Archive Page 2
October 14th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
The British Library manuscripts blog has announced here (and in PDF form here) that another 46 manuscripts have gone online. Which is always good news!
This particular group is rather special. For the first time it isn’t dominated by biblical texts. Instead we have mainly classical or patristic manuscripts. Of course a lot of these are late, humanist copies, often from the book-copying industry in Venice in the 16th century – for creating printed Greek was never an easy enterprise – but sometimes still the earliest witness to a text.
Accessing the blog was difficult, so I’m guessing that this post is attracting plenty of attention!
Here are some highlights.
- Add MS 24371, John Chrysostom, Fragments of Homiliae in Matthaeum (58, 70-75, 78-79, 81-83) (TLG 2062.152). 11th century.
Add MS 28824, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 11-31 (TLG 2062.112), imperfect and mutilated at beginning and end. 12th century.
Add MS 28826, John Climacus, The Ladder (TLG 2907.001), imperfect, and Liber ad Pastorem, imperfect. 12th century.
Add MS 30518, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 1-11, 21-33 (TLG 2062.112), imperfect. Written about the year 1121.
Add MS 32643, Patristic miscellany, partly palimpsest, with occasional marginal scholia. Includes works by Anastasius of Sinai, Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Nazianzus, Anastasius I of Antioch, John Chrysostom, Hesychius of Jerusalem, and Christopher of Alexandria, as well as Gospel lections (Gregory-Aland l 1234). 12th-14th century.
Add MS 34654, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes. 11th century.
Add MS 36750, John Chrysostom, Ad populum Antiochenum homiliae (TLG 2062.024), imperfect, and Ad illuminandos catecheses 2 (TLG 2062.025), imperfect. 11th century.
Add MS 36753, Maximus Confessor, Loci Communes (CPG 7718), which is a florilegium of classical and patristic authors. A few pages of bits at the end. Written in 1198.
Burney MS 62, Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, with scholia, vitae, and epigrams. Italy, end of the 15th century, written by the scribe known as the Anonymus Harvardianus.
Burney MS 66, Commentaries on Aristotle by John Philoponus and others. 1st half of the 16th century.
Burney MS 82, Hesiod, Works and Days (TLG 0020.002). Italy, end of the 15th century.
Burney MS 85, Speeches by Isocrates and Lysias, and gnomological literature. Italy, c 1500. I don’t have the expertise to say which gnomological texts these are.
Burney MS 95, Codex Crippsianus, containing speeches by the minor Attic Orators. Constantinople, 1st half of the 14th century.
Burney MS 276, Fragments of Greek and Latin manuscripts, mostly of classical and patristic authors. 11th-17th century: Lucian, Gregory Nazianzen; Theodoret on the psalms; The Batrachomyomachia attributed to Homer; lists of homilies attributed to Chrysostom; Plutarch; Libanius, oratio to Theodosius; fragments of grammatical texts, such as Herodian; and two leaves from a Latin commentary on Persius.
Egerton MS 942, Demosthenes, Orationes, preceded by Argumenta of Libanius. Florence, made for Alexander Farnese (later Pope Paul III) after 1490. This is a decorated manuscript, apparently. I wonder what the Argumenta are?
Egerton MS 2624, Thucydides, Historiae (TLG 0003.001) with numerous scholia and a few glosses added later. Florence, 1st half of the 14th century.
Egerton MS 3154, Geoponica (TLG 4080.001) attributed to Cassianus Bassus Scholasticus, imperfect. 16th century. This chap lived at the end of the 6th century and wrote on agricultural subjects. Which sounds dull, but since that was the foundation of ancient economies, it sometimes contains gems.
Royal MS 16 C III, Dionysius Periegetes, Orbis descriptio (TLG 0084.001), imperfect. Italy, N., end of the 15th century.
Royal MS 16 C XVII, Harpocration, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos (TLG 1389.001), and Heraclitus, Allegoriae (=Quaestiones Homericae) (TLG 1414.001), imperfect. Possibly written in Italy, end of the 15th century. The lexicon of Harpocration is probably more accessible here than anywhere else!
Royal MS 16 C XVIII, Scholia on the Greek Anthology of Planudes and Paraphrase of Aristotle’s Sophistici Elenchi. In two parts, bound together. Italy, N., end of the 16th century (part 1 contains a colophon dated 1580 in Venice).
Royal MS 16 C XXI, Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea (TLG 0086.010), with copious Latin marginal notes, ff 3r-130v. Preceded by Latin and Greek notes, with some quotations from Greek authors, ff 1r-2v, and followed by Greek notes on f 131v. Possibly France, S?, 1st half of the 16th century.
Royal MS 16 C XXII, Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea (TLG 0086.010), Books VIII-IX. Italy, Central, end of the 16th century.
Royal MS 16 C XXIV, Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae (TLG 0008.001), with glosses. Possibly written at Venice, 1st half of the16th century.
Royal MS 16 C XXV, Aristotle, De Anima (TLG 0086.002); Plato, extracts; [Plato], Definitiones (TLG 0059.037); Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum (TLG 0004.001), Life of Epimenides. Possibly written in Messina, in the south of Italy, c 1500.
Royal MS 16 D X, Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae (epitome) (TLG 0008.003), with glosses, imperfect. Italy, Central, 1st half of the16th century.
Royal MS 16 D XII, John Tzetzes Homerica (&c), Eusebius Onomasticon, followed by bits connected with Oppian’s Halieutica, part of Philostratus’ Imagines, and a commentary on Hermogenes. Formerly three separate volumes, now bound together. 2nd half of the 16th century.
Royal MS 16 D XIII, Sextus Empiricus, with marginal notes by Isaac Casaubon. Italy, N. (Venice?), 2nd half of the 16th century.
Royal MS 16 D XIV, Works on grammar and prosody by Dionysius Thrax, George Choeroboscus, Heliodorus, Ammonius, Aelius Herodianus, Porphyry, etc. Italy, 2nd quarter of the 16th century.
Royal MS 16 D XVI, Polyaenus, Strategemata (TLG 0616.001), with marginal notes. Venice, mid-16th century.
Sloane MS 1774, Euripides, Hippolytus (TLG 0006.038) with marginal scholia in Greek and Latin. Italy, 16th century.
Yates Thompson MS 50, Aristophanes, with hypotheses, marginal scholia and interlinear glosses. End of the 15th century, possibly Venice.
There are quite a lot of interesting items in there (and more details and in some cases pictures in the BL blog post, although I have augmented one or two items above by looking at the full page).
October 14th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
Anthony Alcock has continued translating the Chronicle of Seert. Part 3 arrived last night. I have added it to the post with his other translations, here.
This is excellent news. The more translations that appear on the web, the more people will see them. In particular this promotes interest among the educated general public; educated, but not specialists in this area. And this in turn can only do good when funding decisions have to be made.
October 13th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
It’s a dark, dull, rainy day today; and I am steadfastly refusing to notice. Because I don’t want to let the rain influence my mood. So far, it’s working!
We all do the same, I know. But why limit it to the weather?
Yesterday I saw, on an American Christian site, Reviewing School Book Lists, Part Four: Reading is Spiritual Warfare, which begins with the following words:
A child. Curled up in a couch. Nestled in an old oak tree with a book. What could be more bucolic? In a church I visit frequently (which doubles during the week as a school), a picture on the wall shows a prepubescent boy—no more than 6th grade, if that—holding The Hunger Games. He grips the book, looks up into our eyes, and smiles as if he is eating a strawberry sundae. Would you like to hear what he might have just read? Here’s one sentence from the first few chapters: “He falls to his knees and halves the brief remainder of his life by yanking out the arrow and drowning in his own blood.” (p.33) Not too bucolic, is it?
Every time I see that picture, I have to fight feelings of anger. And NOT because the kid is reading a possibly age-inappropriate story. No, what makes me frustrated is that the picture illustrates a gaping disconnect between our perception of reading and its reality.
This young man is not merely having a fantastic, mind-expanding adventure as the brochure-like picture implies. With a book like The Hunger Games, he is involved in grave spiritual warfare.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he shouldn’t read the book. It certainly doesn’t mean the book should be banned by the government. But if reading generally is spiritual warfare, it changes everything. What we allow our kids to read and when. How they read, and the kinds of support they should receive. In short, it changes the most fundamental ways Christians ought to relate to books.
Nor is this limited to Christians, nor is it really about children, vulnerable as the latter may indeed be. The article goes on to discuss various issues, probably of limited relevance here; but it caused me to think about the question: what do I want to read?
That I have just ordered the Loeb Petronius is relevant here. I want no porn in my head. Indeed I have taken pains to purchase the original 1913 edition, in the belief that the nastier elements should be bowdlerised in it. What I want is the portrait of ancient life.
We all know that what people read influences their outlook, and the sort of people they become. Of course this was widely denied in the 60’s and 70’s, as a pretext for removing the censorship of obscene books; but those who led those campaigns are now quite happily erecting a censorship of political opinions far more intrusive than anything the old Lord Chamberlain’s office used to do. I think we can believe their actions, rather than their words. Everyone knows that books and reading change minds.
What do we allow inside our heads? What effect does it have? Does it make us happier? Healthier? And, if not, can we get it out again, or will the images be seared into memories for life?
The answers to this will vary for each of us, Christian or not. All of us remember the books of our childhood, even if we didn’t know what they were at the time. Many in later life try to track down those books which left images in their minds, and I confess that I have done the same. We know, even if we don’t acknowledge it, that what we read affects us greatly.
So what should we read? Reading anything and everything that interests us is perhaps something that most people reading this site do. But should we limit it in certain directions?
At the moment at bedtime I am reading Paupers and Pig Killers: the diary of William Holland, a Somerset Parson, 1799-1818. This I read because it consists of short entries, and is rather soothing really. That isn’t likely to affect my mood or outlook greatly in any direction; although his consistent hostility to “Methodists” does highlight the poor reputation that the “Ranters” or Primitive Methodists had in the period, which is something that I had not known.
No book will leave us unmoved, you see, if we love it and read it repeatedly.
I shall leave out of my life books dedicated to cruelty and obscenity. Indeed I have become stricter on this, in the last couple of years. I do not wish to experience either, nor to enjoy the depiction of it as entertainment, nor to become dead to it if I happen to witness such evils. I prefer my faculties to remain acute and unmarred. I wish to remain capable of appreciating ordinary things, and milder sensations. So do we all, in our saner moments.
But it’s not just what we avoid. What do we choose?
The proponents of the English classics would step forward at this moment and recommend a course of reading. (I do not, of course, refer to whatever rubbish has been advanced since 1970, but to the real classics).
There is merit in this. To learn how the best writers expressed things, to learn to enjoy what the best of men enjoyed… these are good things.
Yet even here we may divide. Dickens may be a classic, but the portraits of Victorian misery do nothing to cheer my heart. I avoid them for that reason. Jane Austen is more to my liking. Walter Scott is something I can handle in small doses.
What should we read? With that, I am reminded of Philippians 4:8 (ESV):
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I’m not sure whether that takes us to anything specific; but it’s a great starting rule.
October 11th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
Seen on Twitter this week, via David Walsh:
Jesus: ‘If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek’.
Chrysostom in 387AD: ‘Slap them in the face!’
– something lost in translation there.
It is always good practice to verify your quotations, but this is entirely genuine. The reference is to the Homilies on the Statues, 1, 32. In the NPNF version this reads:
32. But since our discourse has now turned to the subject of blasphemy, I desire to ask one favor of you all, in return for this my address, and speaking with you; which is, that you will correct on my behalf the blasphemers of this city.
And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; go up to him and rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so.
Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify thy hand with the blow, and if any should accuse thee, and drag thee to the place of justice, follow them thither; and when the judge on the bench calls thee to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels!
For if it be necessary to punish those who blaspheme an earthly king, much more so those who insult God. It is a common crime, a public injury; and it is lawful for every one who is willing, to bring forward an accusation.
Let the Jews and Greeks learn, that the Christians are the saviours of the city; that they are its guardians, its patrons, and its teachers.
Let the dissolute and the perverse also learn this; that they must fear the servants of God too; that if at any time they are inclined to utter such a thing, they may look round every way at each other, and tremble even at their own shadows, anxious lest perchance a Christian, having heard what they said, should spring upon them and sharply chastise them.
When I first read this, without considering the context, it looked like the utmost expression of arrogance, of the attitude of those in power. But this is to ignore the circumstances.
In 387 the emperor Theodosius imposed an extraordinary tax on the city of Antioch, and the enraged citizens rioted and threw down the statues of the emperor. The emperor then threatened to destroy the city, and negotiations took place between the emperors representatives and the townsfolk.
Paganism was still the official religion of the empire. But it seems that pagans and Jews were taking advantage of the crisis to jeer at the Christians of the city, and perhaps even at the religion of the emperor. This in turn couldn’t help the negotiations, when the survival of the city is at stake. This is a reaction to a threat to everyone, not a gratuitous attack on unbelievers. The citizens are appealing to the feelings of a Christian emperor – and, he reflects, these people are screwing it up! Slap them in the face if they won’t pipe down. It’s politics, in other words, and John Chrysostom speaks as the bishop of the city, almost in Byzantine terms as the ethnarch, rather than personally.
But Christ did not give his teaching conditionally. Christians often feel a great deal of reluctance to endorse the actions of the church, post-Nicaea. This is one reason why. Here we have a popular preacher, and a gifted expositor of the bible, who, faced with a pagan reaction, incites his congregation not to turn the other cheek but instead to go out and do battle in the streets, for the benefit of the community as a whole. It’s understandable; but somehow we are not in the same world any more.
October 7th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
The Hungarian scholar Istvan Toth died this year. I learn this from his page at Academia.edu, where may be found all his papers and books in electronic form. This is no small thing, for many are quite inaccessible in the west, even in major research libraries. Well done, Dr Toth, for making all this mass of information available.
Among the papers one caught my eye: 2004 Mithras kultusz és a Karácsony Poetovioban = Cult of Mithras and the Christmas in Poetovio. This paper is in Hungarian, but very sensibly provided with an English translation at the back. The translation is imperfect, but this is of small importance; the point is that the article is readable by the world.
We all know that Franz Cumont, in his rather slack way, supposed that there was a festival of Mithras on 25 Dec., by presuming that the cultists of Mithras ‘must’ have participated in the Natalis Solis Invicti, attested only after 354 AD. No evidence of this exists, of course. But this carelessness has created a modern myth, often expressed in the unpleasant jeer “Mithras is the reason for the season.”
So what does Toth say? (I shall correct the English, for readability)
It is a fact that, although scholarship connected the festival of natalis Invicti with one of Mithras (too) since F. Cumont(2), until now there was nothing to show this from epigraphical evidence collected for the Cult of Mithras (3). This situation changed because of the epigraph from Poetovio which was found in 1970, and this epigraphical evidence has since been published in several publications (4).
The epigraphical evidence was found at Poetovio (Ptuj, Slovenia) in the immediate vicinity of so-called Mithraeum IV (5), at the same place as the other epigraphical evidence listed for this sanctuary (6). The lead prong, on the top face of the undecorated marble base (7), shows that the object was originally the pedestal of a statue, probably a statue of a figure being born out of a rock. The first line of the inscription is lost. The remaining lines of the text are as follows:
[— ] | M Gong(ius) | Aquilei|ensis pro | salute | sua suor|umq(ue) om|nium v(otum)
s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito) | d(e)d(icavit) VIIII K(alendas) Ian(uarias) | p(osuit) p(ater)
The damaged first line, according to J. Sasel, should be read: [D(eo) i(nvicto) M(ithrae)] accounting this: “verisimiliter colligendum est, cum in vicinia vestigia quarti Mithraei reperta sint”(8), and this is all respects acceptable.
Unquestionably the most important element of the inscription is the date on the 9th readable line: 24th December, that is, vigil of natalis Invicti (the “Christmas Eve”), which appears here for the first time in epigraphical evidence related to the cult of Mithras.
The dating of relic can fairly certainly be given as the first half of the third century A.D., possibly about the middle of the third century. J. Sasel pointed that another bearer of this nomen was a certain Gongius Nestorianus who, between 198-211 was procurator of publicum portorium Illyrici and resided in Poetovio; then between 213-217 he was a praefectus classis Ravennatis(9). Considering that the nomen gentilicum of Gongius may be unique(10), it seems very likely that the person who dedicated the inscribed monument under discussion had some relationship to this man of high standing, for example he was his libertus.(11)
All this is interesting; but why a dedication of a monument on what is now 24 Dec. ‘must’ be connected to what is today Christmas Eve is not made clear. The fact that, in 354 AD, there would be a festival of the sun on the following day is not necessarily relevant. Any monument must be dedicated on some date; what the inscription does not show is that the date here was in any way significant.
The article then continues with material of no great relevance, until we reach this section:
It is absolutely certain, that every class of society was imbued with the need to have knowledge of the ceremonies and articles of the cult of Mithras. That social stratum was the one from which was descended Victorinus, the martyred bishop of Poetovio, the first exegete who wrote in Latin (22). However Victorinus of Poetovio – who was executed at the latest in the time of the great persecution of Christians under the reign of Diocletian – in the 260s would have been already adult, and meditating on religious matters as a young man.
The theological interest of Victorinus was exceptionally wide-ranging. He examined besides his exegesis, works on heterodoxies, the origin of world, apocalyptical doctrines(23) and there remains a fragment of his chronological work too(24). In this fragment he concluded the following inferences referring to document of a certain Alexander of Jerusalem: “VIII. Kal Ian. natus est Dominus noster Iesus Christus… etc.” (That is Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on 25 December) – The latest research places the origin of this fragment in the years after 260 (25).
Amongst the monuments of Mithras of Poetovio there are presented in remarkably great strength of those, that which relating to the birth of the god. … One of the representative stone monuments (30) of the Mithraeum founded by Flavius Aper and his officers represented the figure of Mithras being born out from a rock: in the background of the scene appears the figure of Saturn, wreathed by Victoria; to all intents and purposes showing, that in dedication named of god to D(eus) S(ol) i(nvictus) M(ithras) was born on 25 December, and the birth of god means that beginning of the new epoch of world.
We expect so: if we are not mistaken, that in this chronological fragment of Victorinus of Poetovio, indicating the date of natalis Invicti, we can recognise the inner history of the reference to the birth of Jesus and we recognize the events from the history of religion in the native town of the martyred bishop, which happened in his youth, and in our opinion that the Christian exegetist who wrote in Latin earliest and in all probability he was among the first (31) who connected the one of the central ideas of cult of Mithras of Poetovio with the articles of Christian faith.
I think something may have dropped out of the argument here. For it is quite unclear to me just why the presence of Saturn in a Mithraic monument of the rock birth must connect the monument to 25 Dec. – Saturnalia, after all, finished on 23rd Dec. Otherwise a monument of the rock birth is just nothing.
The material about Victorinus is likewise very loosely argued (allowing, always, for the translation difficulties).
It all falls apart, once you look closely, sadly.
October 3rd, 2014 by Roger Pearse
A few months ago I wrote a post summarising the lexica that have reached us from antiquity. Often ancient material is embedded in the Byzantine lexica, which were also included.
Via Peter Head at ETC I learn today that a previously unpublished Byzantine lexicon has made it into print, in an inexpensive edition: Eva Villani, Il lessico Ambrosiano inedito ΑΝΤΙΧΕΙΡ (C 222 inf., ff. 207r-208v). Milano: EDUCatt, 2014. Pp. 248. ISBN 9788867800865. €15.00 (pb).
The work is reviewed by Eleanor Dickey – the go-to scholar on lexica – at BMCR, in a review which is itself incredibly useful.
This critical edition of a hitherto unpublished Byzantine (Greek-Greek) lexicon, originally the author’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Messina, consists of a brief introduction (pp. 7-50, of which nearly half is occupied by a list of abbreviations), the edition proper (pp. 51-210), and extensive indices (pp. 211-48). The edition is presented with a brief critical apparatus and a detailed apparatus of parallel passages….
No translation is provided; a reviewer can hardly complain about this, since editions of ancient scholarly lexica never do include translations, but I wonder if that custom is sensible in today’s world. Would the interesting information these lexica contain be more widely appreciated if editors provided translations? …
Villani provides no commentary, so all the discoveries that could be made about these new entries are open to everyone to make. In order to illustrate the possibilities available and the type of new material found in this lexicon, I reproduce below a few of the new entries from this lexicon, using Villani’s text and my own translations and comments:
Κ 75: κρύφαλα αἱ πέτραι αἱ κεκρυμμέναι παρὰ τῆς ἁλός·
‘Κρύφαλα (are) rocks hidden by the sea.’ [As far as I can tell, this information is new to modern as well as ancient and Byzantine scholarship. LSJ’s entry on κρύφαλον reads only ‘κρύφαλον· σαβάκανον, Hsch.’, a definition that does not get us much further since σαβάκανον is unattested elsewhere; the entry is bracketed as corrupt in Latte’s edition of Hesychius (where it is entry κ 4259). The other dictionaries I consulted have no entry for κρύφαλον at all.] …
In short, this work is good and useful and provides scholars with the rare opportunity to explore a previously unknown text containing a significant amount of ancient material; it would be lovely if there were more dissertations of this type.
These items would indeed be infinitely better known to scholarship if translations were provided. Full marks for raising the question!
It increasingly seems that Eleanor Dickey combines a rare knowledge of ancient scholarship with the ability to see what the world needs in this area, and the gumption to do something about it. We need someone like her, working with these awful technical texts. Everything she does makes the path far, far easier for everyone else. An example is that she published this review in BMCR. Because that is well-known and online, her notice has been read and noted in scholarly blogs; because she provided some sample translations, she has aroused interest in the world in general, such as myself. This in turn builds support for scholarship, and the need to fund it.
I rarely take an interest in academic careers but … gentlemen of Oxford and Cambridge, you need to find this lady a chair. She will do you a power of good in the fight for funding and notice in the next twenty years.
October 2nd, 2014 by Roger Pearse
At Eleusis stood the most important temple of Demeter, the Greek goddess of the crops and fertility. The mysteries there were famous. But what happened there?
Needless to say there is a load of hogwash available in printed and web form averring that it was all exactly like a Christian ceremony, or maybe slightly like, or some other form of anachronistic drivel. It would seem that some US scholars even encourage this kind of mental confusion, which tells us something about the state of US universities. So where do we start, to get hold of reliable information?
As ever, the first thing to do, if we want to examine the question, is to look at the primary sources.
It seems that a website has collected all the primary sources, mingled with ancient testimonia about the myth of Demeter (which bulks them out a bit). They are here:
The site is not a scholarly one, but the author has gone to some trouble to collect these materials, and deserves our gratitude. The labour must have been considerable!
UPDATE: It looks as if the sources have been copied from elsewhere, and perhaps derive from George Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, Princeton, 1961. Apparently this is a compilation of data, and was the life’s work of the author. I couldn’t find a PDF, tho – anyone got one?
October 1st, 2014 by Roger Pearse
A rather splendid Greek sermon appears in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum as entry 4622 (vol. 2, p.577-8), among the spuria of Chrysostom, with the title De salute animae (on the salvation of the soul). Some mss. attribute it to Chrysostom, others to Ephrem Syrus. It exists in two versions in Greek, and also in Coptic, Georgian and Arabic versions.
The content of the sermon is terrific! It is an exhortation to Christians not to be led astray by the things of this world, but instead to strive to work out our salvation and to be what Christ wants us to be. The writer points out how futile the distractions will look on judgement day.
Adam McCollum drew my attention to this obscure work, and he has kindly translated the two Greek versions for us. The translation is given in parallel columns, so that the differences can be seen. As is quickly apparent, this is one sermon that has been reworked by a secondary author.
Here it is:
Since the two are in parallel format, there’s only a PDF of this at the moment. (It is also on Archive.org here)
As with all my commissions, I place this in the public domain. Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.
October 1st, 2014 by Roger Pearse
The more things change, the more they stay the same. All public institutions in our time seem to be in decay, with ever fatter salaries for those nominally in charge, and ever less concern as to whether the job gets done at all. This is sometimes eerily remniscent of the 18th century. Yesterday I found myself thinking of a passage in the Memories of Dean Hole, the Victorian Dean of Rochester, where, looking back on the wretched state of things as they were at that period, and imagining a foreigner visiting, he writes:
But most impressive, at first sight, to me was the sight, not only in cities and in towns, but in every village, of the church tower or spire, rising over the roofs and the trees, and hard by the pastor’s peaceful home. Surely, I thought, we have here, not only a prosperous, intellectual, energetic, brave, and accomplished people, but they are devout and religious also. Imagine then my disappointment when, as I drew near, I found the graveyards were uncared for, the tombstones broken, defaced, defiled, the church doors barred and locked, and when I obtained admission, for which I was manifestly expected to pay, I looked on desolation and decay, comfortable apartments for the rich, with cushions and carpets, bare benches for the poor; and was told that the church was only used once in the week, and that the chief shepherd resided a hundred miles from his sheep!
Yesterday I visited the ancient city of Norwich, and, taken by a whim, walked over to the cathedral close in the deliciously named Tombland district of the city. Once inside the close, an oasis of peace after the busy traffic without, I walked across to the west door, the entrance to the cathedral. But … it was closed. Instead, signs directed me to a little doorway, in the dreadfully inappropriate modern extension, with gift shop, restaurant and other commercially-driven features. Not that I have any objection to a cathedral restaurant; but visiting it was not the purpose of my visit.
Rather gingerly I ventured into this entrance, and found myself looking at plate glass sliding doors, rather like an upmarket shop for women’s clothes. The doors opened as I approached, and I stepped inside, and looked to see where the entrance to cathedral might be. None was visible; but I was instantly buttonholed by an attendant who opened a leaflet she was proferring with a plan of the cathedral, and started heaping on me advice and help. All of which was very unwelcome.
The need for all this was caused solely by the fact that the Dean and Chapter had closed the west door and diverted me to a side door in a different building. It was, frankly, very intrusive to be forced to engage in conversation with this tourist guide. I wasn’t there for commercial purposes; she, on the other hand, was there for no other purpose.
I declined the map, and obtained the information that entrance might be found to the left, behind some building work. I walked, already feeling rather unsettled by all this, and found another doorway. On the other side of this was an admissions desk, of the kind familiar from every tourist attraction, and prominently featured in very large letters was a statement along the lines of “Recommended Donation: £5″. The whole view gave a very definite message to the visitor, and not by accident either. If I went through that door, the message was, I had better be prepared for a fight, or to lose a substantial amount from my wallet.
Of course I could have hardened my heart and strode through. But what manner of man comes to a cathedral in that frame of mind? Other than perhaps Oliver Cromwell, whose attitude towards cathedrals at that moment struck me as more reasonable than it usually does.
What sort of church creates conditions in which sensitive visitors are guilt-tripped into handing over money, or else made to feel uncomfortable throughout their stay, or encouraged to make themselves insensitive? We’re not children. We know how modern fund-raising is done. We all know that such people are sharks, whatever they say. All this flummery was merely manipulation, deliberate, cold-blooded, by design, and for no other purpose than to shake down the visitor for money. And the visitor was presumed to be comfortably middle-class; for what poor man would enter, faced with this?
I’m not ashamed to say that I turned around and walked back to the entrance that I had come in. I didn’t want to be subjected to such psychological abuse. I didn’t have to be here, after all.
Not that I could get out so easily; the “automatic” door only admitted people, and it required the assistance of the tourist person to find a button to let me out. It was noticeable how much less friendly my reception was on trying to leave!
Outside I was accosted by a young man, dishevelled, his face bearing the marks of habitual insobriety, and with the urgency of one in need of his next fix. On seeing my face he quickly abandoned his effort to get money, and I saw him approach several old ladies, and then he scampered out of the close.
I wandered back to the town centre, and there I found a group of old men preaching and handing out leaflets.
They weren’t slick. Indeed their amateurishness was rather embarassing, and everyone gave them a wide berth. But they kept on trying, and were still there a couple of hours later.
One of them was trying to give away leaflets, without much luck. I took one, and found that for the price of a stamp I could get more booklets and a free bible (which would otherwise cost £10).
I was reasonably sure that none of these old men were members of the chapter of Norwich cathedral.
The contrast between the two ways of following God struck me forcibly. On the one hand was a vast estate of prime real estate, filled with lovely ancient buildings, providing those who ran it with every comfort and nice incomes. These saw their task as extracting money from the visitor, in order to improve their own situation and that of the estate. They were, in some respects, no different to the beggar at their door, seeking money for his fix; except that he was in need and they, conspicuously, were not.
On the other hand were a group of men, asking nothing, unpaid, giving away what they had and willing to give more for the price of a stamp, and willing to be unpopular and mocked for doing so.
It was an uncomfortable reflection, and somewhere in it is the root of all anti-clericalism, and indeed all atheism.
It would be easy to be unfair on the Dean and Chapter, of course. They owe their appointment to the state, which controls all church appointments by a Byzantine system of committees, and appoints men principally for their loyalty to the establishment, their flexibility in principle, and their ability to shuffle the paper and utter pieties when needed. But what it does not provide is funding to go along with it. The appointees must make do with whatever historic funds their institution has; and this is rather slender. Naturally men of this kind will try to make ends meet by whatever methods are available, as any of us might in the same position. They are not sensitive to the claims of Christianity, and its responsibility to others, for otherwise they would not have been appointed. So … they do as such men have always done. What else could they do? They do, indeed, as the Jewish priests in Roman times did. They act pragmatically. But I do believe that a certain Jesus of Nazareth commented unfavourably on such behaviour. On the other hand, since he could never have afforded the “recommended donation”, perhaps it doesn’t matter?
It’s all rather sad. I hope that I live long enough to see, as Dean Hole lived long enough to see, the end of such things. Let us hope that we too can say, of our imaginary foreigner, looking at what we see now:
How great would be his surprise of joy could he return to us now!
Let us hope it will be so with us too.
Postscript: I commented on this on Twitter. This drew the following curious response:
I enjoyed the irony of this: the bland denial of the extraction process, followed by an email address starting with the word “marketing@…”.
No thank you, gentlemen; I am not part of your “marketing”.
September 30th, 2014 by Roger Pearse
Anthony Alcock has been busy on a number of texts, creating new translations. He has kindly sent a number of these to me for upload here, although I think that they are also available on Academia.edu and perhaps on Alin Suciu’s blog also.
In each case he provides a useful introduction.
Here they are (all PDF):
- Chronicle of Séert I – A rather important Syriac chronicle, written by a Nestorian writer in the 9-11th century. A detailed study of the text by Philip Wood (Oxford, 2013) is accessible on open access (yes!!!) here.
- Chronicle of Séert II – Part 2 of the same.
- Preaching of Andrew – A fresh translation of one of the Christian Arabic apocrypha from Mount Sinai.
- Sins1 – A Coptic text on the Sins of priests and monks, by ps.Athanasius. An Arabic version also exists. This is the first English version, so is very welcome. The text is interesting because of the interaction with Islam, and may be one of the sources used by the Apocalypse of Samuel of Kalamoun. However I wasn’t able to locate this text in either the Coptic Encyclopedia or Graf’s GCAL – does anyone know where it is?
- Sins2 – Part 2 of the same.
It is profoundly useful to have this kind of material available in English and online, and our thanks to Dr Alcock.
UPDATE: Dr Alcock has now provided part 3 of the Chronicle of Seert here: