Two opinions on Salvian’s Letter 9

While online this afternoon I came across a copy of the Eva M. Sanford, 1930, translation of Salvian’s De gubernatione dei, “On the government of God”, complete with a lengthy preface.  After some time I realised that it was something I had scanned myself, transferred to another site.

Sanford lists the works of Salvian in a discussion “III. Salvian’s Literary work”, and has something to say about the Ad Ecclesiam and Letter 9.[1]  It’s interesting, since Sanford finds no difficulty in the contents of letter 9, nor the pen-name of Timothy adopted:

Only nine of the letters are preserved; of these I have already spoken. The ninth, addressed to Salonius, is of special interest, since it explains both Salvian’s purpose in writing his four books Against Avarice, and his reasons for publishing them anonymously. Salonius feared that since the work was issued as the Address of Timotheus to the Church against Avarice, it might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the “Apostle” Timothy.

Like the Government of God, the invective Against Avarice was written because of Salvian’s deep conviction of the dangers inherent in the persistent vices of men who called themselves Christians. Avarice was a besetting sin of many Romans, and had infected not only members of the church, but its clergy, even to the bishops themselves. The resultant neglect of the true service of God, and of the spiritual and material welfare of the church, led Salvian to “burst forth into words of lamentation” addressed to the church to which the offenders belonged. His failure to attach his own name to the book he explained not only by his desire to avoid vain glory in a service to God, but also by his conviction that the obscurity of his name might detract from the influence of his words. The pseudonym Timotheus (“Honoring God”) was chosen to indicate the motive of the work: ” Indeed, the writer thought it fitting that, writing his books for the honor of God, he should consecrate the title to his divine honor.”

In spite of this letter, and of Gennadius’ ascription of the work to Salvian, its anonymity was preserved in modern times, for it was published by Sichardus at Fol near Basel in 1528 as. the work of Bishop Timotheus, in a collection entitled An Antidote against the Heresies of All Ages.

While no one who reads the treatise Against Avarice can doubt the sincerity and depth of feeling with which it was written, the work is a curious document of the times. Avarice was considered one of the deadly sins. But it is hard now to avoid seeing some self-interest on the part of the church in the constant exhortations to the rich to give all their goods to the church in order to win remission of their sins. In its simplest form, this is the admonition of Christ to the rich young man: as it is elaborated to produce a surer conviction in the minds of fifth century Midases it is perilously close to the purchase of absolution. Some modern writers have thought the book more likely to encourage the avarice of the church than to discourage that of churchmen; others have seen in it an anticipation of the later satires against the greed of the clergy. The irony that is never far from Salvian’s writing is even more marked than usual in this indictment, but the unprejudiced reader is not likely to see in it an intention of actual satire. Nor is it sufficient to dismiss it, as Teuffel does, simply as a ballon d’essai. It was clearly written in all seriousness, albeit in bitterness of heart, with the earnest hope of exerting a salutary influence against a chief evil of the times. The author employed the arguments that experience had taught him were most likely to be effective.

That this work was written before the completion of the treatise On the Government of God is shown by the quotation from it in the latter; it may with some probability be assigned to the years 435-439. The words of Timothy to the church must have aroused much anger among ecclesiastical leaders, and apparently this antagonism made Salvian rather sensitive to criticism, though none the less determined to attack the vices of his day. …

A quotation from Ad Ecclesiam follows.

Now let us quote Bart Ehrman on the same subject, from Forgery and Counterforgery, p.84:

Sometimes forgers were called to account, as when the fifth-century ecclesiastic Salvian was caught by his own bishop forging a writing in the name of Paul’s companion Timothy. As we will see, Salvian wrote a self-serving justification in his own defense. For now it is enough to note that his bishop, Salonius, was not at all amused when he discovered that his former colleague and current underling had tried to promote his own views in the name of an authority who had been dead for four hundred years. That Salonius was upset and incensed is clear; how he reacted to Salvian’s self-defense we will never know. We learn of the incident only from Salvian himself.

The description of events is so different that we may wonder if both refer to the same basic facts.

  1. [1]p.15-17.

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