The date and authenticity of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

The literature of antiquity is transmitted to us mainly in handwritten medieval books.  These are often more like loose-leaf binders than modern books, and can contain all sort of things.  A great number of ancient and medieval sermons appear in these volumes.  This is quite natural, since the volumes were copied exclusively by monks for almost a thousand years.  The author of the sermon is not always given, and when it is, the name may be ambiguous or wrong.  Part of what scholars do is to establish who wrote these texts.  I’ve been collecting some snippets of scholarship about one of these, which I thought I would share.

The surviving works in Greek of the patristic writer Methodius of Olympus (d. ca. 311 AD) were translated into English in the 19th century, and are included in the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection, volume 6.  The translator also included a translation of a sermon (online here), the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” (Sermo de Symeone et Anna, = CPG 1827 = BHG 1961 (vol. 3, p.241)). This is of interest because it contains clear evidence of the veneration of Mary.  Indeed if it were authentic, it would be some of the earliest evidence for the cultus of Mary.

The BHG tells us that the text  of the Sermo de Symeone et Anna was first edited by P. Pantinus, Homiliae IIII SS. patrum (Antverpiae, 1598), pp.18-154 (online here); reprinted by F. Combefis, Amphilochii opera (1644), pp.396-430 (online here); who is reprinted again in Migne, PG 18, cols.348-381; and finally edited by A. Jahn, S.P.N.Methodii opera omnia (1865), 105-113 (online here).

This sermon bears the name of Methodius in the manuscripts.  But according to R. Laurentin[1], the work is found in collections of sermons (“homiliaries”) of the 7th century, so this cannot refer to the later Methodius who was patriarch of Constantinople from 842-846 AD.  Likewise a portion of the text (PG 18, 360C) is quoted word for word by John Damascene (7-8th c.) in the Libellus Contra Jacobitas (PG 94, col.1489)

There is a list of manuscripts at Pinakes here.  Some are online.  This for instance is the beginning in Codex Vaticanus Ottobonianus graecus 85 (online here), on folio 76v, with a few words and then “Πάλαι ἱκανῶς, ὡς οἷον τε, διὰ βραχέων…” 

Here’s another from BNF gr. Coislin 274, f.158v:

Both have some introductory words, although my ignorance of Greek paleography doesn’t allow me to read either.  But I can pick out the name of Methodius alright.

The question of the authenticity of the sermon was discussed by V. Buchheit, Studien zu Methodios von Olympos, TU 69 (1958), p.133-140.  Methodius of Olympus died around 311 AD.  Now the work begins:

Although I have before, as briefly as possible, in my dialogue on chastity, sufficiently laid the foundations, as it were, for a discourse on virginity, yet to-day the season has brought forward the entire subject of the glory of virginity…… We keep festival, not according to the vain customs of the Greek mythology; we keep a feast which brings with it no ridiculous or frenzied banqueting of the gods, but which teaches us the wondrous condescension to us men of the awful glory of Him who is God over all.

From this, it seems that the sermon was delivered, it seems, on the feast day of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, the Feast of the Hypapante (Feb. 2nd), and the BHG lists it among the sermons on that date (vol. 3, p.241, BHG 1961).  But Buchheit states that this festival is not referenced by any source prior to 385 AD.  So this is a problem, if the sermon was composed by the Methodius who died ca. 311 AD.

The first line does refer to a quite genuine work by Methodius of Olympus.  But this sermon ends with a version of the Nicene Creed, including the keyword term “homoousios”, not used in this way before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Again, this is a problem of the same kind.

Buchheit also conducts a linguistic analysis, which I am not competent to comment upon.  He references the Byzantine use of prepositions and “clauses” which does not agree with the usage in genuine works of Methodius.

Based upon this, Buchheit concludes that the work has to be dated between 325 and the 7th century, and that the first sentence is merely a deliberate deception by the author:

Der unbekannte Verfasser oder ein Abschreiber hat diese Rede durch eine geschickte Fäl­schung in der Einleitung dem Methodios unterschoben. Bei dem Verfasser handeltessich umeinen geistig zweifellos hochstehenden und rhetorisch vorzüglich gebildeten Mann. Sein Stil war asianisch; die byzantinische Satzklausel hat er nicht angewendet.

The unknown author or a copyist has foisted this speech on Methodios through a clever forgery in the introduction. The author is undoubtedly a man of high intellectual stature and excellent rhetoric. His style was Asian; he did not apply the Byzantine propositional clause.  (Google translation)

Further work was done upon the sermon by Roberto Caro, in his 1965 thesis, La homiletica griega.  Unfortunately I have no access to this.  Parts of this were published as R. Caro, La homilética mariana griega en el siglo V (= Greek Marian Homilies in the 5th Century), Dayton, Ohio, 2 vols (1971-2), where the CPG says that the discussion is in vol.2, pp. 610-617.  Again I have no access to this at the moment, but apparently he concludes that the text is 5-6th century.

  1. [1]R. Laurentin, Bulletin Sur La Vierge Marie, Revue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 52 (1968), pp. 479-551, esp. 539-40, JSTOR.

6 thoughts on “The date and authenticity of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

  1. I’d go further from AD 385. I’d put this no earlier than Cyril of Alexandria, given the recurrent themes of “mother of God” and even “mother of the Creator”. “Substance” appears several times in this homily, always asserting the Son as of the same substance as the Father and of the Spirit.
    This is the miaphysitism of the two Ephesian Councils, AD 431 then 449. For all Jerome venerated Mary, he didn’t use the theotokos formula in (say) his argument for her perpetual virginity.
    The attitude is of a miaphysite Church triumphant. Theodosius II? Anastasius?

  2. You’re probably right. I certainly agree about theotokos, the watchword of Ephesus. With texts of uncertain date, I’d always feel that we shouldn’t move before the earliest time that such phrases are certainly in use.

  3. Thank you for this! The eucharistic/Christophanic interpretation of Isaiah’s vision (Isa 6:1-9) in Sermo de Symeone et Anna 2 seems to fit well in the 5th-6th centuries, downstream from Ephrem and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who were the first to draw a connection between the coal that touched Isaiah’s lips and the consecrated eucharistic bread and wine. Liturgies and liturgical art in the 5th-6th centuries also manifest an interest in drawing more upon elements of Isaiah’s vision.

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