4th British Patristics Conference – day 2

Not much sleep last night — the bed had a sag in it, and creaked when you moved — so off to breakfast at 8am feeling rather the worse for wear!  But breakfast was catered rather excellently.  It was again a brilliantly sunny day, which helped no end.

At 9am Alastair Logan delivered an hour-long paper on the idea that the original burial places of Peter and Paul in Rome were only modestly remembered; that the remains were transferred to the Basilica Apostolorum during the 3rd century, around the time of the Decian persecution; and that the Vatican basilica owes its origin to Constans, rather than Constantine.  There were a number of archaeological slides, mostly rather hard to follow.  I was unsure how well-founded this hypothesis was, tho — tiredness played a part –, but it was interesting to hear.

At tea I found myself talking to Carol Downer and a gentleman who turned out to be Zurab Jashi, a Georgian scholar who had delivered a paper yesterday.  The lack of an English introduction to orient scholars unfamiliar with Georgian came up.  Apparently there was a group of Georgian scholars at the Oxford International Patristics Conference last year, although few were aware of this.  Georgia itself is in a state of near-war, and funds for research are low.  I suggested that perhaps the way to do this was to make it a matter of propaganda.  It must be in the interest of the Georgian state that scholars in the west are aware of the literary heritage of Georgian patristic literature, especially of what Greek texts exist in that language; and so perhaps the creation of a volume of Georgian patrology ought to be funded.

After tea there were three sets of short papers.  I skipped the first set, although I am told that the paper by Hauna Ondrey on the Old Testament exegesis of Cyril of Alexandria was good.  However I did go to hear Luise Marion Frenkel on a letter by John of Antioch to the Prefect of the East, to counter Cyrillian propaganda after the Council of Ephesus.  This was a very interesting item, although Dr. F. delivered it in a difficult-to-follow monotone (I think a language barrier is the problem here).

The point that she was making was that senior figures in Roman life depended on their reputation for influence; and that consequently defamation played a critical role in the disputes of the period, as a way to lessen that influence and cause the circle of friends and supporters to diminish.  One way to do this was to hold synods to issue “condemnations” (I was irresistably reminded of how contributors get lynched in Wikipedia today, at this point), to the extent that most bishops had been condemned by one synod or another.

The letter of John[1] is preserved in the dossiers translated into Latin in the 5th century by the Nestorian sympathiser Marius Mercator, who thereby preserves much material from the oriental position otherwise lost.  The Latin was given in a handout, but sadly no English translation.  Interestingly the letter contains no theological argument; instead it is all about violations of Roman policies of civic law and order.  The Cyrillians are accused of stirring up disturbances.

I likewise skipped the third set.  But coming out from the Frenkel lecture I bumped into Gillian Clark, who had come down for the day.  I discussed with her the idea of an introduction to Georgian patristic literature in English, and she suggested talking to Sebastian Brock, whose network of contacts is extensive.

Lunch consisted of some not-very-special sandwiches.  Just before that, I saw Sebastian Brock leave early, so I was unable to raise the matter.  But apparently Gillian Clark had caught him, and he thought that perhaps he did know someone who could help.  I need to write to him.

After lunch around half the delegates went on a tour of Exeter Cathedral and its library, organised by Morwenna Ludlow.  I did not get much out of this, I confess, out of sheer tiredness, although the Dean welcomed us.

On returning, there was a meeting to discuss publication of papers in Studia Patristica; and when and where the next conference should be.  There was agreement that the next meeting would be run by Kings College London, probably at their St Albans conference centre, in 2014.  There was also discussion of whether to create a British Patristic Society, to support the conference, in which opinions differed.

At 4pm papers resumed.  I went to a paper delivered by William Jupp on Abba Arsenius – the origins of his role as tutor to the emperors.  This was an interesting paper, addressing the question of whether the desert father Arsenius, before he renounced the world, was appointed tutor by Theodosius I to his infant sons Arcadius and Honorius.  The Greek text of Arsenius’ Apophthegmata[2] says that Arsenius was this tutor.  This is extant in very early manuscripts, and later writers and most scholars have followed this.  But two have dissented, based on a Latin version[3].  I suggested that a look at the Syriac text might give a deciding vote.

The next two sessions I spent on my bed trying to get some energy together!   

But at 5:30 I went to hear Kenneth Noakes “A name in Europe”: an assessment of the influence of Martin Routh (1755-1854) as a patristic scholar.  Routh compiled Reliquiae Sacrae, consisting of fragments (only) of ante-Nicene authors in 5 volumes, a work of European reputation.  It’s always very interesting to hear about the work of scholars of past generations.

Dinner was at 7:30, where the menu was well above the standard of ordinary catering.  And I’m back to the room now, and writing up the day.

Tomorrow the conference runs through until lunchtime.  But with a 6-hour drive home, I rather think that I shall depart after the first papers, one of which I have promised to hear.  There are items later; Bella Image has a paper on Latin evidence for Origen’s Commentary on the Psalms, which I would greatly like to hear.  But I really need to be home at a reasonable hour tomorrow, in order to be fit to travel and work on Monday. 

It was commented that the number of seniors who attended was lower than usual, while the balance was made up of post-graduates.  This indeed affected somewhat the financial stability of the conference, as the latter pay much less.  But the reason for this is the Exeter location, ideal as it is in every other respect, but situated at a great distance from anywhere else. 

A good day, but I would have got much more out of it had I managed to sleep last night!  Wish me luck for tonight!

  1. [1]Coll.Cas.127; ACO I.4. p.79-80
  2. [2]PG 65, col. 88-108.  Text is 5-6th century.
  3. [3]PL 53, 955C.

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

  1. Hi Roger, I am enjoying reading through the events of the British Patristics Conference. I was curious, how many people would you say are attending this one?

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