Hunting the wild (mis)quotation

As I wander around the web, I come across supposed quotations which slap me in the face and shriek at me “fake”.  Today I found this:

The following creed is that of a church at Constantinople around the time of the “Council of Nicea”:

“I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with the Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.”

DO you think that this religion (constantinianism) is what Yeshua wanted us to become entangled in

This is a canon of Nicaea I?  It sounds like a personal confession of faith.  The poster, of course, gave no reference.  But a google search on I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews gave me this link at Fordham.edu, which said nothing about Nicaea and gave “From Assemani, Cod. Lit., 1, p. 105″ as the reference, and “from James Parkes:  The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism, (New York: JPS, 1934), 394-400.”

Assemani was an oriental scholar, publishing texts from Syriac at Rome in the 18th century, most of them medieval.  So this also is not in accord with the starting post.

Adding Assemani to the Google search brought up a slew of material such as this, headed Constantine’s and Romes Christian Creed, giving “Stefano Assemani, Acta Sanctorium Martyrum Orientalium at Occidentalium, Vol. 1, Rome 1748, page 105” as the reference for the very same paragraph.

We’re clearly in the realm of the polemical quote, when we have two references for the same thing.  Of course “Sanctorium” is itself a typo, but suggestive of someone who has repeated, rather than checked, the data. 

Is the book online?  Not in google books or archive.org — not  a good start.

What about the “Cod. Lit.” reference?  This site tells us that J. A. Assemani published, inter alia:

“Codex liturgicus ecclesiae universae in XV libros distributus” (Rome, 1749-66). — This valuable work has become so rare that a bookseller of Paris recently issued a photographic impression of it.

So the “quote” has two references, neither readily accessible, both in Latin at best. 

Volume 8 of the codex liturgicus is here, and several others are accessible.  Is volume 1, I wonder?  After a lot of searching, I found it here.  Page 105 is p.162 of the PDF.  The renunciation starts at the top of p.106, and starts as per the quote.

But … it’s misleading.  For this is not the whole statement.  A huge chunk has been omitted from the middle, without being marked.  For it should at least indicate the omission: “in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom …. and if afterwards I shall wish to deny”.  In fact the sentence before the break is truncated, and the one afterwards starts before the ‘and’.

in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, legalism, custom and rite; and above all he who is expected by all the Jews in the shape and dress of Christ, I renounce Anti-Christ, and join myself to the true Christ and God.  And I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the holy and consubstantial and individual Trinity; I profess the dispensation where one of the holy trinity, the Word of God took flesh and became man; …

and later:

…if I pretend to be a Christian and then I wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition….

I don’t have time to translate the whole confession, but the extracts are more than a little misleading.

The other question — is this Nicene? — must be answered in the negative.  There is no trace of such a statement in all this.  No, this is a medieval Greek catechism, for someone converting to Christianity from Judaism. 

Quite why the Christians should not require a Jew professing conversion to be sincere, of course, we are not told by the original post.

31 thoughts on “Hunting the wild (mis)quotation

  1. I believe this “Creed” to be bogus. For starters, why would Constantine renounce all “Jewish sacrifices” when there ceased being sacrifices when the Temple was destroyed, 200 years before Constantine was even born? What of him saying he would “return” to Jewish superstition? He was a pagan before he converted to Christianity and never did take part in “Jewish superstition,” whatever that is.

  2. As the post says, the quotation is extracted from a medieval Greek confession for a convert from Judaism, published by Assemani. It has no connection with Constantine, or with the ancient period.

  3. Thanks for this, and nice work! I just discovered the same “(mis)quotation” myself, after someone in an online forum posted the abbreviated and mis-cited “profession of faith” (Parkes) and titled it “Constantine’s Creed–The Rise of Anti-Sematism” (sic).

  4. Thank you for your note! Glad I’m not the only one to come across this, and I’m glad the research was useful. No good end is served by misinformation, whatever our views.

  5. I am glad to see the research done well, but I don’t think that this changes much of the intent of the message. Let me elaborate.

    We can admit without prejudice that it is not part of the Nicea council …. even if this confession comes from medieval Greek thinking, the fact that it is written as a confession usually signifies that it was in place as practice before it was inscribed as official ecclesiology. For example, the oral Torah was in practice for centuries before it was put down in writing. It is not impossible that the Church simply sat down one day and wrote this confession without prior practice of its claims, but that is very unlikely. It is far more likely that the claims in the confession were actually part of the Christian community for a long time before it was written.

    The comment that because the creed is from Medieval Greek thought is cannot be connected with Constantine ignores the role of pseudepigraphical literature, namely writings that are connection with notable figures in order to given them authority. This was quite common (there is a large body of this kind of literature) so the historical fact that this was written long after Constantine does not mean that it wasn’t a valid expression of the Church’s thought attributed to Constantine.

    (Edited by Roger Pearse)

  6. Thank you for your note. I’ve edited it substantially, because most of it is not relevant to this blog.

    The comment that because the creed is from Medieval Greek thought is cannot be connected with Constantine ignores the role of pseudepigraphical literature… the historical fact that this was written long after Constantine does not mean that it wasn’t a valid expression of the Church’s thought attributed to Constantine.

    But do we know that this creed was ever attributed to Constantine?

  7. Roger,

    It’s not the first time that Google has turned up something of yours that has been useful to me. This time it prevented me from an error. I came across this “creed” in the work of James Parkes that you cited but was unable to pin it down. In my attempts to do so I came across your reference.

    Good sleuthing!

    Michael Closs

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for posting a note: it’s always good to learn that these snippets are useful to people. And I remember that it was fun trying to track it down too. A blog is a useful way to handle stuff like this!

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

  9. Thank you for tracking down this document. I’ve been wanting to confirm the quotation for years. I see I have some correcting to do in an article have posted online.

  10. Roger,

    Thank you for this. I see that this fabrication is widely copied about the Internet, and the purveyors of it seem uninterested in learning whether or not it is genuine. I poked around for a little while trying to find *any* credible source for it, and ended up here.

    Again, my gratitude. Your work has helped me to disabuse some well-meaning folks who had swallowed the “Constantine Creed” whole.

  11. Thank you for taking the time to write, Kevin. Glad that it helps. I don’t see, myself, how it helps anyone to argue with forged evidence. But I suspect that some of those who do so act mainly out of spite, rather than any form of rational activity. At least, I can think of no other reason why people would show no interest in whether the raw facts are right.

  12. There’s a whole agenda of painting the church as apostate and anti-Semitic, dating to Constantine, in support of what can only be described as a modern-day Judaising campaign. There is a pseudo-history in which the early church is said to have continued to observe the Mosaic patterns right up to Constantine, and then [the evil] Constantine revised history and created “Christianity” as we know it.

    It’s essentially Jewish anti-missionary propaganda, but it hooks people in because they often don’t know their history, nor even what the Biblical account actually means. People are accustomed to a fairly simplistic Christian dogma, essentially formed in the Middle Ages in the Reformation, which answers very different questions to those of New Testament times.

    The Christian message has, for many, been turned from “both Jews and Gentiles are justified and included in the elect people of God exclusively through the agency of Christ”, into “believe in Jesus or go to hell”. Clearly, such a message is ill-equipped to navigate the kind of Judaising concerns that Paul was actually engaging with, and leaves people vulnerable to, “why don’t you observe the Sabbath?”

    In addition, Constantine understandably made a number of edicts outlawing other religions when Christianity was Established in the Empire. The exclusions, imprecations, anathemas and criticisms against the Jewish practices (and, of course, against the pagans, too!), are now read, through Jewish sensibilities, as “anti-semitic”, instead of as “exclusivist Christian”, which is the spirit in which they were written.

    There is, I fear, no greater hindrance to proper understanding than anachronism. This, of course, is why your efforts, here and in your other work in antiquities, are so valuable.

  13. I don’t know how pingbacks work, but normally pingbacks do work from my blog. Your site appears not to have the pingback from the article I posted, which links back to here.

    If it comes through, or if you don’t want links posted here, just delete this comment. I don’t want to spam your comments, I just want to help the search engines to elevate this information because it’s so obfuscated by the tide of misinformation out there.

    http://www.onefaithonechurch.com/index.php/a-fraud-the-so-called-constantine-creed/

  14. This Jewish anti-Christian propaganda — let’s call it what it is — is disturbing. But there are certainly Jewish hate groups, who will say anything. I ran across a group of them, whom I think were ultra-orthodox, some years ago, and was rather shocked by the bigotry and hate that I encountered (and I don’t mean by that simply holding firmly to their own views either).

    It’s deeply stupid stuff, when all is said and done. All that needs to happen is a slight change in fashion — for Jews to go out of fashion and supporting them to become politically incorrect –, and we will be back to the situation where similar arguments about an early “semitic” church were used by the Nazis to mess about with church history.

    Whatever our views, in my opinion we all need to have the raw facts right.

    Note that Constantine did not make Christianity into the official religion of the state. That was Theodosius I, ca. 390 A.D. He legalised Christianity. He didn’t really pass laws against paganism, for the obvious reason that it was the state religion. But he did act against a couple of cults that were morally very degenerate — I’m thinking of Baalbek here.

  15. There’s an important detail I didn’t know! I hadn’t critically analyzed the claim that it was Constantine, and I also didn’t realise that the pagan religious institutions stayed…

    That can be the next area to look at. Cheers!

  16. Thanks Roger – I read your sobering critique against the hordes of posts on internet which promotes this ‘Constantine Creed.’ I admit that I found this particular Creed promotion too ‘obviously’ stating the truths of history’s great ant-Semitism and hate against anything Jewish – except of course the very Bible that was authored mainly by Jews – including the ‘New Testament’!

    True, in sober research one often gets across (and should be wide awake against) this exuberance of most of modern day’s ‘Hebrew Roots Restorers’ seeking confirmation of their new found ‘restored true Faith’. This modern notion is so volatile these days that it could well point to a (mis)interpreted ‘anti-missionary’ onslaught by Jews – as suggested by one of your respondents, Kevin.

    Kevin (receiving your agreement) in fact confirmed my surmising while reading your sobering guidance, of another danger inherent in the highlighting of the probable (mis)quotation by these exponents. Kevin’s views in one swoop covers up ALL the evidence of the GREAT Jew hatred of the Church from the time of its birth to this day (an various degrees, of course). Typically as of the media operatus with all they wish to sweep under the carpet, this treatment of the ‘uncovering of the (mis)quotes against Constantine’ places doubts on ALL the ‘evidence’ of history of the barbarous treatment of Jews simply for sticking to the faith of their ‘mamas and papas’ right up to Moses who was taught and enlightened by God. In fact, Kevin style we could now even doubt the authenticity of Moses! Never mind the lion’s dens of Rome (NOT for Christians but for ‘Jewish style’ Messianics of the time!). Never mind Luther and Calvyn’s venom and insult of Jews and everything Jewish! Never mind ….. ALL the aweful hatred revealed by Christians against Jews and Judaism. Today that hatred (SEE definition of hate!) is covered under a cloak of ‘love’ for Israel and Judaism – indeed a true love, infiltrated though by the bitter waters of centuries of Constantine Christianity. If you doubt these statements which we are faced with daily in dealing with Hebraic Roots Restorers, then please ask the nearest Christian to you what he/she thinks of Rabbinic authority and the Oral Torah.

    Irrespective of which of the libraries of ‘evidence’ of Christian hatred of Jesus’ own religion is (mis)quoted or not, ONE salient point of evidence stand unchallenged today: Millions of Christians are leaving the Constantine originated institutions of Christianity and RETURNING to their ancient ROOTS of that hated Jewish ‘customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews.”

    I do not believe that casting doubts on the authenticity of “Constantine-like Decrees” can answer for the sound foundations (MUST BE!!!) of this ‘Turn Around’ by multi millions of souls throughout the world to a Faith which they, the Returnees and Restorers themselves, have rejected before!

    So, I commend your alertness – but please be aware that it does NOT sanctify the birth effects of Constantine’s Decrees and attitude which poisoned the entire world against God’s One True Faith – Judaism. Interpret this approach as you wish, but do NOT loose sight of what the Main Message of Prophetic Scripture itself proclaims – as in fact confirmed by the authentic Jewish Torah principles hidden in the NT itself which are in fact turning its truly seeking readers around to the very principles that Constantine and Christianity vehemently discarded.
    Ref. http://www.kolhator.org.il and note the publication “Jewish Secrets Hidden in the NT” on display – written by an orthodox Rabbi.

    OvadYah – co-founder KOL HATOR VISION for a restored Israel (of Jews and non-Jews who seek GHod’s True Way of Judaism.

  17. Thank you for your note! I think much of it goes into areas outside my knowledge, but I think you are right to say that this particular document, whatever it says, has no bearing on anything.

  18. I agree with OvadYah to the extent that the New Testament is the most authentic lens we have, through which to view 1st Century Judaism(s). What is today called “Judaism” was largely invented after the Temple was destroyed, laced with an anti-Christian polemic to distinguish it from the commumity which was successfully incubating and exemplifying Yahwist narratives and values without a physical temple.

    I’m not sure that I understand the rest of what has been partially attributed to me, but suffice to say that Paul of Tarsus, who called himself a “pharisee of pharisees”, could find no warrant for imposing Mosaic traditions on the believing Gentile community, which was justified by its faith(fulness) in believing God, as was Abraham, their ancestor in the faith.

  19. Please forgive me if this sounds ignorant or naive, but I found it strange that an ancient Roman document with a Latin title would be written in modern English. Am I being dotty or what?

  20. I think that there is a good instinct in your question – to remember that a real ancient document must been written in Latin (or Greek); and to ask to see it, or at least to know just where that text is to be found. In fact that’s what I did myself. I was hunting around for a reference to an original source, and seeing what I could find.

    Now … most people online quote modern English translations of ancient documents. That’s OK; it’s because that’s what we all speak. We do that with the bible, remember. But … always ask where the Greek or Latin is. If anyone responds with “huh, google it”, then you know what to think.

    I always regard a controversial/striking “quote” with no reference, or no proper reference, to the Greek or Latin text, as likely to be untrue.

    I hope that helps?

  21. Thanks for the article. I just read on a church’s statement of faith this “quotation” and was for some reason immediately skeptical. By chance do you know of an English translation of this wor so a layman can read it.

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