The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 8

The story continues.

But let no-one think that this story is irrelevant to our subject.  Our intention is to show that the accusation made against the great Severus is entirely unfounded.  Far from ever deserving the accusation and reproach of idolatry, he was constantly with those who gave proof of their zeal against the pagans, and he praised their conduct.   He was a Christian by faith, but he was still only a catechumen at this time.  As he was then applying himself to the study of secular knowledge, he could not show himself so that everyone [thinks] he lived in Phoenicia.  However the following fact proves that at Alexandria he was well above any pagan ideas.  Sometime after the destruction of the idols, the pious Menas, who had prophesied for Severus the dignity of a bishop, left the human life.  He immediately made his way to the one whom he loved, adorned with numerous virtues: virginity of body and soul, love of neighbour, humility, perfect charity and great sweetness.

At that time I was afflicted by a physical illness, and the pagans thought that we were receiving chastisement for what we had done to their gods, in our zeal for religion, and for the idols which we had burned.  They spread a rumour that I too was certainly going to die at this time.  When it turned out that, by a miracle due to the kindness of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I was delivered from sickness, I pronounced the eulogy of the illustrious Menas in a funeral discourse.  I made mention of the destruction of the pagan idols, I recalled their annihilation by fire, before all the people of the town; then, finally, I recalled all that had happened, as was right, on the tomb of he who, through his great amiability and love of his neighbour, was even the admiration of the pagans, before the zeal which was showed against them.  The great Severus rejoiced so much and felt such lively joy on hearing this oration, and boasted of the words uttered by myself against the pagans, as if they were his own, that he applauded me more than everyone.  Meanwhile the pagans, whom we had invited to come and hear, and who had come without knowing what was to be said, wept to some degree over their misfortunates and one of them shouted angrily, “If you had the intention of speaking against the gods, why did you bring us to the tomb of your friend?”

I have been obliged to speak of these things because of the slanderer in question.  Because I have never sought to talk about my own affairs, which are those of a man immersed in sin and unworthy to write the story, not only of the great Stephen, of Athanasius and Paralios, but also of Menas, as well as their friends who competed in zeal with them, and principally of Severus, who is the reason for this work, and whose stay in Phoenicia we will likewise tell.


A curious tale about the burial of St Peter – a fake by Leo the Great?

Headbanger websites can be very frustrating.  You know the sort of thing — the sort of website that eagerly recounts how the Fathers of the Church boasted of being liars, how Mithras had 12 disciples and was born of a virgin (sic), and so on.

But they can also be a joy, for they can direct your attention to areas of antiquity that you would never otherwise investigate.  It’s great fun, looking up the “quotations” they give, for they are nearly always bunk!

One such site has come to my attention today.  It rejoices in the name of “” and an article, “Tomb of St Peter a shocking invention” is here.

Around 442, Pope Leo the Great (440-461) devised an extraordinary money-making scheme that was destined to have profound repercussions upon the development of Christianity for centuries to come. The record of this enterprising connivance is found in both the extant writings of Pope Leo and Salvianus (d. 456), a distinguished historian of Marseilles who wrote an open letter to the Church of Rome that now forms part of a book called, ‘On God’s Government’. …

Salvianus made the now-famous comment that ‘two priests could not meet in Rome without bursting into laugher’, a reference to the gullibility of the people who believed what the developing priesthood was expounding about the Gospel story of Jesus Christ. Salvianus revealed that Pope Leo the Great ‘conceived a shocking invention’ when he ordered the construction of a stone enclosure in a cemetery that, more than 1000 years later (1506), became the site for the commencement of the building of the largest and most splendid structure in Christendom, St. Peter’s Basilica. The comments of Salvianus are supported in one of Pope’s Leo’s 173 own letters that still exist today, and this is what he said:

‘To this primitive worthy [St. Peter] we owe a debt of gratitude … let us feign that his holy carcass was transported from a monastery near Cologne lest the devil come to seize his soul … it would please the Almighty if his body was seen to rest in this city, the body that suffered such exquisite torments. Who then, after these centuries, is able to attest any different to the fact of an old skeleton, for it is a matter of faith that it is really that of St. Peter laid to rest in the Holy City, and that faith will nourish the confidence of the rabble’.

(‘On God’s Government’, Vol., iii, 9, Vol., 53 of the Migne Collection; expanded upon in ‘Campbell’s Lecture on Ecclesiastical History’, and Isaac Taylor’s ‘Ancient Christianity’)

Workmen covered the crude structure with timber planks and ‘town-criers in bright attire’ were dispatched to spread the news among the populous that the burial place of the Turn-key of Heaven, St. Peter, had been found in the Eternal City. In reality, the bones were those of a common thief and they became honoured as St. Peter himself. Pope Leo celebrated the ‘discovery’ by naming the ‘tomb’, ‘Memoria’ ² and he renamed Rome, the ‘Pardon of Peter’ by which it was known for centuries (ibid, p. 225).

[2] ‘Secrets of the Christian Fathers’, Bishop J. W. Sergerus, 1685, reprint 1897, p. 169.

So what do we make of that?

Well the first thing we do is to start looking at the supposed evidence for these claims.  Here the site authors at least try to reference their claims, which is to their credit, although they plainly have just repeated older literature.  No matter; it will be interesting to look into that older literature too.

First the big quotation in the middle!  That is referenced to Salvian’s De gubernatione dei, book 3, chapter 9.  The Latin text is referenced to the Patrologia Latina 53, although the column number would have been nice.  But we have some perfectly good English translations of this work, and book 3 chapter 9 is here.

And the passage reads … oh.  It’s not there.  The chapter contains nothing of this kind.  In fact a search on “Peter” using Ctrl-F finds nothing in the whole book; nor does “Cologne”.  This tells us, then, that the site authors have not verified their material.

Let’s leave that to one side for a moment and pick up another statement in it:

Salvianus made the now-famous comment that ‘two priests could not meet in Rome without bursting into laugher’, a reference to the gullibility of the people who believed what the developing priesthood was expounding about the Gospel story of Jesus Christ.

Did he, by George?  Whereabouts, one wonders?

Well, if it is famous, it should be possible to get a reference by using Google on the “two priests could not meet in Rome without bursting into laughter” bit.  And we find …

We find an 1803 book as the second result, by a certain Elihu Palmer, Prospect: or View of the Moral World, vol. 1, p.60, states:

Cato, the great Roman orator was surprised that two priests could possibly meet without bursting into fits of laughter–but tears of blood would not have atoned for the misery and distress that they brought upon the human race.

If this is a saying of Cato the Elder, then of course it is unlikely to have much to do with the 5th century AD!  But the book is clearly an ignorant atheist rant, and so is most probably about as reliable as our first webpage.

Famous, however, the “saying” plainly is not.  Google does not bring up much.  Nor does the version found here, “two priests could possibly meet without bursting into fits of laughter” doesn’t seem to have any wider currency.

That’s two statements, neither of which is showing any sign of being true.  What else can we discuss?

Let’s look up the reference #2 given, this “Sergerus” fellow, and his book “Secrets of the Christian Fathers”, supposedly reprinted in 1897.  A quick Google search doesn’t find this book, although it is referenced a bit, always in hate literature.  Hmm.  I mistrust that title, if it really is a 1685 publication.

So I go to COPAC.  I search for an author named “Sergerus”.  I get two, or more likely one man under the same name, a Joh. Theophilus Sergerus and a Joh. Gottlieb Sergerus; the middle name is the same meaning, and three works from 1754, 1759 and 1777.  None of these look right.

What about the book title?  COPAC reports no book with that title.

So where did the authors of the web-page really get all this stuff?  It would seem that it is just garbled tenth-hand hearsay.

OK, I’ll search for the title of the book.  This brings up this site, attributing a different quote to the same book.  The page is apparently authored by a certain Tony Bushby.  In fact as I keep searching by title, the only person I come across, again and again, is this Tony Bushby, reposted on a dozen websites.

Which means …

I go back to the “Vatileaks” website, and find an about page.

About Vati Leaks

VATI LEAKS is a site dedicated to publishing unknown and suppressed information that has been hidden from the people by the Vatican hierarchs in an attempt to conceal the truth about its past.

Tony Bushby

After achieving the necessary academic qualifications, Tony Bushby became a self-employed architectural draftsman ….

Well, it seems that I shall be obliged to ask Mr Bushby where his “Secrets of the Christian Fathers” book might be found, for I can otherwise find no trace of it.  (I have written using the website form).

What else?  There’s a reference to “Campbell’s lecture on Ecclesiastical history”, which proves to be this book (1807).   Leaving aside the mis-spelling (“Lectures”), it seems to contain nothing relevant.  There’s “Isaac Taylor’s ‘Ancient Christianity’” which is here (1840), and concerned with the tractarian controversy.  A search in that book on “Peter” gives 13 references, none relevant.

This is a wee bit disturbing.  All the references lead nowhere, and nobody else knows anything of any of it.  Is this book a hoax?

Update: A correspondent writes that Cato quote is in Cicero div. 2.24.51, and glossed later by Augustine somewhere.  The Perseus Cicero doesn’t seem to show it, but at Lacus Curtius here, it appears in Book 2 of De Divinatione, right at the start of chapter 24:

24. “But indeed, that was quite a clever remark which Cato made many years ago: ‘I wonder,’ said he, ‘that a soothsayer doesn’t laugh when he sees another soothsayer.’ 52 For how many things predicted by them really come true? If any do come true, then what reason can be advanced why the agreement of the event with the prophecy was not due to chance?

I have not discovered the quotation by Augustine, however.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 7

The pagan Paralios has just been converted after violent Christian-pagan rioting in Alexandria.

Paralios then concerned himself with his two other brothers, who were pagans living at Aphrodisias.  One of them was the scholasticos of the country, and was named Demochares.  The other was called Proclos, and was the sophist of the town.  He wrote a warning letter to them both, in which he recounted all that had happened.  He urged them to immediately turn their minds to the way of repentance and to embrace the cult of the One God, i.e. the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity.

He undertook to teach them from the facts what was the power of Christianity.  He reminded them from history, such as the rebellion of Illos and Pamprepios.

“Do you remember,” he said to them, “how many sacrifices we offered, as pagans, in Caria, to the gods of the pagans, when we asked them, these pretended gods, while dissecting the entrails and examining them by magic, to tell us whether, with Illos and Pamprepios and all those who rebelled with them, we would vanquish the emperor Zeno, of pious memory?  We received a multitude of oracles together with promises that the emperor Zeno would be unable to resist their sudden attack, and that the moment had come when Christianity would disintegrate and disappear, and when pagan worship would resume.   However the event showed that these oracles were false, just as happened with those given by Apollo to Croesus and to Pyrrhus the Epirote.”

He continued, “You know the following facts.  When we sacrificed afterwards, in those places outside the city, we were left deprived of any sign, any vision, any response, although previously we had become used to experiencing some illusion of this kind.   Plagued with confusion, we searched and asked ourselves what this meant.  We changed the place of sacrifice.  In spite of this these so-called gods remained mute and their worship without any effect.  Also, we thought that they were angry with us, and the idea eventually came to us that perhaps someone with us was privately opposed to what we were doing.  So we questioned each other and asked if we were all of the same opinion.  We then found that a young man had made the sign of the cross in the name of Christ, and that he that by this rendered our effort vain and our sacrifices ineffective, these so-called gods often fleeing from the name [of Christ] and the sign of the cross.  We did not know how to explain this.  Asclepiodotus and the other fornicators and magicians then set themselves to investigate.  One of them thought that he had imagined a solution to the problem and said, “The cross is a sign which indicates that a man has died a violent death.  So it is reasonable that the gods abhor figures of that sort.”

After reminding his brothers of these facts in the letter that he sent them, Paralios, the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, added, “And if that is true, my brothers, and if these gods run away from anything that reminds and shows them that people have died a violent death, why, in the mysteries of the Sun, do the so-called gods not appear to the initiates until the priest produces a sword stained with the blood of a man who has died a violent death?  Also the friends of the truth can testify by this that the sign of the cross made on his forehead by a young man showed that the so-called gods were nothing.  On the other hand, invoking the name of Jesus Christ, that this is the invocation of God and that it inspires fear in the wicked demons, showed that he who fled could be conquered.[1]  The violent murder of men was much sought-after by the gods of the pagans, because they are wicked demons.  They are like their father the devil, about whom our Saviour said, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning.’  It is for this reason that they only consent to make their revelations at the sight of a man who has been killed violently as a result of their machinations, and which facilitates their oracles.  It is again for this reason that they ordered that men should be sacrificed to them, as say those who have told the story of their belief, and even Porphyry, who rages against the truth.”

It is by these stories and warnings that Paralios sought to divert his brothers from error, under the inspiration of the great Stephen and of his [Paralios’] brother Athanasius.  He himself applied himself with such eagerness to the divine philosophy that many of the young students imitated him and embraced the monastic life in the convent of the admirable Stephen, who took them all into the threads of the apostolic teaching.  John also had the pleasure of enjoying his friendship.   Each of them is today a director in the convent, and equal in virtue to his predecessors, one of whom became the adjutant (βοηθός) of the cohort (τάξις) of the Prefect of Egypt, the other cultivated true philosophy, after having studied medicine and secular philosophy to a remarkable degree.  The great Stephen was the teacher of men of this standard.

When, after some time, Stephen, the common teacher of us all, was returned to God, Paralios returned with his brother Athanasius to Caria, to convert his brothers.  He founded there a Christian community, whose direction he relinquished, as was right, to his brother and his father.  A little time later he departed for “the eternal tents” and was received into the bosom of Abraham.  Athanasius lived for some time longer.  He also baptised many pagans in Caria, and by his conduct caused many people to become zealous, then he rejoined the divine Stephen and Paralios, who was their common pupil, and came to the end and the happiness reserved for those who have conquered in the faith of Christ.

Amen to that.   Such a picture of student life and conversion might be paralleled in our universities today, where the course of many a godly life is given the shape and direction that it will follow in later life.

Paralios may have begun in two minds, but he ended up a part of the great movement of mankind, to use life wisely, towards Christ our Saviour; a movement which is found in every age and nation, and of which I too am a humble member.

An interesting point in the letter of Paralios; he refers to Porphyry’s book against the Christians.  Is this evidence that it was still in wide circulation at this time, ca. 500?  It had been condemned by Constantine in 325, but this must have had no effect since Theodosius II reissues the edict in 448.  We need not suppose that the Theodosian edict had any more effect that Constantine’s; for late emperors had great difficulty in getting their laws put into force without local support.  Perhaps it was still circulating, and being read with interest, in Alexandria in 500 AD?

  1. [1]The French translator comments that the end of this sentence is obscure, and embarassed the Syrian who annotated the Life.

A typist for part 2 of al-Makin

It looks as if another correspondent of mine will be making it possible for the second half of al-Makin’s History to be typed up.  I have today sent her a cut-down copy of the edition by Erpenius from 1625.

Extraordinarily, there are only two editions of this half of the work (and none of the other half).  There is Erpenius’ effort, which is incomplete at the end.  There is also the one done by Ali Bakr Hassan in Cairo a few years ago.  It would be unfair for me to use that one, since it is probably still in print, although where I don’t know.  Indeed I only have a copy of it by the kindness of Dr Hassan himself!  But for the same reason I can’t use that as the basis for a free online text.

Here’s hoping this works out as well.


Connecting to tumblr

I read an article this afternoon that Facebook is on its way out.  Whether or not this is so, it is certainly the case that my facebook connections post only rarely.  Comparing that with Twitter, where the flow of tweets is endless, there is no question as to where one tends to spend one’s time.

Anyway I have today signed up for Tumblr, and linked this blog to it.


From my diary

If you can actually find anything on your hard disk any more — and I know that this can be difficult for many of us — then, sometimes, when you do, you get a little more than you expected.

Regular readers will know that I have arranged to get an electronic text created of the history of al-Makin.  He was a Coptic writer of the 13th century.  A Coptic correspondent knows someone in Egypt who will type it up, for money, if I can send some page images.  So I was looking for some PDF’s of manuscripts.  For most of al-Makin has never been published.

So I went searching for a PDF of a British Library manuscript of al-Makin.  To my deep delight, I discovered, in the folder where I keep the al-Makin PDFs that I have been gathering for some time, PDF’s of a pair of Vatican manuscripts.  I don’t even remember ordering these.  But there they were!  Let’s hear it for consistency in filing!

The PDF’s are of microfilms, and miserable low-quality productions they are too.  But I have them!  That means I have a copy of the first half of al-Makin.

I also found two Paris manuscripts.  I’d forgotten these too; but I quickly recalled what they were, when I looked inside.  The reproductions were of such poor quality that I complained, and, on being given the Gallic shrug, threatened to get my credit card company to block the payment.  I did get my money back in the end for these.  Sadly they were as poor as I recalled, and still unusable for any purpose.

It’s rather daft, but I don’t have any Bodleian manuscripts.  That’s because the blighters charge so much for them.  Indeed one scholar who obtained a copy from them recently had to pay $300 for some shoddy monochrome microfilm images.   I’m not paying that!  I’m willing to do something to get al-Makin accessible, but that is real money.

Anyway, the discovery of the Vatican manuscripts is a great blessing.  My correspondent, who is acting as middle-man between the Egyptian typist and myself, confirmed that the two PDF’s were of the first half of the work.  He also reminded me, gently, that a print version of the second half already exists – in Erpenius’ edition, and a modern French text (which I have!) that completes the work.  So this means I actually do own a complete text of al-Makin, and that means that I can get it typed up!

So suddenly we are go.  I have asked my correspondent to go ahead, and to ask the typist to create a text of the first half of the work.  If we do it in chunks of 10 pages, that should allow me to quality-control it.  Although I can imagine all sorts of things that might go wrong; but here’s hoping.

Nor is al-Makin all that I am thinking about.  Another kind correspondent has sent me some English versions of the life of Nicholas of Myra, mostly from Russian sources.  These are interesting, in that they give the general outline of the Life.  What I would like to find, however, is someone able to translate the Life by Metaphrastes, and materials of that date (9-11th century) from Greek into English.  Aren’t there monasteries full of these people somewhere?  I could pay something, to make it happen.

A kind gentleman is going to read the proof copy of Origen’s Exegetical works on Ezekiel for me.  I’m really sick of the work, and so I can’t really proof it.  I sent off an email about that this evening.

I was going to translate a further chunk of the life of Severus of Antioch this evening, but in the event I felt more like lying on the sofa and reading a novel which Santa brought me.  I think, on Boxing Day, that this is entirely right and proper conduct!


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 6

Severus has yet to put in an appearance, as Zacharias Rhetor is busy telling us all about his own student experiences in Alexandria ca. 500 AD.

Paralios, having offered God an exploit of this nature, received the baptism of the Redeemer when the Easter festival arrived, along with many pagans who had been zealous for idolatry until their old age, and had long served the wicked demons.  Also baptised with him was the admirable Urbanus, who today is professor of Latin grammar in the imperial city, and Isidore of Lesbos, brother of the Zenodotus whom I mentioned earlier, as well as many others.  After burning all the formulae of invocation of the gods of the pagans, i.e. the demons, that he possessed, he [Paralios] received baptism.  In fact these were tormenting him before the divine baptism, and filling him with terror after the idols had been burned, and he came to my house to ask me what he should do.  I went back with him, having with me a Christian book, and thinking to read to him the homily of exhortation of Gregory the Theologian, relating to the redemptive baptism.  I found him, following a struggle with the demons, very burdened and very depressed.  He could hardly breathe, he said, under the influence of the Christian words.  I asked him whether by chance he had with him the formulae to invoke the gods of the pagans.  He admitted that he had, when his memory was appealed to, that he possessed papers (χάρτης) of this sort.  I said to him, “If you want to be delivered from this obsession with demons, deliver these papers into the flames.”  This he did in front of me, and, from that moment, he was delivered from his obsession with demons.  After that I read to him the homily of exhortation of the divine Gregory.  Then he heard these words, “But do you like in the world, and are you soiled with public business, and would it be hard for you to lose the divine mercy?  The remedy is simple: if it is possible, flee from the forum and society, attach to yourself the wings of the eagle, or rather of the dove, to speak more appropriately.  (What is there, indeed, in common between you and Caesar, or the affairs of Caesar?)  Tarry where there is neither sin or darkness, where there is no snake who bites along the road, and prevents you from walking in the way of God.  Free your soul from the world, flee Sodom, flee the fire, take the road without turning back, for fear that you may be turned into a pillar of salt, save yourself on the mountain of faith so that you do not perish.”  After, as I was saying, Paralios had heard the reading of this passage, he shouted, “Let us take wings and fly to the divine philosophy, with the redemptive baptism.”  It was with this thought that he approached the divine baptism, and that he was initiated into the divine mysteries.  On the eighth day after baptism, when he had to take off the clothing of the newly baptised, he went along with my brother Stephen, who was studying literature and learning medicine, to the joy of the monastic life.  He stayed there during the night, unknown to me, because he had found me too weak, to tell the truth, ran with him to Enaton, and went to the convent of the great Salomon, near the illustrious Stephen.  After earnestly petitioning his brother Athanasius, he took the monastic habit (σχῆμα), and embraced the divine philosophy among them, at the same time as my brother.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 5

The pagan Paralios has been flirting with Christianity, and talking with his Christian brother Athanasius and the latter’s friend Stephen, who are based at the monastery at Enaton.  He’s gone to the pagan oracle at Menouthis, demanding some answers, and has been snubbed.  So he got angry and went back to Alexandria.  There he started jeering at the pagan students in the school, and has been beaten up.  He has just fled for help to some Christian students, while shouting that he wants to become a Christian.  The pagans have told them not to interfere, this isn’t a pagan-Christian dispute, but a settling of scores with an enemy of theirs.  Now read on!

We had great difficulty, because of some trouble-makers, in pulling Paralios out of these murderous hands. We took him immediately to the monks at the place named Enaton. We showed them the bruises he had received for the Christian religion, informed them how much he had suffered unjustly because he had condemned the error of the pagans, and told them that he had offered to Christ, as a beautiful beginning, the sufferings that he had endured for him.  Immediately the great Salomon (the Superior of the illustrious Athanasius and Stephen) took the monks with him, went to Alexandria, and make known what had happened to Peter [Mongus], who at that time was the Patriarch of God.  Peter was a very capable man and of an ardent piety.  He stirred up against the pagans the majority of the important people of the town, among them the sophist Aphthonius, who was a Christian, and who had many pupils.  Aphthonius told the young men who were taking his course to go with us and help us.  We all decided to go together and denounce the murderous pagans to the bishop Peter.  He added [to our number] his archdeacon and protonotary, which is called in Latin the “primicerius”, and sent us to Entrichius, who at that time was prefect (ὕπαρχος) of Egypt.  Entrichius was a secret follower of the pagans, and the assessor, that he had as Symponos, openly indulged in the cult of the pagan demons.  The latter began to insult us, then he expelled the mass of young people and ordered that only a small number should set forth the matter.  After the pupils of Aphthonius left, there were five of us left: Paralios who, before baptism, had become a confessor; the illustrious Menas whom I mentioned earlier; Zenodotus of Mytilene, a town of Lesbos; Demetrius of Suulmone (?), all four most ardent champions of the faith of God.  Following them, I was there as the fifth.  When the prefect was advised of the gravity of the matter, he ordered that one of us, whichever wanted to do it, should draw up a formal indictment, as seemed good to him.  Paralios then wrote, and accused certain people of having offered pagan sacrifices, and having fallen upon him like brigands.

The prefect ordered the accused to appear before him.  When, from the members of the clergy and the laity, the Philoponoi learned of the affront given to those who had competed in their zeal for good, they learned of the sacrifices and the pagan practices that some had dared to carry out.  They suddenly rose up against the important people and attacked with violence the prefect’s assessor, shouting, “It’s wrong that someone who is a pagan should be a government assessor, and take part in the business of government, because the laws and edits of the autocratic emperors forbid it.”   The prefect had difficulty in rescuing his assessor when he tried.  Us he ordered to keep quiet.  Therefore the whole people rose up against the pagans.  Indeed those who were accused fled, starting with Horapollon, who was the reason why all the pagans were being persecuted.  The prefect, in his love for them, had not disturbed them.

It’s a melancholy, but clearly accurate and contemporary, depiction of intolerance and religious persecution and systematic discrimination.  The pagans are allowed to go on quietly, but are at the mercy of any scumbag who starts shouting and playing the “religion card” to get his own way in some dispute, and their lives and property are constantly at risk.  The patriarch quickly saw a way to exploit the situation to increase his own power and influence, and incited mob violence.

The next section of the Life of Severus of Antioch — who has hardly been mentioned so far! — deals with the vengeance of the mob and the sacking of the shrine of Isis at Menouthis.  This I translated earlier.


The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 4

The pagan Asclepiodotus has passed off the illegitimate child of a priestess of Isis as the child of his sterile wife, claiming that Isis had cured her.  The student Paralios, vacillating between his pagan friends, and Stephen, the friend of his Christian brother Athanasius, has learned the story.

Paralios, believing that this story was true, made it known to his brother, and to those who were with him, as a remarkable thing.  He said that this demonstration from facts had greater force than any argument from logic, and he gloried in it as an obvious pagan miracle.  The divine Stephen, having heard the story of this nonsense, said to Paralios, “If a sterile woman, my friend, has given birth, she will also have milk, and the pagans must verify the matter, by the intermediary of an honourable lady of a family known at Alexandria.  She can see it and establish this prodigy and miracle, and so it will not seem that the daughter of an important official of Caria, and the wife of a philosopher, is insulted (?).”  This language seemed reasonable, and Paralios forwarded the proposal of the monks to the pagan philosophers.  But these, thinking that nobody could be allowed to impugn this fabulous story, said to Paralios, “How dare you demand the impossible!  Do you think to persuade people [the philosophers] who remain unshakeably attached to the truth, and who don’t waste time on things of this sort?”  But as it seemed ……………. sent …………….. so the outcome for Paralios was that he moved away from the teachings of the pagans.

He produced yet another fact, which is as follows.  While at Menouthis, Paralios saw Isis, i.e. the demon who this goddess represents, who said to him in a dream, “Beware of that one, he’s a magician.”  Now it happened that the man in question had also come to learn grammar, and studied with the (same) master and that the demon revealed to him (the same thing) about Paralios, when he went to Menouthis.  Each made his vision known to his friends at the school of Horapollon, and each learned what his fellow-pupil said about him, and each was persuaded that he was telling the truth and that his fellow-pupil was lying.

Also Paralios recalled the teaching of the great Stephen; he remembered that both Stephen and Athanasius had spoken long discourses with him on the evils of the malevolent demons, telling him that these were in the habit of stirring up men, one against another, because they enjoyed wars and fighting and were the enemies of peace.

However Paralios wanted to know the truth about these things.  Indeed he reflected on what was the custom of the demon, and about the error, and about what went on in these places.  Until then he believed that his companion was lying.  So he returned to Menouthis.  He offered the customary sacrifices to the demon and prayed that he would let him know by an oracle if it was himself who was a magician, or his enemy, and whether such an oracle had really been given to both of them.   The demon, not tolerating the idea that the oracles in question might be tainted by contradiction and wickedness, did not deign to reply.  Paralios then begged the demon for a number of days not to leave the question unanswered because, he said, he wouldn’t try to refuse him, or the other gods, his submission and honours if he received entire satisfaction on this subject.  The demon persevered in his silence, and didn’t even give him sight of the customary illusion of his epiphany.  After waiting for a long time and offering many sacrifices, Paralios grew angry, and had no more doubts about the wicked teaching of the demons.  He praised the great Stephen, who had really told him the truth, and he prayed, as the latter had told him to do, “Creator of all things (etc.)”, adding these words by the great Stephen, “Show me your truth and do not let me be seduced by this demon who loves fighting, who arms men against each other and who stirs up quarrels; nor by the other evil demons like him.”  In fact he had been advised to address a prayer to the creator of everything, because it was desired to get rid of, immediately, the invocation of the gods of the pagans and the demons, of Chronos, Zeus, Isis, and names of that sort, and to accustom him little by little to the truth of the teachings [of the gospel]; it was desired that he should recognise no other creator of everything than our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the Father made the world, the principalities, the powers, and the dominations, as it is written, “All things were made by him,” says the Theologian, “and nothing was made without him.”  After this prayer, Paralios returned to Alexandria.  He uttered many words against the gods of the pagans, saying with David, “All the gods of the nations are demons, but the Lord is the creator of the heavens.”

He mocked Horapollon, Heraiscus, Ammonius, and Isidore (who finished up being recognised as a manifest and troublesome magician) and the rest of the pagans, (jeering) at what went on at Menouthis, the impurities of all kinds and the lubricity of the priestess of Isis, affirming that she engaged in debauchery with anybody who wanted to, that she was no different to a prostitute who gives herself to the first man who comes along.

The pupils of Horapollon, who were attached to the follies of the pagans, could not bear the sarcasm and  reproaches of Paralios.  So they fell upon him in the very school where they were studying.  They waited for the moment when few Christians were present and when Horapollon had left.

It was the sixth day of the week, which is called Friday, during which all the other professors, so to speak, used to teach and expound at home.  Paralios was beaten up; his head was a mass of bruises and his whole body was covered with some kind of injury.  After succeeding, with difficulty, in getting a little away from them — he had a robust constitution — he sought refuge and assistance with the Christians, while a mob of pagans surrounded him and kicked him.  Now we were present at that moment, having a philosophy course.  The philosophers as well as Horapollon used to teach in the school on Friday as normal.  There were three of us; myself, Thomas the sophist, who loved Christ in all things (he is with me in Gaza), and Zenodotus of Lesbos.  As we were constantly in the churches with those who are called (at Alexandria) Philoponoi, and in other places are called “zealots”, and in still others “companions”, and as we appeared rather redoubtable (to the pagan pupils) to some degree, we approached the troublemakers, who were many, and told them that they were not doing well at all, in making someone suffer so who wanted to become a Christian.  It was, indeed, what Paralios was shouting.  The pagans wanted to deceive us and soothe us with their claims, saying, “We’ve no quarrel with you, but we will avenge ourselves on Paralios as an enemy.”

Since Christianity was the state religion, and paganism was illegal, there must have been a definite undercurrent here.  Ancient states were not policed, so a great deal could go on that was in theory illegal.  So it came down to pressure. Zacharias and his friends were implicitly saying, “You don’t want us to report you as pagans to the authorities here, do you?”  And the pagans were saying, “This isn’t a Christian-pagan thing; this guy has insulted us and is getting some payback.”

It’s notable that Zacharias does not disguise that Paralios had indeed provoked a riot, and was now playing “the religion card”.   This might have been unintelligible a century ago.  Sadly it is not so now.

We’re all familiar with how the “race card” can be played today by unscrupulous members of ethnic minorities.  Indeed I recall a Nigerian IT contractor in one job, who had consistently refused to do what he was told and kept interfering with an important computer system.  My boss of the time, a very diffident and somewhat leftist man, had no choice other than to sack him and have him escorted off site, or else be sacked himself.  The security staff arrived to march the Nigerian to the exit; whereupon the latter suddenly discovered that he was a victim of “racism”, and shouted this claim all the way to the gate.   It was a false claim, but one that gave him power.  Sadly for him his misconduct was inarguable.

Likewise anybody who has read the History of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria will recognise how disputes between individuals often led to one side claiming to be Moslems in order to bring down the state on their foes.

It seems that, when equality before the law is lost, when the rulers of a state privilege some group on ideological grounds, non-members of that group will continually endure injustice on all sorts of occasions from the unscrupulous.  Clearly something similar prevailed in the 6th century in Alexandria.

Did Paralios really convert at Menouthis?  The story indicates that there was only his word for it.  I suspect that we may reasonably doubt it; and we may reasonably suppose that he merely claimed this later.   Probably he was still vacillating when he came back to Alexandria, but was very annoyed with the shrine at Menouthis and its supporters.  On this theory, once in a dispute with his fellow pagans that he was going to lose, the lure of the “Christian card” was too strong to resist.  It would take a man of more principle, than Paralios then was, not to use it while being beaten up!


Hiring someone to type up an edition of al-Makin from a couple of manuscripts

One of the great problems with accessing the history written by the Coptic Christian writer al-Makin ibn-Amid (13th century) is that you have to deal with manuscripts.

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a manuscript typed up.  After all, that would mean we could use Google Translate to at least get the gist of what is being said.  If I could place a free text online, it would probably help a lot.

So the thing to do, obviously, is get hold of a couple of manuscripts and get someone to type them up.  How hard can it be?

I already have a PDF of a British Library manuscript of the second half of the work.

This evening I have struggled through the French National Library site, creating an account and requesting an estimate for two microfilms.  The site is a nightmare, even though my French is quite good, and I have probably spent an hour so far.

A correspondent has found a typist in Egypt for me.  I have asked him for advice on how best to send money, and we’ll start with the British Library manuscript while I wait for the French to get back from holiday.  I don’t actually know whether to start at the back or the front of the PDF!  I think it would be wise to do it in chunks, and I don’t know if someone in Egypt could download a 300 mb file anyway!  So … cross your fingers for me.  Let’s see if it works!

Of course the output won’t be a critical edition.  But so what?  The professional scholars aren’t showing any signs of producing any edition whatsoever.  Let’s take the first step.

I bet subsequent scholars will complain bitterly about my “vulgate” text, tho!