Guest-post: Valesius, on Sozomen and Socrates (translated by Anthony Alcock!)

The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius ends in 325 AD.  It was continued by both Socrates and Sozomen.

The opinions of early modern editors are often of considerable interest, but, since they wrote their scholarship in Latin, few today take the trouble to read them.

Anthony Alcock has kindly translated for us the section de vita et scriptis Socratis et Sozomeni from the 1677 edition of their works by Valesius (Henri Valois), together with very useful footnotes.  The PDF is here:

I will put the main text inline here, as otherwise people reading this via RSS feed etc won’t see the content.

Welcome, Valesius!

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Our Socrates therefore, for we will start with him, was from Constantinople. He bears witness in c. 24 of Book 5 of HE that he was born and brought up in that city, and for this reason narrated principally those things that had happened in that city. As a youth he was instructed in the study of language and literature by Helladius and Ammonius, who at that time had perhaps taken refuge in Constantinople from Alexandria. Anyone wishing to know why those teachers left Alexandria will find the reason in c. 16 of Book 5 the HE. When the pagan temples at Alexandria were destroyed, as a result of the commitment and zeal of Theophilus the Bishop of that city, the teachers Helladius and Ammonius, one a priest of Zeus and the other of Simius at Alexandria, found this violence perpetrated on their gods difficult to bear and left the city for Constantinople, where they made their home.

The temples of the pagans at Alexandria were destroyed when Timaeus and Promotus were consuls, as Marcellinus writes in his History, which was the eleventh year of the Emperor Theodosius. It is clear that Socrates was first saw the light of day around the beginning of the reign of Theodosius: it was customary to start the education of boys when they were about ten years of age. After this Socrates studied rhetoric with Troilus the sophist, who was one of the best-known teachers at Constantinople. Socrates does not say this explicitly. However, the attentive and diligent reader easily gathers what I have just said from his words. For so often and with such admiration does he mention him that he appears to be paying tribute to his master. For he says that he came from Side in Pamphylia. He mentions quite a few of Troilus’ pupils: Eusebius the scholar, of course, and the Bishops Silvanus and Ablabius. Finally, in the seventh book he writes that the Praetorian Prefect Anthemius, who ran the state when Theodosius was still a boy, notably made use of Troilus’ counsel. He writes of Troilus the following words of praise: ‘who, in addition to his native understanding of philosophy, was the equal of Anthemius in political thinking.’ In consideration of these reasons I think that Socrates made use of Troilus as a teacher in matters of rhetoric. But each person will have decide individually on this matter. It should further be known that the ancients worked at their eloquence, not hastily and precipitately as is the modern custom, but with good deal of time. To be sure, Gregory of Nazianzus testifies in a poem about his life that he left Athens when he was thirty, having taught rhetoric in that city. After this Socrates, having left Troilus’ school, went to the bar and practised law at Constantinople, where he acquired the nickname of ‘pupil’. This is what lawyers were called at that time, as has been observed previously by others, not because they were still at school, but because, as young men who had come from lawyers’ schools, they professed this skill.

At length he abandoned the law and applied himself to the writing of church history, in which he displayed singular judgement and diligence. The judgement is expressed in the observations and statements incorporated into his books, which in my opinion are of outstanding brilliance. There are many of examples of his diligence, but foremost among them his attention to dates, often noted by consulships and olympiads, particularly when writing of significant events. He was not lax or negligent in his writing, like Rufinus of Aquileia, who seems to me to have composed his two books of church history, which he added to the works of Eusebius of Caesarea, from memory. Socrates is quite different: he has faithfully and scruplously composed his history using the best textual material he could find, that is, letters of leading prelates, acts of synods and books of church historians. In the first edition of his work he followed Rufinus and wrote of the Synod of Tyre and the exile of Athanasius to Trier as having happened during the reign of Constantius, but recognized his error after reading the works of Athanasius. For this reason he considered it necessary to produce a new edition of his history, in which he corrected the error I have just mentioned. He also added things that were missing in the earlier publication, as he tells us at the beginning of Book Two. It is clear from this how much we should value the history of Socrates, to which the author himself put the finishing touches. Socrates employs a simple and humble style in his work, and for a good reason: that it might more easily be understood by all, as he tells us at the beginning of Books One and Three. He thought that the sublime and ornate style was more fitted to panegyrics and speeches than to the history of church matters. Moreover he dedicated his work to a certain Theodore, whom he calls a holy man of God at the beginning of Book Two, in the same way that Eusebius addresses Paulinus the Bishop of Tyre at the beginning of Book Ten. I have not been abe to discover who Theodore is. I am inclined not to believe that it was Theodore of Mopsuestia, because he was dead when Socrates wrote his history. But is now time to enquire about religious beliefs and allegiance, as we promised at the beginning.

Baronius in the Annals and Philip Labbaeus in his book on ecclesiastical writers maintain that Socrates was a Novatian. Nicephorus said the same thing before them: Socrates, ‘pure’ of name, but not so much in spirit. This does not mean that his nickname was ‘pure’ but rather that he was a Novatianist, for the Novatians called themselves ‘pure’, as we learn fron Canon 8 of the Council of Nicaea. Similarly in c. 14 of Book Two Nicephorus writes about Socrates that he did not distance himself from the Novatians. There are several important reasons why Socrates was considered to a Novatianist. In the first place, he diligently records that there was a series of Novatianist bishops who ruled the Church from the time of Constantine, with details of the consuls, to whom individuals migrated from this light. In the second place, he praises each one of them, especially Agerius and Sisinius, Chrysanthus and Paul. And by his prayers, he writes, a certain miracle was performed at Constantinople. In the third place, everything that relates to the Novatianist sect, he examined with such care and diligence that he seems to have been a follower of the sect. But if one were inclined to examine them more accurately, one would find nothing in them to prove that Socrates was a Novatian. For he enumerates the Arian bishops who administered the Church at Constantinople just as scrupulously, and he is never said for that reason to have been Arian. He relates everything that happened to Arians, Eunomians and Macedonians at Constantinople as carefully as the things that happened to the Novatians. He himself gives the reason for this in Book 5 chap. 24, where he writes that it was his resolve to record as far as possible what had happened at Constantinople,partly because he lived there and had been born and brought up there and partly because the things that had happened there were more illustrious and worthier of memory. If anyone objects that Arian bishops did nor receive praise equal to that bestowed upon the Novatians, the response is easy: there were far fewer Arian bishops in Constantinople than Novatian ones. The Church at that time was bristling with prominent Novatian priests. Sozomen, who records the praises of them, similar to those of Socrates, also confirms this by his own testimony. As a result it has to be said that Sozomen was also Novatian, as Socrates has to be absolved of this slander. Nevertheless, he states that Sozomen was not Novatian, not to mention the testimony of Theodore the Reader, who according to a letter which he added to his Tripartite History calls him ‘most blessed’ and writes in Book Nine that he had attended a public procession celebrated in honour of the 40 Martyrs at Constantinople, when Proculus administered the church of that city. From which it can be clearly gathered that Sozomen was of the Catholic communion, because he was present at a public supplication together with Catholics. I admit that Socrates was very favourable to Novatians, as when he numbers the founder of the Novatian sect among the martyrs and says that the Novatians were attached to the Catholics by close ties of well-meaning benevolence and prayed with them in ths same church; when he praises the speech that Sisinnius made against that saying of Chrysostom: even if you have done penance ten thousand times, come to us. It is one thing to be partial to Novatians and other thing to be one. Socrates was able to be partial to them, either because he was tied to them for reasons of friendship or family or because he approved of their discipline and abstinence. He was, as we are able to gather from his books, rather strict, but I find it difficult to believe that he was a Novatian, especially since I seem to understand the opposite from some passages in his history. First, in c. 38 of Book 2 he does not once call ‘those of the church’ Catholics, but contrasts them with Novatians. He therefore recognizes that Novatians were outside the Church. He would not have done this if he had embraced the Novatian sect. But in cc. 20 and 23 of Book Six he calls Novatians heretics, with Arians of course, Macedonians and Eunomians. In the second place, he clearly reprehends the advice of Nectarius to remove the penitentiary priests. For he says that if this is done licence is given to sinners, for there would be nobody to prove conclusively that they were sinners. This view cannot come from a Novatian, for as Socrates tells us, Novatians would never admit penance or the priest of penances. There is also the testimony of Theodore the Reader, who in a letter that prefixes his History calls both writers ‘God-loving men’, pious and acceptable to God. Moreover, Theodore lived in the same city and almost at the same time as Socrates, that is when Anastasius was Emperor. Finally Peter Halloix agrees with us in his Life of the Blessed Irenaeus (p. 664). Disputing with Baronius, who had written about the year 159 AD : Socrates the Novatian, celebrating the Pasch on the 14th of the month, together with the Jews …says this. And the statement that Socrates is Novatian can be understood in two ways. One, that from time to time he wrote approvingly of Novatians, according to the description of Bellarmine in his book Ecclesiastical Writers for the year 440 about both writers. Another, that he was of the Novatian heresy. In the chapter cited he shows neither that was a Novatian nor that he favoured them. For he castigates them and uncovers their disagreements and faults. So that he seems not to be a friend, but an enemy, or perhaps neither but someone who told the truth. Because this is the task of the historian. So much for Socrates. It is now time to talk of Sozomen.

Hermias Sozomen was also a lawyer at Constantinople, at the same time as Socrates. His parents were not without nobility, from Palestine, a town near Gaza called Bethelia. At one time it was populous village, with very beautiful and ancient temples. The outstanding temple among them was the Pantheon, positioned on an artificial hill. It was a sort of citadel of Bethelia, according to Sozomen in c. 15 of Book 5 . His grandfather was also born in the town and was converted to Christianity by Hilarion the monk. When Alaphio of the same town was being tormented by a demon and the Jews and doctors who had tried to heal him were unsuccessful with their incantations, it was Hilarion who, in the name of God alone, drove out the demon. Sozomen’s grandfather was astonished by this miracle. Both he and Alaphio, with their entire families, embraced Christianity. His grandfather excelled in explaining the Scriptures, because he had a subtle intellect and large intelligence. He was moreover otherwise reasonably well educated. So, for the Christians living in Gaza, Askalon and neighbouring places he was precious, because he was useful and necessary to the religion as one who could easily untie the knots of Scripture. Alaphio’s family,, with the sancitity of their life and kindness to the poor, achieved great celebrity. They were among the first to found monasteries and churches there, as Sozomen tells us in the passage quoted. He adds that certain men of the Alaphio family had survived to his own day, with whom he had had dealings when he was was a young man and of whom he promises that he will speak later. He undoubtedly means Salamensis, Fusco and the brothers Malchio and Crispio, of whom he speaks in c. 32 of Book Six. He says that these brothers, instructed in the monastic life by Hilarion, became stars in Palestinian monasteries during the reign of Valens: they lived near Bethelia, a town in Gaza, where they were nobility. He mentions them in c. 14 of Book Eight where he says that Crispio had been the archdeacon of Epiphanius. It is therefore clear that the brothers I mentioned were of the Alaphio family: Alaphio was joined by family ties with the grandfather of Sozomen. From this I guess that Sozomen’s grandfather converted to Christianity with the whole household because he admired the caretakership of Alaphio, who had been cured by Hilarion using only the name of almighty God. Second, from what Sozomen writes, as a young man he had spent family time with the old monks of the Alaphio family. Finally, he took the name, from what Sozomen writes, from those sons and nephews of Alaphio. He was called Salamanes Hermias Sozomenus, according to Photius in the Bibliotheca, after that Salamanes who, as I noted above, was the brother of Fusco, Malchio and Crispio. For this reason the mistake made by Nicephorus and others is to be corrected, viz. that Sozomen was called Salamanes because he was from Salamis in Cyprus. But, as I have shown, the evidence of Sozomen himself was that he was not Cypriot but Palestinian. Not only was his grandfather, as said earlier, but Sozomen himself was educated in Palestine, among the monks of the Alaphio family. In my view, it was from this education that Sozomen appears to have drawn his love of the monastic life and discipline, which he displays throughout his work. Not merely content to relate the fathers and authors of monastic philosophy, he also scruplously commemorated their successors and disciples, in Egypt, Syria, Palestine as well those in the Pontus region, Armenia and Osrhoene. Hence the eulogy of the monastic life in c. 12 of Book One, as if it were to be read as an introduction. He thought it would be an act of ingratitude if he were not to expresse his thanks, at least in this way, to those in whose society he lived and from whom as a young man he had learned so many outstanding examples of good conversation. He indicates this in the preface of Book 1. Another passage that shows that Sozomen was Palestinian may be found at the end of Book 8, where he says that he had seen Zeno the Bishop of Maiuma.  Maiuma was the port of Gaza. It is true that Zeno was almost 100 years old, but he never missed matins or vespers, except when he was severely ill. Sozomen then took up the study of law, and studied civil law in Beirut, a neighbouring Phoenician city, where there was a well-known school of jurispudence. He also fought cases at Constantinople, as is clear from c. 3 of Book Two. While practising law at Constantinople he wrote his Ecclesiastical History, as can be gathered from his own words. Thus. on p. 48 of this edition, he writes: The things that happened to Aquilinus, a man with whom I still have contact today and practises law in the same forum, I have partly heard from him and partly seen for myself, I will speak of necessity. Moreover, Sozomen had written a breviary of ecclesiastical matters, from the Ascension to the dismissal of Licinius, before he wrote his 9 books of church history. This work consisted of two books, as he says in the preface of his first book. But there was a long interval between these two books.

In writing the history Sozomen’s style was neither too low-key nor turgid, but somwehere in between. It was indeed a style best suited to a writer on church matters. In his Bibliotheca Photius says he prefers the style of Sozomen to that of Socrates, with which we are happy to agree. Sozomen wrote elegantly, but Socrates showed better judgement. For Socrates’s judgement about people and church matters was always excellent. He never wrote anything that was not serious and important. There is nothing you can delete as superfluous. In Sozomen, on the other hand, there is a certain amount that is light and juvenile. In Book One there is a passage about the founding of the city of Hemona and the Argonauts who carried the Argo on their shoulders for several stades. Book Five has a description of the suburbs of Daphnae (p.209). There is also an observation about the beauty of the human body, in which he expresses about the Virgin what the blessed Athanasius adumbrated at such length. Finally, Book Nine contains almost nothing events connected with war, which have nothing to do with church history. But Sozomen’s style, which Photius preferred to that of Socrates, is not lacking in faults. For I have observed that his sentences are connected with each other only by the particles and , which is really rather laboured. If one carefully reads the δέ τέ letter written in which Sozomen mentions his work to the younger Theodosius, one will definitely find what I said earlier, that Sozomen was not a great orator.

It remains for us to ask which of the two wrote first and which borrowed from the other, or rather purloined. Both wrote almost the same things about the same events, both started and finished historically in the same period, that is to say from the reign of Constantine to the 17th consulship of the younger Theodosius, so it is inevitable that one compiled the material used by the other. The sort of plagiarism practised by many Greek writers is evidenced by Porphyrius in Book Ten of Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica. But which of the two was the plagiarist is difficult to say, since they were contemporaries and wrote their works in the reign of the younger Theodosius. Accordingly, this question is a matter of conjecture. Thus, Porphyrius in the above-mentioned work, in the doubtful matter of whether Hyperides had purloined from Demosthenes or the other way round because they were contemporaries, pronounced that conjecture had to be used. Let us therefore see upon which of them the suspicion of theft falls. It is my opinion that the lesser writer purloined much from the greater and the younger from the older. In my view Sozomen is inferior to Socrates by a long way, and was younger than Socrates when he started writing his work. For he wrote it when he was a lawyer, as I siad earlier. The profession of advocate among the Romans was not a permanent occupation but temporary. Ultimately the one who added to and occasionally corrected the work of the other appears to have been the later writer. But Sozomen occasionally added to the work of Socrates and, in some places, disagreed with him, as Photius oberves and we have pointed out in our notes. Accordingly, Sozomen appears to have been the later writer. And this is the opinion of almost recent authorities, who place Socrates before Sozomen. Thus, Bellarmine in his book on Ecclesiastical Writers, followed by Miraeus, Labbaeus and Vossius. Among the ancients Cassiodorus, Photius and Nicephorus put Socrates in first place, though Cassiodorus is found to enterain different views. In the preface of his Tripartite History he changes the order, placing Theodoret first, Sozomen second and Socrates third. This too is the judgement of Theodore the reader in the letter which he prefixed to the Tripartite History. So much for Sozomen. It is now time for us to hear the testimony of the ancients about both writers.

(The article in PDF continues with statements about Socrates and Sozomen from ancient writers, but we will leave it here.)


2 thoughts on “Guest-post: Valesius, on Sozomen and Socrates (translated by Anthony Alcock!)

  1. Nathaniel Lardner tells us that Valesius was sympathetic to the quote from Polycrates that connects the author of the Gospel of John with the vestments of the high-priest.

    Works of Nathaniel Lardner

    “And Valesius supposes that St. John actually wore such a plate”

    A number of scholars have recently become more sympathetic to Polycrates speaking literally of this priestly connection. (As well as looking at Luke writing to the high priest Theophilus.) Since Valesius may be the earliest positive literal commentary, acknowledging that the Lardner comment does not really pin down what was being said by Valesius.

    Your thoughts? Any help appreciated.

    Steven Avery
    Dutchess County, NY

  2. Footnote d on that page of Lardner:

    d. However what Polycrates says about the plate, it is credible, that those first Christian pontiffs after the example of the Jewish pontiffs bore this sign of honour. Valesius on Eusebius Church History book 5 chapter 24, p. 104C (of Valesius book)

    Sounds like speculation by Valesius on the statement preserved in Eusebius quote from the letter and Jerome’s version of it? In De Viris Illustribus chapter 45.

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