Patristics Conference Diary 4 – Day 3

This day also started early as I had to get to my car (25 minutes walk away), get it into the Bailey, load it up, while parked on a double yellow line, drive it back, and walk back again!  

At breakfast (8-9am) I found myself sitting opposite a post-grad from Exeter who turned out to be doing a thesis on Tertullian (I think it might have been Donna Cooper, but I am terrible on names and faces!).  I pointed her in the direction of the Chronica Tertullianea bibliography and reviews of all the scholarship, and suggested that a scanner plus Google translate might well help with French language.  The thesis is something to do with feminist critiques of Tertullian, but I spent too much time offering advice and probably not enough listening. 

The first paper was at 9:15, and off to it I went.  This was Zurab Jashi, on the Trinitarian Exegesis of Gregory of Nazianzen.  Unfortunately Dr Jashi read his paper with such a heavy accent that I realised after five minutes that I had not followed his argument.  I didn’t see any point in listening for a further 15 minutes so bailed out.  There were three more papers, running up to 11:20, but I didn’t listen to any of them.  The day was sunny, and I was tired, and I went out into Durham, to BHS where I sat in their restaurant overlooking the river and enjoyed a bread roll and a drink!  I then went up to the cathedral and bought a ticket to see the monks’ dormitory, and the treasury with the coffin of St. Cuthbert.  The coffin dates to 690 or thereabouts, and is in pieces.  Cuthbert’s body remained incorrupt through the middle ages, and was still intact at the reformation when the grave was looted of the gold gifts given down the years.  The grave was excavated in 1899, when it was found that the body had finally decayed, but that there were still remains of fabric and a gold cross previously hidden in it which had thus eluded the plunderers.  Cuthbert’s bones were reburied in his shrine. 

I then wandered into the library, and asked if I could see the medieval inventories of the abbey library.  Those on duty were very helpful, and I agreed to come back after lunch. 

At 11:35 there was the final session, a plenary lecture by Mark McIntosh on the artisan’s design: creation in the mind of God.  This was unusually interesting, as he traced an idea from Origen through Augustine to medieval figures like Eriugena and Bonaventura.  It seems that Augustine in his commentary on John imagines an artisan who is making a chest.  The artisan first makes the chest in his mind, because if he doesn’t have the chest there, he simply cannot produce the chest.  The chest is a living thing, because his mind is alive.  When he creates the physical chest, the mental design does not disappear.  It remains; and if the chest is damaged and needs repair, the artisan can do so from the chest in his mind.  Augustine uses this image as an analogy for how God creates us.  However all this was tied up with the Platonic forms, and I did not follow that part of the argument.  He also read bits of Origen, from De principiis, which seemed to put forward a similar idea.  This leads me to think that I need to get a good, readable modern translation of De principiis and read it! 

At 12:50 the conference closed; 1-2pm was lunch, and people were then dispersing.  

I then made my way back to my car to get my camera (20 minutes each way) and then to the cathedral, where I looked at the inventories.  Unfortunately a less-friendly curator had appeared, and the idea of photography was met with “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that”.  But I did discover that the printed text of the inventories did not really reflect what was on the page. 

After that I did some shopping, walked back to my car once more (for the fifth time that day), and headed out.  It was 4pm, far too late to go home, so I booked into a hotel north of Newcastle.  The day tomorrow is said to be good weather, and a visit to Hadrian’s Wall might be nice! 

There’s wifi in this hotel.  But the demands for money are so exorbitant, and the restrictions on bandwidth and speed so aggressive, that I will pass.  I’m sure you can all wait until Monday!

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