Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

Some notes on the commentary on the psalms by Asterius the Sophist

This morning a Greek text of the remains of Asterius the Sophist’s Commentary on the Psalms came into my hands.[1]  The editor’s preface is quite interesting on this obscure writer, and I thought that I would transcribe a few remarks from it.

But who was this fellow?  Asterius was a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, but during the Great Persecution, led by Maximinus Daia, Lucian was martyred, and Asterius agreed to sacrifice to the pagan gods.  He was never ordained, in consequence, but after the Council of Nicaea, he seems to have come to support the Arian party.[2]  In consequence he wrote a booklet, the Syntagmation, promoting Arian ideas and circulated it industriously.[3]  He also wrote a now-lost refutation of Marcellus of Ancyra, who defended the Nicene definition ineptly, plus some commentaries, of which only material on the Psalms has been recovered.   He died around 341 AD.

Jerome thought him important enough to be listed in his De viris illustribus as follows:

He wrote during the reign of Constantius commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans, on the Gospels and on the Psalms and also many other works which are diligently read by those of his party

In Letter 112:20 Jerome adds that Asterius of the Sophist was one of the writers known to him who had written a commentary on all of the psalms.

Marcel Richard discovered that there are considerable remains of this commentary in the catena of type VI on Psalms 1-50.  This catena was composed in Palestine in the 6th century, and the selections from Asterius cover various verses of Ps. 1, 4-7, 10, 14-20, 34, 36 and 38.

In addition, in many of the manuscripts which transmit to us the homilies of John Chrysostom on the psalms, there is also a collection – in whole or in part – of 31 homilies on the psalms which are clearly not by Chrysostom.  Excerpts from some of these homilies also appear in the catena type VI, and are there labelled as being by Asterius the Arian.  There seems no pressing reason to reject the identification made by the catenist to seven of these homilies.  The homilies show no sign of Arian ideas, and doubtless belong to the ante-Nicene phase of Asterius’ life.  Other homilies in the same collection fit less well with Asterius, but Richard thought it best to edit the whole collection, plus the catena fragments, and let others decide which homilies were authentic.  In his edition, which follows the order of the manuscripts, homilies 4 and 5 (on Ps.4), homily 6 (on Ps.5), homily 12 (on Ps. 6), homily 13 (on Ps. 7), homily 19 (on Ps. 10), and homily 29 (on Ps.18) are definitely authentic.  Richard suggested that homily 10 may be by Origen; while homily 22 perhaps from an Apollinarist writer, while he notes that 26 actually attacks Arius and Eunomius; but his co-worker made a case that all the homilies are Asterian, and the attack is merely an ancient interpolation.

A number of the homilies are plainly intended for delivery as panegyrics on the eight days of Easter.  These are homilies 8, 9, 11, 14-16, 22, 30, and 31.

Asterius was an orator, and his style is “very exuberant”.  Richard suggests that, among the uncounted mass of pseudo-Chrysostomica, there are probably further examples of his style, perhaps in material on Romans, or on the Gospels.

The manuscripts of the collection mentioned by Richard are as follows:

A = Athos Magna Laura Θ 210, 17th century (Richard thinks 14-15), paper.  Complete, but missing homilies 1-2 and first part of 3.  The only witness to homilies 30 and 31, and the last few folios of 31 are lost because of damage to the manuscript.  The ms. has suffered from damp at the top, affecting the first 3 lines of the text.  The text contained in it is of good quality.

B = Paris suppl. gr. 266, f. 93-155v, 17-18th century.  The Greek text is followed by a Latin version of homilies 4-18, and 20:7-23:5.  Referred to by Montfaucon as “my manuscript, copied at the Escorial”.  It seems to be a copy of a manuscript with Latin material, made by a certain Fr Gabriel of St Jerome, which itself was copied from ms. Scorialensis I.Δ.11 (previously II.K.13), destroyed in the fire of 1671.  The Escorial ms. contained homilies of Chrysostom, and homilies 1-29 of this collection, and was “very ancient” according to surviving descriptions.

This Fr. Gabriel belonged to the monastery of the Escorial.  He intended to publish an edition of unpublished works of Chrysostom preserved in the mss of the Escorial, and submitted his work to the printer Cotelier.  The submitted text was in two parts; the first containing 23 homilies on the psalms, while the other contained the remaining 4 homilies, plus a commentary on Daniel.  However Cotelier was interested only in the second part, which he had purchased by Colbert, and published in 1661.  The manuscript of Fr Gabriel’s second part passed into the Bibliotheque Nationale, where it is today Ms. Paris gr. 659.  None of this material is related to our collection.

The manuscript of the first part contained 23 of the 27 homilies from Scorialensis I.Δ.11.  The Escorial ms. in fact contained still more homilies; but Fr Gabriel was naturally interested only in material which was unpublished.  Consequently he omitted the authentic homilies of Chrysostom on Ps.4-12, and also the Asterian homilies 1-3 and 25-27, because these 6 homilies were translated into Latin and printed in that form by G. Hervet, in 1549, and so were frequently reprinted with other translations of Chrysostom.

The manuscript of Fr. Gabriel’s edition ended up in Rome, where Montfaucon saw it, and made a copy.  Richard was unable to locate Fr. Gabriel’s manuscript in Rome, but Montfaucon’s copy was found at the BNF by R.P.A. Wenger, and Richard inspected it the very next morning!  The ms. is unbound, and has lost folios from the front.  But the text in it is important.

P = Paris gr. 654, a luxury manuscript from the second half of the 10th century.  It contains the end of homily 1 and homilies 2-18.  A couple of folios were lost from the front before the 13th century. The current first folio is a 13th century leaf, a palimpsest, which contains the whole of homily 1, but copied from another manuscript.  This leaf is labelled Q.

V = Vatican gr. 524, 11th century.  It only contains homilies 12-22, 25, 26-27, and 28.

C = Caesenatensis Malatestianus Plut. D XXVIII, 2.  Copied by a monk named Leo who finished on 4 September 1027.  Parchment.  Homilies 1-3, 25-27.

The 5 other manuscripts listed by Richard only contain selected homilies.  Interestingly, some of these come via copies of a manuscript once annotated by Photius.  There are also 4 mss which are only copies of other manuscripts, and 1 which is a copy of the text in Savile’s edition.  Richard also discusses the catena fragments.

The early editions naturally reflect the manuscripts.  I will only give selected details here, but Richard details the lot.

G. Hervet, D. Ioannis Chrysostomi vere aureae in psalmos homiliae…, Venice, 1549, prints a Latin translation of homilies 1-3 and 25-27, made from Ms. Vat. Ottob. 95, itself a copy of C.  This was reprinted at Anvers in 1552 and 1582, and then in all the general Latin editions Chrysostom from that of Venice, 1549, until that of Anvers in 1614.

Henry Savile’s 1612 edition of Chrysostom also included the first Greek edition of homilies 3 and 5 (in vol. 8, 1, and vol. 7, 431).  These he based on various late copies.

Homilies 6-13 were first printed with a Latin translation by J.B. Cotelier in Ecclesiae Graecae Monumenta, vol. 2, Paris, 1681, p.1-81.

Montfaucon’s edition of Chrysostom includes 3, 5 and 25, based on preceding editions, somewhat corrected.

The Patrologia Graeca reprinted Cotelier as vol. 40, col. 389-477, and Montfaucon in vol. 55, col. 35-39 (hom. 3), 539-544 (hom. 5), and 549-558 (hom. 25).

There was then no interest until Richard and Skard started work in 1949.  Richard also lists editions of the catena fragments, and a mess they are too.

My own interest in all this is concerned with homily 21, and its mention of Matt.27:25.  Sadly it looks as if it is neither Asterian, nor published other than by Richard in Greek (without a translation of any sort!)

  1. [1] Asterii Sophistae.  Commentariorum in Psalmos quae supersunt. Accedunt aliquot homiliae anonymae. Ed. Marcel Richard. In: Symbolae Osloenses fasc. suppl. 16, Oslo: Brogger, 1956. P.3-245.
  2. [2] Indications to this effect may be found in Philostorgius, HE, book 2, 15; and book 4, 4; so Richard, p.iii.
  3. [3] Athanasius, De synodis 18, and De decret. 8.

From my diary

I am still collecting references to Matthew 27:25 in the fathers, and still encountering interesting and unusual texts that are unfamiliar to me.  The major chunk of material still in my hands is a bunch of references in the commentaries of St Jerome, and a library visit is going to be necessary to finish them up.

Another project of mine has sprung back into life this week.  I’ve wanted to do something about Methodius of Olympus for a while.  I was resigned to paying for translations from Russian; but I was never very happy about that.  Rather to my surprise, a kindly colleague has found for me a gentleman who knows Old Slavonic!

Today I have agreed with him to translate into English some of the works of Methodius of Olympus, found only in that language.  Thankfully there are a couple of manuscripts online, and he is able to work from these.  For the text itself has never been published.  The text is rather corrupt, apparently, but probably as a result of some earlier accident.

The sample of the first page of one of them arrived today, and looks excellent.  Unless there are any mishaps, I am confident that we’ll get at least one work of Methodius online from this.

Working with anyone that you haven’t worked with before always involves a settling-in period.  He doesn’t know my quirks, copious as they are, and I don’t know his.  But it usually works out OK with goodwill on both sides.

Mind you, I still cherish the memory of one chap who withdrew in a fit of political correctness almost before we started.  I had explained to him that I’d want to see a sample page of translation without obligation, because of a bad experience in the past with some Lebanese translators.  They’d produced gibberish, which I felt obliged to pay for, but was unusable.   This apparently was a major solecism.  He informed me that I shouldn’t have said that they were Lebanese – he didn’t say why – and he threw all his toys out of the cot, refused to proceed, and never corresponded with me again.  That the project was of benefit to the world was of less importance than ideology, I fear.

I tend to look for a couple of things in every translation that I’m involved with.

Firstly, the result must always mean something in English.  There should never be any doubt, in my opinion, what the translator thought the author was saying, and that something should be in the translation.  This principle protects one against producing gibberish, which is always a risk when a translation becomes too literal.  I feel that one should never shy away from paraphrasing when the alternative is unintelligible, but always include a footnote.  The footnote preserves us both from the carping reviewer, of course.

Secondly, I think we ought to remember that, in these days of the internet, material in English may be read by those for whom it is a second language, or indeed only barely so.  There’s several billion people out there, who might potentially wish to read what the author had to say.  Let them do so!  But we can effectually stop this, if we use obscure or archaic language.  In particular the “language of Zion” is a chancy business: in some ways, it can be a universal language.  In other times, it can be a complete barrier.

The influence of the Authorised Version of the Bible lives on.  Most of us at some time have struggled with some translation of a patristic author, and found ourselves mentally retranslating each sentence out of stilted wording into the English we would actually use, simply so that we can work out what is being said.

I’m not intending to commission any other projects at the moment, as my industry is in the doldrums right now.  But I still have various Greek and Latin texts that I want to do.  There are still more texts about Nicholas of Myra to attack.  I’d like to get a work against the Jews by Maximinus the Arian into English.  But for now, let’s concentrate on Methodius.

Anthony Alcock – text and translation of the Life of Barsuma the Naked

Another translation from the Coptic by Anthony Alcock, this time of a medieval saint who emulated Job.  Here it is:

A little after our time-frame, but always good to make literature accessible online!

Translations of the biblical commentaries of St Jerome

St Jerome produced a significant quantity of commentaries on the bible, and translated still others.  These last were mostly by Origen.  Yet his commentaries have remained untranslated until recent times; and it is actually surprisingly difficult to discover what has, and has not, been translated.

I thought that I would give what information I have available, if only for my own use.  Contributions are welcome; I have little information about French translations, for instance.

There are modern critical editions of the text of most of these in CCSL vols. 72-76, and no doubt older, punctuated, and more readable ones in the Patrologia Latina.

Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim. Ed. PL23, col. 983-1062 (better than CCSL) Tr. C.T.R. Hayward, St Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis, Series: Oxford Early Christian Studies, Clarendon Press (1995)

Notes on the Psalms.  Isolated scholia, printed in CCSL 72.  [No translation.]  German: Siegfried Risse, Hieronymus: Commentarioli in Psalmos – Anmerkungen zum Psalter, Series: Fontes Christiani 79, Brepols, 2005.

Commentary on Ecclesiastes.  Tr. Richard J. Goodrich, ACW 66 (2012).  Tr. Robin MacGregor, ed. John Litteral (2014, but made earlier).  Amazon.  French: Commentaire de l’Ecclésiaste / Jérôme ; trad., introd., annot., guide thématique de Gérard Fry,…, Migne (Paris) 2001.  Spanish: Comentario al Eclesiastés / Jerónimo ; introducción, traducción y notas deJosé Boira Sales, Ciudad Nueva (Madrid) 2004.

Commentary on Isaiah.  Tr. Thomas P. Scheck, ACW68 (2015).  Italian translation by  R. Maisano for Citta Nuovo, 2014.

“Adbrevatio” on 1st five verses of Isaiah.  [No translation.]

Commentary on Jeremiah.  Tr. Michael Graves, 2012, for IVP Academic.

Commentary on Ezekiel.  [No translation.]

Commentary on Daniel.  Translated by Gleason L. Archer, 1958, and online.  Italian translation: S. Cola, S. Girolamo: Commento a Daniele, Rome 1966.

Commentary on Hosea.  [No translation]

Commentary on Joel.  [No translation]

Commentary on Amos.  [No translation]

Commentary on Obadiah.  [No translation]

Commentary on Jonah.  Tim Hegedus, thesis, 1991.  Online here.  Tr. Robin MacGregor, ed. John Litteral, 2014.  ISBN: 978-1500784935. (Amazon)  French: SC 43.

Commentary on Micah.  Anthony Cazares, “A Translation of St. Jerome’s Commentary on Micah.” MA thesis, Ave Maria University, 2013. This translation is contracted to be published by Intervarsity Press (Ancient Christian Texts). [1]

Commentary on Nahum. Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, OP, “A Translation of St. Jerome’s Commentary on Nahum.” 2011. This translation is contracted to be published by Intervarsity Press (Ancient Christian Texts).  [2]

Commentary on Habakkuk.  [No translation]

Commentary on Zephaniah.  [No translation]

Commentary on Haggai.  Daniel M. Garland, St. Jerome’s Commentary on the Prophet Haggai” in St. Jerome’s Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, vol. 1, Ancient Christian Texts, IVP Academic (forthcoming).  Info from

Commentary on Zechariah.  [No translation]

Commentary on Malachi.  [No translation]

Commentary on Matthew.  Tr. Thomas P. Scheck, in FOC 117, 2008.  Preview.  French: SC 242 & 259.  Italian: S. Aliquo, Rome, 1969.

Commentary on Galatians.  Ed. PL 26.  Tr. Andrew Cain, St Jerome: Commentary on Galatians, series: Fathers of the Church 121 (2010): Preview.  Also tr. Thomas P. Scheck, St Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus and Philemon, Notre Dame (2010).  Italian: Commento alla Epistola ai Galati / Girolamo di Stridone ; introduzione, traduzione e note a cura di Giacomo Raspanti, Brepols, 2010.

Commentary on Ephesians.  Ed. PL 26.  Tr. Ronald E. Heine, The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, OUP 2002.

Commentary on Titus.  Ed. PL 26.  Tr. Thomas P. Scheck, St Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus and Philemon, Notre Dame (2010)

Commentary on Philemon.  Ed. PL 26.  Tr. Thomas P. Scheck, St Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus and Philemon, Notre Dame (2010)

Commentary on Revelation.  A revision of the commentary of Victorinus of Pettau.  Ed. CSEL 49 (1916).

There’s quite a lot more extant in English than I had realised, in truth.  It looks very much as if Thomas P. Scheck has the remainder in hand, possibly in cooperation with IVP’s Ancient Christian Texts series of translations purely of ancient commentaries.  If so, then we should all be grateful.

  1. [1] Translation directed by Thomas P. Scheck: see CV here.
  2. [2] Translation directed by Thomas P. Scheck: see CV here.

New Latin-Italian edition of the collected works of St Jerome from Città Nuova

It is really remarkable that the works of St Jerome have never been translated in their entirety into any modern language.

But the Italians are good on this kind of thing, and while searching for whatever exists, I learned of a project to do just that.  It is being directed by the excellent Claudio Moreschini, and I see other familiar names like Angelo di Berardino and Sandra Isetti are involved.

Here is the home page, at the publisher, which lists all the works that will be included and how they will be divided up.  (Use Google Translate to read this)  Fifteen volumes are projected.

The volumes will be Latin and Italian on facing pages.

Some volumes have already appeared.  A search on reveals that volume 15 (Historical and Hagiographical Works) is out; and also the Commentary on Isaiah, in 4 volumes, translated by R. Maisano.  Each volume is about $70, so not cheap; but no doubt libraries can afford them.

This is a welcome initiative, and one can only wish that a similar project could be undertaken in English – and, ideally, without enriching some publisher along the way.

Some notes upon Apponius and his commentary on the Song of Songs

It is rare that I come across a wholly unfamiliar patristic writer.  But among the results of a Cetedoc search on Matthew 27:25 was a quotation from “Apponius”:

Apponius – In Canticum canticorum expositio (CPL 0194) lib. : 12, line: 1136
Quos omnes non est dubium manibus aures oculos que clausisse, ne tam horridam uocem audirent dicentium: Crucifige talem, et: Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros, aut ne tantum nefas intenderent, quod etiam sol et astra absconsa sunt ne uiderent.

Erm … who?!  There is not even a Wikipedia article for him.  Philip S. Alexander rightly states:

Apponius is a very shadowy figure.[1]

So I thought that some notes might be useful.  My first port of call was Quasten’s Patrology[2]  Here is the entry:

An Expositio in Canticum Canticorum, generally held to have been written in Italy and probably at Rome between 405 and 415 has been transmitted under the name of Aponius, who is considered to have been a Roman, perhaps of Eastern origin. Some, however, judge it to be the work of an Irish author from the seventh century (cf. CPL, p. 43). The earlier date is nevertheless to be preferred because of the author’s delight in combatting the heretics of the fourth century, his interest in the Church of Rome, and, above all, because of the fact that he makes no reference to the Pelagian Controversy, although his favorite theme, the church without stain, would have had to have led him to deal with the Pelagian question (Riedlinger).

The twelve books of the Explanatio are written in a somewhat rough but always vivid Latin and are based on the text of Jerome’s Vulgate. Aponius, who is also acquainted with the commentary on the Canticle attributed to Hippolytus of Rome, follows the Origenist tradition and presents a Christological exegesis of the Canticle, considering it entirely from the spiritual point of view in connection with the history of salvation. He therefore seeks to emphasize the relation between Christ and the church from the very beginning of this history. Under the evident influence of the Jewish exegesis taken up again by Hippolytus, he also takes an interest in the destiny of the Jews within the scope of divine providence and the continuity of Old Testament forms in the Christian world. Just as the Jewish exegetes had recognized in the Canticle the historical vicissitudes of their people, so Aponius finds in it the history of divine revelation from creation until the last judgment, concluding with the conversion of Israel (12, 277: PLS I, 1023).

Aponius furthermore sees in the Canticle the representation of the union between Christ and the faithful soul and, not infrequently, of the intimate union between the Word and the human soul of Jesus.

Recent scholarship has shown a special interest for the way in which Aponius uses the idea of representation, for he designates both the sacerdotes et doctores (bishops or others) and in particular the bishop of Rome as vicarii of God, of Christ, or of the Apostles.

No less interesting is the Christological orientation of Aponius’ Explanatio, undoubtedly due to Origen, his principal example. Indeed, in the West at that time, no other author dealt to such an extent and in such detail with the human soul of Christ (Grillmeier, 385). Aponius insists on the role of this soul and makes the work of redemption depend on its free decision (11, 179: PLS I, 961 f). Although taking up the Origenist idea of the perfect union between the Word and the soul of Jesus, he, nevertheless, does not place the accent on the Christus gloriae but rather on the Christ of the cross since, according to him, that union became indissoluble at the moment of the death on the cross (12, 242: PLS I, 1020f), when Christ, i.e., his elect soul, brought peace into the world by reconciling it with God (12, 236f: PLS I, 1015). Thus Aponius’ Christology, inspired to a great extent by Origen but influenced likewise by Western traditions, anticipates in some way the Cur Deus homo of Anselm of Canterbury (Grillmeier, 388). Furthermore, Aponius displays a theological and philosophical culture based on the confluence of secular philosophy with exegesis of a Neoplatonic type (cf. Courcells).

The Explanatio of Aponius does not seem to have exercised extensive influence. Nevertheless, Gregory the Great and Bede the Venerable were acquainted with it and it appeared again in the ninth century in an abridged form of twelve homilies (Bellet).

Editions: (Cf. CPL 194) PLS I, 800-1031 (H. Bottino and J. Martini, 1843).

There is some additional bibliography giving studies, which I have omitted.

A Google search revealed an editio princeps, of only 6 books, in 1538, which also includes the medieval epitome by Luke the Abbot.[3]

The edition listed by Quasten, of Bottino and Martini (1843), is a little difficult to track down, but seeing that it is listed in a catalogue as “Aponii scriptoris vetustissimi in Canticum Canticorum explanationis libri 12 / Quorum alias editi, emendati et aucti, inediti vero hactenus desiderati e codice Sessoriano monachorum Cisterciensium S. Crucis in Jerusalem Urbis nunc primum vulgantur. Curantibus Hieronymo Bottino [Bottino, Gerolamo], Josepho Martini [Martini, Giuseppe]. Romae 1843: Typ. S. Congregationis de propaganda fide. XIX, 256 S., 1 Taf.”, I was able to find an online copy at here.

The “PLS” edition, the Patrologia Latina Supplementum, is impossible to locate online.

A new edition exists, in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, vol. 19 (1986), edited by B. De Vregille and L. Neyrand.  It is 658 pages.

Thankfully the same editors also produced a Sources Chrétiennes edition, with French translation, in 3 vols.[4].  There is also a German translation of books 1-3 and 12.[5]

Let us return to Philip S. Alexander, and see what he says about Apponius’ commentary on the Song of Songs:

This states that the Song of Songs speaks of quidquid ab initio mundi usque in finem in mysteriis egit acturusve erit Dei Sermo erga Ecclesiam. This enigmatic commentary, in its full form, is large, and as a result its historical schema does not, perhaps, emerge all that clearly from the mass of detail. But that Apponius offers a historical schema cannot be denied. Thus Cant. 1.1-2.6 covers Israel under the old dispensation; 2.7-15 refers to the incarnation; and 2.16-3.11 to the crucifixion, the resurrection, the conversion of the Church of Jerusalem and the bringing in of the Gentiles by Paul. Chs. 4-6 rather lose the chronological thread but they do speak of a time of persecution and martyrdom, and of a fall into heresy by the Church. The thread is picked up again strongly in 7.1-9, which is seen as referring to the conversion of Rome to Christianity. 7.10-8.4 deals with the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire which are looked upon in a rather positive light, since they allowed the barbarians to be converted to Christ. This leaves only the conversion of the Jews outstanding, and Apponius anticipates this event in the exposition of Cant. 8.5-14.

Apponius is a very shadowy figure. De Vregille and Neyrand are inclined to accept Johannes Witte’s view that he wrote his commentary on Canticles (his sole known work) in Rome between 405 and 415 CE.  They are less certain that he was a converted Jew, and with good reason: there is little in his commentary to suggest a Jewish origin. His occasional sympathetic references to the Jews and his interest in Israel’s place in the divine scheme of things prove little. The persistent suggestions that he drew on Jewish Bible exegesis and perhaps even directly on the Targum of Canticles are unsubstantiated.

Alexander also states that Witte’s 1903 volume on Apponius is still the most important study.[6]

I also found on Google Books a preview of The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity, by E. Ann Matter (2010), which was rather interesting.  After discussing the commentary of Gregory of Elvira, she goes on (p.89-91, footnotes omitted):

The Tractatus de epithalamio of Gregory of Elvira thus provided a model for exegesis of the Song of Songs which made the narrative of God’s love for the Church into a polemic for orthodoxy. This is also true to some extent though not exclusively, of other commentaries from the age of the great councils. The influential commentary of Apponius, for example, while relying on the same sources as Gregory of Elvira, makes a striking contrast to this strident exclusivity. Apponius is an obscure author whose major (and perhaps only) work, In Canticum Canticorum expositionem was not printed until 1843, and has only recently appeared in a critical edition. As Grillmeier has shown, this interpretation of the Song of Songs presents itself squarely within the Christian polemics of the age: it argues Christ’s divinity against the Arians and Christ’s humanity against the Gnostics, and echoes Origen’s stress on the soul of Christ and the human soul.

Apponius emerges from the difficult pages of this work as a complicated and rather cosmopolitan figure. His attitude towards the disputes of fourth-century Christianity is far more tolerant and sophisticated than that of the Bishop of Elvira, yet the reasons for this tolerance are obscure. In fact, many things about Apponius are obscure. He has been credited with knowledge of Greek and several Semitic languages, but this has been disputed.  He has been described as a native of fifth-century Syria or of seventh-century Ireland, or as a converted Jew, all with little evidence. Recent scholarship has suggested that the Song of Songs commentary of Apponius was written between 398 and 404, perhaps in Italy, or among an Italian literary circle. His commentary on the Song of Songs seems to show knowledge of Jewish biblical interpretation, but this may be secondary, as he is heavily dependent 011 Jerome. Apponius also cites from the Latin translations of Origen on the Song of Songs, and a number of grammatical and scicntific texts of late antiquity.” Like Jerome, Apponius may be most accurately described as a Christian who lived and studied in Italy and/or Palestine, and perhaps had some connexion with an intellectual center such as Caesarea, where many worlds—East and West, Christian and Jewish, Semitic, Greek, and Latin—came together.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Apponius’s work on the Song of Songs is most widely known in the Latin Middle Ages in the form of an adaptation into twelve homilies attributed to Jerome. This version, known by its incipit, “Veri amoris,” is found in twice as many manuscripts as the original, significantly, in copies associated with monastic houses in France and the Low Countries.   …

At the beginning of the commentary, Apponius promises to show the hidden wit of the rough text of the Song of Songs, “following in the tracks of ancient teachers,” and “by using the examples of the Hebrews.” The latter may refer to rabbinic interpretation, or it may indicate use of the Vulgate Bible translation of Jerome, which Apponius consulted along with other Latin translations.” Whether or not Apponius actually knew Hebrew, there are hints throughout of his awareness of the Jewish tradition of Song of Songs interpretation. Near the beginning of Book I, he recalls Akiba’s defense of the Song of Songs, stating that it speaks not at all of carnal love (“which the Gentiles call cupidity”) but is “totally spiritual, totally worthy of God, and totally the salvation of souls;” just below is a remarkably clear reference to the commonplace of rabbinic interpretation that the Song of Songs “was shown in figura to Moses on Mount Sinai so that he could make the Tabernacle of like beauty and measure.” At Song of Songs 1:7-8, Apponius gives an elaborate (though trinitarian) exegesis of Deuteronomy 6:5, part of the central
Jewish prayer known as the Sh’ma.

This knowledge and acceptance of Judaism is in striking contrast to the vituperations of Gregory of Elvira, and indeed, to other contemporary Christian authors. Clark rightly claims that Apponius even “outstrips Origen in his positive evaluation of ancient Israel.” But Apponius’s most frequent type of reference to Judaism is not to contemporary Jews, but to the role the Hebrew people played in keeping the Law before the proclamation of the Gospel. The entire commentary is structured around the ultimate triumph of the Church, against great odds, as the people of God. Apponius praises the ancient Hebrews as forerunners of the Church: they were, for example, the only ancient people to anoint with oil, and they anticipated the coming of Christ, who was praised by God’s faithful servant, Moses. The triumphalism of this message must be
stressed, for to contemporary Jews, Apponius preached conversion. However more cosmopolitan and tolerant Apponius may have been, he is most like Gregory of Elvira in his firm defense of the Church militant. He shows the highest regard for both the secular and religious power of the Roman Empire, which he links to the triumph of Christianity. Like contemporary Syrian authors, but unlike the Roman Church of the fourth century, Apponius understood the Feast of the Epiphany as the birthdate of Christ; using a tradition dating from Tertullian, he emphasized the congruence of the Nativity and the foundation of the Empire under Augustus, both evidence of divine providence. This variant on Roman liturgical customs thus paradoxically serves to emphasize the importance of Rome for Christian leadership.

The first job of the literary critic, is to cause the reader of the critic to desire to read the author criticised.  Dr Matter has achieved this well.  Incidentally “Clark” is Elizabeth A. Clark, “The Uses of the Song of Songs: Origen and the Later Latin Fathers,” in Ascetic Piety and Women’s Faith: Essays on Late Ancient Christianity, 1986, pp. 386-427.

Perhaps it is time that somebody translated Apponius (or Aponius) into English!  I was able to find a couple of passages that have been translated.

First of these is a passage in the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture volume on Isaiah 1-39.  On p.142-3 is a passage from Apponius:

19:18 Five Cities in Egypt.

Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Latin and Syriac: Five Cities. Aponius: Like one body has five senses and five movements by which all of its works are performed, so also are five different personas typified in this Canticle, each through the image of a spouse. not counting the “sixty queens’and “eighty concubines”and ‘adolescents without number,”or”daughters,”and “the only child of her mother,” who calls herself a “wall,”
and she who “has no breasts.”

These five personas, I believe, denote five languages. Hebrew, the first of all languages, was the language of those from among whom the church was first assembled at the coming of Christ and to whom the first Gospel was addressed in Hebrew through the apostle Matthew. Greek is the language of those collaborators of the apostles, the Evangelists Mark and Luke, who are shown to be the first after the Hebrews to have gone on their missions. Egyptian, with which Mark the disciple of the apostles was not unfamiliar, is the tongue of those to whom he was sent as a teacher; the example he left them flowers still today with holy piety. Latin, which the ancients called Auxonian after King Auxonius, is the language of the one who has Peter, prince of the apostles, as its teacher and patron; decorated with the jewels of his doctrine, it is united by participation in Christ. It is to it, we believe, that it was said, “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, daughter of the prince!”  Fifthly, Assyrian, also called Syriac, is the tongue of the country to which the nation of ten tribes, the kingdom of Ephraim, was led away captive. By proclaiming the merit of its religion through this tongue, the people were made one body. Assyrian, then, represents the nation which was led by the Word of God “out of the wilderness” where Christ was not honored and out of the thorny conduct of humanity, to be settled in the delightful garden of sanctity.

After or apart from these languages, all the others under heaven, once converted to Christ, will be grafted into them like a limb onto a body. For everyone who believes in one omnipotent God and confesses one Redeemer, Christ, the Son of God, and receives the one Holy Spirit who proceeds from both, together constitutes the one body of the church, which is unified. as we have said. as though by the five senses. And it was prophesied quite clearly in mystery through the prophet Isaiah, I believe. that these five languages would become one language rejoicing in the praises of its one Creator by holding firm to the one faith. The coming of such a time was predicted when he said, ‘There will be in that day,” the day when the Lord will break the chains of his people, “five cities in the land of Egypt speaking the language of Canaan, one of which will be called the city of the sun.”

We know that “Egypt”means “obscurity”or “darkness,” which characterized the entire world before the incarnation of Christ, as blessed John the Evangelist taught when he said, ‘The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overtaken it.” Zechariah also taught that Christ came “to illuminate those who were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.” And the Savior himself declared, ‘I am the light of the world.’ “Canaan,” on the other hand, means “glowing chalice.” Who else are we able to understand as a glowing chalice except the Holy Spirit, who, after the ascension of the Lord, was first sent by the Father and the Son to the apostles while their faith was still cold? Of him it is said in the Acts of the Apostles that “he rested upon each one like a flame.” He filled those who spoke the one praise of the one God in the tongue of every nation, such that they appeared intoxicated to the unaware. Having received from this chalice. the five prophesied cities now speak the marvels of the omnipotent God with one mouth or one tongue, ‘that our Lord Jesus Christ.” as Paul, teacher of the Gentiles, shows, ‘is to the glory of God the Father,’ and that “no one can say that Jesus Christ is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.’ The name ‘city of the sun’ designates the one Hebrew language itself, whose kingdom is seared in Jerusalem. There is the throne, there is the temple, the holy place of worship, and there is the kingdom of Judah, whence came Christ, the Sun of justice. It is from Jerusalem, which was previously called Heliopolis, meaning “city of the sun,” that light is shed throughout the entire, darkened body of the world. From it, a healing balm is applied to every member of the church. And it was of this sun that the prophet predicted, “For you who fear the Lord, the sun of justice will rise, and healing is in its rays; and you will leap like young bulls in the middle of the herd, and you will trample your enemies until they become like the dust under your feet.” — Exposition of Song of Songs, Epilogue 89-93.

Now that is indeed very Origenian and allegorical, isn’t it?  There are two further short passages given in the same ACC volume.  Incidentally why don’t we hear more of these exceedingly useful IVP volumes of ancient commentary?

Another couple of passages appear in translation in a volume of Biblical and Near Eastern Essays[7]

… (God) enriches his Church with ‘the flowers of heavenly wisdom and the lilies of integrity’. He (Apponius) then explained that Christ became ‘the Lily of the valley’ when he took on a human body and entered the thorny world of idolaters and sinners:

“When, through the mystery of the Incarnation, he came down into this valley of tears (Ps. 83.7; Vulg) to live in the midst of the thorny thicket of sinners he declared that he had become ‘the lily of the valleys’. In this valley nothing flourished but the filthy practice of idolatry, nothing but the thorny thicket of hatred, theft, murder, divination and soothsaying, fornication and the magic arts.”[8]

The idea that Christ became ‘the lily of the valleys’ on his incarnation is from Origen[9].  Maher continues, however, thus:

The words ‘As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters’ (Cant. 2.2) allowed Apponius to develop the idea that the Church in the world is always subject to the attacks of gentiles and heretics of different kinds. These are children of the devil who do their father’s work and whose teaching poisons the atmosphere in which the faithful must live. Of these Apponius says;

“Although we are not actually told whose ‘daughters’ are those souls among whom the Church exists as ‘a lily among thorns’, nevertheless from the fact that they are compared to ‘thorns’ we can conclude that they are called ‘daughters’, not of God, but of the devil, brought to birth by his most wicked doctrines. For the Church dwells in this world in the midst of as many poisonous thorns as there are people who attack the Church with the doctrines of pagans, or with the many and varied rites of the heretics…in defence of their father (the devil)… In this way the Word of God has clearly shown that the souls of the just dwell in this world in the midst of sharp ‘thorns’. So the Christian need not be surprised when his or her body is pierced by the various thorns of the wicked.”[10]

And one final passage:

Apponius continues with a statement to the effect that Christians, who are citizens of a world in which the virtuous and the wicked live together, must avoid the company of sinners and reject their teaching. Since this is not easy one can see that the text which describes the Church as ‘a lily among thorns’ is an expression of generous praise of the faithful who refuse to be deceived by the attractions of the wicked:

“It is not so much by living in this earthly life—where the innocent and the wicked live together— but by fellowship with unbelievers that the souls of the faithful are wounded… That is why the Scriptures warn us in many places to avoid associating with such people… When Scripture says ‘As the lily among thorns so is my love among the daughters’ it is not for the purpose of finding fault with the righteous who are members of the Church but to praise them. This she does in order to teach us that it is highly praiseworthy to live devoutly among wicked and perverse people and not to conform in any way to their thorny conduct. Among such people the upright person shines like a light in the darkness’ (cf. Jn 1.5).”[11]

UPDATE: The passage referencing Matthew 27:25 may be found on p.246 of the 1843 edition.  I have also added extra material, after further searching.

  1. [1] Philip S. Alexander, “The Song of Songs as Historical Allegory” in: Kevin J. Cathcart & Michael Maher (eds), Targumic and Cognate Studies: Essays in Honour of Martin McNamara, 1996, p.25.
  2. [2] Vol. 4, p.565-6, where he is named “Aponius”.
  3. [3] Aponius: Commentariorum … in Cantica Canticorum Solomonis libri sex … Ad haec epitome commentariorum D. Aponij in eadem Cantica per Lucam Abbatem … Praeterea D. Cassiodori Abbatis … commentaria … in eadem Cantica, etc.  Issued by Johannes Faber Emmeus, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1538.  Online here.  There are many reprints.
  4. [4] Commentaire sur le Cantique des Cantiques, 1997. SC 420. , tome I. Livres I-III; SC 421. tome II. Livres IV-VIII; SC 430. tome III. Livres IX-XII
  5. [5] Hildegard König (ed), Apponius. Die Auslegung zum Lied der Lieder: Die einführenden Bücher I-III und das christologisch bedeutsame Buch IX, Freiberg: Herder, 1992.
  6. [6] Johannes Witte. Der Kommentar des Aponius zum Hohenliede. Inaugural-Dissertation,  Erlangen: K. b. Hof- und Univ.-Buchdruckerei von Junge & Sohn, 1903.  I don’t know if US readers may be able to obtain it from Google Books here.
  7. [7] Michael Maher, “A Lily among Thorns: Canticles 2:2 in the Latin Exegetical Tradition” in: Kevin J. Cathcart &c (ed), Biblical and Near Eastern Essays, 2004, 227-239.  P.232-3.
  8. [8] Apponius 3, 26; CCSL 19: 75.
  9. [9] Homiles on Canticles 2.6, Baehrens edition of 1925, 49-50.
  10. [10] Apponius 3, 29; CCSL 19: 77.
  11. [11] Apponius 3, 30; CCSL 19: 77-78.

More pictures of the Meta Sudans

Here’s another photograph of this now vanished monument in Rome:

Rome – Prof. Clementina Panella: Archaeological Investigations (2002-2008) - THE META SUDANS & THE N.E SLOPE OF THE PALATINE HILL. "Roma vista dall' alto Collosseo." # 8 (c. 1900) Alb. 25 / 2351 - Arch. Storico Capitolino Roma (2008).

Rome – Prof. Clementina Panella: Archaeological Investigations (2002-2008) – THE META SUDANS & THE N.E SLOPE OF THE PALATINE HILL. “Roma vista dall’ alto Collosseo.” # 8 (c. 1900) Alb. 25 / 2351 – Arch. Storico Capitolino Roma (2008).

The source for this is Flickr, which gives some more details of the photograph:

Foto Fonti / foto source: Roma vista dall’alto (8) Colosseo.
Fotografo: Stabilimento Costruzioni Aeronautiche Roma – Laboratorio Fotografico.
Data: primo quarto 1900
Tecnica: gelatine
Vecchia_Segnatura: Alb.25
Sottoserie: 12) Roma vista dall’alto – Album
ID_progr: 2351
Note: did.tip.
Serie: 4) Monumenti, Vie, Piazze, Palazzi
©2008 Comune di Roma – Dipartimento politiche culturali

Hmm.  We really need some proper way to locate all these pictures.

UPDATE: (Via the comments) It seems that Martin G. Conde has been collecting, and posting online, the materials assembled by Prof Clementina Panella during her work in the Colosseum valley area between 202-2015.  This consists of 374 photographs, plus scholarly articles, etc.  This is really important – such material too often rots in a box somewhere.  Dr Conde’s site can be found here.

Here’s another photo from 1890, via Roma Iera Oggi:

1890 Image of the Colosseum and Meta Sudans.  Via Roma Ieri Oggi

1890 Image of the Colosseum and Meta Sudans. Via Roma Ieri Oggi

Next, a picture of an 1816 painting, by J.M.W.Turner no less, taken from the Tate Gallery.

Rome: Arches of Constantine and Titus 1819 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Rome: Arches of Constantine and Titus 1819

Note the extra height of the monument: but also that it has been opened up at the back, right to the centre, doubtless in search of treasure.

It is wonderful to have these photos.  Rather less wonderful is when a site collects photographs – all long out of copyright, of course – and disfigures them with its own “watermark”.  Such is the shameful practice at the RomaSparita website.  There are four pages of photos of the Meta Sudans here, some  very interesting, all vandalised.  I won’t try to reproduce them here.

From my diary

This evening I emailed a correspondent, asking if he knew someone who might translate some works by Methodius out of Russian.  Knowledge of Old Slavonic would be good; and the translator must be a native English speaker, and familiar with Christian jargon.  I’ve had rough experiences when these last two were not present!

The enquiry may or may not produce results, but if not, I have another possible translator in mind.

I left work at 3:30pm this afternoon, to travel to Cambridge University Library.  Not, I might add, in order to use the books, but rather to perform a CETEDOC search of Latin literature for uses of the phrase “Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros” – “His blood be upon us, and upon our children.”  Yes, it’s Matthew 27:25 again.

It took me almost 45 minutes to drive the 3 miles in question, thanks to the selfish attitude of those who control the roads policy of Cambridge council – which, I imagine, is the immensely rich, powerful and successful university that fills its town centre.  It took a similar time to get back.  The ill-maintained roads have received negligible care in 20 years, to my certain knowledge, and are full-to-bursting.  The university profits enormously from the economic activity that Cambridge enjoys; but invests none of it in the amenities of the town.

These same selfish people insist that an external reader like myself make that journey in order to use the electronic databases.  They can be used from anywhere, if you have a login; but they force ordinary people like me to physically travel there.  I grudge the hours of my life that these people stole from me.  May Minos sentence them to the fate of Sisyphus.

Anyway I performed the search, and saved the results in PDF for later investigation, and checked – of course – that it had saved.  I then did the search again, this time with a date range on it (to the end of the 5th century), and curiously the results were different.  Tertullian only turned up in the second search.  Anyway I saved the results of that search too, but didn’t check it.

Imagine, therefore, my rage on discovering just now that the PDF from the second search did not save the results; and merely saved the query parameters!  I lost two hours of my life for that; and, to get it again, I will have to endure the misery of that journey once more: all because of the selfishness of people who could perfectly well allow me access, but choose not to.

I’m not going to rage about how these databases are all paid for by me, through my taxes.  Instead let me observe something else which amused me rather.

A few weeks ago I advised the library to obtain the English translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on Isaiah.  Earlier this week I received notice that they had purchased the eBook.  So I went to look for it while I was there.

I was a little surprised to find that I couldn’t simply download a PDF.  Rather I was subjected to a horrible proprietary interface, which officiously told me that I could read n pages, or print m pages (the two numbers not being identical, of course).  I struggled with the thing a while, and then simply gave up.  A paper book could be used, but this was impossible.

I then looked at another “eBook”, three treatises of Cyril of Alexandria, in the Fathers of the Church series, and found the same idea.  Again I just gave up.  Give me a paper book rather than this.

Fortunately DeGruyter, in their GCS series, don’t do this, and I was able to get hold of the Greek text at least of this work, so that I can work out where the supposed reference to Acts 4:10 might be.

But the other two made me laugh.  I mean… these guys have already been paid, right?  The library has sloshed money at them, for access to the book.  But these creeps are so concerned about not getting paid even more, by people who might, like, save a copy, that they make all kinds of difficulties.  I found, in fact, that the expensive access that CUL give their readers gave me very little.

I also noted a sign of the times.  The CETEDOC database was in the Brepols online site.  But not even the world’s number two university could afford to purchase all of the options!  The Patrologia Orientalis collection was not available.

All this nonsense is only temporary, of course.  The racket whereby material produced by state-funded academics is then sold back to the state-funded universities at an extortionate price must collapse soon.

But I still feel sore about those hours on the road.  If the library was open later, I might drive over in the evening.  But it is only open from 9.00-19:15.

What I did find was some 68 references to that verse in Latin writers before 500 AD.  Some I already have.  But there were a number in voluminous commentaries in Latin.  These were mostly by Jerome, and it is interesting to see that most of these are untranslated.  How is it that, in 2015, the commentaries of Jerome remain untranslated?

All in all, therefore, it was a productive evening.

Further notes on Methodius in Old Slavonic

I have written before on Methodius of Olympus (d. 311 AD), and how some of his works survive only in an Old Slavonic translation.  This week I scanned the preface of the Russian translation by E. Lovyagin (1905).  It proved to be in a pre-revolutionary spelling, but a kind correspondent modernised this for me, so that I could use Google Translate and see what the author had to say.  Here is the Russian text of the preface:

There is no evidence of the use of Old Slavonic sources, and the title page makes plain that this is from the Greek.  Lovyagin seems to have taken the edition of Jahn – which assembled rather more Greek fragments than were accessible to the Ante-Nicene Fathers translators – and translated it into Russian.  In fact a commenter on this post, discussing the table of contents, makes the same point.

Mikhail Chub in 1961 and 1964 did use manuscripts in his articles for Богословский труды (Bogoslovski Trudy – archive of these now online here).  Two of these mss are now online here.

I had forgotten that, back in 2011, I obtained PDFs of these, which I can no longer locate; and translated Michael Chub’s preface and placed it here; and that I tried to get a translation made from a GCS edition of Methodius on Leprosy, using a commercial German translator, but unsuccessfully.  But I still want to attack this material.

Perhaps the way forward is to get translations made of Michael Chub’s Russian translations.  They are relatively short, and deserve attention.  It is helpful that the articles can now be downloaded in PDF form.

A Coptic version of the Acts of Peter – translated by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock continues his programme of translations of Coptic literature with this item from a papyrus, P.Berol.8502, best known for containing a copy of 3 gnostic texts, including the Apocryphon of John.  Here it is:

As ever, we can all be grateful to have this accessible.