A photo of the Meta Sudans from the Palatine

Here’s yet another picture of the conical stub of the now vanished Roman fountain, the Meta Sudans, in front of the Colosseum. It was posted online here, where it is described as “late 19th century”.

I wish we had more 20th century photographs of the Meta Sudans.  There ought to be legions of them.



The Last Known Senatus Consultum of the Roman Senate?

In Massimiliano Vitiello, Amalasuintha: The Transformation of Queenship in the Post-Roman World, University of Pennsylvania Press, (2017), p.93, we learn of the problem of bribery in Papal elections during the Ostrogothic rule of Italy.  He quotes a letter in 533 AD to Pope John II, preserved in Cassiodorus Variae, Book 9, letter 15, from which we learn that the kings tried to stop the selling of bishoprics.  Dr V. continues:

In addition, in order to avoid a future repeat of the problem, King Athalaric ordered the urban prefect to issue a decree of the Senate, the text of which was to be engraved on a marble table and displayed in front of the atrium of the Church of Saint Peter, with copies posted in public places and assemblies for a thirty-day period. This is the last known Senatus Consultum, although the Senatorial sigla SC (= Senatus consulto) on a series of bronze coins minted in Rome in 536 in the name of King Theodahad indicates that this was not the last deliberation the Senate ever made.

The senate can only have been little more than a town council by this date.  King Athalaric was in fact a minor, only 18 when he died in 534 AD.  The government was in the hands of his mother Amalaswintha.  Athalaric was succeeded by his cousin Theodahad (534-536), whose weakness and ineptitude led to Justinian’s invasion of Italy.  Theodahad in turn was replaced by Vittigis, who himself was captured and shipped off to Constantinople in 540.  By this time Rome was deserted and in ruins.

A selection of letters from the Variae have been translated in the Liverpool TTH series, including letter 15, but not letter 16, which is our source for the inscription.  The letter is addressed to one of the very last Urban Prefects, Salventius.

Here’s the letter from the edition of Mommsen in 1894, online here, p.281 (p.474 of the PDF), who dates it to the end of 533 AD.  I’ve added a couple of full-stops and split up the paragraph.

Salventio Vir Inlustris Praefecto Urbis Athalaricus Rex.

Grata res est cunctis profutura vulgare, ut generale fiat gaudium, quod potuit esse votivum, alioquin laesionis causa noscitur, si beneficia potius occulantur. Dudum siquidem senatus amplissimus, ab splendore suo cupiens maculam foedissimae suspicionis abradere, provida deliberatione constituit, ut in beatissimi papae consecratione nullus se abominabili cupiditate pollueret. Poena etiam constituta, qui talia praesumere temptavisset.

Quod nos laudantes et augentes inventum, ad beatissimum papam direximus constituta, quae his antelata praefulgent, ut ab honestate sanctae ecclesiae profanus ambitus auferatur. Hoc vos** ad notitiam senatus et Romani populi volumus sine aliqua dilatione perducere, quatenus cunctorum figatur cordi, quod cupimus omnium studio custodiri.

Verum ut principale beneficium et praesentibus haereat saeculis et futuris, tam definita nostra quam senatus consulta tabulis marmoreis praecipimus decenter incidi et ante atrium beati Petri apostoli in testimonium publicum collocari; dignus enim locus est, qui et gloriosam mercedem nostram et senatus amplissimi laudabilia decreta contineat, in quam rem illum direximus, quo redeunte noscamus impleta quae iussimus. Incertum enim videtur habere quod praecipit, cui rerum effectus tardius innotescit.

(** “vos” is what the edition says, but surely it should be “nos”?)

Here’s a quick translation.  Corrections welcome:

King Athalaric, to Salventius, Vir Inlustris, Prefect of the City.

A welcome thing is profitable to publish to everyone, so that there is general rejoicing that it has been able to be fulfilled as promised.  Otherwise it is thought of as the cause of harm if the benefits are hidden away. For a while ago the great senate, desiring to remove from its splendour the stain of the most hideous suspicion, decided with a prudent resolution, that in the consecration of the most blessed pope no one should pollute himself with abominable greed. A penalty was also established for anyone who attempted to presume such things.  This is not a wrong, because then merit is truly sought in the one chosen, when money is not loved.

This, praising and extending the plan, we have brought to the attention of the most blessed pope the decrees, which were brought before him, so that the profane sphere might be removed from the honour of the holy church.  We wish to bring this to the notice of the senate and the people of Rome without any delay, so that what we desire to be guarded by the zeal of everyone is fixed in the hearts of everyone.

However, in order that the principal benefit may be effective both now and in the future, we order that both our decision and the decrees of the senate are engraved carefully on marble tablets and placed in front of the atrium of the church of blessed Peter the Apostle as a public testimony; for the place is worthy, which contains both our glorious gift and the laudable decrees of the great senate, on which matter we instructed it, so that when we return we may know that what we ordered has been fulfilled. For no-one can be certain whether what he orders has been done if the evidence of it only becomes known much later.**

(** Lit.: For he seems to consider as uncertain what he commands, to whom the effects of things become known more slowly.)

Dr Vitiello’s statement about posting copies for thirty days is not referenced, unfortunately.

It’s not certain whether any actual senatorial action was involved in producing the coins.[1]  But the bronze coins of Athalaric already feature the “SC” inscription, such as this one, and this is continued under Theodahad, such as this 40 nummi follis (found here; another example with description here as The Final Sestertius):

D N THEO-DAHATVS REX, moustached and mantled bust right, wearing ornate Spangenhelm; mantle decorated with pectoral cross / VICTORIA PRINCIPVM, S C across field, Victory standing right on prow of galley, holding palm across left shoulder and wreath in outstretched right hand.

A selection of other coins by Theodahad may be found here, all produced by a mint in Rome, and most with SC upon them.  His successor, Vittigis, minted in Ravenna and his coins do not use SC.

  1. [1]See H. T. Hindrum, Political Culture of Ostrogothic Italy in a Numismatic Perspective, thesis (2014), p.54.  Online here. (PDF)

Every one of us has two guardian angels, a good one encouraging, and a bad one tempting – patristic sources

Via Twitter I learn of this fascinating statement by Prof. Tom Ward:

I just learned through Peter Lombard (Sent II.XI) that Gregory of Nyssa and Origen thought that each human soul not only has a (good) guardian angel, but a (bad) tempting angel (=demon). I’d always thought this was just a cartoon thing.

I enquired about the source:

… the translator of Lombard (Silano), offers only this: “Gregory of Nyssa, De vita Moysi, following Origen, In Lucas, hom.12.”

Let’s look up the sources.  It’s good to have this here, since material is disappearing from twitter all the time at the moment.

Gary Hartenburg looked at the Gregory of Nyssa reference:

Gregory of Nyssa: there is a trustworthy teaching from the tradition that after the fall, God “appointed an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person and…he also appointed the corrupter who, by an evil and maleficent demon, afflicts the life of man” (bk. 2, ¶45).

That’s from The Life of Moses, trans. Malherbe and Ferguson; p.165 n71 has a number of further references.

That footnote reads:

… The guardian angel is already in Hermas, Vis. 5.1-4. See Danielou, The Angels and their Mission according to the Fathers of the Church (Westminster, Md., 1957), pp. 68-82. The “two spirits” is in Hermas Mand. 5.1.1-4, Rabbinic speculation (G.F. Moore, Judaism, 1, pp. 479-493), the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 3-4); cf. the angels of God and of Satan in Barnabas 18. Philo, Quaes. Ex. 1.23, states, “Into every soul at its very birth there enter two powers, the salutary and the destructive.” See article on “Demon,” Dict. Spir. 3: 160-168.

However these references do not seem very relevant to our question of two angels, and neither of the Hermas references is relevant.

The Origen, Homilies on Luke, homily 12, (FOC translation by Thomas Scheck) reads:

4. It was indeed a great joy to these shepherds, to whom the care of men and provinces had been entrusted, that Christ had come into the world. The angel who administer ed the affairs of Egypt received a considerable advantage after the Lord came down from heaven, for the Egyptians could become Christians. It profited all who governed the various provinces, for example, the guardian of Macedonia, the guardian of Achaea. and the guardians of the other regions. It is not right to believe that wicked angels govern individual provinces, and good angels do not have the same provinces and regions entrusted to them. I think that what Scripture says about individual provinces should also be believed more generally about all people. Two angels attend each human being.  One is an angel of justice, the other an angel of iniquity.13 If good thoughts are present in our hearts and justice springs up in our souls, the angel of the Lord is undoubtedly speaking to us. But. if evil thoughts turn over in our hearts, the devil’s angel is speaking to us. Just as there are two angels for individuals. so. I believe, there are different angels in individual provinces, some good and some evil.

5. For example, very wicked angels kept watch over Ephesus, on account of the sinners who lived in that city. But, because there were many believers in that city, there was also a good angel for the church of the Ephesians. What we have said about Ephesus should be applied to all the provinces. Before the coming of the Lord and Savior, those angels could bring little benefit to those entrusted to them, and their efforts were not powerful enough to bring about success. What indicates that they were hardly able to help those under their charge? Listen to what we say.14 When the angel of the Egyptians was helping the Egyptians, hardly one proselyte came to believe in God. And this took place when an angel was administering the Egyptians.

In the same text, homily 35 contains this:

3.  I have to touch on some more hidden matters, that we might understand that the adversary is of one sort, while the three other persons—that is, the ruler, the judge, and the debt collector—are of another sort.  We read that the angel of justice and the angel of iniquity argued about Abraham’s salvation and his loss, as each of the camps wished to claim him for itself.  The condition is. of course, that someone should be willing to accept a writing of this kind.7

But. if it displeases anyone, he should go to the book entitled The Shepherd.  There he will find that two angels are present to every man: a wicked angel, who exhorts him to wrongdoing: and a good angel, who urges him to do everything good.8   Elsewhere, too. it is recorded that two angels attend a man. for good and for evil. The Savior, too, mentions the good angels when he says, “Their angels always see the face of my Father, who is in heaven.”9

You should also ask whether the angels of those who are little children in the Church “always see the Father’s face,” while others’ angels do not have the liberty to behold the Father’s face. For, we cannot hope that everyone’s angel always sees “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”  If I am in the Church, no matter how very little I am, my angel enjoys the liberty and the trust always to see “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”10

4. But. if I am an outsider, and not a member of that Church “that has neither spot nor wrinkle, nor anything of that sort.” and the facts prove that I am not a member of such a congregation, then my angel does not enjoy the trust of beholding “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”  For this reason the angels care for good people. They know that, if they guide us well and lead us to salvation, they too will enjoy the trust of seeing the Father’s face. If salvation is secured for men by their care and diligence, they always behold the Father’s face. So too, if someone perishes through their negligence, they realize that the matter is a danger to them.

A good bishop, the best steward of a church knows that, if the sheep of the flock entrusted to him are kept guarded, it is because of his meritorious service and virtue. Realize that the same is true of the angels.  If someone who was entrusted to an angel sins, the angel is disgraced. And the opposite is also true. If someone entrusted to an angel, even the least person in the Church, makes progress, it redounds to the angel’s glory. For, they will see “the face of the Father, who is in heaven,” not sometimes, but “always.”  Other angels never see it. For, according to the merit of those whose angels they are, the angels will contemplate the face of God either always or never, little or much. God has clear and certain knowledge of this matter. So does someone found to be instructed by Christ, rare as that is.

7. See J. T. Milik, “4 Q Visions de ‘Amram et une citation d’Origene,” Revue Biblique 79 (1972) 77-97, who studied an apocryphal writing from Qumran on Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron.  Milik believes that the text was translated into Greek and read by Origen, who alludes to it here. Hence “Abraham” is an incorrect reading for “Amram.”

8. Cf. Homily 12.4-6 and Hermas, Shepherd 36.2-10.

Which is certainly an interesting point of view!  Some of it is clearly coming from apocryphal literature.  But let’s look at the references to the Shepherd of Hermas.  A number of English translations are at the Early Christian Sources Project, here.  I’ve chosen the Synder translation.

Here’s Mandate 6, chapter 2 (= Shepherd, 36) (online here):

The two angels in man (36:1-10)

Mandate 6, Chapter 2

36.1. “Now hear,” he said, “about faith. There are two angels with man, one of righteousness and one of evil.” 2. “How then, sir,” I said, “will I know their powers, since both angels live with me?”

3. “Listen,” he said, “and understand. The angel of righteousness is delicate and modest and meek and quiet. So whenever this one rises up in your heart, he speaks with you at once concerning righteousness, sincerity, reverence, contentment, and every righteous deed, and every glorious virtue. Whenever all these things come up in your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you. So these are the works of the angel of righteousness. So trust this one and his works.

4. Now observe the works of the evil angel. First of all, he is ill tempered and bitter and foolish, and his works are evil, destroying the servants of God. So whenever this one comes into your heart, know him by his works” [cf. Matt. 7:16].

5. “Sir,” I said, “I do not understand how I will recognize him.” “Listen,” he said. “Whenever ill temper or bitterness comes over you, know that he is in you; then comes the desire for many affairs and the extravagance of many kinds of foods and intoxicating drinks, much carousing and various and unnecessary indulgences and desires for women, and covetousness and great arrogance and pretention and whatever things resemble and are similar to them. So whenever these things come to your heart, know that the angel of evil is in you.

6. So when you recognize his works, shun him and do not trust him, for his works are evil and harmful to the servants of God. Here you have the powers of both angels; understand them and trust the angel of righteousness. 7. But shun the angel of evil, because his teaching is evil in every case. For if any man is faithful and the thought of that angel comes to his heart, that man or woman will surely commit a sin. 8. But again, even if a man or a woman is very wicked, and there comes to his heart the deeds of the angel of righteousness, of a necessity he will surely do something good.

9. So you see,” he said, “that it is good to follow the angel of righteousness, to bid farewell to the angel of evil. 10. This commandment shows things concerning faith, so that you might believe the works of the angel of righteousness, and by doing them live to God, but believe that the works of the angel of evil are bad, so by not doing them you will live to God.”

Whoever knew that this cartoon trope goes all the way back to Hermas; indeed probably earlier?


Theotokos: Pierius of Alexandria

Our next possible candidate for the earliest use of the term “Theotokos” is Pierius of Alexandria, who died “after 309 AD”.  Our source isn’t great for this, for it is some fragments, which may or may not be by Philip of Side (ca. 380-431+), whose vast history of the early church has otherwise perished.

Back in 2010 – gosh isn’t that a long time ago – Andrew Eastbourne kindly went through the mess of fragments of Philip of Side and translated the lot for us.  It’s online here.  Among them is this:

Fragment 4.7.  Pierius, a presbyter of Alexandria, flourished at this time, and in Pontus, Meletius the bishop—men who were amazing with respect to their learning.  And Pierius too, in his first discourse[111] of those On the Pascha, asserts strongly that Paul had a wife and dedicated her to God for the sake of[112] the Church, renouncing his association with her. And I also read quite a number of his other indispensable works and especially the one Concerning the Mother of God and the one On the beginning of Hosea.  And Theodorus, a certain court-pleader in Alexandria, writing in epic verse, says in his 13th book that Pierius and Isidorus his brother suffered martyrdom and have a very large shrine in Alexandria.  And in his discourse On the Life of the Holy Pamphilus, Pierius himself provided very much help in the divine Scripture.

111. Or “book” (Gk. λόγος); but from Jerome, De viris illustribus 76, this work appears to have been homilies on Hosea orally delivered at Easter; and Photius (Bibl. cod. 119) speaks of 12 λόγοι (of which he particularly mentions the one “on the Pascha and Hosea”) contained in one βιβλίον.

112. Gk. διά (Cf. Sophocles, Lexicon s.v. διά 3).

Since these are “fragments”, where does this come from?  Well, from manuscripts full of miscellaneous extracts of this and that.  In this case, these are found in MS Oxford Bodleian Barocci 142, on fol. 212r-216r; and in MS Oxford Bodleian misc. 61 (= Auct. E.4.18), on fol. 136r-143r (which material is, however not published anywhere).

Now Barocci or Barozzi was a Cretan Greek who collected manuscripts and sold his collection to an Englishman.

Dr Eastbourne noted:

In the translations below, the italicized material is directly from Eusebius, whether verbatim or paraphrased; the normal text represents the additions made by our author to Eusebius’ history.

The Greek text for this material, taken from that Barocci manuscript, was printed by C. de Boor, “Neue Fragmente des Papias, Hegesippus und Pierius in bisher unbekannten Excerpten aus der Kirchengeschichte des Philippus Sidetes,” TU 5.2 (1888), pp. 169-71.  Thankfully a list of the volumes of Texte und Untersuchungen is on German Wikipedia here.  Vol. 5, p.170-171 is:

There’s “theotokou” nice and clear at the start of p.171 line 2.

De Boor’s preface says that the series of historical extracts runs from the birth of Christ to the close of the Church History of Socrates, i.e. in 439 AD.  Scholars have tended to suppose that these are from Philip of Side, since this lost 5th century church history is the obvious source for early material.  Philip is the last writer to know Papias, for instance.  But the manuscript does not name the compiler, and we don’t know who he was or when he wrote.  The Bodleian website states that the manuscript itself is 13-14th century and the material in it was compiled by Nicephorus Callistus as source material for his own Ecclesiastical History.

Barocci 142 is online, so we can inspect the folios ourselves.  Here’s folio 216r:

Sadly I find the book-hand completely impenetrable.  I presume the red headings are for each extract?

So… what do we make of this?  Is this a valid witness?

I’m slightly inclined to feel that it is.  The extracts come from someone with genuine access to early material.  The fact that the extracts terminate in the 5th century suggests that the source work did also.  Whether it is indeed Philip of Side, or some other, now forgotten compiler of the period, is not of importance, really, compared to the date.

But the compilation cannot date prior to the toxic Nestorian disputes, in which the use of – or failure to use – the word “theotokos” suddenly became a matter to kill for.  A reference to a book title – we’re told that Pierius wrote On the Theotokos – is something less than knowing the content of the book.  Ancient book titles are fluid things, more about indicating content, in many cases.  This may not be the original title either.  There’s plenty of room for zealous tampering, if the title did not please the copyist or excerptor, or needed to be “improved”.

But in the end, the negatives are just speculation.  We do have an ancient source that Pierius wrote a book “On the Mother of God”.  Perhaps indeed he did.

What it said, of course, is another matter.


Theotokos: ps.Dionysius of Alexandria’s Letter to Paul of Samosata

In my last post we looked at whether Origen used the word “Theotokos” (Mother of God) for the virgin Mary.  Let’s continue this by looking at another supposed 3rd century use of the term, in Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Paul of Samosata (CPG 1708).

Dionysius died in 264 AD, and the text does indeed use the term Theotokos:

How do you say that a man is a superior Christ, and not really God, and adored by every creature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, incarnated from the holy virgin and Mary the Mother of God?

But is the text authentic?  Well a little further on, we read:

You call him abandoned who was Lord by nature, and the Word of the Father, “through whom the Father made all things,” (John 1) and whom the holy fathers called “homoousion” of the Father, for they taught us about God…

That is a pretty overt reference to the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), and, by itself, tells us that the text is not 3rd century.

The work itself is full of arguments about Christology.  These were analysed by N. Bonwetsch and G. Bardy in the early 20th century, who concluded that they were clearly directed against the school of Antioch, and especially Diodorus of Tarsus and his pupil Theodore of Mopsuestia.  The tone was somewhat monophysite, and in fact somewhat Apollinarian. They concluded that the text was composed by an unknown Apollinarist in the late 4th-early 5th century.

Ed. Schwartz, who produced a critical edition in 1927, called the writer a “bungler”:

Ein weiteres, bisher, wie es scheint, nicht benutztes Argument für die Unechtheit liefert die Sprache, über die allerdings ein sicheres Urteil erst möglich ist, wenn die willkürlichen Glättungen von de Torres beseitigt sind. Der ‘große’ Dionysius war einer der elegantesten und glänzendsten Stilisten nicht nur seiner, sondern der Kaiserzeit überhaupt; der Verfasser der drei Schriften ist ein Stümper, dessen sprachliche und schriftstellerische Kenntnisse und Fähigkeiten in umgekehrtem Verhältnis zu seinem frommen Eifer stehen.

Another argument for inauthenticity, which it seems has not been used up to now, is provided by the language, about which, however, a reliable judgment is only possible if the arbitrary smoothings by de Torres are eliminated. The ‘great’ Dionysius was one of the most elegant and brilliant stylists not only of his time but of the whole of the empire; the author of the three writings is a bungler whose linguistic and literary knowledge and skills are in inverse proportion to his pious zeal.

The Apollinarians were notorious for forging texts in the names of earlier respected fathers, under which they advanced their own beliefs.  Indeed Leontius of Byzantium even wrote a book “Against the frauds of the Apollinarists”.  They also seem to have interpolated the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, creating the “long version” of 15 letters.

Others have looked at the text since, and given it an even later date, possibly 6th century.  See for instance in Lang, John Philoponus, p.110, n.355, online here:

The forger of the spurious Letter to Paul of Samosata, attributed to Dionysius of Alexandria and most likely written in the sixth century, also adduces Col. 2:9: Ps.-Dionysius of Alexandria. Resp. 7 ad Paul. Samos. 261.3-10: Schwartz. This passage is a good example of how the forger uses the Letter of the Six Bishops and adopts its themes. De Riedmatten (1952). 123-6. shows that Ps.-Dionysius of Alexandria develops the thought of the earlier letter in an Apollinarian direction, pace Schwartz (1927), 55. who dismisses both documents as spurious.

H. De Riedmatten, Acta de Paulo Samosateno seu Disputatio inter Paulum ac Malchionem (fragmenta), (1952).

The last bit is from the bibliography: but I think there must be something wrong with that reference, for I can find no such volume.  It is perhaps:

Henri de Riedmatten, Les Actes du procès de Paul de Samosate. Etude sur la christologie du IIIe au IVe siècle (= Paradosis. Études de littérature et de théologie anciennes, VI). Fribourg en Suisse, Éditions Saint-Paul, 1952. In-8°, 171 p.

This used to be online here, but is no longer.

To summarise, we cannot use Dionysius of Alexandria as a witness for the use of “Theotokos” in the third century.

Just for fun, I pasted the 1608 Latin translation (byTurrianus) of the Greek into Google Translate, and cleaned it up a bit.  I frankly don’t understand all the theological noodling, so it may well contain crass errors.  But I place it online anyway:

I’ve also placed it at Archive.org here.  It has no scholarly value, of course, but it might save someone the effort of doing the same, merely in order to read it.  As ever, I make it public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational, or commercial.


From my diary

We take for granted the availability of so much on the internet, that it can come as a shock when we need to go and physically find articles and books.  Of course even 20 years ago, that was routine.  But not every language group has kept up.  German articles in particular are very hard to obtain online.  Finding myself in need of three of these, today I drove 200 miles to my nearest research library in order to photocopy them.  I’m feeling frankly very stiff from the journey, even though it was a good journey!  The physical pain of scholarship is quite something!

These days the “photocopier” is a multi-function device (MFD).  I had to work out how to use it but it was much quicker than the old photocopiers.  Usefully it had a feature to email scans to me, picking up my email address from my user account.  In days of yore I had to type in the email address with a very awful on-screen keypad, and in practice any more than 3 pages just conked out.  There was a small notice telling the user that files over 50 pages would probably not send!  I only saw this after doing one!  Of course the scan went to my spam box.  But it was really very good.  And … they don’t seem to charge for scans, only for photocopies.

They used to have a room full of photocopiers, but this has closed and the machines are scattered around the building.  This meant a long walk to find a free MFD.  In busy times I would imagine that you’d get very fit!

I’ve started to look at all the references given online for the use of “theotokos” – “mother of God” in 3rd century literature.  I dealt with Origen in a previous post.  I’m currently working on Dionysius of Alexandria’s “Letter to Paul of Samosata”.  The letter seems to be spurious; possibly an Apollinarian forgery of the late 4th century, possibly later still.  I’ll know more when I have read today’s trove of articles.

I had trouble finding the Greek text, and I found it in Mansi’s Concilia vol. 1.  This states that the facing Latin translation is that of Turrianus.  Turrianus is Francisco Torres, in the 16th century, but I had a devil of a time trying to identify the work in which he made this translation.  After a huge amount of searching online, I did find the details, and found the book itself on Google Books.  It turns out that his book was pretty much reprinted literally in Mansi, and in collections like Labbe in between.  What they did not print was his endnotes – “scholia” as he called them – which will be interesting to look at.

On a whim I have decided to run Turrianus’ translation through Google translate, polish it up, and make it available online.  I’m about halfway through.  The modern Latin is not difficult as such.  If there was a Google translate for ancient Greek, and if there was OCR for ancient Greek, then one could do that.  Sadly there is not.  We do what we can.

The scripture references are reprinted in every case from Turrianus, and always very small and blob-like.  Turrianus is quite happy to offer “Philipp. 2” for an allusion, so I am looking up each of them in the Vulgate.  Most are just vague similarities.  It is amusing to see that nobody before me has made them more precise: such as “Philippians 2:7-8”!

The critical text was printed by E. Schwartz in the 1920s, and this was one of the items that I got today.  I have just checked, and he gives proper scripture references.  That will save me pain.  His remarks on text should also be interesting.


How long does it take to produce a professional translation from Latin?

A fascinating twitter thread by Dr Jenny Benham (blog here), on translating a 1500 word medieval treaty text.  We don’t get many explanations of the process!  (Paragraphing is mine)

A colleague has asked me how long it takes to do a translation from Latin into English of one of my treaties. I don’t think he quite understood what he was asking…

A simple 1500-word treaty takes about 3 days, including notes on names and dates of individuals. I usually make a literal translation first, which I then refine into something resembling modern English. However I usually refine the translation many times after this, often over several weeks or months as I come across more relevant information. If the Latin is corrupt or complex, this can take considerably longer.

I might also compare my English translation to any available translation into any other modern foreign language. Such comparisons are useful for areas where I have less knowledge of the historical context, and often also provide information for names of places and individuals. Almost every treaty has some sort of quirk that can’t easily be resolved. Sometimes relating to the Latin – don’t run off with this idea of Latin as Lingua Franca across medieval Europe. The same words and phrases can have very different meanings in different regions.

Other times the difficulties might be around particular legal meanings, or the date (is any date ever correct?!), or the names of people and places. My geography has been getting a thorough workout! The longest Time spent translating a single treaty was probably Treaty of Pavia (840). It is long but I approached it completely wrong by making rough translations of individual clauses as and when I needed them. Putting the whole together then didn’t quite come right and I had to re-do the whole from the beginning.

As a general, it is easier to do translations of treaties from regions where I have the strongest contextual knowledge and from where the documents on which my skills training was done those many years ago. I am improving but providing translations of treaties 700-1200, some 400 from across whole of Europe, has been a project of nearly 15 years. Ok, I have had breaks…

But in short, there’s no such thing as how quickly can you translate an average treaty. It depends and practice is key.



Theotokos: Did Origen use the term “Theotokos” for Mary?

There are many websites online that suggest that Origen used the word “theotokos”, “Mother of God”, to refer to Mary the mother of Jesus.  Often the same references float around, or none are  given.  The term “theotokos” was a controversial one in the 5th century, and the determination of some people to use it was responsible for the Nestorian dispute that came to a head in the Council of Ephesus in 433 AD.

One lengthy example of the genre by E. Artemi may be found here. This is valuable because it does include some sort of references for the claims to ancient sources.[1]

The primary authority for the claim that Origen used the term “theotokos” is not in fact Origen himself.  The works of Origen are poorly preserved anyway.  Instead we have a passage in the 5th century writer Socrates.  In his Historia Ecclesiastica book 7, chapter 32, we read as follows (NPNF translation online here):

Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle’s epistle to the Romans,108 gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotocos is used.

108. Cf. Origen, Com. in Rom. I. 1. 5.

This sounds good.  Origen’s Commentary on Romans (CPG 1457) is extant, but poorly preserved.  The majority of it is in the ancient Latin translation of Rufinus.  There are also extracts of the Greek text, and a chunk that was found in a papyrus at Tura in 1941.   But if we go to the text as we have it, we find no such use of the term.  In the Fathers of the Church 103 translation, p.17, we find the plain statement by the editor in n.73:

The quotation is from Book 1 of the Commentary but does not correspond to Rufinus’s translation. Socrates is discussing the Nestorian controversy and claims that Origen had used the title theotokos, “mother of God” with reference to Mary in his Commentary. To Socrates this was proof of two things: The tradition supported the controversial title for Mary and Nestorius was not very well read in ecclesiastical literature.

Indeed book 1, chapter 1, has nothing at all about Mary.  Likewise if we look at the Sources Chrétiennes 532 edition, and examine book 1, chapter 1, section 5, there is nothing about Mary.

Yet the Artemi article states:

Origen also in the first volume of his Commentaries on the apostle’s epistle to the Romans, gives an ample exposition of the sense in which the term Theotokos is used.8

8. Origen of Alexandria, Commentary in Romans, I, 1. 5. See Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastic History, 7, 32, 2.

The reference given derives, no doubt, from the NPNF translation.  The same reference is often given.  But plainly it is false.

But Artemi is not done.  She then goes on to offer another reference, in a different work.

Origen underlines that the name Mariam is the name of Mary, who will be called Theotokos.6

6.  Origen of Alexandria, Homily on Luke, fragment 26,1, 41,1, 33, 2

This looks like it refers to three fragments rather than one.  The reference seems to be to CPG 1452, the Commentarii in Lucam which is fragmentary, and the CPG says that the material may be found in found in the PG 13:1901-1909, and PG 17:312-369, with modern Latin translation.

The CPG helpfully adds that “Fragment 26” is Eusebius, PG23:1341D-1344A.  PG 23 is Eusebius’ Commentary on the Psalms.  Here is the passage, in the commentary on Ps. 109, with the modern Latin parallel translation:

There is no mention of Origen in this.  Indeed whether this material is even by Eusebius may be questioned, for it is assembled out of catena fragments by a pre-modern editor.  Only the material on Ps.51-100 is certainly Eusebian.

Aliquo autem narrante novi, Hebraicam vocem hic Mariam meminisse: nam illud, “Mariam”, Mariae nomen significat; ita ut his nominatim Deipara commemoretur.

But I know in saying this, that we must keep in mind the Hebrew word “Mariam”: for that “Mariam,” signifies the name of Mary; so that the Mother of God should be remembered in this by name.

The last clause, referring to Theotokos, does seem a bit tacked on, subjectively.

The CPG tells us that Rauer in his GCS 49 edition of Origenes Werke IX (2nd ed., 1959), p.227-336, collected the fragments. Unfortunately I have no access to this.

But I did have access to the first edition (1930).  This was mainly concerned with the homilies – not the commentary – on Luke, preserved in an ancient Latin translation by St Jerome.  So I looked up “theotokos” in the list of words on p.320, and it gave me two references; to page 44. line 10 – which turned out to be the very same passage as  before, here assigned to Homily 6 (!); and p.50, line 9, where a chunk of Greek in homily 7 again does include the word.  In neither case does the passage appear in the parallel ancient translation by Jerome.  So it looks as if, for each homily, the editors have started by extracting Latin material from the manuscripts preserving Jerome’s translation, and then included whatever catena material parallelled it.  In both cases they have continued the catena extract beyond the end of the Latin version, because it may belong.

The edition is very hard to follow: what bit comes from what source?  I hope the second edition is better, but as I say, I don’t have access to it.

What do we make of this?  Well, very little.  This is the problem with catena fragments: they were extracted at a date not earlier than the 6th century, and adapted to fit into the “chains” of quotations.  The authorship of every one is doubtful, and it is often very unclear where the quote ends and another writer begins.  Also the catenas were edited at precisely the period when using the word “theotokos” was a mark of loyalty and failure to do so made a writer suspect.

To conclude, as far as I can see, there is no reliable evidence that Origen referred to Mary as the “Mother of God”.  The references offered are either non-existent, or based on texts composed from the 5th century onwards.

Update (21 Aug. 2023): Post title modified to link it to the other “Theotokos” posts.

  1. [1]Eirini Artemi, “The Modulation of the Term THEOTOKOS from the Fathers of 2nd Century to Cyril of Alexandria”, International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research 2 (2014), 27-30.  Online here.  The “journal” looks like a fake journal to me, but we are not using this as an authority, but a witness to the claims being made.”

Roberto Caro on the date of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

In my last post on the Sermo de Symeone et Anna, “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” (CPG 1827), I mentioned that I had no access to the discussion in R. Caro, La homilética mariana griega en el siglo V (= Greek Marian Homilies in the 5th Century), Dayton, Ohio (1971-2), vol.2, pp. 610-617.  But commenter “Diego” kindly pointed out that the whole work is downloadable  from here.

Caro’s interest is in material about Mary and the ecclesiastical devotion to her.  In the volume above he reviews 28 works from the 5th century, all of them pseudonymous and few much studied.  So this is a valuable study, even for those not particularly interested in that subject.

I ran Caro’s text through Google Translate, as I know no Spanish, and I thought it might be useful to give some extracts here that help us understand why he reaches the conclusion of a 6th century text.

The thirty-one manuscripts indicated by A. Ehrhard attribute it to Methodius, Bishop of Patara (and Olympus).  A. Wenger observes that the piece is included in the homiliaries of the 7th century, and therefore Bardenhewer’s hypothesis, that it is by Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century is inadmissible; he believes that it should be dated from the 5th century,2 coinciding with the opinion of E. Amann.3

  1. Laurentin, loc. cit.
    3. DThC X, 1613.

He then summarises the work, and goes on:

In what circumstances was this homily delivered? First of all, it deals with the panegyric of a liturgical festivity: the characteristic σήμερον repeated five times in the exordium, the expression ἑορτὴν ἄγομεν referring precisely to the liturgical assembly, the mission of the ecclesiastical orators in the liturgical assembly and the far-from-exegetical development of the theme that predominates in homilies of this type.

Which liturgical festival? The answer is not as easy as seems at first sight: if we dispense for a moment with the title of the homily and we focus our attention on the first sentence of the exordium, we would affirm that it is about Christmas: the day of salvation when God comes into the world… The second sentence offers a different aspect: inspired by the image of the living ark, the speaker quotes at length the text of Isaiah 6,1-9 that allows him to present Mary as the royal throne of the Lord, centres on the town of Bethlehem, the place of birth, and allows him to refer to the Marian festival… Starting with the third sentence and by means of a sudden and forced step, the previous ideas are linked with the scene of the presentation in the temple that will be the subject of the rest of the homily.

Undoubtedly, the festivity of Hypapante comes to occupy the center of the homily, but one gets the impression that the speaker deals with the liturgical theme from a quite peculiar angle: reading the summary gives a sufficiently clear idea of how the figure of Mary dominates the evangelical picture, diverting its initial Christological orientation and making the speaker’s thinking confused and disordered.

The extensive and enthusiastic address to the city of Jerusalem, surprisingly structured in the form of χαιρετισμοί, parallel to that found in the preceding homilies, suggests a Jerusalem origin for the homily.

Some clues will help to investigate the date of composition:

The style is more typical of literary decadence with its verbosity and continuous digressions, its frequent repetitions, its introductory formulas and editorial deficiencies in the dramatic dialogues; yes, some lyrical highlights and some examples of anaphoric repetitions can be pointed out; the praise trend predominates: Christological praise, Marian, Simeon, or to Jerusalem, or to the Catholic Church, to the people themselves. Certain unusual expressions draw our attention: …

The orator’s christological thought seems to echo the christological controversies of the fifth century: inexplicable double generation of the Word,the double personality, divine and human, of Christ, his unity before and after the incarnation. The Mariological thought belongs to a period of greater doctrinal evolution.

The very orientation of the liturgical festivity in Jerusalem suggests a later period, in accordance with previous data, perhaps the 6th century, without absolutely excluding the possibility that it belongs to the late 5th century, as Wenger believes.

In this hypothesis how do we explain the explicit allusion to the Symposium on Chastity that most likely determined the manuscript tradition in favour of Methodius of Olympus? The observations we made about the contradictory character of the exordium, open the possibility that our speaker used the beginning of an authentic homily by Methodius, which would constitute a very interesting liturgical testimony on the festival of the birth. Perhaps it could be a reference to a brief comment that the speaker had previously made to the authentic work of Methodius. The possibility of a false allusion to give authority to a homily that has little value in itself cannot be excluded.

He then turns to evaluating the Mariological ideas.

The first basic aspect is the divine maternity affirmed explicitly and frequently…

This divine maternity is always presented as virginal…. the birth was immaculate, exempt from natural laws, not only because her conception was carried out without the work of a man, but because the Lord kept natural virginity intact and indissoluble. after childbirth. …

Special attention deserves the doctrine on the salvific activity carried out by Mary. Activity that is exercised indirectly by her powerful intercession as mother of the Redeemer….

Note that although the ideas correspond to the Mariological heritage of the 5th century, its exuberant and sometimes exaggerated formulation corresponds better to the characteristics of Byzantine oratory.

It all sounds very conclusive, especially the points about the veneration of Mary, because the author is so familiar with the normal  usage of the 5th century.  There does not seem to be any real case that the homily is authentic, or early.


Bits and Bobs 4

This is another page of miscellaneous material.  It’s mostly from Twitter.  I bookmarked it over the last 4-5 years, with the intention of writing more, but never did.  So I may as well share them here.

The first item is a combined fork and spoon, made of silver, possibly 3rd century, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  The handle is decorated with a spotted panther, an animal often associated with the god Dionysus.  It’s about 6″ long (16.2 cms).  Accession no. 2006.514.3.

Paul Harrison posted here a lovely image of a Roman calendar of fasti, legal and religious feast days, now in the Baths of Diocletian:

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae project is now searchable online, and open-access, here.  You can search for the start or end of words, helpfully, and iyou get the printed page displayed.

When the basilica of Old St Peter’s was demolished, in order to build the present church, a Roman tomb – the chapel of St Petronilla – had to be demolished also. Inside the grave of the Empress Maria was found.  She was the wife of Honorius, and daughter of Stilicho.  The tomb was full of precious things, which were eagerly seized upon to help pay for the new church.  But a pendant does survive, now in the Louvre, with the names of her parents, her husband and herself.  (h/t @TrimontiumTrust)  See also this article.

Roman temples are often depicted on coins, although often the result is a bit sketchy.  Here’s a picture of the temple of Isis in Rome, on a sestertius of Vespasian from AD 71. (h/t here).  An example was offered for sale in 2013 here.  The British Museum specimen is here.  It does give us an impression of what the temple must have looked like!

I imagine that we can all stare at the Colosseum all day long.  Indeed on my last visit to Rome, I used to walk there every evening and eat a ciabatta while sitting outside.  This photograph from here is from 1896, and shows the Meta Sudans from an unusual angle.

Another photograph taken “before 1871” shows the Arch of Constantine, and the Meta Sudans peeking through one of the arches (h/t Archaeology and Art).  This is one of a set taken by Giacomo Brogi during his travels in Italy in the 1860s (see Digital Maps of the Ancient World, here).

A news report appeared in 2020 about a tablet recording an edict of Caesar threatening punishment for grave robbers.  Thought to come from Palestine, indeed from Nazareth, soon after the time of Christ, it has been seen as perhaps referring to the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  But an analysis of the marble shows that it isn’t local, but comes from the island of Kos in the Aegean.  Obviously that is not proof of anything very much, but the circumstances would better fit events in Kos in 20 BC. The JAS article (vol. 30, 2020) is here. (h/t Trimontium Trust)

Outside the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul stand a group of immense porphyry sarcophagi, thought to come from the mausoleum of the house of Constantine in the Church of the Holy Apostles.  This was demolished by the Turks after their conquest of the city.  Most are decorated Christian symbols, but one is not.  It is hypothesised that this one belonged to Julian the Apostate.  It was discovered in the second courtyard of the Topkapi Palace, buried underneath an immense plane tree. (h/t The Hidden Face of Istanbul).

I’m sure that we all are familiar with the depiction of Roman centurions with a helmet crest mounted cross-wise, like this:

But how do we know that they did this?  The answer, I find, is the gravestone of T. Calidus Severus, in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. III 365).  He came from Italy, and died aged 58 in Carnutum as a centurion of the 15th legion, and his brother Quintus erected the monument with pictures of his equipment. (h/t Symmachus).  There is a German Wikipedia article about him.

The inscription reads:

T(itus) Calidius / P(ublii filius) Cam(ilia) Sever(us) / eq(ues) item optio / decur(io) coh(ortis) I Alpin(orum) / item leg(ionis) XV Apoll(inaris ) / annor(um) LVIII stip(endiorum) XXXIIII / h(ic) s(itus) e(st) / Q(uintus) Calidius fratri / posuit.

Titus Calidius Severus, son of Publius, of the tribe Camilia, horseman, then optio and finally decurio of the Cohors I Alpinorum , then centurion of the Legio XV Apollinaris , aged 58, 34 years of service, is buried here. Quintus Calidius built this tomb for his brother/

Useful to see hard evidence, I think.