Severian of Gabala (fl. 398 AD) was the enemy of John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, and assisted in driving the latter into exile and to his death. The disagreement between them was not ideological, but arose from perceived snubs by John’s officials. It seems that the patriarchal officialdom created enemies for Chrysostom faster than he could deal with them, since Severian was by no means the only one offended in this way.
St. John Chrysostom is perhaps the most important of the Greek fathers. So it is not surprising that the Greek church does not remember Severian. Our accounts of the affair are all written from a pro-Chrysostom perspective. In that age, as today, personal smears are the main weapon used against an enemy, so it is important to note that nothing really damaging could be found to say about him.
All the same, his works have been neglected. This is not surprising. For everyone has their own special interests, which will dispose them to listen, or not, to a writer. Severian manages to be outside the area of sympathy for almost everyone involved in patristics, in the past and now.
Firstly, scholars interested in Orthodoxy will see him the enemy of the greatest of their saints.
Roman Catholics will feel the same, to a lesser degree. So he won’t really get a hearing for himself.
Secularists will – and do! – don’t believe in the bible, and so sneer at him for his literal-minded Antiochene exegesis.
So who, precisely, will read him with an open mind?
Fortunately there is today a constituency which might. Modern bible-believing Christians with an interest in patristics are not invested in any of these biases. Which means that, other things being equal, we may hope for a fairly unbiased evaluation of this ancient writer, untroubled by theological odium.
I have mentioned before that IVP Academic, from this background, has arranged to publish his six sermons on Genesis. It is my intention to review this translation, and to review what Severian has to say. On the face of it his interpretation is bonkers; but at least I won’t have any a priori reason not to listen.
This is why it is really useful to have a variety of religious and political outlooks in academia. It means that obscure writers who appeal to no-one may find a partisan, and be edited, translated and commentated; in short, become accessible to us all.
I’m even grateful for all the ex-hippies working on the Nag Hammadi texts. They may be a bit daft, and their “conclusions” best explicable as the product of chemical-induced brain damage; but the fact is that nothing on earth would have induced any sensible person – alright, very few – to spend the huge amounts of time on these daft gnostic texts that they have felt inclined to do. In consequence, we are all the gainer.
Which is rather nice, really.
Severian, if you’re up there, you owe me a beer when we meet.