4th British Patristics Conference – day 3

8am, and there is no-one at the breakfast queue.  Evidently attendees were catching up on their rest after the previous day.  It was necessary to vacate our rooms by 10am, so this was my own next priority.

The day started with three sets of three papers.  Unfortunately I had to leave after the first paper, because I had far to go to get home.  So I went to hear Hazel Johannessen, Enslaving the tyrant: the language of demonic slavery in Eusebius of Caesarea’s ‘Laus Constantini’.  This paper was brought on by noticing how often Eusebius refers to bad rulers being demon-possessed (e.g. LC 5:3).  The bad ruler cannot rule effectively, as he is enslaved himself to pleasure, licence, wealth, rage, fear and to “bloodthirsty demons”.  The idea itself has connections with Philo’s Every Good Man is Free (17, 30-31); and Plato, Republic 575C-D, where the idea of a bad ruler as a slave is put forward.  The questions were answered effectively.

There was an aside in the question-and-answer session that made me uneasy, and caused me to reflect about this paper and a couple of others.  We must always consider, when we read something, whether what an ancient author has to say might actually be true!  I don’t think any of us would be very flattered by a literary study of our works that failed to ask this question!  And it is so easy not to; so easy to just presume the values and ideas of the circle in which we live, and treat authors, whose works have lived for a millennium and more, merely as meat, as so much material, to be examined, criticised, at times judiciously approved; but never listened to, to discover things that we did not know about the world and ourselves.

After this I had to sneak off.  Into the car, on this very hot day, and drive home.  I am, I must admit, very glad to get home!

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