An extract from Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical Theology” III, 4-6

A portion of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical Theology, written against Marcellus of Ancyra, was edited and translated in John Mackett, Eusebius of Caesarea’s Theology of the Holy Spirit. Milwaukee, WI : Marquette University,  1990.  As it is not too long, I think it might be interesting to give the passage translated here.

Mackett goes on to discuss the meaning of the discussion – a very necessary thing! – but I have no access to that portion of his dissertation.

Marcellus of Ancyra had written a text against Asterius, a former sophist and one of the early Arians.  Eusebius responds to this work.

What strikes us, forcibly, is that this text is only meaningful to people with an interest in Trinitarian theology.  This explains why a translation has been so long in coming.  I am told that the usage of the terms in Eusebius differs from that of later writers, just to complicate things.

The term “hypostasis” means “being” or “substantive reality”, I think.  Later it comes to mean “person”, and the formula that God is three hypostases / persons in one ousia / being appears.  But that’s about as far as I can go.

Let us now hear from Eusebius.

*    *    *    *   *    *

How Marcellus, not under­standing the Scriptures, determined for himself that the hypostasis of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one.

And thus once again the statement that the three (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) are one is also Sabellian. Marcellus also expressed this same opinion and somewhere wrote: “For it is impossible for three existing hypostases to be united in a monad unless earlier the Triad should have its beginning from a monad. For St. Paul said that those things which in no way belong to the unity in God will be brought together in a monad; for only the Word and the Spirit belong to the unity in God.”

Next, as he tries to construct a log­ical argument for this, he goes on and says: “If, therefore, the Word clearly came forth out of the Father himself and has come to us, and the Holy Spirit (as even Asterius confessed) ‘proceeds from the Father,’ and if the Savior says concerning the Spirit: He will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears, and will an­nounce to you the things to come. He will glorify me, for he will receive from me and will announce it to you,’ is it not clearly evident that here the Monad appears in an ineffable word, expanding into a Triad but also not enduring in any way a dividing of itself?

‘For if the Word proceeds out of the Father, and the Spirit himself also is confessed to proceed out of the Father, and again, if the Savior says concerning the Spirit, He will receive from me and will announce it to you,’ is it not clear that some mystery which had been hidden is being revealed? For how, unless the undivided Monad should expand into a Triad, can he say at one time that the Spirit proceeds out of the Father and at another time: “He will receive from me and will announce it to you,’ and also, when he had breathed upon the disciples to have said, deceive the Holy Spirit?

‘For how, if he proceeds out of the Father, can it be proclaimed that he receives this ministry from the Son?

For if, as Asterius said, there are two distinct prosopa, it is necessary either that the Spirit, because he proceeds out of the Father, does not require the ministry of the Son (for everything which proceeds out of the Father is necessarily perfect and requires no assistance from another) or, if he should receive from the Son and by his power minister grace, he no longer proceeds out of the Father.”

After some other things he adds: “But if the Gospel says that, after he breathed upon his disciples he said: deceive the Holy Spirit,’ it is quite clear that the Spirit went forth out of the Word. How then, if the Spirit came out of the Word, is it again said that the same Spirit proceeds out of the Father?” And after some other things he adds: “Therefore he said (not once, but twice!) neither correctly nor fit­tingly, There are three hy­postases.'” Now through these ar­guments (and ones like them) the smart aleck tries to build his case that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, because three names are given to one hypostasis.

For in these words it is not clear how both the Son is said to proceed out of the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit.

Nor has it been possible to conceive how the Savior said about the Holy Spirit: “He will receive from me and will announce it to you.” Nor how, after he breathed upon the disciples, he said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And this will have an easy solution for those who think orthodoxly if one should consider that the Son, since he always exists and is present with the Father, is in some place, as though he were in the innermost sanctuary and inaccessible part of the paternal kingdom, and then, because he was sent from the Fa­ther for the sake of the salvation of the race of men, said that he him­self came forth from the Father.

And surely he made this clear else­where when, speaking about himself through a parable, he said: “The sower came forth to sow.”For from where did he come forth other than out of the innermost kingdoms of the paternal Godhead?

And according to the same reason­ing the Holy Spirit is also always present at the throne of God since, according to Daniel, even “myriads upon myriads”stand before him. And this one himself was sent, at one time in the form of a dove upon the Son of Man, at another time upon each of the prophets and apostles. For this reason he also has been said to proceed from the Father.

And why are you amazed? For even of the Devil it has also been said: “And the Devil came forth from the Lord” and again, a sec­ond time it was said: “But the Devil came forth from the Lord.”You would even find the same concerning Ahab where the Scrip­ture adds: “And an evil spirit came forth and stood in front of the Lord and said: 1 will outwit him.'”But these are opposing spirits; now is not the time to be busy with try­ing to figure out how or in what sense this is said about them.

And the only-begotten Son of God teaches that he himself has come forth from the Father because he always co-exists with him; and likewise, the Holy Spirit exists as distinct from the Son.

Certainly the Savior himself clearly proves this by saying: “He will re­ceive from me and will announce it to you.” For this would clearly be indicative of the Son’s and the Holy Spirit7s not being one and the same. For what receives some­thing from another is recognized as distinct from that which gives.

And that the Holy Spirit is indeed distinct from the Son, our Lord and Savior himself explicitly and excel­lently taught in the clearest terms in which he said to his disciples: “If you love me you will keep my commands. And I will ask the Fa­ther and he will give to you an­other Paraclete so that he might be with you forever: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot re­ceive.” You see how he says that the Spirit, who is the Paraclete, is distinct from and other than him­self. And if, after breathing he said to the disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” one need not be ignorant that this breathing was somehow purgative of the souls of the apos­tles in order to make them fit for the reception of the Holy Spirit.

For he is not said to have breathed upon their face or that he breathed either the breath of life or the Holy Spirit as it was recorded about Adam: “God breathed upon his face the breath of life.” Rather, he is said first to breathe and then to say, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”But the giving of the Spirit himself showed again that he is distinct from what is given.

For he himself would not have been the giver and the gift, but the Savior was the one who gave, the one who was given was the Holy Spirit, and the apostles were the recipients; the breathing out was, as I said, purgative of the apostles or even productive of the imparting of the Holy Spirit (for it is possible to understand it both ways).

From these passages the Holy Spirit is shown to subsist distinctly from him, as even from the following, in which again it has been recorded that he said: “If someone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”194

To these words he adds: “These things I have told you while I was with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom my Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you.” You hear how he has used a plural form (“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him”) while speaking about the Father and himself. And when speaking about the Holy Spirit, he spoke as though he were speaking about another (“He will teach you everything”).

And the passage: “I will ask the Father and he will give to you an­other Paraclete so that he might be with you forever: the Spirit of truth” was also of this sort. Therefore, the Paraclete, con­cerning whom he was teaching such things, was distinct from himself. Naturally then he again added: “These things I have told you while I was with you.

But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom my Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you.”

He is saying: “For I have spoken these things to you up until this time. But the Spirit of truth, the very one whom my Father will send, will teach you everything, inasmuch as of now you have not learned because you have not made room.

“But, I say, when he, the Paraclete, comes, he will complete the teach­ing by also producing in you the remembrance of the words I am now speaking.” And again he says: “But when the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify concerning myself.”Through all of this he clearly shows that the one who is sent by him and is going to bear witness on his behalf is distinct from himself.

And he strengthens the argument even more by what he adds: “But I tell you the truth: it is better for you that I depart. For if I do not depart, the Paraclete will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” By saying that he him­self was going he was indicating in these words his own passion and the ascension to the Father after this.

Who then, after so many words, is so stupid as to say that the one who says these things and the one about whom he was speaking are one and the same—after he hears him clearly determining to speak the truth? And what is the truth about the one who shows that, unless he departs, the Holy Spirit would never come?

But if at one time he determines that the Father sends the Holy Spirit and at another he himself, of course he is not teaching contradic­tions; for everything, whatever “he sees the Father doing … the Son does likewise” and “he judges just as he hears.”

Wherefore, by the judgment of the Father, when the Father also wills it, at that time the Son andthrough him, the Savior sends the Spirit of truth, that is, the Paraclete, to his disciples in order to comfort and encourage them in the things they suffered from those who persecuted them as they preached the Gospel.

But he said this not only to comfort them, but also to teach them the whole truth of the New Testament which they could not be taught by the Savior at the time he was in their company and teaching these things, because they were en­slaved to Jewish training.

He fulfilled these things by what he did after his resurrection from the dead; after when he said to Mary, “Do not touch me for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” After saying these things, since he indeed had gone up to the Father, he appeared to the disciples.

When he also commands them to touch him, the Holy Spirit had been sent and was with him-being ready and present for the ministry to which he had been appointed.

For at that time “he breathed on them” and then he gave them a part of a certain gift of the Holy Spirit, which was to effect the for­giveness of sins. For “there are different gifts” which he partially gave them then, when he was with them and present to them. But after this he filled them with a greater and more perfect power. Concerning this he said to them, as recorded in the Acts of the Apos­tles: “But you will receive power from on high when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” He also announced that they would be bap­tized with the Holy Spirit, which itself was fulfilled after his ascen­sion, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent to them, in accordance with his words.

But now is not the time to go over in detail, with the exactness of a close examination, what here needs greater discussion and distinctness, since this is not what was set before us. But it was necessary to prove that the Son and the Paraclete Spirit are distinct. This was even pointed out in various ways through what the Savior himself taught and said to the others in these words: “I still have many things to tell you, but you are not yet able to bear them. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will explain the whole truth to you for he will not speak on his own, but whatever he hears; and he will announce to you the things to come. He will glorify me because he will receive from me and will announce it to you.” Again in these words it is proclaimed that what he did not teach, this his dis­ciples will learn by the Holy Spirit, of whom it is said, as though speaking of someone else: “When he comes” and “he will not speak on his own” and “he will glorify me” and “because he will receive from me.. .”.

To assume that the Savior himself spoke all these things about himself is quite simple-minded and hard to cure.

But through these words the Sav­ior himself clearly taught that the Holy Spirit is distinct from himself in honor, glory, and privileges; being more excellent, stronger, and higher than all intelligent and rational being (wherefore he is also included in the holy and thrice- blessed Triad) but indeed lower than himself.

And this he clearly shows when he says: “He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears.” And that he will hear from someone else he makes quite clear when he says: “He will re­ceive from me and will announce it to you”—which clearly means “from out of my treasure,” for in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Therefore, he himself, since he is only-begotten Son, receives from the Father and hears from the Father; but the Holy Spirit is provided from him. Hence he says: “He will receive it from me and will announce it to you.”

Now it is said that even the God over all is spirit, as the Savior himself taught when he said: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”; and truly himself will be the holy one of the saints and “resting in the saints.” But the Son of God also is spirit and him­self is even the holy spirit of the saints, if indeed he is the image of the invisible.

Therefore it was also said concern­ing him: “The Lord is the Spirit”and “the Lord Christ is spirit before our face.”

Certainly the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. The Savior pointed out his uniqueness and called him “the Paraclete,” distinguishing the common element of the equivocal word by the appellation “Paraclete,” since even the angelic powers are spirits. For it is said, “He makes his angels spirits.”  But it is impossible to equate any of these with the Paraclete Spirit.

Wherefore only this spirit has been included in the holy and thrice- blessed Triad. This is not different from the Savior’s explaining to his apostles his sacrament of rebirth for all those from the nations who believe in him. He commanded them to baptize “them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Of the Father because he has full authority and gives the grace. Of the Son because he ministers to this grace (for “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”). Of the Holy Spirit, that is, the Paraclete, who is him­self provided according to the di­versity of graces in himself: ‘Tor to one is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit, but to another a word of knowledge according to the same spirit. To another is given faith by the same Spirit” and likewise the things considered with these.

So then the Holy Spirit, who was provided through the Son to whomever the Father might choose, was fond of dwelling in the saints alone. And such would be his work: to sanctify all, to whom he might give some one or even many of the gifts in himself, so that prophets, apostles, and every God- loving soul, and likewise the stronger and divine powers, would participate in the holiness from him. But only the Son has been honored by the paternal Godhead, that he might be the maker and creator of all the geneta, both visi­ble and invisible, and even of the existence of the Paraclete Spirit.

For, “through him all things came into being, and apart from him not one thing came to be” and “in him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible.” But the God over all and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he is something ineffable, is good and more excellent than all reasoning ability and thought, and every expression and consideration, whatever their commonalities or distinctions are, also takes the lead over and above the Holy Spirit himself and even the only-begotten Son.

He alone is rightly called “the God over all and through all and in all” by the apostle who says: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all, who is over all, through all, and is in all.”

And he alone might be called “one God and Father” “of our Lord Je­sus Christ.” The Son is “only- begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.” But the Paraclete Spirit is neither God nor Son, since he does not get his origin from the Father like the Son, but is one of the things which came into being through the Son because: “Through him all things came into being, and apart from him not one thing came to be.”

Therefore these mysteries are handed over to the holy and catholic Church through the divine titles. But Marcellus confuses everything: sometimes he takes into himself the whole depth of Sabellius, another time he tries to revive the heresy of Paul of Samosata, and other times he is openly refuted as a Jew for he introduces one three-faced and, as it were, three-named hypostasis by saying God, the Word in him, and the Holy Spirit are the same.


Forthcoming: translation of Eusebius’ “Contra Marcellum” and “Ecclesiastical Theology”

We have English translations of a great deal of Patristic literature.  One of the most conspicuous absences, however, has been the five books that Eusebius of Caesarea wrote against Marcellus of Ancyra after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  These are the Contra Marcellum and the Ecclesiastical Theology.

Today I heard from Dr Kelley E. Spoerl of Saint Anselm College, who writes:

I am happy to report that my collaborator, Dr. Markus Vinzent of King’s College, London, and I have signed a contract to have the translation published with the Fathers of the Church series from Catholic University of America Press sometime in 2015 or 2016. The manuscript is now with two expert scholars for review and we expect to make the final revisions and submit before the end of 2014.

Already I have heard from another correspondent, interested in seeing the manuscript.  But of course the publishers will try to prevent any circulation of that, and quite understandably.

It’s good news.  Admittedly the number of people who will be able to access the translation is not nearly what it would be; but at least the thing now exists.  My original correspondence with Dr Spoerl was in 2008 (!) so it has been a long time coming.  Very welcome all the same.

I ought to highlight that a small part of the Ecclesiastical Theology (III 4-6) is available in English in the dissertation of John Mackett, Eusebius of Caesarea’s Theology of the Holy Spirit. Milwaukee, WI : Marquette University,  1990, p.225-244.  This I have seen, and it is mind-boggling – pure theology!

In addition an Italian translation exists: Franzo Migliore, Eusebio di Cesarea: teologia ecclesiastica, Città Nuova, 1998.  Google books preview here.

UPDATE (2020): The complete translation of these two works by Kathy E. Spoerl and Markus Vinzent appeared in 2017: Eusebius of Caesarea: Against Marcellus and On Ecclesiastical Theology, Fathers of the Church 135, Catholic University of America (2017).


A quotation from Thales?

A correspondent writes:

I have seen this statement all over the web referring to an alleged quote of Thales:

Megiston topos: hapanta gar chorei (Μέγιστον τόπος• άπαντα γαρ χωρεί)
“Space is the greatest thing, as it contains all things”

However, I have never seen a reference to an ancient text.  Is this a web myth?

The reference is to Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the philosophers, book 1, chapter 35:

Φέρεται δὲ καὶ ἀποφθέγματα αὐτοῦ τάδε·

πρεσβύτατον τῶν ὄντων θεός· ἀγένητον γάρ.
κάλλιστον κόσμος· ποίημα γὰρ θεοῦ.
μέγιστον τόπος· ἅπαντα γὰρ χωρεῖ.
τάχιστον νοῦς· διὰ παντὸς γὰρ τρέχει.
ἰσχυρότατον ἀνάγκη· κρατεῖ γὰρ πάντων.
σοφώτατον χρόνος· ἀνευρίσκει γὰρ πάντα.

Here are certain apothegms attributed to him:

Of all things that are, the most ancient is God, for he is uncreated.
The most beautiful is the universe, for it is God’s workmanship.
The greatest is space, for it holds all things.
The swiftest is mind, for it speeds everywhere.
The strongest, necessity, for it masters all.
The wisest, time, for it brings everything to light.[1]

  1. [1]Loeb translation, vol. 1, p.37.

The unlawful pleasures of the imagination

While searching for something else, I found an interesting passage in Augustine’s De Trinitate, book 12, chapter 12:

… when the mind is pleased in thought alone with unlawful things, while not indeed determining that they are to be done, but yet holding and pondering gladly things which ought to have been rejected the very moment they touched the mind, it cannot be denied to be a sin, but far less than if it were also determined to accomplished it in outward act.

And therefore pardon must be sought for such thoughts too, and the breast must be smitten, and it must be said, “Forgive us our debts;” and what follows must be done, and must be joined in our prayer, “As we also forgive our debtors.”

The sins of the mind and imagination seem particularly relevant to the internet.  What do we allow to enter our minds?

Equally by chance, I saw on Facebook a quotation of Proverbs 4:23 from something called the New Century Version:

Be careful what you think,
because your thoughts run your life.

Which is a novel rendering of the usual text:

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

I don’t think we should over-analyse ourselves.  But I pass these thoughts on in case God is speaking to anyone through them.


Chrysostom, De terrae motu (on the earthquake) now online in English

Bryson Sewell has kindly translated for us all the short homily by John Chrysostom, De terrae motu (on the earthquake; CPG 4366, PG 50 713-6).

It’s here in HTML form.  I have placed the PDF and Word forms at here.

The translation is public domain: use it freely for personal, educational or commercial use.

If you’d like to support me in commissioning translations of previously untranslated patristic material, you can buy a CD here, or make a donation using the button on the right.


Medieval poison ring found – get one now!

NEW!  For the Borgia in YOUR church … a poison ring!

SMILE … as your opponents die writhing on the floor while you preach a sermon about peace and unity!

END … those interminable conferences by poisoning your enemies during the communion service!

INVITE … your foes round for dinner: “The drinks are on me!” you will say!

Now that theological persecutions and seizures of property have made a surprise return to modern society, with The Episcopal Church of the USA in first place, but with a strong showing from Glasgow Presbytery — sending in bailiffs to rip the hymnbooks out of the hands of worshippers, even though you have piles of them going unused, was especially noteworthy — perhaps other quaint customs of the past might make a return too?

All of which feeble attempts at humour were provoked by the discovery of a genuine medieval poison ring in Bulgaria.  It’s an ornamented ring with a reservoir and a hole on one side, allowing the wearer to poison food or a drink simply by rotating your wrist.  Apparently it belongs to the 14th century, so is a bit outside our period.  But no doubt earlier models also existed, especially in Byzantium.

I wonder what poisons they used?


Notes upon the Acts / Passion of St. Saturninus

An online forum asked about an ancient text named the Acts of St. Saturninus.  I had not heard of these, and my investigation is perhaps worth writing up.

The Passio S. Saturnini is a text which describes the death of Saturninus and other martyrs of Toulouse in Gaul during the Decian persecution.  It belongs to that category of martyrdoms which Ruinart labelled “sincera”, i.e. authentic rather than merely a later invention.[1].  The text is numbered BHL 7495-6.  (Note that a later, 7-8th century text is much longer and numbered BHL 7491, and  was edited in 2002 and published by Herder).

In its current state, the Passio S. Saturnini is a late text, edited in the second decade of the 5th century (certainly before 450 AD), two centuries after the death of the bishop, at the moment when his cult began, thanks to the translation of his relics from the modest tomb where he had been buried into a new basilica. The author of it is very definitely a clergyman of Toulouse living at the time of bishop Exuperius, or soon afterwards.[2]

Cabau wrote notes on the bishops of Toulouse in this period, which may be found here.


  • Patrice Cabau, “Opusculum de passione ac translatione sancti Saturnini, episcopi Tolosanae ciuitatis et martyris. Édition et traduction provisoires”, in: Mémoires de la Société archéologique du Midi de la France 61, 2001, p. 59-77.  This includes a full bibliography.  Online here.

French translation:

  • Pierre Maraval, Actes et Passions des martyrs chrétiens des premiers siècles. Introduction, traduction et notes, in: Sagesses Chrétiennes, Cerf, 2010, pp. 181-192.  Online here.

I have found no sign of a translation into English, unfortunately.

  1. [1]Thierry Ruinart, Acta Martyrum sincera et selecta, 1689, p.109-113; 2nd ed.  here has text on p.128 f, and a list of manuscripts used on p.lxxix.
  2. [2]From the introduction to Marival’s translation.

More Egypt vandalism: the museum in Minya attacked and looted by Muslim Brotherhood

Minya_Malawi_Museum_2013_5From the Daily Mail (h/t Nebraska Energy Observer):

Looters ransack Egyptian antiques museum and snatch priceless artefacts as  armed police move inside stormed Cairo mosque

  • Museum in the Upper Egyptian city of  Minya was broken into on Thursday.
  • Ministry accused Muslim Brotherhood  supporters of breaking in.

Egypt’s famous Malawi National Museum has  been ransacked, looted and smashed up by vandals in another example of the  recent unrest in the country.

Photos of the damaged artefacts and empty  display cases were released this afternoon as supporters of deposed President  Mohamed Morsi fought a gunbattle with security forces in a Cairo  mosque.

According to a statement made by the Ministry  of Antiquities, the museum, in the Upper  Egyptian city of Minya, was allegedly broken into and some artifacts were  damaged and stolen on Thursday evening.

Scroll down for videos

It not yet clear what is missing – a list is  being compiled to ensure the artefacts are not smuggled out the country.

All of which is very bad.  But there is worse yet, improbable as it may seem.  At the bottom of the article we read:

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

We need hardly ask, in these days of political correctness, when expressing negative opinions about certain favoured groups is a matter for the police, why the proprietor of the newspaper has instructed his staff to ensure that ordinary mortals are not permitted to express their disgust.  What hope for the civilised world, when the defenders of it are not permitted even to object to the actions of the barbarians?

It is as if Luke Skywalker were not permitted to mention that Darth Vader had something to do with the Death Star.  Such a path must bring ruin on the world.

While we are still permitted to say anything — the BBC has omitted to report on all this — here are some more of the photos that the Mail posted.


Update: I see no sign of BBC reporting this story.  Protect the Pope has a list of further attacks on churches, equally unreported.

Update2: With some difficulty, I eventually found a BBC story by John McManus, reporting on some of the attacks on churches, from yesterday (16 August 2013).  It’s not very good, nor very visible:

Egypt crisis: Churches ‘under attack’

At least 25 churches across Egypt have been attacked by arsonists in a wave of anti-Christian violence, a non-governmental group has said.

Homes and businesses have also been targeted, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) says.

Witnesses described the attackers as shouting slogans in support of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

But his Muslim Brotherhood supporters say it is the military regime that is instigating the violence.

It is impossible to say whether the decision to break up the pro-Morsi camps in Cairo was the trigger for the church attacks.

But Egypt’s minority religion has often borne the brunt of discrimination and violence from some Islamists.

The article does not state at any point who is actually doing the violence, preferring to suggest that these are claims by one group.

We should note the scare quotes in the heading, and the claim that violence is from “some Islamists”.   Perhaps the BBC could do a little more, and use its correspondents on the ground to investigate the facts?


Coptic monastery set alight; fate of Coptic manuscripts unknown

There have been vague reports on twitter for a few days of a 4th century Coptic church, the “Virgin Mary church”, being burned by the Moslem Brotherhood’s thugs in Egypt.  Today I find something solid, and it looks grim.


Ancient Egyptian Christian Monastery Set Aflame

As Muslim Brotherhood supporters continue their jihadi rampage on Egypt’s Christian churches—several dozens have now been attacked—it’s important to remember that their hostility is not simply directed to churches, but any and every expression of Christianity, including crosses, Bible stores, and even remote monasteries.

Most recently, for instance, early Thursday morning (Egyptian time), hundreds of pro-Morsi rioters set fire to the Virgin Mary Monastery, also known as Muharraq Monastery, in Quwsaya, Asyut—one of the oldest monasteries in the world, which held many ancient Coptic manuscripts, likely now all turned to ash.  Its flames reached surrounding Coptic Christian homes, setting some 15 aflame.

The news link above leads to an Arabic language site, but we can use Google translate to get the gist:

Supporters of imprisoned president set fire to the Muharraq Quisya centre in Assiut.


Sparked hundreds of supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, isolated in Assiut, in the early hours of Thursday morning, the fire in the Diocese monastery Muharraq Qusiya center , and the flames spread to more than 15 homes adjacent to the Copts.  The civil defense forces are trying now to control the fire that broke out in the monastery of the oldest monasteries in the archaeological world.

This comes after the establishment of thousands of supporters of President isolated march night protest through the streets of Center City Qusiya condemn the decision of the curfew and the imposition of emergency law, in addition to resolving Aatsami “fourth Adawiya” and “Renaissance” by force by the police and military forces and the accompanying casualties.

In a related development, a number of supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, isolated fired two shells from guns “mortar” on a police station Sahel Selim, east of the Nile Assiut Governorate, in an attempt to storming resulted in the demolition of the center and interface wall.  Military sources said that the car tracked armored and armed forces on their way to the police station amid heavy exchange of automatic weapons fire between the security forces and a number of supporters of President orphaned.  The sources said that it had been determine where it launched a missile village “Boit” east of the Nile and the reinforcements being sent military and police, sources reported that there were casualties among the security forces Safwat.

The Al-Muharraq monastery has an English language website here, and a short Wikipedia article here.  The Tour Egypt site has a long page on it here, which includes something on the library:

The library of the monastery is divided into two main sections. The first  section contains thousands of modern books and reference material dating from  the 19th and 20th centuries. They cover religion, science and other subjects  written in various languages including Coptic, Greek, Arabic, English and  Amharic. The second section of the library contains hand-written manuscripts in  Coptic and Arabic. Scientifically indexed, these priceless manuscripts date back  as early as the 13th century.

The monastery website helpfully explains the various names of the monastery, including the name of the “burned monastery”, and “Deir al-Muharraq”.

For a long time the place has been well known as “Virgin Mary monastery”. It has also been reputed as “Muharraq Monastery”, and “Mount Koskam Monastery”.

But it does make clear that the monastery has a manuscript library:

There has been a great interest in Coptic manuscripts whether they are originally in Coptic language or translated into Coptic since the European movement of geographical and scientific discoveries. Travelers, explorers, researchers, scholars and scientists collected manuscripts from ancient monasteries and churches, and took home all what they could during the 17th. century when the Europeans began to take interest in studying Coptic language (stated by Mallon in his introduction to: Coptic Agronomy)

Some famous transcriber monks are:

Hegomen Kuzman (14th. C.) who cared for copying some books of the Holy Bible.

Hegomen Ecluda (14th. C.) (Pope Ghabrial’s brother) copied the Coptic lectionary.

Hegomen Yohanna (19th. C.) from Etleedem copied 64 manuscripts within 48 years. He was worthily called the father of transcription.

Some important manuscripts in the monastery have been printed and published.

However the main churches are apparently 19th century.

The Coptic Encyclopedia has an article on Dayr al-Muharraq (why on earth can’t the Arabs organise among themselves a standard transcription of their language?):

Nothing is known for certain about the date of the foundation of this monastery. A sermon attributed to the patriarch THEOPHILUS OF ALEXANDRIA (384-412) credits him with a vision of the Holy Virgin in which she revealed to him that the principal church of the monastery in the place where Mary and her son sojourned during their flight from Herod was consecrated by Jesus himself, assisted by his disciples. Guidi (1917) has published the Oriental versions. The Arabic text is also given in a work entitled Al-La’ali’ (1966, pp. 56-70). A reworking of this sermon is attributed to Zechariah, bishop of Sakha at the beginning of the eighth century (pp. 40-55).

The monastery is said to have been founded by Saint PACHOMIUS (Simaykah, 1932, Vol. 2, p. 121), but the Lives of Pachomius, both Greek and Coptic, do not speak of it. The most ancient source appears to be the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS of the Egyptian church, which in its list of the places where the Holy Virgin stayed with Jesus in Egypt names Qusqam, but not Dayr al-Muharraq.

The clearest source is without doubt ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN from the beginning of the thirteenth century (1895, pp. 224-27). He knew the legend of the Holy Family’s FLIGHT INTO EGYPT and of the consecration of this church, but he never spoke of a monastery.

A manuscript of the Synaxarion deriving from the library of the Dayr al-Muharraq indicates the feast of the qummus ‘Abd al-Malak on 18 Babah. This saint built or restored the Church of Saint George. He lived in the Arab period, prior to the date of the manuscript (1867, according to Troupeau, 1974, Vol. 2, p. 30).

In 1305 Marqus, bishop of Qusqam, was present at the preparation of the chrism (Munier, 1943, p. 37), and in another manuscript about the same event, Marqus is called bishop of al-Qusiyyah. Since the monastery is only a little over 4 miles (7 km) from this town, he was probably bishop of these two places (Muyser, 1945, p. 158).

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, several monks of Dayr al-Muharraq became patriarchs of Alexandria: in 1370 GABRIEL, in 1378 MATTHEW I, in 1452 MATTHEW II, and in 1484 JOHN XIII.

So the solid evidence is of foundation before 1300.

But what of the manuscripts?  I can find no more information online.

It’s so very hard to get useful information, because the BBC and other “mainstream” outlets seem to be ignoring most of the violence, and all of the violence against Copts.  Thank heavens for Jihad Watch and its staff, trawling through the Arabic news output.

If anyone has more details, I should be glad to hear it.


Notes on chapter divisions in Syriac manuscripts from antiquity

The British Library holds some of the most ancient Syriac manuscripts in the world, brought there in 1842 by Archdeacon Tattam from the monastery of Deir al-Suryani in the Nitrian desert in Egypt.  Last Saturday I went down there, along with Syriacist Steven Ring, and examined four of them for evidence of chapter divisions.  This sort of thing is not recorded at all well in critical editions, so personal inspection was necessary.

The first item examined was Ms. Additional 12150.  This is a large folio manuscript, containing translations from Greek, and dated (by the scribe) to 411 AD!  That is, it was written the year after the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Goths.  I used Wright’s Catalogue, p.632 f., as a finder’s guide.  The text is written by a single scribe.

It begins on folio 1r with scribbles in Syriac and Arabic.  The page must originally have been blank, which is curious; for the text begins on folio 1v with no heading.  However a running header in red, apparently by the same scribe as the text, appears on the verso of each leaf; in this case, saying “.o. Clement .o.”, because the volume begins with discourses and homilies from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions; labelled as “I” by Wright.

Folio 1v shows the start of chapters 1, 2 and 3 of discourse 1, or so I find from De Lagarde’s 1861 edition of the text.

There are no chapter numbers.  Each chapter begins on a new line, and ends with a series of “o.o.o.o”, sometimes all in black, sometimes alternately in black and red.  This fills up most of the remainder of the line; and a blank line sometimes follows.  De Lagarde shows the item in his edition, but for some reason has omitted the newlines.

The subscriptio to the first discourse is in red on f.53r.   There it is followed by a blank line, then “.oo. .oo. .oo.”

I found that:

  • Discourse 1 is divided into chapters throughout.
  • Discourse 3 is not divided at all.
  • Discourse 4 is divided throughout.
  • Homily 12 has a few divisions only towards the end.
  • Discourse 14 is not divided at all.

The next item in the codex, II, is the work of Titus of Bostra against the Manichaeans.  This has chapters, ending with three examples of a marker, consisting of four dots in a diamond shape; later on reverting to the same end-of-chapter marker as used for Clement.  Again a new chapter means a new line.

I curse, by the way, that the British Library would not allow me to take snaps of the pages with my mobile phone; thus I am reduced to verbiage, where an image would show what I mean.

After Titus we find (III) the treatise of Eusebius on the Theophania, in five books.  This also is divided into chapters by the same markers.  However, part way through book 4, the ninth chapter — there are no numerals, remember — begins with a heading in read, and each chapter then has a heading for the remainder of the book.  Book 5 also has some.

Item IV is Eusebius, The Martyrs of Palestine.  This is divided into sections with red headings.  Inside each section are chapter divisions as before. E.g. f.235v, 236r.

Item V is Eusebius’ Encomium on the Martyrs, divided into chapters like the rest of the ms.

Nowhere are there any numerals.

It is interesting that some of the Clementine material is divided, and some is not.  I would infer from this that the divisions are not by the scribe, who would otherwise have done the same thing all through.  The differences in the Clement material may be accounted for most easily, if we suppose that the scribe had a box full of rolls, each containing one item, which he proceeded to copy into his brand new codex.  He only had a rag-bag of rolls, which is why discourse 2 is missing — the discourses are headed with their number in the subscriptions — and some of these came from sources that were divided, while some were not.

The same applies to the Theophania; while all the rolls were divided into chapters, the last two had headings in the roll.

The next manuscript examined was a quarto, Additional 14639.  This dates to the 6th century AD, and contains a Syriac translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica.

I noted that on f.11b there was a red heading.  F. 18 has chapter divisions, marked by filling up the line with a diamond of 5 dots, then newline.

The table of contents to book 2 appears on f.18v.  It is not numbered.  Each table element is on a new line, and alternate elements are in different colours, black and red text. At the end of each element the scribe has filled up the line with dots or diamonds.  Divisions in the text are mainly by means of red headings.

There is a deviation in the table of contents.  The one on f.70a starts with alternate red and black elements, as before; but the scribe then changes to first word of each entry in red, with the rest of the words in black.  However the table of contents on 96v is back to full alternating as before.

I then looked at Additional 14542.  This dates to 509 AD, and contains Basil the Great’s work on the Holy Spirit.  It is a quarto volume.

A chapter division is visible on f.7r., and on f.5r.  10r 13v, with coloured dots.  There are no headings, but definitely chapter divisions of the form we saw earlier.  The subscriptio is in red.

My final manuscript was Additional 17182, containing the homilies of Aphrahat.  It dates to 474 AD.  It too is quarto.

There are infrequent chapter markers. One appears on f.3v; another on f4r.  There are no blank lines when a new chapter begins, but there are newlines.  F.7v has two diamonds at foot of page.  There is a red heading on f.11v and f23r.  There is also a running title on the verso, but this time only at the end of each quire.  Presumably this means that the book was written in quires, and the running heading told the binder what order to assemble the book.

In short we find, in these very early manuscripts, copious evidence of division into chapters.