Was Salonius Salvian’s “own bishop”?

One statement that appears repeatedly in the discussion of Salvian in Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and counterforgery is that Salvian was “caught by his own bishop” in writing a forgery.   The main question is one that I am addressing in this series of posts.  But was Salonius, Salvian’s friend and former pupil, as Salvian tells us in his Letter 9, actually Salvian’s “own bishop”?

Of course E.’s book is far too broad-brush to be able to deal with points of detail like this, although it should have refrained from statements not verified, surely?  Probably E. borrows this from some other modern discussion, although I have not come across it.   But the question seems more difficult than it first appears.

A quick search will reveal that the island of Lerins,[1] where Salvian of Marseilles was a monk, is on the Riviera.  It will also reveal that Salonius was bishop of Geneva on the edge of modern Switzerland.  Dioceses can be large, but I don’t think that the 5th century bishop of Geneva can have exercised episcopal oversight in Lerins, far closer to many other cities.  Geographically that seems impossible.

But do we know that Salonius was bishop of Geneva?  It seems that we do.  In John M. Peppino’s 2009 dissertation St. Eucherius of Lyons: Rhetorical Adaptation of Message to Intended Audience in Fifth Century Provence, p.18 f., (Google books preview of Proquest item) we find a very useful discussion of the life of Eucherius and his sons Salonius and Veranus.  It seems that Salonius signed the declaration of the council of Orange in 441 AD as bishop of Geneva,[2] and was probably made bishop some time after November 439.[3]

Peppino mentions L. Duchesne’s Fastes episcopaux de l’ancienne Gaul 1 (1900), vol. 1, p.227 as a source, and this would probably repay further investigation.

Secondly, we may also ask whether a monastic community was subject to the local bishop at all.

In medieval Britain I believe that the great abbots, such as the abbot of Bury St Edmunds, saw themselves as the equals of bishops, ruling large areas of land and holding considerable political power.  But was this so in 5th century Gaul?

For all matters concerned with Catholic regulation, my first stop is always the old Catholic Encyclopedia, whose article on Abbots is here.  The section on “kinds of abbots” tells me that they all tend to have exemption from episcopal authority, of increasing degree.  Nor is this marvellous; monks (including their abbots) are laymen, not clerics.  They are not ordained and owe no ecclesiatical authority to anyone else.

A monastic community will need to have communion, however, and a priest will be needed to celebrate this.  Consequently we get things like the eastern “hieromonk”, a monk who is in priest’s orders, who can therefore “do the business” for the community.

Salvian was referred to as “presbyter”, so must have been ordained by a bishop.  Unless this happened in later life – I don’t think we know – then the ordination must have involved someone other than Salonius.  If Salvian was ordained as a young man, Salonius may not even have been born.

In conclusion, it would appear that E.’s statement that Salonius was Salvian’s “own bishop” is quite unlikely to be correct.  In view of the uncertainty, it seems doubtful that E. knew whether the statement was correct when he made it.   It may have been imagination, or borrowed from somewhere else.   I would suggest that we presume weakness rather than dishonesty, however; a principle that E. himself would have done well to follow in his book.

For E.’s argument all of this is unimportant.  It does not affect the main question whether we say that “Salvian was caught by a contemporary bishop” rather than “Salvian was caught by his own bishop”.  The latter statement is more striking, of course; but the urge to paint pictures can be an enemy of careful scholarship.

As a postscript, while researching this online I came across a Google books preview of Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (2012) which contains a vivid portrait of Salvian, his context and his work as chapter 26.  On p. 436 we find the following interesting statement:

The first known work of Salvian, written sometime between 435 and 439, addressed this theme. It was called Ad Ecclesiam—an Open Letter to the Church— and came to be known as On Avarice. Characteristically, for a member of a Provencal in-group, Salvian adopted a pen name. He was Timothy—the Timothy to whom Saint Paul had written so much advice on the management of the church. He went out of his way to justify both the pen-name and the book itself in along letter to Salonius.

A look at the footnotes (p.620) gives the following helpful addition (footnote 1):

The best studies of Salvian known to me are J. Badewien, Geschichtstheologie und Sozialkritik im Werk Salvians von Marseille, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 32 (Gottingen: Vandenhouck and Ruprecht, 1980); and, more recently, D. Lambert, “The Uses of Decay: History in Salvian’s De gubernatione dei“, Augustinian Studies 30 (1999): 115-30; and L. Pietri, “Riches et pauvres dans l’Ad Ecclesiam de Salvien de Marseille,” in Les Peres de l’Eglise et la voix des pauvres, 149-61.

Brown gives a picture of Salvian as a popular preacher in Marseilles!

  1. [1]A history of the community exists: A.C. Cooper-Marsden, The History of the Islands of the Lerins: The Monastery, Saints and Theologians of S. Honorat, 1913 (online here), although it is not useful for Salonius: see p.234.
  2. [2]Peppino gives the reference CCL 148: 87; presumably the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina vol. 148, p.87. From the Brepols site I learn that CCSL vol. 148 is C. Munier, Concilia Galliae a. 314-506, published 1963.
  3. [3]Peppino, p.19.

2 thoughts on “Was Salonius Salvian’s “own bishop”?

  1. In the East monasteries both can or can not be under the jurisdiction the local bishop, depending on the founder’s preferences. The standard is that a monastery is founded under the permission and auspices of the local bishop, and hence the abbots keeps on being under the authority of the local bishops. However this can be bypassed, the founder can travel to Constantinople or the other Patriarchate under whose jurisdiction is the area and get under the direct authority of the Patriarch, thus be independent of the local bishop. In that case the monastery is called Σταυροπηγιακό (sourced by cross? not entirely sure how to translate this). Today though stavropegiac monasteries are limited in Greece, of the hundreds is not thousands of monasteries today staropegiac are the 20 of Mount Athos, St John the Theologian at Patmos and 3 more equally ancient which I do not remember. Another way for the monastery not to be under the jurisdiction of the local bishop is if it makes itself an instrument of another monastery, a Ησυχαστήριο (place of silence). There are many of monasteries in everything but name, with monks and even nuns that are ecclesiastically under the jurisdiction of one of the 20 monasteries of Mt Athos. Nowadays monasteries have few reasons to try and be independent of the local bishop, if he attempts to blackmail them for money (and alas that has happened in the last 10 years) then they have the option of denouncing them to the synod or the media, which has led (again within the last 10 years) to utter humiliation and defrocking of the bishop when the denunciation proved true.

  2. I get the impression that western bishops in the Dark Ages were frequently corruptly appointed by local barons in order to access the wealth of the church, and that local monasteries were active in resisting this, and the corrupt bishops so appointed.

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