4th British Patristics Conference – day 1

Up and into the car at 6:15am to drive to Exeter University, where the 4th British Patristics conference is taking place today.  The sun shines, the roads are relatively clear, and I arrive at the St Luke’s Campus near the centre of the city around 10:15.  This is far too early for anyone at St Luke’s, and I end up driving into Exeter town centre and wandering around for 2-3 hours.  It’s a pleasant modern city centre. 

Then back and park up, and check in at 1:30.  Meet Sebastian Moll on the way back to the car park.  Inspect the room; discover that it faces south and is boiling hot.  Change rooms. Around 60 people are on the conference.  Carol Downer is there, who translated the Coptic section of the Eusebius book.  I promise to send her some materials from this project.   Then have to rush into the lecture theatre for the opening address at 2:30.  Morwenna Ludlow is running the conference.

The first item is a plenary address by Sebastian Brock, the foremost Syriac scholar of our age, Crossing linguistic barriers in the Christian East.  The title conceals a subject of very wide interest — translations of patristic texts between Greek and the oriental languages, what, and when, and who survived in what language.  It’s an hour and a quarter of very dense material, which must have left a few people reeling, but not me.

Interestingly Dr Brock stated that quite a lot of Syriac patristic texts were translated into Middle Persian.  “Virtually nothing survives” from the latter, so I wondered how we knew.  But the Chronicle of Seert in the 4th century records a bishop who made such translations, we learned; that there was hagiographical literature, and a law-book, and liturgical material.  There are also a few translations from Middle Persian into Syriac.

We learned that Irenaeus in Syriac is from catenas.  There are 5th century Syriac translations of Greek texts, which are paraphrased such that they are one and a half times the size of the Greek.  5th century translations are paraphrases; 7th century ones are “mirrors”, which can be retranslated back.  The famous British Library manuscript from 411 AD which contains the Syriac version of Eusebius’ Theophania is actually the oldest dated literary manuscript in any language.

He also discussed Syriac texts translated into Greek.  It is interesting to hear that the Clavis Patrum Graecorum entries for Ephraem the Syrian in the Greek translation are about as extensive as those for Chrysostom!  And that in both cases, the spuria make up the bulk of the texts.

Sebastian Brock also mentioned the existence of a new patristic language, Caucasian Albanian.  This has nothing to do with Albania, but is a Caucasian language from the Caucasus.  Only the under-text of a palimpsest of a Georgian lectionary from Sinai is known.

He also suggested that one way to get an idea of what has been published in the way of oriental texts is to leaf through the CPG!

At 4pm there is tea.  There are a couple of jugs of water and fruit-juice which are speedily emptied on this boiling hot afternoon and not refilled.  Fortunately I brought water with me.

At 4:30 the short papers begin.  I attend Sebastian Moll’s paper, Are vegetarians heretics?  He discusses the early church’s attitude, a little diffusely, but points out that generally abstinence from meat is associated with abstinence from alcohol and celibacy. The only people who adopt the “veggie-only” pattern are heretics, and for this reason the Council of Ancyra required ascetics to demonstrate that they would eat meat, even if just the once.  The Marcionites did not eat meat, apparently.  He gives a great quotation where St. Jerome quotes Terence, “Venus shivers unless Ceres and Bacchus are with her” as an illustration that abstinence promotes continence.

At 5:00 I go to hear Hannah Hunt, Who’s wearing whose clothes? Manichaean and Gnostic threads in the “Hymn of the Pearl.”  I miss the start of this, unfortunately, and find it difficult to get into.

None of the 5:30 papers appeal, probably because I am starting to feel very tired.  Probably I would have gone to hear Markus Vinzent on Marcion’s Gospel – Do patristics and New Testament Studies merge? except that I understood that Dr. V. could not make it and that it would be read for him.  In fact I bumped into him later, and he had managed to make it after all.

So I get a break between 5:30-6:30, which I spend horizontal in my room (together with the desktop fan that I brought with me), very glad that I am not south-facing.  Then I drift along to the tea bar, and chat to whoever is around.  Dinner at 7 is rather scrumptious.  I am a terribly fussy eater, yet even I am very happy with the choices (something which did NOT happen on a recent holiday break).  The university has done us proud here. 

At dinner I find myself sat next to Sebastian Brock and Timothy Barnes.  Dr Brock kindly answers various questions.  He is, quite frankly, one of the nicest people I have met in patristics, without disparaging anyone.  Meanwhile I get a chance to talk to Tim Barnes, who tells me that he has just sent off a translation of the pretty-much unknown funeral sermon for John Chrysostom, together with 30 of his letters, for the Liverpool TTH series.  All jolly good company for dinner.  Afterwards a few of us head across the road to Waitrose to get some bottles of wine and crisps, and a general chit-chat takes place in the tea-room.  I bail around 9:30, and go in search of my laptop!

A good day.  It’s always great to listen to people who know about the things that we discuss here, and know far more than I do!

2 thoughts on “4th British Patristics Conference – day 1

  1. Oh, man, this sounds like a lot of fun.

    It is nice to meet people who know so much more about a subject, and to pick their brains a little. Patristics is so broad and deep, and yet it’s possible for people who give their lives to its study to get pretty far into its depths. Since I can’t do it, I want the academics to be farther along than a hobbyist like myself, or even a learned amateur like yourself. 🙂

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