“You’re not the same religion as me” – Severian of Gabala and his editors and reviewers

Severian of Gabala (fl. 398 AD) was the enemy of John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, and assisted in driving the latter into exile and to his death.  The disagreement between them was not ideological, but arose from perceived snubs by John’s officials.  It seems that the patriarchal officialdom created enemies for Chrysostom faster than he could deal with them, since Severian was by no means the only one offended in this way.

St. John Chrysostom is perhaps the most important of the Greek fathers.  So it is not surprising that the Greek church does not remember Severian.  Our accounts of the affair are all written from a pro-Chrysostom perspective.   In that age, as today, personal smears are the main weapon used against an enemy, so it is important to note that nothing really damaging could be found to say about him.

All the same, his works have been neglected.  This is not surprising.  For everyone has their own special interests, which will dispose them to listen, or not, to a writer.  Severian manages to be outside the area of sympathy for almost everyone involved in patristics, in the past and now.

Firstly, scholars interested in Orthodoxy will see him the enemy of the greatest of their saints.

Roman Catholics will feel the same, to a lesser degree.  So he won’t really get a hearing for himself.

Secularists will – and do! – don’t believe in the bible, and so sneer at him for his literal-minded Antiochene exegesis.

So who, precisely, will read him with an open mind?

Fortunately there is today a constituency which might.  Modern bible-believing Christians with an interest in patristics are not invested in any of these biases.  Which means that, other things being equal, we may hope for a fairly unbiased evaluation of this ancient writer, untroubled by theological odium.

I have mentioned before that IVP Academic, from this background, has arranged to publish his six sermons on Genesis.  It is my intention to review this translation, and to review what Severian has to say.  On the face of it his interpretation is bonkers; but at least I won’t have any a priori reason not to listen.

This is why it is really useful to have a variety of religious and political outlooks in academia.  It means that obscure writers who appeal to no-one may find a partisan, and be edited, translated and commentated; in short, become accessible to us all.

I’m even grateful for all the ex-hippies working on the Nag Hammadi texts.  They may be a bit daft, and their “conclusions” best explicable as the product of chemical-induced brain damage; but the fact is that nothing on earth would have induced any sensible person – alright, very few – to spend the huge amounts of time on these daft gnostic texts that they have felt inclined to do.  In consequence, we are all the gainer.

Which is rather nice, really.

Severian, if you’re up there, you owe me a beer when we meet.

18 Responses to ““You’re not the same religion as me” – Severian of Gabala and his editors and reviewers”


  1. NEO

    Nothing on point, really. Just a note to tell you how much I enjoyed (and giggled at/with) this post, especially the hippy part. Thanks.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you for saying so. I admit I was laughing when I wrote it. :-) No reason to be solemn.

  3. Suburbanbanshee

    People don’t save stuff if they don’t have any interest in it whatsoever. And anybody who studies fight-picking saints like Jerome and Chrysostom has no problem admitting that some bits of their lives were saintlier than others!

    If anything, I’d say that the “Pseudo-Chrysostom” misclassification is what makes people nervous. I mean, if you attribute it to the wrong guy once, who’s to say you got it right this time? And if you do papers and books about how Severian’s life ties into the homilies, and then it turns out they’re not his, you would feel like an idiot, or at least you’d have spent a lot of wasted effort. Scholars may not fear being found wrong, but they don’t court it, either.

  4. Suburbanbanshee

    That said, if you show people a list of titles and authors, different people should be interested in all different ones if you want to promote full coverage. So you want scholars to be different.

    Of course, browsing for random Latin words is also good.

  5. Roger Pearse

    Hmm… that is a really good point; that uncertainty of attribution prevents studies even being written. A very good point indeed – thank you.

  6. Roger Pearse

    ROTFL!! Quite so!

  7. Albocicade

    Indeed, some of Severian’s works were published under the name of Chrysostom. One can find a french translation of some (six sermons on the Creation, and one on the Snake in the desert) here : http://fr.scribd.com/doc/17116221/Homelies-de-Severien-de-Gabala
    And thank you for your post : i am currently working on the Snake in the desert, and have completely forgottent this sermon !

  8. Roger Pearse

    Of course! These are the Bareille translations that you uploaded and indexed on Archive.org (for which very many thanks indeed!) Do you have any feeling for how accurate Bareille was, as a translator?

  9. zimriel

    There was a book out about a decade ago that discussed the use evangelical Protestants might make of certain Church Fathers. I recall Tertullian especially – because no-one ever doubted his orthodoxy in doctrine, but he turned away from the Catholic hierarchy.

    It might have been this one: http://books.google.com/books?id=jgEZmsn34PEC

  10. Roger Pearse

    I ought to review it one day, I suppose.

  11. Albocicade

    Dear Roger, I did not notice any real problem with Bareille’s translation (which doesn’t mean there is none, of course : I do not use it very often…), though it is quite an old-fashioned language.
    Concerning Severian, there is also an homilie on “the washing of the feet” that can be found on Persée http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/rebyz_0766-5598_1967_num_25_1_1394 If some of you have other texts, i woud be interested : though there is “a problem” with what Severian has done, but not with what he wrote.

  12. Roger Pearse

    Oh gosh – thank you! What about this?

    Colin Gerard, L’Homélie sur la foi en la Trinité de Séverien de Gabala, Aethiopica 6, 2003, p. 70-109.

    http://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/aethiopica/article/view/372

  13. Albocicade

    Well, excellent ! Thank you !!!
    So, in french, i have :
    6 homilies on the creation
    1 “on the snake and on the Trinity”
    1 “on peace” (the 3rd of the “3 discourses” in Bareille’s edition)
    1 “on the washing of the feet”
    1 “on repentance” (chrysostom’s 7th hom. on repentance)
    and now
    1 “on faith”
    If you have some other docs, especially Aubineau’s “De centurio” (that seems to be quite interesting), i will be glad to have it…

  14. Roger Pearse

    That’s quite a collection. I hope to get hold of Aubineau’s De centurione sometime. :-)

  15. Patristics Carnival XXXV: Pentecost Edition! | Linguae Antiquitatum

    […] has a series of posts on Severian of Gabala, a theological adversary of John Chrysostom, including motives for studying him, a list of works, and some […]

  16. S.J. Voicu

    On the transmission of Severian of Gabala’s homilies, I might point to MY overview:
    «Il nome cancellato: la trasmissione delle omelie di Severiano di Gabala», Revue d’histoire des textes n.s. 1 (2006), pp. 317-333.
    Anyway, the homily De paenitentia appears to be spurious (no good links with authentic stuff).

  17. Roger Pearse

    I’d love to read it! It isn’t online, I suppose?

    Thank you also for the info on De paenitentia. It’s hard to get useful info on these things unless one is a specialist (as, I know, you are).

  18. Roger Pearse

    Dr Voicu has clarified that there is a typo in the comment above: it is De Fide (PG 60) that is spurious – De Paenitentia is genuine. See here.



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