Manuscripts and text of the Vita S. Valentini: a review of the article by Edoardo D’Angelo

I’ve started to look at the photocopies that I obtained three days ago of articles in the Bassetti volume of papers about St Valentine.[1]  Naturally my first interest is the paper by Edoardo D’Angelo, “La Passio sancti Valentini martyris (BHL 8460-8460b): Un ‘martirio occulto’ d’età postcostantiniana?” (p.179-222), as it contains a discussion of the manuscripts and a new critical edition.

The first thing that struck me about the paper was its position.  If I were doing a volume of papers centred around a single literary text, and one of those papers was a critical edition of the text, then I would most certainly place it at the front.  I would also insist on a translation.  Doing so would be the natural way to begin such a volume and present it to the public.  Instead it is the seventh paper in the volume, and relatively one of the shortest.

The paper starts with a list of manuscripts containing the work, which is really very useful considering the small space in which it has to appear.  There are 118 manuscripts in all, and two of a slightly modified  version of the text identified as BHL 8460b.  Seven of these date from before 1000 AD, two before 900; and a further thirty-seven from before 1200.  These are all given.[2]  The remainder sadly are not; but of course there is no space.

The origins of each manuscript are not given, but we learn that nearly all of these are Italian, and all of the early ones.  D’Angelo infers from this that the text has an Italian origin.  It is always risky to argue from survivals, but it is not improbable in any way that the Life of St Valentine of Terni should originate close by, in Lazio.  The other content of the manuscripts likewise relates to Umbrian saints.

The 37 manuscripts include a manuscript from South Africa, from the “Grey collection”.  I don’t think that I have ever before seen reference to a medieval manuscript held in South Africa.  I would hope that the remaining South Africans are photographing the manuscripts as fast as they can before the barbarian rulers of that unhappy land destroy them.

The wide diffusion of the text and the Carolingian date of some of the copies tends to suggest an early date.  The quotation of two sentences verbatim by Bede in his Martyrology (CPL 2032) in the early 8th century provides a terminus antequam.  The text is most likely therefore of the 6-7th century.

The standard reference edition of the text is still that of the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum (AASS), under February 14.  This was printed in 1658, yet D’Angelo tells us that “Tale edizione seicentesca, fondata su una base decente di codici, ha retto tutto sommato all’urto del tempo e dell’avanzamento della ricerca.” (“This seventeenth century edition, founded on a decent base of manuscripts, has all in all survived the impact of time and the progress of research”), which is fair comment.  The AASS introduction states that it was based on five mss plus the Mombritius edition; but the footnotes to the text come from three manuscripts; “S. Maxim.”, “Regium.” and “Gladbas.”, six breviaries, and two printed editions, the Mombritius and Surius.  D’Angelo has clearly not had the chance to pursue this very far, but suggests that the “Regium” must be one of the 8 mss in the Royal Library in Brussels – reasonable, considering that the Bollandists were working in that area – and the “Gladbas” is probably ms. 72 in the library of the Bollandists, previously from the monastery of St Vitus Martyr in Gladbach.

The editor has produced his new edition based on the earliest manuscripts, plus a handful from the next 37, which he believes to be from the same geographical area.  This is reasonable up to a point; but what we do not see is proper stemmatics.  We all know that late manuscripts can contain truth which is not found in surviving earlier manuscripts.  There is also the problem that this is not a literary text, but a hagiographical one, where the copyist may feel free to alter the text.  The article is not nearly long enough to explore these questions properly, and so the new edition is not really as critical as it could be.  All the same it involves various small changes to the text printed by the Bollandists.

One decision made by the editor seems to me to be absolutely mistaken.  He has not normalised the spelling: we have “michi” rather than “mihi”, for instance.  The logic here seems to be faulty: we are told that the mss vary wildly, that we have no idea what spelling the author might have used (although I do not see why we care), and so he has compromised between the spellings of the manuscripts, in order to avoid “alle pericolosissime tentazioni di classicizzazione forzata” (the most perilous temptations of forced classicization”).  But we do not do this in our literary editions.  The variable spelling of Shakespeare, or even Jane Austen, are not respected in modern editions.  Spelling was not standardised in the past.  This was an evil, not a good, and it was a barrier to communication.  The editor should have used the standard spellings, and noted anything he felt was significant in the apparatus.

Short though the paper is, the author has also been obliged to discuss whether the content of the Life of St Valentine is in some way historical.  The attempt is made to show that it might be.

We learn that many people suppose the events in the story to belong to the reign of Claudius II Gothicus (268-270), because that is the setting for the martyrdom of Valentine the Roman in the Passio Maris et Martha, which may or may not be the same saint as our St Valentine of Terni.  The logic of this is poor: there may be two separate St Valentines, or they may be the same one.

The Prefect of the City of Rome in the Life is given as “furius Placidus”, “the furious Placidus”.  The Bollandists treated this as a joke by the author, but D’A. identifies him as a certain absurdly named Marcus Mecius Memmius Furius Baburius Cecilianus Placidus, praetorian prefect from 342-4 and prefect of the city from 346-7.  Other not very distinctive names are adduced to suggest that the story should be set in the same period.  None of this seems much more than speculation.  Nothing compels us to believe that these are anything but coincidences.

  1. [1]M. Bassetti &c, San Valentino e il suo culto tra medioevo ed età contemporanea. Uno status quaestionis, Terni, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-8879885713.
  2. [2]The numeral for the shelfmark for the early MS in the Arch.Cap.S.Pietro has been omitted; unfortunate considering that there are 470 such mss.

From my diary

Today I had to drive for three hours each way for a job “interview” of around twenty minutes.  I already had a job offer, but I thought it wise to have a face-to-face meeting, and it proved very wise indeed.  The job looks like a stress-fest.  Not for me.

But I redeemed the travel time somewhat.  The road passed close by Cambridge University Library, so I stopped off on the way.  The volume that I wanted was waiting, for I had ordered it last night using the internet.  This was the Bassetti volume, San Valentino e il culto, on St Valentine of Terni, to which I referred in this post.  My intention was to photocopy the key articles within it, which I did, and then went on my way.

The most important article was Edoardo D’Angelo, “La passio sancti Valentini martyris…”, which contains a critical text of the Life of St Valentine that I have been translating, together with a list of manuscripts and an attempt at a stemma.  I have extracted the Latin text  of the Life, this evening, using my trusty Finereader 14.  It will be most interesting to see how and where it diverges from the text as given in the Acta Sanctorum, which I have been translating.  I’ve not seen any obvious changes so far.

One deviation is regrettable.  D’Angelo has decided to number the individual sentences of the Life, which is fine. But he also decided to ignore the section/chapter numbers from the Acta Sanctorum.  This is not fine.  It means that anyone with his text before them cannot locate material mentioned in any prior scholarship; they will have to find the Acta Sanctorum text.  Likewise any subsequent scholarship using his edition and numbering system will force the reader to obtain access to an obscure Italian volume of collected papers, held in relatively few research libraries.

D’Angelo is not the only editor to commit this sin. A little while ago I found that Zacharopoulos, a modern Greek editor of Theophanes of Nicaea (see here), did exactly the same.  This was even more of a problem because the Sotiropoulos editio princeps is almost completely inaccessible without an international flight.

Every new edition should always indicate the divisions or page numbers of the very first edition, the editio princeps.  It’s only considerate towards those who will use your work.

For Valentine, I might see if I can rectify this problem myself somehow, by giving a concordance or something on this blog.

    *    *    *    *

It’s slightly odd to think that I have made brief raids up to Cambridge like this for more than twenty years now.  It means that I have witnessed a lot of change there.

In fact every time I visit Cambridge University Library something is different.  It is not always better.  For instance some strange person has moved the photocopiers out of a dedicated room and scattered them around the building.  Staff are becoming used to bewildered visitors hunting for a machine.

Likewise I am not an alumnus of Cambridge.  It is merely the nearest research library that I can use.  Because of this, I have to pay a fee to use the library, and outsiders like myself are second-class readers in many little ways.

This time the change was about photocopying.  In reception I asked to put some money on my library card in order to pay for photocopies at the machine.  To my surprise they deducted some odd amount, on the pretext of the VAT tax.  A notice in the photocopier room in the West Room informed me that university members got their photocopies ex-VAT.

I confess that I wasn’t aware that national taxes on the supply of goods and services do not apply if you are a member of certain universities.  This sounds unlikely, in fact.  I suspect that the taxman will take a dim view of this approach, once he becomes aware.  But of course he shall not learn it from me.

The other thing that made me smile was that they made me fill out a paper form, in order to add money to my card.  I suppose we must expect pettifoggery from library staff.  The more conscientious they are, the better for the books, but the worse for low-status readers like myself.

I confess that, in my exasperation at all this tomfoolery, I expressed myself less politely than I might have done.  Luckily there was no harm done this time.  But it is always a mistake, as well as uncharitable.

I shall see what Bassetti’s volume looks like tomorrow!

From my diary

Yesterday and today I’ve been working on a translation of the “Saint’s Life” of St Valentine of Terni / Interamna.  I started this a few months ago, and then got diverted.  It’s only ten chapters in the Acta Sanctorum, two sides of a page.  It is mildly incredible that nobody has translated this.

Anyway this evening I got to the end of chapter ten.  So the first pass all the way through is complete.  However I think that a few scattered sentences were left uncertain last time, so I need to produce a draft for these too.

After that, I shall have to read through it, and revise it.  I also need to read the prefatory material, and take a look at modern material, in order to write a short introduction.  This will probably happen next week, so the Life will go online when that happens.   I have engagements Monday-Wednesday so probably this will be at the end of the week; but who knows?

I never did gain access to Bassetti’s volume on St Valentine.  I think that, for 80 dollars, I can live without it.

An email late last night invited me to investigate the background to the text printed in Migne as Athanasius’ Exposition on the Psalms.  The “work” is actually a collection of catena extracts, assembled by the Maurist fathers in the 18th century.  They went through the 11th century catena of Nicetas of Heraclea, and copied each extract that Nicetas ascribed to Athanasius – a risky proceeding.  If I had nothing else to do then I might look into it, but of course I do.

My time at home is probably coming to an end.  I started applying for contracts a couple of weeks ago, and I now have an interview with an old client, plus four other irons in the fire.  I would expect to start work in July.  I suspect that it will be good for me to get back to work, surrounded by busy people with things to do.  But I expect that it will be quite a shock to the system, after almost five months at home.   It does mean that I need to get my projects to a suitable point to stop.

More on “Magganum” and St George

Following yesterday’s post, a kind correspondent wrote to tell me of a Greek word in wiktionary that seems relevant, μάγγανο.  This noun may be a form of war machine, but also a type of crane, or a windlass.  The email continued:

The -um endings in Latin coincide with the Greek ending -on, hence, “magganon”.

It is a byzantine war machine like a catapult, but also a windlass or a winch.   I looked into the biographies of Saint George, and one of the tortures he was made to suffer by the relentless persecuter Diocletian was a wheel, to which he was strapped, and as it was turned (by a windlass?) his body was slashed by various sharp objects.

This is an icon of that torture:

St George on the wheel

Another tidbit, regarding the term “magganon”: a modern, composite Greek word for the instrument used for drawing water out of a well (πηγάδι) = μάγγανο-πήγαδο.

The icon is very helpful.  It shows George, tied to the wheel with rope, and the swords positioned underneath to injure him.

Now this does indeed look like the right approach.  There are mentions in the Life of daggers, right next to the references to “maggana”.  It works!

What does “magganum” mean? Looking for the Commentator Cruquianus of Horace

While working on the Life of St George, I came across an unusual word, “magganum”.  Whatever it was, it was being used during the tortures inflicted on the saint.  The dictionaries were really not very helpful!  Gaffiot thought it could mean “wine barrel”, but also pointed me to “maganum” which Du Cange thought meant “war machine”.  Unhappily Arndt’s text of the Life is essentially a transcript of a medieval manuscript, so the spellings cannot be relied on; while a similar Passio was printed by Huber, but Huber didn’t know what the word meant either!

This evening I had a go with Google.  A site called Dicolatin knew of the word, but suggested that it simply meant “wooden barrel”.  Another site seemingly based on LSJ suggested that it meant “a wine-vessel made of wood, Schol. Cruq. ad Hor. C. 1, 9, 8.”

What on earth was that reference, tho?  Luckily the same page expanded this a bit, “Schol. Cruq. u. Acro Hor. carm. 1, 9, 8.”, and a bit of googling revealed the meaning.  This gnomic phrase indicates the scholia from Cruquius on the “carmina” of Horace, book 1, poem 9, line 8.

But who is Cruquius?  And where can I find his scholia?

Cruquius turns out to be an old editor of Horace, who printed an edition in 1578 in Antwerp, reprint 1579.  Cruquius had had access to four manuscripts from a Dutch monastery, all destroyed a decade earlier during the wars of religion.  These contained interesting comments on the text, explaining individual words.  These scholia were ancient, and contained in no other manuscript.  For lack of a better term, the unknown ancient author of the scholia is known as the “Commentator Cruquianus”.  This, then, is what I needed to access.

But where on earth could these scholia be found?

It turns out that there are several sets of ancient scholia on Horace.  There are scholia from the 3rd century AD by Porphyrio;[1] other scholia by pseudo-Acronis.[2]  Any search for “Commentum in Horatium” brings up endless editions of both in  There is also a four volume Scholia in Horatium, by H. J. Botschuyver, Amsterdam 1935-42.  But this was inaccessible to me.

But I was unable to establish if anyone had ever reprinted the scholia from Cruquius.  Nor could I locate his edition in Google Books.

Eventually I had a lucky break: I found a reprint of Cruquius, from 1579.  It’s online here at Google Books.

On page 28 is the text of the Commentator Cruquianus on Carmen I.9, line 8.  It reads:

diota. vas еst vinarium duas ansas habens, quasi duas auriculas, unde nomen habet: aliud еst quod Magganum dicitur, vas vinarium ex ligno confectum.

This is an explanation of the word “diota” in the line of Horace: “a vessel is a wine-container having two handles, like two ears, from which it gets its name: otherwise it is what is called “magganum”, a wine-container vessel made out of wood.”

Which is what I was looking for.  Is it the right meaning for St George?  Well, I shall now have to go back and look at the context.  But it was interesting to find these ancient scholia!

  1. [1]Meyer, Pomponii Porphrionis Commentum in Horatium, 1894. Online here.
  2. [2]Keller, Pseudacronis scholia in Horatium vetustiora, 1902. Vol. 1 online here; vol 2 here.

Discovery of unpublished letter by Eastern bishop on Easter, from the time of Nicaea, mentioning the Acts of Pilate

There are still treasures out there, slumbering in forgotten manuscripts in the collections of the west.  French scholar Pierre Chambert-Protat today announced on Twitter that he has discovered a previously unknown ancient text in manuscript Montpellier 157.  This 9th century manuscript, copied in 848, is a collection of extracts on Easter, assembled by Florus of Lyons.

Dr C-P is researching Florus, which is how he came to look at this manuscript, and to realise that the first item in it was unknown.

He has generously uploaded pre-prints of two articles on the subject at the French HAL repository.  The first here discusses the manuscript and its contents.  The second, here, is entitled, “Une source inédite sur la question pascale au concile de Nicée : le Liber Timothei episcopi de pascha[1].

The letter is by a certain bishop Timothy to an unidentified group.  His intention is to specify how they should calculate the date of Easter, and avoid falling into the errors of a certain Stephanus (recently condemned and otherwise unknown) and four other types of error.  In the process he attacks those who want to fix the date of Easter to the Roman Julian calendar – shades of our own time! – and those who reference the apocryphal Acts of Pilate.

The language is Latin, and contains various hellenisms, not well-understood always by the Latin translator.  The subject matter seems to belong to Asia Minor or Syria, where many different methods of calculation were known.  However the work seems to be known to St Augustine, which indicates that copies were in circulation in the south of Spain or in African in the second half of the 4th century.

He intends to publish the text with French translation in the Sources Chrétiennes series.  In the mean time he gives a summary of the contents, which seems well worth reproducing here (translation mine):

§ 1 — The love which community receiving this letter have for the Gospels, as well as their faith, deserve congratulations.

§ 2 — Though now separated from them by his office, the author desires anyway to increase and strengthen the faith of this community.

§ 3 — First important reminder: there is no other truth than Christ.

§ 4 — More precisely, this letter aims to recall the meaning of Easter at a time when some are emptying this festival of meaning, as for example Stephanus did.

§ 5 — Easter must be related to 1 Cor. 5:7-8:  Nam and Pascha nostrum immolatus is Christus: ita solemnia celebremus not in fermento malitiae and nequitiae, sed in azymis sinceritatis and ueritatis.

§ 6 – The figure of this sacrament was given in Exodus, along with the main rituals.

§ 7  — The Jews sacrificed only in figure, because the true sacrifice is that of Christ, the true lamb. [Quoted in the Liber XXI Sententiarum]

§ 8 — The rituals set forth in Exodus prefigured the Christian Passover typologically. [Quoted in the Liber XXI Sententiarum]

§ 9 — These days the Jews can no longer even follow the concrete provisions of the Law, and therefore they are in contravention of them on all points.

§ 10 — But it is the case of Christians that must be examined. For it is not enough to remember Christ: it must be done at the right time. The redeeming virtue of the sacrament is at stake.

§ 11 — Some people want to hold to the fourteenth day of the month, because of the Mosaic Law. But this is to cancel the sacrifice of Christ who freed us from it, as Paul has already said.

§ 12 — Furthermore, they cannot conform to the other precepts of the Mosaic Law, and therefore cease to be Christians without becoming Jews again. They are not anyone anymore.

§ 13 — And why do those who sanctify Sundays all year long refuse to sanctify the first Sunday of the year, the root and foundation of all others?

§ 14 — Basically, it is as if they do not even believe in the resurrection. If they believed in it, they would not neglect the day of his suffering. We must fast and rejoice at the right time. And these times, according to the evangelical precept, are days: not lunar cycles, which are right for the Jews.

§ 15 — The fake “Acts of Pilate” cannot be invoked either: their testimony is incompatible with the Gospels. Now the Gospels check the prophecies; while the fake Acts, well, we do not even know where they come from. From private or public hands? But which ones? It’s a low-grade swindle.

§ 16 — In a certain sense, they fall into the error of those who don’t intercalate a month to keep the solar and lunar calendars in step: to celebrate the Easter on a different day is like celebrating the Easter of a different Christ.

§ 17 — They fear that this intercalation may make them celebrate the Passover/Easter of the unclean. But it’s because they did not understand the calendar. Intercalation is not there to introduce disorder, but to restore order: it is the law of nature. And those who want to fix Easter according to the Roman calendar create an absurdity, since the Passover/Easter is a Jewish holiday, not a Roman holiday.

§ 18 — It is not a question of celebrating Passover with the Jews, but on the contrary, that the Christian perpetuation of this feast constitutes an accusation against the Jews. The calendar shift must serve this purpose.

§ 19 — But the worst of all are those who make Easter on the fourteenth of the month and commemorate the passion on the following Friday: they celebrate the passion after the resurrection, as if they suffered because Christ was risen!

§ 20 — This disruption of Easter disturbs all the rest of the liturgical calendar: these Christians fast when we rejoice, and vice-versa. Their behaviour is a denial of all faith, a denial of Christ himself.

§ 21 — It is necessary, indeed, a terrible audacity not to observe the great day upon which all of the sacred history converges; the day of divine victory; the day that so many miraculous signs have saluted; the day when, for Christians, everything begins; the day of true sacrifice. Who neglects it excludes himself; who observes it saves himself.

§ 22 — And that is all that should be said about it, in a few words so that the assembly standing up is not tired out too much.

It sounds extremely interesting!  Well done Drs. Chambert-Protat and Camille Gerzaguet for making this known!

  1. [1]Pierre Chambert-Protat et Camille Gerzaguet, “Une source inédite sur la question pascale au concile de Nicée : le Liber Timothei episcopi de pascha“, in: Revue bénédictine 128, 2 (2018), p. 225–229. DOI : 10.1484/j.rb.5.116420.  Preprint here.

Commercial use of my stuff by someone else?

Today I received an email from “Delphi Classics” asking if they could use the Eusebius translations from my website for an upcoming eBook of the works of Eusebius.  These consist of translations now out of copyright, which I scanned, plus material that others sent me, and stuff that I commissioned myself.  They’re not offering me money, of course.

It was bound to happen.  Indeed it has probably happened already, without my knowledge.  It’s a funny feeling, to think of someone else making money out of my hard work.

They’re not intending to contribute anything – they just see a commercial opportunity.  Maybe they are right.

I have sent them an email of consent, all the same.  The purpose of everything I do is to make stuff freely and widely available.  If these people can get the works into the hands of more people, then this is well and good.

I do not believe that there is any real money in the fathers. I’ve never made a penny from what I do.  I owe all my interest to the work of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, by Harry Plantinga, back in the day, who made the original Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers available to us all for nothing.  I can hardly do otherwise.

Copyright can be a real obstacle.  Long ago I used to be interested in a role-playing game called Empire of the Petal Throne.  This never became very widely known.  The author, M. A. R. Barker, was obsessed with control of the publishing rights.  This concern came out all over the place; and I always felt that it must have limited the circulation of EPT material.  I never wanted to do that.

So I’ve let them do what they want.  I hope that they sell a shed-load of Eusebius books.  Who knows who will read them and be inspired?

All the same, it’s still a funny feeling.

Norwich Cathedral and the Latin origins of modern English liturgies

I passed the weekend in the English city of Norwich.  On the Sunday I attended the sung eucharist at Norwich Cathedral with a friend.  I confess that I have never attended a Sunday morning service at a cathedral in my life, so it was a new experience.

Norwich Cathedral

The interior was very bare.  The stonework had been stripped of any plaster that it might have had in medieval times.  In some arches there was obvious whitewash.  I couldn’t help feeling that this was rather a pity.  The building would look better with a bit more colour.

It was also cold inside.  The temperature outside was sweltering, and had been so for two days.  But the great mass of medieval stone had not warmed up as yet.  These buildings can never have been anything else.

The huge building was mostly empty. The service took place in the nave, west of the huge stone rood screen which completely hid the altar from the nave.  The congregation was mostly elderly and no greater than an ordinary parish church.  Looking at them, it was obvious that they could not possibly afford to maintain this vast building.  They did make quite an effort to be welcoming to visitors.  Indeed my friend and I were collared and asked to help carry up the elements to the clergy during the eucharist, which was a surprise.

The choir was a visiting choir named Amici Coro, who were superb.  They were supported by equally or even more excellent organ playing.  I confess that I do like excellence in music, so long as it is not empty and cynical.

The service book was a local creation, with the cathedral on the cover.  Initially I couldn’t follow it at all!  This was because the service only used the material printed on the right-hand pages.  The material on the left hand pages, in a font and design identical to that opposite, was merely for information.  It’s quite hard to understand why anybody would do such a thing, but then the regulars all know.  Churches are often bad at this sort of thing.

But some of the material printed opposite did catch my eye.  It consisted of Latin versions of the material that we were saying.

Now I’m still working on the fifth-century Life of St George, and in one chapter there are quotations which are in fact from ancient liturgical material.  Some of these actually appeared in the Norwich cathedral service book.  For instance one section read:

Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.


Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Who takes away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
Who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us

The “qui tollis” caught my eye, having seen similar constructions in the Life.  The nominative “qui”, “who”, followed by the 2nd person singular “tollis”, “you take away”, made me rub my eyes.  Rendering as “you who take away”, “you take away” or “who takes away” – none of them a very exact translation on the face of it.

It made me realise that there is a tradition here, of words pronounced in western churches for nearly two millennia, about which most people, including myself, are utterly ignorant.  It isn’t even obvious to me where to start to find out.

I came to Christ in an Anglican church using a modern English liturgy.  I remember once attending a Roman Catholic service in my college days and being surprised to find much the same words being used.  But I have never heard anyone discuss what they were.

Is there a simple, brief introduction to such matters available?  Designed for the layman?

Suggestions would be most welcome in the comments.

My thanks to the people and clergy of Norwich cathedral for the welcome that we received, as complete and obscure strangers.  We were invited to the coffee afterwards, and everyone was most friendly.

From my diary

I made a trip to Cambridge University Library on Tuesday, to look at a couple of books on Theophanes of Nicaea, rather than waiting several weeks.  I was glad to find some money still on my university card, but the photocopiers become more difficult to use each time they get a new one!  I got most of what I want; but how I wish that I could have simply downloaded the volumes!  One was 50 euros, one was 25 euros, so it was cheaper to drive.

My library card was still valid, at least until September.  A much younger-looking face with masses of dark hair looks out of it.  For the library staff have not updated the picture since 1999.

The monograph, by I.D.Polemis, naturally references the editio princeps of On the light of Tabor; by Sotiropoulos.  I’ve been trying to find a copy of this book, but utterly in vain.  The National Library of Greece has a copy, and Worldcat tells me that a German library in Bonn has one.  Otherwise nothing. I would guess that the title page is entirely in Greek, and that this has baffled cataloguers.  It’s a warning, to you Greek chaps – always put a title in Roman text somewhere opposite the title page.  You won’t be sorry.

Another failing of the otherwise excellent monograph was a failure to translate passages from the author.  The book had extensive quotations, often half a page.  But as these were all in Greek, this meant that the argument was impossible to follow!  This is undoubtedly the fault of the publisher, who should have known that normal people do not read middle Greek!

The other book was a Greek text of Theophanes, a later edition.  But the editor did not print the page numbers of the editio princeps in his edition.  This poses quite a problem.  Polemis refers to a passage by a bare page number – rather than book 3, chapter 6 – and the widely available later text simply leaves you to guess where it is.  It’s interesting to see the lack of joined-up thinking here.

Anyway I wrote the article on Theophanes, and I probably won’t have occasion to deal with him again.

It did highlight how much material is not very easy to access, even today, even with the mass piracy of PDFs that is such a blessing to independent scholars.

I’m still working on QuickLatin, but less and less so.  I ought to upload the new version to the distribution site, and draw a line under that work.  But this will mean tangling with creating copy protection for it.  I suppose once it is done, it is done.

I went back to working on the ancient life of St George last night.  This is dribbling along slowly, but there is no rush.

At some point I must get back to earning money.  I’ve started putting out my CV to the usual places, and we’ll have to see what comes along.  God will provide, as ever.  I have a feeling that I will either get something fairly quickly, or else it will be September.

Theophanes III of Nicaea and the light of God as the fire of hell for those who reject Him

The Wikipedia article on the “Light of Tabor” – the divine light seen by the disciples on Mount Tabor – mentions that “Theophanes of Nicaea” believed that “the divine light will be perceived as the punishing fire of hell”.[1] This is indeed true, although Theophanes is actually merely following Gregory Nazianzen here.[2]

But who is this Theophanes of Nicaea? There is no Wikipedia article on him; and even the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium does not consider him worth a mention. He is sometimes confused with his predecessor bishop at Nicaea, Theophanes the Confessor, also known as Theophanes Graptos (d. 845).  I thought that it would be useful to collect what I could on this minor figure as an orientation guide in case others have to work in this area.

In the late 14th century the works of Thomas Aquinas began to be known in the remains of the Byzantine empire. Translations were made by Demetrius Cydones. Naturally this instantly provoked one of those lengthy pseudo-theological quarrels so beloved of the decaying state, which are associated with the name of St Gregory Palamas and are known to us as the Hesychast controversy. A circle of intellectuals formed around the former emperor John VI Cantacuzene, who had resigned in 1354 and become a monk under the name of Joasaph. One of these young men was Theophanes, a very minor late Byzantine writer.

We know very little about Theophanes. We don’t even know the name that he was born with – Theophanes is his name in religion. We don’t know when he was born, where, or what family he came from. He was a disciple of the Patriarch Philotheus Kokkinus of Constantinople (1354-5, and again 1364-7), as appears in the compliments made in his First Oration on the Light of Tabor. Theophanes appears for the first time in 1366 in a legal act. This he signed as Theophanes, Metropolitan of Nicaea. But Nicaea had been occupied by the Turks since 1331, so the appointment was merely an honour.  He was probably selected as bishop by his master after 1364. He was unable to visit Nicaea as he tells us in the third of his Three Letters to Nicaea. Instead he resided in Constantinople and busied himself with church business.

One part of this business was the task of responding to a letter from the Latin “patriarch of Constantinople”, Paul, bishop of Smyrna. Pope Innocent VI had asked Paul to write to John/Joasaph for information about the hesychast controversy. The ex-emperor prudently deputed the task, and Theophanes wrote a Letter to Paul on the subject.

Philotheus placed Theophanes in charge of the investigation into the opinions of Prochorus Cydones about Hesychasm, and therefore many of his works are concerned with this. But he relinquished the role to concentrate on the reunion with the church of Serbia.[3]

Between 1367 and 1368 Theophanes acted as ambassador for Philotheus to John Ugljesa, the despot of Serbia, to negotiate the reunion of the Serbian church with Constantinople. In consequence his signature is absent from the Tomos of 1368, in which Prochorus Cydones was condemned.

Theophanes was the first Byzantine theologian to use the works of Aquinas, even prior to Scholarios. These he knew through the translations into Greek by Demetrius Cydones.

No further mention of Theophanes is known after June 1380, and in March 1381 a new bishop, Alexios of Varna, is consecrated to Nicaea.

The majority of the works of Theophanes remain unpublished and accessible only in manuscript. The following works have been printed:

  • Three pastoral letters
  • Oratio Eucharistica.  The eucharistic prayer
  • Sermo in Sanctissimam DeiparamOration on the most holy Mother of God (theotokos)
  • De lumine uiso in monte Thabor.  Five orations on the Light of Tabor.
  • De aeternitate mundi.  A treatise on the eternity of the world

Unedited works include:

  • Contra Latinos.  Four orations against the Latins, rejecting the filioque.
  • Contra Judaeos.  Eight orations and twenty-five chapters against the Jews.
  • Epistola ad Paulum.  Letter to the legate Paul

A further work is not known to exist today:

  • Epistola ad Joannem Ugljesam.  Letter of John Ugljesa.

The oration on the theotokos recapitulates all his theological doctrine, and has been supposed to be the last work by our author.

The main manuscript used by Sotiropolous for the Five orations on the light of Tabor is BNF Paris gr. 1294 (P), which is online.[4]  It also contains two of the pastoral letters.

Here is a limited bibliography.  The reader should start with Polemis’ monograph on the subject.


Χαραλ. Γ. Σωτηροπούλου, Θεοφάνους Γ΄ ἐπισκόπου Νικαίας, Περὶ θαβωρίου φωτός λόγοι πέντε, Athènes 1990. (= Ch. Sotiropoulos, Theophanes III bishop of Nicaea, On the Light of Tabor, five books).  I have been quite unable to locate any copies of this, other than one in Athens in the National Library, and one in Bonn in Germany.

Geōrgiou Th. Zacharopoulou, Theophanēs Nikaias (? – +/- 1380/1) : ho vios kai to syngraphiko tou ergo. Series: Vyzantina keimena kai meletai ; 35. Thessalonikē : Kentro Vyzantinōn Ereunōn 2003. ISBN 9607856120. This contains an edition of the Orations on the Light of Tabor, and probably much else.[5]  Amusingly the editor disparages earlier editions in the way traditional with new editors, in order to promote his own new and improved one.  Infuriatingly he does not print the page numbers of the editio princeps, rendering the readily-available volume less than useful.

The Epistolae III are printed in the PG vol. 150, cols 287-349.

The oratio eucharistica is in PG 150, 352-356.

Iōannēs D. Polemēs, Theophanous Nikaias, Apodeixis hoti edynato ex aïdiou gegenēsthai ta onta kai anatropē tautēs. Editio princeps. Athēna: Akadēmia Athēnōn ; J. Vrin [distributor] ; Ousia [distributor] 2000.  This is the treatise that beings are not eternal.

Martin Jugie, Theophanes Nicaenus, Sermo in Sanctissimam Deiparam, Romae : Facultas Theologica Pontificii Aethenaei Seminarii Romani, 1935. Greek text and Latin translation.


Ioannis D. Polemis, Theophanes of Nicaea: His Life and Works, Series: Wiener Byzantinistische Studien , Volume: 20. Vienna: 1996. ISBN13: 978-3-7001-2227-2.[6] Revision of 1991 Oxford DPhil Thesis supervised by Cyril Mango.[7] Includes an appendix of corrections to the Sotiropoulos text.  Polemis discusses all the works known to him, printed and otherwise, that the author was able to find, and the manuscripts for them all.  The standard monograph.

Stephan, Christian, “Theophanes III of Nicea”, in: Religion Past and Present. Encyclopedia of Theology and Religion. Brill: 2006-13. ISBN: 9789004146662.[8]

  1. [1] The reference given is “Ioannēs Polemēs, Theophanes of Nicaea: His Life and Works, vol. 20 (Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996), p. 99”.
  2. [2]Polemis p.99: “The view that the light of God’s glory is identical with the fire of hell is quite common among the Greek Fathers and can be traced back to Gregory of Nazianzos, who affirms in a passage quoted by Theophanes without acknowledgment that the punishment of sinners will be ὡς πῦρ ἰδεῖν, ὅν ὡς φῶς οὐκ ἐγνώρισαν” (“seeing Him to be fire whom he did not recognise as light”), and n. 109: “Gregory of Nazianzus In laudem Athanasii, PG 35, 1084D,” i.e. the funeral oration for Athanasius, oratio XXI, chapter 2. English translation
  3. [3]See review of Polemis at
  4. [4]
  5. [5]This contains a two-page summary in French from which the majority of the information above has been taken.
  6. [6]Publisher website:
  7. [7]
  8. [8]Online version: