Patristics Conference Diary 3 – day 2

These reports are being posted late.  The reason is lack of internet access.  There was no wifi at the conference, so I had to use some static machines with guest logins.  On the evening of Wednesday 1st September 2010 (day 1) these failed to work, and continued to be out of service all day on day 2.  They did return on the morning of the last day of the conference, but of course that was rather too busy to permit blogging.

It is now the evening of day 3, and I am typing this in a room at the Newcastle airport Premier Inn, as I have decided to visit Hadrian’s Wall tomorrow.  But I am still unable to get online!  I don’t want to let the memory fade further, so here are my impressions.  Of course my memory may be at fault, so don’t rely absolutely on this as a summary of the papers! 

Day 2 of the British Patristics Conference in Durham started for me at 6:15am, when I was woken by the noises of some muppet taking a bath in the bathroom adjacent to my room.  I had forgotten the joys of college living!!!  It continued with a text message at breakfast (8-9am) from my bank about fraudulent use of my debit card, followed by my battery going dead.  Dealing with this naturally took precedence (!), so I missed the plenary session that started the day. 

The first paper that I heard was at 10:50, by Luise Frenkel, on Preaching at the Council of Ephesus (431).  Frenkel pointed out that the minutes (=’acts’) of the council record that the churches in Ephesus were used by those attending the council as a platform from which to preach the decisions of the Cyrillian party, even while the council was going on.  Helpfully she issued a handout of 14 extracts from those acts, illustrating how control of the pulpit formed part of the struggle at the council.  Nestorius and his supporters — in any case few — were denied access, and complained to the emperor: 

[…] Bishop Memnon, having become the leader of the riot, shut us out of the holy churches, the holy martyria, and the holy Church of the Apostle, to prevent us taking refuge from our harassment, while he opened up the great church to our opponents and made them hold council there. (Nestorius to the emperor, ACO I.i.5, p. 14, ll.19-23) 

Frenkel asked very relevantly just who these sermons were directed to.  It had to be the ordinary people of Ephesus, who were thereby brought into the dispute and led to believe the Cyrillian representation of it.  Again and again the extracts highlighted the Cyrillian claim that refusing to say “theotokos” (=Mother of God) amounted to a denial of the incarnation.  Nestorius had said that “God is not a three-month old child”, (doubtless meaning God the Father); and this was played for all it was worth by his opponents.  Examining sermons preached outside the sessions, therefore, reveals more about the politics of the dispute than might be supposed.  This was a very fine paper, and I hope it will be included in the volume of papers which is to appear from Peeters. 

One of the extracts amused me, as showing how the florid language was barely listened to by those uttering it: 

Phoebammon bishop of Coptos said, “The letter of the most devout Nestorius is in no way in accord with the creed issued by the holy fathers assembled at Nicaea or with the letter of the most holy and most God-beloved Cyril.  So anathema to those with such beliefs!” (ACO I,i,2 p.35, ll.17-20)

There was not lacking the note of the stake and the burning either; the homily of Rheginus (ACO I, i, 2, p.71, ll.4-9):

It is needed that after much time, for the refutation of your impiety, … you and your company die, having become engulfed in fire or an earthquake, so that it is evident for the simple ones that you have been condemned… For the God logos …. will assign for you a fixed place of correction with torture on the day of Judgement. 

Frenkel is working mainly on the homilies delivered by Theodotus at Ephesus, and clearly the work will be very informative.

I think that I mentioned that I found myself talking to Richard Price during one of the coffee breaks.  Dr Price has translated great chunks of the acts of the councils for the Liverpool TTH series.  He mentioned that a good many serious scholars do not even know that such acts (=minutes) exist for councils such as Chalcedon.  I would image that few of us do!  Isn’t it a pity that these transcripts of the councils are not available on the web?  Doubtless they would be gleefully embraced by atheists; but that is no reason not to make them available.

I then went to another room to hear Paul Parvis on How to lynch a patriarch without really trying: Peter the Iberian and the consecration of Timothy the Weasel.  This was about the career of Peter the Iberian in the 450’s, about whom I knew very little. The paper dealt specifically how he was involved in the murder of the Chalcedonian patriarch Proterius of Alexandria and the consecration of the monophysite Timothy Aelurus.  Again an excellent handout with English extracts from primary sources was given out. 

The little kingdom of Iberia in the Caucasus was the kernel of the medieval kingdom of Georgia, and Peter was a member of the Iberian royal family.  His name was Nabarnugi, and he grew up as a hostage at the imperial court in Constantinople, being raised by the empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II.  He belonged, in short, to the very top layer of Byzantine society; and then he ran off and became a monk in Palestine, and gathered a reputation for holiness.  Dr. Parvis showed how his social status affected his entire career.  Bureaucrats were afraid to act against him.  His personal reputation for holiness meant that he had political power.  These two elements — high status and popular support — meant that he was able to do some pretty extreme things. 

He was involved in the revolt of the monks against the decisions of Chalcedon between 452-3.  The bishop of Jerusalem, Juvenal, had accepted the council, and been rewarded with a patriarchate.  But the result was an insurrection.  He was met returning to his diocese by enraged monophysites.  The monks ended up shutting the gates of Jerusalem and holding out for 20 months.  The new emperor, Marcian, and his wife Pulcheria, proceeded very carefully against the insurgents, although ultimately soldiers were used to end it. 

Peter had been ordained as bishop of Maiuma, near Gaza, during all this, and had been a strong supporter of the monks’ leader Theodosius.  He slipped away quietly to Alexandria afterwards, unmolested, and lived quietly there.  Proterius did send assassins against him; but “the Lord told Peter they were coming”, perhaps via a covert message from officials aware that serious consequences might fall upon the city if a member of the imperial family were killed that way.  Perhaps there was a deal; they wouldn’t chase after him, so long as he at least pretended to be hiding.  But he also travelled up-country to Oxyrhynchus and felt safe preaching against the patriarch Proterius.  Again his status meant that local officials were wary of interfering with him.  When Marcian died, Proterius was lynched by the mob.  Timothy Aelurus (‘the weasel’) was the monophysite candidate; but there were no bishops around to consecrate him.  Peter was dragged out of hiding — according to John Rufus, his biographer — helped consecrate him, and then again did a runner.  

All this is documented in Evagrius Scholasticus, and in the biography by John Rufus.  The handout helpfully gave a bibliography, and included two chunks of the Plerophoriae, 56 and 3.  This is evidently a Syriac source, edited by F. Nau in the Patrologia Orientalis 8.1, in 1912.  So this was another excellent paper, presented very well and which I hope will be printed. 

A question was asked by someone who turned out to be himself a Georgian.  From this we learned that there are a considerable number of Georgian texts which mention Peter, some not favourably.  This was news to us all, including Dr. Parvis, who said that as far as anyone knew the Georgian texts were derived from John Rufus, but of course there might be all sorts of things in manuscript unknown in the west. 

My next choice was to listen to Andrew Teal, on connections between Marcellus of Ancyra and the Cohortatio ad Graecos of ps.Justin.  Dr Teal believes that material by this 4th century bishop, condemned under Constantius, may be preserved among the spuria of Justin Martyr.  Unfortunately Dr Teal read his paper in a low monotone which I found very irritating, and after 5 minutes of indistinct and seemingly not very relevant material I felt obliged to bail out.  I suspect the written paper will be interesting, tho.  Another paper at the same time had attracted my interest: Mark Smith on “A robbers’ den? a fresh look at the second council of Ephesus, 449 AD”.  That would probably have been a better choice. 

These three papers were followed by lunch, after which there was something unusual.  Rev. Prof. Mark McIntosh, one of the plenary speakers, and holder of a chair at Durham university, is also a canon of the cathedral.  In fact Bishop van Mildert had established a number of chairs intended for canons, of which Dr. McIntosh holds the last.  He showed us over the cathedral, including the shrine of St. Cuthbert, and we all ended up in the monks’ garden doing a group photograph. 

During this I found myself next to Markus Vinzent, who I knew was involved with the Swiss project to edit Cyril of Alexandria’s monster work against Julian the Apostate.  Little has been said about this for some years, and my last contact with them suggested that it was moribund.  But it seems not!  In fact the text of books 1-10 has been completely edited, and German and French translations are proceeding.  The edition should appear in 2012 from GCS; the German will appear separately, and the French as a Sources Chretiennes text.  I asked Dr Vinzent if he was happy for me to report this, and he was.  At the moment they are editing the fragments of books 11-20, and looking for people to do the Syriac fragments.  Dr Vinzent seems to be one of these people who make publications happen! 

When we got back, there was a hour dedicated to deciding when the next conference will be, and other issues in patristics.  The decision was for Exeter, in 2012, leaving 2011 for the Oxford Patristics Conference.  One comment that came out was that most people found the 20 minute papers at this conference superior to the 13 minutes at Oxford; and I agree with this.  Another interesting snippet was that the Oxford conference is now so expensive that those attending have to get grants to do so.  In order to get grants, they have to present papers.  This means that more and more papers need to be fitted in.  

It is reasonably obvious to me, although the point was not made, that junk papers are the inevitable result. I believe that this will kill the conference in due course; for who will pay large sums to listen to junk?  None of the papers at Durham were junk, and the general standard was higher, in my view. 

At 4pm the sessions resumed.  I went to hear Allen Brent on the use of pagan imagery in Early Christian art.  Why does it happen?  What are the possible theories?  The opportunity to hear about this extremely interesting subject was largely destroyed by technical problems. The late running meeting meant that there was no time to set up the projector, necessary to display the iconography, which took 10 minutes, thereby making it impossible for Dr Brent to deliver more than part of his paper.  The next speaker was Timothy Barnes, who made plain that he wasn’t going to wait! 

The possible theories were laid out in the powerpoint presentation.  Unfortunately this was not in the handout, which contained interesting excerpts from Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus’ Refutatio, discussing the use of pagan themes.  I remember only that the first alternative was the Christians used pagan images to hide their illegal cult from the authorities, and a little about a couple more.  Dr. Brent asked whether the authorities were that bothered about how people got buried.  Another choice was that the images were just the stock choices available from pattern books.  Yet another suggested an expurgated choice of images.  The Christos-Orpheus-Dionysius gem appeared, treated as genuine. 

I must write to Dr. Brent and ask for his list of possibilities.  It was extremely interesting, and a great pity that the subject was not really explored. 

As I remarked, at 4:25 Tim Barnes bustled in, to talk about New Light on Constantine.  This was a paper made up of bits and pieces, ahead of a new books that Dr. Barnes has coming out. 

He began by discussing the dating of the epigrams of the pagan Palladas, found in the Greek Anthology.  These are often dated late, because of a mention of Hypatia; but we learned that K. W. Wilkinson has demonstrated that the dating is wrong, the references either belong to epigrams that cannot be by Palladas or else have been misunderstood, and that he in fact belongs to the time of Constantine. 

Dr. Barnes also discussed work on the vision of Constantine, which the pagan source attributes to Gaul, and Eusebius, from Constantine himself but many years later, to before the battle of the Milvian bridge, and suggested that the two were in fact referring to a single event, in Gaul, which Constantine came to understand as being from the Christian God. 

He then went on to discuss Constantine’s influence over Christian liturgical feasts.  The only session at the council of Nicaea which we know Constantine chaired was that on the date of Easter.  Sorting out a single date was of personal importance to Constantine, who was travelling around the empire where different dates for this most important festival were in play.  Dr Barnes asked whether Constantine could be responsible for the date on which Christmas was celebrated in Rome, as he stayed in Rome in 312 through to 6th January 313, the date of Epiphany and the date at which Christians at that period celebrated.  Is it possible, he asks, that Constantine was the one to influence Christians to celebrate on 25 Dec., as part of his personal transition from Sol Invictus to Christ? 

He then went on to discuss the arrangements for the succession of Constantine made in 335 and 336.  Constantine was setting up a tetrarchy, two Augusti, two Caesars.  He started by creating his three sons as Caesars, plus their cousins Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, and intermarrying them with his daughters and relatives of Julius Constantius and other senior consuls.  The intention was for the oldest, Constantinus and Constantius, to be Augusti in the West and the East, supported by Constans and Dalmatius.  But it didn’t happen, because Constantine died, on his way to Antioch where Constantius was awaiting him.  Constantius made a frantic dash to meet him, once his illness was known, but in vain.  This left a situation with no emperor; for only an Augustus could make an Augustus.   The brothers agreed to pretend that Constantine was still alive with the connivance of the imperial officials.  Meanwhile Constantius arranged for the murder of all his cousins, leaving only the infants Gallus and Julian alive. 

Dr Barnes illustrated this by a rescript to the Italian city of Hispellum (ILS 705), ostensibly by Constantine — already dead — plus his three sons, but with no mention of Dalmatius, who was clearly also already dead.  But the real issuer, he pointed out, must have been Constans, who was in Milan, and in a position to grant privileges, and not Constantine somewhere in Asia. 

The book should be very interesting! 

There was an hour’s break, and then the plenary lecture by Andrew Louth, who turned up dressed as an orthodox priest, complete with long beard, black robes and gold chain.  Apparently he joined that communion some years ago, which I had not known.  Over the next hour he discussed whether monasticism really comes from Egypt, instancing the late nature of many of the sources (although I myself felt his argument was unconvincing).  He preferred instead to see Basil of Caesarea as an originator, although even then Basil found ascetics in operation rather than started them off.  The most interesting idea he put forward, to me, was the idea of urban monks being commonplace in late antiquity, and not just the desert monks. 

At 7:30 a five course dinner ensued, followed at 9pm by a reception of cheese and wine in honour of Dr Louth’s retirement.  Interestingly the latter said that he was disposing of his academic books, and would simply leave his office open “tomorrow” and invited people to take away what they would.  It seems that selling paper books is getting harder, even for the professionals. 

That was quite a long day!  But most enjoyable.


2 thoughts on “Patristics Conference Diary 3 – day 2

  1. “Dr. Barnes also discussed work on the vision of Constantine, which the pagan source attributes to Gaul, and Eusebius, from Constantine himself but many years later, to before the battle of the Milvian bridge, and suggested that the two were in fact referring to a single event, in Gaul, which Constantine came to understand as being from the Christian God.”

    I may have missed a point, but what’s new about this? Isn’t this the communis opinio?

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