Severian of Gabala, sermon 1 on Genesis online

A little while back I started translating the six sermons of Severian of Gabala on Genesis from the French version of Bareille.  Not that this process  has any scholarly value, but it should help to get Severian better known.  Unfortunately I had to stop after the first sermon for pressure of other things.

I found the first sermon on disk this afternoon, and I have tidied it up and uploaded it here.  I place it in the public domain. Have fun!

A proper academic translation of the sermons of Severian on Genesis will be coming out at the end of the year.  Translated by Robert C. Hill, it’s published by IVP.

IVP have a big programme  to translate patristic bible commentaries.  I know it needs doing; but I’m not sure that I approve.  IVP has a defined mission, to publish popular books to support people doing the Lord’s work through evangelism at our universities.  I really do not see patristics as part of that.  SPCK once had a mission for the gospel.  It too once went down the patristic route.

IVP is doubtless accustomed to sharing in the hostility that its Master attracts.  Preaching the gospel is hard, in our selfish age, and living it still more so.  It is very easy to linger on the “plain of ease”, doing stuff for which men will mostly only praise.  I hope that this venture does not mark the dilution and extinction of the key Christian publisher of our days.


6 thoughts on “Severian of Gabala, sermon 1 on Genesis online

  1. Roger, I’m confused about your reference to IVP. What’s your concern? Sloppy scholarship? Just moving beyond their normal (and good) scope? I’ve heard distressing news about AAR and SBL, specifically about a “takeover” of sorts by evangelicals. The fear is/was more cheerleading and less plain, ol’ scholarship. Could you clarify what you’ve said? Thanks, Pam Hood

  2. I think what he means is just that somebody’s gotta evangelize, and that organizations founded for that purpose shouldn’t abandon their core missions.

    That said, I’m sure patristics publishing is nice to do. Evangelization publishers might very well want to have a patristics line, possibly under a different name.

  3. Pamela, my concern was that organisations created to evangelise should not abandon their core missions, difficult as they are, in favour of high-status (and much easier) things like editing the Fathers.

    I don’t know who the AAR is. As for the SBL, I’m not a member nor indeed a fan. The latter stems from the circulation of a petition among members to attack some of the rhetoric of George W. Bush appealing to Christians in his re-election year. This involved effectively claiming that the SBL had religious authority, and positioning it as an anti-Christian body. (I may have all sorts of details wrong, but I saw the petition).

    Now, as I understand it, we have a bunch of people complaining here. These people, I believe, are well-entrenched in the SBL as it currently is. And they are complaining that their position is under threat. “Look, the vile Christians are taking over! Better throw them out now before they do…”

    Now of course we could look at the matter as these people desire. But I’m very cynical, and I always look at things from both angles. Let’s imagine another possible scenario — that this is a power grab by those making the fuss. They’ve invented an enemy, and want the organisation to adopt a position where no-one who believes in Christianity may mention the fact while belonging to the organisation.

    Atheists in particular like doing this. They desperately want to be able to call Christian unscholarly. It was an old tactic of the Soviet Union, to refuse Christians access to the universities and then jeer at them for not having education. That is the sort of thing I see here, all the time. Christians are not in power. On the contrary, if they express their views they are liable to be reprimanded or expelled. So … be wary. Be sceptical. We must make sure we don’t take on board anyone’s agenda without turning it upside down and looking for a fraud.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Roger. And Maureen, you were right. The AAR is the American Academy of Religion. I didn’t see that SBL petition, but will search around for it.

    I appreciate the difficulty with combining missions. I suppose the chief worry there would be the eventual diminution of both or only of one of the two if you’re “lucky”. My main concern is that of anti-intellectualism. I believe an individual can talk about deepening her faith in order to be a more effective 21st century evangelist and simultaneously study the scriptures “academically”. The twain should meet in my view. In this, I am decidedly opposed to Tertullian. I don’t think anyone can accuse IVP of being anti-intellectualist. Sure, they’ve got plenty of pablum, but that’s OK as it meets a particular need. They also have plenty of sound material for the thinking theist, and some that is of interest to academics in secular and non-secular institutions. One caution I hear you making is that of IVP trying to be all things to all people. You write that: “IVP has a defined mission, to publish popular books to support people doing the Lord’s work through evangelism at our universities. I really do not see patristics as part of that.” But it’s the view that patristics has a limited, if any, role to play in IVP’s offerings that I find worrying.

    [Disclaimer: my doctorate is in Ancient Greek philosophy. My first exposure to the field was from reading secondary patristic literature on early Church liturgy. There was a footnote on Augustine, and the rest, as they say, is history.]

    As a “thinking theist” I tell my students to expect an F if they simply blather on about how Jesus loves people and they know this because once blah blah blah. On the flip side, I assure the vehemently non-religious that daring to criticize religion will not earn them an automatic F. For both “camps”, I expect “thinking” and “argument”, not screeds or quotes from last week’s sermon, whether the preacher was Pastor Danny or Daniel Dennett. There’s no reason to abdicate the academic study of religion, rational discourse or reason to the other side. Thus it seems to me that learning more about Augustine, for instance, and studying his work critically would be perfectly in keeping with IVP’s core mission. I’d much rather have young collegiate Christians understand that one can study philosophy or patristics and still be a person of faith. (Bart Erhman notwithstanding.) They needed have such an impoverished intellectual life or fear the life of the mind. Augustine and some of the others are excellent role models in this regard.

  5. I don’t disagree with this at all. People like Bart Ehrman would certainly like to foster obscurantism — at least, his books are having that effect on atheists who read them — but I certainly don’t see any reason why following Christ should be considered a reason not to study hard or well.

    Thus I suspect we are coming at this from different directions?

    Yes, Christians must certainly think — although I notice no difference between Christian and non-Christian in this area! –and academic books from a Christian perspective are a very important thing. I am entirely onside with Tyndale Hall’s efforts in this direction. Those whose mission is to produce academic books must do so, and do so to the highest standards possible. Sloppy scholarship is not justifiable by using the name of Jesus as an excuse for it (which indeed seems blasphemous to me). But then I can’t quite imagine people doing this.

    But … patristics is a specialised business. Only a tiny percentage of people will ever be interested in this. It will form no part of Gospel preaching for nearly anyone. I never met a single person at college interested in the subject. But I met a lot of people for whom IVP books were relevant.

    IVP exists to put the gospel to undergraduates. To engage in scholarly research work, however well meant, is a distraction from that focus. It is a pleasant, easy distraction that none will criticise, but a distraction it is.

    None but the specialist will waste time on Augustine! Come, that seems ludicrous! Why would someone reading Chemistry be even interested? The same would apply to IVP starting a research laboratory for pharmaceutical research. The latter is important; but could only be a distraction.

    Does that make what I was getting at clearer? I’m rather tired at the moment, so am probably stumbling over the words!

    By the way, I don’t think Tertullian says what a lot of people think he does in that passage. He was an astonishingly educated man himself, you know? The reference is to “De praescriptione haereticorum 7”. The phrase “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” is concerned with sources of authority for religion. Do we take our faith from the apostles, or from the philosophers? From the bible, or the speculations of street cynics and stoics?

    In this work, Tertullian lists the heresies, and points out how each of them is merely plundering some philosophical school for its teachings. Then he attacks the whole idea of make-it-up-as-you-go Christianity with those words, in a series of crashing statements. Incidentally the Greenslade translation of that work is amply worth reading! (Say chapters 1-8, and the last couple at least).

    The question of whether Christians should be learned or not is one Tertullian does not consider, and indeed would probably find funny! It seems anachronistic to me. I wonder where it came from?

    I suspect the dichotomy belongs rather to the propaganda of the enlightenment, probably in France, where Tertullian was read heavily during the previous century and so should be well known. When we read of the Three Musketeers, we might imagine D’Artagnan sliding down drainpipes while Richelieu is sitting reading one of the French translations of Tertullian by Florimond de Raemond!

Leave a Reply