Those interested in the Latin fathers prior to Nicaea will be aware of the annual list of publications, the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea, published each year in the Revue des études Augustiniennes (et Patristiques) by the Institut d’études augustiniennes in Paris. This invaluable resource has appeared each year since 1974, initially covering just Tertullian, and then broadened to Latin patristics to 325 AD. Very kindly the editors have sent me a copy for many years. The issue dedicated to publications in 2014 has now appeared.
Most of the content will be for specialists. I see that Claudio Moreschini has continued his great work of editing and translating Tertullian into Italian, and the end of the task is now in sight. Some other items are, for the first time, reviewed in Italian, which is not a language I read easily.
Less welcome is an allusion in the introduction to “la situation difficile que traverse actuellement l’Institut d’études augustiniennes” which is consuming the energies of the contributors. I do not know what this situation is. It is certainly the case that the humanities in general are under threat of reduced funding, and probably this is a factor here too.
In this light, one item reviewed will raise eyebrows in the intelligent reader. It seems that the excellent Markus Vinzent has brought out a book devoted to proving that Marcion wrote the original gospel, and that the canonical gospels are later compositions. This he does, I understand, by proposing that Marcion invented the literary form of a gospel, and revised it in written or verbal form; that the four gospels were written in response to this, and then Marcion produced a final written form. Since Tertullian in Adversus Marcionem tells us that Marcion produced his gospel by mutilating the gospel of Luke, at some length, Dr V refers to this; and so this discussion falls within the area of interest of the CTC.
The CTC is a scholarly publication. Scholarship involves knowing what you know about, and what you do not. So the reviewer quite properly states that “I cannot take a position on the general thesis of the author”. He does discuss the discussion of Tertullian, and points out that the interpretation involves misreading Marc. IV, 11:12 by silently omitting a “nec”, and ignoring the consensus of editors that a full-stop should be read after “nova”.
Le lecteur est d’abord étonné par un tel renversement de perspective et se demande s’il n’a jamais rien compris au Contre Marcion. L’impression s’atténue lorsqu’on se reporte aux textes. Pour prouver que Marcion aurait créé la forme de l’évangile, l’argumentation de l’auteur se fonde beaucoup sur Marc IV, 11, 12, où il lit : forma sermonis in Christo nova, cum similitudines obicit, cum quaestiones refutat ; or le texte est ici déformé sur deux points, sans que M. V. en dise rien : la négation nec, en tête de phrase, est omise, et les éditeurs sont unanimes pour placer un point après nova. Tertullien ne dit donc pas que Marcion a introduit une nouvelle forme littéraire, mais que le discours du Christ est comme un écho des paroles de l’Ancien Testament : ce déplacement d’accent, que l’A. semble s’autoriser au nom de son renversement de perspective, nous paraît un vice rédhibitoire de l’étude. En fait, l’analyse part moins des textes qu’elle ne cherche, chez Tertullien, des indices d’une reconstruction préalablement élaborée, méthode qui, à nos yeux, fragilise d’emblée la demonstration.
The reader is first surprised by such a reversal of perspective and wonders if he has never understood anything about the Against Marcion. The impression fades when referring to the texts. To prove that Marcion created the [literary] form of the gospel, the argumentation of the author relies heavily on Marc. IV, 11, 12, where he reads: nova forma sermonis in Christo, cum similitudines obicit, cum quaestiones refutat; but the text is distorted by two points, about which M.V. says nothing: the negation nec, at the head of the phrase, is omitted, and editors are unanimous in placing a full-stop after nova. Tertullian therefore does not say that Marcion introduced a new literary form, but that the speech of Christ is like an echo of the Old Testament words: this shift of emphasis, that the author seems to allow in the name of his reversal of perspective, seems a fatal flaw of the study. In fact, the analysis only looks at the texts she seeks, in Tertullian, for traces of a previously elaborated reconstruction, a method which, in our eyes, immediately weakens the demonstration.
I don’t suppose Dr V.’s career will suffer from this thesis at all, which is doubtless entirely acceptable to the people who control university funding. These people seem to be all at least mildly anti-Christian, and were very much in favour of EU membership in the recent UK referendum. Whether this will continue to be so, I do not know. We live in changing times. The elite lost that referendum. The US may well elect a mountebank as president, precisely because he is not one of the elite. There is a smell of revolution in the air. But that remains to be seen.
However the only reason why poor taxpayers should fund the study of the humanities is that it serves some useful, scientific, purpose. If it does not, why fund it? And it brings the humanities into disrepute, when the facts are turned upside down like this.
Nobody is fooled. We all know that this kind of claim is tripe. We’ve met the revisionists many times. We know the tricks – selection, misrepresentation and omission.
But these games serve to reinforce the impression – held by most scientists, and not a few of the general public – that those who hold teaching posts in the humanities are not engaged in any kind of scientific or objective activity, but are in reality just well-paid servitors of the political establishment, producing propaganda. I myself held precisely such a view for many years, after encountering some wretchedly poor “biblical scholarship” while reading for a hard science degree at Oxford. It’s not the case that the humanities is worthless establishment propaganda. The vast majority really does contribute to the sum of human knowledge. And I’m quite sure few academics can be described as “well-paid”!
All the same, it is irresponsible to encourage the impression. I hope that the difficulties of the Institut are not caused, in any respect, by a belief among politicians that academics are just hacks for hire.
- Translation is mine; I’m really not quite certain of the translation of the last sentence, tho.↩