Gosh I shall drop everything and start at once – a reader’s letter

I am fortunate to receive many interesting emails, which it is a privilege to read.  My spam filter defends me from many others.  But occasionally I receive an email that simply makes me rub my eyes in wonder.

Such an email arrived on 24 July.  I will reproduce it for you, suppressing only the name.

hi i’m a post graduate student from Greece in social theology of Athens. The title of my thesis is: “the local council of:Cartagena(419): historical-canon view”. I need to find a critical edition of this synod in latin and a book that has “holy fathers” in its title and is, in english, a book for the theme of my thesis. I dont know the titles or authors and i cant find the person who gave me the information. Any relevant bibliography would be helpful as well. Thanks in advance!

To which most of us will only respond with “wow”.  The author is clearly very young, and has not considered at all what he is asking of a stranger.  While I hate to be curmudgeonly, I had to reply that I could not assist.

I could, of course, devote some time to locating what the best edition might be of that synod.  But why should I?  I don’t know offhand – who would? – and surely such a task is exactly what the student should be doing themselves?

As for the invitation to locate a book by content with the words “holy fathers” in the title – no doubt it was mentioned in class – words fail me.  How could anybody answer that?

Over the last year I’ve had a few emails from people in Athens, to which I have responded politely.  Possibly I have unwittingly become the person to whom the lazy student writes to save himself a trip to the library or a call upon his supervisor.  At least, I can think of no other reason why anybody should write such an email to a busy stranger on another continent.

But if so, if you are a student at Athens, may I ask you to desist?  Please think before asking weary amateurs, who have already done a full day’s work before settling in front of their computer in the evening, to do your research for you.  It’s very selfish.

UPDATE (24/07/2018) – A couple of colleagues have written in with suggestions about this “council of Cartagena”.  In case it comes up again, here is a digest of suggestions.

First, it’s not quite clear whether our enquirer meant “Cartagena” (in Spain), where there was a synod of some sort in 419 (Theologische Realenzyklopädie 32, p. 559, line 46); or the more well-known and accessible synod of Carthage, also in 419.

If Cartagena, then I would check (for a critical edition) Vives, Concilios Visigóthicos e Hispano-Romanos (Barcelona/Madrid, 1963), or maybe Martínez Díez & Rodriguez, La colleccíon canónica Hispana, 4 vols. (Madrid/Barcelona, 1966-1984).

If Carthage, then Munier, Concilia Africae A. 345-A. 525, Corpus Christianorum Scriptorum Latinorum 149 (1974).

My colleague was unable to locate any books in WorldCat with “holy fathers” in the title and something like Cartagena or Carthage as a keyword.

My other colleague was not aware of the Cartagena council, but he added that in general a Google search for ‘council of Carthage 419’ (etc) gives probably all the information you need – you just have to work through it yourself, and not expect others to do it for you.

You can download Hefele’s work (A History of the Christian Councils, from the Original Documents: A.D. 326 to A.D. 429 vol II) for free here – which lists the canons of the councils, and probably suggests further bibliography.

He also suggested that I remind the enquirer that scholars who supervise and mark theses (and he was speaking from experience here) expect to see evidence of research techniques from the student involved; and asking others to do such work for you does NOT count.

I hope that this is useful to you.
Roger Pearse

3 thoughts on “Gosh I shall drop everything and start at once – a reader’s letter

  1. In the old days, we had this thing called a search engine. Students could use it to find information.

    Oh, wait, we still do.

    Yes, it’s a pain in the butt to find stuff by figuring out the right search terms, but how else do you find out how to do it? Just do it and have fun.

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