A few more letters of Isidore of Pelusium – 102-116

Ten years ago I attempted to get English translations made of letters of Isidore of Pelusium.  Each attempt failed for one reason or another.  This translation of letters 102-116 was made by Clive Sweeting in 2010, but never received a final revision, and was never published.  This seems a pity, so I post it here.

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LETTER 102  – To Timothy the Reader.  Against the Theopaschites and those who affirm one nature in Christ.

Just as sailors hide the hook with bait and thus catch unsuspecting fish, even so wicked allies of heresies, covering  their evil designs with fair words,  fatally ensnare the more simple-minded[1]. With all care therefore guard your heart lest in any respect you accept Christ’s nature after the Incarnation as an appearance[2]. For assent to one nature involves a denial of the other –(for) either the divine nature is subject to change or our (humanity) is diminished. This is the Charybdis of Manes, by means of which he strove to lead (us) all to Gehenna.

LETTER 103 – To the Same.  Why Our Lord after His Resurrection questioned Peter three times about love.

Our Lord’s threefold questioning of Peter about love is not a reason to suspect ignorance on the part of the Master (let certain persons not think amiss in this way), but the good Healer expelled the threefold denial by means of the threefold assent.

LETTER 104 – To Leontios. On those who unworthy aspirations touch on ordination as a bishop.

It does not for just anyone to set his sights on a bishopric, my dear fellow, but to those whose lives are governed by the laws of Paul[3]. If then you perceive that degree of scrupulousness within yourself, proceed cheerfully towards the ascent to such an elevated position, but if you do not possess this (quality), until you acquire it, do not touch that which is untouchable[4]. Beware of approaching the fire which consumes matter.[5]

LETTER 105 – To Eutonios the Deacon. Why John called the Jews generations of vipers[6].

John called the Jews “generations of vipers” as being more wicked than the offspring of wicked parents. For it is recounted that this wild species[7] devours the maternal womb when they are hatched. Since then they abandoned God who gave them birth and they mortified all the grace given to them through failing to make use of it, he quite reasonably likens them to those poisonous creatures, who negate their benefactions through ingratitude, or to put it otherwise devour them.

LETTER 106 – To Timothy the Reader.  On the saying, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade”[8].

You will need to reply to the searching enquirer. For he speaks, it is said, to the ears of those who hear.[9] Also “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. Our Lord said, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” to the sellers of doves, but with the priests who sell off the gifts of the Holy Spirit in mind. Since the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, this is an insult to those who trade in God. As for ‘’Take these away from here”, he means that there is no longer any need for blood (sacrifices); for I grant bloodless forgiveness of sins; from now on I wish the Spirit alone to make propitiation. The law of flesh is fulfilled, let the law of the Spirit prevail, and that of salvation commence.

LETTER 107- To the Same.  On the harmony of the Testaments.

The Son of God introduced no novelty of beliefs, dear friend, into the Law and the Prophets, but placed a term to those things which had been revealed of old concerning Him. If you open[10] the Old Testament with the utmost attentiveness, you will find the whole of the New Testament announced therein. For those then who rely on the Law and consider the way of the Gospel strange, from the words of the Law He clarifies the truth of the beliefs (communicated by) grace. Thus they will (come to) see the intrinsic harmony of both Testaments.

LETTER 108 – To Prohairesios the scholasticos[11]?  On the living Word.

You have in your possession, I am informed, a collection of discourses which delight the ear, but which do not nourish the soul. You are in need of the Living Word, which he who lacks is a (mere) sounding brass [12]. If then you acquire this, it is a sweet-sounding instrument for God and well – tuned for men.

LETTER 109 – To the monk Marathonios. Against the Macedonians or Spirit-Contesters.

If our God and Saviour after becoming Incarnate transmitted the Most Holy Spirit, counted as completing the Holy Trinity and by His invocation in Holy Baptism as freeing from sins, but on the Sacramental Table revealing ordinary bread to be His own Body in Taking Flesh, how is it then that you teach, you crackbrained fellow, that  (the Spirit) is made or created or belongs to subject nature and is not parent to and of the same substance as the royal nature?  For if subject, let it not be counted with the Master. And if it is a creature, let it not be compounded with the Creator.  But it is united and counted together, since an exact exponent of such belief must believe Christ, when He teaches infallibly concerning His own substance, even if you do not accept it, as one who would be wiser and boasts of knowing heavenly (realities) better than God or who rather prates insolently against God.

LETTER 110 – To the monk Crato. That he who has promised spiritual effort, must willingly embrace all its difficulties.

He who wishes to undertake spiritual effort and desires salvation readily embraces all its difficulties, whatever and how many they are. He who thinks he acts in a way contrary to his dignity in performing spiritual effort or in the acts of service it involves is endued with exterior pride, which it is not possible to discard – unless he keeps in mind his body, from where it has come into existence and where again it is dissolved.[13]

LETTER 111 – To Zosimos the Priest.  Concerning one ordained by means of money payment.

You have received the priesthood unholily, O unholy one, having stolen a heavenly article by means of payment, a second Caiaphas, receiving that of which one may not speak by means of silver. But there a hope exists that you will be changed towards goodness. For I do not wish to speak against you.

LETTER 112 – To Bishop Eusebios.  Whatever we say we priests should do.

In church you teach with fair words, oh but it were rather so in act. For you resemble someone throwing stones into the air and aiming[14] at the directness of their fall and (thereby) bringing[15] them down upon himself. For if the refutation of sins is perceived amongst us as denying its words by its acts, not only do we fail to prevent hearers from acting badly, but we also incur mockery teaching one thing yet doing  another.

LETTER 113 – To the Same.  That he has sold the priesthood for payment.

You are building the church fabric with useless stones, with lawless or rather with your impious resources. For you received the price of priesthood, as one who sells priestly office, and you gave this to Zosimos. The news is thus being spread throughout the entire area, so that both ears of all who hear it are buzzing.

LETTER 114 – To Timothy the Reader.

This is the explanation of the three periods of day and night of Our Lord’s entombment. It is written “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights; so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. He who promised fulfilling the prefiguration (type) of Jonah and who understands it accurately, since He was present with Jonah when he was thrown into the deep, and when he was vomited forth from the depth, fulfilled Jonah unfailingly, dwelling in the tomb as long as Jonah (did) in the whale; If you seek a second figure, this is it: At the sixth hour of Friday the Lord was crucified. From then until the ninth there was darkness; Take this from me to be night. Again from the ninth hour; this is again day. Then there is the Friday night, then the Sabbath. The night of the Sabbath is the morning of Sunday, according to the Evangelist who states  “When it dawned on the first day of the week” If you wish to learn a third reason, (it is) as follows. On the Friday the Lord gave up His spirit; this is one day. He passed the whole of the Sabbath in the grave; then there is the night belonging to the Sabbath. When Sunday dawned, He rose from the tomb, and this is day. Since, as you know, from knowing a part the whole is known[16]. For in this way we are accustomed to perform the remembrance of those who die. At whatever hour of the day someone dies, the following day only is omitted, and on the next day from dawn we hold the third day of his (commemoration). You have, I think, the solution to what you were seeking. For if those who fight dishonestly ask for three complete days and nights, reply that, if the emperor was receiving the supplication and petition of those in the mines or in prison and promised to give them release after the third day, and in advance of the set date granted them their freedom, it was rather by his rapidity that he declared the truth (of his intention). The Master, rising more swiftly than He had promised, will appropriately be worshipped by all.

LETTER 115 – To the monk Elias.

“What have you to do with the way to Egypt with a view to drinking Nile[17] water?”, the prophet said to the turnabout people, or rather God by means of him. What have you to do with the confusion from which you were separated by God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm? How is it that having laid hold on virtue and tasted the summit of philosophy, you revert to wickedness, and do not have in mind the word of Scripture, that “He who turns away from justice towards sin, the Lord will prepare him for the sword. Flee the billow and flee the waves. Christ has rebuked the wind[18], and no experience of storm will engulf you, if you hold fast to Christ, the harbour.[19]

LETTER 116 – To Ausonius[20] the Corrector.

Possessing a wise means of discovering truth, namely the many-shaped device of torments, use fear with regard to judgment, since divine legislation[21] has established you as a fear for the wicked.

[1] Cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, letter 101,7 (Grégoire de Nazianze, Lettres théologiques, Sources Chrétiennes, no. 208,38)

[2] With the alteration ‘one’ (nature) featuring in place of ‘appearance’ this injunction is specifically ascribed to Isidore by one of his earlier testimonia, See P.T.R. Gray: Leontius of Jerusalem: Against the Monophysites; Testimonies of the Saints and Aphoriae  (Oxford Early Christian Texts), 2006, 84.

[3] I Tim. 3,2 – 7; Tit. 1, 7 -9

[4] cf. I Sam. 7,1.

[5] cf. Ex. 3,5

[6] Mt. 3,7

[7] Isidore’s treatment differs substantially from the Physiologus.

[8] Jn. 2,16

[9] Mt. 11,15

[10] lit; unfold

[11] A term for professor of rhetoric.

[12] 1 Cor. 13,1

[13] cf. Gen;, 3,19

[14] diakonti – perhaps a corruption of a present participle (dative masc. sing.) although LSJ (and Bailly) quote the middle form diakontizomai. Alternatively participle. dioikounti.

[15] Lit.calling.

[16] synecdoche

[17]Following Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 1, 39,  Hesychius glosses Geon (Gihon, Gen.  2,13) as the Nile.

[18] Lc.8,24

[19] Less frequent among the many navigational metaphors of salvation. cf. Heb.6,19

[20] In this short selection of letters, only Ausonius’ existence (not even that of bishop Eusebius) is confirmed in J.R. Martindale, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol. II, A.D.395-527, but on the evidence alone of a fair number of letters addressed by Isidore to Ausonius or to a slightly varying homonym.

[21] Rom.13,4.


A coin from the days when English was a tribal language, ill-adapted to Roman letters

Every so often there is a news story about the difficulty of representing some foreign language in Roman letters.  This is especially the case for languages like Chinese which already have a  dedicated script.

Every script or alphabet exists for the purpose of representing the sounds of a language.  At those times when a language has never been written before, the new script will often be adapted from some existing letters.  Sometimes it takes a couple of attempts.  We are all familiar with the creation of the Cyrillic script by Cyril and Methodius, from Greek.

The truth is that Roman letters may be the standard today, but the Roman script was never devised to represent most of the languages that are today written in it.

Bible translators very often create the first written version of some tribal language.  Consequently they struggle with issues such as sounds that do not match any letter.  They end up creating clumps of letters, or using accents or something, in order to cope.

But few of us may have considered that the missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons had to deal with exactly the same problem.

English is not a language which was originally written in Roman script.  It was originally written in runes, which were devised to represent the sounds of the English language.  (We are all familiar with the appearance of English runes thanks to J.R.R.Tolkien.)

English spelling is as weird as it is for several reasons, but one of the reasons is that the English language contains sounds not found in Latin.  One example is the “th” sound, found in “the”.

In runic, “th” was represented by a single character, “thorn”, written as “þ”.  Indeed if you visit Iceland, as I have done, you will see this rune still in use, mingled into Roman script.  The thorn rune was often written with the loop open at the top, looking more like “y”.  This is the origin of such modern curiosities as “ye olde tea shoppe” – the “ye” was originally “þe”.

Few will be aware that there is numismatic evidence of the changeover from runes to Roman.  I owe my knowledge of this to Dr Kate Wiles, who posted a coin and a fascinating explanation to twitter here:

Coin of Offa, issued by moneyer Ecghun. East Anglian mint.  785-793 AD. Type 168.  See here.  Said to be found near Great Saxham, Suffolk, 2017.

This is a coin issued by King Offa in the 8th century, produced by the moneyer Ecghun. You can see on the left it says REX ᛭ OFFA.

On the right is the moneyer’s name, written EXCHVN. Which seems like an odd spelling.

It was made at a time when English was only just starting to be written with the Latin alphabet – previously, it had been written using runes. Latin and Old English didn’t have all the same sounds, though, so there were teething problems when working out how to spell some words.

Latin, for example, didn’t have the ‘dg’ sound we have in words like ‘edge’, so there was no obvious letter that English could use. The end solution in Old English was to use ‘cg’, but that took a while to settle.

Ecghun’s solution in the meantime was to import a rune to do the job – ᚷ is the runic character for G.

So this tiny coin is evidence of the earliest stages of English starting to be written with this alphabet. It’s a combination of two languages and two writing systems.[1]

It’s a fascinating story which doesn’t deserve to be lost in Twitter.  It certainly makes you look at English spelling a second time!  Thank you, Dr. Wiles, for drawing our attention to it!

  1. [1]Dr Wiles gives as a source Martin Findell & Philip Shaw, “Language Contact in Early Medieval Britain: Settlement, Interaction, and Acculturation”, in: W.M. Ormrod &c, Migrants in Medieval England, c.500-c.1500, Oxford (2020).

An email about the letters of Isidore of Pelusium

Isidore of Pelusium was a monk living in the Nile delta in the early-mid 5th century AD, in the times of Cyril of Alexandria.  We know nothing of him except that a collection about 2,000 of his letters – or rather short excerpts from them – was made by the “Sleepless” monks of Constantinople in the 6th century.  It’s never received a critical edition, but the text is actually quite interesting.  It may be a lost devotional classic.

Something over ten years ago – I write from memory – I became aware of this work.  I did so through the marvellous monograph of Pierre Evieux, who also translated the second half of the collection for the Sources Chrétiennes series.  It seemed a shame not to commission some English translations, and so I set out to do so, and I wrote about this here with the tag “Isidore of Pelusium”.  But it was all very hard, and I got nowhere much.  The bits and pieces all over the place that resulted were too much for me to ever collect.

Yesterday I received an email from Ted Janiszewski.  It seems that he and a friend have been looking at Isidore of Pelusium and trying to work out what exists in English.  He wrote:

What we’ve come up with is there are currently 53 numbered epistles in English, either posted to your blog, shared in the comments, or translated in your edition of Eusebius’ Gospel Problems and Solutions:

1–14, 27, 35–36, 78, 97–101, 212, 221, 310–311, 322, 448, 1106, 1214–1220, 1222–1229, 1241, 1243–1246, 1285, 1382, 1582

There are a further twenty unnumbered letters done into English in 1843 by William Roberts, as you mention here – but I haven’t yet checked to see whether there is overlap. A quick Google Books search uncovered translations of a few more fragments – and I’m sure there is more buried out there in monographs and journals. But this now is what we have.

I was wondering: you mention here (ten years ago today! how time flies) and again here that you commissioned letters 15–25. Did those ever come through?

I have written back to tell him that 15-25 never arrived.  My email box reveals that a gentleman named Mark Genter was working on them, and then everything went silent.

What I did find was a translation of 102-116, made by a gentleman named Clive Sweeting, but never placed online because he never received the payment we agreed.  I think after 10 years that it doesn’t matter, so I will do so in a bit.

Rather nice to hear about all this again!

Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis: Unfinished Book) – online in English

Dr Isabella Image has kindly written to me and offered to make available her translation of Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis: Unfinished Book).  Dr Image has worked on several academic translations, so it is very nice indeed to have this one made available.  She has also kindly made the result public domain, so please circulate it freely.  Here it is:

The footnote and formatting is my responsibility tho.

I have also added the files to Archive.org here.

A very literal translation already exists on the web here, at Google sites.  The Patrologia Latina text may be found online here, and indeed also Italian and Spanish versions.

Dr Image adds:

You’ll want to know my credentials: my classics BA & MPhil were at Cambridge and my patristics DPhil was at Oxford. I’ve published Augustine translations before (with Walsh & Collard) and also my doctorate (on Hilary of Poitiers).

It is very good news indeed to have this.  Thank you!

From my diary

My apologies for the lack of blogging.  It’s not for lack of material to blog about!  I have a folder of items that I want to talk about, and it seems to get longer every week.  Which is nice, really.  What I don’t have is any time.  I’m sitting at my computer in my study, working from home remotely and dialing into a workplace that I have never physically visited.  After a long day of work, the last thing I want to do is sit down at the same computer.  I can’t work on any of my translations.  It’s also hot, and remote working and zoom meetings are more tiring than you’d think.  So … silence.  But I’m still here and anyway… it’s summer.  Don’t we all have outdoor things to do?

I’ve had a couple of interesting emails, relating to earlier blog posts.  I will post these when I get the chance.

The Covid-19 lockdown has affected my attempts to obtain information about the Roman fort in the sea off Felixstowe, because the record office is shut.  I have been trying to get this information for over a year now, and in my experience that means that it won’t ever arrive.  But you never know.

I had an email from the Hotel Nerva in Rome, where I have often stayed, offering discounts.  I would truly like to go back to Rome, although not in August, obviously!  But travel is really out of the question while the plague rages.

So nothing of interest is happening here, and of course I have nothing to write about.

I’m on contract until the end of September, when I shall have to consider whether to continue.  My current client is foolishly pushing its staff to return to the office during September, where their health and lives will depend on whether the low-paid and poorly-treated cleaning staff, comprised mainly of illegal immigrants, take sufficient care in performing their duties or not.  It is not a gamble that I should care to take!

Normal service will resume when I get some time!

Walton Castle must have looked much like this in the 1600’s

The Roman fort at Felixstowe in Suffolk stood on a sandy cliff.  It went into the sea between 1700 and 1750, and there are still remains of it on the sea bed, a few metres off-shore.  I collected some old drawings of the fort here, known as Walton Castle.

Today I saw on twitter here an aerial photograph of its sister fort in Norfolk, Burgh Castle.  This has partly fallen into the river, and reminded me extremely strongly of those old drawings.

Here’s the aerial photo:

And here is the old plan of the vanished Roman fort at Walton Castle:

Plan of the Roman “Saxon Shore” fort of Felixstowe in 1623.

The walls of Burgh Castle still stand, and look like this:

And the drawing of the walls of Walton is here:

Note that this is taken from the landward side.  The similarities are obvious.

If I had a drone, and could take an aerial photograph of the area where Walton Castle stood, it might be possible to “drop in” the image of Burgh, and recreate the appearance of the vanished fort.  Maybe some day I will.

Regular readers will know that I have been attempting to locate a diving report from 1969 – the “Errington Report” -, which surveyed the ruins on the sea bed.  I have been trying to locate this for a year.  It is supposed to be at Suffolk Record Office.  Sadly I have been unable to examine the relevant files so far.

Lost ancient text found in Armenia: Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Hebrews

Excellent news today via Matthew R Crawford.  It seems that Cyril of Alexandria’s lost Commentary on Hebrews has been discovered.  It is preserved in three Armenian manuscripts held in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  An edition has been prepared, and is for sale here at BooksFromArmenia.com, for the modest sum of around $30.

Apparently it’s about 43,000 words in length, filling 220 pages.  So this is not a small work.  The editor of the critical text is Hacob Keosyan.  ISBN 978-9939-850-44-3.  At that price, I think they may sell quite a few copies.  I’m tempted myself.

The fragments of the Commentary on Hebrews are listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under CPG 5209 (3).  It’s in vol. 3, page 8.  They were edited by Philip Pusey in an appendix to his edition of the Commentary on John, and also appear in the PG 74, cols. 953-1006.  There are Greek, Latin, Syriac and Armenian fragments.

Last year Joel Elowsky produced a translation of Cyril, entitled “Commentaries on Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews” through IVP, so he has been unfortunate in his timing.

There is an article: Parvis, “The Commentary on Hebrews and the Contra Theodorum of Cyril of Alexandria”, JTS 26 (1975), 415-9.  From this I learn that Cyril’s commentary is, inevitably, directed against one of his political-religious foes.  In this case it is Theodore of Mopsuestia.  It is referred to by one of his opponents, and so must have been written before autumn 432.  It must have been written after his feud with Nestorius began in 428.

It is always good to recover a text from the night.  Let us hope that someone can produce an English translation of it soon.

The other point that comes to mind is that we need a new and fuller catalogue of the Matenadaran in Yerevan.  What else is there, one might wonder?

UPDATE: I have found another article on the web here, in Russian, by “Priest Maksim Nikulin”.  The English abstract reads:

In the present article the author studies one of the exegetical works of St. Cyril of Alexandria, his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This work has been preserved only in fragments contained in catenae, florilegia, and quotations by other authors. The author identifies the texts that have survived to our day and the testimonies of later authors, who confirm that St. Cyril had written a Commentary on Hebrews. The author then provides an overview of the existing publications of this work with an indication of the manuscripts used by scholars of each edition. The author provides the opinions of different scholars about the dating of the work, all of which date it to the anti-Nestorian period of St. Cyril’s life, afer 428 AD. The author comments on the valuable insight by P. M. Parvis, who found in this work a fragment of St. Cyril’s polemics against the Antiochian exegesis and Christology of Teodore of Mopsuestia. The author also considers the hypothesis of P. E. Pusey, who believed that two works of different genres were composed by St. Cyril commenting on Hebrews, as well as the opinions of other scholars about this hypothesis. The author comments on the Armenian fragments of this work studied by J. Lebon. Finally, the author provides a hypothesis about the structure of the work.

I imagine that Dr Nikulin will be excited by the new discovery!

An old list of abbreviations used in Latin inscriptions

Today I saw an inscription on Twitter (posted by Gareth Harney), and part of it left me baffled.  Here it is:

T. Flavius Athenaeus, funerary altar. Uffizi galleries, Florence. Early 2nd century.

This funerary altar was erected to the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, by his freedman Nicostratus, and records that he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days and 3 hours:

Memoriae T. Flavi. T. F. Fab. Athenaei vixit annis XXII menses III dies V horas III Nicostratus. lib.

To the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days, 3 hours.  Nicostratus (his) freedman (libertus) (set this up).

But one bit gave me pause: “T.F.Fab.”?  Obviously it is a genetive, positioned before the noun “Athenaei” as is normal.

Latin inscriptions are full of abbreviations, and I never know most of them.  But Google can surprise you sometimes, and I tried googling T. F. Fab.

What I got back did indeed surprise me.  My first result was to a “Collection of pamphlets on the Latin language, volume 10”, page 84 (link).  This seems to be some university library’s collection, and the item is actually an article by C. F. Liebtreu, “Onomastici Romani Specimen”, Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädagogik, Berlin (1843), p.20.

This showed that in T.F.Fab, we should understand “Fabia tribu”, “from the Fabian tribe”.  This was one of the thirty-five voting tribes into which the Roman people was divided.

My next result was more interesting still: to Robert Ainsworth, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Compendiarus.  At the back of this volume is a series of unnumbered pages containing… Latin inscription abbreviations!  (Link)

“Fab” was confirmed.  Naturally I scrolled down.  And … there was T.F. –

T.F. – meaning

In this context, obviously “Titi filius”, “son of Titus”.  So T. Flavii T.F.Fab. Athenaeii was in fact “of Titus Flavius Athenaeus, son of Titus, from the Fabian voting tribe”.

These few pages must be very useful.  In fact I was rather surprised, on doing a quick Google search, to draw blank for any modern web page.  This does not mean that one does not exist; only that I did not see it.  (Please add any suggestions in the comments)  I was not surprised.

Google is really becoming rather poor as a search engine, rather than a commercial portal.  This was driven home to me last night when I did a vanity search on my own name.  Over the last 23 years I have uploaded thousands of pages to the web which contain my name on them somewhere.  All Google gave me was 8 pages of results, and then finished!  Bing was somewhat better.  But the casual searcher will gain no real idea of the activity I have undertaken.  This is ridiculous.

But at least these older volumes are becoming searchable on Google.  That is indeed a blessing!

Augustine, De divinatione daemonorum / On the divination of demons – now online in English

How is it that demons are able to predict the future, and so support the pagan practices of oracles, soothsaying, and the like?  This question bothered some of those around St Augustine, and he wrote a short treatise to answer it.

It is very well worth reading.  But there is no freely available translation accessible online.  Today I heard from Mattias Gassman, who prepared his own translation of it while a British Academy post-doctoral fellow.  He has kindly made it available here, and also on his own new and interesting blog, Multa Legenda (https://multalegenda.wordpress.com/).  Here are the files:

Dr G. modestly adds that:

…the translation aims rather at literalism than style, though some concessions to ease of reading are inevitable. The target audience are people who want to know what Augustine said, and might be able at least to consult the Latin, even if they cannot really read it.

But it is a very decent bit of work.  Thank you very much!

Illiterate bishops decided the canon of the New Testament! Or did they?

It is often claimed that the canon lists given in the canons of the council of Hippo in 393, and the council of Carthage in 397, in some way created the canon of the New Testament.  This is not the case, and cannot be the case – the lists are merely for local use in deciding what books to read in church.

 But I was intrigued by some comments on the bishops, by none other than Henry Chadwick:[1]

The old bishop of Hippo who had ordained Augustine presbyter feared lest some other church might carry him off to be their bishop. He therefore persuaded the primate of Numidia to consecrate Augustine to be coadjutor bishop of Hippo. The appointment (irregular in canon law) became surrounded by some controversy. The combination of Augustine’s Manichee past and his extreme cleverness helped to make him distrusted. Hippo was not a city where people read books. Numidia was not a province where congregations expected to have a prodigy of intelligence on the episcopal bench. (Augustine noted that illiterate bishops were a favourite butt for the mockery of the half-educated: CR 13.) Augustine’s presence induced apprehension. He was known to be a terror for demolishing opponents in public disputations. Some did not quite believe in the sincerity of his conversion at Milan.

“CR 13” is chapter 13 of De catechizandis rudibus (on the need to instruct newcomers).  But a look at the old English translation online does not really support this, interesting tho it is:

13. There are also some who come from the commonest schools of the grammarians and professional speakers, whom you may not venture to reckon, either among the uneducated, or among those very learned classes whose minds have been exercised in questions of real magnitude.

When such persons, therefore, who appear to be superior to the rest of mankind, so far as the art of speaking is concerned, approach you with the view of becoming Christians, it will be your duty in your communications with them, in a higher degree than in your dealings with those other illiterate hearers, to make it plain that they are to be diligently admonished to clothe themselves with Christian humility, and learn not to despise individuals whom they may discover keeping themselves free from vices of conduct more carefully than from faults of language; and also that they ought not to presume so much as to compare with a pure heart the practised tongue which they were accustomed even to put in preference.

But above all, such persons should be taught to listen to the divine Scriptures, so that they may neither deem solid eloquence to be mean, merely because it is not inflated, nor suppose that the words or deeds of men, of which we read the accounts in those books, involved and covered as they are in carnal wrappings, are not to be drawn forth and unfolded with a view to an (adequate) understanding of them, but are to be taken merely according to the sound of the letter. And as to this same matter of the utility of the hidden meaning, the existence of which is the reason why they are called also mysteries, the power wielded by these intricacies of enigmatical utterances in the way of sharpening our love for the truth, and shaking off the torpor of weariness, is a thing which the persons in question must have made good to them by actual experience, when some subject which failed to move them when it was placed baldly before them, has its significance elicited by the detailed working out of an allegorical sense.

For it is in the highest degree useful to such men to come to know how ideas are to be preferred to words, just as the soul is preferred to the body.

From this, too, it follows that they ought to have the desire to listen to discourses remarkable for their truth, rather than to those which are notable for their eloquence; just as they ought to be anxious to have friends distinguished for their wisdom, rather than those whose chief merit is their beauty.

They should also understand that there is no voice for the ears of God save the affection of the soul. For thus they will not act the mocker if they happen to observe any of the prelates and ministers of the Church either calling upon God in language marked by barbarisms and solecisms, or failing in understanding correctly the very words which they are pronouncing, and making confused pauses.

It is not meant, of course, that such faults are not to be corrected, so that the people may say ‘Amen’ to something which they plainly understand; but what is intended is, that such things should be piously borne with by those who have come to understand how, as in the forum it is in the sound, so in the church it is in the desire that the grace of speech resides. Therefore that of the forum may sometimes be called good speech, but never gracious speech.

Moreover, with respect to the sacrament which they are about to receive, it is enough for the more intelligent simply to hear what the thing signifies. But with those of slower intellect, it will be necessary to adopt a somewhat more detailed explanation, together with the use of similitudes, to prevent them from despising what they see.

This makes no reference to illiterate bishops.  Chadwick was a great scholar, but all of us can fall victim to printer errors.  So what did he have in mind?

The answer seems to be a passage in Monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l’Afrique chrétienne depuis les origines jusqu’à l’invasion arabe, (1901) vol. 4, p.423, here[2].

Des incidents de toute sorte mettent un peu de variété, ou même de gaieté, dans la monotonie des débats. Ce sont les scrupules bouffons des Donatistes, qui refusent de s’asseoir. Ce sont les scènes amusantes ou violentes, auxquelles donne lieu la vérification des signatures: confrontation des évêques d’une même localité, qui se regardent de travers et s’injurient ou s’accusent mutuellement … ou d’ailleurs; attitude piteuse de pauvres prélats qui n’ont pu signer eux-mêmes, ne sachant pas écrire[10]; fréquentes interventions et bavardage d’Aurelius de Macomades,

10) Collat. Carthag., I, 133 : « litteras nesciente ».

Incidents of all sorts brought variety or even gaiety in the monotony of the debates.  There were the idiotic scruples of the Donatists who refused to sit down.  There were amusing or violent scenes, caused by the verification of signatures: the confrontation of bishops belonging to the same place, who stared at each other and mutually insulted or accused…; the pitiful attitude of poor prelates who could not sign themselves, not knowing how to write[10]; the frequent interjections and jokes of Aurelius of Macomades…

This is undoubtedly our source; the reference given is to the Gesta Collationis Carthaginensis (CPL 724), the minutes of the miserable, rigged state-sponsored conference (collatio) of 411 AD between the Catholics, led by Aurelius and Augustine, and the Donatists.  As it happens, a new edition of this text has been published by the CSEL,[3] and a Google Books preview includes page 129, on which the relevant section appears:

Et recitavit: “Qui supra pro Paulino Zurensi praesente litteras nesciente coram viro clarissimo tribuno et notario Marcellino suprascripta mandavi et subscripsi Carthagini.” Quo recitato et accedente episcopo Paulino catholico idem dixit: “Catholica est.” Habetdeum diaconus Primiani episcopi dixit: “Presbyter est illic noster. Diocesis est nostra.”

As the bishops confirmed their signatures, one by one, the poor catholic bishop Paulinus of Zura had to listen to this as it was read out, litteras nesciente, not knowing his letters.

But I didn’t see any other examples.  Was this the only one?

The collatio is unusual because of the verbatim record of the proceedings.  But the same people were at other synods.  It is defensible that some of those attending were illiterate.  But at such proceedings, they must have been very rare indeed.

  1. [1]Augustine: A very short introduction, Oxford (1986) p.68
  2. [2]I owe this reference to Garry Wills, “Augustine’s Hippo: Power Relations (410-417)”, Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Third Series, Vol. 7 (1999), 98-119, JSTOR, p.103.
  3. [3]C. Weidmann (ed.), Collatio Carthaginensis anni 411: Gesta collationis Carthaginensis Augustinus, Breviculus collationis Augustinus, Ad Donatistas post collationem, De Gruyter, 2018.  The Gesta are printed in Serge Lancel, Actes de la Conference de Carthage en 411, 3 vols. (Sources chretiennes 194, 195, and 224) (Paris, 1972 and 1975), in Gesta Conlationis Carthaginensis Anno 411, volume 149A of Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, also edited by Lancel (Turnhout, Belgium, 1974); J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina 11.1257- 1418 (Paris, 1844-); and in J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 4.19-246 (Florence, 1739-1798; reprint and continuation: Paris, 1901-1927).