A few more notes on Asterius the Sophist, Asterius the Homiletist, and the Commentary on the Psalms

After my post yesterday, I did a google search and found a number of useful items of bibliography.  It seems that there was further work on Asterius, after Marcel Richard’s edition.  In particular there is a rather excellent work by Wolfram Kinzig[1], whose conclusions about this collection of 31 homilies on the Psalms (which he referred to as HomPs) were as follows:

We are now in a position to collate all the evidence which has emerged from our study and to sum it up in five points:

  1. The ‘repair’ of the damaged text in 27.9-15 notwithstanding, the HomPs. as edited by Richard, form a unity. They were written by one single author.
  2. The author’s name is Asterius.
  3. He is not identical with either Asterius the Sophist or Asterius of Amasea.
  4. The author is not an Arian, but an adherent of the Nicene Creed.
  5. The HomPs were composed in Palestine or, more likely, in western Syria (Antioch), probably between 385 and 410 A. D.

Hence Richard’s hypothesis that AS is the author of the HomPs must be considered as having been refuted.

However, the positive evidence for a different authorship is somewhat poor, especially if one considers the number of bearers of this name. Unfortunately, there is among them no bishop of Asterius of Antioch in the later fourth century.

 Kinzig’s work seems very thorough, and I think we may take his word for it.  In a later article, he designated the author as “Asterius the Homilist”, which seems as good a designation as any.  Aloys Grillmeier discusses Asterius, and gives a useful bibliography of articles around the subject, and the collection of homilies, here.[2]

A number of selections from the collection of sermons were included in the IVP academic volume of ancient commentary on Psalms 1-50 (Preview here).[3]

In 1993 Markus Vinzent collected the fragments genuinely by Asterius the Sophist, and edited them with a German translation.[4]

Last, but by no means least, blogger Albocicade has been at work on Asterius in French.  He added a couple of useful links to the French Wikipedia article on Astérios le Sophiste, which I reproduce here because Wikipedia is so ephemeral:

He has gone further: in fact he began his blog, Les Cigales éloquentes –  The Eloquent Cicadas? * – with a translation by Fr. Joseph Paramelle, SJ, of a portion of Asterius on the Psalms; specifically from the 1st homily on Psalm 8.  It is here; and has appeared elsewhere also.  Here is my rendition from the French:

“Lord, our lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Christ, who is the divine vine, the vine before all ages, has sprouted in the tomb and born fruit, in the newly baptised, like clusters of grapes in this church.  Let the visible reality clarify for us the song of the wine-press.  The vine has been harvested, and, like a wine-press, the church is full of grapes.

Operators of the wine-press, pickers at the harvest, cicadas perched on the trees, we are – by their songs – again shown today the paradise of the church, shining with grace.

Who are the operators?  The prophets and apostles, who intone for us the song of the wine-press which has for title, “Unto the end, for the presses”[5]

Who are the cicadas?  The newly baptised who, soaked with dew as they arise from the font, sit on the cross like a tree, warmed by the Sun of Justice, bathed in the light of Spirit, echoing the words of the Spirit:

“Lord, our lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

They are beautiful with their white wings, the eloquent cicadas, surrounding the font.  Yes, their wings are white because they are endowed with speech.  The cicadas feed on dew, the newly baptised are strengthened by the Word; what the dew is to the former, the celestial Word is to the latter.

I’ve probably mangled that badly: but the eloquence of the homilist certainly shines through!

UPDATE:  Wolfram Kinzig kindly writes (see comments to this post) to say that he has in fact translated the entire corpus of 31 homilies! This is a translation into German, and priced for libraries, but at least it exists.  For some reason it is rather locate to find using Google, even if you know what to search for, although you can find it on Amazon.  Here are the details:

Asterius: Psalmenhomilien. Eingeleitet, übersetzt und kommentiert von Wolfram Kinzig. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann (2002). 2 vols; Erster Halbband: ISBN 978-3-7772-0201-3, Zweiter Halbband: ISBN 978-3-7772-0202-0 (here). Series: (Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 56, 57).

He adds:

I produced a new edition of Homily 31 in Vigiliae Christianae 50 (1996), p. 401-415

In a small monograph I studied Asterius’ peculiar theology of inheritance: Erbin Kirche. Die Auslegung von Psalm 5,1 in den Psalmenhomilien des Asterius und in der Alten Kirche, Heidelberg: Carl Winter Verlag, 1990 (Abhandlungen der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Kl. 1990/2)

As regards other publications you may also want to consult my list of publications which you find here.

This also lists the reviews of each work, so is very useful!

* In my first version of this post, I was confused between grasshoppers, crickets, and cicadas.  See the comments for more details on this!  Asterius is referring to cicadas.

  1. [1]Wolfram Kinzig, In search of Asterius: Studies on the authorship of the Homilies on the Psalms, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990.  Google books preview here.
  2. [2]A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, p.206.
  3. [3]Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture VII: Psalms 1-50. Ed. Craig A. Blaising, Carmen S. Hardin. IVP, 2008.
  4. [4]M. Vinzent, Asterius von Kappadokien: Die theologischen Fragmente.  Brill, 1993. Google books preview here.
  5. [5]This seems to be the LXX title for Psalm 8, and appears in the Vulgate, and Douai English translation.

18 thoughts on “A few more notes on Asterius the Sophist, Asterius the Homiletist, and the Commentary on the Psalms

  1. In fact, neither “grasshoppers” nor “crickets”, but cicadas, those insects who “sing all day long” (and some species also during the night) that are to be found all around the Mediterranean sea. The crickets were known to destroy the harvest, but the cicadas were supposed to only drink dew, and then cause no dammage at all to the harvest.
    Sunday (that is, yesterday) after the Divine Liturgy, when we got out of the church, as we were hearing hundreds of cicadas “singing”, I asked the priest “Do you know what they say ?”. As he had no answer, i gave him the answer of Asterios… (but indeed, what a noise they have done, today !)
    And, yes, the title of my blog comes from this very homily…

  2. Dear Roger,

    It is good to see that someone is interested in Asterius. Here is some more reading.

    I produced a new edition of Homily 31 in Vigiliae Christianae 50 (1996), S. 401-415

    In a small monograph I studied Asterius’ peculiar theology of inheritance: Erbin Kirche. Die Auslegung von Psalm 5,1 in den Psalmenhomilien des Asterius und in der Alten Kirche, Heidelberg: Carl Winter Verlag, 1990 (Abhandlungen der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Kl. 1990/2)

    I also published a complete annotated German translation:
    Asterius, Psalmenhomilien. Deutsche Erstübersetzung mit Einleitung und Kommen-tar, 2 Bände, Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann Verlag, 2002 (Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 56, 57)

    As regards other publications you may also want to consult my list of publications which you find here: http://alte-kirchengeschichte.uni-bonn.de/index.php/lehrstuhl-kinzig/wissenschaftliche-veroeffentlichungen/monographien

    Best wishes,
    Wolfram Kinzig

  3. Roger – If you had cicadas in your area, you could definitely tell the difference! First off, their song is very distinctive and it carries quite far, whereas you really never hear crickets go at it that loudly. It’s a very distinctive sound, which in Japanese anime is distinctly associated with that time of summer, and which also tends to be memorable in the US. (Whereas grasshoppers and crickets are around and singing from springtime until frost.)

    And then, if you have a big “17 year cicada” or “13 year cicada” year, they’re hanging all over the trees and eating and singing very loudly, and then dropping dead after a couple weeks, and then you’re walking on dried-up cicadas for a couple more weeks after that.

    Secondly, they are big and long, at least as long as the diagonal of my palm, and they are two or three fingers wide. They’re edible, and cats and other animals tend to eat them a lot. (Less when they’re busy eating and reproducing up in the trees, and more when they conveniently drop dead onto the ground.) Like a lot of people, I’ve tried out eating crickets but there’s nothing really to eat there, whereas cicadas are allegedly quite a lot more protein. (I wasn’t brave enough to try it, last time we had a big year.)

    They mostly eat tree leaves, and usually not to any extent that hurts trees; they’re not a pest.

    The wings are very large and prominent and transparent, and they’re one of the bits that get very crunchy when they die. (So cats like playing with them.) The wings apparently do look whiter when they first hatch, but I don’t know that for myself.

    Wikipediahas a good picture and a recording of a song, although it doesn’t give you the same effect of twenty or a hundred going at once.

  4. Oh, hey! Here’s an awesome cicada page about the 17 year cicadas!

    Apparently they actually suck sap and fluids out of trees and shrubs and don’t eat the leaves at all. Well, that explains a lot. Maybe that’s a good metaphor for neophyte Christians, since they would actually live off “the blood of the vine,” so to speak. 🙂

    I’m not sure that the breeding, laying eggs, and dying in a couple of weeks is a positive metaphor. 🙂

  5. Oh, the other thing is that in warmer climates than Ohio, all the cicadas actually come out of their holes in April and May instead of June. That makes them more Easter-like.

  6. It turns out that the early grape harvest in Israel and warm places around the Mediterranean is also in May, so it’s also Eastertime. I was kinda wondering about that, since I think of grapes in the fall, but their spring is earlier too.

  7. Dear Dr Kinzig,

    Thank you very much indeed for these very useful notes and bibliography. I was quite unaware of your translation, even though the library I use (Cambridge UL) has a copy. I shall go and have a look at it! I’ve updated the main post to reflect this.

    Thank you for doing all this work on this collection of 31 homilies. The Google Books preview of the “In search of Asterius” made me aware of your work. It seems excellent – thank you. You have done work of permanent value here, as I am sure you know.

    All the best,

    Roger Pearse

  8. Magicicada.org says: “Shortly after ecdysis (molting) the new adults appear mostly white, but they darken quickly as the exoskeleton hardens.”

    So Asterius got up pretty early in the morning, if he saw white cicadas. in the best picture magicicada.org has, the cicada is already a light translucent brown.

  9. Thank you, Suburbanbanshee: I knew none of this, and it is all most interesting. I will humbly change the main post to refer to Cicadas. 🙂

  10. Cicadas are cool, but only because we don’t have to crunch around on them every year, and because the little annual cicadas stay back in the woods singing and don’t bother anybody. 🙂

    It says here that you have cicadas in the UK, but they’re not very common. So maybe you’ll see them someday, albeit in the annual form and not the periodic one.

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