Isidore of Pelusium

Fifth century ecclesiastical history can be a depressing business, if you’re a Christian.  All these bigots and dimwits and political chieftains… in our darker moments, we may find ourselves asking how any of this can be of God?

In these moments, it’s worth remembering that the history of mankind is not written exclusively in books, and that political history is perhaps the falsest history there is.  Today I have had occasion to look up St. Isidore of Pelusium in Quasten’s “Patrology”, and found, as I recalled, a genial man with his heart set on God.

Isidore lived in the 5th century, but little is known about him.  He left behind a collection of letters, more than 2,000 in number.  These have never been properly edited, and the oldest and best manuscript was unknown to what is still the standard edition, that of the Jesuit Schotte.  This is the text reprinted in the Patrologia Graeca, which is the text available to me.  The order of the letters in there is neither chronological, nor that of the author.  A proper edition would be a blessing.

Most of the letters are very short; a quarter of a column in Migne.  Eight of them are to Cyril of Alexandria, whose position he supported in the Nestorian controversy.  But at the same time, Isidore had the courage to tell this mighty political figure that his actions at the Council of Ephesus had left most people feeling that Cyril had acted like a jerk.  This may have prompted Cyril to intensify his efforts to explain and vindicate himself, in numerous apologias.

Another is to the emperor Theodosius II, whose bailiffs at the Council had tried to settle matters on their own authority.  Isidore reminds him that minor bureaucrats are not competent to decide theology.  There are a mass of personal letters.  One, to a certain Timothy the Lector, tells him to avoid pointless arguments – a lesson many online might take to heart.

Migne’s edition does not seem to be indexed.  I can’t tell what other gems may be found there.  At some point in the manuscript tradition it was divided into five books.  A simple list of contents would be a useful thing.

Because of the connection with Cyril, whose Apologeticum ad Imperatorem is being translated for me on commission, I have tonight gathered the letters to Cyril, and to the emperor, and asked someone to translate them, again on commission, at 10c a word. 

Are there any Isidorists out there?  I can’t find any critical editions, any translations into modern languages.  I suspect that this collection needs attention.  We might start with a list of letters!


9 thoughts on “Isidore of Pelusium

  1. Roger,


    Isidore de Peluse, Lettres, introduction, critical edition and notes by Pierre Evieux (2 vols.; Sources Chretiennes 422; Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1997). Greek and French.

    It contains letters 1214-1700. I believe Evieux cataloged the complete corpus but died before publishing all of it.

    Best wishes,


  2. Aha! Many thanks indeed for this. That’s the sort of thing I need to look at, then. But what a pity that it is incomplete!

    Do you mind if I ask what the source for your info that Evieux did more is? It occurs to me that his papers may still be around, you see.

    Evieux was involved with the abortive edition of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Contra Julianum”, which had a truly splendid translation with it, but only ever did books 1 and 2. I wonder if the translation of Isidore would be similarly feisty!

  3. The two volumes in Sources Chretiennes are 422 and 454. (The near parity of the pound and the euro makes purchase of these impossibly expensive at the moment).

    I also find in “Quarante-neuf lettres de saint Isidore de Péluse: Édition critique de l’ancienne version latine contenue dans deux manuscrits du concile d’Éphèse, par René Aigrain” (1911)

  4. Thank you – I will take a look at that. If it’s on Google, that’s easier to get hold of. I’ll do an ILL on SC 242, but no idea how long that will take to arrive.

    A second letter in English (1:310, to Cyril of Alexandria) arrived today. When I’ve paid for them, I’ll publish them.

  5. I’m sorry to say I’m relying on memory here and can’t be much help. I think Evieux discusses the whole corpus and explains, e.g., his numbering of the letters in his Isidore de Peluse (1995) which Nony mentioned. There may also be something in Studia Patristica. I’m afraid I don’t have any of that on hand at the moment.

  6. Thanks Ken! The study contains a table cross-referencing his own numbers with the Migne numbers, and fortunately it’s included in the limited preview. I’ve scanned it, and will put it online in HTML – it is, after all, a fundamental document for any work on Isidore.

    I’ve not found the bit in the book where he explains the logic, tho, nor whether the numbering is chronological. But I’ve done an ILL for his SC edition, and doubtless there will be an explanation in there.

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