Archive Page 2
November 23rd, 2013 by Roger Pearse
The next statement by Cyril Mango on the subject of the destruction of pagan statues in the lives of the saints is as follows:
At about the same time idols were subjected to popular derision by being hung in the streets of Antioch.
The reference is to the Vita S. Symeonis junioris, the Life of Simeon Stylites the Younger, d. 592, BHG 1689, in the Acta Sanctorum, May, vol. 5, p.371B. The work is very long, in 259 chapters. Anyway, let’s have a look at this text in the Acta version also.
That item is online, and may be found here. It all concerns the actions of a certain Amantius, “judex severus” (=”a severe judge”), who was sent to the East by Justinian to administer punishment to various groups.
And so it was predicted by Symeon; they had not interceded for four months when a certain man named Amantius [b], greatly concerned in the rule of the East, came to Antioch. He was a literary man, capable in government, strong in reasoning, constant in mind, liberal in mind, and primarily most studious of justice. He acted as much on behalf of virtue as against iniquity, and in both cases with the utmost zeal. Previously when he came to Antioch, he both put down iniquity in the East as much as he could in a similar way, and also more acutely with an sharp sword among those who held positions of authority. So that fear and trembling invaded everyone, when he was approaching: not only men who were nothing and malevolent, but also those for whom life had conjoined probity and good morals might feel dread, so terrible was his presence.
174. Here he arrested and imprisoned many of the pagans and atheists and those dedicated to observing the aspects and conjunctions of the stars, and indeed many standing against the divine providence, and especially carefully sought out the most illustrious. Moreover he collected all their books, from which they drew out false wisdom and novel ideas contrary to the truth; nor those alone, but likewise all the idols, in which they trusted as in the gods. They had made for themselves idols of silver, obviously, and of gold, and they had worshipped those which they had made with their own fingers, as was spoken by Hosea and Isaiah the prophets (Hos. 8:4, Is.2:8). And from the books he started a not inconsiderable fire, throwing them in the flames in the middle of the forum. But he openly demonstrated the impotence and imbecillity of the idols, hanging them up at the cross-roads and in the main streets, proving that they were no more significant than they seemed to be, i.e. works of hand and art; nothing more than the artificers had wanted them to be, so again I shall make use of the words of the prophets. Also a man, whom some time previously had appeared to Simeon in a vision, was standing in the presence of the Governor, called in for investigation; but a certain monk, very like Simeon, seized him from the threat of a justice made mild, when the Governor was called away.
The events recounted belong to 555-6, when Justinian sent Amantius to suppress the Samaritan revolt in Palestine, and then to suppress non-conformists in Antioch, some of whom were labelled as “pagans”.
Update: I have just discovered a long translation from the Life online! It’s somewhat different, but probably from a better text than that of the Latin translation in the Acta Sanctorum — I have no details on the transmission of the text. It may be found in A.D. Lee, Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook, Routledge, 2013, 135-136:
7.2 Persecution of pagans in sixth-century Antioch: Life of the Younger St Symeon the Stylite 161, 164
The younger Symeon was a holy man who lived on one of the mountains near Antioch (521—92), and the modern editor of his biography considers it to have been written by one of Symeon’s disciples. Although this episode, probably from 555, is couched in high-flown language, the official at the centre of the investigations, Amantius, is known from an independent source which describes his involvement in the suppression of a Samaritan revolt (John Malalas Chronicle p. 487), and suppression of paganism is certainly a general feature of the emperor Justinian’s religious policies, as is book-burning (Maas 1992: ch. 5). Further reading: Trombley 1994: 182-95.
(161) Within a four month period of the holy man predicting all these events, that official arrived. His name was Amantius, and before coming to the city of Antioch, he destroyed many of the unrighteous found en route, so that men shuddered with fear at his countenance. For everywhere he suppressed all evil-doing whether in word or deed, inflicting punishment, including death, on those who had gone astray, so that from then on even those living a blameless life feared his presence. For he removed, as much as was possible throughout the east, all quarrelling, all injustice, all violence, and all wrongdoing. When this had happened, God showed his servant another vision, which he reported to us: ‘A decision has come from God against the pagans (Hellenes) and heretics (heterodoxoi), that this official will reveal the idolatrous errors of the atheists and gather together all their books and burn them.’ When he had foreseen these things and reported them, zeal for God took a hold of that official and after investigating, he found that the majority of the leaders of the city and many of its inhabitants were preoccupied with paganism (hellenismos), Manichaeism, astrological practices, automatism, and other hateful heresies. He arrested them and pur them in prison, and after gathering together all of their books — a huge number — he burned them in the middle of the stadium. He brought our their idols with their polluted accoutrements and hung them along the streets of the city, and their wealth was expended on numerous fines. … (164) … Then the judge took his seat on the tribunal and subjected to special punishments some of them, who had confessed to having committed many terrible crimes on account of their ungodliness; some he ordered to do service in the hospices, while others, who called themselves clerics, he sent to receive instruction in monasteries; still others he sent off into exile, while some he condemned to death. But by imperial command, the majority of them, who pleaded ignorance as an excuse and promised to repent, he released without further investigation. And so it came about that after being corrected, everyone was dispersed and none of them remained in prison, with the exception of one who had caused many disturbances during times of public unrest, on account of which he deserved punishment. So it was an appropriate time to recall the judgements of God and to sing the praises of his inexpressible benevolence towards us.
Few of us will read this account without a shudder. Such trials and punishments for wrong thinking are a sign of a decaying state. The fondness of the Byzantines for religious persecution was a feature of their state as long as they retained any vestige of power. Nothing in the account above is inconsistent with the policies of Justinian towards paganism or heresy.
I don’t know how historical this life is; but on the face of it, we do have clear evidence of Mango’s “derision”; although, if they were made of silver and gold, I suspect that they were not left unattended!
November 23rd, 2013 by Roger Pearse
A useful article: via here: https://twitter.com/WillNoel/status/404219313877684224
November 23rd, 2013 by Roger Pearse
Earlier I posted Theodoret’s account of the life of Simeon Stylites. Written while the saint was stil alive, and as an eyewitness of at least some of his life, it has considerable value as a historical source. The portions in square brackets represent later interpolation, it should be added.
Reading the life raised some uncomfortable questions in my mind.
Simeon’s life can be summarised very briefly. He is famous for making himself very uncomfortable indeed, in a variety of ways, until at last he found fame by standing upright(ish) on a pillar for many years. He became famous for this, and people flocked to see him and admire him, on the basis that making himself uncomfortable was the same as being holy. From these he received enough to live on, and admiration. In consequence of his reputation, he was able to address powerful people in direct language and give orders to them.
Medieval Europe is in the back of all of our minds. Castles and knights and Robin Hood and monks and hermits and the like are a ready source of ideas, even if taken mainly from Sir Walter Scott or Hollywood than a real historical knowledge. We are all familiar with the idea of the hermit who lives in poverty in a cave, as a “holy man”.
But it seems fairly questionable whether this idea is very like what the New Testament teaches about Christian living. In what way is such a man serving God?
That we are familiar with the idea of monks praying all day does not mean that it is a biblical idea. The idea of a man alone in the desert might derive from John the Baptist, from the life of Christ, and some Old Testament ideas. Yet … is this really what the bible teaches?
If our Lord could say that the law consisted of loving God, and loving your neighbour as yourself, then we may ask how this form of life, divorced from any normal neighbourly relationship, fulfils it.
While thinking in this way, I was uncomfortably reminded of the pagan philosophers, such as Diogenes the cynic. These too made themselves uncomfortable in public, in order to acquire a reputation as moralists, and to earn their living by donations from admirers. Once attained, they also had a reputation for direct speaking to powerful people.
There were many differences, of course. But the similarities are profound. Both involve strong healthy people who live by the donations of others, and sell an idea to them to do so.
The Greeks, indeed, were somewhat cynical about their philosophers. Both Diogenes and Plato were sold into slavery, as sturdy vagabonds. We may wonder about the fate of unsuccessful “holy men” in the 5th century, who somehow didn’t make the cut, and achieve enough notoriety to “break even”! There were numerous pillar saints in Syria after Simeon had shown the way.
Did the acceptance of hermits and asceticism in the late 4th century have anything to do with the mass “conversions” of pagans in the same period? Did the wandering philosopher turn into the stationary hermit?
We must recall that physical endurance was no great achievement to the peasants of antiquity. No education was required to be a ”holy man”, unlike their philosophical predecessor. It merely required a knack for publicity; and if you started by entering a monastery and outshining the others (who might well resent your success!), you already had a pool of people willing to spread the word. Once in the groove, you worked out your special “trick”, just as the philosophers did, and so long as you could live with the ascetic life, you were essentially made.
Of course we need not suppose that the ascetics were duplicitous. They may well have believed sincerely in what they were doing. But that does not make it godly of itself.
When we look at the life of Simeon, we see a man whose main achievement was self-torment. But does making yourself tired and hungry and uncomfortable necessarily make you charitable, self-denying, good, kind, gentle and close to God? Mastering your body is equally likely to make you proud of yourself and contemptuous of others. Starving yourself may give you delusions, which you may mistake for visions; but there is no inevitable access to genuine visions of God just because you starve. Is there?
It is hard to say what Simeon’s life truly achieved. It feels wrong, on so many levels.
November 23rd, 2013 by Roger Pearse
Earlier we looked at the Life of Abraham as presented in Theodoret’s Lives of the Monks, written in 444 AD, and one of our best historical sources for an area generally represented by hagiographical texts.
While reading the volume, in the same excellent translation by R.M. Price, I found myself reading the Life of the famous pillar-saint, Simeon Stylites. I will give it here, and then we can discuss it.
* * * * * *
1. THE FAMOUS SYMEON, the great wonder of the world, is known of by all the subjects of the Roman empire and has also been heard of by the Persians, the Medes, the Ethiopians; and the rapid spread of his fame as far as the nomadic Scythians has taught his love of labor and his philosophy. I myself, though having all men, so to speak, as witnesses of his contests that beggar description, am afraid that the narrative may seem to posterity to be a myth totally devoid of truth. For the facts surpass human nature, and men are wont to use nature to measure what is said; if anything is said that lies beyond the limits of nature, the account is judged to be false by those uninitiated into divine things. But since earth and sea are full of pious souls educated in divine things and instructed in the grace of the all-holy Spirit, who will not disbelieve what is said but have complete faith in it, I shall make my narration with eagerness and confidence. I shall begin from the point at which he received his call from on high.
2. There is a village lying on the border between our region and Cilicia; they call it Sisa. Originating from this village, he was taught by his parents first to shepherd animals, so that in this respect too he might be comparable to those great men the patriarch Jacob, the chaste Joseph, the lawgiver Moses, the king and prophet David, the prophet Micah and the inspired men of their kind. Once when there was much snow and the sheep were compelled to stay indoors, he took advantage of the respite to go with his parents to the house of God. I heard his sacred tongue recount the following: he told how he heard the Gospel utterance which declares blessed those who weep and mourn, calls wretched those who laugh, terms enviable those who possess a pure soul, and all the other blessings conjoined with them. He then asked one of those present what one should do to obtain each of these. He suggested the solitary life and pointed to that consummate philosophy.
3. Therefore, having received the seeds of the divine word and stored them well in the deep furrows of his soul, he hastened —he said —to a nearby shrine of the holy martyrs. In it he bent his knees and forehead to the ground, and besought the One who wishes to save all men to lead him to the perfect path of piety. After he had spent a long time in this way, a sweet sleep came upon him, and he had the following dream: ‘I seemed,’ he said, ‘to be digging foundations, and then hear someone standing by say that I had to make the trench deeper. After adding to its depth as he told me, I again tried to take a rest; but once more he ordered me to dig and not relax my efforts. After charging me a third and a fourth time to do this, he finally said the depth was sufficient, and told me to build effortlessly from now on, since the effort had abated and the building would be effortless.’ This prediction is confirmed by the event, for the facts surpass nature.
4. Getting up from there, he repaired to the dwelling of some neighboring ascetics. After spending two years with them and falling in love with more perfect virtue, he repaired to that village of Teleda which we mentioned above, where the great and godly men Ammianus and Eusebius had pitched their ascetic wrestling-school. The inspired Symeon, however, did not enter this one, but another which had sprung from it; Eusebonas and Abibion, having enjoyed sufficiently the teaching of the great Eusebius, had built this retreat of philosophy. Having shared throughout life the same convictions and the same habits, and displayed, as it were, one soul in two bodies, they made many love this life as they did. When they departed from life with glory, the wonderful Heliodorus succeeded to the office of superior over the community. He lived for sixty-five years, and spent sixty-two years immured within; for it was after three years of rearing by his parents that he entered this flock, without ever beholding the occurrences of life. He claimed not even to know the shape of pigs or cocks or the other animals of this kind. I too had often the benefit of seeing him; I admired his simplicity of character and was especially amazed at his purity of soul.
5. After coming to him, this all-round contestant in piety spent ten years contending. He had eighty fellow contestants, and outshot all of them; while the others took food every other day, he would last the whole week without nourishment. His superiors bore this ill and constantly quarreled with it, calling the thing lack of discipline; but they did not persuade him by their words, nor could they curb his zeal. I heard the very man who is now superior of this flock recount how on one occasion Symeon took a cord made from palms —it was extremely rough even to touch with the hands — , and girded it round his waist, not wearing it on the outside but making it touch the skin itself. He tied it so tightly as to lacerate in a circle the whole part it went round. When he had continued in this manner for more than ten days and the now severe wound was letting fall drops of blood, someone who saw him asked what was the cause of the blood. When he replied that he had nothing wrong with him, his fellow contestant forcibly inserted his hand, discovered the cause and disclosed it to the superior. Immediately reproaching and exhorting, and inveighing against the cruelty of the thing, he undid the belt, with difficulty, but not even so could he persuade him to give the wound any treatment. Seeing him do other things of the kind as well, they ordered him to depart from this wrestling-school, lest he should be a cause of harm to those with a weaker bodily constitution who might try to emulate what was beyond their powers.
6. He therefore departed, and made his way to the more deserted parts of the mountain. Finding a cistern that was waterless and not too deep, he lowered himself into it, and offered hymnody to God. When five days had passed, the superiors of the wrestling-school had a change of heart, and sent out two men, charging them to look for him and bring him back. So after walking round the mountain, they asked some men tending animals there if they had seen someone of such a complexion and dress. When the shepherds pointed out the cistern, they at once called out several times, and bringing a rope, drew him out with great labor—for ascent is not as easy as descent.
7. After staying with them for a short time, he came to the village of Telanissus, which lies under the hill-top where he now stands; finding a tiny cottage in it, he spent three years as a recluse. In his eagerness to be always increasing his wealth of virtue, he longed to fast forty days without food, like the men of God Moses and Elijah. He urged the wonderful Bassus, who at the time used to make visitations of many villages, as supervisor of the village priests, to leave nothing inside and seal the door with mud. When the other pointed out the difficulty of the thing and urged him not to think suicide a virtue, since it is the first and greatest of crimes, he replied: ‘But you then, father, leave me ten rolls and a jar of water; and if I see my body needs nourishment, I shall partake of them.’ It was done as he bade. The provisions were left, and the door was sealed with mud. At the end of the forty days, Bassus, this wonderful person and man of God, came and removed the mud; on going in through the door he found the complete number of rolls, he found the jar full of water, but Symeon stretched out without breath, unable either to speak or to move. Asking for a sponge to wet and rinse his mouth, he brought him the symbols of the divine mysteries; and so strengthened by these, he raised himself and took a little food—lettuce, chicory and suchlike plants, which he chewed in small pieces and so passed into the stomach.
8. Overwhelmed with admiration, the great Bassus repaired to his own flock, to recount this great miracle; for he had more than two hundred disciples, whom he ordered to possess neither mounts nor mules, nor to accept offerings of money, nor to go outside the gate whether to buy something necessary or see some friend, but to live indoors and receive the food sent by divine grace. This rule his disciples have preserved to this day. They have not, as they become more numerous, transgressed the injunctions that were given them.
9. But I shall return to the great Symeon. From that time till today —twenty-eight years have passed —he spends the forty days without food. Time and practice have allayed most of the effort. For it was his custom during the first days to chant hymns to God standing, then, when because of the fasting his body no longer had the strength to bear the standing, thereafter to perform the divine liturgy seated, and during the final days actually to lie down —for as his strength was gradually exhausted and extinguished he was compellled to lie half-dead. But when he took his stand on the pillar, he was not willing to come down, but contrived his standing posture differently: it was by attaching a beam to the pillar and then tying himself to the beam with cords that he lasted the forty days. Subsequently, enjoying henceforward still more grace from above, he has not needed even this support, but stands throughout the forty days, not taking food but strengthened by zeal and divine grace.
10. After spending three years, as I said, in this cottage, he repaired to that celebrated hill-top, where he ordered a circular enclosure to be made. After procuring an iron chain of twenty cubits, nailing one end to a great rock and fixing the other to his right foot, so that not even if he wished could he go outside these limits, he lived all the time inside, thinking of heaven and compelling himself to contemplate what lies above the heavens—for the iron chain did not hinder the flight of his thought. But when the wonderful Meletius, who had at that time been appointed to supervise the territory of the city of Antioch and was a wise man of brilliant intelligence and gifted with shrewdness, told him that the iron was superfluous, since the will was sufficient to impose on the body the bonds of reasoning, he yielded and accepted the advice with compliance: And bidding a smith be called, he told him to sever the chain. When a piece of leather, which had been tied to his leg to prevent the iron injuring his body, had to be torn apart (for it had been sown together), people saw, they said, more than twenty large bugs lurking in it; and the wonderful Meletius said he had seen this. I myself have mentioned it in order to show from this example as well the endurance of the man: for though he could easily have squeezed the leather with his hand and killed them all, he steadfastly put up with their painful bites, welcoming in small things training for greater contests.
11. As his fame circulated everywhere, everyone hastened to him, not only the people of the neighborhood but also people many days’ journey distant, some bringing the paralysed in body, others requesting health for the sick, others asking to become fathers; and they begged to receive from him what they could not receive from nature. On receiving it and obtaining their requests, they returned with joy; and by proclaiming the benefits they had gained, they sent out many times more, asking for the same things. So with everyone arriving from every side and every road resembling a river, one can behold a sea of men standing together in that place, receiving rivers from every side. Not only do the inhabitants of our part of the world flock together, but also Ishmaelites, Persians, Armenians subject to them, Iberians, Homerites, and men even more distant than these; and there came many inhabitants of the extreme west, Spaniards, Britons, and the Gauls who live between them. Of Italy it is superfluous to speak. It is said that the man became so celebrated in the great city of Rome that at the entrance of all the workshops men have set up small representations of him, to provide thereby some protection and safety for themselves.
12. Since the visitors were beyond counting and they all tried to touch him and reap some blessing from his garments of skins, while he at first thought the excess of honor absurd and later could not abide the wearisomeness of it, he devised the standing on a pillar, ordering the cutting of a pillar first of six cubits, then of twelve, afterwards of twenty-two and now of thirty-six —for he yearns to fly up to heaven and to be separated from this life on earth. I myself do not think that this standing has occurred without the dispensation of God, and because of this I ask fault-finders to curb their tongue and not to let it be carried away at random, but to consider how often the Master has contrived such things for the benefit of the more easygoing. He ordered Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot, Jeremiah to put a loincloth on his waist and by this means address prophecy to the unbelieving, and on another occasion to put a wooden collar on his neck and later an iron one, Hosea to take a harlot to wife and again to love a woman immoral and adulterous, Ezekiel to lie on his right side for forty days and on his left for one hundred and fifty, and again to dig through a wall and slip out in flight, making himself a representation of captivity, and on another occasion to sharpen a sword to a point, shave his head with it, divide the hair into four and assign some for this purpose and some for that — not to list everything. The Ruler of the universe ordered each of these things to be done in order to attract, by the singularity of the spectacle, those who would not heed words and could not bear hearing prophecy, and make them listen to the oracles. For who would not have been astounded at seeing a man of God walking naked? Who would not have wanted to learn the cause of the occurrence? Who would not have asked how the prophet could bear to live with a harlot? Therefore, just as the God of the universe ordered each of these actions out of consideration for the benefit of those inured to ease, so too he has ordained this new and singular sight in order by its strangeness to draw all men to look, and to make the proffered exhortation persuasive to those who come—for the novelty of the sight is a trustworthy pledge of the teaching, and the man who comes to look departs instructed in divine things. Just as those who have obtained kingship over men alter periodically the images on their coins, at one time striking representations of lions, at another of stars and angels, and at another try to make the gold piece more valuable by the strangeness of the type, so the universal Sovereign of all things, by attaching to piety like coin-types these new and various modes of life, stirs to eulogy the tongues not only of those nurtured in the faith but also of those afflicted by lack of faith.
13. Words do not testify that these things have this character, but the facts themselves proclaim it; for the Ishmaelites, who were enslaved in their many tens of thousands to the darkness of impiety, have been illuminated by his standing on the pillar. For this dazzling lamp, as if placed on a lampstand, has sent out rays in all directions, like the sun. It is possible, as I have said, to see Iberians and Armenians and Persians arriving to receive the benefit of divine baptism. The Ishmaelites, arriving in companies, two or three hundred at the same time, sometimes even a thousand, disown with shouts their ancestral imposture; and smashing in front of this great luminary the idols they had venerated and renouncing the orgies of Aphrodite—it was this demon whose worship they had adopted originally —, they receive the benefit of the divine mysteries, accepting laws from this sacred tongue and bidding farewell to their ancestral customs, as they disown the eating of wild asses and camels.
14. I myself was an eyewitness of this, and I have heard them disowning their ancestral impiety and assenting to the teaching of the Gospel. And I once underwent great danger: he told them to come up and receive from me the priestly blessing, saying they would reap the greatest profit therefrom. But they rushed up in a somewhat barbarous manner, and some pulled at me from in front, some from behind, others from the sides, while those further back trod on the others and stretched out their hands, and some pulled at my beard and others grabbed at my clothing. I would have been suffocated by their too ardent approach, if he had not used a shout to disperse them. Such is the benefit that the pillar mocked by lovers of mockery has poured forth; such is the ray of divine knowledge which it has made descend into the minds of barbarians.
15. I know another case of such behavior by these men. One tribe begged the man of God to utter a prayer and blessing for their chieftain; but another tribe that was present objected to this, saying that the blessing ought to be uttered not for him but for their own leader, since the former was extremely unjust while the latter was a stranger to injustice. A long dispute and barbarian quarrel ensued, and finally they went for each other. I myself exhorted them with many words to stay calm, since the man of God had power sufficient to give a blessing to both the one and the other; but these said that that man should not get it, while those tried to deprive the other of it. By threatening them from above and calling them dogs, he with difficulty extinguished the dispute. I have told this out of a wish to display the faith in their understanding; for they would not have raged against each other, if they did not believe the blessing of the inspired man to possess the greatest power.
16. On another occasion I witnessed the occurrence of a celebrated miracle. Someone came in —he too was a tribal chieftain of Saracens — and begged the godly person to assist a man who on the road had become paralysed in the limbs of his body; he said he had undergone the attack at Callinicum — it is a very great fort. When he had been brought right to the center, Symeon bade him disown the impiety of his ancestors. When he gladly consented and performed the order, he asked him if he believed in the Father and the only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. When the other professed his faith, he said: ‘Since you believe in these names, stand up!’ When he stood up, he ordered him to carry the tribal chieftain on his shoulders right to his tent, and he was of great bodily size. He at once picked him up and went on his way, while those present stirred their tongues to sing hymns to God.
17. He gave this order in imitation of the Master, who told the paralytic to carry his bed. But let no one call the imitation usurpation, for His is the utterance, ‘He who believes in me will himself do the works that I do, and greater than these will he do’. Of this promise we have seen the fulfilment; for while the Lord’s shadow nowhere performed a miracle, the shadow of the great Peter canceled death, drove out diseases, and put demons to flight. But it is the Master who through His servants performed these miracles too; and now likewise it is by the use of His name that the godly Symeon performs his innumerable miracles.
[18.It happened that another miracle occurred in no way inferior to the preceding. A not undistinguished Ishmaelite, who was one of those who had found faith in the saving name of Christ the Master, made prayer to God with Symeon as the witness, and a promise as well: the promise was to abstain thereafter till death from all animal food. At some time he broke this promise, I know not how, by daring to kill a bird and eat it. But since God chose to bring him to amendment by means of a reproof and to honor His servant who had been the witness of the broken promise, the flesh of the bird was changed in nature to stone, with the result that not even if he wanted to was he now able to eat —for how was it possible, since the body which he had got hold of for eating had been petrified? Astounded by this extraordinary sight, the barbarian repaired to the holy man with great speed, bringing to light his secret sin, proclaiming his transgression to all, asking from God forgiveness for his offence and calling the saint to his aid, that through his all-powerful prayers he might free him from the bonds of sin. Many have been eyewitnesses of this miracle by touching the part of the bird by the breast, which is composed of bone and stone. ]
19. I have been, not only an eyewitness of his miracles, but also a hearer of his predictions of the future. The drought that occurred, the great crop-failure of that year and the simultaneous famine and plague that followed, he foretold two years beforehand, saying that he had seen a rod threatening mankind and indicating the scourging it would cause. On another occasion he revealed beforehand an attack of what is called the grasshopper, and that it would not cause serious harm, for the mercy of God would follow hard on the punishment. When thirty days had passed a countless swarm so swooped down as to intercept the rays of the sun and create shade; and this we all saw distinctly. But it harmed only the fodder of the irrational animals, while causing no injury to the food of human beings. Also to me, when under attack from someone, he disclosed the death of my enemy fifteen days in advance, and from experience I learnt the truth of his prediction. [He also saw on one occasion two rods descend from the sky and fall on the land both east and west. The godly man explained it as a rising of the Persian and Scythian nations against the Roman empire; he declared the vision to those present, and with many tears and unceasing prayers stopped the blows with which the world was threatened. Certainly the Persian nation, when already armed and prepared for attack on the Romans, was through the opposition of divine power driven back from the proposed assault and fully engaged in domestic troubles within.]
20. Although I know very many other occurrences of this kind, I shall omit them, to avoid length in the account —and the preceding are sufficient to show the spiritual perception of his mind. His reputation is also great with the king of the Persians. As the envoys who came to see Symeon related, he wished to inquire carefully about the man’s way of life and the nature of his miracles; and his spouse is said to have asked for oil honored by his blessing and to have received it as a very great gift. All the king’s courtiers, struck by his reputation, and despite hearing from the Magians many calumnies against him, wished to inquire precisely, and on being informed called him a man of God. The rest of the crowd, going up to the muleteers, servants and soldiers, offered them money, begging to receive a share in the blessing attached to the oil.
21. The queen of the Ishmaelites, being sterile and longing for children, first sent some of her highest officials to beg that she become a mother, and then when she obtained her request and gave birth as she had wished, took the prince she had borne and hastened to the godly old man. Since women are not allowed access, she sent the baby to him together with a request to receive blessing from him. ‘Yours,’ she said, ‘is this sheaf; for I brought, with tears, the seed of prayer, but it was you who made the seed a sheaf, drawing down through prayer the rain of divine grace.’ But how long shall I strive to measure the depth of the Atlantic Ocean? For just as the latter cannot be measured by men, so the daily deeds of this man transcend narration.
22. More than all this I myself admire his endurance. Night and day he is standing within view of all; for having removed the doors and demolished a sizeable part of the enclosing wall, he is exposed to all as a new and extraordinary spectacle —now standing for a long time, and now bending down repeatedly and offering worship to God. Many of those standing by count the number of these acts of worship. Once one of those with me counted one thousand two hundred and forty-four of them, before slackening and giving up count. In bending down he always makes his forehead touch his toes —for his stomach’s receiving food once a week, and little of it, enables his back to bend easily.
23. As a result of his standing, it is said that a malignant ulcer has developed in his left foot, and that a great deal of puss oozes from it continually. Nevertheless, none of these afflictions has overcome his philosophy, but he bears them all nobly, both the voluntary and the involuntary, overcoming both the former and the latter by his zeal. He was once obliged to show this wound to someone; I shall recount the cause. Someone arrived from Rabaena, a worthy man, honored with being a deacon of Christ. On reaching the hill-top, he said, Tell me, by the truth that has converted the human race to itself, are you a man or a bodiless being?’ When those present showed annoyance at the question, Symeon told them all to keep silence, and said to him, ‘Why on earth have you posed this question?’ He replied, ‘I hear everyone repeating that you neither eat nor lie down, both of which are proper to men—for no one with a human nature could live without food and sleep.’ At this Symeon ordered a ladder to be placed against the pillar, and told him to ascend and first examine his hands, and then to place his hand inside his cloak of skins and look at not only his feet but also his severe ulcer. After seeing and marveling at the excess of the wound and learning from him that he does take food, he came down from there, and coming to me recounted everything.
24. During the public festivals he displays another form of endurance: after the setting of the sun until it comes again to the eastern horizon, stretching out his hands to heaven he stands all night, neither beguiled by sleep nor overcome by exertion.
25. Despite such labors and the mass of his achievements and the quantity of his miracles, he is as modest in spirit as if he were the last of all men in worth. In addition to his modest spirit, he is extremely approachable, sweet and charming, and makes answer to everyone who addresses him, whether he be artisan, beggar, or peasant. And he has received from the munificent Master the gift also of teaching. Making exhortation two times each day, he floods the ears of his hearers, as he speaks most gracefully and offers the lessons of the divine Spirit, bidding them look up to heaven and take flight, depart from the earth, imagine the expected kingdom, fear the threat of hell, despise earthly things, and await what is to come.
26. He can be seen judging and delivering verdicts that are right and just. These and similar activities he performs after the ninth hour—for the whole night and the day till the ninth hour he spends praying. But after the ninth hour he first offers divine instruction to those present, and then, after receiving each man’s request and working some cures, he resolves the strife of those in dispute. At sunset he begins his converse from then on with God.
27. Although engaged in these activities and performing them all, he does not neglect care of the holy churches — now fighting pagan impiety, now defeating the insolence of the Jews, at other times scattering the bands of the heretics, sometimes sending instructions on these matters to the emperor, sometimes rousing the governors to divine zeal, at others time charging the very shepherds of the churches to take still greater care of their flocks.
28. I have proceeded through all this trying from a drop to indicate the rain, and using my forefinger to give readers of the account a taste of the sweetness of the honey. The facts celebrated by all are many times more numerous than these, but I did not promise to record everything, but to show by a few instances the character of the life of each one. Others, doubtless, will record far more than these; and if he lives on, he will perhaps add greater miracles. I myself desire and beg God that, helped by his own prayers, he may persevere in these good labors, since he is a universal decoration and ornament of piety, and that my own life may be brought into harmony and rightly directed in accordance with the Gospel way of life.
[After a further span of life with many miracles and labors — having alone of men of any time remained unconquered by the flames of the sun, the frosts of winter, the fierce blasts of the winds and the weakness of human nature — since he had henceforth to be with Christ and receive the crowns of his immeasurable contests, he proved by his death, to those who disbelieved it, that he is a man. And he remained even after death unshakable, for while his soul repaired to heaven, his body even so could not bear to fall, but remained upright in the place of his contests, like an unbeaten athlete who strives with no part of his limbs to touch the ground. Thus, even after death does victory remain united to the contestants according to Christ. Certainly cures of diseases of every kind, miracles, and acts of divine power are accomplished even now, just as when he was alive, not only at the tomb of the holy relics but also by the memorial of his heroism and long contending—I mean the great and celebrated pillar of this righteous and much-lauded Symeon —, by whose holy intercession we pray both that we ourselves may be preserved and made firm in the true faith, and that every city and country upon which the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is invoked may enjoy protection, untried by every kind of damage and injury from both the sky and their enemies. To Him be glory for ever and ever.]
November 22nd, 2013 by Roger Pearse
In Forgery and Counterforgery, Bart Ehrman makes a series of statements about Salvian of Marseilles, suggesting that the 5th century monk and moralist was guilty of forgery, and also that Salvian actually confesses to the deed in his Letter 9.
In earlier posts, I have evaluated E.’s statements against the text of the letter — not given by E., curiously — and other pieces of evidence. These posts are accessible here.
But the outcome is that E.’s statements seem remarkably unsatisfactory. It wasn’t at all clear to me why he believes that, e.g. Salonius was Salvian’s “own bishop”; that Salonius’ comments are angry, that Salvian circulated the work without sending it to Salonius, and so forth. No other commentator has inferred these statements from the text, or the extraordinary conclusion.
But all the time I lacked an important piece of evidence.
In F&C, E. references, not the standard American translation of Letter 9, by Eva Sanford, which I have given in full here, but an obscure paper by Alfred Haefner, published in 1934 in the Anglican Theological Review in Canada. The journal itself was not held in some major research libraries outside the USA, and I was unable to access it.
Fortunately a correspondent has come to my rescue, and supplied me with a copy. In view of the difficulty of access, I have placed a PDF here.
On reading it, much is explained. For here we find the curious mis-statements which I have discussed earlier.
It would certainly be surprising under these conditions if an author, after publishing his book pseudonymously, would proceed to make an open declaration of his “fraud” and publish his reasons for resorting to such an expedient. He would seem to be thwarting his own purposes.
Yet this is precisely the kind of document we have before us. About the year 440 A.D. there appeared a pamphlet entitled Timothei ad Ecclesiam Libri IV inveighing against the avarice of the times and appealing to the church to renounce its wealth and luxury. The pamphlet begins in the biblical epistolary style: “Timothy, least of the servants of God, to the Church Catholic in all the world, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” The tract was issued under the name of Timothy, with no indications as to its true authorship. When Bishop Salonius got this tract into his hands, he seems quickly to have guessed who wrote it, and forthwith sent a letter of protest to Salvian, presbyter of Marseille. Salonius feared that the work might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the Apostle Timothy, and demanded reasons for publishing the book pseudonymously. Thereupon Salvian wrote an answer to Bishop Salonius—the ninth of his preserved letters—in which, always speaking of the author in the third person, he set forth his reasons for adopting the pseudonym and thereby strikingly exemplified the contemporary attitude toward the practice.
This letter of Salvian’s thus seems to be a unique document. The very man who has published a pseudonymous book is divulging his reasons for doing so. It is as though we had caught the “criminal” in the act.
Here we have the ideas from F&C, in their original (and somewhat milder) form. E. has merely dramatised them.
H. himself, if I understand his career correctly, wrote this paper while a PhD student, or little more. He has indeed propounded an interesting theory; although not one that will resist much investigation. His area of expertise is the New Testament; of patristics he knows nothing. Of the milieu of southern Gaul in this period he knew less than most of us, we who have benefited by the works of Peter Brown. Nevertheless H. — unlike E. — rightly gives a translation of most of the letter in the article, so that the subject under discussion may be accessible to the reader.
H. ends in the following words:
Even so, I do not mean to exaggerate the importance of Salvian’s letter. For on the one hand, Salvian gives us little information about pseudonymity beyond what could be inferred from our previous sources; and on the other hand the letter is too late (ca. 440 A.D.) to permit of definite and unqualified conclusions with respect to the practice of pseudonymity in New Testament times.
Emphasis mine. H. has the common-sense to realise that the letter’s importance can be exaggerated. It is interesting to wonder what he would have made of F&C.
Then H. points out a couple of ways in which the letter is of interest, which will again ring bells to the reader of F&C:
[the letter] seems to be the only document in which the pseudonymist is speaking in his own defense (as it were), and it may fairly be called unique in this sense. … Finally, the document is one of two or three which may aid us in forming a judgment on the difficult question of the ethics of pseudonymity in ancient times.
It seems very much as if E. read this article and took it for gospel truth, without investigating further. This explains why, whenever he refers to Salvian, he presumes him already guilty, rather than demonstrating anywhere in the book that he actually is so.
In any survey of a wide area, of the sort found in F&C, it is inevitable that much must be skipped over. But sources are primary; if they are unsound, then the mass of the book is nothing. Here E.’s failure to engage properly and critically has betrayed him badly.
UPDATE: I have revised this post to remove some over-hasty language. The perils of blogging when tired!!
November 20th, 2013 by Roger Pearse
We have been discussing St. Abramius. I’m not sure if the Life in the Acta Sanctorum is intended to refer to the same man, but let us read what Theodoret says, in his “History of the Monks” about St. Abraham. There is no reference to idols in all thus.
It’s worth remembering that Theodoret knew some of these men, and his account is much more prosaic and far less laden with cod-”miracles” (which mostly seem trite) or “prayers” which could hardly have been recorded by anyone present, than later texts.
* * * * * *
1. NOR WOULD IT BE PIOUS to pass over the memory of the wondrous Abraham, using as a pretext the fact that after the solitary life he adorned the episcopal chair; for because of this he would with good reason deserve to be remembered surely all the more, in that, when compelled to change his position in life, he did not alter his mode of life, but brought with him the hardships of asceticism, and completed his course of life beset simultaneously with the labors of a monk and the cares of a bishop.
2. This man too was a fruit of the region of Cyrrhus, for it was born and reared there that he gathered the wealth of ascetic virtue. Those who were with him say that he tamed his body with such vigils, standing, and fasting that for a long time he remained without movement, quite unable to walk. Freed of this weakness by divine providence, he resolved to run the risks of piety as the price of divine favor, and repaired to the Lebanon, where, he had heard, a large village was engulfed in the darkness of impiety. Hiding his monastic character under the mask of a trader, he with his companions brought along sacks as if coming to buy nuts — for this was the main produce of the village. Renting a house, for which he paid the owners a small sum in advance, he kept quiet for three or four days. Then, little by little, he began in a soft voice to perform the divine liturgy. When they heard the singing of psalms, the public crier called out to summon everyone together. Men, children, and women assembled; they walled up the doors from outside, and heaping up a great pile of earth poured it down from the roof above. But when they saw them being suffocated and buried, and willing to do or say nothing apart from addressing prayer to God, they ceased from their frenzy, at the suggestion of their elders. Then opening the doors and pulling them out from the mass of earth, they told them to depart immediately.
3. At this very moment, however, collectors arrived to compel them to pay their taxes; some they bound, others they maltreated. But the man of God, oblivious of what had happened to them, and imitating the Master who when nailed to the cross showed concern for those who had done it, begged these collectors to carry out their work leniently. When they demanded guarantors, he voluntarily accepted the call, and promised to pay them a hundred gold pieces in a few days. Those who had performed so terrible a deed were overwhelmed with admiration at the man’s benevolence; begging forgiveness for their outrage, they invited him to become their patron—for the village did not have a master; they themselves were both cultivators and masters. He went to the city (it was Emesa), and finding some of his friends negotiated a loan for the hundred gold pieces; then returning to the village he fulfilled his promise on the appointed day.
4. On observing his zeal, they addressed their invitation to him still more zealously. When he promised his consent if they undertook to build a church, they begged him to start operations at once, and conducted the blessed man round, showing him the more appropriate sites, one recommending this one, another that. Having chosen the best one and laid the foundations, in a short time he put the roof on, and now that the building was ready bade them appoint a priest. When they said they would not choose anyone else and begged to take him as their father and shepherd, he received the grace of the priesthood. After spending three years with them and guiding them well towards the things of God, he got another of his companions appointed in his place and went back to his monastic dwelling.
5. Not to make the narrative long by narrating all he did —after gaining fame among them, he received the see of Carrhae, a city which was steeped in the sottishness of impiety and had given itself up to the frenzy of the demons. But after being honored by his cultivation and receiving the fire of his teaching, it has remained free of its former thorns, and abounds now in the crops of the Spirit, offering to God sheaves of ripe ears.’ The man of God did not perform this cultivation without labor; with innumerable labors and imitating the art of those entrusted with the treatment of bodies —in some cases sweetening by fomentation, in others contracting by astringent medicines, in others again applying surgery and cautery —he effected this sound state of health. His teaching and other attentions found support in the luster of his life. Illuminated by this, they hearkened to what he said and gladly welcomed what he did.
6. All the time of his episcopacy, bread was for him superfluous, water superfluous, a bed useless, and use of fire superfluous. At night he chanted forty psalms antiphonally, doubling the length of the prayers that occur in between; the rest of the night he sat on a chair, allowing a brief rest to his eyelids. That ‘man will not live on bread alone’ had been said by Moses the lawgiver, and the Master recalled this utterance when he rejected the invitation of the devil; but that living without water is among the things possible, we have nowhere been taught in the divine Scripture —even the great Elijah first satisfied this need from the brook, and then on going to the widow of Zarephath first told her to bring him water and then likewise asked for bread. But this wonderful man throughout the time of his episcopacy took neither bread nor pulses nor greens cooked by fire and not even water, which is considered by those reputed clever about these things to be the first of the elements in utility; but it was lettuce, chicory, celery, and all plants of the kind that he made his food and drink, rendering superfluous the skills of baking and cooking. In the fruit-season fruit supplemented his needs. His food he took after the evening liturgy.
7. While wearing down his body with such labors, he was inexhaustible in the services he rendered others. For strangers who came a bed was ready, glistening and select rolls were offered, wine of a fine bouquet, fish and vegetables and all the other things that go with them; he himself at midday sat with the diners, offering to each portions of the fare provided, giving goblets to all and bidding them drink, in imitation of his great namesake — I mean the Patriarch — who served his guests but did not dine with them.
8. Spending the whole day on the lawsuits of those in dispute, some he would persuade to be reconciled with each other, while to those who would not obey his gentle teaching he applied compulsion. No wrongdoer went away victorious over justice through audacity; to the wronged party he always accorded the just man’s portion, making him invincible and stronger than the one who wanted to wrong him. He was like an excellent physician who always prevents the excess of the humors and contrives the equilibrium of the elements.
9. Even the emperor desired to see him, for fame has wings and easily publishes everything, good and bad. He summoned him, and when he arrived embraced him, and considered his rustic goats hair cloak more honorable than his own purple robe. The choir of the empresses clasped his hands and knees; and they made supplication to a man who did not even understand Greek.
10. And so for emperors and all men philosophy is a thing worthy of respect; and when they die its lovers and adherents win still greater renown. This can be learnt from all sorts of examples, but not least from the case of this inspired man. For when he died and the emperor learnt of it, he wanted to bury him in one of the sacred shrines, but realizing that it would be right to restore to the sheep the body of the shepherd, he himself escorted it at the front of the procession, followed by the choir of empresses, all the governors and governed, soldiers and civilians. With the same zeal the city of Antioch received him, and the cities after it, until he reached the great river. Along the bank of the Euphrates there hastened townspeople and foreigners. Everyone both of the country and of the adjoining region pressed forward to enjoy his blessing; many rod-bearers accompanied the bier, to deter through fear of blows those who tried to strip the body of its clothing or who wanted to take pieces therefrom. One could hear some singing psalms, others dirges; one woman with sighs called him patron, another foster-father, another shepherd and teacher; one man in tears named him father, another helper and protector. With such eulogy and lament did they entrust to the tomb this holy and sacred body.
11. I myself, out of admiration at the way he did not alter his mode of life when changing his position in life, and did not as bishop love a relaxed regime but increased his ascetic labors, have listed him in the history of the monks, and have not separated him from the company he loved, in my desire to receive blessing from this source as well.
1. Abraham was an ascetic, originally of Cyrrhus, famous for his missionary work. He was active as far afield as Phoenicia (§2-4), and was finally made bishop of the largely pagan city of Carrhae in Mesopotamia (§5). He died at Constantinople, during a visit to the imperial family (§9-10). This visit is to be dated to the 420s: the reference to ‘empresses’ (§9) implies a terminus post quem of 421, when Theodosius II married Eudocia.
2. Peasants, whether freeholders or tenants, badly needed patrons to protect them against oppression by landowners or officials. This is the theme of Libanius, Oration XLVII, De patrociniis (Loeb Selected Works, II: 500ff). Holy men could be active in this work; cp. XIV.4, and XXVI, note 33 below. They were popular patrons, both because of their influence and because they were disinterested: lay patrons had to be materially rewarded and sometimes reduced their clients to virtual serfs (e.g. Libanius, Or. XXXIX. 10-11). P. Brown, ‘The Rise and Function of the Holy Man’, 115-129, is fundamental for this topic, though he exaggerates the extent to which holy men because involved in this work.
3. But we learn from Procopius, History of the Wars III.13.7 that Carrhae was still largely pagan as late as the sixth century.
4. For ascetic bishops, see I, note 5, above.
5. For episcopal jurisdiction, which took up a great deal of bishops’ time, see A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 480, and P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 195-6.
6. The emperor is Theodosius II (408-450), the empresses his sister Pulcheria and wife Eudocia. For Pulcheria’s exceptional piety, and her veneration for holy men and relics, see K. Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 91-146.
7. Evidently, the imperial family would simply have attended the initial ceremony at Constantinople. For this adventus (solemn translation) of relics, cp. the reinterment of the relics of John Chrysostom at Constantinople in 438, attended by Theodosius and Pulcheria (Theodoret, Eccl. Hist. V.36; Holum, 184-5), or the conveying, in a huge procession, of the body of Symeon Stylites from Telanissus to Antioch (Festugiere, Antioche, 369-375). See too, P. Brown, The Cult of the Saints, 98-100.
November 18th, 2013 by Roger Pearse
The next reference in Mango’s article to idol-smashing is the following:
In the middle of the sixth century we hear of St. Abramius destroying pagan idols near Lampsacus on the Hellespont, in a village that was totally pagan.
The reference is to the Acta Sanctorum, the Acts SS, Abramii et Mariae, March, vol. 2, p.933. This is online here.
The reference appears to be to chapter 8. I’m afraid my Greek isn’t up to doing this in the brief time that I have available, but I see from the marginal Latin that he comes to a pagan village, builds a church, “idola evertiti” — overturns the idols, and… does something that the online text does not make clear, as I can’t read the text.
Anyone like to translate chapter 8 for us?
UPDATE: It is actually chapter 1 part 8. From the Latin (see comments below) it reads:
8. Where, when the blessed Abramius gathered them, he prayed in the way of the Lord, saying: “Most blessed and best Lord, have mercy on my imbecility, and send your grace to my help, so that it may glorify your holy name.” But coming to the town, he saw everyone there to be passionately held prisoner by the insanity of idolatry. So he wept bitterly, sighing, and raising his eyes to heaven said, “You, Lord, who alone are free from all sin, likewise alone are full of mercy, and alone are clement and benevolent, may you not despise the works of your hands.” And quickly he sent a proclamation to the city to some of his dearest friends, to send money to him from their remaining patrimony. When he had received it, within a few days he built a church, in which assiduously he offered prayer to God, and so prayed with many tears and said, “Gather, o Lord, your scattered people and lead them to this temple: illuminate their eyes and minds, let them know that you alone are God so that the worship of images may be repudiated. When he had finished this prayer, he immediately went out of the church, rushed to the pagan temple, where he destroyed their abominations and dragged down the images with his own hands and overthrew them. When those pagans found out, like so many wild beasts the bumpkins attacked him, and having been injured with many blows he fled from the town.
I don’t feel any great faith that this is a historical account. What part of it could not have been written by any monk at any time during the middle ages?
November 16th, 2013 by Roger Pearse
Here is another statement from Mango’s article:
At the end of the fifth century a great number of idols, salvaged from the temple of Isis at Memphis, were concealed in a house behind a false wall. But their presence was detected by the Christians. The statues were loaded on twenty camels and taken to Alexandria where they were exposed to public ridicule and destroyed.
The reference is to the Life of Severus of Antioch, by Zacharias Rhetor (d. 553), published in the Patrologia Orientalis II (1903), p.27-37. Originally composed in Greek, it survives only in Syriac. The last date in it is 512 AD, as it finishes before the events of the patriarchate of Severus. I’ve turned the French translation from the PO into English, and I have found that it is a very interesting read indeed.
Some introduction to the context is necessary.
The scene is set in Alexandria in the late 5th century. The emperor Zeno is on the throne, and Peter Mongus is the (monophysite) patriarch of Alexandria. The intellectual life of the city is lively, and the city is full of students. Many of the teachers are Christians, and there are plenty of zealous young men actively interested in the controversies of the day, and doing church work. These call themselves the Philoponoi — the “lovers of work”. But circles of pagan teachers such as Horapollon are still teaching in Alexandria, even though paganism is officially illegal and has been for a century. Some of these pagans are in touch with a temple and oracle of Isis at nearby Menouthis. Students come from all parts of the Eastern Roman Empire to study. There is also a (monophysite) monastery at Enaton, headed by a certain Salomon. The Pachomian monasteries are Chalcedonian, and there is one at Tabennesiote.
Paralios of Aphrodisias in Caria is one of these students who have come to Alexandria to get an education. He is a pagan, but has a brother who has gone into the Enaton monastery, and taken the name of “Athanasius”, where he works with a fellow monk and former sophist named Stephen. But Paralios has been instructed by his family to have no contact with Athanasius. He attends the lectures of Horapollon and Asclepiodotus; and then sneaks out to talk to Athanasius, and the shrewd Stephen. The latter plants doubts in his mind about paganism. For a while Paralios shuttles between the two camps. He visits Menouthis and listens to the oracle; and then hears criticism of the stupidity and superstition of paganism at Enaton.
He learns from Asclepiodotos of a pagan miracle; that the latter has had a child, even though his wife is too old. Stephen pointedly asks whether or not the sterile wife is also nursing the child. Paralios’ investigation suggests that the child is actually a fraud; the illegitimate son of one of the Isis priestesses. For his pains, he gets beaten up. The Christian students are outraged, and there are disturbances. The uproar is so great as to cause the monophysite monks at Enaton and the Chalcedonian Tabennesiote monks to make common cause against the pagans.
Now read on. The speaker is Zacharias himself.
* * * * * * * *
At the news of these facts, the great Stephen called us to Enaton, at the Convent of Salomon. He asked Paralios, if he could reveal the pagan idols hidden at Menouthis. Paralios said that he would reveal them, that he would hand over the altar, and prove the sacrifices that they had dared do. Thereupon, we decided once again, with the most illustrious Salomon, to go and make known these things to the Bishop Peter. Once there, Paralios promised before Peter to reveal the idols, the altar and the sacrifices, and to make known the priest of the idolatrous error. The high priest of God, Peter, then gave us some members of the clergy and invited by letter those who lived in the convent called “of the Tabennesiotes”, located at Canopus, to help us eradicate and overturn the demonic gods of the heathen.
After praying, as was right, we went to Menouthis and came to a house which was totally covered with pagan inscriptions (hieroglyphics). In one corner the wall was double. Behind this wall, the idols were hidden. A narrow entrance in the form of a window led into it, and this is how the priest went in to conduct the sacrifices. Hoping that our search would lead to nothing, helpers of the priestess who lived in this house – they were indeed aware of the uprising that had taken place in the town – had filled up the mouth of the entrance with stones and lime. In addition, so that the recent nature of the masonry might not be observed, and so that we would not discover the ruse and the artifice, they placed a cabinet full of incense and popana (?) in front of the place, and above that they suspended a lamp which was kept burning until daylight. The result was that Paralios was initially a little troubled and embarassed, not knowing what had happened to the entrance, in the form of a window. However, not without difficulty, he discovered the ruse. He then made the sign of the cross, took down the lamp, moved the cabinet aside and revealed the entrance which was blocked at that moment with stones, by recent masonry work. He then asked the Tabennesiotes who were accompanying us to help, to bring an axe; then he ordered one of them to open what had been freshly constructed and to make the original aspect (of the opening) appear. The Tabennesiote then entered. When he saw the multitude of idols, and the altar covered with blood, he cried out in Egyptian, “There is only one God!”, meaning by this that the error of polytheism must be extirpated. First he handed us the idol of Kronos, which was entirely filled with blood; then all the other idols of the demons, then a varied collection of idols of every species, including dogs, cats, monkeys, crocodiles, and reptiles; because in the past the Egyptians worshipped also these animals. He also handed us the rebel dragon. His idol was of wood, and it seems to me that those who worshipped this serpent, or rather that the latter wanted to be worshipped in this way, recalled the rebellion of the first creatures, who did so by the wood (tree) on the advice of the serpent. It was said that these idols had been removed from the temple of Isis at Memphis by the priest of that period when it was realised that paganism had lost its strength and was abolished. They had been hidden, as we have said. It was hoped – a vain and futile hope – that they would not be discovered.
We gave to the flames, in Menouthis itself, those of the idols which, because of their high antiquity, were already largely deteriorated.
The inhabitants who lived in the town thought, under the influence of the demons who possessed them, that it was impossible for them to go on living if any outrage was inflicted on the idols; they believed that they would die on the spot. So we wanted to show them by the facts that all the power of the pagan gods and the demons was broken and abolished since the coming and incarnation of the Messiah, the Word of God, who voluntarily suffered for us on the cross, in order to destroy every adverse power; for He said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, and I have given you the power to trample underfoot serpents and scorpions and all the power of the enemy.” And it was for this reason that we gave one part of the idols to the flames. As for the other idols, we made an inventory of those that were of brass, and that were made with a certain ingenious art, as well as those which were of marble, of every form, without forgetting the brazen altar and the wooden dragon. Then we sent this description to the city, to Peter the patriarch of our Lord Jesus Christ, and asked him to tell us what to do.
Those who passed for Christians at Menouthis, and those who were part of the clergy of the church of the town, were, with the sole exception of their priest, quite weak in their faith, to the point that they were enslaved to the gold that the pagans gave them so that they would not prevent the latter offering sacrifices to idols. Evening arrived on the day on which we had done these things, and it was necessary to guard the idols, once the inventory had been made, so that they were not stolen, but they (the weak Christians) declared that they believed that they would suffer some kind of diabolical harassment in guarding them (the idols), and took the view that it was for us to guard them. On their side the pagans living at Menouthis thought and said that we would infallibly die during the night. The priest, seeing the fear of the Christians and the clergy – he was a good and faithful man, who adorned the virtues of the monastic life, as well as those of old age, and whose way of life was simple – led us, after he had given us a meal, into one of the chambers of the church, where the idols had been placed. He said to us, “At this point I despise the idols, and trample them underfoot, and inflict every outrage upon them, not thinking in any way that these are anything.” Then he prayed for us, and invited us to guard the idols throughout the night, without fear. “He himself,” he said, “would be, as usual, occupied with the service of God.”
We spent the whole night guarding the idols. We sang, “Let all those be ashamed who love the works of sculpture, and trust in their idols”, (Ps. 96:7) and then, “The gods of the nations are demons; but the Lord is the creator of the heavens,” (Ps. 95:5) and then, “The idols of the nations are of silver and gold, a work of the hands of men. They have a mouth and do not speak ….”,(Ps. 113:12-13) as well as the words that follow and are like them.
In the morning, when we got up, we found the pagans astonished to see us still alive. So greatly was the worship of certain demons and the error rooted in them! We then ran once more with our Tabennesiote monks to the house where the idols had been found and where the sacrifices had taken place and we demolished it from top to bottom. This was indeed the order of the archbishop.
Sunday arrived, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the tomb and broke the power of death. All the people of Alexandria, at the hour of the celebration of the office, made thousands of imprecations against Horapollon, and shouted that he should no longer be called Horapollon but Psychapollon, i.e. “He who loses souls”. Hesychios, who is admirable for his virtues (it was he that told me these things; at the time he was the leader of the Philoponoi, but now he is a priest), had stirred up everyone to zeal, with the help of Menas, who we mentioned earlier and whom it seemed right to leave in the town. The patriarch of God in his sermon made known to everyone the description of the idols which we had sent, in which were indicated the material of which they were made and the number of idols that had been found. Thereupon the people were inflamed, carried all the idols of the gods of the pagans, whether in the baths or in the houses, placed them in a heap and set fire to them.
A few days later we returned to the city (Alexandria). Together with the idols, we also brought their (the pagans’) priest with us. In fact it had been possible, with the help of God, to capture him also. Twenty camels were loaded by us with the various idols, although we had already burned some of them at Menouthis, as we have said. We brought them into the centre of the city, following the order which we had received from the great Peter. The latter immediately summoned around him, before the prefect of Egypt, the commanders of the regiments of soldiers, and all those who held senior office, as well as the senate, the important people, and the owners (= the “possessors”) of the city. When he sat down with them, he had the priest of the idols brought in, and ordered him to stand in a raised place. Then, after the idols had been uncovered, he began to question him. He asked him what this idolatry meant, which was exercised on a material without a soul, and ordered him to give the names of all the demons and say what was the cause of the form of each of them. At this time all the people had rushed in to see what was happening. He listened to what was said, and then laughed at the disgraceful deeds of the gods of the pagans whom the priest had made known. When the brazen altar and the wooden dragon had arrived, the priest confessed to the sacrifices which he had dared to carry out, and said that the wooden dragon was the one who deceived Eve. He believed this, he said, by tradition from the first priests. He said that the pagans worshipped the dragon. This was therefore given to the fire at the same time as the other idols. One could then hear, somehow, all the people shout, “Here is Dionysos, the hermaphrodite god! Here is Kronos who hates infants! Here is Zeus, the adulterer and seducer of young people! This one is Athena, the virgin who loves war; that one Artemis the huntress and enemy of strangers. Ares, that demon there, makes wars, and Apollo, that’s the one who kills lots of people. Aphrodite, she presides over prostitution. There are also some who have taken care to run away. As for Dionysus, he protects drunkenness. And see, among these idols the rebel dragon is also found! Among their number there are again dogs and monkeys, and, in addition, families of cats; for these too were gods of the Egyptians.” The people also laughed at the other idols.
If some of them had hands and feet, he [someone else is now speaking; presumably there is a lacuna] broke them and cried out jokingly in the language of the country, “Their gods don’t have any karoumtitin (?). Look at Isis, who has come to wash them!” Then he overwhelmed the pagans in a host of jokes of this kind, and praised Zeno, of pious end [this phrase seems out of place], who held at that period the sceptre of the empire, he praised Peter, the great patriarch, as well as the notables of the city who were sitting with him. Then everyone retired, praising God on the subject of the destruction of the error of the demons and the worship of idols. As for the priest of the pagan turpitude, it was ordered that he should be held for a more detailed investigation.
After these events, the great Stephen, remembering the fable of the sterile woman and the supposed child, and thinking what a great liar Asclepiodotos was, was worried in case the latter deceived people in Asia with his nonsense. Also the great Salomon secretly advised the archbishop to order that a court record of the depositions be drawn up by the defensor of the city, so that he could ask that the priest be interrogated on the subject of the child. This was done, and the priest confessed to all the things we have mentioned, because it is from him that we learned this. When the imposture of Asclepiotodos was known to everyone, the illustrious Stephen decided along with the great Peter to address a synodal letter to Nonnos, the bishop of Aphrodisias, in which he made known to him all the machinations of the pagans that the priest, during his interrogation, had put in writing (?) on the subject of the supposed child, and in which he was exhorted to reveal to all the history of this fable. But this synodal letter was never received. He who was charged to carry it, at been, on his arrival in Caria, corrupted by a bribe, as we learned later. In consequence the pagans of Aphrodisias believed for some time that the history of this fable was true, until the judge Adrastos took an interest – he was a pious man, who was the scholasticos of the country – and took care to bring from Alexandria to Caria, with the help of the prefect of Egypt at that time, a copy of the court record concerning this fable.
After he had offered an exploit of this kind to God, Paralios received the baptism of redemption, when Easter arrived, at the same time as many pagans, who had been full of zeal for idolatry until their old age, and had served the perverse demons for a long time. With them also was baptised the admirable Urbanus, who today in this imperial city is a teacher of Latin grammar, and Isidore of Lesbos, brother of Zenodotos whom I mentioned earlier, as well as many others. …
UPDATE: I find that Google Translate makes a very decent effort at translating the French text. Have a look at it here. You have to use your mind a bit, but you will still get a lot out of it.
UPDATE2: There is a complete English translation of this work available: The Life of Severus by Zachariah of Mytilene, tr. Lena Ambjörn, Gorgias (2008), 134p. Amazon here. It seems that the text itself was first published by J.Spanuth (ed.): Zacharias Rhetor: Das Leben des Severus von Antiochen in syrischer Uebersetzung, Gottingen (1893); and edited again and translated into French by F. Nau in ROC4 (1899), p.343-353, 544-571, and ROC 5 (1900), p.74-98. The text is preserved only in Ms. Sachau 321, no. 26 in the catalogue of the Berlin mss., p.94. The ms. dates from 741 AD, as a scribal note on fol. 173v tells us; the ms. was written by the priest and stylite Theudas (? Theodosius?) of the monastery of Psilta at the time when Stephanus was Abbot, i.e. A. Gr. 1052, which is 741 AD.
November 15th, 2013 by Roger Pearse
Following my last post, I find that the Life of Porphyry of Gaza, by Mark the Deacon, is online. Mango states (p.56):
At Gaza there stood in the center of town a nude statue of Aphrodite which was the object of great veneration, especially on the part of women. When, in 402, Bishop Porphyry, surrounded by Christians bearing crosses, approached this statue, “the demon who inhabited the statue, being unable to contemplate the terrible sign, departed from the marble with great tumult, and, as he did so, he threw the statue down and broke it into many pieces.” We may doubt that the collapse of the statue was altogether spontaneous.
The text is here and reads (slightly modernised):
59. But when we came into the city, in the place that is called the Four Ways, there was a statue of marble which they said was a statue of Aphrodite; and it was upon a base of stone, and the form of the statue was of a woman, naked, and having all her shame uncovered. And all they of the city did honour to the statue, especially the women, kindling lamps and burning incense. For they reported concerning it that it gave answers in dreams unto those who wished to make trial of marriage, but they deceived each other, speaking falsely. And often, being bidden by the demon to make a contract of marriage, they were so unfortunate that they ended up in divorce, or lived together in an evil way. These things we learned from those who turned aside from error and acknowledged the truth.
60. But some of the idolaters also, being unable to bear the calamity of the grievous marriages to which they had been led by the bidding of the demon of Aphrodite, were indignant and confessed the deceit. For that is what the demons do: deceive and say nothing at all that is true; for it is not in them to know for sure, but by guesses they delude and win over the people who are enslaved to them. For how can they speak truly who are fallen away from the truth? Even if they happen to prophesy something correctly, it is by chance that this happens, even as among men it often happens that one foretells concerning a matter and by chance it happens. When therefore they foretell the event correctly by accident, seeing that this is only seldom, we marvel; but though they continually get it wrong, of this we are silent. Thus much concerning demons and their error.
61. Now when we had come out of the ship into the city, as has been said, when we came to the place where was this idol of Aphrodite (but the Christians were carrying the precious wood of Christ, that is to say the figure of the Cross), the demon that dwelt in the statue beholding and being unable to suffer the sight of the sign which was being carried, came forth out of the marble with great confusion and cast down the statue itself and broke it into many pieces. And it happened that two men of the idolaters were standing beside the base on which the statue stood, and when it fell, it split the head of the one in two, and for the other it broke his shoulder and wrist. For they were both standing and mocking at the holy multitude.
62. And many of the Greeks when they beheld the sign which had come to pass, believed, and mingled with the layfolk and entered with them into the holy church which is called Peace. …
Mango’s suggestion that Porphyry and his followers actually vandalised the statue is a little odd; surely it defeats the point of the story?
November 15th, 2013 by Roger Pearse
A truly fascinating article has come my way, thanks to a tweet by Dorothy King: Cyril Mango’s Antique Statuary and the Byzantine Beholder (online here). The tweet itself was as follows:
Rare scene of pagan statues that survived being destroyed during later Byzantium in Constantinople pic.twitter.com/UYKMlAnIoS
The article contains a great number of references to primary sources describing statues and the attitude of the Byzantines to them. In some cases statues could be destroyed as idols; but more often they were left alone. The idea of demonic inhabitation of statues became transmuted into the idea that the statues were talismans, infused with magical power to protect the city.
If I had any time at all at the moment I might chase down a few of these. Book 2 of the Loeb Greek Anthology, however, does indeed contain a description of 80 ancient statues collected at the palace of Lausus in the 5th century.