Why did Salvian place the name of “Timothy” at the head of his “Ad Ecclesiam”

I have been posting about Salvian of Marseilles, his early work Ad Ecclesiam (ca. 440 AD), which addresses the universal church under the name of “Timothy”, and what Salvian’s letter 9 can tell us about all this.

Today I would like to address the question of why Salvian placed the name of “Timothy” on his work.

Note that I have posted the FoC English translation of Salvian’s Letter 9 here, and discussed the manuscript tradition of the Ad Ecclesiam, with which alone the letter has reached us, here.

As Gennadius tells us, Salvian was a monk of the abbey of Lerins, where he taught a number of boys who were later to be bishops, including Salonius, later bishop of Geneva and the son of Salvian’s friend Bishop Eucherius of Lyons.  Salvian may have been a magister episcoporum, a term which misled medieval copyists into supposing that he himself was a bishop, but there is no evidence that he was ever more than a monk in priest’s orders.  Perhaps he was too ascetic to wish for advancement; possibly he lacked the necessary worldly wisdom that any administrator must have, especially in 5th century barbarian-infested Gaul; or there may have been some other reason.  The sources are silent, at all events.

The two surviving works of Salvian deal with similar themes in a similar way.  The later work, De gubernatione dei, on the judgement of God on a corrupt society, is dedicated to Salonius, and quotes from the Ad Ecclesiam.  It is generally accepted, therefore, that both works are by Salvian, although the Ad Ecclesiam does not have his name in its title, but is set forth from a certain “Timothy”.  Why is this?

Ad Ecclesiam deals with greed.  It attacks in the strongest language the greed of the great landed proprietors.  In the late Roman period, as now, the really wealthy paid little or no tax, and the burden fell on the middle classes and the poor.  The tax was so heavy that the humiliores were driven into serfdom by it, handing over their land to the local “big man” while remaining tied to it, in hopes of protection from the tax-gatherers.

Such a work might call down upon its author a swift revenge.  Bishops owned by the wealthy might well be able to ruin a humble monk.  It would be unsurprising, therefore, that the author might prefer to use an alias.

But we do not know that this is the reason, although it seems likely enough, as no ancient source records this.  What we do have, however, is a letter from Salvian to Salonius, discussing why “the name of Timothy is inscribed” (Timothei nomen inscriptum sit) over a book recently published (huius temporis).  Salvian adds:

Addis praeterea quod nisi rationem uocabuli euidenter expressero, dum nominantur Timothei, inter apocryfa sint fortasse reputandi.

You add, besides, that unless I state (expressero) clearly (evidenter) the reason for the name (rationem uocabuli), while they are denominated (nominantur) as by Timothy (Timothei), they may perhaps be considered among the apocrypha.

Note that this indicates that Salvian has a responsibility here; presumably he sent them to Salonius as by someone else, and he nowhere acknowledges his authorship.

In the Fathers of the Church translation of the Ad Ecclesiam, the text certainly reads as if written by an apostle.  The work begins:

Timothy, the least of the servants of God, to the Catholic Church spread throughout the world. Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord, with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Of all the other serious and mortal diseases which the old and most foul serpent breathes upon you with the terrible envy of his death-dealing rivalry and the most loathsome breath of his poisonous mouth, I do not know whether any other can undo you with a disease more bitter for faithful souls, and a stigma more loathsome for your children, than avarice. It is slavery to idolatry-a vice which many among you think of little account, when, without the fruit of mercy and kindness, you give yourselves in this life to possessions committed to you by God for a holy deed, and extend your sin even into the future after death.

Perhaps you are looking around attentively, you who are among those whom I am addressing. You do not need a lengthy examination to find out whether you are in that
category. I say all, almost all, are in that group about which I am speaking. Indeed, that former surpassing and pre-eminent happiness of the first Christians has departed. It was that happiness according to which all who knew Christ transferred their fleeting store of wordly goods to the eternal wealth of heavenly possessions. (etc)

The concern of Salonius is a real one, I think we can accept.  Note also that both Salvian and his friend Salonius agree that to be considered apocryphal is enough to say that the work would not be read.  Clearly the church of the fifth century was deeply concerned to know that the works read in its churches were authentic, and not written by unknown persons for purposes of their own.

But how did the work come into the hands of Salonius?  We may suppose, if we like, that dozens of copies were in circulation and that he picked up a copy in his local bookshop; but this seems to involve a method of publication improbable for 5th century Gaul.  We may assume that he came across it anyhow – in which case how did he work out that Salvian was involved?  Or, easiest of all, perhaps Salvian sent it to him directly, as to a friend, possibly even for comment.  For Salvian was nervous of the reaction to his book and its contents from those he attacked.

If Salvian did send it to Salonius, he must have attached a covering letter; but this has not been preserved.  However clearly Salonius thinks that the work must be issued with some kind of preface, to make clear that the Ad Ecclesiam is a contemporary work.

Salvian replies:

I have pointed out above (superius indicavi) that the books deal with issues of today and that they were written by a man of our own day (a praesentis temporis) in his zeal and love for things divine. This alone could suffice for removing completely any suspicion of apocryphal composition. Those treatises which are recognized as not being Timothy’s are not suspected as apocryphal.

As an answer to Salonius’ concern, this statement only makes sense if Salvian intended this very letter to appear at the start of the work.  For unless Salvian’s statement was attached to the work itself, so that the reader could see the words “huius temporis” (today) at the top, then Salonius’ concern is not addressed.

The manuscript tradition shows that this letter, letter 9, is only preserved when present as a preface to the work, and I have suggested that the manuscript tradition is best intelligible if it was generally transmitted in that position from antiquity.

These two factors suggest that Salvian himself positioned this letter at the front of his work before circulating it generally.

But why choose “Timothy” in the first place?  Did Salvian really intend to write an apocryphon?

It is hard to believe that a man would intentionally doom his own work to obscurity by so doing, so maybe he did not.  But this assumes that Salvian was as clear about the consequences of such an ascription as Salonius made him.  We are discussing mortal men, prone to self-deception and muddle-headedness.   We have already hypothesised that Salvian was not worldly-wise.

There is also the point that the work addresses the whole church.  This is rather an impudent thing for a humble monk to do; but perfectly acceptable for an apostle.  Both the name and addressee suggest apostolic authorship, then.

So what does Salvian say?

In these books about which I am speaking there are three things which can be asked.

Why did the author address his book To the Church? Did he use a borrowed name or his own?

If not his own, why a borrowed name?

If a borrowed name, why in particular did he choose Timothy as the name to be written?

Salvian addresses the first point, pleading that the importance of the issue justifies the act of an obscure man addressing the church.  That the author’s name is not “Timothy” he makes clear.

Why use a borrowed name?  Firstly, because the bible tells men not to hunt for credit for their good deeds.  Secondly, and he says it was his main reason, was that he believed that his own social status was very low, and using his own name would cause the people he was addressing to ignore his book.  By uncertainty of authorship in a snobbish society he might gain a hearing to address an urgent evil.

Why the name “Timothy”?  By analogy with Luke who addressed his work to “Theophilus”, a name meaning “Lover of God”, rather than to a person with a specific name.  “Timotheus” means “The honour of God”.  In this way the church could be addressed by the honour of God.

This last answer may well seem odd to us, who would never do such a thing.   It also sidesteps the question of whether Salvian did or did not have at the back of his mind the idea that an apostle’s name would serve his purpose the best.  His choice was, to say the least, a fortuitous one, if he did not intend to cause his reader to think of Timothy the apostle (although the medieval copyists all presume Timothy is a bishop).

But we must bear in mind that Salvian lived at a period when the New Testament was closed, and its contexts fixed and known.  The large churches all had a bible very similar to our own.

A man who wrote today in the name of an apostle would not expect that his work would be considered apostolic; even if he wrote “the book of Timothy the apostle” at the top of it.  It would be taken as humorous or literary; as with the “Book of Ehud” that appears regularly in the satirical magazine Private Eye.  I wonder whether the same would have been true — or that Salvian might have thought the same — by the mid-5th century?  If so, Salonius makes clear that the risk of writing an apocryphon is still real.

But it is worth noting that Salvian left the name of Timothy at the top of his work, only adding the letter 9 as a preface, and nowhere making his authorship explicit.  Evidently he didn’t feel any need to change it.   And it is still deniable; and every bureaucrat or clerk knows that deniability is the essence of avoiding accountability.  It may be, however, that Salonius assured him that his fears were groundless; for De gubernatione dei appeared under the author’s own name.

We cannot truly know what was in Salvian’s mind when he decided to put the name of Timothy at the head of his work.  The morose may speculate that he intended evil, and then blame him for the evil that they suppose he intended.  But few will find such speculations attractive.  Rather than accusing a man of a supposed evil, we will treat him as a man like ourselves, who saw the need for a pen-name, and did not foresee clearly and explicitly the consequences of using that particular one.


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