminative practice. Suzanne Abraham Rebillard further explains that his orations functioned as transformational tools as they engaged the person both physically and spiritually.104 Verna Nonna Harrison writes in Festal Orations – Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (2008) that the Oratio on the Nativity of Christ may be one of the earliest recordings we have of the Christian community celebrating what later was to be known as Christmas.105 This was the first kind of celebrations that Christians would have around the theme of Incarnation. To understand the importance of the liturgical celebration we need to understand what Verna calls anamnesis. She explains: Anamnesis means re-presentation of God’s saving works so that the worshipers can participate in these events as present realities and thereby receive the eschatological salvation, new life and sanctification divinely accomplished through them. Anamnesis thus unites past, present and future in a single present event of worship.106

So when Christians participate in the liturgical celebration of communal events and follow these patterns in their own lives, they walk on established paths that lead to God’s eternal kingdom.107 To keep the feasts authentically is to incorporate the saving events into one’s core identity and way of life. Contrary to the mimetic character of singing and dancing in praise described so far as carrying the ability of character formation, anamnesis is nothing that just 101

Gregory of Nyssa, In Inscriptiones Psalmorum 1.3. Basil of Caesarea, Comm. Psalmorum pref. (PG 29, 213C). 103 E. Ferguson, The Early Church (2017), 172-8. 104 Suzanne Abraham Rebillard, ‘Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poetic Ascetic Aesthetics’, in Georgia Frank, Susan Holman and Andrew Jacobs (eds), The Garb of Being: Embodiment and the Pursuit of Holiness in Late Ancient Christianity (New York, 2020), 234-62, 235. 105 Verna Nonna Harrison, Festal Orations – Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (New York, 2008), 18-21. 106 Ibid. 24-5. 107 Ibid. 25. 102



happens ‘automatically’ upon entry into a worship service. Instead, humans are always given the free will to choose if they want to participate or not. Harrison reminds us that the feast is a place of mutual encounter. It is an interchange of gifts between God and his people in which God always gives himself first.108 Receiving the gift of God will transform the participant, yet there is more of a reciprocal relationship present in this interaction between God and his people. In the sermon of Gregory Nazianzus, he gives his listeners the scenery of the Nativity, as a gift-space, open to us for voluntary entrance. He explains who are there – sets the stage – and shows how each person has their own way of responding to the gift. In the celebration of the Incarnation, it is not only Nazianzus and his congregation that are present. The festal anamnesis is also a meeting-place of the past and present, as well as including angels, encompassing the whole cosmos, and uniting heaven and earth. The festal worshipers share in this unity, which anticipates the eschaton.109 Within this repetitive re-enactment, Nazianzus encourages the church as a community to: Run after the star, and bring gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance. Let there be a common celebration of the heavenly and earthly powers.110

What we see in this passage, is that just like in the depictions of Philo, giving glory, singing and dancing are one integral whole in how celebrating the God of Creation is done. Furthermore, Nazianzus encourages his congregation into the understanding that the feast of the Nativity is such, that during that celebration the heavenly and earthly spheres interlink and feast is conducted on earth as in heaven. In another passage Nazianzus repeats this same pattern of heaven and earth in celebration, stating in a very active form that he, as the leader of the congregation together with the people, ran with the star, worshipped with the magi and gave glory with the angels.111 Indicating, that he is not only presenting a metaphorical reading but an actual practice which was repeated yearly. Thus bringing the community into deeper layers of receptive interaction. It is during the long haul of a lifetime, that these liturgical community celebrations will turn into illuminative practices that reshape the life of those who participate in them. Furthermore, Harrison also brings up the mimetic character of the feast, where she argues that it was a common practice that the members of the community would ‘re-represent, imitate and share in the praise’112 of all of the characters 108

Ibid. 27. Ibid. 28. 110 Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 38.17. The translation is from V.N. Harrison, Festal Orations (2008), 76. 111 Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 39.14. 112 V.N. Harrison, Festal Orations (2008), 29. 109

Dance in the Early Church – Re-visiting the Sources


in the story. Interestingly, this practice is taken even further than the festal celebrations themselves. The community is encouraged to mimetically participate in the lives of biblical heroes, martyrs, holy men and women, also as a daily spiritual practice. Harrison explains that once the connections are made in the context of the liturgy, the faithful can through further mimetic activity continue to keep the feast and the communion with God, though-out their daily lives. In this manner, each member is more and more deeply woven into the story of salvation history.113 Nazianzus especially encourages his community in the everyday imitation of virtues. Even though Christ and his life is the main character and pattern for a Christian to imitate, also other persons from the bible become representatives of certain virtues.114 Contrary to Tronca’s depiction of a quite rigorous schemata kala, where any action outside of the harmonious patterns of movement was seen as problematic, Harrison’s description is much more generous. What a Christ-centred way of interpreting the biblical stories makes possible, is for the ‘heroes’ we are to imitate, to start as distorted bodies, like those of lepers, haemorrhaging woman and the paralytics.115 Harrison states that all of the Cappadocians encourage their community to choose any one of the – also not fully perfected – saints of faithful Abraham, hospitable Rahab, meek Moses or zealous Phineas, as guides on this earthly journey. Nazianzus further provides lists of virtues combined with exemplary persons and actions and invites his hearers to choose the ones that fit their character and circumstances.116 Harrison explains: These lists map the diverse paths that lead to the eternal kingdom and show how the spiritual journey brings very different people together by leading them to the same goal in Christ.117

As the patterns of mimesis and virtue formation are both more individual and much more diversified, once a Christian enters the level of illuminative practices, this also creates room for Christian imitation taking on the practices of dance. From the biblical stories, one can find the possibility to imitate John leaping in the womb of Elisabeth, David jumping around in unfashionable ways as well as following the lead of warrior women like Judith, in their procession of dance. There are further the depictions alluded to often, by Church Fathers, on encouragements to dance like Mirjam or David.118 These movements are not always harmonious, in the Platonic sense, as the inspiration of the Spirit actually may lead the worshipper and imitator into a completely New Song. 113 114 115 116 117 118

Ibid. 29-30. Ibid. 34-6. Ibid. 48. Referring to Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 40.43. V.N. Harrison, Festal Orations (2008), 30-1. Ibid. 31. Ambrose De paenitentia Book II; De virginibus Book I.



Coakley further tells us that at the second level of ascetical practices we are not restricted anymore by the gender stereotypes that were present among the practices at the first level. Instead there is a rather deliberately counter-cultural stress on humility and almost no focus on gender. This is one of the reasons why I have been suggesting that the festal Oratio’s and daily spiritual mimetic practices should be read as illuminative. Nazianzus, who knows his congregation well is not focusing on what women should do or men should not, but instead, even in the presence of socially and politically influential people he speaks against luxury and encourages all to participate with both their money and power in the preparations of Christmas meekness.119 Finally, it is in this context I am suggesting that one should read Clement of Alexandria’s writings in Stromata. When he there speaks about formation, it is on the deeper level of the person. He states that when you still are dumb, blind or unmusical, you need to stand outside of the worshipping community. It is only after an initial transformation has happened, that we are invited into the divine choir.120 In combination with my earlier remarks on how prayer practices for the Cappadocian fathers are seated in the body, I identify in these passages a possibility to understand the imitation of angels, saints and biblical heroes in their dance-like movements as an ascetical formation practice which allowed for a broader spectrum of praise then earlier recognised in theological discussions on the importance of mousike. Furthermore, I have argued that rowdy forms of dancing and participation in drunken parties never was encouraged by writers in the Early Church. Yet, we need to differentiate those kinds of dances from the possibility of harmoniously oriented dances that could have been allowed, even encouraged, during specific festal celebrations and with the intention to imitate the praise of past followers of God in the biblical stories. In the liturgical window opened between mimesis and anamnesis, there is room for a celebration and glorious praise of the Creator which needs much further exploration within the text of the writers of the Early Church. After such explorations we may even find a path where certain individuals in their unitive practices are found to be dancing towards Divine Darkness.

119 120

V.N. Harrison, Festal Orations (2008), 34-5. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.4.

Rethinking the Disciplina Arcani John WHITTY, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

ABSTRACT Since the coining of the term by Jean Daillé, scholarship has tended to employ disciplina arcani – the rule of secrecy – as a taxonomical term under which any appeals to secrecy in patristic literature might be placed. In this article, I would like to reassess the utility of such a term based on two main lines of reasoning: First, the concealment of doctrine and practice was an extremely common theme in religion in Late Antiquity rather than a uniquely Christian phenomenon, a fact that is often obfuscated through the use of disciplina-taxonomising. Secondly, I wish to argue that within the immediate context of Late Antique Christianity, invoking disciplina arcani tends to have the effect of harmonising numerous variations on in a way that minimises the idiosyncrasies of both their contents and expression. Based on these two approaches, I wish to argue that the disciplina arcani is in many ways a misleading term, the usage of which must be reassessed for the sake of good historical practice.

Disciplina Arcani The term Disciplina Arcani, ostensibly coined by Jean Daillé in the seventeenth century, describes the tendency of early Christian writers to consider the mysteries of the Christian religion as necessitating secrecy, so that only those initiated into the church – or at least in the final stages of initiation – were made aware of their meaning. Beyond this, the literature begins to disagree. For much of modern history, the disciplina was more a talking point between Catholics and Protestants, argued over mostly so each side might consolidate their claim to a patristic pedigree.1 The twentieth century is no exception: R.P.C. Hanson’s enmity towards doctrines of non-scriptural tradition and secret wisdom – especially in the thought of Basil of Caesarea – was a position quite symptomatic of this earlier point of tension in Protestant-Catholic dialogue, and it is apt his most vigorous respondent on the issue was the sometime Benedictine monk turned Anglican Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta. The disciplina’s polemical history as a denominational talking-point should set alarm bells ringing: regardless of their theological acuity, one must recognise the deeply confessional contexts of these works and thus take them with several pinches of salt. 1 An excellent discussion of this phenomenon exists in Christoph Jakob, ‘ArkanDisziplin’, Allegorese, Mystagogie (Frankfurt, 1990), 45-54.

Studia Patristica CIV, 85-91. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



The trend they identify, however, is undeniably present within the literature – church fathers as early as the author of the Didache suggest there to be aspects of Christian ritual hidden from the world, and by the third century, authors such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen all advocated for the concealment of some practices and doctrines from those uninitiated into the church.2 Such ideas were commonplace – by the fourth and early fifth centuries, one could find the same zeal for concealment in Milan as one could in far-flung Cappadocia, and we have arguments to such an effect from the theologians that inhabited these lands and those in between. For these individuals, it was selfevident that certain matters were to be concealed from the uninitiated, and in some cases, even from those Christians considered as yet unperfected. The remit of the disciplina is, it seems, something of a scholarly consensus: nearly all secondary literature on the topic considers it to be first and foremost a matter of protecting the sanctity of holy ritual.3 This is, however, a matter of further taxonomy based on the distinction between disciplina and a doctrine of reserve, the former being broadly concerning the concealment of liturgy and the latter of doctrine or ‘higher’ readings of scripture: I would however question this consensus, as both are irreducibly contextual and founded upon the assumption that both strands are worth concealing by virtue of their status as mysteries. The suggested dates of inception for such a commitment to secrecy are more variegated, ranging from the second century to the early fourth, this itself resulting in a number of different motivations proffered.4 For my part, I would suggest such efforts to be problematic for two reasons: first, these attitudes likely varied just as much based on locale as they did the convictions of the bishop of the time, and that secrecy was such a central part of early Christianity’s philosophical and religious milieux that its uptake was inevitable. Classical Context When it comes to the classical context, Christianity’s attitude towards concealment is a particularly salient example of its wider status – most astutely observed by Nock and Hadot – as something of a syncretism of the ancient 2 See e.g. Didache 8; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5, 8-9; Origen, Contra Celsum 1,7; On First Principles Preface, 3. 3 See e.g. Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta, The “Unwritten” and “Secret” Apostolic Traditions in the Theological Thought of Basil of Caesarea, Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers 13 (London, 1965); Guy Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (Leiden, 2005), 29; R.P.C. Hanson, ‘Basil’s Doctrine of Tradition in Relation to the Holy Spirit’, Vigiliae Christianae 21 (1967), 241-55, 250; Pierre Battifol, La Discipline de l’Arcane (Paris, 1920); id., Études d’histoire et théologie positive (Paris, 1904). 4 See n. 3: all of these writers suggest different dates between the second and fourth centuries.

Rethinking the Disciplina Arcani


conceptions of pistis and philosophia: indeed, the latter was an intellectual tradition most Christian theologians of late antiquity considered themselves to be conversant with or contributors to.5 It is a well-established fact that philosophical schools restricted the knowledge of certain texts, and this reservist approach was intrinsic to their philosophical and pedagogic systems: such an attitude is shared by the author of the seventh letter the ancient world thought to be Plato’s, and in such a spirit – notes Porphyry – was a pact formed between the students of Ammonius Saccas to not consign to writing the things he had taught them.6 Similar motivations appear to have been behind the concealment of the ainigmata that underpinned the akousmata of the Pythagoreans, especially Androcydes if Walter Burkert is to be believed.7 Christians – especially those of an Alexandrian bent – were astutely aware of this: Clement of Alexandria notes many philosophical schools that kept such practices, adding to the above list the Stoics – whom he notes had done so since the first Zeno – the Epicureans, and the Aristotelians, whom he claims viewed some texts to be exoteric and others esoteric and private.8 Origen refutes Celsus’ suggestion that the secrecy in which Christians shroud their mysteries was either new or devious, pointing to an ostensible Pythagorean tradition of reserve dating back to the man himself whilst simultaneously observing that Celsus appears only to have access to the exoteric truths of Christianity – such as the major milestones of the life of Christ – and not the mysteries of the faith, which evidently remained alien to him.9 Origen is always coy about the extent to which he utilises schema and pedagogical tools that have their origins in the educational style of his philosophical forebears and contemporaries – Clement conversely being more than willing to share his working – but Christianity’s philosophical inheritances in the realms of pedagogy and intellectual initiation are visible and substantial. It must also be remembered that Early Christianity was not a faith consisting purely of bearded contemplatives establishing the meaning of Scripture: on 5 A.D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford, 1933), 166. For his evaluation of what a pagan might think of Christianity, see ibid. 212-53, esp. 218-20; Pierre Hadot, Exercises spirituels et philosophie antique (Paris, 1981). A Festschrift to Hadot on this matter has also been compiled: Michael Chase, Stephen Clarke and Michael McGhee (eds), Philosophy as a Way of Life, Ancients and Moderns: Essays in Honour of Pierre Hadot (Oxford, 2013). Studies that consider the philosophical style of early Christian theologians are too numerous to reproduce here – they are one of the most common fruits of modern patristic scholarship. 6 See Plato (sp.), Seventh Letter 341 c; 344 c-d. See also Porphyry, Life of Plotinus 3. 7 Walter Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism (Nurnberg, 1962), 174. Such attitudes are also relayed by Iamblichus in On the Pythagorean Life 144. For a more recent evaluation of the akousmata see Leonid Zhmud, Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans (Oxford, 2012), 151, though I would suggest his skepticism towards the enigmatic nature of the akousmata is – though admirable – more Pyrrhonic than Pythagorean, as it were. 8 Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5,9. 9 Origen, Contra Celsum 1,7.



occasion, they would even attend church! Though the major concern among the hierarchy of the church remained right belief, texts such as the Didache and On the Apostolic Tradition remind us that Christianity was always a faith comprised of practice as much as doctrine, centralising ritual in Christian life and outlining the right way in which it should be performed, demonstrating beyond doubt that from the very first centuries there was also an interest in ensuring orthopraxy. One would, therefore, be equally remiss to ignore the practices of the so-called mystery cults: the secrecy in which the rites of so many of these sects are shrouded to this very day is indicative enough of their preoccupation with concealment. The initiates – the mystai – of the cult of Demeter at Eleusis are thought to have been lead into their first encounter with the mysteries blindfolded, and were – such as when an ear of corn was cut in silence – veiled at times during their initiation. When writers spoke of the mysteries in which they were initiates, it was through echo and allusion. According to a fragment relayed to us via Dio Chrysostom – Aristotle suggested the cultic focus was not mathein – to learn – but pathein – to feel.10 In the case of the Eleusinian mysteries, this was likely through ritual that would symbolise a group meditation on the agony of Demeter as her daughter languished in the underworld, those present drinking from the kykeon (a goblet of spiced wine) shouting hye! and kye! (Rain! and Conceive!), sharing in the suffering of Demeter while contemplating with her the process of reseeding the earth and sharing in the fruits of that labour.11 With the Mithraic cult, there was always a depiction of Mithras’ killing of the bull present in the form of the tauroctony and in Magna Mater, a taurobolium was common fare, though – as Neil Mclynn has pointed out – a priest likely did not stand under a grate to saturate his robes with the bull’s blood.12 Christians generally repudiated any connection with the mysteries, preferring to see them as vile perversions of their own practices, but one cannot think of the intricate imagery of baptism and the Eucharist and not view it as rife with symbolism: the fathers certainly perceived these symbols, and indeed revelled in their profundity and power. When it comes to Christian doctrines of secrecy, this reluctance to associate with the mystery-cults leads to an outward rejection of influence that is not corroborated by the evidence. Even if only by a shared antique context eliciting similar concerns, their shared concerns betray the fact that Early Christianity held similar opinions to other cults on the sanctity and surreptitiousness of key rituals. This is – of course – not to say that Christian expressions did not reflect the idiosyncrasies of their worldview: the restriction of texts one would find in a philosophical school was viewed as inapplicable to the Christian scriptures: if 10 See Aristotle, Fragment 15 in V. Rose, Aristotelis qui Ferebantur Librorum Fragmenta (Leipzig, 1886), 31. 11 Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Cambridge, MA, 1985), 285-90. 12 See Neil McLynn, ‘The Fourth-Century “Taurobolium”’, Phoenix 50 (1996), 312-30.

Rethinking the Disciplina Arcani


you were baptised, they were open to you. Origen was happy enough to scrutinize the Song of Songs in the presence of his simpliciores, and Cyril of Jerusalem even signals in his Procatechesis that his photizomenoi – those undergoing the final stages of catechetical instruction – will have heard many scriptures before their catechesis, though their meanings were veiled.13 Similarly, the comparatively high theologies of ritual Christians held meant that the mathein-pathein distinction is not applicable: rite also held profound knowledge just beneath the surface, as Basil of Caesarea so clearly proved in his discernment of the homotimia of the Spirit from his doxology, or his assessment that standing on Sundays for prayer was a metaphor for our resurrection with Christ at the eschaton.14 One can put this rather unique expression of concealment of both text and rite down to the varied and nebulous definitions Christian theologians assigned to the objects of their secretion – the mysteria. Creeds and Other Oddities That Christians considered mysteries to be rightly concealed is beyond debate. Tertullian and Basil, though nearly two centuries apart and disparate on so many theological issues, were united in their uncomplicated attitude towards the nature of a mystery: their very nature required their concealment, for if they became popular knowledge, their value would be degraded and many would, confused by their truth, dismiss them as utter drivel.15 There was, therefore, a clear need to establish preparation for the reception of a truth or rite considered a mystery. No wider-ranging and ubiquitous set of hidden things, just an idea of what was exoteric and what was by necessity de re esoteric. In ascertaining the remit of what might be considered a mystery, it is in creeds we find the most diversity: Juliette Day – at this very conference two decades ago in fact – has amply demonstrated the variation in fourth-century liturgical doctrines of concealment, but the doctrines contained in creeds are of particular relevance to discerning what a writer considers to be a mystery.16 Cyril of Jerusalem keeps his entirely secret, commanding his listeners to ‘inscribe it upon your hearts’ rather than risk its dissemination by writing it down.17 Athanasius publishes the Nicene Creed openly in De Decretis, but elsewhere attacks the Meletians for ‘parading’ other mysteries – the content of which are 13

Origen, Preface to the Commentary on the Song of Songs 4; First Homily on the Song of Songs 3. Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis 12. 14 Such is the thrust of the latter half of Basil’s celebrated treatise On the Holy Spirit. For the latter claim made, see On the Holy Spirit 27,66. 15 See Tertullian, Apologeticus 7,6; Basil, On the Holy Spirit 27,66. 16 Juliet Day, ‘Adherence to the Disciplina Arcani in the Fourth Century’, SP 38 (2001), 26670. 17 Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 5,12.



intimated to be ritualistic in nature – before catechumens and even Greeks.18 To Athanasius, therefore, the mysteries did not include the same kinds of profound Christian Trinitarian doctrine so carefully concealed by Cyril. Other authors also are happy to publish the creed openly: Basil does so in his Ep. 125, and Epiphanius does the same. In the case of Eusebius, it might be argued that he was comfortable transmitting the creed to his church because his church would be made up of initiated members, but in the case of Athanasius, Basil and Epiphanius, they have no real qualms about freely declaring the creed that contained doctrines others thought should remain very much in the church and not on the street. Nor was Cyril alone in believing creeds should be concealed. Both Ambrose and Jerome are far more reluctant to allow the creed to be taught to anyone other than those sufficiently advanced in Catechesis, and Gregory Nazianzen is hesitant to discuss the contents of the baptismal liturgy (which included a confessional Trinitarian creed) with anyone who was not in the final stages of Catechesis or already an initiate.19 The other Cappadocian Gregory, however – again as observed by Day – uses his On the Baptism of Christ to discuss ritual and creedal significances with Baptised and unbaptised alike.20 In Non-Nicene Christianities, any notable tradition of secrecy is difficult to ascertain. One can assume the creed with which Eunomius prefaces his argument in the Apology was not to be concealed, it being a patchwork of Pauline texts. Similarly, since our major contemporary source for the creeds of Antioch, Sirmium and Constantinople is Athanasius, it is difficult to perceive if these were to be treated with any kind of confidentiality: I have found it very difficult indeed to find any information about their liturgical or confessional uptake in non-Nicene churches. Basil of Ancyra in his On the Faith makes no observations of secrecy concerning the creeds in which he was involved: to him they are just the application of the decisions made at the 268 Synod of Antioch. In later years, when the status of Nicaea was more concrete, church historians refused to disclose the Nicene creed in the pages of their works, fearing such an act tantamount to profanation.21 In this period of colossal change it should be of no surprise that a doctrine so disagreed upon would also elicit differences on the question of its esotericism, but this is very much a problem for any unitive theory such as the disciplina arcani: any attempt to stamp a church in conflict with a practical or pedagogical uniformity is one doomed to fail. If nothing else, this attitude to documents that expound God as Trinity is probably the best indication of the variety that existed in Christian doctrines of concealment. Even among those who did not accept the creed of Nicaea, similar 18

Athanasius, De Decretis; Apology Against the Arians 1,11. See Gregory Nazianzen, On Baptism. In particular, see On Baptism 40-2. 20 See Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ. See also J. Day, ‘Adherence to the Disciplina Arcani’ (2001), 267. 21 See e.g. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History 1.20.3. 19

Rethinking the Disciplina Arcani


creeds that confessed belief in Father, Son and sometimes Spirit took the same role in the baptismal liturgy – these homologiai, or confessions, were often themselves localised and frequently concealed by their corresponding ecclesiastical institutions. Creedal confessions were widespread if not ubiquitous even before Nicaea came to be an actual hallmark of faith, and so the lack of universal acclaim to their mystery-status effectively demonstrates that concealment doctrines were not a universal rule, but rather a number of different interpretations of the same maxim. We therefore come to the crux – if one will pardon the pun – of Christian variations in the confidentiality of confessions of faith: the practice of Christianity itself was so dependent on region – and even specific bishops – that it is problematic to see the body of Christian mysteria as in any way monolithic. That, therefore, great diversity existed within Christianity – and the ancient world as a whole – over the nature of the mysteries and the content of what must be concealed cannot be ignored. Yet, I would contend that is exactly what we do when we cling to an aphorism such as disciplina arcani unless we radically alter its definition to be better reflective of the truth. In continuing to assert the existence of a ubiquitous commitment to the concealment of ritual where none existed and where the truth was much more varied and fascinating, we hold onto an idea as antiquated as it is biased and fail in our tasks as historians. It is therefore my view that we must redefine the term disciplina arcani to mean a trend in late antiquity towards the concealment of things considered profound or subject to misinterpretation by the masses, in which Christianity was but one of many movements such attitudes could be found – understanding Christian permutations in their proper, wider, context: after all, Christianity was a late antique religion and should be perceived as such.

The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World: Cruciform and Thingness in Christian Apologetics Robert BUTTON, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

ABSTRACT Early Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr, Minucius Felix, Tertullian and others, observed the presence of the cruciform in the fabric of the natural and cultural world around them, identifying the form of the cross in, for example, ships masts, masons’ tools, farmers’ ploughs, military victory trophies and banners, and in the human form itself and the features of the human face. On one level these associations might be seen as merely artful features of apologetic strategy, but this article will suggest that they have a broader significance, witnessing to a kind of material cruciform hermeneutic, which re-conceives familiar and everyday forms and things in the light of the cross of Christ. The observation of the form of the cross in the natural and cultural world suggests the possibility of the cruciform as a pure-form and sign, something thus recognisable in diverse and seemingly unintended examples. But it also emphasises thingness itself, directing attention to the presence of this form in the material realm of things and bodies, encouraging a re-orientation to the familiar. Drawing on the renewed emphasis on form, materiality and embodiment typical of ‘material religion’, this article will explore how arguments within the apologetic tradition, especially Justin Martyr, involve a figuration of the cross, reflecting a faith which is itself materially constituted and characteristically embodied. Reading apologetic writings on the cross in the light of the concerns of material religion, this paper seeks to encourage fresh appreciation of the sign of the cross in early Christian discourse.

Introduction And having urged you on, to the extent that we can, by word and by the pattern of what is seen, we know that we are from now on without blame, even if you should not believe. For our duty is done and is accomplished. (Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 55.8)

Within normative Christianity, outside of the New Testament materials, we find a theological interest in the shape and form of the cross of Christ as early as The Epistle of Barnabas, probably composed sometime between 70 AD and the 130s.1 But it is in the Christian literature of the second and third centuries 1 See The Epistle of Barnabas, chapters 9 and 12, in Bart D. Ehrman (ed. and trans.), The Apostolic Fathers, vol. II, LCL (Cambridge, MA, London, 2014), 3-84; Bruce W. Longenecker, The

Studia Patristica CIV, 93-104. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



that interest in and theological speculation on the cruciform and on the cross as a sign perhaps really comes into its own. Within those Christian writers of the period usually referred to as ‘apologists’, an interest in how and in what ways the cross might be perceived as a shape or figure – what I refer to as the figuration of the cross – would become an integral feature of the justificatory articulation of Christian faith and practice and in sometimes surprising and perhaps novel ways. Quite rightly, we are used to thinking of Christian apologetics as involving a justificatory presentation and defence of Christianity in relation to the prevailing intellectual culture, notwithstanding the difficulties in classifying this body of literature or the appropriateness of such a classification in the first place.2 The apologetic literature of the second and third centuries is well known for an at once creative and critical engagement with, and recourse to, Greek philosophy, poetic literature and even to the practices and mythologies of pagan religion, although exactly how this is done tends to vary from author to author and, for example, the strategy of a Tertullian feels rather different to that of a Justin Martyr. But the apologetic project, if we can for heuristic purposes refer to it as such, also involved a recourse to the everyday material world of second and third century life, to material objects and instruments, to human cultural artefacts, as well as to the natural world as such. The apologists encouraged their audience to look around them and to perceive the ‘footprints of God’, as Henry Chadwick puts it, in the stuff of their cultural context, their ‘ordinary’ lives, to perceive a Divine significance and oversight in even the most mundane of everyday things and examples.3 This recourse to the cultural and natural world is especially pronounced in the case of the ‘scandal and folly’ of the crucifixion and the cross, a topic which, quite understandably, occupies a good deal of apologetic discourse.4 In addition to the identification of numerous ‘types’ of the cross and crucifixion in the Scriptures, the writings which would come to be known as the ‘Old Testament’, authors such as Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165), Minucius Felix (†ca. 250), Tertullian (ca. 160-220) and others, would observe the presence of the basic cruciform in the natural and cultural world around them and even in the human form and Cross Before Constantine: The Early Life of a Christian Symbol (Minneapolis, 2015), 62-4, 69-71. 2 On the ‘justificatory’ nature of Christian apologetics and the question of the definition and classification of apologetics as a category, see Frances Young, ‘Greek Apologists of the Second Century’, in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman and Simon Price (eds), Apologetics in the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews, and Christians (Oxford, New York, 1999), 81-104, and the other essays contained within this volume. 3 Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford, New York, 1984), 16-7. Chadwick relates this tendency to the broader theology of the ‘seminal logos’, but this connection is not something we can peruse in depth in this brief paper. 4 1Cor. 1:23.

The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World


the features of the face – what Justin describes as ‘the things which fall under the eye’.5 Examples include the masts and sail yards of ships, sail ladders, masons’ and craftsmen’s tools, and the standards, banners and trophies of Roman military culture and the imperial cult.6 The apologists found in the basic shape of the cross a potent and multivalent symbolic potential and they explored and developed this potential, figuring the cross, in their presentation and justification of Christian belief and practice.7 In this brief article, I want to offer some observations or reflections on this cruciform figuration, the envisioning of the figure of the cross in the material world, and I want to concentrate particularly on the cross in objects and instruments, leaving aside for the present a sustained discussion of the cross and human form connection, which would demand a more lengthy treatment – although we will indeed need to mention this topic again below. In emphasising this appeal to quotidian materiality and therein the implicitly material accent of some of these arguments, I want to engage ideas and authors within the sphere of ‘material religion’, not a field perhaps usually associated with the study of early Christian theological writings. Emerging loosely from religious studies, the social sciences, phenomenology, and the renewed broader study of issues of materiality and embodiment – the so-called ‘material turn’ – material religion is a characteristically interdisciplinary and diverse field concerned with how and in what ways religious traditions take place in the matrix of materiality, in matter, form, symbol and sensorial experience, and in turn how these latter are understood and lived.8 Studies in material religion have stressed the fundamental role 5

Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 55.1-2; Minucius Felix, Oct. 29.12; Tertullian Apol. 16.6-8, 12.3; Ad Nat. 1.12; Marc. 4.20.2-4, also Hippolytus, Antichr. 59. 6 Some of these same cross images would make their way into the art and material culture of the early Christian movement. See Robin M. Jensen, Understanding Early Christian Art (London, New York, 2000), 238. 7 See Robin M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (Cambridge, MA, London, 2017), 15-7, 32-4; B. Longenecker, The Cross Before Constantine (2015), 149-61; Carol Neuman de Vegvar, ‘In Hoc Signo: The Cross on Secular Objects and the Process of Conversion’, in Karen Louise Jolly, Catherine E. Karkov and Sarah Larratt Keefer (eds), Cross and Culture in AngloSaxon England: Studies in Honor of George Hardin Brown, Sancta Crux/Halig Rod 1 (Morgantown, 2007), 79-117, 96; also Jean Daniélou, Primitive Christian Symbols, trans. Donald Attwater (London, 1964), 139. 8 For an introduction to the field: Matthew Engelke, ‘Material Religion’, in The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, ed. Robert A. Orsi (Cambridge, 2012), 209-29; Sonia Hazard, ‘The Material Turn in the Study of Religion’, Religion and Society: Advances in Research 4 (2013), 58-78; Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer, ‘Introduction’, in Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer (eds), Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality (New York, 2012), 1-24; Birgit Meyer, Mediation and the Genesis of Presence: Towards a Material Approach to Religion (Universiteit Utrecht, Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen, 2012); David Morgan, ‘Introduction: The Matter of Belief’, in David Morgan (ed.), Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief (London, 2010), 1-17; Tracy Pintchman, ‘Introduction’, in Tracy Pintchman and Corinne G. Dempsey (eds), Sacred Matters: Material Religion in South Asia (Albany, 2015), 1-14; S. Brent Plate, ‘Material Religion: An Introduction’, in S. Brent Plate (ed.), Key Terms in Material Religion



of material mediation in the discourse, self-conception, and practices of religious groups and I suggest that some of the insights of this expanding field might help us to think about the theme of the cross in the world in early Christian literature in illuminating and potentially creative ways. Whilst material religion prides itself on moving beyond the authority of texts to focus on materiality itself, on practice, objects and other embodiments of ‘the sacred’, re-applying some of the insights of this field to the presentation of materiality within texts themselves, within theological discourse, is one way to further open up these texts and the possibilities of interpretation which they contain – at least when they are viewed beyond the strict lens of dominant critical and historical methodologies. In this light, I want to draw elements of this literature into conversation with the theological study of the discourse of the sign of the cross in early patristic writings, highlighting and exploring senses of the materiality embedded within them. Indeed, in this short discussion, I want to begin to explore how comments on the form of the cross in the world in objects and instruments in some apologetic writings, and perhaps especially in Justin Martyr, encourages a re-orientation to the familiar, to the well-known, which unfolds Divine presence to the world through the cross as a form or pattern, a form embodied in the tangible although in some cases unlikely materiality of everyday life.

The figuration of the cross in the material world A definitive and arguably paradigmatic expression of our theme may be found in chapter fifty-five of Justin Martyr’s first Apology, a text composed some-time between 147 and 154 AD, possibly around the year 153.9 To offer some context, in the passage in question, Justin is discussing apparent similarities between the life of Christ and its prophetic proclamation and prefiguration in the Old Testament Scriptures, and details of the lives of the ‘so-called sons of Zeus’.10 This reprises an argument found earlier in the text (22.3-4) and articulates a form of the well-known dependence argument, where the Greek poets and philosophers are seen to have borrowed from or outright plagiarised Moses and the Prophets, who thus have the greater antiquity.11 According to (London, 2015), 1-8; Manuel A. Vásquez, More Than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion (Oxford, 2010). 9 Denis Minns and Paul Parvis (eds), Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies (Oxford, New York, 2009), 44. All citations from Justin, Greek and English translation, are taken from this edition. 10 1Apol. 55.1. The sons of Zeus would seem to refer to Asclepius, Dionysus and Heracles. See Noël Wayne Pretila, Re-Appropriating “Marvellous Fables”: Justin Martyr’s Strategic Retrieval of Myth in 1 Apology (Cambridge, 2014), 114. 11 See the study by Arthur J. Droge, Homer or Moses: Early Christian Interpretations of the History of Culture, Hermeneutische Untersuchungen zur Theologie 26 (Tübingen, 1989).

The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World


Justin, where under demonic influence the Greek poets imitated various elements of the coming of Christ gleamed from prophecy, the demonic ghostwriters of these fables nevertheless missed the singularity of the cross which is expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures only symbolically. For Justin, however, it is precisely the singularity of the cross which demonstrates Christ’s superiority to the Greek gods or demi-gods, and in turn his victory over the demonic powers who stand behind the Greek stories and their Christological imitation.12 The cross is ‘the greatest symbol of his [Christ’s] strength and rule’.13 But Justin then seeks to demonstrate the point by turning to ‘the things which fall under the eye’ (τῶν ὑπ’ ὄψιν πιπτόντων δείκνυται) and what later on he speaks of as the ‘pattern of what is seen’ (σχήματος τοῦ φαινομένου).14 This is already an intriguing argument: Justin moves from the relationship between scriptural prophecy and Greek myths, confused by demonic powers, to the immediacy of the everyday stuff of life, to the realm of familiar quotidian objects and instruments.15 In each of the examples Justin then provides, his point is that it is specifically the shape or pattern of the cross, the cross structure, which facilitates the integrity, the coalescence, and the effective operation of the thing in question. The key passage runs as follows: For consider all the things that are in the world (κόσμω), if, without this pattern (σχήματος), they are administered (διοικεῑται) or are able to have cohesion (κοινωνίαν ἔχειν). For the sea is not cleaved unless, the mast [literally: ‘this trophy which is called a sail’16], fixed in this way in the keel, remains secure in the ship, and the earth is not


On the cross and the overcoming of demonic forces see also Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 46; 2Apol. 6; and the Dialogue with Trypho, 91, 131, 76, English translation in St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, trans. Thomas B. Falls, ed. Michael Slusser, Selections from the Fathers of the Church 3 (Washington, DC, 2003). Further discussion of the theme may be found in Theodor Korteweg, ‘Justin Martyr and His Demon-Ridden Universe’, in Nienke Vos and Willemien Otten (eds), Demons and the Devil in Ancient and Medieval Christianity, SVigChr 108 (Leiden, Boston, 2011), 145-58, especially 151-2. 13 Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 55.2, see also ibid. 22.3-4. Describing the cross as ‘the greatest symbol of his [Christ’s] strength and rule’, Justin would seem to be referring to the prophet Isaiah, or rather to a free quotation of Isaiah 9:6 discussed earlier in the text (1Apol. 35.1-2) and to Psalm 96 (1Apol. 41.4). See Cullen I.K. Story, ‘The Cross as Ultimate in the Writings of Justin Martyr’, Reality and Meaning 21 (1998), 18-34, 19-20. 14 Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 55.2, 8. 15 Justin’s logos theology is probably lurking in the background here; see H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought (1984), 16-7. 16 The observation of the resemblance of ships masts to crucifixion crosses is also found in non-Christian sources, specifically the Oneirocritica of the second century interpreter of dreams Artemidorus Ephesius, although there may of course be further examples. Crucifixion in dreams is mentioned more than once in the text, but in one place the diviner notes that ‘being crucified is good for all sailors. For the cross is made from posts and nails like the ship, and its mast is like a cross’ (Onir. 2.53). Citation and translation in John Granger Cook, Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/327 (Tübingen, 2014), 182, 289-93.



ploughed without it. Diggers do not do their work, nor craftsmen likewise, unless by means of tools having this pattern (σχῆμα).17

After commenting on the cross in the human form and face, Justin then speaks of how the cruciform structure of Roman military and imperial symbols, vexilla, trophies and even mounted images of deceased emperors, unwittingly express and demonstrate ‘the power of this pattern (σχήματος)’.18 There is much that might be said here, but I want to draw out two key points. Firstly, Justin’s argument obviously plays on a similarity and resemblance based in shape, appearance, form; and secondly, it relates the cruciform to the cohesion and functionality of the object, practical and/or symbolic. Justin is enjoining his audience to look around them and see that the cross is everywhere, but also that this figure and structure does something, it facilitates effective actions and meanings, it mediates functionality. In differing ways, these two points are repeated across the similar observations found in Minucius Felix, Tertullian and others, although they are a little more muted than what we find in Justin. We cannot rehearse this material in depth here, but we might note a few prominent examples. Minucius Felix (Oct. 29.7-8): What else are your military standards and banners and ensigns but gilded and decorated crosses? Your trophies of victory represent not only the shape of a simple cross, but even that of a man fastened to it. Indeed, we see the sign of the cross (signum crucis) naturally formed by a ship when it carries a full press of sale, or when it glides over the sea with outspread oars. When a crossbeam is raised aloft, it forms the sign of the cross; so, too, when a man stretches out his hands to worship God with a pure heart. In this way, the sign of the cross either is the basis of the system of nature or it shapes the objects of your cult (Ita signo crucis aut ratio naturalis innititur aut vestra religio formatur).19

Hippolytus (Antich. 59) developing the ship and mast connection in reference to the Church: We who hope in the Son of God are persecuted and trampled upon by the nonbelievers. The wings of the ships are churches in the sea of the world; and the church is like a ship tossed in the waves. Yet, she is not destroyed, for she has Christ for her skilled pilot. Moreover she carries the trophy over death, the cross of the Lord, in her midsection 17

Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 55.2-4. Ibid. 55.4-8. See notes 1-5 on the interpretation of the text and possible corruption in the Minns and Parvis edition, Apologies (2009), 227. 19 Minucius Felix, Octavius, 29.6-8, in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. II: M. Munucii Felicis Octavius et Iuli Firmici Materni Lib. De Errore Profanorum Religionum, ex Recensione C. Halmii (New York, London, 1968), 43; English translation in Tertullian, Apologetic Works; Minucius Felix, Octavius, The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation 10, trans. Rudolph Arbesmann, O.S.A, Sr. Emily Joseph Daly, C.S.J., Edwin A. Quain, SJ (Washington, DC, 1950), 385. All subsequent English citations from the Octavius are taken from this edition. 18

The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World


… The ladder in her leading up to the sailyard is a symbol of Christ’s passion, which allows the faithful to ascend to heaven.20

Tertullian (Apol. 16.7-8): Every piece of wood which is fastened in an upright position is part of a cross … The entire religion of Roman camp life consists in venerating standards, swearing by standards, placing standards before all the gods. All those rows of images on the standards are merely ornaments hung on crosses; the hangings of your flags and banners are but robes for crosses.21

True to character, Tertullian is one of the more ingenious and daring writers in pushing these associations. Tertullian’s comments above (as indeed those of Minucius Felix22) are embedded in a response to claims that Christians superstitiously worship a cross, a suggestion which as Jensen observes, might actually imply early Christian veneration of plain cross forms.23 But in any case, as well as the points noted and with still more irony and cutting sarcasm, Tertullian suggests that even Roman idols are fabricated using cross shaped structures and thus have their origins in the ubiquitous cruciform.24 As he writes in Ad Nationes: The fact of the matter is that in the end the fullness of your religion derives from the fullness of a cross… You are not even aware of the fact that the very origins of your gods derive from the cross, this instrument of torment…With this cross as a starting point, the craftsman gradually fills out the limbs by laying on clay. By adding further layers of clay, he fills out the cross within to assume the body and posture of his original intention. Then through the further refinement of precise drawing instruments and body parts cast from lead, the artisan transforms the cross into the likeness of a god fashioned of marble or clay or bronze or silver or whatever material suits his purpose. From the cross to the clay; from the clay to the god.25

A similar argument is found in Origen and again in Minucius Felix: ‘It is clearly you who, consecrating gods made of wood, in all likelihood adore wooden crosses as essential parts of your gods’.26 What is especially noteworthy here is that according to Tertullian’s argument, the craftsman who fabricates these 20 Hippolytus, Antich. 59, translation in R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 32. 21 R. Arbesmann, Sr. E.J. Daly, E.A. Quain (trans.), Tertullian, Apologetic Works; Minucius Felix, Octavius (1950), 50-1. 22 See Minucius Felix, Oct. 12.3. 23 R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 16-7. 24 Tertullian, 1Apol. 12.3, 16.6, and then more broadly 16.7-8 which embraces the quotation cited above. 25 Tertullian, Ad Nationes 1.12, trans. by Q. Howe (2007) in conjunction with the Patristics Project at Faulkner University, [online] (accessed: 08/10/19). Subsequent English citations of the text are taken form this version. 26 Minucius Felix, Oct. 29.6; and following Jensen to whom I owe the citation in Origen: Contra Celsus 2.47, 7.16-7, 7.53, 6.34-9, R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 16 and fn. 32, 229.



idols essentially stumbles across the cruciform as an optimum structure for his craft and for his purposes, by first observing its natural presence in his own body, in the upright human form with the horizontal axis of shoulders and arms: ‘If you position a man with his arms outstretched, you shall have created the image of a cross’.27 The craftsman finds the figure of the cross within himself, within his own human bearing, and then recognises the structural efficacy of this form for purposes of craft and construction. Inherently present in the human form in this way, the cross becomes a kind of proto-form written into the physicality of creation with humanity at its centre, and therein, an optimum formal possibility given for subsequent human creativity and practical purposes in the fashioning of material stuff – including even the making of pagan idols. Tertullian goads his pagan sparring partners through the ubiquity of the shape of the cross in their own religious culture and even in their own bodies and at the same time ironically draws elements of the world of paganism closer to that of Christianity: ‘He who calls us devotees of the cross’, he writes, ‘shall be our fellow devotee’.28 On one level such observations of the cross in the world are very much a feature of the rhetoric of apology, they are situated in the broader attempt to articulate the ‘sense’ of the crucifixion and of Christian conviction to a critical Gentile and Jewish audience, and very probably to Christian communities themselves. ‘For it is there they declare our madness to be manifest’, proclaims Justin, ‘saying we give second place after the unchangeable and eternal God and begetter of all to a crucified man, as they do not know the mystery in this’.29 As Jensen observes, ‘[p]ointing to the ubiquity of this symbol bolstered the Christian apologist’s response to opponents who mocked it as a figure of shame and failure’.30 Perceiving the cross in the masts of ships, tools and the cultic practices of Roman military and imperial life, was one way to suggest that Christianity was perhaps not quite so strange and outlandish as contemporary rumours and criticisms might suggest. But this is not all that is going on here, for these comments also demonstrate an implicit theological and semiotic argument; they speak, perhaps, of a part of the greater ‘mystery’ to which Justin refers. For these lines of argument suggest the providential presence of God to the world through the symbolic mediation of form in the shape of the cross in material stuff, and in the practical efficacy which that form then facilitates in and through that stuff. The cruciform in the material things of the world brings to remembrance the cross of Christ, but in so doing, and especially in Justin, it also communicates God’s care for creation in the structure and function of the most mundane, unlikely and even ironical of things. 27 28 29 30

Tertullian, Ad. Nat. 1.12. Ibid. 1.12. Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 13.4. R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 32.

The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World


Things, thingliness and the cruciform Stepping back a little in thinking about these observations, we might say that the perception of the cross in mundane objects posits the cross figure as something like a ‘pure-form’, to borrow the language of aesthetics here. In other words, the cross is identified as a basic and repeatable pattern which can then be perceived in diverse examples and in varying permutations (This point has an obvious resonance in the realm of visual art and material culture where we find a variety of cross forms). This pure form is not limited to a single specific cross shape such a Latin cross (†) or a Tau cross (Τ), for example, but refers to the cruciform as a geometric possibility – it is a visual ‘ideal type’, so to speak.31 Whilst this ideal type finds its archetype in the cross of Christ in the event of the crucifixion, the cruciform is shown in that event to be a hallowed and implicitly revelatory pattern, a sign indicative of God’s presence to creation across space and time. Indeed, according to Justin, beyond its presence in the world and in the human form, the cruciform has a still wider cosmological and even cosmogenic significance. In reference to the cosmogony of Plato’s Timaeus (36b), Plato’s ‘discussion of natural phenomena’, Justin goes so far as to implicate the form of the cross as the sign of Christ in the creation of the world – ‘He arranged him as an X in the whole’ – a topic then picked up by Irenaeus.32 For Justin and then Irenaeus, the cross is embedded in the architectonics of creation. What I wish to emphasise here, however, is not so much this cosmic dimension, although it is germane to our theme, as how the referral to cruciform objects and instruments directs attention to the theological significance of shape 31 For a typology of visual cross forms in early Christianity and further discussion of the topic see B. Longenecker, The Cross Before Constantine (2015), 12-9; and, more widely, R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 1-122. Related to this topic, on the diversity of cross shapes actually used in the practice of Roman crucifixion, see David W. Chapman and Eckhard J. Schnabel, The Trial and Crucifixion of Jesus: Text and Commentary, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/344 (Tübingen 2015), 310-13, 674-7. 32 Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 60.1. On Justin’s reference to the Timaeus see the critical notes accompanying the passage in the Minns and Parvis edition, Apologies (2009), 235-6. For Irenaeus on the subject: On the Apostolic Preaching, trans. John Behr, Popular Patristics 17 (Crestwood, NY, 1997), 34, 62; and on the Justin-Irenaeus connection, note 101 in the same edition. On the cosmic cross theme: Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. 13; Gregory of Nyssa, Or. Cat. 32; In Christ. res. or. 1 and Cont. Eun. 3.3.40. The cosmic cross theme also reappears in Augustine, see Gerhart B. Ladner, ‘St Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine on the Symbolism of the Cross’, in Images and Ideas in the Middle Ages: Selected Studies in History and Art, vol. 1 (Roma, 1983), 197-208. On the cosmic cross theme more widely: Andreas Andreopoulos, The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, The Mystery, The History (Orleans, MA, 2006), 113-38; R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 25-33; Sandra McEntire, ‘The Devotional Context of the Cross Before AD 1000’, in Paul E. Szarmach and Darrow Oggins (eds), Sources of Anglo Saxon Culture (Kalamazoo, MI, 1986), 345-56; Frances M. Young, Construing the Cross: Type, Sign, Symbol, Word, Action (London, 2015), 44-72.



and form itself, and in turn to the presence of objective stuff – formed materiality. In the cruciform shape matters as a symbolic vehicle for a Christological confession, a Christological resonance witnessed in the most ordinary and unlikely of things. For the apologists, it is not only details, images, events or even numbers within Scriptural narratives which point to and reveal Christ and the cross, but shapes and forms, indeed things, within what contemporary scholarship might refer to as the ‘objective culture’ or ‘material culture’ of everyday life. To re-appropriate the conceptual terminology of the anthropologist Webb Keane, the observation of the ubiquity of the cruciform in the world directs us to how these things – masts, ploughs, standards, trophies and so on – operate as Christological ‘semiotic forms’; that is, as signs which signify and communicate (in this case disclosing Divine realities) through their physical and sensorial presence and properties, and in turn, in how these properties are then observed and experienced.33 Indeed, it is the presence of these objects to observation, human use, and experience, which invites such a reflection: it is their very ‘thingness’ or ‘thingliness’, the quality of their presence as things, which betokens the remembrance of the cross of Christ and in turn God’s presence to creation. Scholars of material religion and materiality more broadly, have used the language of ‘things’, ‘thingness’ and ‘thingliness’, to refer specifically to that which ‘is excessive in objects’;34 in other words, that semiotic and experiential potentiality which is gleamed within and yet exceeds and over spills, the ‘mere’ objectivity and utility of an object or instrument and, in turn, as Morgan suggests, the usual taxonomies with which we seek to classify them and their ‘presumptive stabilities’.35 To stick with our own examples, the mast of a ship may indeed be the mast of a ship with all the functional associations that identification brings, but for the apologists at least, it is also something more than that, it suggests and invites something more. As Morgan writes, ‘things are more than things’.36 Thingness concerns the more than of objects, a potentiality of meaning and resonance which presents itself to experience in our encounter and interaction with those objects, intended or otherwise; it is ‘the anterior physicality of the physical world emerging’, as Bill Brown rather enigmatically puts it.37 Understood in this way, thingness might be described as that quality which transforms or transfigures the muteness and the assumed familiarity of 33 Webb Keane, Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 2007), 1-34. 34 D. Houtman and B. Meyer, ‘Introduction’ (2012), 16, citing and building upon Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, Critical Inquiry 28 (2001), 1-22, 4. 35 See David Morgan, ‘Thing’, in S.B. Plate (ed.), Key Terms in Material Religion (2015), 234-9, also B. Brown, ‘Thing Theory’ (2001), 4-5, to which Morgan refers. 36 David Morgan, ‘Materiality, Social Analysis, and the Study of Religions’, in id. (ed.), Religion and Material Culture (2010), 55-74, 73. 37 Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’ (2001), 5.

The Figuration of the Cross in the Material World


an object as we see it and experience it, inviting therein, new ways of seeing and experiencing.38 At the risk of anachronism, this language of things and thingness, admittedly sketched out only very broadly and very briefly here, seems apt. When the apologists refer to the cross in the world, they refer to the semiotic-theological potential of particular objects in our encounter with them, ‘their force as a sensuous presence’ to use Brown’s words.39 In the comments we have briefly looked at, this force resides precisely in the cruciform which these things bear in their structure and which their presence and use thus evokes for those with eyes to see. ‘Simply look around you’, the apologists would seem to say, or as Justin puts it directly, simply observe ‘the pattern of what is seen’, and that is to say, the pattern in what is seen, the form of the cross which presents itself in ‘the things which fall under the eye’, and which renders those things with a Christological significance, which renders them Christological semiotic forms. For Justin, in its very presence this pattern competently speaks for itself and at least part of Tertullian’s irony revolves around the fact that the ubiquity of the cross is, for him at least, so strikingly obvious, it is plain and present.40 In this context, cruciform objects as Christological semiotic forms, become ‘material co-ordinates’, to borrow David Morgan’s phrase, which orient people not only to the crucifixion, but to the presence of Christ, of the Logos, through the sign of the cross in the materiality of the world as such.41 In a manner which cannot but dimly remind us of the broader logos theology of the period, even the quotidian stuff of material life comes to speak of Christ and the cross – Chadwick’s ‘footprints of God’.42 Conclusion: the ‘extraordinariness of the ordinary’ Before concluding, we should perhaps note that numerous patterns involving intersecting perpendicular lines can of course look like what Christians might recognise as a cross, from the grout of tiles in a modern bathroom or the tread on a shoe, to markings in bas-relief found in a first century Pompeii bakery – as continuing historical and archaeological debate on this and other such notorious examples, attest.43 Masts, ploughs and so on, are not being presented as, or 38 See ibid. 3-4. There is insufficient space here to explore the complex issues of subject-object dialectics and agency which such an understanding suggests. On this subject, see S. Hazard, ‘The Material Turn in the Study of Religion’ (2013), 58-78. 39 B. Brown, ‘Thing Theory’ (2001), 3-4; D. Houtman and B. Meyer, ‘Introduction’ (2012), 16. 40 Justin Martyr, 1Apol. 55.8, quoted at the outset of the article. 41 D. Morgan, ‘Introduction’ (2010), 6; B. Meyer and D. Houtman, ‘Introduction’ (2001), 3. 42 H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought (1984), 16-7. 43 For an introduction to the topic including a survey of the literature, see B. Longenecker, The Cross Before Constantine (2015), 121-48; The Crosses of Pompeii: Jesus Devotion in a



confused with, objects of specifically Christian veneration in and of themselves, the apologists are obviously not encouraging people to venerate the masts of ships. Rather, we might say that these objects are suggested to be potential hermeneutic reference points in the ‘reading’, or better still, the experiencing, of creation, and the immediate contexts of familiar everyday life. In the course of apologetic rhetoric and its strategies, these examples are highlighted as geometric-material reminders and signposts, but signposts precisely in their quality and utility as things. As Jensen observes, ‘[t]hese objects are not accidentally similar to the cross; they are, in fact, testimonies to its transcendent truth – a truth made obvious to any who would simply open their eyes to see’44 – as we have already suggested, anyone who would simply observe the ubiquity of the cruciform and what it accomplishes and facilitates in the everyday world. In this capacity, masts, tools and so on, become what Hent De Vries describes as ‘instances and instantiations’ of the ‘extraordinariness of the ordinary’ and the ‘ordinariness of the extraordinary’. Couched in more theological language, they suggest a vision of the world re-configured in the incarnation, reflecting a faith which is itself materially constituted and characteristically embodied.45 This same vision of a world re-configured, or indeed, as Averil Cameron has shown, of a world being re-configured and re-imagined, is expressed in the reading of the Scriptures where for the apologists ‘types’ of the cross abound.46 Perhaps not unlike the types of Scripture, cruciform objects in the world are something like ‘marks’ or ‘imprints’ in the fabric of materiality where Christ is revealed. In the hands of Justin and others, the cruciform becomes a kind of semiotic hermeneutic tool which in revealing Christ also affirms the holism and, so to speak, ‘intertextual’ dimension of revelation, which stretches from Scripture to the possibilities given in form in the thingliness of the material world.

Vesuvian Town (Minneapolis, 2016); and John Granger Cook’s critical response: ‘Alleged Christian Crosses in Herculaneum and Pompeii’, Vigiliae Christianae 72 (2018), 1-20. 44 R.M. Jensen, The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), 16-7. 45 Hent de Vries, ‘Introduction: “Why Still Religion?”’, in Hent de Vries (ed.), Religion: Beyond a Concept (New York, 2008), 1-100, 66, cited in B. Meyer and D. Houtman, ‘Introduction’ (2001), 3-4. Of course, these reflections could be developed in the more traditional theological language of ‘sacramental theology’, ‘Christian materialism’ or, closer to home, logos theology, but this is not the place to do so. The virtue of different vocabularies, of different languages (thus material religion) is precisely that that they bring out different nuances. 46 I refer to Averil Cameron’s argument that Christian discourse and therein rhetoric created a new vision of the world, a theme worked out in Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1991).

Respecting the Cross: Praying with Coins in Mid-Seventh Century Constantinople David WOODS, University College Cork, Ireland

ABSTRACT It is argued that most of the control-marks displayed in association with the cross on the reverse of the gold and silver coinage struck at Constantinople during the seventh century probably abbreviate terms relating to the crucified Christ, even addressing him in prayer on occasion. The argument is made with special attention to the solidi struck there under Heraclius and the hexagrams struck there under Constans II.

The Christianisation of the Roman coinage was a long, slow process that began during the reign of the first Christian emperor Constantine I (306-337), who did very little to Christianise the coinage in a positive sense, but who did at least remove most of the traditional deities from the coinage and so rendered it as inoffensive as possible to his fellow Christians, and probably reached its fullest expression when Justinian II (685-695, 705-711) introduced a new type of gold solidus in 690 replacing the traditional imperial bust on the obverse with the bust of Christ instead.1 A key point in this process occurred when Tiberius II (578-582) decided to make the cross the main device on the reverse of the three denominations of gold coinage.2 During his reign, the solidus depicted a large cross on steps on its reverse, the semissis (a half of a solidus) depicted a cross on an orb, and the tremissis (a third of a solidus) depicted a cross alone. In effect, the different types of crosses acted as denomination marks. While his successors Maurice (582-602) and Phocas (602-610) abandoned 1 On the Christianisation of the coinage under Constantine I, see e.g. Charles M. Odahl, ‘Christian Symbolism on Constantinian Coinage’, Ancient World 40 (2009), 117-47; Patrick Bruun, ‘The Christian Signs on the Coins of Constantine’, Arctos 3 (1962), 5-35. On some key types, see e.g. David Woods, ‘Constantine I and a New Christian Golden Age: A Secretly Christian Reverse Type Identified?’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 58 (2018), 366-88; Charles M. Odahl, ‘An Eschatological Interpretation of Constantine’s Labarum Coins’, Society for Ancient Numismatics 6 (1975), 47-51. On the introduction of Justinian’s new solidus, see Michael Humphreys, ‘The “War of Images” Revisited. Justinian II’s Coinage Reform and the Caliphate’, Numismatic Chronicle 173 (2013), 229-44; James D. Breckenridge, The Numismatic Iconography of Justinian II (685-695, 705-711 A.D.), Numismatic Notes and Monographs 144 (New York, 1959). 2 He claimed to be acting in response to a dream. See John of Ephesus, HE 3.3.15.

Studia Patristica CIV, 105-114. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



this iconographic scheme, the emperor Heraclius (610-641) returned to it, and his successors retained it for the greater part of the seventh century. Indeed, Heraclius even added to this scheme when he introduced a new silver denomination entitled the hexagram in 615 depicting a fourth type of cross – a cross on an orb on steps – as the main device on its reverse.3 Any attempt to chart the Christianisation of the coinage naturally emphasises the changes in the major iconographical elements that occurred over the centuries, the replacement of the traditional aquila or eagle-standard as the symbol of imperial might by the labarum, the replacement of the military trophy by a long cross, the replacement of the traditional personification of Victory by an angel, the introduction of the globus cruciger, and other changes of this type.4 However, the Christianisation of the coinage revealed itself not only in the obvious changes to these major iconographical elements, which changes were clearly authorised and enforced at some senior level within the central imperial administration, if not by the emperor himself in many cases, but also in the changes to minor features of design that were decided upon at a purely local level and were normally strictly temporary in their nature. In particular, the officials at the different mints seemed to have enjoyed a great deal of freedom in the choice of control-marks. After the emperor Diocletian (284-305) reformed the system of Roman coinage in about 293, there was a network of mints scattered throughout the empire and every mint began to use mint-marks in the same systematic fashion. These mint-marks normally contained three main elements, an abbreviation of the name of the town (or of an adjective derived from the same) where the mint was located, a numeral or letter identifying the number of the workshop within the mint where the coin had been produced, and one or more other symbols or letters that served as control-marks identifying when a coin had been produced, that is, as part of which batch or emission.5 The abbreviation of the name of the town normally occurred in the exergue on the reverse, the numeral or letter identifying the workshop could occur on either side of this, while the other symbols or letters could occur before, after, or on both sides of these elements within the exergue, or even within the reverse field instead. The use of mint-marks in this fashion persisted into the eighth century. 3 On the introduction of the hexagram, see Douglas C. Whalin, ‘A Note Reconsidering the Message of Heraclius’ Silver Hexagram, circa AD 615’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 112 (2019), 221-32. 4 The battle trophy often associated with Victory was transformed into a Christian cross under Theodosius II (408-450), while she herself was transformed into an angel on the solidus under Justin I (518-527). See R.H. Storch, ‘The Trophy and the Cross: Pagan and Christian Symbolism in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries’, Byzantion 40 (1970), 105-18. However, Victory continued to make sporadic appearances on other denominations even as late as the reign of Heraclius (610-641). 5 In general, see Johann van Heesch, ‘Control Marks and Mint Administration in the Fourth Century AD’, Revue Belge de Numismatique 158 (2012), 161-78.

Respecting the Cross


Fig. 1: Half-follis of Justin II from Thessalonica (d. 20 mm, w. 5.45 g), MIBEC 70e. Ex Savoca Numismatik, Auction 12 (22 January 2017), lot 700. © Savoca Numismatik.

The Christianisation of control-marks began under Constantine I with the occasional use of either a small cross or the chi-rho symbol as control-marks.6 As time progressed, however, some mint officials proved much more daring and innovative than others in their choice of distinctively Christian controlmarks: the use of a small cross or chi-rho symbol was no longer enough. For example, under Justin II (565-574), the mint at Thessalonica struck half-folles depicting a series of unusual control-marks, the letter mu below a small cross, probably abbreviating μυστήριον ‘mystery’, the letters theta, kappa and sigma with macron above the last two letters, probably abbreviating θεοτόκος ‘Mother of God’, a lunate sigma to the left of a small cross, probably abbreviating either the noun σωτήρ ‘saviour’ or the associated adjective σωτήριος, the letters theta and sigma below a small cross, probably abbreviating θεός ‘God’ or the associated adjective θεῖος ‘divine’ (Fig. 1), and a phi and sigma below a small cross, probably abbreviating φῶς ‘light’.7 Furthermore, during the period 629-637, the mint at Constantinople struck folles depicting another series of unusual control-marks, several of which strongly resembled those previously used at Thessalonica as just described.8 These consisted of a small cross alone, a small cross above a lunate sigma, a staurogram ending in the letter omega, a monogram formed from the Greek letters rho and eta with a horizontal bar between 6

See Richard Abdy, ‘Earliest Chrisian Symbols on Roman Coins’, in William E. Metcalf (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (Oxford, 2012), 663-66. 7 See Wolfgang Hahn and Michael Metlich, Money of the Incipient Byzantine Empire Continued (Justin II – Revolt of the Heraclii, 565-610) [= MIBEC henceforth], Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte der Universität Wien 13 (Vienna, 2009), Justin II, 70b-f. 8 See Wolfgang Hahn, Moneta Imperii Byzantini 3: Von Heraclius bis Leo III. Alleinregierung: (610-720) [= MIB henceforth], Veröffentlichungen der Numismatischen Kommission 10 (Vienna, 1981), Heraclius, 164a-e.



them, and a small cross above a Greek letter theta.9 Of these, the monogram formed from the Greek letters rho and eta with a horizontal bar between them is particularly important as it combined the existing monogram for the name of Heraclius with a cross, so emphasizing the close association between the emperor and the cross. The purpose of this short article is to draw attention to the probable Christian significance of a number of seventh-century control-marks that have defied interpretation until now, mainly because most numismatists have tended to ignore or downplay their possible religious significance. Numismatists, and Byzantinists more generally, have often tended to overlook the religious in favour of a technical, administrative, or political reading of the numismatic evidence, whether control-marks or other legends, even when these readings seem forced or run counter to so much more evidence from other sources. For example, Constans II (641-668) and Justinian II struck several types at Carthage and Constantinople bearing the legend PAX ‘peace’, and many commentators have engaged in various forms of special pleading to interpret this in a military and political sense, even when these coins were being struck at the time of fierce fighting between the Arab and Byzantine empires.10 However, what was actually being celebrated by these coins was the peace of the cross, that is, the effect of the crucifixion of Christ in reconciling mankind to God, and not some otherwise unattested military truce or peace treaty. Praying with or for the Emperor Heraclius When the emperor Heraclius died on 11 January 641, he was succeeded by his sons Constantine III and Heraclonas ruling together, and when Constantine III died on 23 April 641, Heraclonas ruled alone for a short while before being forced to accept Constans II, the son of Constantine III, as his colleague, an arrangement that ended in the sole rule of Constans II following the deposition of Heraclonas on 5 November 641.11 In order to ensure that his sons would succeed him, Heraclius had associated them with his rule long before his final death, and his coinage had reflected this fact. Indeed, one dates the solidi struck at Constantinople according to the number and depiction of emperors on the obverse, because most of the solidi struck there did not bear any other indication of date. Hence the solidi can be divided into four main phases or classes 9 For further discussion of all these marks, see David Woods, ‘Greek Monograms and Countermarks in Seventh-Century Syria’, in Tony Goodwin (ed.), Coinage and History in the SeventhCentury Near East 6 (London, 2020), 101-20. 10 See David Woods, ‘The Proclamation of Peace on the Coinage of Carthage under Constans II’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 57 (2017), 687-712. 11 See Warren Treadgold, ‘A Note on Byzantium’s Year of the Four Emperors’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 83 (1990), 431-3.

Respecting the Cross


Fig. 2: Solidus of Heraclius from Constantinople (d. 19 mm, w. 4.47 g), MIB 52. Ex Numismatik Naumann, Auction 85 (5 January 2020), lot 684. © Numismatik Naumann.

according to their obverses, a first group with obverse depicting the bust of Heraclius alone struck during the period 610-613, a second group with obverse depicting the busts of Heraclius and Constantine III, the former with a short beard, struck during the period 613-629, a third group with obverse depicting the busts of Heraclius and Constantine III, the former with a long beard and moustache, struck during the period 629-631, and a fourth group with obverse depicting Heraclius standing between Heraclonas and Constantine III struck during the period 632-641. All the solidi struck during the period 632-641 depict the new imperial monogram combining the letters eta and rho with a cross in the field either to the left or the right of the large cross on steps on the reverse. It is possible to distinguish between early and late issues struck during this period on the basis of the depiction of Heraclonas, that is, on the basis of his height relative to that of his colleagues or the nature of his headgear. I wish to focus here on two issues that were clearly struck late during this series, one of which depicts the letter kappa in the field to the right of the cross (MIB 52) (Fig. 2), the other of which depicts the letter epsilon in the field to the right of the cross (MIB 53). In his standard catalogue of the coinage of this period, Hahn attributes that type with the kappa in the field to the reign of Constantine III as senior emperor and that with the epsilon in the field to that of Heraclonas (also known as Heraclius II) as senior emperor. He does this on the assumption that the kappa abbreviates the name Κωνσταντῖνος ‘Constantine’ in the former case and that the epsilon abbreviates the adjective ἕτερος ‘other, second’ in the latter case.12 However, 12 W. Hahn, Moneta Imperii Byzantini 3 (1981), 87-8. Philip Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection 2: Phocas to



there are two problems with this approach. The first problem is that it is not plausible that either Constantine III or Heraclonas should have continued striking coins with an obverse depicting their deceased father standing between them as if nothing had changed. The second problem is that this interpretation treats the kappa in the field to the side of the cross very differently to the same letter used in the same way on many earlier solidi, where, as we will see next, it seems most unlikely that it could have abbreviated the name Constantine. The assumption that the same letter used in the same way on the same denomination coin within the same restricted period probably bore two separate meanings is simply not convincing. Any attempt to understand this final use of kappa as a mark on the solidi must take account of the fact that it had been one of the main marks used to distinguish one issue from another during the period ca. 625-629 (MIB 27-8) and again during the period 629-631 (MIB 36-7). Its extended use over so many years means that it cannot be a numeral identifying a particular date, the 20th year since some event or other, whatever the method of calculation used. Furthermore, it is equally clear that it cannot denote the number of a workshop within the mint because all of these coins already bore another letter or numeral identifying the workshop where they were produced. Next, the difficulty in understanding the significance of this kappa is increased by the fact that it was also one of the main marks used upon the hexagram during the period 615-629 when it was depicted in the field to the right of the cross on orb on steps (MIB 139140). The fact that this mark occurs on both gold and silver coinage at roughly the same time argues strongly against any suggestion that it somehow served to define the value of these coins, not least when they were normally of very different weight. Finally, it is not plausible that the kappa on the reverse of solidi struck during the periods ca. 625-629 and 629-631 abbreviated the name of Constantine III when no attempt was made to abbreviate the name of his father Heraclius, the senior emperor, in similar fashion. Since this kappa does not seem to mean anything related to the technical administration of the mint, one must turn next to the context of its appearance and inquire whether this may have contributed in some way to its choice as a control-mark instead. In the case of both solidi and hexagrams, the kappa usually appears in the field next to a cross (at the end of the reverse inscription in the case of MIB 27), raising the possibility that this letter was chosen as a control-mark because it could also serve to describe the cross in some way. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that one word immediately springs to mind as one ponders this problem, the noun κύριος ‘lord’ or perhaps the cognate adjective κυριακός ‘of the lord’ instead, used in reference to the fact that Christ, whose cross this was, was commonly referred to as ‘the Lord’ also. Theodosius III, 602-717 (Washington, DC, 1968), 114, simply admits of the control-marks used on the eastern solidi struck under Heraclius and his successors that ‘for the most part we do not know their meaning’.

Respecting the Cross


The best and perhaps the only way to test this identification is to inquire whether the same approach can work similarly for the two other main controlmarks used on the solidi during the period 616-631, theta (MIB 19-20) and iota (MIB 14, 23, 31), and it does seem to. The obvious suggestion in the case of theta is that it abbreviates the terms either θεός ‘God’ or θεῖος ‘divine’ in reference to the fact that Christ was also God. As for the iota, the obvious suggestion is that case is that it may abbreviate the name Ἰησοῦς ‘Jesus’ in reference to the crucified Christ once more. Since the same interpretative approach clearly works for all of the three main control-marks on the solidi, and this approach is consistent with the use of religiously themed control-marks on the copper coinage as already mentioned, it seems the most plausible interpretation based on the current evidence. Several other control-marks were used on various relatively minor issues of solidi usually struck by one workshop alone during the same period 616-632 and, given what has already been argued, one might expect some of them also to abbreviate various terms to be understood in reference to the cross or the crucified Christ represented by the cross. Three issues depict the letter beta at the end of the reverse inscription (MIB 24, 32, 36), and one of these deserves special attention because it combines a kappa in the field to the right of the cross with a beta at the end of the reverse inscription (MIB 36), the only issue to combine two different control-marks in this way. Given their use together, it is not unreasonable to expect some sort of connection between the two terms abbreviated by them. So, if the kappa abbreviates some form of the noun κύριος ‘lord’, what is the most plausible explanation of the associated beta? One strong possibility is that it abbreviates the verb βοηθεῖν ‘to help’ so that these letters combine to abbreviate a short prayer Κύριε, βοήθει ‘Lord, help!’. This interpretation is strongly supported by the fact that, ever since the introduction of the hexagram at Constantinople in 615, its reverse legend had always declared Deus, adiuta Romanis ‘God, help the Romans!’, as will be discussed in more detail below. One may now return to the significance of the letters kappa and epsilon in the field to the right of the cross on the two late issues of solidi under discussion here. The kappa presumably abbreviates the term κύριος ‘lord’ once more, and seems to represent a return to the use of a mark that had enjoyed more extensive use during the earlier periods. However, the epsilon was something completely new: it had not been used as a control-mark on any other issue of solidi or hexagrams under Heraclius. It was presumably a religiously themed control-mark in the manner of the kappa on the other issue of similar date, but one wonders whether its introduction was provoked by something specific that occurred at or about this time. One possibility is that it abbreviates the verb ἐλέησον ‘Have mercy!’, a plea to the crucified Christ represented by the cross.13 In the contemporary context, therefore, one could perhaps interpret this as a Of course, the Κύριε, ἐλέησον was a very common prayer. For example, the anonymous late six-century author of the Strategikon normally attributed to Pseudo-Maurice advises that the 13



plea to Christ to end the physical suffering of the emperor Heraclius as he neared death.14 Alternatively, it may simply have been a call to Christ to end the continued Arab attacks against the empire at a time when it had become all too clear following the disaster suffered by the Byzantine army at the battle of Gabatha in 638 that these were something very different to the Arab attacks of earlier centuries.15 Praying for the Romans under Constans II Attention has recently been drawn to the fact that, when Heraclius placed the legend Deus, adiuta Romanis on the reverse of his newly introduced hexagram in 615, he was simply repeating a prayer that every Roman soldier said in the battle-line just before the fighting began, as revealed by an important passage in the late sixth-century Strategikon:16 When ranks have been properly closed, and the line is about one bowshot from the enemy, and the fighting is just about to begin, the command is given: ‘Ready’. Right after this another officer shouts: ‘Help’. In unison everyone responds loudly and clearly, ‘O God’.17

It is important to note that this text preserves the same Latin terms depicted on the reverse of the hexagram, adiuta and deus, simply transliterated into Greek here. It is clear, therefore, that, despite the fact that most Byzantine soldiers were native Greek speakers by this time, the army still retained some Latin prayers or war-cries from a much earlier period when Latin had been the dominant language instead. Constans II continued to strike the hexagram with the same basic reverse type as it had possessed when introduced by his grandfather Heraclius except for a rare issue struck in 659-660 which displayed three standing figures, his sons Constantine IV, Heraclius, and Tiberius, rather than a cross on globe on steps and did not include any reverse legend at all.18 Furthermore, the mint at whole army should repeat this prayer together before they leave camp on the day of battle. See Strategikon II 18.13-21. 14 Nicephorus, Breviarium 27 provides a puzzling, moralistic description of Heraclius’ illness before his death. See David Woods, ‘On the Health of the Emperor Heraclius c.638-41’, Byzantinoslavica 64 (2006), 99-110. 15 On the battle of Gabatha, sometimes referred to as the battle of Yarmuk, see David Woods, ‘Jews, Rats, and the Battle of Yarmuk’, in Ariel S. Lewin and Pietrina Pellegrini (eds), The Late Roman Army in the Near East from Diocletian to the Arab Conquest (Oxford, 2007), 367-76. 16 D.C. Whalin, ‘A Note Reconsidering the Message’ (2019), 230-1. 17 Strategikon XII B.16.39-42. Translation from George T. Dennis, Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy (Philadelphia, 1984), 146, with one minor amendment. 18 See David Woods, ‘Mu‘āwiyah, Constans II, and Coins without Crosses’, Israel Numismatic Research 10 (2015), 169-81.

Respecting the Cross


Fig. 3: Hexagram of Constans II from Constantinople (d. 20 mm, w. 4.64 g), MIB 150. Ex Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 458 (18 December 2019), lot 599. © Classical Numismatic Group.

Constantinople continued to place a control-mark in the field to the right of the cross on many issues. However, the nature of these control-marks changed with the passing from one reign to the next. Whereas the mint had preferred to use the letters iota, theta, and kappa as its main control-marks under Heraclius, it preferred the letters beta and sigma instead under Constans II. Hence it struck two issues displaying a beta and lunate sigma respectively during the period 648-651 (MIB 145, 146), and two more issues striking a beta and lunate sigma respectively during the period 654-659 also (MIB 150, 151) (Fig. 3). But what did these letters mean?19 If one attempts to treat the beta as a numeral rather than a letter, one immediately faces the problem that the lunate sigma was not a numeral. Hence, if we are to be consistent in our interpretation of these contemporaneous marks, one must accept that neither can have served to number a year or a workshop within the mint or anything like that. Next, one notes that a lunate sigma was also used as a control-mark on various issues of solidi struck throughout the reign of Constans. To be specific, it appeared on two issues struck during the period 641-647 (MIB 5, 6) and on a third issue probably dateable to the early 660s (MIB 36). This renders it unlikely that either it or the beta served as some sort of mark of value. However, one should recall at this point that a lunate sigma had appeared together with a small cross as a control-mark both on a 19 P. Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins (1968), 115, simply says of the marks on the hexagrams under Heraclius and his successors that ‘it is difficult to propose any explanation for them’ and leaves the matter at that. Panayotis Yannopoulos, L’hexagramme: Un monnayage byzantin en argent du VIIe siècle, Numismatica Lovaniensia 3 (Louvain, 1978), 15 cannot explain them either.



half-follis struck at Thessalonica under Justin II (MIBEC 70d) and on a follis struck at Constantinople under Heraclius (MIB 164b) and as part of a series of distinctive religious marks in each case. As previously noted, in these cases the sigma probably abbreviated the noun σωτήρ ‘saviour’ or the associated adjective σωτήριος. Given this tradition and the fact that the lunate sigma under discussion also appears in association with a cross, it is not unreasonable to interpret it in the same way as an abbreviation of σωτήρ or σωτήριος. However, if one interprets the sigma in this fashion, one should also interpret the beta in the same way as complimenting or interacting in some way with the associated cross. One possibility is that it may abbreviate the term βασιλεύς ‘king’ in reference to the crucified Christ, not least because the gospels describe how Pontius Pilate erected an inscription declaring Jesus to be ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων ‘The King of the Jews’ upon his cross.20 However, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Greek verb βοήθει ‘help!’ would perfectly translate the Latin verb adiuta ‘help!’ in the surrounding reverse legend. Hence one inclines to favour interpreting the beta as an abbreviation of the verb βοήθει in a plea to Christ for assistance. It seems, therefore, that those who could not read Latin were being provided with a brief pointer to the meaning of the Latin legend in this case. Conclusion A full account of the use of control-marks that also interacted in some way with the large cross normally depicted on the reverse of the precious metal coinage of the seventh century AD has yet to be written. The use of such religiously oriented control-marks provides a small glimpse into the religious mentality of those who worked at the various mints rather than into that of the emperor himself or of any of his more senior officials. Nevertheless, such control-marks provide valuable information in that they suggest that those striking these coins did not yet take the symbol of the cross for granted. They did not yet regard the different styles of crosses as no more than denomination marks even though this was in fact their function. On the contrary, they continued to regard the cross with religious awe and veneration and chose to express this in so far as their roles allowed.


Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19.

‘A Cross of Light’ – The Sign of the Cross amidst Competing Eschatological Views during the 6th and 7th Centuries Dimitrios MOSCHOS, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens/ Department of Theology, Athens, Greece

ABSTRACT The cross apart from its liturgical use is also known for its eschatological meaning as a triumphant forerunner of the Second Coming. An interpretation that was used politically by the emperor Heraclius and his circle. Heraclius utilized a realistic eschatological perception of the victory of the Cross upon the enemies of Christ at the last stage of the History of Salvation which will take place within real history. This use of the cross was based on the legend of the Last Emperor, found mainly in apocalyptic texts after the fourth century of Greek (e.g. the Sibylline Oracles) of Syriac environment (Cave of Treasures, Ps. Methodios). Yet, besides this version, there are more complex approaches to the cross also directed against its ‘politically-realistic’ use. Here, they are regarded as one pole in a dialectical tension between extremely internal a-historic eschatological currents, putting the cross at the inner experience of salvation, and the above mentioned historical one susceptible to political use. These currents can be traced to older texts and authors, such as the Apocryphal Acts. Important factor for their dissemination is the work of Evagrios of Pontos and its reception in the Middle East. We discern these influences in cases like The Book of Hierotheos, or ideas in monastic circles that emphasize the ‘inner eschaton’ through prayer and ecstatic visions (e.g. an inner implanting of a ‘cross of light’ to the faithful). The impact of these competing eschatological views goes as far as Iconoclasm or the polemic against the cross by Islam.

1. The cross in the Early Church The transformation of the cross from a horrible tool of execution to a symbol of redemption is based on an elaborate theology about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and the meaning of that sacrifice for the life of the world. Yet, the sign of the cross was at the same time considered as a symbol of the Second Coming, of whom it will be the immediate forerunner. The eschatological understanding of the cross is attested not only through important textual testimonies but also from a combination of the old practice of praying towards the East together with the use of a simple (portable) cross for that purpose. These two were persuasively connected in the old work of Erik

Studia Patristica CIV, 115-125. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



Peterson.1 One can find an older collection of testimonies in the work of Wilhelm Bousset.2 Some of them we will analyze also here. Tertullian connects prayer with the ‘signum’ of ‘our emperor’ and the Second Coming: sub armis orationis signum nostri imperatoris (namely the cross) custodiamus, tubam angeli expectemus orantes.3 Later, we find the cross in an eschatological setting in works of (or attributed to) John Chrysostom. According to a Pseudo-Chrystostomic work, the sign of the cross as an imperial forerunner (signum) will appear before the Second Coming in the shape of a cross, yet it will dazzle like a beam of superb light.4 In a homily of John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew, it will appear brighter than the solar beams themselves!5 The finding of the cross by St. Helena and the instant rise of its ritual importance in Jerusalem contributed to the emergence of grandiose church feasts and rituals around the cross6 and to the proliferation of its use in the art. This happened either for church-political reasons (elevation of Jerusalem in the rank of the prominent Church centers, that is the Patriarchates) or as an effect of the ‘conquest of the public space’, as was the case with stational liturgy.7 The latter celebrated in Jerusalem or after the seventh century in Constantinople allowed the True Cross to become the centre of public urban liturgical activity.8 There, its depiction maintains the imagined form of the eschatological cross of light before adding the Crucifix on it. It is known that a simple cross depicted at the Eastern niche of a Christian church or on a semi-curved marble lintels or pulpits predates the known depictions of crosses with a Crucifix on them. The latter are attested after the end of the fourth century and especially after the sixth century.9 1 Erik Peterson, ‘Das Kreuz und das Gebet nach Osten’, in id., Frühkirche, Judentum und Gnosis (Rom, Freiburg, Wien, 1959), 32-3. 2 Wilhelm Bousset, Der Antichrist (Göttingen, 1895), 155-9. 3 Tertullianus, De oratione 29, ed. Ernest Evans, Tertullian’s Tract on Prayer (London, 1953), 38, 25. 4 Cf. Πρὸ δὲ τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ Σωτῆρος, ὥσπερ βασιλικὸν σημεῖον, τὸ λεγόμενον σίγνον κατὰ τὴν κοινὴν συνήθειαν προτρέχει τῆς Χριστοῦ παρουσίας, ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων δοξαζόμενον … Ὀφθήσεται τοίνυν τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν οὐρανῷ. Ὀφθήσεται τοῦ ξύλου φέρον τὴν εἰκόνα ἀλλὰ φωτὸς ἐκλάμπον ἀκτῖνα, Ps.-Chrysostomus, In illud Evangelii, quod dicebant Judei de Servatore (PG 59, 649). 5 Καὶ τὸ σημεῖον ἔμπροσθεν φαίνηται λάμπον ὑπὲρ τὴν ἀκτῖναν αὐτὴν τοῦ ἡλίου (Et hoc signum ante Christo videbitur ipsis solaribus radiis splendidius), Chrysostomus, In Matth. Hom. 54, 5 (PG 58, 537). 6 See generally Louis van Tongeren, Exaltation of the Cross. Toward the Origins of the Feast of the Cross and the Meaning of the Cross in Early Medieval Liturgy (Leuven, 2000). 7 John F. Baldovin, The Urban Character of Christian Worship. The Origins, Development and Meaning of Stational Liturgy (Rome, 1987), 254-68. 8 Ibid. 45-55; 169. 9 If we consider as prominent examples the doors of S. Sabina in Rome or the Rabbula Gospel (586). See also the older collection of evidence on the adoration of the true Cross in Anatole Frolow, La relique de la Vraie Croix: Recherches sur le développement d’un culte (Paris, 1961).

‘A Cross of Light’


Nevertheless, one notes objections against the adoration of the cross already in the second century in old Christian apocrypha. There we find bizarre visions and teachings about the cross and the Crucifixion, which are connected by many scholars with Docetism and Gnosticism. In the Passio Petri Peter warns that ‘concerning Christians, this should not be the cross you see’.10 In the apocryphal Acts of John (dated roughly to the third century) the apostle fleeing the Crucifixion to the Mount of Olives sees the ‘cross of light’ and around it a great crowd which ‘it had no single form, and in it [the Cross] was one form and the same likeness’. The Lord explains to John that the cross ‘is the distinction of all things (διορισμὸς πάντων) and the strong uplifting of what is firmly fixed out of what is unstable, and the harmony of wisdom, being wisdom in harmony’.11 These teachings recall strongly Gnostic and docetic ideas, as we know them from other sources. This is the reason why Peterson12 or Böhlig13 tried to trace this current (as an elusive sectarian criticism) down to the later centuries regarding Messalianism and Paulicianism until even the ninth century in the East as a natural heir of these trends. We will claim in this article that the perennial motifs (images and ideas), which redirect the eschatological meaning of the cross from realistic, historical to a-historical, individual or ‘internal’ eschatology (leaving aside the discussion about Gnostic influence) characterize a separate but important ascetical tendency after the fourth century. This tendency played a distinct role in the history of the Christian Church. 2. From the vision to the Exaltation of the cross It is known, that the vision of Constantine, the finding of the True Cross along with the reshaping of Christian Jerusalem have fused the symbolic depiction and the liturgical use of the cross with the political use of the True Cross. This can be traced in coins, in political symbols, crowns etc. but the utmost 10 σταυρὸς μὴ τοῦτο ὑμῖν ἔστω τὸ φαινόμενον, οἱ ἐπὶ Χριστὸν ἐλπίζοντες, Passio Petri 8-10, ed. Ricardus Adalbertus Lipsius and Maximilianus Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha I (Lipsiae, 1891), 90-8. 11 Acta Ioannis 98-9, ed. Ricardus Adalbertus Lipsius and Maximilianus Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha II 1 (Lipsiae, 1898), 199-200. See James Francis Aldridge, The cross and its cult in an age of iconoclasm (Diss. Ohio State University, 1993), 18-26. Also, Gottfried Nebe, ‘Jesus der Gekreuzigte, der am Holz hängt – das Lichtkreuz. Einige Beobachtungen und strukturelle Überlegungen zur Wirkungsgeschichte und von Kreuz und Kreuzigung Jesu von der Bibel zum westlichen Manichäismus’, in Michael Becker and Wolfgang Fenske (eds), Das Ende der Tage und die Gegenwart des Heils. Begegnungen mit dem Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt. Festschrift für Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn zum 65. Geburtstag (Leiden, Boston, Köln, 1999), 245-80. 12 E. Peterson, ‘Das Kreuz und das Gebet nach Osten’ (1959), 24-6. 13 Alexander Böhlig, ‘Zur Vorstellung vom Lichtkreuz in Gnostizismus und Manichäismus’, in Barbara Aland (ed.), Gnosis: Festschrift für Hans Jonas (Göttingen, 1978), 473-91.



political instrumentalization ascribing the cross cosmic dimensions is attempted in the time of Emperor Heraclius after 628. As the emperor defeated the Persians, he demanded the return of the True Cross, which the Persians had taken, and presented it solemnly in Jerusalem 629 or 630 before taking it permanently to Constantinople. His modest and humble appearance in Jerusalem during this ceremony is alluded by the imperial poet and promoter Georgios Pisides. He composed verses In restitutionem Sancti Crucis on the occasion of a celebration for the event: He first praises Heraclius for extinguishing the fire (i.e. of the Persian religion) by a glowing wood (‘above or before the kings the pious emperor turned fire to ashes with the glowing [or burning, ἔμπυρον] wood’)14. Then he describes (in messianic undertones) how he presents himself ‘in silence without [or although] bearing crown and scepter as an arbitrator amidst fighters after having fought himself against many enemies and now ceased the fight’.15 The impact of the appearance of the humble emperor escorting the entrance of the True Cross was immense. In the Acts of the eighth century Georgian martyrs David and Constantine, there was a further development of the battle of cosmic dimensions that Heraclius won beheading Chosroes. According to the text, that battle took place on a tower, where the Persian king using magic depictions of the sun and the moon tried to control the whole universe in a kind of clockwork machine, where the True Cross was meant to serve as a necessary mechanical key-part. We see here Chosroes coined as criminal mastermind obsessed with world domination, which Heraclius foiled. The narrative was reproduced by Al-Tabari (839-923) and was further developed by the abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz Hrabanus Maurus (780-856) in his 70th Homily Reversio sanctae atque gloriosissimae crucis Domini nostri Jesu Christi.16 Examining the deeds of Heraclius, we realize that he managed to stage a historical representation of the legend of the ‘Last Emperor’-theme, regardless of the question of who comes first, Heraclius or the legend itself.17 The events about the ‘Last Emperor’ were probably prophesied already at the end of the fourth century in different versions of the Sibylline Oracles and other popular πρὸ τῶν βασιλέων εὐσεβὴς αὐτοκράτωρ/ τὸ πῦρ ἀπῃθάλωσεν ἐμπύρῳ ξύλῳ, Georgios Pisides, In restitutionem Sancti Crucis 65-6, ed. Agostino Pertusi, Georgio di Pisidia, Poemi. I Panegirici epici (Ettal, 1959), 228. 15 αὐτὸς δὲ σιγᾶς στέμμα καὶ σκῆπτρον φέρων/ ὥσπερ βραβευτὴς τῶν παλαιστῶν ἐν μέσῳ/ πολλοῖς παλαίσας, νῦν δὲ λύσας τὴν μάχην, 82-4, ibid. 229. 16 Barbara Baert, A Heritage of Holy Wood. The Legend of the True Cross in Text and Image (Leiden, Boston, 2004), 140-60. 17 Averil Cameron presents the main scholarly contributions of Gerrit J. Reinink, Jan Wilelm Drivers and Mary Whitby and brings out exactly this question favoring the answer that the LastEmperor-topos ‘followed rather than preceded Heraclius’s restoration of the True Cross’. See Averil Cameron, ‘Late Antique Apocalyptic: A Context for the Qur’an?’, in Hagit Amirav, Emmanouela Grypeou and Guy Stroumsa (eds), Apocalypticism and Eschatology in Late Antiquity. Encounters in the Abrahamic Religions, 6th-8th Century (Leuven, 2017), 1-19. 14

‘A Cross of Light’


texts. Greek Sybille was composed between 502 and 506 and the Latin a century earlier around 379 and 380 probably based on a lost Greek original different from that of the sixth century.18 The motif of the ‘Last Emperor’ is based on the idea that the Roman Empire possesses a distinct place in God’s plan for humanity and it is the last kingdom in the vision of Daniel 2, which will appear before the Last Judgment.19 According to the Latin text the last emperor ‘will call all the pagans to baptism, and the cross of Jesus Christ will be erected in all the temples’ and ‘the Jew will be converted to the Lord’. At this time the Antichrist will arise and lead many astray, and ‘the most unclean nations that Alexander the Indian king enclosed, Gog and Magog, will arise from the north’. After the Last Emperor annihilates the peoples of Gog and Magog, ‘then he will come to Jerusalem and there having laid down the diadem from his head and all his royal garb, he will hand over the kingdom of the Christians to God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son’. With the Roman Empire now having come to an end, ‘the Antichrist will be openly revealed’. The apocalypse then concludes with his defeat ‘by the power of the Lord by the Archangel Michael on the Mount of Olives’.20 Another text refers to the same scene. That is the Syriac Apocalypse of Ps.Methodius written between 644 and 670.21 A Greek translation of this text emerged between 700-710 and a Latin one in 710-720. There are differences between Ps. Methodius and the Sybille and important interactions with other texts like the Romance of Julian22 or the Book of Treasures:23 Ps.-Methodius presents the same events much more elaborately, ‘with greater drama and specificity’ as Stephen Shoemaker notes.24 E.g., the last Emperor will stand not generally in Jerusalem

18 Wolfram Brandes, ‘Die Apokalyptische Literatur’, in Friedhelm Winkelmann and Wolfram Brandes (eds), Quellen zur Geschichte des frühen Byzanz (4.-9. Jahrhundert). Bestand und Probleme (Amsterdam, 1990), 309. A more recent and comprehensive account see in Stephen Shoemaker, ‘The Tiburtine Sibyl, the Last Emperor and the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition’, in Tony Burke (ed.), Forbidden Texts on the Western Frontier. The Christian Apocrypha in North American Perspectives (New York, 2015), 218-44, 223. Text ed. by Ernst Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen (Halle, 1898), 177-87. 19 The evolution of this idea see in Gerhard Podskalsky, Byzantinische Reichseschatologie: Die Periodisierung der Weltgeschichte in den vier Grossreichen (Daniel 2 und 7) und dem tausendjährigen Friedensreiche (Apok. 20). Eine motivgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Munich, 1972). 20 Translation cited after S. Shoemaker, ‘The Tiburtine Sibyl’ (2015), 227. 21 Apocalypse of Ps. Methodius 13-4, ed. E. Suckur (1898), 93-4. For dating see S. Shoemaker, ‘Tiburtine Sibyl’ (2015), 228-9. The Syrian text is edited by Gerrit J. Reinink, Die syrische Apokalypse des Pseudo-Methodius, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 540 (Leuven, 1993). 22 See about that Alexei Muraviev, ‘The Syriac Julian Romance and its place in the literary history’, Khristianiskiy Vostok 1(7) (1999), 194-206. 23 See Sergey Minov, Syriac Christian Identity in Late Sasanian Mesopotamia: The Cave of Treasures in Context (Jerusalem, 2013). 24 S. Shoemaker, ‘The Tiburtine Sibyl’ (2015), 235.



but precisely at the location of Golgotha, where the cross also will be placed,25 a motif known from the Book of Treasures. Therefore, one can assume that the general background of the text is Syriac dealing with local traditions in the Syro-Palestine area (mainly against the Jews). In the Greek translation of Ps.Methodius the military progress of Arabs is depicted in detail before the Last Emperor.26 Yet, in the end the Arabs will be defeated, there will be the final triumph, but the unleash of unclean nations will follow the appearance of the Last Emperor. After the Last Emperor hangs his crown on the Cross, the Cross will be raised in heaven in order to come back to signify the Second Coming. This parade of apocalyptic texts shows clearly that after the fourth century in Late Antique (Greek or Syriac) Christianity the cross became a point of reference for the unlocking of narratives (like the Last-Emperor-legend) that influence the way their readers conceive the historical present and future. They acquire therefore a political dynamic. Obviously, the emperor Heraclius tried to maximize its political weight in an effort to convince that Eastern Roman empire will be the last before the Last Judgment, when the last emperor will hand over his reign to Jesus Christ. The True Cross was the main instrument for that. The events in Jerusalem of 630 nurtured among other things a further rise of eschatological understanding of history that incorporated the subsequent events of the Arab conquest. 3. The Eschaton in the intellect Besides the above-presented current, there are more complex approaches to the cross directed eventually also against its ‘political’ use, serving as an opposite pole to the pole of the above-mentioned political understanding of a historical (or even millennialist) eschaton. We will present here these approaches as the other edge in a dialectical tension: against the political eschatology, they mark an internal, a-historic eschatological current, putting the cross at a form of an inner experience of salvation. Around the same time of the proliferation of Sibylline Oracles – that is after the second half of the fifth century – we note also texts that put the Cross in the middle of purely apocalyptic mystical experiences. In an account of a vision of John the Eunuch in the Life of Peter the Iberian, which (according to the timeline of the account itself) must have taken place after 463,27 John sees in a three days vision the Second Coming with all signs, trumpets, earth-quaking etc. During 25 G.J. Reinink, Die Syrische Apokalypse (1993), 44. S. Shoemaker, ‘The Tiburtine Sibyl’ (2015), 235. 26 Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius Gr. XIII 7-21. Text by Anastasios Lolos, Die Apokalypse des Ps.-Methodios (Meisenheim am Glan, 1976), 120-31. 27 Cornelia B. Horn Jr., John Rufus: The Lives of Peter the Iberian, Theodosius of Jerusalem, and the Monk Romanus (Leiden, Boston, 2008), 91.

‘A Cross of Light’


this experience, the angels appear to him in their order (which reminds us of the writer of the Corpus Areopagiticum). He sees the transfiguration of everything into light ‘and after all of them the worshipful and saving sign of the Cross of the Lord’. After that, the Lord discloses Himself with all his power together with the prophesied tribunal and an altar unique for the whole earth celebrating the Eucharist. The saints are lifted off by commuted elements like clouds in order to meet the Lord. After he saw other mysteries too, John was not able to speak for thirty days and his face was like the face of an angel.28 We will compare this vision with the extensive account of the mysteries to come, which are found in the description of the highly controversial Book of Holy Hierotheos. This work of an extreme Syriac spirituality written around 502 puzzled already its contemporaries because of its utterly panentheistic views, as we can see from the letters of Philoxenus of Mabboug to Abraham and Orestes between 512 and 518 and James of Sarough to Stephanus bar Sudaili himself,29 who is supposedly the writer of the book. The scholarly research insisted on its panentheism and its affinities with Evagrios, Gnosticism or even Manichaeism.30 The book describes the levels of existence deriving from the absolute Good.31 They are noetic, immaterial forms (minds, intellects) fallen from the Good seeking to ascend back to it, in order to obtain salvation.32 This takes place in a process that involves a spiritual crucifixion and an apocalyptic staging, where every mind ascending above the firmament reaches the so-called ‘distinction’ and has to be crucified like Christ along with its body and soul (posed on its left and right respectively) and stay in the sepulcher for three days. This has to happen more than once depending on the nature that the mind consists of.33 Nevertheless, for further purification, the mind has to fall back deep into the abyss of the existence to fight the demons that gather from all directions of the horizon (North, South, East, West). It prevails over them with the assistance of Jesus Christ and, after that, it starts to unite with the ultimate Good. Yet, at that moment, the Antichrist appears who imitates Christ 28

Ibid. 88-91. See about this correspondence David A. Michelson, ‘Philoxenos of Mabboug and the simplicity of Evagrian Gnosis’, in Joel Kalvesmaki and Robin Darling Young (eds), Evagrius and his Legacy (Notre Dame, 2016), 175-205. 30 See Karl Pingérra, All-Erlösung und All-Einheit. Studien zum Buch des Heiligen Hierotheos und seiner Rezeption in der syrisch-orthodoxen Theologie (Wiesbaden, 2002). 31 We use here the summary of the Book composed by Arthur L. Frothingham, Stephen bar Sudaili the Syrian Mystic and the Book of Holy Hierotheos (Leiden, 1886), 91-111, because it allows a better insight to the overall scheme of the journey of Nous. The actual text is provided by the Marsh edition: Fred Shipley Marsh, The Book of the Holy Hierotheos: Ascribed to Stephen Bar-Sudhaile (c. 500 A.D.) with Extracts from the Prolegomena and Commentary of Theodosios of Antioch and from the ‘Book of Excerpts’ and Other Works of Gregory Bar-Hebraeus (London, 1927). 32 A.L. Frothingham, Stephen bar Sudaili the Syrian mystic and the Book of Holy Hierotheos (1886), 92-7. 33 Ibid. 98-100. 29



and deceives the mind, which mistakes him for the Tree of Life. Jesus Christ intervenes and burns down the deceptive Tree having separated it from the good nature of things. Furnished with a sword, the mind goes once again down to the Prince of Darkness, the sun, and the moon until the lowest level of the abyss, where the Not-being cannot be named and liberates all the captive minds that come back to the Essence from where they came. Subsequently, it unites with the Father and ascends again through all forms of existence, seeing in the end a ‘luminous essence whose divine light is formless’.34 It unites itself with this essence and ‘looks above and below the length and the depth, and encloses in itself everything. It will no longer ascend and descend for it is all containing’. When everything (including Son and Spirit) is unified, every distinction will be removed and the world will be re-created.35 If we put the last two texts side by side with the apocalyptic narratives about the ‘Last Emperor’, we can note a mirror reflection of the Last Emperor in the ‘internal’ apocalyptic course of the Intellect. Instead of kingdoms and armies, we notice orders of angels, instead of the raid of unclean nations, demons or evil thoughts. In this parade of apocalyptic iconic motifs, the cross holds a central place. In the political-historical Eschaton, it marks the exaltation of the Last Kingdom before the Second Coming. In an internal, spiritualized Eschaton it marks the Revelation of Christ, the sacrifice of the Intellect and the distinction of the upper firmament. Before (in the case of the vision of John the Eunuch) or (in the Book of Holy Hierotheos) after that apparition of the cross, everything will turn into light. Through these motifs, we realize that we turn back to the language of the apocryphal Acts of John. We encountered already in Acta Johannis, the ‘cross of light’ as a symbol of every way that God is revealed in many forms and names and as a sign of distinction διορισμός. At the same time, the cross became ‘what has united all things by the word and which separated off what is transitory and inferior and afterward [that which] became the source of everything’. ‘It is not the visible wooden cross’, Jesus says to John. ‘I am not the one they thought I am’, he continues. The real place of anapausis (resting) cannot be named; much more the owner of that place cannot be seen.36 I think, there is a clear affinity between this text and the images and ideas implied in the Book of Holy Hierotheos. We should, therefore, ask what can connect them? Can we trace back these interweaving uses of the cross to an understanding of a personal eschaton against an apocalyptic background in the fourth and fifth centuries? To bridge the gap between the early apocryphal texts and the contesting eschatological narratives of the fifth and sixth century, we can utilize a reference 34

Ibid. 101-5. Ibid. 106-10. 36 ὡς οὖν ὁ τόπος τῆς ἀναπαύσεως οὔτε ὁρᾶται οὔτε λέγεται, πολλῷ μᾶλλον ὁ τούτου κύριος οὔτε ὀφθήσομαι, Acta Ioannis 99, ed. Lipsius and Bonnet (1898), 200. 35

‘A Cross of Light’


to the vision of the cross of light, which can be found in Macarian Homilies at the end of the fourth century. There is a passage, where the author replies to questions concerning examples of the experience of grace. He describes different forms, the first of which is the apparition of a cross of light and its fixing (embedding) in the ‘inner human’. The second example is the ‘ecstasis’ into which a person falls during prayer when he finds himself at an altar, where he eats three loaves of bread made with olive oil, which are multiplied as he eats them.37 On another occasion, he (sees) a dazzling dress not made by human hands, like the wearing in the Transfiguration. Finally, this light opens the inner light of the heart, upon which the man is consumed by the sweetness of the vision and does not feel like himself anymore, being as barbarian and foolish for the world (ὡς μωρὸν καὶ βάρβαρον τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ).38 We can discern here a distant echo of the descended mind in the abyss of the essence in the Book of Holy Hierotheos, as well as the Altar described in the vision of John the Eunuch and his subsequent loss of senses for three days (see above).

4. The Evagrian background What can be the common ground for these texts? Is it some elusive Gnostic or Docetic current that lingers in Egypt or Syria and Mesopotamia fighting against the adoration of the True Cross? Although some important scholars postulated this explanation (e.g. Peterson, see above), it is much more productive if we suppose that such ground was provided by the broader and much bettersituated current formed by the impact of the thought of Evagrios of Pontos. The latter enjoyed a much more substantiated acceptance in many monastic circles, than the supposed Gnostic tendencies of whom only the Nag Hammadi findings give a very dubious proof of existence in Egyptian monasticism. The Macarian Homilies are (albeit indirectly) connected with the dissemination of Evagrian thinking in Syria, as K. Fitschen tried to show.39 The Book of Holy Hierotheos is also an extreme reworking of themes important for Evagrios as Irenée Hausherr has demonstrated.40 Evagrios himself, admittedly, has used the image of the cross mainly in connection with personal Crucifixion through 37

It is important that the part of the sentence that is related to the three loaves of breads, belongs to the similar teachings of the Messalians that were condemned. See Johannes Damascenus, Capita Messalianorum 18, De haeresibus 80 (PG 94, 732). 38 Macarian Homilies VIII 3 (PG 34, 529B-C). 39 Klaus Fitschen, Messalianismus und Antimessalianismus. Ein Beispiel ostkirchlicher Ketzergeschichte (Göttingen, 1998). 40 Irénée Hausherr, ‘L’influence du Livre de Saint Hiérothée’, in id. (ed.), De doctrina spirituali christianorum orientalium (Rome, 1933), 176-211.



amputation of the passions by the ascetics (‘bearing the cross’41). Cornelia Horn drew attention to the popularity, that cross enjoyed as a means of renouncement among the monks. She connected this with the identification with Crucified Christ as a distinct feature of miaphysite spirituality and interpreted the cult of the relics of the True Cross in that perspective.42 This interpretation is certainly important, because it shows that the two apparently irreconcilable aspects of the cross, namely its triumphant apparition and the symbol of passion in monastic spirituality, can be combined. Nevertheless, we should see this two-fold spirituality around the cross as an interdenominational phenomenon, which goes back, before the fifth century. If we search further, we can start with the commentary of Origen to the Epistle of Romans where he states that the Power of the Cross is so great that if one places it before one’s eyes and keeps it steadfastly on one’s mind … no concupiscence no desire, no frenzy, no hostility of sin can overcome, but immediately the whole of that army of sin and flesh that I have listed above is chased away from its presence.43

We see here the ‘inner’ triumph of the cross put into the broader context of the theology of the Passion in the Epistle to Romans. Evagrios took this line further. Of course, it is almost impossible to find any direct reference of Evagrios to a vision of the eschatological cross, even more so because Evagrios warns against any experience of apparition during pure prayer, which presupposes the emptiness of mind from images and forms.44 Nevertheless, he can be held responsible for that internalization of the eschatological experience. Evagrios interprets the Kingdom of God as an amplification of the intellect (νοῦς) up to the knowledge of Holy Trinity.45 This internal or ‘spiritualized’ eschatology fits perfectly in the apocalyptic setting of the mind’s ascension through the cross, which is depicted in the Book of Holy Hierotheos. Evidently, we will not deal with the whole issue of the impact of Evagrian thinking. The aim here is to demonstrate the use of the cross in the shaping of a central idea that motivated the original monastic movement: the experience 41

‘When you deny the desire of acquisitiveness, at that moment you will bear also the cross without distraction’, Evagrios, Ad Eulogium 11, Translation by Robert Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus. The Greek Ascetic Xorpus (Oxford, 2006), 38. 42 Cornelia Horn, Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-century Palestine (Oxford, 2006), 332-95. 43 Origen, Commentary on Romans 6.1.38-45. Translation after I. Ramelli, Evagrius’s Kephalaia Gnostica, A new Translation of the unreformed text from the Syriac (Atlanta, 2015), 40. 44 Evagrios, De Oratione 114-7 (PG 79, 1193). See Columba Stewart, ‘Imageless Prayer and the Theological Vision of Evagrius Ponticus’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 9 (2001), 173-204. 45 ‘The kingdom of heaven is impassibility of the soul accompanied by true knowledge of beings. The kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity co-extensive with the substance of the mind (συμπαρεκτεινομένη τῆ συστάσει τοῦ νοός) and surpassing its incorruptibility’, Evagrios, Praktikos 2-3, trans. R. Sinkewicz (2006), 97.

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of the Kingdom of God. I have attempted to show that monasticism in Egypt is connected with the expectation of the Second Coming and the foretaste of the Kingdom of God on this life, both experienced in a variety of ways: more prophetic in the circle of Anthony the Great, more enthusiastic in Middle Egypt or more collectively organized in the Pachomian coenobium.46 Evagrios of Pontos marks a crucial turn in the monastic currents of the last decades of the fourth century in Egypt. Trying to read the ascetical movement as a bridge to the invisible dimension of Creation (angels or demons in form of evil thoughts), he contributed to an ‘internalization’ and a ‘dehistoricizing’ of the strong realistic eschatological expectation that motivated the original monasticism. The reworking of originally apocryphal (and even Gnostic) motifs, ideas, or pictures (one of which is the ‘cross of light’) was the outcome of the dissemination of Evagrian circles and ideas in Palestine or Syria and their popularity after the second half of the fifth century. There are many reasons for that such as the emergence of questions of anthropology and ecclesiology in a time of a forced end of the Christological discussions, the growth of the monastic institutions under imperial patronage in the Middle East or the need for safety in the turbulent time of the end of Late Antiquity. The main point is that this personal/ individual experience of salvation through Evagrian spirituality puts the vision of the cross in a pivotal position. In this context, we can also understand the depictions of the eschatological cross in many niches of monastic cells in the excavated Kellia of Upper Egypt, where a ‘personal Eschaton’ is experienced during prayer under the influence of Evagrian spirituality as some scholars suggest.47 We can claim that this strategy of ‘eschatological interpretation’ of the cross is the opposite pole in the upcoming of the apocalyptic literature in the sixth and seventh century, which utilized the cross in visions of political eschatology. The latter either served the consolidation of the Christian empire as a cosmic necessity or articulated the neglected voice of critique of the provinces against the imperial center in a time of physical disasters and economic and demographic decline.48 We should not underestimate the impact of these contested eschatological interpretations of the cross on Church and Theology in the East during Iconoclasm (and the importance of the veneration of the cross among the Iconoclasts) as well as on the polemic against the cross by the emergent Islam. This polemic can probably be explained by its use in the political eschatology manipulated by the byzantine imperial ideology. 46

Dimitrios Moschos, Eschatologie im ägyptischen Mönchtum. Die Rolle christlicher eschatologischer Denkvarianten in der Geschichte des frühen ägyptischen Mönchtums und seiner sozialen Funktion (Tübingen, 2010). 47 See for example such depictions of the cross and their interpretation in this way in Georges Descœudres, ‘Die Mönchssiedlung Kellia: Archäologische Erkenntnisse als Quellen zur Spiritualität der Wüstenväter’, Erbe und Auftrag 43 (1997), 102-18. 48 Mischa Meier, Das andere Zeitalter Justinians. Kontingenzerfahrung und Kontingenzbewältigung im 6. Jahrhundert n.Chr. (Göttingen, 2003).

Some Early Christian Trees Thomas ARENTZEN, Uppsala University, Sweden

ABSTRACT In the wake of the current environmental crisis, scholars of late antique Christianity are beginning to study Christian attitudes towards the natural world. How did the early Christians relate to their environment? This article explores perceptions of trees, surveying the writings of Tertullian, Basil of Caesarea, and Sozomen the historian. What did an arboreal plant do, according to patristic authors? What kind of agency did they imagine trees to have? The investigation shows that at least these select members of the educated elite thought of trees as bodies with living, intelligent souls; they saw complex variety and gendered creatures with personal characteristics when they gazed at beings in bark. Certain arboreal species engaged in and were communicating through a sexual-life; many individuals made rational choices. Although trees are not free to move around, Christians assumed that boughs and branches could bend in devotion as trees expressed attention to divine presence.

Recently, the discipline that we call the humanities has (perhaps ironically) come to pay increasing attention to the life of plants. As scientists are beginning to explore the vegetation’s communication skills, scholars are asking, for instance, to what degree it might make sense to speak of vegetal feelings or souls.1 And may one discern in the botanical realm any form of agency, any ability to act or behave in ways that are not entirely determined by natural laws? Can we understand plants as more than human resources? How have people in the past interacted with their green surroundings? Of course, for the humanities these questions concern not so much the science of plant life as the relation between plants and humans throughout history.2 1 This article is part of a project (2018-01130) funded by the Swedish Research Council. For a few examples, see Michael Marder, Grafts: Writings on Plants (Minneapolis, 2016); Emanuele Coccia, La vie des plantes: Une métaphysique du mélange (Paris, 2016); Jeffrey T. Nealon, Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetal Life (Stanford, 2016); Lara Farina, ‘Curl’, in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert (eds), Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking (Minneapolis, 2017), 434-54. 2 For more economic approaches to trees and the environment in Byzantium, see Ünal Akkemik, ‘Woods of Byzantine Trade Ships of Yenikapi (Istanbul) and Changes in Wood Use from 6th to 11th Century’, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 14/2 (2014), 317-27; Alexander Olson, ‘Between the Oak and the Olive: Environment and Society in Byzantium, 650-1150’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2016).

Studia Patristica CIV, 127-137. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



In 1967, medievalist Lynn White Jr. famously stated that ‘to a Christian a tree can be no more than a physical fact’, implying that it has no agency nor spirit.3 More recently, in a book called Plants as Persons, Matthew Hall discusses Christianity and trees under the heading ‘Passive Plants’.4 He finds that Christian tradition creates a radical ontological divide between living humans and animals on one side and inanimate or lifeless plants on the other. These writers do not make up isolated academic phenomena. For instance, E. Calvin Beisner of the Evangelical anti-environmentalist Cornwall Alliance said in an interview with The Guardian that Lynn White’s critique implicitly encourages Christians to abandon their tradition.5 In November 2019, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party in Norway, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, caused a stir as he attacked the environmental movement saying that it was a threat to Christian human-centred cosmology.6 The underlying premise for these Christian activists seems to be that any blow to modern anthropocentricity involves an attack on the foundations of the unchanged Christian world view. I shall challenge this widespread assumption about the Christian tradition by investigating the role of trees in the early Christian context. I have selected three early writers from various milieus and centuries who are all towering figures in late antique Christianity: Tertullian (ca. 160-225) from North Africa, who examines the nature of trees more broadly, the Cappadocian bishop Basil of Caesarea (ca. 329-379), who explores arboreal behaviour in certain kinds of trees, and Sozomen (ca. 400-450) the Palestinian lawyer and historian, who discusses the particular performance of one individual tree. A Tree Tradition The Kingdom of God means becoming a tree in whose branches ‘the birds of the air come and make nests’, says Jesus (Matt. 13:31-2, cf. Luke 13:18-9). 3 Lynn White Jr, ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’, Science 155/3767 (1967), 1203-7, 1206. The hypothesis in White’s article (which was reprinted in Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm [eds], The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology [Athens, 1996], 3-14) has spurred a long bibliography of responses, including, e.g., the recent Ellen F. Arnold, Negotiating the Landscape: Environment and Monastic Identity in the Medieval Ardennes (Philadelphia, 2013), esp. 4-6, and Andreas Nordlander, ‘Green Purpose: Teleology, Ecological Ethics, and the Recovery of Contemplation’, Studies in Christian Ethics (2020), doi: 10.1177/ 0953946820910672. 4 Matthew Hall, Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany (Albany, NY, 2011), 55-72. 5 Leo Hickman, ‘The US evangelicals who believe environmentalism is a “native evil”’, The Guardian 5 May 2011, 6 See, e.g., Carina Hunshamar & Mina Haugli, ‘Ropstad mot miljøbevegelsen: – Det kristne menneskesynet er under angrep’, Verdens Gang 13 Nov. 2019, /i/0nq8E6/ropstad-mot-miljoebevegelsen-det-kristne-menneskesynet-er-under-angrep.

Some Early Christian Trees


Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has often mentioned Elder Amphilochios of Patmos’ loving attitude towards trees: ‘God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture’, Amphilochios claimed, ‘“Love the trees!” Whoever does not love trees […] does not love God.’7 Indeed, the Christian tradition revolves around trees. Like the arboreal race, the human race was formed of the earth, and God bade the primeval human to live among the newly created trees (Gen. 2:7-9).8 Adam and Eve’s transgression consisted of eating the fruit of the wrong tree – ‘the tree that is in the middle of the garden’ and gives knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:3) – and their punishment involved being cast out from the lush arboreal garden with its Tree of Life (Gen. 3). Salvation from this wretched fallen state came about as Christ ‘carried up our sins in his body to the tree [of the cross]’ (1Pet. 2:24), before he was taken ‘down from the tree and laid […] in a tomb’ (Acts 13:29), after which the Spirit gave ‘permission to eat from the Tree of Life’ (Rev. 2:7-8). While the trees of Eden may or may not have been interpreted as actual living plants and real arboreal wood by early Christians, their symbolic significance often overshadowed any botanical tangibility. Engaged typologically, as representational figurations of the cross, trees bear the immaculate fruit of theological meaning.9 And yet, every sapling an early Christian came upon did not derived its whole raison d’être from the cross; the only motivation for discussing trees in the early Church was not the crucifixion. Such a reading would reduce a vital part of the created realm to a simple sign and leave leafage, in its splendid variety, irrelevant to any reverent believer. Thinking with trees in figurative ways typically presupposes some sort of familiarity with material trunks and boughs in their everyday capacity. When God’s angel appeared to Moses at Mount Horeb, it occurred as fire in a concrete bush (Exod. 3:2), and when Abraham arrived in Canaan, he was immediately drawn to a tree; he went to the tall oak at Shechem and built an altar there (Gen. 12:5-7).10 Although it may be possible to interpret these passages typologically, too, they could just as easily and meaningfully be read as physical tree and bush encounters. After all, the arboreal


Quoted here from Kallistos Ware, ‘Through Creation to the Creator’, in John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz (eds), Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation (New York, 2013), 86-105, 86. 8 ‘Ihr, die ihr glaubt, daß ihr weit mehr seid als Bäume…’, the patristic scholar Erik Peterson exclaims critically to fellow humans; see Barbara Nichtweiß, Erik Peterson: Neue Sicht auf Leben und Werk (Freiburg, Basel, Vienna, 1994), 375. 9 See Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (Crestwood, NY, 2009), 171-4; for such typological readings of the cross in early Christianity, see Frances M. Young, Construing the Cross: Type, Sign, Symbol, Word, Action (Eugene, OR, 2015), 44-72. 10 For the various translation possibilities and variants regarding this oak, see Kari Zakariassen, ‘My people consult their tree…’: Human-divine Interaction in Arboreal Spaces in the Ancient Levant (doctoral dissertation, University of Oslo, 2019), 75-9.



shrine at Mamre, where late antique crowds would assemble around an old oak, attracted Christians as well as Pagans and Jews.11 Most human cultures have lived with trees, yet the question is how they have lived together. This article studies early Christian interaction with trees devoid of the vast mythological foliage. What did a late antique Christian imagine that regular trees could do? How did they behave when they did not unambiguously point towards the cross?

Do Plants Have Souls? Plato and Aristotle agreed that plants have souls, for a soul is intrinsic to life, and the plant-soul meant life or vitality.12 Neither of these philosophers, however, granted trees any form of reason or practical wisdom. Plato argues in his Timaeus that plants constitute beings ‘kindred to man’s being but with different shapes and senses’13 and without intellectual capacities: The creature now in question [i.e. the tree or plant] has at any rate the third kind of soul (ψυχή) which our discourse told us is situated between the midriff and the navel. This kind of soul has nothing of opining or of reasoning mind, but it has sensation of pleasant and painful with attendant desires. For continually it is subject to every impression. Its manner of birth has not granted it the power to revolve by itself in itself upon itself rejecting outside motion and asserting its own and thus by beholding all things by native endowment of soul to reason out aught of its own concerns. So it has life and is not some second being other than a living creature, but it stays fixed, rooted, motionless, for it has never been granted movement of its own initiation.14

Like humans, plants are living creatures with souls, but they lack the ability to reflect with reason. Even more important to the present discussion, however, is Aristotle’s views. He assumed that human beings feature the most advanced kind of soul – that is a rational soul – and animals a slightly less advanced, which includes the ability to sense. Plants appear in the lowest spectrum of the

11 Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History II 4; see even Glenn Peers, ‘Object Relations: Theorizing the Late Antique Viewer’, in Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity (New York, 2018), 970-93, 982-3. For Christians and Jews, this sacred site was connected to the life of Abraham (Gen. 13:18). For more recent Christian tree shrines, see, e.g., Peter Warren, ‘Tree Cult in Contemporary Crete’, in Λοιβή: Εις μνήμην του Ανδρέα Γ. Καλοκαιρινού (Herakleion, 1994), 261-78; Annemarie Weyl Carr, ‘Taking Place: The Shrine of the Virgin Veiled by God in Kalopanagiotis, Cyprus’, in Alexei Lidov (ed.), Hierotopy: Creation of Sacred Spaces in Byzantium and Medieval Russia (Moscow, 2006), 388-408. 12 For an overview, see Michael Marder, The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium (New York, 2014), 11-5. 13 Plato, Timaeus 77 a; see J.B. Skemp, ‘Plants in Plato’s Timaeus’, Classical Quarterly 41 (1947), 53-60, wherefrom this translation is taken. 14 Plato, Timaeus 77 b-c.

Some Early Christian Trees


soul hierarchy, for they have only vegetative souls connected to the faculties of growth and self-sustenance: The soul may […] be defined as the first actuality of a natural body potentially possessing life; and such will be any body which possesses organs. The parts of plants are organs too, though very simple ones: e.g., the leaf protects the pericarp, and the pericarp protects the seed; the roots are analogous to the mouth, for both these absorb food. If then one is to find a definition which will apply to every soul, it will be ‘the first actuality of a natural body possessed of organs’. […] That which has soul is distinguished from that which has not by living. But the word ‘living’ is used in many senses, and we say that a thing lives if any one of the following is present in it – mind, sensation, movement or rest in space, besides the movement implied in nutrition and decay or growth. Consequently all plants are considered to live, for they evidently have in themselves a capacity and first principle by means of which they exhibit both growth and decay in opposite directions; for they do not grow up and not down, but equally in both directions, and in every direction, and they are nourished and continue to live, as long as they are able to absorb food. This capacity to absorb food may exist apart from all other powers, but the others cannot exist apart from this in mortal beings. This is evident in the case of plants; for they have no other capacity of the soul.15

It is likely that early Christians espoused similar views about plant souls, although as great a variation probably existed in ecclesial circles as elsewhere. Tertullian – reputedly the first Latin author to speak of the Trinity and of the Old and New Testaments – was also (to my knowledge) the first Christian thinker to elaborate on the soul of trees. He explicitly opposes Aristotle and says: ‘Trees […], according to Aristotle, have vitality (vivere), but they do not possess discernment (sapere); and with him agrees everyone […]’.16 The traditional Aristotelean claim, against which Tertullian argues, then, admits no sapientia to trees. But Tertullian continues: Well, let them meet us with the example of the trees; we will accept their challenge, (nor shall we find in it any detriment to our own argument;) it is an undoubted fact, that while trees are yet but twigs and sprouts, and before they even reach the sapling stage, there is in them their own proper faculty of life/soul (anima), as soon as they spring out of their native beds. But then, as time goes on, it develops with reason (ratione) and matures with its hard wood, until it completes the lifespan issued by nature.17 15 Aristotle, On the Soul II; ed. W.D. Ross, Aristotle: De anima (Oxford, 1961), 412b-413a; trans. W.S. Hett in Aristotle: On the Soul. Parva Naturalia. On Breath, LCL 288 (Cambridge, MA, 1957), 69-75 (with minor adjustments). See also Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (New York, 2013), 17-53. 16 Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul XIX 2; ed. J.H. Waszink, Tertullian: De anima (Amsterdam, 1947); trans. from ANF III, 199 (modified). 17 Tertullian, On the Soul XIX 3; trans. ANF III, 199 (modified). Tertullian’s younger contemporary Plotinus entertained ideas regarding plants’ ability to contemplate: ‘Let us talk about […] trees, and plants in general, and ask what their contemplation is […] and how nature […] has contemplation in itself and makes what it makes by contemplation’, he says in Ennead III 8.1; trans. A.H. Armstrong in Plotinus: Ennead, Volume III, LCL 442 (Cambridge, MA, 1967), 363. A discussion of Plotinus is, however, beyond the scope of this article.



Tertullian goes on to describe how a tree forms leaves and makes its own buds swell, how it gracefully sheds its blossom, and softens its sap; he concludes: ‘Trees, therefore, are both discerning (sapiunt) and living (vivunt), with the properties of being vital and wise’.18 Tree-intelligence, he seems to be saying, is different from human intelligence because what is wise for a plant to do is not the same as what is smart for a human person to do. Moving on to the example of the vine, Tertullian suggests that still in its younger years the vine has a ‘tender and immature understanding (intellegentem)’, and he points out that the young plant displays its own intention separate from that of the farmer, for ‘without waiting for the farmer’s training, without an espalier, without a prop, whatever its tendrils catch, [the vine] will fondly cling to, and embrace with really greater tenacity and force by its own inclination than by your volition. It longs and hastens to be secure’.19 Trees do have sapientia, for they know what is best for them, even without any human interaction. Tertullian has observed that certain trees choose by themselves to grow in certain directions: Such trees that receive injury from contact with a building, hang off as they grow and avoid what injures them. You can see that their branches were naturally meant to take the opposite direction, and [you] can very well understand the impulse of such a tree from its avoidance of the wall. It is contented (if it be only a little shrub) with its own insignificant destiny, which it has in its foreseeing instinct thoroughly been aware of from its infancy, only it still fears even a ruined building. On my side, then, why should I not contend for the discernment (sapientia) and sagacity (scientia) of trees? Let them have vitality, as the philosophers permit it; but let them have discernment too, although the philosophers disavow it.20

Tree-souls cannot be restricted to vigour, as Aristotle had thought; trees also possess some sort of rational ability to choose their own paths, independent of how humans want to tame them. Rather than a mechanical pull upwards, a willed direction steers their growth, a direction which Tertullian interprets as an intelligent choice. At least for some early Christians, then, a tree was anything but a soulless ‘physical fact’; despite limited capacity for movement (compared to animals), arboreal beings demonstrated sagacious discernment. With agency and purpose, they determined their own paths through life. Embracing Trees One and a half centuries later, Basil of Caesarea wrote his homilies on the six days of creation, which tell of the natural world and the cosmic order of 18 19 20

Tertullian, On the Soul XIX 4; trans. ANF III, 200 (modified). Ibid. Tertullian, On the Soul XIX 5-6; trans. ANF III, 200 (modified).

Some Early Christian Trees


the created realm. Basil ‘opens his audience’s eyes to the wonders of a world of vibrant things’, notes Virginia Burrus. ‘Surveying earth’s sensuous bounty, Basil marvels at the extraordinary variety of shapes, colors, flavors, scents, and textures’.21 In the fifth homily – on the germination of the earth on the third day – he explores trees and other plants, their roots and their stems, and their different characteristics. How do the plants reproduce? Why are only certain species mentioned in the Book of Genesis? Basil approaches the living world with awe – an awe sparked by both his aesthetic enjoyment and his amazement at how creatures around him operate and interact: ‘What variety there is in bark!’ he exclaims at one point.22 And he continues: ‘Some plants have smooth bark, others rough, some have only one layer, others several. What a marvelous thing!’23 Trees and plants may, moreover, serve as ethical models for human life. Demonstrating this, Basil weaves his language of trees and humans into one another. He speaks about humans and trees simultaneously when he notes that ‘in those that are young and vigorous, the bark is tight; while in those that grow old, it is rough and wrinkled’, and he even points out that one ‘may find in the youth and age of plants resemblances to those of humans’.24 From vines clinging to the trees, human beings should learn to grow attached – to each other, Basil says – in the intimate embraces of love.25 Gender plays an important role in Basil’s exploration of trees. He discusses date palms and establishes that there are two sexes; the palms are what modern botanists would call dioecious (i.e. there are separate male and female individuals). Basil explains that ‘the fruit of the male [tree] (τῶν ἀρρένων) has one character, and the fruit of the female (τῶν θηλειῶν) another’.26 He then continues with a short discourse on their intercourse: [The gardeners] distinguish male from female in palm trees (φοίνικας); sometimes we see those which they call female lowering their branches, as though with passionate lust (ὀργῶσαν)27 and desire for the intimate intercourse (τῆς συμπλοκῆς) with the male. Then, those who attend to these plants shake over the branches some sort of seeds from the males – the ψήν as they call it; the tree is thus able to share pleasures of enjoyment and then to raise its branches again, and to resume its usual plant-form with the foliage. The same is said of the fig trees.28 21 Virginia Burrus, Ancient Christian Ecopoetics: Cosmologies, Saints, Things (Philadelphia, 2019), 187, 190. See also Thomas Arentzen, Virginia Burrus and Glenn Peers, Byzantine Tree Life: Christianity and the Arboreal Imagination (forthcoming 2021). 22 Basil of Caesarea, Hexaemeron V 7.14; ed. S. Giet, Basile de Césarée: Homélies sur l’hexaéméron, SC 26 bis, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1968); trans. from NPNF II, vol. VIII, 79. 23 Basil, Hexaemeron V 7.15-7; trans. NPNF II, vol. VIII, 79. 24 Basil, Hexaemeron V 7.17-20; trans. NPNF II, vol. VIII, 79 (modified). 25 Basil, Hexaemeron V 6.61-4. 26 Basil, Hexaemeron V 7.37-8; trans. NPNF II, vol. VIII, 80 (modified). 27 The word may also be translated as ‘ripe/swelling with moisture’. 28 Basil, Hexaemeron V 7.37-48; trans. NPNF II, vol. VIII, 80 (modified).



With this imagined erotic intimacy, Basil ascribes to the palms an active inter-arboreal life, which one may incidentally also encounter among fig trees. Ambrose – certainly influenced by Basil – includes a very similar intercourse in his Hexaemeron.29 There is, however, something slightly strange about Basil’s description. Although he does not problematise the point himself, in depicting the trees’ intimacy he reveals a love-life partly interrupted by gardeners; humans intervene as the palms experience their fertile climax. Based on this, one might assume that the Cappadocian father preferred the cultivated over the wild, the farmed and controlled over the free and unhindered growth. This seems not, however, to be the case. As others have noted before me, Basil exhibits an unadulterated amazement at a wild idyll, which human hands have not tilled;30 in a letter to his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, he praises the natural beauty of the dwelling place he found for himself in Pontus: ‘There is a high mountain, covered with a deep forest, watered on its northerly side by cool and transparent streams. At its base is outstretched an evenly sloping plain, ever enriched by the moisture from the mountain’.31 And he continues: ‘A forest of diverse and multifarious trees, a spontaneous (αὐτομάτως) growth surrounding the place, acts almost as a fence to enclose it’.32 It is not some human refinement of these trees and their natural beauty that excites the Cappadocian; on the contrary, he notices how magnificent the trees appear just as they are growing by themselves (αὐτομάτως), without cultivation. Although he seems happy that the forest has chosen to encircle his abode, he does not merely appreciate the trees as valuable resources for his own exploitation; Basil clearly delights in their aesthetic appeal and the wonderous created beauty. Concluding the tree discussion in his Hexaemeron homily, Basil exhorts his listeners: ‘When you see the cultivated [trees], [or] the wild ones, those that love water, [or] those on dry land, those which bear flowers, or those which do not flower, try to recognize the grandeur in what is small!’33 To Basil, trees possess an innate value, whether they be wild or disciplined by humans. More or less secretly, they engage in a social-life of their own, a life from which humans may also learn. If Basil is anything to go by, early Christians appreciated the rich and sometimes wild or untamed verve in and among arboreal beings.34 29 Ambrose, Hexaemeron V, ch. 13 (55). For the wider literary tradition of palm eroticism, see John Hilton, ‘Erotic Date-Palms in Ammianus Marcellinus (Res Gestae, XXIV, 3,12-13)’, Listy Filologické 138 (2015), 213-29. 30 D.S. Wallace-Hadrill, The Greek Patristic View of Nature (New York, 1968), 87-91; Bruce V. Foltz, ‘On the Beauty of Visible Creation’, in John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz (eds), Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation (New York, 2013), 324-36, 329. 31 Basil, Letter XIV; ed. Yves Courtonne, Saint Basile: Lettres I (Paris, 1957); trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Saint Basil: The Letters I (London, 1926), 107, slightly modified. 32 Basil, Letter XIV; trans. Deferrari, Saint Basil (1926), 107-9, slightly modified. 33 Basil, Hexaemeron V 9.25-7; trans. NPNF II, vol. VIII, 81 (modified). 34 For another example of intra-arboreal life, see Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise III 2.

Some Early Christian Trees


A Personal Specimen Only a century after Basil contemplated creation, the church historian Sozomen narrates an entirely different tree story. Rather than considering the nature of trees in general, he tells of one outstanding individual, a tree that has, in Glenn Peers’ words, a certain ‘amount of sentience’.35 Sozomen relates: At Hermopolis, in the Thebais, is a tree called Persis, of which the branches, the leaves, and the least portion of the bark, are said to drive away diseases, when touched by the sick; for it is related by the Egyptians that when Joseph fled with Christ and Mary, the holy Virgin, from the wrath of Herod, they went to Hermopolis; when they were entering at the gate, this largest tree, as if not enduring the advent of Christ, inclined to the ground and prostrated.36

Persis is so exceptional that Sozomen devoted a section to it in his historiographical work. Taking a personal approach to this important plant, the historian does not even reveal to what species it belongs. Like Basil’s trees, however, Persis is gendered; the feminine article shows that she is female (ἡ Περσίς). As important and sacred trees tended to, Persis looms tall. Despite her tallness, we learn that she makes a bowing gesture and inclines, bending down her limbs before the Incarnate, as she recognises the divinity of Jesus Christ.37 Furthermore, Persis heals – at least with parts of her body; whether Sozomen intends to include her whole arboreal self in a synecdochic construction (‘the branches, the leaves, and the least portion of the bark’), or whether he actually means that other parts (the roots or the wood, for instance) does not feature the same efficacy, is difficult to say. In any case, she has a personal name – and perhaps by implication a personality. Her decision to bend down in the presence of the Divine Child – apparently other trees did not do this – demonstrates beyond dispute that she has her own agency. Having reported these events, however, Sozomen pauses to discuss the theological implications and whether the tree may have been possessed by a demon. How should one understand Persis’ movements as she faced Christ? Could the trembling of a frightened demon have been what made the tree bend? Did Persis, in other words, perform the prostration freely by herself or had some 35

G. Peers, ‘Object Relations’ (2018), 982. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History V 21.8-9; ed. J. Bidez and G.C. Hansen, Sozomenus: Kirchengeschichte, GCS 50 (Berlin, 1960); trans. from NPNF II, vol. II, 343, slightly modified. 37 Other Christian texts also tell of trees that bow towards what is holy or divine; see, e.g., the Book of Mary’s Repose 4; Euthymius the Athonite’s Georgian Life of the Virgin 104 (for the argument that the text is not written by Maximus, but is Euthymius’ translation of a vita composed by John Geometres, see Christos Simelidis, ‘Two Lives of the Virgin: John Geometres, Euthymios the Athonite and Maximos the Confessor’, DOP 74 [2020], 125-60); for a further elaboration on these Marian examples, see Thomas Arentzen, ‘Fromme trær i tidlig kristendom’, Svensk teologisk kvartalskrift 2 (2020), 119-32. 36



other force entered into her? Sozomen does not present a clear answer to his own question: I relate precisely what I have heard from many sources concerning this tree. I think that either this phenomenon was a sign of the presence of God in the city, or, as seems most likely in relation to Greek custom, that the tree, which had been worshipped for its size and beauty by the inhabitants, moved because the demon who was worshipped through it shuddered at the overthrower of such like him.38

The historian does seem to be marginally uncertain about the notion that such a tall tree may bend down on her own, but his main concern is to demonstrate that the tree serves the Christian gospel. It is clear to him that some other Christians believed Persis to have prostrated. As far as Sozomen is concerned, however, it may or may not have been the tree itself that moved so drastically. Perhaps there was a demon in it, and as Christ’s presence scared the demon, his trembling made Persis bend? Stories about Jesus driving out demons from people (such as Mark 5:1-20) accentuate wild body movements. As soon as the demons are gone, the human person becomes calm and devoted to Christ. The exorcism does not deprive the possessed of agency; on the contrary, Christ’s exorcism leaves the formerly possessed free. This may also be Sozomen’s point regarding Persis: The tree retained a harmonious calm – including the ability to heal – when demons left her. The historian for his part never questions that the tree performs healings in his own time. Even to him, Persis stands out as an effective agent who interacts with humans in a most powerful way. And, as Sozomen states concluding his chapter, ‘the inhabitants of Egypt […] testify to the truth of these events, which took place among them’.39 One may object that Persis remains a unique individual and that she therefore bears little relevance to the broader arboreal population. While it is undoubtedly true that Persis stands out, this may not mean that she is unrepresentative for treeness. In the gospels, Christ explains to his disciples that with faith a human person can do remarkable deeds (e.g. Luke 17:6) The author of Luke goes on to show that later the apostles have enough faith to perform healings (e.g. Acts 3:1-8). Christ’s apostles clearly stand out from the general human multitude – not all humans heal – but it would hardly strike any early Christian that the apostles thus ceased to be human. On the contrary, with their strong faith they demonstrate the true potential of humanness. Similarly, Persis displays the true potential of treeness. In describing the eminence of a particular tree, a late antique author will often highlight its tallness; this does not imply that the tree has outgrown its natural capacity, but rather that it has realised its full arboreality. With its active piety, then, Persis represents an ideal tree: a tall one, an active 38 39

Sozomen, Ecclesiastical V 21.10; trans. NPNF II, vol. II, 343. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical V 21.11; trans. NPNF II, vol. II, 343 (slightly modified).

Some Early Christian Trees


one, one with faith. Jesus Christ, conversely, chastised a fig tree into withering for its irreverent passivity (Matt. 21:19). Conclusions Trees do not have to be inactive in early Christian imagination, and they amount to much more than metaphors and types. Rather than dead wood or available spaces, trees were beings to coexist with, and pious people did, in fact, live with trees in a variety of ways, including praying with them40 or dwelling in them, as did the so-called dendrites, who spent ascetic months and years among branches.41 Early Christians felt an affinity with trees; they admired them as moral exemplars and related to them as beings of beauty and healing power. This study has focused on how learned Christians could assume – as far as we know, without much opposition – that trees behave with agency and have rational souls. Like humans, arboreal beings might be possessed by evil spirits. Trees conducted themselves with wise discernment and engaged in gendered relationships with each other; they expressed veneration for the sacred, and certain trees could cure human illnesses. In the writings of this elite, arboreal plants act and react; they are proactive and interactive. It would be difficult, then, to maintain with Lynn White Jr. that trees are ‘no more than a physical fact’ to such Christians, or unqualifiedly subscribe to Matthew Hall’s assumption that Christian trees are passive. Perhaps our modern habit of ‘careless inattention’, as Douglas E. Christie calls it, has alienated us from late antique insights into the very life of trees?42 At least we may blushingly admit that, in a manner hardly attested among modern theologians, Church fathers paid attention to the passionate intimacy of arboreal love-life.


See, e.g., the Middle Byzantine Life of St. Irene of Chrysobalanton 16. For Christian tree-dwellers, see Constantine P. Charalampidis, The Dendrites in Pre-Christian and Christian Historical-Literary Tradition and Iconography (Rome, 1995), 55-93; Kyle Smith, ‘Dendrites and Other Standers in the History of the Exploits of Bishop Paul of Qanetos and Priest John of Edessa’, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 12 (2009), 117-34; Thomas Arentzen, ‘Arboreal Lives: Saints among the Trees in Byzantium and Beyond’, Scandinavian Journal of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 5 (2019), 113-36. 42 Douglas E. Christie, The Blue Sapphire of the Minds: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology (Oxford, 2013), 29. 41

Remembering Earthquakes in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean Katherin PAPADOPOULOS, Australian Lutheran College, University of Divinity, Adelaide, Australia

ABSTRACT To date, most studies on ancient earthquakes have focussed on representation, interpretation and response, and little attention has been paid to why earthquakes are remembered and commemorated, particularly in an ecclesiastical setting. In this article therefore, I draw on insights from disaster and memory studies to examine the remembrance and commemoration of earthquakes in the late antique eastern Mediterranean, one of the most seismically active regions in the world. First, I briefly define earthquake disasters and the psychosocial phases of disaster. Second, I consider earthquake resilience in late antique east and the role of belief. I then map earthquake reports of different genres against three psychosocial phases of disaster to identify the purpose and function of each report and determine why earthquakes are remembered. I observe how remembered reality is shaped to conform to present interests and to meet various personal, social, religious or political needs. I note how competing narratives arose as different social groups sought to control public memory in the form of narrative and public ritual, and that personal memorials diverged somewhat from public narratives. While this analysis has been necessarily painted with a very broad brush, the picture which has emerged provides, I think, a much more realistic context for understanding patristic theologies of earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Introduction1 ‘People don’t want to be reminded of the worst day of their life’.2 Few would disagree with this sentiment expressed by paramedic Ken Iles about an upcoming 1 This research contributes to the Australian Research Council funded project DP170104595 Memories of Utopia (2017-2020). With thanks to Dr Rajiv K. Bhola for the panel invitation, Dr Sever J. Voicu, former scriptor graecus Vatican Library, and Lisa Zito, Shaw Research Library, National Gallery of Victoria for assistance with articles and Professor Wendy Mayer for many useful comments. All errors and deficiencies are mine. 2 Helen Gregory, ‘Hunter residents remember 1989 Newcastle earthquake’, Newcastle Herald, 28 December 2016 7:00AM,, accessed 30 July 2019. The Newcastle earthquake on 28 December 1989 measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, killed 13, injured more than 160, left 1000 homeless, and affected 300,000 people.

Studia Patristica CIV, 139-164. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



anniversary of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake. Why remember much less commemorate an event which in a few seconds can destroy the landscape, destabilize social structures and even defy the moral order? Why remember earthquakes? Why, for example, do we find earthquake commemorations on martyrologies and liturgical calendars of the late antique East? To date, the study of earthquakes in antiquity has revolved around historical-interpretative, philosophical-scientific and sociological modes of disaster discourse in texts. One group of studies seeks to identify historical earthquakes in the written record.3 This earthquake data is often combined with geological and archaeological data to catalogue seismicity and assess seismic hazard.4 Other studies concentrate on attitudes to earthquakes as reflected in philosophical, theological and scientific discourse about earthquakes.5 In more recent times, scholars have examined earthquake response, recovery and resilience.6 Little

3 For example, Glanville Downey, ‘Earthquakes at Constantinople and Vicinity, A.D. 342’, Speculum 30 (1955), 596-600, subsequently expanded and enriched by others. 4 For example, catalogues of historical earthquakes such as: Emanuela Guidoboni, with Alberto Comastri and Giusto Traina, Catalogue of Ancient Earthquakes in the Mediterranean Area Up to the 10th Century, trans. Brian Phillips, 2 vol. (Rome, 1994); Mohamed Reda Sbeinati, Ryad Darawcheh and Mikhail Mouty, ‘The historical earthquakes of Syria: an analysis of large and moderate earthquakes from 1365 B.C. to 1900 A.D.’, Annals of Geophysics 48 (2005), 347-435; Nicholas Ambraseys, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: A Multidisciplinary Study of Seismicity up to 1900 (Cambridge, 2009). Also studies of individual earthquakes such as: Ryad Darawcheh et al., ‘The 9 July 551 AD Beirut earthquake, eastern Mediterranean region’, Journal of Earthquake Engineering 4 (2000), 403-14. 5 For example Giusto Traina, ‘Terremoti e società Romana: problemi di mentalità e uso delle informazione’, Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, Serie III, 15.3 (1985), 867-87; Gerhard H. Waldherr, Erdbeben: Das aussergewöhnliche Normale; zur Rezeption seismischer Aktivitäten in literarischen Quellen vom 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr. bis zum 4. Jahrhundert n. Chr., Geographica Historica 9 (Stuttgart, 1997); Holger Sonnabend, Naturkatastrophen in der Antike. Wahrnehmung – Deutung – Management (Stuttgart, 1999); Eckart Olshausen and Holger Sonnabend (eds), Naturkatastrophen in der antiken Welt: Stuttgarter Kolloquium zur Historischen Geographie des Altertums 6, 1996, Geographica Historica 10 (Stuttgart, 1998); Jonas Borsch and Laura Carrara (eds), Erdbeben in der Antike: Deutungen – Folgen – Repräsentationen, Bedrohte Ordnungen 4 (Tübingen, 2016); Serge Lancel, ‘Les hommes de l’Antiquité face aux séismes’, Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et BellesLettres 149.4 (2005), 1281-9; Fritz Graf, ‘Earthquakes and the gods: reflections on Graeco-Roman responses to catastrophic events’, in Jitse Dijkstra, Justin Kroesen and Yme Kuiper (eds), Myths, Martyrs, and Modernity: Studies in the History of Religions in Honour of Jan N. Bremmer, Numen book series 127 (Leiden, 2010), 95-113. 6 For example H. Sonnabend, Naturkatastrophen (1999); Mischa Meier, ‘Roman emperors and “natural disasters” in the first century A.D.’, in Andrea Janku, Gerrit J. Schenk and Franz Mauelshagen (eds), Historical Disasters in Context: Science, Religion, and Politics, Routledge Studies in Cultural History 15 (New York, 2012), 15-30; Jerry Toner, Roman Disasters (Cambridge, Malden, MA, 2013); J. Borsch and L. Carrara (eds), Erdbeben (2016); Lee Mordechai and Jordan Pickett, ‘Earthquakes as the Quintessential SCE: Methodology and Societal Resilience’, Human Ecology 46.3 (2018), 335-48; Lee Mordechai, ‘Antioch in the Sixth Century: Resilience or Vulnerability?’, in Adam Izdebski and Michael Mulryan (eds), Environment and Society in the

Remembering Earthquakes in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean


attention however has been paid to why earthquakes are remembered and commemorated, particularly in an ecclesiastical setting.7 This reflects a relative lack of work on disaster commemorations in both memory studies and disaster studies more broadly. In this article I use insights from disaster and memory studies to examine the remembrance and commemoration of earthquakes in the late antique eastern Mediterranean. First, I will broadly define disaster, vulnerability, resilience, and the psychosocial phases of disaster; second, I will briefly consider earthquake vulnerability and resilience in the eastern Mediterranean and show how this influences which earthquakes are remembered, and; third, I will map earthquake reports in different genres against the psychosocial phases aggregated into three broad groups – immediate post impact, loss and recovery, remembrance and commemoration – and draw on memory and disaster studies to identify the purpose and function of each earthquake report. Understanding why people remember earthquakes will, I believe, allow researchers to better contextualise patristic theologising on earthquakes and natural disasters more broadly. My analysis proceeds under three assumptions. First, inasmuch as an earthquake disaster represents a disruption to order, the psychosocial effects represent the impact of this disruption and the drive to re-establish order. Second, memory is constructive; the process of remembering involves piecing together fragments of stored information under the influence of current knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs.8 Third, discourse is fundamentally a function of genre.9

Long Late Antiquity (Leiden, 2019), 25-41; Philipp Deeg, Der Kaiser und die Katastrophe: Untersuchungen zum politischen Umgang mit Umweltkatastrophen im Prinzipat (31 v. Chr. bis 192 n. Chr.), Geographica Historica 41 (Stuttgart, 2019). 7 Brian Croke, ‘Two early Byzantine earthquakes and their liturgical commemoration’, Byzantion 51 (1981), 122-47 briefly touches on this; Mark Roosien, ‘Liturgical commemoration of earthquakes in Late Antique Constantinople: At the intersection of ritual, environment, and empire’ (PhD diss., University of Notre Dame IN, 2018) may be an exception but not available to me at the time of writing. 8 Daniel L. Schacter, ‘Constructive memory: Past and future’, Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 14.1 (2012), 7-18, 8; Brady Wagoner, ‘What makes memory constructive? A study in the serial reproduction of Bartlett’s experiments’, Culture & Psychology 23.2 (2017), 186-207. 9 This view of genre is based on theories and methods developed by ‘Sydney School’ of systemic functional linguistics. For an overview, see David Rose, ‘Genre in the Sydney School’, in James Paul Gee and Mike Handford (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis, Routledge Handbooks in Applied Linguistics (London, 2012), 209-25. For a short critique and an attempt to address weaknesses, see Ross Collin, ‘Genre in discourse, discourse in genre: a new approach to the study of literate practice’, Journal of Literary Research 44.1 (2012), 76-96.



1. Disaster, resilience and the psychosocial phases of disaster Disasters are defined in many ways,10 but I will start with the obvious observation that not every earthquake is a disaster, however defined.11 An earthquake or other natural phenomenon that may potentially impede human activity is a hazard.12 If an earthquake or other hazard does occur and exceeds the ability of a human society to assimilate or reject it, it becomes a disaster.13 A combination of risk and resilience factors determine disaster impact. Disaster risk arises from the interaction between a hazard and the characteristics that make people and places vulnerable and exposed.14 The capacity of a human society to resist, absorb, respond or reduce a disaster’s impacts is often termed adaptation or resilience and the more a society elaborates such responses in its territorial layout, construction and culture, the less readily will hazards become disasters.15 As such, disasters are social phenomena.16 Insofar as vulnerability is determined by social systems and power which must be then understood by larger economic and political systems, disasters can also be viewed as a political phenomenon.17 This forms the socio-political context within which theological responses to earthquakes are framed. From this perspective then, earthquakes cause damage, death, and disruption, while a disaster reflects a profound disorder: the rupture, or even failure in the cultural system.18 10 For a history and taxonomy of definitions see Ronald W. Perry, ‘What is a disaster?’, in Havidán Rodríguez, Enrico L. Quarantelli and Russell R. Dynes (eds), Handbook of Disaster Research (New York, 2006), 1-15. Earlier discussions in David Alexander, Natural Disasters (1993; repr. Abingdon, 2017), 1-40; Enrico L. Quarantelli (ed.), What is a Disaster?: Perspectives on the Question (London, 1998); Ronald W. Perry and Enrico L. Quarantelli (eds), What is a Disaster?: New Answers to Old Questions (Bloomington, IN, 2005). The disaster secondary literature is huge, and space limited, so I will only provide one or two indicative references. 11 D. Alexander, Natural Disasters ([1993] 2017), 9-10 correctly observes that it would be difficult to classify the 1964 Alaskan earthquake which triggered the Sherman rock avalanche into an uninhabited valley as a disaster. See also Ronald L. Shreve, ‘Sherman landslide, Alaska’, Science 154.3657 (1966), 1639-43. 12 Kenneth Hewitt, Regions of Risk: A Geographical Introduction to Disasters (Abingdon, 2014), 25-6; Thomas E. Drabek, Social Dimensions of Disaster, 2nd ed. (Emmitsburg, MD, 2004), 2-7. 13 D. Alexander, Natural Disasters ([1993] 2017), 5. 14 Ben Wisner et al., At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters, 2nd ed. (London, 2004), 45-78; D. Alexander, Natural Disasters (([1993] 2017), 7-9. Risk is often expressed by a conceptual equation such as: Risk = Hazard × Exposure × Vulnerability. 15 D. Alexander, Natural Disasters ([1993] 2017), 5-7; Emmanuela Guidoboni and Graziano Ferrari, ‘The effects of earthquakes in historical cities: the peculiarity of the Italian case’, Annali di geofisica 43.4 (2000), 667-86, 668. 16 R.W. Perry, ‘What is a disaster?’ (2006), 10-4; B. Wisner et al., At Risk (2004), 3-9. Wolf Dombrowsky, ‘Again and again: Is a disaster what we call “disaster”? Some conceptual notes on conceptualizing the object of disaster sociology’, International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 13.3 (1995), 241-54, 244. 17 B. Wisner et al., At Risk (2004), 6-9. 18 J. Toner, Roman Disasters (2013), 12.

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Figure 1. Psychosocial effects of disaster (Zunin/Meyers) = DeWolfe 2000, Overhead #5. In public domain.

Individual and community responses to disasters tend to progress in phases, at varying rates and to varying degrees and are dependent on a large number of factors, including resilience, social support, and financial resources. The psychosocial effects for each phase have been well studied19 and one representation is in figure 1, although it must be stressed that these phases are not so clearly delineated.20 Generally, the greater the scope, destruction, or loss, the greater the psychosocial effect of a disaster. The immediate post-impact disorientation quickly gives way to a high level of adrenaline-induced activity focused on survival, 19

Fran H. Norris and Carrie L. Elrod, ‘Psychosocial consequences of disaster: a review of past research’, in Fran H. Norris, Sandro Galea, Matthew J. Friedman and Patricia J. Watson (eds), Methods for Disaster Mental Health Research (New York, 2006), 20-42; George A. Bonanno, Chris R. Brewin, Krzysztof Kaniasty and Annette M. La Greca, ‘Weighing the costs of disaster: consequences, risks, and resilience in individuals, families, and communities’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest 11.1 (2010), 1-49. 20 Adapted from Leonard Zunin and Diane Myers as cited in Deborah J. DeWolfe, Training Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters, ed. Diana Nordboe, 2nd ed., HHS Publication No. ADM 90-538 (Rockville, MD, 2000), 5, 9-12 in public domain and reprinted in Diane Myers and David F. Wee, Disaster Mental Health Services: A Primer for Practitioners, Psychosocial Stress Series 27 (New York, 2005), 17-24. There are several other models which describe impacts for different ‘categories’ of disasters. These models are not altogether incompatible with those based on ‘phases’.



rescue, and safety. It is here we find tales of altruism and heroism. This is followed by a honeymoon phase where, as William James had already described in relation to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake,21 one finds the paradoxical, positive effects of a disaster, namely: a cheerful equanimity, community bonding and mutual support. But this, too, is short-lived as survivors take an inventory of their losses and realise the limits of assistance and their unrealistic optimism and hyperactivity slides into discouragement and fatigue. As assistance is withdrawn, survivors may feel abandoned and resentful and suffer grief. Reconstruction and social and emotional recovery only proceed as survivors take responsibility for it. Nevertheless, they face another round of grief as they readjust to and integrate into new surroundings which are unrecognisable. Recovery occurs only as people come to see meaning, personal growth or opportunities from their disaster experience. Indeed, while disasters bring profound life-changing loss, they can also bring the opportunity to re-order life priorities. 2. Earthquake resilience in the late antique east 2.1. Evidence of resilience Turning now to the late antique Eastern Mediterranean, we find the region was, and remains, one of the more seismically active regions in the world. Moreover, the geological, historical and archaeological record shows the region suffered abnormally high numbers of earthquakes from the middle of the fourth to the middle of the sixth century, a phenomenon known by geologists as the Early Byzantine Tectonic Paroxysm.22 At the same time, earthquakes could accompany or trigger fires, tsunamis, famines or plagues. Lenski counted at least seven major earthquakes in just twenty years between 358 and 378 as well as a tsunami, a hailstorm in Constantinople, and famines in Anatolia and Syria.23 While one could easily assume that the ancients were exposed and vulnerable to the impacts of earthquakes, the evidence suggests that they were risk aware, had implemented a number of adaptations and had developed a measure of 21 William James, ‘On some mental effects of the earthquake’, The Youth’s Companion, June 7, 1906. Reprinted in William James, Writings 1902–1906, Library of America 38 (New York, 1987), 1215-22. 22 First proposed by Paolo A. Pirazzoli, ‘The early Byzantine tectonic paroxysm’, Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, Ergänzung 62 (1986), 31-49. Since developed in other studies, for example Paolo A. Pirazzoli, Jacques Laborel and Stathis C. Stiros, ‘Earthquake clustering in the eastern Mediterranean during historical times’, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 101.B3 (1996), 6083-97. 23 Noel Lenski, Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D. (Berkeley, 2002), 385-91.

Remembering Earthquakes in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean


resilience. Their awareness is evident from their knowledge of seismicity at different locations. Already in the first century, the geographer Strabo could list cities which were ‘easily shaken’ (εὔσειστος),24 while in the sixth century, both Severus of Antioch,25 and Agathias26 knew Alexandria was not. From contemporary sociological studies we can infer that previous experience of earthquakes would have also heightened their consciousness of earthquake threat.27 In seismically active regions, damage to buildings and monuments from previous earthquakes – memory materialized – would have made it difficult to forget about them. For some at least, like the sixth-century historian Agathias, reoccurring earthquakes were part of life: To be moved to pity by tragedies such as these seems only human, but to declare oneself utterly baffled and astonished would be to betray one’s ignorance of past history and of the fact that this world of ours is by its very nature continually exposed to a variety of calamities and misfortunes. Indeed many times in the past whole cities have been destroyed by earthquakes, losing all their original population and eventually being repeopled, as new cities rise on their ruins.28

Archaeologists have also pointed to settlement patterns and building technology as evidence of adaptation strategies, even if patchy.29 This is also reflected in the written sources. If I take Agathias again as example, he carefully recorded 24 Cities or regions described as ‘easily shaken’ (εὔσειστος), Laconia [Lacedaemon] (Strabo 8.5.7; LCL 196, 144-5); Euboea (Strabo 10.1.9; LCL 211, 14-5); Laodicea ad Lycum, Carura (Strabo 12.8.16; LCL 211, 512-3); region near Maeander (Strabo 12.8.17; LCL 211, 512-3); region around Antiocheia on the Maeander (Strabo 13.4.15; LCL 223, 188-9); speculates that India is the same (Strabo 15.1.19; LCL 241, 28-9). As ‘frequently shaken’ (ἐσείσθη πολλάκις), Apameia (Strabo 12.8.18; LCL 211, 514-5). As ‘full of earthquakes’ (σεισμῶν πλήρης), Philadelphia (Strabo 13.4.10; LCL 223, 180-1). All citations from Horace Leonard Jones (ed., trans.), The Geography of Strabo, 8 vol., LCL 49, 50, 182, 196, 211, 223, 241, 267 (Cambridge, MA, 1917-32). 25 Select Letters 5.12 (ed. Ernest W. Brooks, The Sixth Book of the Select Letters of Severus Patriarch of Antioch in the Syriac Translation by Athanasius of Nisibis, 2 vol. [London, 19021903], I 383-4, trans. II 340). The letter was probably written around 519/20. See Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil, Crisis Management in Late Antiquity (410-590 CE): A Survey of the Evidence from Episcopal Letters, VCS 121 (Leiden, 2013), 76. 26 Historiae, 2.15.5-6 (ed. Rudolf Keydell, Agathiae Myrinaei historiarum libri quinque, CFHB 2 [Berlin, 1967], 60.7-15). 27 David N. Sattler, Charles F. Kaiser and James B. Hittner, ‘Disaster preparedness: relationships among prior experience, personal characteristics, and distress’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology 30.7 (2000), 1396-420; Yu Guo and Yiwei Li, ‘Getting ready for mega disasters: the role of past experience in changing disaster consciousness’, Disaster Prevention and Management 25.4 (2016), 492-505. But see also Tim Harries, ‘Feeling secure or being secure? Why it can seem better not to protect yourself against a natural hazard’, Health, Risk & Society 10.5 (2008), 479-90. 28 Historiae 2.16.7 (CFHB 2, 62.17-22; trans. Joseph D. Frendo, Agathias: The Histories. Translated with an Introduction and Short Explanatory Notes, CFHB 2A [Berlin, 1975], 50). 29 Jan M. Driessen, ‘Earthquake-resistant construction and the wrath of the “Earth-Shaker”’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 46.2 (1987), 171-8; Stathis C. Stiros, ‘Archaeological evidence of antiseismic constructions in antiquity’, Annali di geofisica 38.5-6 (1995), 725-36; L. Mordechai and J. Pickett, ‘Earthquakes’ (2018), 343-4.



his observations on how different building structures fared during an earthquake, remarking that those in Alexandria were unable to withstand even ‘a small amount of vibration’.30 Other adaptation strategies which the ancients adopted such as erecting talismans or singing troparions would appear nonsensical to the modern mind, but they were nothing less than a mitigation strategy in theirs.31 Resilience is manifest by the ancients’ swiftness and willingness to rebuild after earthquakes. The continued survival of Antioch alone, despite numerous earthquakes and other calamities, is but one remarkable testimony of their capacity to recover.32 A crucial element in recovery was the level of imperial support and was bolstered by a Roman ideology which measured imperial greatness by beneficence and building programs.33 Support could entail benefactions for rescues, exhuming and burying the dead, tax exemptions, donations of money and ranks to survivors, or funding reconstruction and providing logistic support. 2.2. Role of belief People’s capacity to prepare for and respond to earthquakes relies in part on the memory of past earthquakes but is also informed by cultural and religious beliefs, and in particular, by their understanding of earthquakes as either natural or supernatural phenomena. These religious beliefs impact on perceived risks and local actions. and act as a filter through which the past is remembered.34 They also act as modes of explanation and sources of global meaning against which remembered events are appraised and compared.35 30

Historiae 2.15.7 (CFHB 2, 60.15-20), 2.16.5 (CFHB 2, 62.2-9), 2.16.1-6 (CFHB 2, 61.19-

2.16). 31 Malalas 10.51 and 13.3 (ed. Johannes Thurn, Ioannis Malalae chronographia, CFHB 35 [Berlin, 2000], 263-6, 317-8); Anon., Vita Symeonis Stylitae Iunioris 104-7 (ed. and trans. P. Van den Ven, La Vie ancienne de S. Syméon Stylite le Jeune [521-592], 2 vol., Subsidia Hagiographica 31 [Brussels, 1962-1970), I xx); Evagrius, H.E. 1:13 (ed. Joseph Bidez and Léon Parmentier, The ecclesiastical history of Evagrius with the scholia [London, 1898], 20.33-21.21); Syriac Life of Symeon the Stylite (trans. Frederick Lent, ‘The Life of St. Simeon Stylites: a translation of the Syriac text in Bedjan’s Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum, Vol. IV’, JAOS 35 [1915], 103-98, 197) = Syriac Life 128 (trans. Robert Doran, The Lives of Simeon Stylites, Cistercian Studies 112 [Kalamazoo MI, 1992], 194). 32 L. Mordechai, ‘Antioch in the Sixth Century’ (2019), 25-41. A. Asa Eger, ‘(Re)mapping medieval Antioch: urban transformations from the early Islamic to the middle Byzantine periods’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 67 (2013), 95-134. 33 Adam Izdebski, Lee Mordechai and Sam White, ‘The social burden of resilience: a historical perspective’, Human Ecology 46.3 (2018), 291-303, 292-5; P. Deeg, Der Kaiser und die Katastrophe (2019). 34 Jean-Christophe Gaillard and Pauline Texier, ‘Religions, natural hazards, and disasters: an introduction’, Religion 40.2 (2010), 81-4. 35 On meaning-making see Crystal L. Park, ‘Meaning Making in the Context of Disasters’, Journal of Clinical Psychology 72.12 (2016), 1234-46. On the role of religion: Didier Grandjean,

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In late antiquity, natural explanations for earthquakes included Thales’ theory about the earth floating on elemental liquid,36 and Aristotle’s theory of air moving in subterranean caves.37 In supernatural explanations earthquakes were considered to be polysemous signs from the gods, usually of anger or warning and the same earthquake could therefore be interpreted differently by different people.38 Among pagans in the west, earthquakes were not ascribed to any particular god but thought to indicate the pax deorum had been disturbed and was in need of propitiation, or, increasingly in the imperial period, as portents of coming events, particularly regarding the emperor’s future.39 In the east, pagans generally ascribed earthquakes to the god Poseidon, also known by Homeric epithets such as ‘earth shaker’ (ἐνοσίχθων; ἐνοσίγαιος).40 Guided by their Scriptures, Jews and Christians saw the hand of their own god behind earthquakes.41 In Manichean cosmology, the Porter (Ὠμοφόρος), one of the five ‘sons’ of the Living Spirit, carried the earth on his shoulder and earthquakes occurred whenever he got tired and shivered, or when he shifted the earth to his other shoulder.42 Some thought the movement of the stars caused earthquakes.43 Natural and supernatural explanations were not necessarily mutually exclusive and at times were intermingled. For example, the ancient Greeks often associated an earthquake with childbirth44 and by late antiquity some Christians

Anne-Caroline Rendu, Terence MacNamee and Klaus R. Scherer, ‘The wrath of the gods: appraising the meaning of disaster’, Social Science Information 47.2 (2008), 187-204. 36 Seneca, Natural Questions, 6.6.1-2. 37 De meteorologica 365a.31-366a.10. 38 Angelos Chaniotis, ‘Willkommene Erdbeben’, in E. Olshausen and H. Sonnabend (eds), Naturkatastrophen (1998), 407. Cf. Hdt. 5.85. See also Jeffrey S. Rusten, ‘ΔΗΛΟΣ ἘΚΙΝΉΘΗ: an ‘imaginary earthquake’ on Delos in Herodotus and Thucydides’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 33 (2013), 135-45. 39 G.H. Waldherr, Erdbeben (1997), ch. 5; Ulrike Ehmig, ‘Der “Erdbebengott Neptun” und die “unbestimmten Erdbebengötter” in lateinischen Inschriften’, in J. Borsch and L. Carrara (eds), Erdbeben (2016), 37-59. 40 See too Libanius, Or. 64, 41 (Foerster-Richtsteig 1903-27, 445.11): τινάσσων ἅπαντα; Hale Güney, ‘Poseidon as a God of Earthquake in Roman Asia Minor’, Revue Numismatique 172 (2015), 293-315; Seth D. Pevnick (ed.), Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life (Tampa, 2014). 41 Gerhard H. Waldherr, ‘Erdbebenkatastrophen bei christlichen Autoren der Spätantike’, in J. Borsch and L. Carrara (eds), Erdbeben (2016), 73-92. 42 Acta Archelai 8.1-2 (ed. Charles Henry Beeson, Hegemonius: Acta Archelai, GCS 16 [Leipzig, 1906], 11.17-12.17) = Epiphanius, Panarion 66.26.1-2 (ed. Jürgen Dummer and Karl Holl, Epiphanius III: Panarion haer. 65-80; De Fide, 2nd ed., GCS 37 [Berlin, 1985], 57.1-58.6). See also Gábor Kósa, ‘The Manichaean Attitude to Natural Phenomena as Reflected in the Berlin Kephalaia’, Open Theology 1.1 (2014), 255-68. 43 Gregory Nyssa, Contra fatum 17 (ed. Michele Bandini, Gregorio di Nissa: Contro il fato, Biblioteca Patristica 41 [Bologna, 2003], 102); Anon., Vita Symeonis Stylitae Iunioris 157 (Subsidia Hagiographica 31, I 38). 44 A. Chaniotis, ‘Willkommene Erdbeben’ (1998), 414-5.



imagined an earthquake occurred at Christ’s birth.45 One anonymous preacher even explained Christs’ virgin birth as opening and closing Mary’s womb like an earthquake opens and closes cracks in the walls.46 A few Christians on the other hand, considered naturalistic explanations heretical,47 whereas others directly challenged alternative supernatural conceptions. Thus, despite the ascendancy of Christianity in late antiquity, both Athanasius of Alexandria and Theodoret of Cyr thought it necessary to challenge belief in the Greek gods.48 Elsewhere, Epiphanius of Salamis and Timothy, presbyter of Constantinople mocked the Manichean understanding of earthquakes as ‘nonsense’,49 and Gregory Nyssa argued that astrological explanations were implausible.50 More frequently, however, people attempted to interpret the meaning of earthquakes within their own religious or ideological position. In discerning the sign, the general principle was cui bono, that is, ‘who benefits?’ and so the same earthquake could be interpreted differently by different groups of people. 3. Memory and order 3.1. Post impact narratives The data presented in the previous section suggests that those living in earthquake prone regions in the eastern Mediterranean were risk-aware and resilient to some degree, while those living in areas with few earthquake hazards were ill-prepared both materially and mentally. It is not surprising, then that most late-antique accounts are concerned with disastrous earthquakes in high and low hazard regions or tremors in low hazard regions,51 with little interest in 45 Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina dogmatica 9.60-4 [= De testamentis et adventu Christi 60-4] (PG 37, 461); Agathias, Anthologia graeca 1, 37 (ed. Hermann Beckby, Anthologia Graeca, vol. 1, Buch I-VI, 2nd ed., Tusculum-Bücherei [München, 1965]); A. Chaniotis, ‘Willkommene Erdbeben’ (1998), 414 n. 48. 46 Ps.-Chrysostom, Contra haereticos (PG 59, 714.5-14); A. Chaniotis, ‘Willkommene Erdbeben’ (1998), 415. 47 Ephrem Graecus, Aduersus eos, qui dicunt terrae motus a terrae inflatione fieri (Kωνσταντίνος Γ. Φραντζολᾱς, Ὁσίου Ἐφραὶμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα, 6 vol. [Thessalonike, 1998], VI 210-2). See also Philastrius of Brescia, Diversarum hereseon liber 102 (ed. Fridericus Marx, Sancti Filastrii Episcopi Brixiensis Diversarum hereseon liber, CSEL 8 [Wien, 1898], 61). 48 Athanasius, Contra Gentes (ed. Robert W. Thomson, Athanasius. Contra gentes and de incarnatione [Oxford, 1971], 2-132); Vita Antonii 76 (ed. Gerard J.M. Bartelink, Athanase d’Alexandrie: Vie d’Antoine, SC 400 [Paris, 1994]); Theodoret of Cyrus, Graecarum affectionum curatio (ed. Pierre Canivet, Théodoret de Cyr: Thérapeutique des maladies helléniques, SC 57 [Paris, 1958]). 49 Epiphanius, Panarion haer. 66.21.8-66.22.5 (ed. Jürgen Dummer and Karl Holl, Epiphanius III: Panarion haer. 65-80; De Fide, 2nd ed., GCS 37 [Berlin, 1985], 49.21-50.15); Timotheus, Presbyter Constantinopolitanus, De receptione haereticorum (PG 86, 21.4-8). 50 Gregory Nyssa, Contra fatum 17 (ed. Michele Bandini, Gregorio di Nissa: Contro il fato, Biblioteca Patristica 41 [Bologna, 2003], 102). 51 G. Traina, ‘Terremoti’ (1985), 867-87.

Remembering Earthquakes in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean


locating every earthquake in time and space.52 This is not just because of the property of the earthquakes themselves, which are judged significant or unusual in their respective environments, but also because of peoples’ direct experience of them, and the consequent ‘tellability’ of that experience relative to the time and social context.53 In other words, the earthquake events are both determinative of the narratives which recount them and constituted by them; the primary sources of remembering earthquakes are the stories told by survivors in the immediate post impact environment. The driving impulse to tell of one’s experience after an earthquake is well documented. As Labov observes, death and danger of death are almost always tellable while what you ate for breakfast is usually not.54 This correlates with findings in psychology and the cognitive sciences that people are more likely to recount an emotionally intensive event to others in a social network.55 These short oral narratives of personal experience are the primary means by which survivors seek to create order out of chaos and make sense of the event.56 They usually begin with an orientation about where one was and what they were doing when the earthquake hit, to re-establish their sense of space and place. The subsequent narrative serves to organise their experience and memory in a meaningful fashion, as they seek to reorientate themselves to their new reality in the present. As groups retell their stories to each other they clarify and shape their narratives and connect it to the history of their social group and place.57 The periodic rehearsal of a story helps to solidify experience, regulate emotions and, in a disaster context, re-establish social bonds, thus serving to overcome the profound sense of isolation.58 As Solnit explains, when an individual suffers 52 François Jacques, ‘Les séismes de l’Antiquité tardive d’après les sources. Problèmes méthodologiques’, Bulletin de l’Association de Géographes Français no. 499, 61e année (1984), 49-55, 50. 53 Raphaël Baroni, ‘Tellability’, in Peter Hühn et al. (eds), Handbook of Narratology (Berlin, 2009), 447-53, revised Raphaël Baroni, ‘Tellability’, The Living Handbook of Narratology, 18 April 2014,, accessed 28 Dec. 2019; Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps, Living Narrative: Creating Lives in Everyday Storytelling (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 76-83; Neal R. Norrick, ‘The dark side of tellability’, Narrative Inquiry 15.2 (2005), 323-44. 54 William Labov, ‘Oral narratives of personal experience’, in Patrick Colm Hogan (ed.), Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences (Cambridge, 2011), 546-8; William Labov, The Language of Life and Death: The Transformation of Experience in Personal Narrative (Cambridge, 2013). 55 See Monisha Pasupathi and Cecilia Wainryb, ‘Remembering good and bad times together: Functions of collaborative remembering’, in Michelle L. Meade et al. (eds), Collaborative Remembering: Theories, Research, and Applications (Oxford, 2018), 261-79, 263-4. 56 Regina Bendix, ‘Reflections on earthquake narratives’, Western Folklore 49.4 (1990), 331-47, 332-3. On post disaster narratives, Lennis G. Echterling and Mary Lou Wylie, ‘In the Public Arena: Disaster as a Socially Constructed Problem’, in Richard Gist and Bernard Lubin (eds), Response to Disaster: Psychosocial, Community, and Ecological Approaches, Series in Clinical and Community Psychology (Philadelphia, PA, 1999), 327-46. 57 Neal R. Norrick, ‘Narrative discourse’, in Andrea Rocci and Louis de Saussure (eds), Verbal Communication, Handbooks of Communication Sciences 3 (Berlin, 2016), 225-44, 231. 58 Ibid.; R. Bendix, ‘Reflections’ (1990), 334.



loss, they are isolated from a community, alone in their grief, but when a community suffers loss, they find fellowship in suffering.59 Not surprisingly, we only have a few traces of immediate post disaster personal narratives from late antiquity60 such as a letter from Synesius, which tells how he fled from earthquake tremors to a ship.61 This contrasts starkly with Severus of Antioch’s depersonalised report of an earthquake in Alexandria in another letter, which is essentially in chronicle form.62 I will return to Severus’s report later. As these stories are told and retold, one need not refer to an earthquake on a precise date and place, but simply as the earthquake. Time is also reordered in reference to that event: ‘before earthquake’ and ‘after the earthquake’. For example, in a homily delivered in 387, Chrysostom simply referred to the city ‘recently being shaken’ and expected his audience to know of the event.63 In a homily on Acts, he asks his audience to recall their unity ‘when God shook our city’ (redolent of the ‘honeymoon’ phase of psychosocial effects) to illustrate the unity of the disciples post Pentecost (Acts 2:46).64 The earthquake needed no further denotation. The anonymous preacher (perhaps Acacius?) who delivered an encomium for the martyr Bassus on 20 January 488 recalls several earthquakes which he expects his audience to know.65 Not only does he seem to have been an eyewitness to a past earthquake, he also recalls others, including one more recent which spared the lives of the congregation:66 For we truly saw wrath striking humanity, when we were surrounded by the terror of earthquakes, when we felt creation trembling, when the ground shook violently but the Saviour did not withdraw his own mercies, when we expected the bitter end, when we suddenly thought our houses would be tombs, when we were impeded by the shaking and could not find a place or way of refuge, when having reached the middle of the day we did not expect to see evening, when a sword threatened from above and beneficence was made a man with prayer from below, when the people were shouting the (Kyrie) Eleison in unison. And the master bent down with compassion. Moved by the sight, he clasped his quivering creation in his hand. How shall I put it simply? If Lord Sabaoth had not helped us, our soul would have shortly sojourned in Hades (Ps. 93:17 LXX).

Similarly, Severus of Antioch needed no other reference when he spoke of an earthquake which some older members of his audience would remember, 59 Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster (New York, 2009), 55. 60 G. Traina, ‘Terremoti’ (1985), 868. 61 Synesius, Ep. 61 (ed. and trans. Antonio Garzya and Denis Roques, Synésios de Cyrène, Correspondance, 3 vol., CUF [Paris, 2000], II 76-8). 62 Select Letters 5.12 (ed. Brooks 1902-1903, I 383-4; trans. II 340). 63 De statuis hom. 2 (PG 49, 35.38-9). See also In Acta apostolorum hom. 41 (PG 60, 291.4-6). 64 In Acta apostolorum hom. 7 (PG 60, 66.16-8). 65 Ps.-Chrysostom, In Bassum martyrem (PG 50, 721.1-7). On dating and identity of preacher, see Sever J. Voicu, ‘Due terremoti del V secolo e due omelie pseudocrisostomiche’, JAC 46 (2003), 45-9. 66 Ps.-Chrysostom, In Bassum martyrem (PG 57, 720.21-721.37).

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likely that of 13-14 September 458.67 These shared memories and common understanding not only bind the group together but the dynamic retelling and transmission of these stories forms the group’s collective memory. Severus, in fact, went on to offer a remarkable description of the earthquake that appears to rely on oral tradition, yet has many of the elements one finds in stylized accounts of earthquakes in formal histories such as those by Ammianus Marcellinus: people crushed, people trapped alive under rubble and so on.68 This suggests that those very stylized accounts which some would say are part of ‘the rhetoric of disaster’ rather than ‘the facts of history’ are in fact founded on collective remembering in various contexts.69 As stylized accounts, they represent mediated memories and experiences and work in figural terms. They elicit pathos to engage an audience who are far removed from the disaster in space, place and time. It is unsurprising that traces of these accounts are found in oral genres such as homilies or quasi-oral genres such as letters (which in late antiquity were read out loud),70 but sometimes a personal narrative can be embedded in formal historiography such as Agathias’ recollection of his own fear during a mild earthquake in Alexandria.71 The overwhelming majority of such accounts, however, would have never been recorded and those few which were, may have also been lost. For example, the title for Chrysostom’s fifth homily On the Statues in the manuscript tradition implies that this homily includes remarks on an earthquake, but the homily itself does not, meaning either the section on the earthquake was edited out during copying or the title was mixed up with that of another homily which has since been lost.72 3.2. Loss and recovery Also absent or lost from the late antique literary records are overt or extended expressions of grief over the death of individuals in an earthquake. This is not to say that people did not grieve – human nature alone would confirm that they did – but nearly all such personal expressions of grief are lost to us. We no longer have Libanius’s monody on this friend Aristaenetus who died in the 358 Nicomedia earthquake.73 It should be recalled too, that in classical rhetoric, grief was not expressed,74 and that excessive displays of grief were frowned on 67 Severus of Antioch, Hom. Cath. 31 (ed. Maurice Brière and François Graffin, Les Homiliae cathedrales de Sévère d’Antioche: Homélies XXVI à XXXI, PO 170 [36.4] [Turnhout, 1975], 640-65). N. Ambraseys, Earthquakes (2009), 168-71. 68 Severus of Antioch, Hom. Cath. 31 (PO 170 [36.4], 652-8). 69 Pace N. Ambraseys, Earthquakes (2009), 169. 70 Letters were a ‘written conversation’. Ps.-Libanius, Characteres epistolici 2 (ed. Richardus Foerster and Eberhardus Richtsteig, Libanii Opera, 12 vol. [Leipzig, 1903-1927], IX 27.8-11). 71 Historiae, 2.15.5-7 (CFHB 2, 60.7-20). 72 De statuis hom. 5 (PG 49, 67.56t). 73 Libanius, Epistula 37.5 (Foerster-Richtsteig 1903-27, X 29-30). 74 David Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature, Robson Classical Lectures (Toronto, 2006), 244-58.



by most Hellenistic philosophical schools.75 For Christians too, excessive grief for the dead was deemed counter to faith.76 But we also hear of bishops who die in earthquakes without any mention of memorialising or community grief. I will return to this later. Instead, we have a handful of laments over cities destroyed by earthquakes. City laments have a long pedigree in both the Ancient Near East and Greek traditions.77 Under Jewish and Christian influence the city lament was exemplified by the laments over Jerusalem.78 Laments are a form of inventory-making as mourners compare the past and present, the dead and the living and enumerate their losses.79 Traditionally, they functioned to ‘mourn the dead, propitiate the gods, and make sense of events to the living’,80 but in the late antique milieu they took on new functions as illustrated by Libanius’s and Ephrem’s laments for Nicomedia,81 the former imperial capital in the east, and a city famed for its idol worship, which was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 358.82 As Franco’s perceptive analysis shows, the pagan Libanius’s monody for Nicomedia, where Libanius had spent five happy years, not only lamented Nicomedia’s past, but also aimed to prod the emperor Julian to rebuild it, as Libanius feared the loss of prestige, not just of the city but of the worship of the ancestral gods which would have already been under pressure by Christianisation.83 In 75 Scott LaBarge, ‘How (and maybe why) to grieve like an ancient philosopher’, in Rachana Kamtekar (ed.), Virtue and Happiness: Essays in Honour of Julia Annas, OSAP Supp. (Oxford, 2013), 321-42. 76 John Chrysostom, In 1 Cor. hom. 12 (PG 61, 106.60-2); In Matt hom. 32 (PG 57); In Heb. hom. 4 (PG 63); In Ioh. hom. 85.5 (PG 59); but note In Col. hom. 8 (PG 62, 360.5-6) where he affirms grief for a child. Xueying Wang, ‘John Chrysostom on the premature death of children and parental grief’, JECS 27.3 (2019), 443-63. 77 Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, rev. Dimitrios Yatromanolakis and Panagiotis Roilos, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MA, 2002), 83-101, 83-4; Laurent Pernot, Epideictic Rhetoric: Questioning the Stakes of Ancient Praise (Austin, 2015), 25-6; Mary R. Bachvarova, Dorota Dutsch and Ann Suter (eds), The Fall of Cities in the Mediterranean: Commemoration in Literature, Folk-Song, and Liturgy (Cambridge, 2016), 13-35. Edward Watts, ‘Himerius and Personalization of the Monody’, in Geoffrey Greatrex, Hugh Elton with Lucas McMahon (eds), Shifting Genres in Late Antiquity (London, 2016), 319-24, 319. 78 Tamar M. Boyadjian, The City Lament: Jerusalem Across the Medieval Mediterranean (Ithaca, NY, 2018). 79 Ellen Muehlberger, Moment of Reckoning: Imagined Death and its Consequences in Late Ancient Christianity (New York, 2019), 3. 80 M. Alexiou, Ritual Lament (2002), 189. 81 Libanius, Or. 61 (Foerster-Richtsteig 1903-1927, VI 335); Ephrem the Syrian, Mimri on Nicomedia (ed. Charles Renoux, Éphrem de Nisibe: Mēmrē sur Nicomédie, PO 172-3 [37.2-3] [Turnhout, 1975]; trans. David Bundy, ‘Vision for the City Nisibis in Ephrem’s Hymns on Nicomedia’, in Richard Valantasis (ed.), Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice, Princeton Readings in Religions [Princeton NJ, 2000], 189-206). 82 N. Ambraseys, Earthquakes (2009), 144-7. 83 Carlo Franco, ‘Ein Erdbeben, ein Rhetor, eine Tradition: Libanios und Nikomedia’, in J. Borsch and L. Carrara (eds), Erdbeben (2016), 225-47.

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contrast to Libanius who was looking for the future of the past, Ephrem the Syrian looked backwards and saw the future. Ephrem, had never been to Nicomedia, but was aware of the significance of its destruction, and feared a similar fate for his beloved home town of Nisibis which had recently repelled three sieges by the Persians.84 As couriers and travellers brought news of the earthquake, Ephrem juxtaposed those images and some imaginary ones onto Nisibis, such that his lament functions as a warning for Nisibis. Do not be careless like persons who are far away for, in every place, the anger is near! Be shaken by the warning provided lest our land have such an event!85

Again, city laments were not always expressed in formal genres or figures but can also be found embedded in other genres. The macro structure of Malalas’s Chronographia presents a string of earthquakes in Antioch, his home city, styled as the ‘wrath of God’, and portents of the end of the world.86 Here Malalas saw the past, and in its light assessed the present as an age of anxiety, and so he looks forward to the end. Agathias, on the other hand, embeds a short personal lament into his larger Histories. Writing at the end of his life after a successful legal career, Agathias remembered Berytus’s famed legal tradition – its law schools, teachers and students – and lamented its destroyed cultural heritage.87 Berytus, while rebuilt, he wrote, was not the same city as before.88 Agathias saw a future without the same past. 3.3. Remembrance and commemoration Unlike the memory of war, the memory of disasters usually fades after two or three generations unless this memory is archived in some way. In the late antique east, such memories were preserved in literary, material and ritual forms, but with some differences to the classical era. There is some debate as to what extent Christianisation or disasters contributed to these changes which I will set aside for my purposes here. Literary: Chronicles and histories Chronicles and histories are the most common literary carriers of earthquake memories but when personal and group memories of trauma and survival are 84 Paul S. Russell, ‘Nisibis as the background to the life of Ephrem the Syrian’, Hugoye 8.2 (2005), 179-235. 85 Ephrem the Syrian, Mimri on Nicomedia 3.297-300 (trans. Bundy 2000, 195). 86 Mischa Meier, ‘Natural disasters in the Chronographia of John Malalas: Reflections on their function – an initial sketch’, Medieval History Journal 10.1-2 (2006), 237-66. 87 Historiae 2.15.2-4 (CFHB 2, 59.23-60.7). 88 Historiae 2.15.4 (CFHB 2, 60.2-7).



placed in new contexts they taken on new functions. On the whole, church historians presented earthquakes as evidence of divine wrath and instruments of judgement, and this attitude seems to have intensified as the centuries progressed and a paroxysm of earthquakes tested the protective powers of holy men and talismans. Sozomen’s history, for example, presents earthquakes and other natural disasters such as famine and pestilence as signals of divine wrath, meant to deliver a wakeup call. He is less concerned to fix these disasters to their actual time and place, than to associate them with the most deserving victim. In Sozomen’s history, earthquakes of increasing intensity punctured Julian’s reign in particular, both as Caesar and as emperor, because of Julian’s impiety.89 The general principle of evaluating earthquakes in terms of cui bono still held, but with Christianisation it was no longer a question of whether god was angry at pagan or Jew, for more often than not, it was Christians who were the objects of wrath. I previously mentioned some bishops who died in earthquakes but were not memorialised. In this instance, death by earthquake may provide the hermeneutical key for why this was the case. For example, the Arian historian Philostorgius reported that fifteen bishops, including Cecropius died in the 358 earthquake while en route to a church council because they were homoousian.90 Sozomen, perhaps perturbed that this might be read as divine displeasure on the ‘orthodox’ party, was careful to note that only two bishops died – Cecropius, bishop Nicomedia and ‘a bishop from the Bosphorus.’91 Euphrasius of Antioch’s death in an earthquake is widely reported. The details vary, but there is no trace of community grief.92 Allen suspects the silence reflects a contentious appointment, for later sources, which often incorporate early lost texts, are welcoming of his death.93 Asclepius the bishop of Edessa, who also died in an earthquake, was instrumental in expelling Paul of Edessa, while he himself once took refuge at Antioch with Euphrasius.94 It would seem 89 H.E. 6.2 (ed. Joseph Bidez and Günther C. Hansen, Sozomenus: Kirchengeshichte, GCS NF4, 2nd ed. [Berlin, 1995], 236.15-239.11). 90 H.E. 4.10 (ed. Friedhelm Winkelmann, Philostorgius, Kirchengeschichte, 3rd ed, GCS 21 [Berlin, 1981], 63.1-16). 91 H.E. 4.16 (GCS NF 4, 158.32-162.25). 92 E.g., Marcellinus Comes, Chronicon ad ann. 526 (ed. Theodor Mommsen, Chronica minora saec. IV. V. VI. VII, vol. 2, MGH AA 11 [Paris, 1847]); Evagrius, H.E. 4.5 (Bidez-Parmentier 1898, 155.23-156.11); Chronicon Edessenum 96-7 (Benjamin Harris Cowper, ‘Selections from the Syriac: No. 1 – The Chronicle of Edessa’, Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record n.s. 5.9 [1864], 28-45, 38). 93 Pauline Allen, ‘Episcopal Succession in Antioch in the Sixth Century’, in Johan Leemans et al. (eds), Episcopal Elections in Late Antiquity, AKG 119 (Berlin, 2011), 23-38, 28. Allen’s reference to Michael the Syrian condemning Euphrasius is incorrect. It is Paul the Jew, who Michael says ‘went to the Gehenna reserved for his master Satan’. 94 Michael Syrian, Chronicle (ed. Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien Patriarche Jacobite d’Antioche (1166-1199), 4 vol. [Paris, 1899-1910), I 270-3; trans. II 178-83); Chronicon Edessenum 89-93 (Cowper 1864, 37-8).

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then, that remembered events are shaped to conform to present interests, in this case factional interests. It may well be that it is these factional interests which drive the belief in god’s judgment. Either way, if this belief in earthquakes as instruments of god’s judgement was truly widespread and intensifying, then it may explain late antique historians’ relative lack of interest in rebuilding efforts after earthquakes, thus presenting us with a far more negative view of the past than otherwise.95 In contrast to narrative historiography, chronicles are characterised by a paratactic structure and brevity.96 Their function was to locate events in both absolute and relative time. Chronicles were composed by various individuals for various purposes, sometimes for no more than historical or antiquarian enthusiasms, but more often for reasons never explained. Consequently, most chronicles can only be grasped by looking at their macrostructure. In late antiquity, Christian chroniclers added new layers of meaning with apocalyptic, providentialist or teleological interpretations but most recorded earthquakes for various reasons. Eusebius’s chronicle, itself a Christian apologetic venture, served as a model for many later chronicles.97 Eusebius was concerned not only to collect ‘beneficial and important’ things from diverse histories of various nations, but also to set them out next to the history of Hebrew patriarchs.98 In this fashion it might be possible to recognize easily when the braves of each nation appeared [compared with] when the celebrated Hebrew prophets lived and, one by one, who all their leaders were.99

This would allow readers to see the relative antiquity and therefore precedence of the Hebrew prophets who, in Eusebius’ view, foretold the coming of Christ. Within this framework, Eusebius recorded earthquakes in association with rise and fall of cities. This could partly be because he was preserving data in his sources but it could also reflect his interest in the transformation of the polis and its rivalries into one overarching Christian polity or oikoumenē. 95 L. Mordechai and J. Pickett, ‘Earthquakes’ (2018) note this as a particular feature of Armenian historiography. 96 On chronicles, see Alden A. Mosshammer, The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition (Lewisburg, 1979); Cyril Mango, ‘The Tradition of Byzantine Chronography’, Harvard Ukrainian Studies 12/13 (1988/1989), 360-72; Richard W. Burgess and Michael Kulikowski, Mosaics of Time: The Latin Chronicle Traditions from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD, vol. 1, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 33 (Turnhout, 2013). I rely heavily on the introductory matter in Burgess and Kulikowski. 97 Extant only in Armenian (with some Greek fragments) and in Jerome’s Latin translation of the chronological canons. Jean-Baptiste Aucher (ed.), Eusebii Pamphili: Chronicon bipartitum (Venice, 1818); Robert Bedrosian (trans.), Eusebius’ Chronicle (2008), fathers/eusebius_chronicon_02_text.htm; John Knight Fotheringham, The Bodleian Manuscript of Jerome’s Version of the Chronicle of Eusebius, Reproduced in Collotype (Oxford, 1905). 98 Chronicon 1 (Aucher 1818, 3; trans. Bedrosian 2008). 99 Ibid.



Mango had lamented not knowing the mechanism by which events were recorded in chronicles.100 We catch a glimpse of one way in which information may have been communicated, in the letter of Severus of Antioch101 and even in the Syriac letter ascribed to Cyril of Jerusalem102 as both contain chronographic reports of an earthquake. Such chronographic reports may have been communicated by senders for recipients to add to local chronicles because they thought them newsworthy or worth remembering. Material: Dedications and epitaphs Epigraphical texts, or monuments, on the other hand, reconfigure place to construct a memory of the future.103 Despite the relative frequency of earthquakes in the late antique period, they are rarely mentioned in the epigraphical record. The few inscriptions in Latin speaking areas which do mention earthquakes are always related to buildings, while in the Greek-speaking areas, earthquakes are mentioned in all types of inscriptions, but most frequently on dedications and funerary inscriptions. In antiquity, inscriptions for rebuilding and rededications after earthquakes were most commonly found on temples and walls, indicating that a chief concern post-earthquake was to secure the favour of the gods and the safety of their cities.104 Since epigraphy also served as an important imperial communication tool, dedications could also reminded of the emperor’s largesse in reconstruction and restoration.105 However the general epigraphical impulse seems to have abated across most regions of the Roman Empire in late antiquity albeit at different rates in different areas and this was accompanied by changes in material supports (such as increased use of mosaics) and a rise in spoilation. This accompanied larger changes in the urban landscapes such as the renovation of street scapes, abandonment of temples (and concomitant building of churches) 100

C. Mango, ‘Byzantine Chronography’ (1988/1989), 360. Select Letters 5.12 (ed. Brooks 1902-1903, I 383-4; trans. II 340). 102 Sebastian P. Brock, ‘A Letter Attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem on the Rebuilding of the Temple’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 40.2 (1977), 267-86; Philip Wainwright, ‘The authenticity of the recently discovered letter attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem’, VC 40 (1986), 286-93. 103 Angelos Chaniotis, ‘Mnemopoetik: Die epigraphische Konstruktion von Erinnerung in den griechischen Poleis’, in Ortwin Dahly, Tonio Hölscher, Susanne Muth and Rolf M. Schneider (eds), Medien der Geschichte: Antikes Griechenland und Rom (Berlin, 2013), 132-69. 104 E.g., Tit. Calymnii 67 (2nd century BC). Abbreviations and bibliographic details for corpora of Greek inscriptions are as given in the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) bibliography at https:// 105 Elizabeth E. Meyer, ‘Epigraphy and Communication’, in The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World, ed. Michael Peachin (Oxford, 2011), 191-228; Angelos Chaniotis, ‘Mnemopoetik: Die epigraphische Konstruktion von Erinnerung in den griechischen Poleis’, in Ortwin Dahly et al. (eds), Medien der Geschichte. Antikes Griechenland und Rom (Berlin, Boston, 2014), 132-69. 101

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and a renewed focus on urban fortification.106 Earthquakes could also precipitate the reuse of intact cult buildings or the dismantling of ruined pagan temples and the reuse of temple elements to build or renovate other buildings such as churches. Coupled with Christianisation, earthquakes created opportunities to reconfigure landscape.107 Consequently, although there is an increase in earthquake activity in late antiquity, there is less mention of them in dedications but that should not be misinterpreted.108 The memory of earthquakes was more likely to be embedded in material elements and spatial arrangement than inscribed on them. A slightly different picture emerges with funerary inscriptions. Despite the mass casualties reported for some earthquakes – in the case of the 458 Antioch earthquake alone, the stench of rotting corpses drove survivors out of the city and it took months to bury the dead109 – earthquakes are rarely mentioned in Greek and Latin funerary inscriptions in both antiquity and late antiquity.110 Sonnabend thought this absence to be related to religious shyness, that is, a fear of displaying ‘hubris’ and provoking the gods,111 but Ehmig was right to reject this explanation as it does not account for the mention of earthquakes in dedicatory inscriptions.112 As the cause of death in general is rarely attested on Greek and Latin stele anyway, the correct question to ask is why was an earthquake as cause of death remembered for these individuals?113 Only one Latin epitaph114 and eight Greek epitaphs mention earthquakes as cause of death.115 106 Ine Jacobs, ‘The creation of the Late Antique city: Constantinople and Asia Minor during the “Theodosian Renaissance”’, Byzantion 82 (2012), 113-64, 116. 107 Ibid. 127. 108 L. Mordechai and J. Pickett, ‘Earthquakes’ (2018), 340-3. Time does not permit an exploration of how memory nevertheless remains embedded in physical elements of buildings and transformed places. 109 Chronicon ad annum 724 140/108-10 (ed. Ernest W. Brooks, Chronica Minora, pars secunda, CSCO 3, Syr. 3 [(1904); Louvain, 1955], 140; trans. Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Chronica Minora, pars secunda, CSCO 4, Syr. 4 [(1904); Louvain, 1955], 108-10). See also Severus of Antioch’s Homilia Cathedrale 31 (ed. Maurice Brière and François Graffin, Les Homiliae cathedrales de Sévère d’Antioche: Homélies XXVI à XXXI, PO 170 [36.4] [Turnhout, 1975], 640-65). 110 They are not mentioned on any Jewish (Aramaic) or Syriac inscriptions recovered to date. 111 Holger Sonnabend, ‘Epigraphische Zeugnisse für antike Naturkatastrophen’, in ΠΟΙΚΙΛΜΑ. Studi in onore di Michele R. Cataudella in occasione del 60. compleanno, ed. Serena Bianchetti et al. (La Spezia, 2001), 1220-4; H. Sonnabend, Naturkatastrophen (1999), 156-8. 112 Ulrike Ehmig, ‘Auf unsicherem Boden: Zur epigraphischen Evidenz von Erdbeben’, Klio 94.2 (2012), 294-6. 113 U. Ehmig, ‘Auf unsicherem Boden’ (2012), 296. 114 IvMilet VI 1, 195 (Miletus; 2nd century AD?; unknown victim). IvMilet VI 1 = Albert Rehm with Hermann Dessau (eds) and Peter Herrmann (trans.), Inschriften von Milet, Teil 1, Milet: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen und Untersuchungen seit dem Jahr 1899 6.1 (Berlin, 1997). 115 IG XII 1, 708 (Kamiros [Rhodes]; earthquake ca. 227 BC; for multiple unnamed victims of unknown ages); TAM IV 1, 134 (Nicomedia; earthquake ca. 120 AD; epitaph for Dexiphanes aged 5, Thrason aged 4, sons of Thrason, and their 25 year old pedagogue Hermes); St.Pont. III 139 (Amasia; 235/236 AD; Dion [?] son of Agricolas, aged 7); JÖAI 31 (1939) Bbl., 164-70 (Korykos



All of these were found in the Eastern Mediterranean or in Greek-speaking regions elsewhere (e.g. Cyrene). They commemorated either pagans or Christians, and all but one are dated from the second to fourth century AD.116 Seven of the Greek inscriptions are epitaphs for individuals rather than for mass burials (defined as more than five individuals interred simultaneously),117 and five of these mention children.118 Ehmig argues that the death of children, like accidental death, presented a significant challenge to order which needed further explaining, hence the mention of earthquake as the cause.119 This appears plausible for the epitaph of a seven year old boy which ends with a metrical verse,120 a feature which Robert remarks is common for accidental or unusual deaths.121 More prominent still are the simultaneous deaths of children and relatives on the remaining six inscriptions mentioning earthquakes:122 a father and son,123 two brothers and their pedagogue (θρέψαντος),124 and among Christian inscriptions

[Kizkalesi]; 4th century AD; for Asclepiades the father and for Asclepiades the brother of Apollonides); ASAA 1 (1914) 163-7 (Cyrene; late 4th century AD, for Demetria and her son Theodoulos); I.Pal. Tertia 1a 22 (Zoar; 18 May 363 AD; for Siltha daughter of Valentinus, aged 38, and her daughter Kyra); I.Pal. Tertia 1a 23 (Zoar; 18 May 363 AD; for Obbe, daughter of Samakon, aged 15); I.Pal. Tertia 1a 24 (Zoar; 18 May 363 AD; for archdeacon Samakon, son of Zabdas, aged 40). 116 The exception, IG XII 1, 708, dated ca. 227 BC is better described as a sacrificial altar. See Louis Robert, ‘Documents d’Asie Mineure’, Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 102.1 (1978), 395-543, 399. 117 TAM IV 1, 134; St.Pont. III 139; JÖAI 31 (1939) Bbl., 164-70; ASAA 1 (1914), 163-7; I.Pal. Tertia 1a 22-4. The Latin inscription IvMilet VI 1, 195 is too fragmentary to allow further analysis. 118 TAM IV 1, 134; St.Pont. III 139; ASAA 1 (1914), 163-7; I.Pal. Tertia 1a 22 and 23. 119 U. Ehmig, ‘Auf unsicherem Boden’ (2012), 296-7. 120 St.Pont. III 139: ἑπτ[α]έτην δὲ σεισμὸς | καὶ Μοῖρα γλυκεροῦ | φάους ἐστέρεσεν{ε}: ‘seven years [old] and an earthquake and Fate deprived [us] of a sweet light’. 121 R. Robert, ‘Documents d’Asie Mineure’ (1978), 398. On the death of children in (late) antiquity see Mark Golden, ‘Did the Ancients Care When Their Children Died?’, Greece & Rome 35.2 (1988), 152-63; Margaret King, ‘Commemoration of infants on Roman funerary inscriptions’, in Graham J. Oliver (ed.), The Epigraphy of Death: Studies in the History and Society of Greece and Rome (Liverpool, 2000), 117-54; Maria E. Doerfler, Jephthah’s Daughter, Sarah’s Son: The Death of Children in Late Antiquity, Christianity in Late Antiquity 8 (Oakland, CA, 2019), 144-74; Xueying Wang, ‘John Chrysostom on the premature death of children and parental grief’, JECS 27 (2019), 443-63. For Jewish conceptions see Amram D. Tropper, ‘Children and Childhood in Light of the Demographic of the Jewish Family in Late Antiquity’, Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 37 (2006), 299-343. 122 U. Ehmig, ‘Auf unsicherem Boden’ (2012), 297. Ehmig only counts three pairs as she overlooks Dexiphanes and Thrason (TAM IV 1, 134) and the possibility that Samakon (I.Pal. Tertia 1a 24) is the father of Obbe (I.Pal. Tertia 1a 23), first noted by Yiannis Meimaris and Kalliope Kritikakou-Nikolaropoulou (eds), Inscriptions from Palaestina Tertia, vol. 1a, The Greek Inscriptions from Ghor Es-Safi (Byzantine Zoora), Μελετήματα 41 (Athens, 2005), 31, 119-21. 123 JÖAI 31 (1939), Bbl., 164-70. 124 TAM IV 1, 134.

Remembering Earthquakes in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean


a mother and son,125 a mother and daughter,126 and possibly a father and daughter as well.127 Even so, and regardless of any theologizing or blame shifting in the literary record, there was no suggestion of divine displeasure as cause of death on any of these inscriptions, pagan or Christian. In fact, the mention of an earthquake could be read as explicitly countering that notion. Instead, their deaths by earthquake were remembered as a tragedy, because fate or providence dealt an unusual hand by striking a child, more so when also striking another family member simultaneously. This is particularly highlighted by the steles from Zoar (present day Ghor es-Safi in Jordan), a prosperous town near the traditional site of Lot’s cave south-east of the Dead Sea, which by late antiquity had also became a pilgrimage destination.128 A conspicuous feature of both Christian and Jewish steles from this site is the inclusion of a precise date of death. On Jewish tombstones, this date was usually given according to the year in the Sabbatical cycle and according to the era from the destruction of the Temple,129 while Christian steles used a date formula which included the year (in the era of Arabia), day and month, and sometimes even the day of the week.130 This means that we also have the precise date of the earthquake by which four Christians died at Zoar, namely 18 May 363.131 This particular earthquake is commonly cited in Christian sources as having ceased the attempted rebuilding of the Jewish temple under the Emperor Julian,132 but the inscriptions on the stele for the four Christian victims make no allusion to this.133 While no Jewish stele from Zoar mentions an earthquake as cause of death, all continued to express an expectation for the resurrection of the dead when the Messiah or anointed king arrives, at which time the Temple will be rebuilt.134


ASAA 1 (1914), 163-7. I.Pal. Tertia 1a 22. 127 I.Pal. Tertia 1a 23 (Obbe) and I.Pal. Tertia 1a 24 (Samakon). 128 On Zoar see Yaron Dan, ‘Palaestina Salutaris (Tertia) and Its Capital’, Israel Exploration Journal 32.2-3 (1982), 134-7; Y. Meimaris and K. Kritikakou-Nikolaropoulou, Palaestina Tertia (2005), 3-5; Mohammed Al-Nasarat, ‘The History of Zoora (Ghor es-Safi) during the Byzantine period (A.D. 324-636)’, Jordan Journal for History and Archaeology 7.2-3 (2013), 1-26 (in Arabic). For Jewish stele see bibliography in Yael Wilfand, ‘Aramaic tombstones from Zoar and Jewish conceptions of the afterlife’, Journal for the Study of Judaism 40 (2009), 510-39, 513-4. About 400 Christian funerary inscriptions from Zoar are published in Y. Meimaris and K. KritikakouNikolaropoulou, Palaestina Tertia (2005). 129 Haggai Misgav, ‘Two Jewish Tombstones from Zoar’, Israel Museum Studies in Archaeology 5 (2006), 35-46, 36; Y. Wilfand ‘Aramaic tombstones’ (2009), 510-39. 130 Y. Meimaris and K. Kritikakou-Nikolaropoulou, Palaestina Tertia (2005), 46-54. 131 I.Pal. Tertia 22-4. 132 On Julian’s campaign, see Ari Finkelstein, The Specter of the Jews: Emperor Julian and the Rhetoric of Ethnicity in Syrian Antioch (Oakland, 2018). 133 I.Pal. Tertia Ia 22-4. 134 Y. Wilfand, ‘Aramaic Tombstones’ (2009), 535-6. 126



Ritual: Liturgical commemorations Largely absent from the late antique landscape however are memorials to a disaster itself. Instead we have evidence of liturgical commemorations of earthquakes. Sozomen writes of annual processions in Alexandria to mark the ‘birthday of the earthquake’ (γενέσια τοῦ σεισμοῦ) which caused the sea to recede.135 This was likely the earthquake-tsunami of 21 July 365136 and by Sozomen’s day, assuming he wrote around 450 AD, it would have been approaching the outer reaches of what Assmann terms ‘communicative memory’.137 Severus’s homily describing the 458 earthquake which I mentioned above seems to have been preached on the earthquake’s anniversary, perhaps as part of a stational liturgy in Antioch.138 Severus also authored several short hymns on earthquakes in Antioch which either pleaded that God not condemn people for their sin in a present earthquake crisis, or praised God’s kindness for deliverance in past earthquakes, sometimes almost as an apotropaic for the present.139 Another is, as Allen describes ‘a liturgical enshrinement’ of an earthquake crisis some sixty years prior but no liturgical commemoration for this crisis survives.140 Two West Syriac martyrologies dated to the seventh and tenth centuries also include earthquake commemorations,141 while earlier and later ones do not.142 Writing at the close of the seventh century, John of Nikiu recorded that the Egyptians celebrated the memorial of an earthquake – perhaps one at the end of a series of earthquakes – every year on 14 October.143 In Constantinople, the anonymous author of the encomium on the martyr Bassus not only looks forward to an upcoming liturgical commemoration for an earthquake, likely 26 January, 135

H.E. 6.2.14-6 (GCS NF 4, 238.22-239.11). See N. Ambraseys, Earthquakes (2009), 153-6. 137 Jan Assmann, ‘Communicative and Cultural Memory’, in Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning, with Sara B. Young (eds), Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook, Media and Cultural Memory 8 (Berlin, 2008), 109-18. 138 Pauline Allen, ‘Stage-managing crisis: Bishops’ liturgical responses to crisis (4th-6th centuries)’, in David C. Sim and Pauline Allen (eds), Ancient Jewish and Christian Texts as Crisis Management Literature: Thematic Studies from the Centre for Early Christian Studies, Library of New Testament Studies (London, 2012), 159-72, 167-9. 139 Hymn 256-I-II, 257-II-VI, 260-V-VIII (ed. Ernest W. Brooks, ‘The Hymns of Severus and others in the Syriac version of Paul of Edessa as revised by James of Edessa’, PO 7.5 [1911], 595-802 [183-390], 705-9 [293-7]); P. Allen, ‘Stage-managing crisis’ (2012), 167-8; P. Allen and B. Neil, Crisis Management (2013), 77-8. 140 Hymn 261-VI-III (PO 7.5, 709-10 [297-8]); P. Allen, ‘Stage-managing crisis’ (2012), 168; P. Allen and B. Neil, Crisis Management (2013), 78. 141 Martyrology II (7th century AD), III (9-10th century AD) and IV (11th-12th century AD) in Nau’s taxonomy (ed. François Nau, ‘Martyrologes et ménologes orientaux I-XIII: un martyrologe et douze ménologes syriaques édités et traduits’, PO 10.1 [1915], 27-163). 142 Martyrology I (411 AD), V-XII (12-15th century AD) (PO 10.1, 10-26, 53-133). 143 John of Nikiu, Chronicle 81-3 (ed. Hermann Zotenberg, Chronique de Jean, évêque de Nikiou. Texte Éthiopien publié et traduit [Paris, 1883]; trans. R.H. Charles, The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu translated from Zotenberg’s Ethiopic Text [London, 1916], 143). 136

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but also seems to refer to an existing rite,144 as does Severian of Gabala in his own day.145 This suggests that earthquake commemorations were already formalised by the end of the fourth century, at least in Constantinople. Romanos would offer a kontakion on earthquake and fire in the sixth,146 The oldest Byzantine liturgical ordo, the typicon for the Great Church in Constantinople which essentially reflects rituals of the ninth century, includes nine earthquakes with associated readings and rites, all of which are solemnised by procession.147 Earthquake commemorations are also firmly entrenched in the tenth-century menologion of Basil II148 and Constantinopolitan synaxarion.149 It seems natural to assume that the spontaneous response of prayer for deliverance during an earthquake crisis and subsequent gratitude for having survived an earthquake would move people to memorialize this in some way.150 But that would not explain why some earthquakes were commemorated and not others, nor why for example, commemorations for specific events seem to have fallen aside in Egypt or in Syria while those in Constantinople continued. Additionally, we find complaints that no sooner do people turn to god and pray in a crisis that they also turn away.151 Not unlike the idea of stories being tellable and credible, commemorations persist if events are commemorable and there is mnemonic capacity to remember them in a form which both resonates with a commemoration’s potential 144 Ps.-Chrysostom, In Bassum martyrem (PG 50, 720.18-9); S.J. Voicu, ‘Due terremoti’ (2003), 45-9; Juan Mateos, Le Typicon de la Grande Église. Ms. Sainte-Croix no 40, Xe siècle, 2 vol., OCA 165-166 (Roma, 1962-1963), I 212-3. 145 De incarnatione (ed. Johannes B. Aucher, Severiani sive Seberiani gabalorum episcopi Emesensis homiliae nunc primum editae, ex antiqua versione Armena in Latinum sermonem translatae [Venice, 1827], 49.24-33). 146 Cant. 54 (ed. Paul Maas and Constantine A. Trypanis, Sancti Romani Melodi Cantica, 2 vol. [Oxford, 1963-1970], I 462-71). 147 J. Mateos, Le Typicon (Roma, 1962–1963). Helpfully listed in Sever J. Voicu, ‘Il sisma costantinopolitano del 17 marzo e due tropari del IV secolo’, in Michel Cacouros and JacquesHubert Sautel (eds), Des cahiers à l’histoire de la culture à Byzance. Hommage à Paul Canart, codicologue (1927-2017) (Leuven, forthcoming). 148 Il Menologio di Basilio II (cod. Vaticano Greco 1613) (Turin, 1907). 149 E.g., Sept 25 (5), Oct 7 (2) and 26 (2), Dec 14 (3), Jan 9 (3) and 17 (4), Aug 16 (4) in Hippolyte Delehaye (ed.), Synaxarium ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae e codice Sirmondiano nunc Berolinensi, Acta Sanctorum 62 (Bruxelles, 1902). Listed in Raymond Janin, ‘Les processions religieuses à Byzance’, Revue des études byzantines 24 (1966), 69-88. 150 Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6.38 (ed. and trans. Christopher P. Jones, Philostratus: Apollonius of Tyana, vol. 2, LCL 17 [Cambridge, MA, 2005], 198); Synesius, Ep. 61 (Garzya-Roques 2000, II 76-8); Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia AM6021 (de Boor 18831885, I 177.34-178.2); sometimes with disaster: Ps.-Joshua the Stylite, Chronicle 27-30 (trans. Frank R. Trombey and John W. Watt, The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, TTHS 32 [Liverpool, 2000], 24-30). 151 John Chrysostom, De statuis. hom. 3 (PG 49, 57.46-50); In Acta apostolorum hom. 41 (PG 60, 291.4-10); Agathias, Historiae 5.5.4-6 (CFHB 2, 170.7-30); Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia AM6046 (de Boor 1883-1885, I 229.10-3).



audience and is amenable to institutionalisation.152 A dramatic, disruptive event such as an earthquake would certainly be deemed memorable by those who had experienced it or were aware of its impact. The use of a procession as a commemorative vehicle would have also resonated with earthquake survivors. The Romans already had a long tradition of expiating earthquakes by supplicatio,153 which also involved processions.154 In the Greek tradition, Xenophon even has the Spartans singing what seems to be an apotropaic ‘paean’ (παίαν) to Poseidon after an earthquake intrudes on a symposium.155 The panegyreis of ancient Greece were participatory processions along with games, sacrifices, and assemblies. By the fourth century AD, processions had also been taken up by the church for various purposes and a procession could have been easily appropriated, and readily institutionalised for earthquake commemorations. By the time Chrysostom became bishop of Constantinople and organised processions to compete with those of the Arians, processions were already elaborate affairs, supported by imperial funds.156 But who had the mnemonic capacity and goal for such disasters to be remembered? Who would want to remind people of the worst day of their life? Bishops and emperors. Bishops would have been keen to encourage penitence and gratitude and use the opportunity to exhort, warn and encourage people to virtue. Such commemorations could not only meet pastoral needs but also be a means of maintaining social cohesion and asserting or maintaining episcopal authority. Emperors also sought to establish their authority and credibility as divinely approved rulers, and to embody the virtues of an ideal emperor, which, under Christian influence, included piety. Following the fall of Rome in 410 there was an even more urgent need for eastern Emperors to secure their authority both politically and territorially. This need becomes more acute during a crisis. Therefore, in addition to continuing an already established tradition of imperial largesse towards damaged cities, emperors participated in public mourning and commemorative processions to express humility, solidarity and penitence and thus reassure the masses as well as shoring up their authority. Emperors too had capacity and goal to maintain earthquake commemorations. Croke argued that there was a particular interest in countering a perception of God’s wrath as a cause of earthquakes when the first of a series of earthquakes hit in 438, after having so recently established the imperial capital in 152 Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Suzanna M. Crage, ‘Movements and memory: The making of the Stonewall myth’, American Sociological Review 71.5 (2006), 724-51. 153 Susanne William Rasmussen, Public Portents in Republican Rome, Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, Supplementum 34 (Roma, 2003). 154 John Baldovin, The Urban Character of Christian Worship: The Origins, Development, and Meaning of Stational Liturgy, OCA 228 (Rome, 1987), 235-8. 155 Ian Rutherford, Pindar’s Paeans: A Reading of the Fragments with a Survey of the Genre (Oxford, 2001), 50-2. 156 J. Baldovin, Christian Worship (1987), 182-5.

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Constantinople.157 However, as we now know, earthquake commemorations were already established in Constantinople by the end of the fourth century. Severian of Gabala even credits the joint intercession of emperor and priesthood for protection from earthquakes.158 Still, as Van Nuffelen has shown, these processions were also performances, whereby bishops and emperor at once ‘played the ritual game’ with an eye to maintaining their control and authority relative to the public and to each other, by controlling the attention and hence controlling the message.159 Certainly by 496 processions had accumulated such political and civil importance in Constantinople that Emperor Anastasius placed the city eparch at the head of all ecclesiastical processions in Constantinople to ensure crowd control.160 With the imperial family now permanently resident in Constantinople, it is no surprise that earthquake commemorations continued in Constantinople while they fell away elsewhere. These commemorations served a supplicatory and penitential religious function but like all processions, they were also an important civic activity and manifestation of social cohesion and political power. They functioned just as much to seize or maintain a hegemony of mnemonic processes and discourses as to encourage penitent attitudes or to promote disaster recovery and resilience. Conclusion To conclude, I set out in this article to explore why earthquakes were remembered in the late antique eastern Mediterranean. I outlined how communities in seismic hazard regions were well aware of their earthquake risk, while communities in low hazard areas were materially and mentally unprepared and that this influenced which earthquakes were remembered. I then mapped earthquake reports in different genres against the psychosocial effects of earthquakes to identify the purpose and function of each earthquake report. Our findings show that earthquakes, as indeed all disasters, generated a mosaic of event-based and placed-based remembrances and commemorations which functioned in sensemaking, social-bonding, grief work and psychological coping mechanisms, and which variously acted as symbols of renewal and sites of cultural reflection. These acts of remembrance and commemoration unfold unevenly over time and find expression in different genres in which personal memories and views of 157

B. Croke, ‘Two early Byzantine earthquakes’ (1981), 145-7. De incarnatione (Aucher 1827, 49.24-33). 159 Peter Van Nuffelen, ‘Playing the Ritual Game in Constantinople (379–457)’, in Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly (eds), Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity, Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity (New York, 2012), 183-201. 160 Theodore Lector 468 (ed. G.C. Hansen, Theodoros Anagnostes, Kirchengeschichte, GCS 54, 2nd ed. [Berlin 1971], 134); J. Baldovin, Christian Worship (1987), 184-6. 158



the past inform and shape private grief and public laments, and different social groups seek to control public memory in the form of narrative and public ritual. Applying insights from contemporary disaster and memory studies has therefore allowed us to see how texts, together with objects and spaces, form a dynamic multi-dimensional narrative of earthquake events over time and enabled us to move past raking texts and archaeological sites to identify historical earthquakes (important as that is) or viewing texts as rhetorical tropes. While this analysis has been necessarily painted with a very broad brush, the picture which has emerged provides, I think, a much more realistic context for understanding patristic theologies of earthquakes and other natural disasters. Far from simply moralising on the judgement or mercy of God in terms of theodicy, they also show a very human attempt to grapple with the new earthly realities birthed by the worst day of their life.

The Kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (Εἰς ἕκαστον σεισμὸν καὶ ἐμπρησμόν) of Romanos the Melodist or About the Theological Erminia of History Alexandru PRELIPCEAN, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iaşi, Romania

ABSTRACT It is a well-known fact that Romanos the Melodist has always been and still is an underrated hymnographer. However we find such an opinion not only unfair but also false, especially with reference to the kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (Εἰς ἕκαστον σεισμὸν καὶ ἐμπρησμόν), written by Roman after January 532 AD. Despite the fact that he did not have any source of inspiration, Romanos managed to sketch theological truths starting with historical events contemporary to him, namely the NIKA riot and the reconstruction of the churches of Hagia Sophia and Saint Irene. Through the insertion of three main sequences, Romanos limns the historical reality through theological nuances. However we ask what is this theological understanding of history? How can this kontakion become an argument against the accusation that Romanos is a ʻsecond classʼ writer? This study is aiming to find an answer to both these questions.

1. Introduction For the researchers on Romanos, the kontakion number 54, Εἰς ἕκαστον σεισμὸν καὶ ἐμπρησμόν,1 is used especially for its hints regarding the KIKA riot (54ιθ’), the destruction of several churches from Constantinople and the reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia and Saint Irene (κ’), realities which lead, in fact, to Romanos the Melodist’s time. Furthermore, Sophronius Evstratiadis considered this hymn to be the most important of the series of ten kontakia published in the edition of Elpidio Mioni, precisely for the accurate information of historical nature that has been provided.2 Other contemporary authors even consider that 1 For the critical edition of this kontakion see Romano il Metode. Saggio critico e dieci inni inediti, ed. Elpidio Mioni, vol. 2 (Torino, 1937), 86-105; Ῥωμανοῦ τοῦ Μελῳδοῦ ὕμνοι, ἐκδιδόμενοι ἐκ πατμιακῶν κωδίκων, ed. Νικολάου Β. Τωμαδάκη, vol. 1 (Athens, 1952), 87-116 (editor Dimitrios G. Dimitrainas); Sancti Romani Melodi Cantica, ed. Paul Maas and C.A. Trypanis, vol. 1: Cantica genuina (Oxford, 1963), 462-71 (our study will follow this edition and numbering of the kontakions); Romanos le Mélode. Hymnes, ed. José Grosdidier de Matons, SC 283 (Paris, 1981), 470-99. For the English version of the kontakion I used Marjorie Carpenter, Kontakia of Romanos, Byzantine Melodist, vol. 2: On Christian Life (Columbia, 1973), 237-48. 2 See his review Σωφρ. Εὐστρατιάδου, ʻElpidio Mioni, Romano il Melode, Saggio critico e dieci innediti. Torino 1937ʼ, EEBS 15 (1939), 438-45.

Studia Patristica CIV, 165-175. © Peeters Publishers, 2021.



this poem is the only one that the Byzantine poet puts in relation with the history of his time.3 However, the specialists have ʻrecreatedʼ the complete puzzle of Romanos’ life, by referring to this kontakion: its precious information doubled by other poems of the Melodist4 led to a definitive opinion that Romanos lived in Constantinople in the time of Emperor Justinian. Referring strictly to these three directions of the kontakion 54, besides the lapidary information comprised at the beginning of some critical editions5 or contemporary translations,6 the state of research still remains up to this day an insignificant one.7 This opinion is also reinforced and confirmed by the presence of the number of five studies referring to kontakion 54 that are signed by E.C. Topping,8 J.H. Barkhuizen,9 K. Nickau10 and L. Silvano.11 If we were to offer here a summary of all the research referring to this kontakion, we should say from the very beginning that the kontakion was written somewhere between 532 and 537, without having a precise date of its composition.12 Obviously, the hymn groups three major events from the Justinian epoch, 3 Leena Mari Peltomaa, ʻRomanos the Melodeʼ, in Roger S. Bagnall et al. (eds), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (Malden, 2012), 5881. See also Derek Krueger, ʻWriting and Redemption in the Hymns of Romanos the Melodistʼ, BMGS 27 (2003), 2-44, 42. 4 See the indication regarding these sources in Kαριοφίλη Μητσάκη, Ἡ βυζαντινὴ ὑμνογραφία, τόμος α’: ἀπὸ τὴν Καινὴ Διαθήκη ὡς τὴν εἰκονομαχία, Πατριαρχικόν Ἵδρυμα Πατερικῶν Μελετῶν (Thessalonike, 1971), 380-90; J. Grosdidier de Matons, Romanos le Mélode et les origines de la poésie religieuse à Byzance, préface de Paul Lemerle (Paris, 1977), 243. 5 Romano il Metode. Saggio, ed. E. Mioni (1937), 85-6; Ῥωμανοῦ τοῦ Μελῳδοῦ ὕμνοι, vol. 1 (1952), 89-95; Romanos le Mélode. Hymnes, SC 283, 455-69. 6 M. Carpenter, Kontakia of Romanos (1973), 237-48; R.J. Schork, Sacred Song from the Byzantine Pulpit: Romanos the Melodist (Gainesville, 1995), 184-5; Riccardo Maisano, Romano il Melode, Cantici, Tomo secondo (Torino, 2002), 452; Johannes Koder, Romanos Melodos. Die Hymnen, vol. 1, BGrL 62 (Stuttgart, 2005), 273; Viviana Mangogna and Ugo Trombi, Romano il Melode, Kontakia/2, TP 198 (Roma, 2007), 208. 7 See S.G. Mercati, ʻRomano il Melodeʼ, in Giovanni Gentile and Calogero Tumminelli (eds), Enciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti, vol. 30 (Roma, 1936), 59-60, 60; B. Baldwin, ʻRomanos the Melodeʼ, in Alexander P. Kazhdan et al. (eds), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, vol. 3 (New York, Oxford, 1991), 1807-8, 1808; Johannes Koder, ʻRomanos der Melodeʼ, in Hans Dieter Betz et al. (eds), Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 7 (Tübingen, 42004), 603, etc. 8 Eva Catafygiotu Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Fires: Romanos’ Encomium to Justinianʼ, BZ 71 (1978), 22-35. 9 J.H. Barkhuizen, ʻRomanos and the Nika Riots (532AD): a Religious Perspectiveʼ, Ekklesiastikos Pharos NS 1 (1990), 30-9; id., ʻRomanos Melodos: On Earthquakes and Firesʼ, JÖB 45 (1995), 1-18. 10 Klaus Nickau, ʻJustinian und der Nika-Aufstand bei Romanos dem Meloden: zum Kontakion 54 M.-Tr.ʼ, BZ 95 (2002), 603-20. 11 Luigi Silvano, ʻEchi di propaganda giustinianea in un contacio di Romano il Melode (n° 54 Maas-Trypanis)ʼ, Porphyra 3 (2004), 50-62. 12 Paul Maas, ʻDie Chronologie der Hymnes des Romanosʼ, BZ 15 (1906), 2-7; K. Μητσάκη, Ἡβυζαντινὴ (1971), 389-90; J. Grosdidier de Matons, Romanos le Mélode (1977), 243; E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 23; P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani

The Kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ of Romanos the Melodist


namely: the NIKA riot (54ισ6),13 the destruction of the churches of Saint Irene and Hagia Sophia (κ1/3) and the reconstruction of the church of Hagia Sophia (κβ7-8, κγ6-8). Of course, the opinion was formulated that the importance of kontakion 54 emerges in terms of no less than four hermeneutic perspectives, namely: historical, homiletic, literary and encomiastic.14 From a homiletic and literary perspective the kontakion does not raise too many questions, however it is the historical and encomiastic perspectives on wich the researchers have focused. In most cases, as well as in the case of many other aspects regarding the Byzantine Melodist, the opinions of those who show an interest in Romanos’ biography are shared. If in some cases the poet offers hints indicating the NIKA riot and the fire that engulfed Constantinople, expressions such as καὶ φαιδρύνεται λαμπρῶς καὶ τελειοῦται· οἱ μὲν βασιλεῖς δαπάνῃ φιλοτιμοῦνται (ʻIt was brilliantly decorated and brought to completionʼ; κβ7-8), ὁ οἶκος δὲ αὐτὸς ὁ τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἐν τοσαύτῃ ἀρετῇ οἰκοδομεῖται, ὡς τὸν οὐρανὸν μιμεῖσθαι, τὸν θεῖον θρόνον (ʻThe very structure of the church was erected with such excellence that it imitated Heaven, the divine throneʼ; κγ6-8) do not offer the irrefutable answer to the question: Is the poet referring to the destruction of Hagia Sophia from January 532 and the beginning of its reconstruction in February or does he refer to the official inauguration from 537? N.B. Tomadakes,15 K. Mitsakes,16 E.C. Topping17 give credit to the first hermeneutical variant, while P. Maas,18 J.G. de Matons,19 J. Koder,20 M. Papoutsakis,21 (1963), xix; Romanos le Mélode. Hymnes, SC 283, 458; Anna Lampadaridi, ʻRomanos le Mélode (fin Ve-milieu VIe siècle)ʼ, in Sylvie Parizet (ed.), La Bible dans les litératures du monde, J à Z (Paris, 2016), 1882-4, 1882. See J.H. Barkhuizen, ʻRomanos Melodos: On Earthquakesʼ (1995), 1, footnote 1; L. Silvano, ʻEchi di propagandaʼ (2004), 53-4. In the same note of identifying the year for the composition of this kontakion, E. Wellesz argues that poem 54 was composed after the earthquake from August 555 although the mentions from kontakion 54 have no correspondance to this event, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography (Oxford, 21961), 183-4. 13 P. Maas, ʻDie Chronologieʼ (1906), 3. J.H. Barkhuizen links ἐνίκα to the form ἐφιλονίκει from 54ισ7 as ʻwordplayʼ to indicate the NIKA riot, ʻRomanos Melodos: On Earthquakesʼ (1995), 12. 14 J.H. Barkhuizen, ʻRomanos Melodos: On Earthquakesʼ (1995), 1-2. 15 N.B. Τωμαδάκη (ed.), Ῥωμανοῦ τοῦ Μελῳδοῦ ὕμνοι (1952), 92. 16 K. Μητσάκη, Ἡβυζαντινὴ (1971), 389. 17 E. Catafygiotu Topping, ʻRomanos, On the Entry into Jerusalem: “a Basilikos Logos”ʼ, Byz 47 (1977), 65-91, 68; id., ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 34. 18 P. Maas, ʻDie Chronologieʼ (1906), 2-7. In the critical edition, composed together with C.A. Trypanis (P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis [eds], Sancti Romani [1963], xix), he indicates at the end of the introduction ʻit must have been composed between the years 532 and 537ʼ. 19 J. Grosdidier de Matons, Romanos le Mélode (1977), 243. 20 Johannes Koder, Mit der Seele Augen sah er deines Lichtes Zeichen Herr. Hymnen des orthodoxen Kirchenjahres von Romanos dem Meloden (Wien, 1996), 8, 11; id., Romanos Melodos. Die Hymnen (2005), 30; id., ʻImperial Propaganda in the Kontakia of Romanos the Melodeʼ, DOP 62 (2008), 275-92, 278. 21 Manolis Papoutsakis, ʻThe Making of a Syriac Fable: from Ephrem to Romanosʼ, Le Muséon 120 (2007), 29-75, 65-6.



C. Mulard22 give credit to the second, substantiating their opinions through different interpretative nuances of the verses of kontakion 54. However, most of the researchers are satisfied with the mentioning of this double chronological positioning, without searching for a concrete answer.23 The encomiastic valence, initially proposed by K. Mitsakes,24 was emphasized and exemplified by E.C. Topping,25 who sees Romanos as ʻdeacon-poet, [which] skillfully incorporated a basilikos logos for Justinian into a poetic homilyʼ,26 and poem 54 as ʻan important encomium to the powerful monarch who has imprinted his indelibal seal on a civilizationʼ,27 ʻan unconventional basilikos logos for Justinianʼ.28 Moreover, as the same researcher insist, ʻin eleven of this kontakion’s 25 strophes, the sacred poet from the Theotokos Church in Kyrou sings the praises of Justinian, using two traditional topoi of the basilikos logos as prescribed in the rhetorical handbookʼ.29 In other words, the encomiastic value of this kontakion is identified in relation with Romanos’ propagandistic attitude towards the religious and ethical convictions of Justinian,30 together with the praise of the Byzantine emperor, although the poet never mentions his name within his kontakia.31 It was clearly stated at one point that this kontakion was ʻorderedʼ by the Byzantine Emperor himself, since Romanos was one of the close members of the imperial court32 or that it was sung for the first time at the inauguration of the Church of Hagia Sophia on the 25th of December 537.33 So what is this study aiming for? Starting with this brief presentation of the scholarly tendencies regarding kontakion 54, the study wishes to ʻrereadʼ Romanos’ strophes for a better understanding especially of the theological perspective of this kontakion. We consider this to be a legitimate action, taking into account the reality that Romanos was above all a monk and a deacon and not 22

Christelle Mulard, La pensée symbolique de Romanos le Mélode (Turnhout, 2016), 15. See Romano il Melode. Inni, ed. Giuseppe Cammelli (Firenze, 1930), 21; Nικολάου B. Τωμαδάκη, Ἡ Βυζαντινή Ὑμνογραφία καί ποίησις ἤτοι εἰσαγωγή εἰς τὴν Βυζαντινή φιλολογίαν, vol. 2 (Thessalonike, 21993), 94; Pierre-Louis Gatier, ʻUn séisme élément de datation de l’œuvre de Romanos le Mélodeʼ, Journal des Savants (1983), 229-38, 223-4; R. Maisano, Romano il Melode, Cantici (2002), 452; A. Lampadaridi, ʻRomanos le Mélodeʼ (2016), 1883. 24 K. Μητσάκη, Ἡβυζαντινὴ (1971), 389. 25 See E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 30-4; K. Nickau, ʻJustinianʼ (2002), 604. 26 E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 22. 27 Ibid. 22. 28 Ibid. 30. 29 Ibid. 22; J. Koder, Mit der Seele Augen (1996), 11. 30 A. Lampadaridi, ʻRomanos le Mélodeʼ (2016), 1883; D. Krueger, ʻWriting and Redemptionʼ (2003), 45. See also J. Koder, ʻImperial Propagandaʼ (2008), 277-8, and L. Silvano, ʻEchi di propagandaʼ (2004), 54 sq. 31 See E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 29. 32 See J. Koder, ʻJustinians Sieg über Salomonʼ, in Θυμίαμα στή μνήμη τῆς Λασκαρίνας Μπούρα, vol. 1 (Athens, 1994), 137-41; see also M. Papoutsakis, ʻThe Makingʼ (2007), 71. 33 K. Nickau, ʻJustinianʼ (2002), 604. 23

The Kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ of Romanos the Melodist


a political figure, involved in disputes and intrigues, well-known and frequent in the Justinian times. The second interpretative perspective of this kontakion is based on the following question: if this versified homily was imitated by other Byzantine hymnographers, is then the title given to Romanos by some of the researchers as being a ʻsecond classʼ writer mistaken and unilateral? These two questions become the main interest of this study. 2. Theological understanding of kontakion 54 The prooimion of kontakion 54 brings to the fore the penitential perspective through the expression κράζοντας ἐν μετανοίᾳ σοι (ʻcrying to you with repentanceʼ).34 Without the auditorium knowing the essence of this hymn, Romanos ʻcallsʼ through his verses to repentance, to ʻa change of mindʼ if we accept the translation of the Greek μετάνοια. Furthermore, this penitential state is doubled by two other elements: the use of the verb ῥαθυμεῖς, characteristic to Romanos’ penitential hymns, in three occurrences (α8, β7, ιγ9)35 and of the eschatological element of the refrain, since the people are called to invoke the offering of the divine mercy from the Savior and the eternal life (54πρ).36 This prooimion is a meditative prayer of the people (the nation does not matter) to always relate with the divinity and look for repentance as an escape from major dangers or even ʻthe voice of the Church, its prayer to Christ for mercy and eternal lifeʼ.37 Probably, in the time of the Melodist, the auditorium would have expected a versified description of repentance and of its importance for the life of each faithful. But Romanos shifts the hermeneutical nucleus of repentance towards the intrigue that ʻgives birthʼ to repentance: people’s laziness angers the love for human beings of the One Who always loves people and the Good Master (54β3).38 In order to better exemplify laziness, Romanos resorts to images from the Old Testament, reminding us here of the dialogue between Moses and God regarding the recalcitrant attitude of the Jewish people (Ex. 32:9-10), which he alters intentionally in order to strengthen even more the intrigue of the poem and to underline the causes of the disasters brought upon the people. The theological reality described by Romanos that ʻHis anger [God’s anger] is full of love for peopleʼ (δεικνὺς φιλανθρωπίας μεστὴν ὑπάρχειν τὴν ὀργήν, δ2) is antagonistic.39 Maybe if the example from the Old Testament is not accepted 34

P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 462. J.H. Barkhuizen, ʻRomanos Melodos “On the ten virgins” (48Oxf.=51SC)ʼ, ACL 36 (1993), 39-54, 41. 36 P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 462. 37 E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 24. 38 P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 462. 39 Ibid. 463. 35



by the audience, the hymnographer resorts to another paradigm: the Canaanite woman. She becomes Romanos’ example of patience in sufferance and reproach by the fact that she did not give in to repression (54ε). The moral discourse continues and urges to correct people, however this needs to be done by a free choice of the divine will and not by restraint (54στ4). The stake of the correction of man is without a doubt achieving the Savior’s grace (54ζ2)40 and a rejection of evil, since Christ is our salvation in every moment of need (54ζ6-7). In order to give more clarity to his soteriological message, Romanos juxtaposes images from the Old and the New Testaments: he mentions the tree of life (called ʻthe first treeʼ; τὸ φυτὸν τὸ πρῶτον, 54η3)41 and Judas, the friend-traitor (τὸν δὲ φίλον ... εὕρηκε προδότην; 54η5).42 The Melodist transfers the biblical text from which he is inspired (Matt. 26:50), calling Judas ʻfriendʼ, precisely to underline and reinforce the reality that God, even in our most abject fall, considers and treats us as ʻfriendsʼ. The message of the poet-theologian is optimistic-realistic: he underlines the fall of the people, but calls to the saving hope, since the Creator continues to call man a ʻfriendʼ. But the love of God, which is also manifested as justice, imposes exterior acts through which God intervenes in people’s lives for their (re)activation and their spiritual growth. The ethical discourse of the poet is doubled by formulas of a doctrinal nature, which ʻdefineʼ salvation and the role of the incarnation of the divine Logos. Christ ʻwas born from a virgin wombʼ (ἐκ παρθενικῆς νηδύος; 54ι9),43 to cultivate virtue in people and to pay the debt for all the sins of humankind (54ια1).44 After a few strophes full of lull, the poet brings back the reason for God’s anger and the effects upon people. The 11th stanza now imposes the relationship between Healer, identified with Christ, healing (or the act of correction of humankind) and the medicine through which the Healer’s healing is completely achieved. The theme Christus Medicus is not new in Romanos’ hymnography.45 He sketches a transition to the direct exposition of the sufferance endured by the people: he prefers to present Christus Medicus in relation to the sufferance of the Byzantine that is considered to be ʻmedicineʼ to heal their sins. As a Wise Man, Christ shows His mastership in the art of healing according to the 40

Ibid. 464. C. Mulard, La pensée symbolique (2016), 217 sees in this image of the first tree ʻla symbolique de l’Église comme plantation de Dieu, l’Église étant en cela héritière de la symbolique prophétique consacrée au peuple d’Israëlʼ. 42 P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 465. 43 Ibid. 465. 44 Ibid. 466. 45 On this subject see R.J. Schork, ʻThe Medical Motif in the Kontakia of Romanos the Melodistʼ, Traditio 16 (1960), 353-63; C. Mulard, La pensée symbolique (2016), 295-7; Alexandru Iorga, H πορεία προς τη σωτηρία. Τα ανθρωπολογικά στοιχεία των κοντακίων του Ρωμανού του Μελωδού (Thessalonike, 2017), 166-77. 41

The Kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ of Romanos the Melodist


profoundness of the people’s sufferance: some are healed with His word, while others are healed through secure and not rough interventions (54ιβ). There is a blend between Christ’s words and acts, as means of healing. In the second perspective we may include the Byzantine’s adversities in the Melodist time, which he describes in the 13th stanza in relation to the divinity, which manifests the anger towards the sins of the people: ʻearthquake in creation and cry on earthʼ (σείει γὰρ τὴν κτίσιν καὶ ποιεῖ βρύχειν τὴν γῆν; 54ιγ3)46 and the clouds that no longer give rain (προσέταξε νεφέλαις πολλάκις τὰς ψεκάδας μηδαμῶς; 54ιγ6-7).47 These occur in Romanos’ thinking only as a beginning of the divine punishment, so long as the poet emphasizes that, because of the Byzantine’s indolence, Christ will burn the Holy Altars and even some churches (54ιδ3-4). Of course, the fire that caused the destruction of the churches generated among the population a state of mourning. However the historical factor is highlighted once more, and Romanos indicates it subtly: it is very likely that the expression ʻfor the fire utterly destroyed everything except Godʼ (τὰ πάντα γὰρ πῦρ διέφθειρεν, εἰ μὴ ἔσχον θεὸν τὸν παρέχοντα; 54ιδ8-9)48 refers to the gravity of the consequences of the NIKA riot, when a large part of the capital was burned to the ground. The distinctive touch of the poet is that this extinction of the fire is not owed to a human factor (54ιζ2-3),49 but to a divine one, which can turn every sufferance into a redeeming ʻmedicineʼ. The poet insists during three strophes (15-7) upon the drama of the memory of the events from January 532 and hyperbolizes it with the help of his words: the consequences of the riot revolt ʻour mind and thoughtʼ (τὸν νοῦν αἰχμαλωτίζει καὶ τὴν διάνοιαν ἡμῶν; 54ιε2),50 and the intensity and proportions of the fire were devastating (54ιε4-5). Moreover, the people’s helplessness evolved to desperate and dramatic level: the fire engulfed even the sky, and the insurgent water of the sea prevented ships from leaving the city (54ισ); panic took over while the imperial Palace was in danger of burning down (54ιζ2). Romanos prefers a gradual construction: from small to violent, from calmness to rapidity, precisely to imprint better the theological idea of his message. Facing danger and imminent death, Romanos brings back into discussion the divine factor which intervenes to save the people, hence, history does not represent for Romanos a simple assessment of the events, a diachronic placement of some facts that involve the human factor and its own modus vivendi, nor does it mean a simple preoccupation for an accurate transposition of the reality. The history of Constantinople described by him in this kontakion is under the rule of great disaster and mourning (54ιη1). For Romanos, the history of the 46 47 48 49 50

P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 467. Ibid. 467. Ibid. 467. Ibid. 468. Ibid. 467.



capital is the history of the man alienated from God, which has become pressuring, but which can relate anytime to that ʻkeyʼ bivalent factor, namely: God and the trust in Him. It is a theological history, related to God and never outside Him; this history testifies in Romanos’ thought for the relationship between man and God and between God and man within the sacred space, in which the poet-theologian also lives. The people’s whole trust (54ιζ2)51 is now directed towards God who offers them mercy (54ιζ5).52 The poet insists on the historical side of the kontakion, providing precious information to the epoch during which he lived: he mentions the repentance of the people, manifested through prayers that supplicate divinity, but inserts now – for the first time in poem 54 – the contribution of the imperial couple (ὁ βασιλεύων; ιη4),53 however without indicating the name of the protagonists. Contemporary research demonstrated that the couple referred to is JustinianTheodora. In this torment, the people, together with the imperial court, come to supplicate the divine mercy. It may even be a plastic description of the revelation of God in the concrete situations of human life, underlining the aspect of equality between the subjects and those who rule the Empire in a crisis situations. Here Romanos creates an imaginary dialogue and compares Justinian with Psalmist David, called now to defeat evil (54ιη6-7).54 This association ʻJustinian-Davidʼ was known to the epoch, so long as in the letter of Innocent of Maroneia to priest Thomas (written right after 532), he uses the same comparison,55 and the Byzantine emperor was acclaimed in victories as ʻa new Davidʼ.56 On the other hand, the expression ʻto conquer Goliathʼ (τοῦ νικῆσαι Γολιάθ; 54ιη7),57 although an allusion to the Old Testament, it also has a historical message in the context of the NIKA riot. We believe that the thesis is supported by the verse ʻbecause of those destroyed by swords, the lamentation had become betterʼ (ὀδυρμὸς πικρὸς γὰρ ἐγεγόνει διὰ τοὺς ἀναιρεθέντας ξίφεσιν; 54ιθ3)58 which is linked directly to the killing in the capital’s Hippodrome of a considerable number of citizens. The state of mourning, which spread over the whole city (54ιθ7) is also accompanied by an image of the devastated and rather glum city (54ιθ7-8). But Romanos is an optimistic poet. He does not let the drama and the glum image of the destroyed city to put the audience into a state of hopelessness. On the historical stage projected by Romanos, although people give in to illusive 51

Ibid. 468. Ibid. 53 Ibid. 469. 54 Here we stand against M. Papoutsakis’ opinion, ʻThe Makingʼ (2007), 69-70 who considers that the Byzantine emperor is the one who composed the hymn. 55 M. Papoutsakis, ʻThe Makingʼ (2007), 70. 56 E.C.Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 31; K. Nickau, ʻJustinianʼ (2002), 611. 57 P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 469. 58 Ibid. 469. 52

The Kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ of Romanos the Melodist


ambitions and ephemeral lust, the Church remains victorious. To remind his contemporaries of the event of the rebuilding of Hagia Sophia, Romanos uses now meta-typological images. Why meta-typological? Because this is not a prefiguration of the event from the New Testament through images, or characters of the Old Testament. It is a historical bridge between two characters of the same rank. In his discourse, Romanos identifies Justinian with Solomon, David and with Emperor Constantine, and the construction of the new church with the temple of Solomon (54κα3-4; κβ3). Furthermore, as a distinctive note of Romanos, Theodora is compared to Empress Helen (54κβ3). Surely, the insertion of the imperial couple59 is not made to indicate the political reference, but to strengthen even more the role of the Emperor within the life of the city: his involvement and awareness of the fact that in his person he comprises the pneumatic and social dimension of the world he rules. Through faith, which every Byzantine ruler had to testify through acts, the emperor is united not only with his subjects, but also with the entire history. Thus, the emperor becomes a descendant of the great biblical personalities and part of the plan of divine philanthropy.60 Again, the historical side is brought to the forefront by inserting the most important elements of the chronological identification of the kontakion and of Romanos’ epoch (54κβ).61 Stanza 22 confirms the events from the time of Romanos, reminding Justinian’s epoch and confirming the coming of the hymnographer to Constantinople in the time of Athanasius I (419-518). The Church of Hagia Sophia was still under construction, so, it was not a suitable place to hold the public divine cult yet, as the expression καὶ φαιδρύνεται λαμπρῶς καὶ τελειοῦται (54κβ7) leads us to believe.62 Furthermore, the expression from 54κδ(3-6)63 could indicate the time of its construction during the time when hymn 54 was composed. However, some voices support fervently that the fragment ὁ οἶκος δὲ αὐτὸς ὁ τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἐν τοσαύτῃ ἀρετῇ οἰκοδομεῖται, ὡς τὸν οὐρανὸν μιμεῖσθαι, τὸν θεῖον θρόνον (54κγ6-8),64 expresses exactly the opposite: the dome of Hagia Sophia identified with a ʻheavenʼ was already constructed, hence, in the new church services could be officiated. As we have already mentioned in the introduction, many Western researchers see the kontakion 54 as a poetical expression of the propagandistic or encomiastic attitude towards the imperial theological politics imposed by Justinian, enrolling on the list of the acclaimers of Justinian, together with Agapetus, Procopius and Paulus Silentiarius.65 Even the idea circulated that, although the hymn shows a certain tension, it was composed in conformity with the 59 60 61 62 63 64 65

For other comparisons of Romanos for the imperial couple, see the kontakia: 4πρII3,5, 23ιη2. A. Iorga, H πορεία (2017), 201, -3, -4. P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 470. Ibid. 470. Ibid. 471. Ibid. E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 22.



expectations of the imperial court and did nothing else but reclaim Justinian’s own disapproval against social revolt66 or that his identification with Emperor Constantine the Great would suggest the pressure of the imperial court, willing to hear such comparisons.67 Romanos contributed with his unique poetical tribute to underline the greatness of this pious Byzantine emperor, who not only constructed churches, but also composed theological hymns.68 Can these opinions be considered as uniform as this? In his doctoral study dedicated to the anthropological elements found in Romanos’ kontakion, A. Iorga argues vehemently against the encomiastic element of the kontakion: On the role of the emperor we find many clues in kontakion 54 ‘In any earthquake and fire’. On this kontakion, all the researchers of the work of Saint Romanos pretend it is an encomium about emperor Justinian and about Theodora, his wife. But if it is an encomium why then doesn’t he [Romanos] mention a single time the name of the great Byzantine emperor? Kontakion 54 is foremost an encomiastic hymn for God. This hymn was written during the NIKA riot and reconstruction of the imperial court. In this revolt and its consequences, Romanos sees an expression of the divine providence and love for people: God intervenes into the actions of men to secure them the eternal life.69

As understood in his study, A. Iorga is pointing towards the theological factor, therefore the intervention of God in a social rebellion, in order to be able to offer them his mercy and the eternal life, if we are to take into account the theological content of this hymn (54πρ).70 Moreover, the entire population, composed of men of the church, citizens and the imperial couple is called to become delighted with the reconstruction of the destroyed city (54κδ7-8).71 Hence, Romanos’ discourse is an ecumenical one: we believe that he sees in the Byzantine people the image of the whole world which is called to ʻliveʼ the history of the salvation of man in Christ. Furthermore, the place of the desolated image is taken now by new constructions, by the image of a new polis which has in its centre the Church. The end of Romanos’ discourse from kontakion 54 is one of prayer, for both the present and eternal life.72 The dogma is once again linked with spirituality, showing that it is not dissociated from the pneumatic content lived within the Church. Although Romanos’ prayer seems to have a personal character through the indication of the forms of the 1st person singular (54κε5-6) the author has once again in his perspective the ecumenical dimension. The history of the world involves salvation, and Romanos does not forget about this theological reality. 66 67 68 69 70 71 72

M. Papoutsakis, ʻThe Makingʼ (2007), 66. Ibid. 71. E.C. Topping, ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ (1978), 23. A. Iorga, H πορεία (2017), 202-3. P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 462. Ibid. 471. J.H. Barkhuizen, ʻRomanos Melodos: On Earthquakesʼ (1995), 18.

The Kontakion ʻOn Earthquakes and Firesʼ of Romanos the Melodist


His supplication becomes tridimensional: he prays now both for the salvation of the city, of the churches and emperors (54κε1-2)73 – as an expression of the communion between the people and the Son of the Father (54κε1), as well as for the salvation of all the people from that calamity (54κε3).74 After all, the catastrophes directed against the Byzantine have a universal character, which affect the whole world and which guide man completely to the rediscovery of the penitential valence. Conclusions As a conclusion I believe that Romanos’ poetical endeavor was not focused primarily on a commemoratio, but on a lectio divina from which the audience may hear or learn about the true reference of man before God. Romanos’ poetical meditation is signally theological: starting with historical realities, to which the hymnographer himself has witnessed, Romanos composes a theological understanding of history, which can be identified in the thesis that the city of Constantinople similar to the Phoenix bird rose from its own ashes, and this was possible only with the divine mercy poured through the real involvement of the imperial couple. Burned to the ground, destroyed by the rioters, affected through the will of God, who invites people to repentance, Constantinople is given a new ʻimageʼ and rises – through the same will of God, manifested in faithful emperors, who rebuild the city and embellish it with new edifices.

73 74

P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds), Sancti Romani (1963), 471. Ibid. 471.







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