The life of St Nicholas of Myra in the “Methodius ad Theodorum”

Further to my post about the ancient literary sources for Santa Claus – or St Nicholas of Myra – I have begun to look at getting translations made.  The first up is the “letter” of Methodius to Theodore, Methodius Ad Theodorum, BHG 1352y, which appears in Anrich vol. 1, 140-150 and in a revised version (with punctuation and some mistakes fixed) in vol. 2 546-556.[1]

So … what is this text?  Has any translation ever been made?

The text is preserved in Vaticanus graecus 2084, a 10th c. manuscript.  I don’t know if it can be found in Migne?  Or if a Latin translation exists?

Here is what I was able to discover.  I found pages like this one, from which I learn things like:

The oldest encomium — praise in honor of St. Nicholas — is preserved from the beginning of the eighth century.  It was delivered at his grave site by St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740), who called him a “pillar and support of the Church” (P.G. 97, 1191-1206).

Jean Blacker’s book on the hagiographical works of Wace incidentally contains quite a bit about sources for the Vita of Nicholas of Myra, and points me to a book by Gerardo Cioffari, S. Nicola nella critica storia, 1987.  This apparently discusses Methodius ad Theodorum as “the narrative encomium” on p.75-77 and gives it a date of 817-21 AD.  The Amazon page suggests that Cioffari has written a lot on Nicholas, indeed.  A German site exists for Nicholas of Myra here, but I could not find anything on our text in it.  More interesting was an Italian Encyclopedia site here, which said that Cardinal Pitra (who worked with Migne) was interested in the text:

Pitra (pp. 353-355) elenca trentotto scritti di M. di cui si ricordano: Encomio di s. Agata (Bibliotheca hagiographica Graeca [=B.H.G.], I, n. 38; Stelladoro); Vitadi Eusebio Alessandrino (B.H.G. e Novum auctarium B.H.G., n. 635x); la già citata Vita di Eutimio di Sardi (Gouillard, 1987), che pare risalire al periodo della sua reclusione a Sant’Andrea e quindi all’inizio dell’832; Vita di s. Nicola di Mira (B.H.G., II, n. 1362y; il cosiddetto Methodius ad Theodorum: testo in Anrich), scritta probabilmente per Teodoro Cratero, tra l’821 e l’838 (Ševčenko, Hagiography, pp. 17 s.[2]); l’Encomio in s. Nicolaum ep. Myrrensis, collocabile intorno all’838-840, attribuito a M. dalla più antica tradizione manoscritta (ma alcuni preferiscono restituirlo a Basilio di Lacedemonia).

Which gives us a couple more references.  In fact, I see, in BHG II, entry 1362y does not exist in my copy of the 3rd edition.  I wonder where it is hidden?

It’s a reminder that, despite all the material online, there are vast swathes of knowledge that remain obstinately offline.

  1. [1]G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos, 2 vols, Leipzig, 1913.  This is accessible at Hathi Trust and there is a copy online elsewhere.
  2. [2]A. Bryer, J. Herrin, edd. Iconoclasm (Birmingham, 1977), esp. I. Sevcenko, “Hagiography of the Iconoclast Period,” 113-131 [= Ideology, Letters and Culture in the Byzantine World, (London:Variorum Reprints, 1982), V].

22 thoughts on “The life of St Nicholas of Myra in the “Methodius ad Theodorum”

  1. Btw, I found a book talking about the Korydalla treasure or Sion treasure (Byzantine stuff), and it says that St. Nicholas of Sion’s monastery, Sion (Zion), was up near Karabel in the mountains overlooking Myra, and was part of Myra’s see.

  2. There’s also a Turkish website called saintnicholasway.com, apparently trying to promote tourism and the saint. There’s a long section talking about the Life of St. Nicholas of Sion and paraphrasing it.

    Anyway, the important bit is that the Life of Nicholas of Sion describes trips to lots of towns, and says the names of the churches there. When Nicholas of Sion goes off to the Holy Land, he does it by meeting up with a sea captain at the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra! So this would indicate that there was supposed to be a St. Nicholas who from farther back than Sion guy, and that Sion guy was probably named after the same St. Nicholas who had a church dedicated to him in the local big city.

    From another book, there’s also a church of St. Nicholas somewhere called Castellon that is apparently mentioned. (All this is scholarly hearsay – they were counting up how many patron saints were mentioned per church mentioned in the Life of Nicholas of Sion, to get an idea of saint name overlap in church dedications. So the book said there were two churches mentioned in the Life that were dedicated to Nicholas, one in Myra and one in Castellon, but they didn’t say the context.)

  3. Didn’t read the paraphrase far enough. The enumeration of churches that includes St. Nicholas in Kastellon was Sion guy travelling around villages after the plague died down, sacrificing pairs of oxen and having the villagers chow down. (Yeah, we really need exact wording on this, as “sacrificing” doesn’t seem like it could be right.)

    Also, St. Nicholas of Sion apparently died on Dec. 10, 564, after a trip to Myra for a meeting (“synod”?) celebrating St. Nicholas of Myra. (Which synod logically would have been on Dec. 6th.)

  4. Re: Justinian’s building a church of St. Priscus and St. Nicholas, there don’t seem to be any paired/companioned saints by those names. There are several martyred Priscuses, some of whom were Roman soldiers. One (doubtful) Priscus was a bishop from North Africa who was set adrift in a rowboat without oars and with companions (by the Goths). Miraculously they all got to shore in a Christian area and were okay, so it may be a case of two sea saints in a church by the sea.

  5. No, St. Nicholas of Sion is a guy from later on, in the 500’s. Some scholars suggest that his feeding the poor may have influenced various legends about St. Nicholas of Myra, but that’s not why his Vita got copied into Anrich’s book on St. Nicholas of Myra.

    Anrich copied his Vita because Sion guy’s story indicates St. Nicholas of Myra already having churches dedicated to him around Myra, and a fair amount of fame, and that St. Nicholas of Sion guy went down the mountains to “the metropolis of Myra” to visit “the martyrium of St. Nicholas” in the 500’s.

    Of course, this isn’t proof that St. Nicholas of Myra existed or did anything attributed to him; and it doesn’t mean that the legends told then were anything like those told now. But it does give some kind of chronological limit, because it apparently was written in the late 500’s (not long after St. Nicholas of Sion’s death).

    Man, I am getting sick of not being able to read Greek. You are certainly right about everybody copying a bunch of hearsay.

    OTOH, the Dumbarton Oaks list of Greek saint life translations indicates that there are plenty of German translations of this material. Sigh.

  6. Oh, and the German book on St. Nick with all the translations into German? Nikolaus von Myra : Heiliger der ungeteilten Christenheit? They have copies at the British Library, and at Cambridge, according to Worldcat.

    The Cambridge one says it’s in Newton Library and “UL: Order in West Room (Not borrowable)”

    OTOH, Amazon.de says it’s 20 Euros. So maybe that’d be easier.

  7. If you are interested in Saint Nicholas, a very useful book is Charles W. Jones: Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). For example, it discusses on pages 45 and 47 Methodios ad Theodorum and its use by John the Deacon of Naples in his “influential Latin Life.” Page 382 note 19 gives the BHL reference for John as nos. 6104–6117 and notes that the “number of surviving Western MSS is legion.” The life by John also needs to be translated.

  8. @Suburbanbanshee: Thank you so much!!! That is marvellous! I didn’t know about the DOAKS list at all, nor about the German translations. And you kindly did the legwork to find a copy on Amazon.de (which, I agree, is probably worth buying since I am no longer in Cambridge). Thank you!

    @MHB: thank you also for the suggestion about Charles W. Jones. I ought to look at this.

  9. There is a popular scholarly Dutch study by A. Blom entitled Nikolaas van Myra en zijn tijd (Hilversum: Verloren, 1998), which is available from the Dutch online store bol.com:

    http://www.bol.com/nl/p/nikolaas-van-myra-en-zijn-tijd/666753528/

    It includes, as Annex I, a complete Dutch translation of the Greek text in Anrich I, 112-139 of the earliest Life, the Vita per Michaelem.

    As Annex II, A. Blom provides an annotated chronology of the development of the Nicolas literature. With reference to the seven earliest items:

    Of the Enkomion of Proklos (390-447) he says that Anrich considers it late, and not by Proklos, while Cioffari thinks it my indeed be by Proklos or date from the period 447-550.

    Of the reference by Theodoros Anagostes (? – 518)in a 13th-c. MS. of his Historia Tripartita to Nikolaos’s participation in Nicea (325), he says Ansich deems it an interpolation from after the reference in Nikitas of Paphlagonia (? – 890), while Cioffari considers it authentic.

    Of the Praxis de Stratelatis (Legend of the three generals) he says Ansich thinks it was written in the version known to us between 460 and 580, while Cioffari dates it to between the death of Nikolaos and the mid-5th c.

    Of the fragement of the Praxis preserved from a lost Vita in the Refutatio of Eustrathios of Constantinople (? – 600), both Ansich and Cioffari consider it authentic and date it to the second half of the 6th c.

    Ansich considers the Vita per Michaelem to be probably written between 814 and 843, while Cioffari thinks c. 700.

    That brings us to Methodios ad Theodorum which Blom says follows Michael closely, noting Ansich dates it to before 845 and Cioffari to between 817 and 821.

    Blom’s interesting procdure in his study is to consider the matter of Michael’s Vita (which he takes to be a framing of already existing stories) against what we know about the the 4th c. (in Lycia).

    The first book Blom encountered after a visit to Bari got him thinking was K. Meisen, Nikolauskult und Nikoausgebrauch im Abendlande. Eine kultgeographische volkskundliche Untersuchung (1931), which brought him to Ansich.

  10. My apologies for misspellings, especially: Anagnostes. And I should have said, “the seven earliest items (but excluding details of the anonymous Life of Nikolaos, Abbot of the Monastery of Sion, Bishop of Pinara (c. 564) )”.

  11. Thank you so much for all these very helpful details! May I ask how you come to be interested.

    There is obviously a lot of literature – too much for poor me. But I have ordered the volume from bol.com – thank you. Interesting that, even though I know no Dutch, I was sort of able to understand much of it, if I read the strange-looking words aloud.

    It is ridiculous that even Michael’s Vita doesn’t exist in English.

  12. You’re welcome – my pleasure! Two years of German helped me get started in Dutch, and now my Dutch helps my German (a couple years of Old English probably contributed, too): if something seems odd, it may be a ‘false friend’, but a dictionary should clear things up, then.

    I thought the idea of a bearded old stranger entering the house when I slept so creepy as a little fellow, I was very early ‘enlightened’ about Santa Claus, and have been enjoying the ‘matter’ ever since. The 1971 Dover reprint of the 1934 facsimile of the original 1848 edition of C.C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, with a life of Moore by Arthur N. Hosking, as a Christmas present when I was 16 was a milestone. And having ended up in the Netherlands where Sinterklaas goes vested as a bishop has fed my interest like anything: Dr. Rita Ghesquiere’s Van Nicholaas van Myra tot Sinterklaas: De kracht van een verhaal (Leuven: Davidsfonds, 1989) was the first (popular-)scholarly book I read in Dutch. Allow me to recommend “Joannes Stalpart van der Wiele (Hubert Waelrant) – Wij vyeren heden (Sinte Nicolaes, bisschop)” loaded on YouTube by “BogaertVanderauderaa” for a delightful 17-th c. St. Nicholas song (of which subsequent verses, not sung there, encourage the listener not merely to feast and give presents to family and friends but to imitate St. Nicholas in works of charity).

  13. Thank you very much! That is very interesting. I wasn’t aware of the oriental versions of this material (although my ignorance of hagiographical material is profound).

  14. The “Life” of Nicholas of Sion, or Pinara, has been translated into English: I. Sevcenko and N. Sevcenko, The Life of Saint Nicholas of Sion, Holy Cross Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0917653032.

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