Letters 97-101 of Isidore of Pelusium

LETTER XCVII — to Hymetios.  Against the Macedonians, or Spirit-Contesters.

It was in order to show the union of the most Holy Spirit with Himself and the Father said to the disciples that Our Lord and Master, after rising from the dead, said to his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive any ones’ sins, they are forgiven.”- namely, by the authority [1] of the divine Spirit you receive, who has divine power to remit sins.

LETTER XCVIII- to Frontinos the Monk.  Concerning him who received (a slap)on the cheek.

If you have been injured by words and given way to unrestrained anger, how can you become a worker in the Lord‘s Vineyard? For He determines that whosoever, struck on one cheek  [2], is capable also of presenting the other, is that one who “bears the oppressiveness of the day and its heat” [3] and who thus will have accomplishedall the labour of the Lord’s command. For if you aspire to those greater rewards, do not be distraught at the lesser toils, but learn to bear with love the greater ones, for you will not otherwise receive a penny unless witnessed to by the perfection of (your) own efforts.

LETTER XCIX- to Duke Gelasios

Concerning pride, impotence and insignificance

It is usual for human beings- at least for most, although foreign to divine legislation, to be puffed up by (noble) descent, practical wisdom, possessions, beauty or rank.[4] However it helps in no way the pride of those who are from earth and who again return to it. That you possess none at all of these qualities you will scarcely deny. If then you are deprived of all the things that cause one to swell and be puffed up, since you are of lowly extraction, poor, of weak intellect, [very] ordinary and ill-shaped,[5] why do you strut through the city, as though you were the most reputed of all, and become the author of many disturbances there? Rather get to know yourself and acquire a manner proportioned to your insignificance, or alternatively prepare yourself for efforts and dangers, with which those in power will reward you. For you are lacking in wealth, which frequently smoothes over the asperities of circumstances and the blows of fate.

LETTER C — to Syros the Reader

Against theNovatians

Say to the disciple of Novatian’s pride: why are you foolishly boasting as if [you were] clean? Why are you pretending that you are sinless? Why deny the (fault) common to nature? Isaiah declares himself unclean; David knows that every man is a liar and that all were conceived and carried in the womb in sin. God Himself knows that human beings are devotedly attached to evil and require only the mercy of divine kindness- and do you arrogantly boast of being clean? Either then give over lying or from what you are doing be exposed as a laughing-stock or indeed mightily shameful.

LETTER CI — to Theognostos, a newly-professed monk

Concerning the need always to be sober

You have grasped the ploughshare well and to the point. You are succeeding in escaping from suffocating [6] matter. You have stepped forth well towards a higher citizenship. Stand [7] therefore wide awake as a heavy-armed soldier, lest sleep slip in rendering you flabby and show you up as a deserter, which God forbid. For we are not unaware of the designs of the Evil One.

[1] The Greek relative pronoun could also refer to Christ, who is the initial subject and whose power to forgive is central to the NT. The translation would then read: by the authority of whose divine Spirit…
[2] Mt.5.39
[3] Mt.20.12 
[4] See L. Meridier, L’influence de la seconde sophistique sur l’œuvre de Grégoire de Nysse, Rennes, 1906.
[5] For a Christian writer’s effort to include ψογος in his rhetorical repertoire see J. Bernardi, Grégoire de Nazianze, Discours 4-5, Contre Julien, (Sources Chrétiennes 309) introduction p.15, Cerf, 1983.
[6] cf. Mk. 4,7
[7] cf. Plato, Ap. 28D

These letters were translated for us by Clive Sweeting — many thanks!


14 letters of Isidore of Pelusium

Isidore of Pelusium: Letters 1-14

(PG 78, cols. 177-189)

1. To the monk Nilus.

The holy bishops and the guides of the monastic discipline, from the conflicts and struggles which they underwent,[1] established fitting terms, for activities for our instruction and knowledge. They called the withdrawal from the material world “renunciation,” and ready obedience “subjection.” And they, on the one hand, only had nature as a teacher[2]; and we, on the other hand, having their recorded[3] conduct, consider the work to be small. “Renunciation,” therefore, must be the forgetting of the former way of thinking and the refusal of fellowship[4]; and “subjection” must be the cessation and dissolution from the people on earth, just as it stands written.

2. To the monk Dorotheus.

Burning coals were set ablaze by[5]it.[6]

Burning coals were set ablaze by[7] it; namely, the saints are set ablaze by the fire from[8] God. For since our God is a consuming fire, those who contemplate God with purity are likewise called burning coals. Being set ablaze in union with him, they appear as stars in the world.[9]

3. To the scholar Neilammon[10].
Concerning an active life of good works.

Having learned quite clearly from the ancients, that to be is not to think, what then is to be? Do more, and do not just talk.

4. To the reader Timotheus.

Concerning the conflicts[11] which you undergo, excellent sir, be convinced: the present circumstances put before us are an invisible arena,[12] in which we do not wrestle against perceptible beasts, but against perceptible[13] passions. These are the very things that, if they should prevail over the strength in us, will bring on danger not just as far as the body but bring death to the soul itself. But if they should be controlled then[14] they will flee, and we will gain for ourselves great rewards and acclamation; and here we wrestle these often, but hereafter certainly we will receive rewards and acclamation,[15] since the coming age has been entrusted with rewards, just as this age has been entrusted with trials.[16] 

5. To Nilus.

Concerning the food of the Precursor[17] and asceticism[18].

Since the divine prophesies report the account accurately, the excessive debate is unnecessary for the ones reading these things intelligently. If, therefore, we have been instructed about both the food and clothes of perfect, godly[19] asceticism[20], with reference to John the Baptist, we will be content with hair[21], for example, for a covering; and we will be content with twigs[22] from herbs and plants for a little food and strength and a simple meal[23]. But if these things, because of weakness, are too intense[24], let the testing and directive of the one put forward[25] be an example for us of every need and way of life[26].

6. To Ursenuphius.

Concerning: For [there is] a cup in the hand of the Lord.”[27]

There is a cup in the hand of the Lord full of a mixture of pure wine.” The divine prophecy makes known the just recompense is a mixture, on the one hand, with kindness for repentance with respect to the ones putting away[28] sins. “For he was turning from this way to that way,” that is to say, from kindness to the one being owed punishment and just judgment for faults. But in order that we do not altogether appear to be light-hearted[29] of the punishment, it was added: “Nevertheless its dregs were not poured out.” For if they will despise salvation altogether, in the end they will not escape the punishment. “For all the sinners upon the earth,” he says, “will likewise drink” the cup of judgment.

7. To Timotheus.

Concerning the Mother of God.

The holy book of the Gospels, recording the genealogy to Joseph, who derives kinship from David, was pleased[30] to show through him that the Virgin was also of the same tribe of David; just as the divine law prophesied, the pair came from the same tribe. And the interpreter of heavenly doctrines, the great Apostle Paul, openly makes the truth quite clear, testifying that the Lord would be a descendant from Judah. Because you know these things more keenly[31], do not feign ignorance with respect to the questioning. For by doing this,[32] you are shown to be pursuing shabbiness.[33]

8. To the same.

That it is necessary that the labor of spiritual discipline[34] be moderate[35].

Just as the body that is healthy lacks a bruise, since it soothes the swelling of an injury[36], so also the body that is sick is in need of aid, and the soul that is downcast ruins the body, with the result that it must be illuminated by the divine commandments.[37] One, therefore, must take care of both. For when one of the two[38] is in want, sanctification[39] is difficult.  

9. To the same.

Concerning the appearances at night.

The appearances at night, as you have written, you who are most fond of learning, are not only echoes of associations and conversations of the day, but also the product of frivolous practice[40]. For when the mind is seized in a stupor from drunkenness, a stimulant of the passions occurs. But when one is wakefully self-controlled and preparedly waiting for the Lord, that person is neither defeated by the belly nor by the passions of the belly[41]. For you see, nothing other than this will prepare someone or bind the strength of the loins.[42]       

10. To the elder Eusebius.

That nothing is greater than love, in which one has[43] brotherly union as proof.

Thus, nothing is as greatly desired by God than[44] love, through which both man had come into existence, and is a subject of love until death. For on this account, namely, the first call of his disciples, there happened to be two brothers; thus, from the beginning the all-wise savior immediately showed that he desires all his disciples to be united in a brotherly manner. Therefore, let us consider nothing more precious than love, which unites everyone, and protects everyone in harmonious accord. 

11. To the scholar Ophelion.

That in philosophy one is frequently wronged or maltreated.

If Socrates, the lawgiver of the Athenian doctrines, was beaten and did not retaliate, why are you alone at a loss having been maltreated, as you have written? For if you should pursue philosophy, on the one hand, you will bring upon yourself the glory of Socrates, even though you have been abused less than Socrates. But this person[45], on the contrary, will be wounded as from a dart in arrogance; or, there will be a time when he will be changed from the propensity of sin, and of mind and speech – and he will thank you[46] for the cause of his change[47].

12. To Ammonius.

Although you conceal failure[48], still you show yourself as haughty, being puffed up concerning your tribe[49], strength, and worth. Therefore, either get for yourself a spirit that is in measure with you, or else be someone who is laughed at by all.

13. To the monk Lampetius.

When you were approaching the high mountain of ascetic practice[50], you cleansed[51] both your clothes and senses. And according to the report of godly opinion you prepared your[52] heart.[53] Assuredly you had been resolved to leave[54] the unspiritual things, in order that you, having arrived at the citadel of virtues, might hear God  uttering a message (the one who inscribes the old law on physical tablets) and might become a tablet made by God. And now these things are celebrated by all concerning you, that, on the one hand, they proclaim eagerly that you took hold of the plow of salvation; but, on the other hand, having lost heart, in turn, you turned back. Accordingly, does this pattern not frighten you? Namely, that although Simon[55] was baptized and followed the ministers of Christ, he, in turn, turned back to the material world (on account of which the wretched one was brought down from the height to the notorious death; that from the one calamity against that one it might be shown what sorts of calamities the deserving ones meet, namely, those who broke their word[56] about the spiritual way of life). Hold fast to the intention[57] of Simon. And if only everyone who had a share of this resolve and knowledge would avert that punishment to the enemies![58]  Fulfill the covenant[59] to the Lord, and devote yourself carefully to his vineyard. The reward is with him, which each one will receive according to their own work.

14. To the monk Patrimus.

Concerning practical asceticism[60].

You have a good disposition, as I have come to know, learning earnestly and speaking nobly. But the way of spiritual asceticism[61] prospers more from action than from speech. If, therefore, it is your concern for unfading rewards, consider speaking[62] well as trivial; pursue this so that you fare well.

[1] This is athletic imagery for events encountered in the Christian life and especially spiritual asceticism; literally it may be read: “from the games and races which they performed.” For similar imagery, see 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 10:32.

[2] In this construction, the verb ἔχω takes as its object an accusative (φύσιν) and a predicate accusative (διδάσκαλον); see Bauer (=BDAG hereafter), 421. Here I take μόνην as an adverb, which is usually in the neuter case; so does the Latin translation: Atque illi quidem naturam solum magistram habuerunt.

[3] Or, “famous.”

[4] The wide semantic range of συνήθεια includes: “friendship,” “intimacy,” “practice,” “habit,” “custom,” and “tradition.”

[5] This prepositional phrase απ’ αὐτοῦ denotes agency: “by it” or “from it” (cp. Psalm 18: 8; LXX Psalm 17:8).

[6] This letters comments on Psalm 18:8 (LXX Psalm 17:8). In context, “it” in this letter refers to fire that came out of the mouth of the Lord; thus, “the coals were kindled by the fire [which came from the Lord’s mouth].”

[7] Same note 5 above for comment on απ’ αὐτοῦ.

[8] This prepositional phrase έκ τοῦ Θεοῦ denotes the source of the preposition αὐτοῦ; its antecedent is “fire.” See note 5 above.

[9] This borrows the imagery of Daniel 12:3 and Philippians 2:15.

[10] Νειλαμβωνι is the name of the recipient in the dative. This dative case either preserves a longer form or alternative spelling for the name for the name: Νειλαμμων.

[11] Or, “games”; see note 1 above.

[12] Or, “contests.” Again, athletic imagery is used concerning events encountered in the Christian life; see note 1 above.

[13] Or, “spiritual.”

[14] The conjunction here is καί.

[15] Literally: “And here, on the one hand, often, but, on the other hand, after these things, certainly.” Both subject and verb have to be supplied in both clauses. Context suggests the juxtaposition of trials now and rewards later.

[16] Or “contests.” In this sense, we now participate in contests; in the coming age we receive the rewards in full.

[17] I.e., John the Baptist.

[18] Generally, “practice,” “exercise,” or “discipline”; more specifically, “asceticism” or “monastic life.”

[19] I take κατὰ Θεὸν as paraphrasis to indicate the nature of “the perfect asceticism”; see κατά in BDAG 5.b.β.

[20] See note 18 above.

[21] Here “hair” is a reference to the camel hair that John the Baptist wore as a covering; cf. Mark 1:6; Matthew 3:4. 

[22] Or, “branches.” Here it is the food on the “twig” or “branch” that is in view.

[23] This Greek phrase reads: πρὸς ὀλίγην τροφὴν καὶ δύναμιν καὶ ἀπέριττον. I take πρὸς as governing (1) ὀλίγην τροφὴν καὶ δύναμιν and (2) ἀπέριττον. The adjective ἀπέριττον (“simple”) requires an implied noun in which to modify; so, “simple meal.”

[24] Based on context, I take μείζονα to refer to intensity; thus, “too intense” or “more intense”; it could also refer to importance; thus, “greater importance” or “more important.”

[25] I.e., John the Baptist.

[26] Or, “way of life”; or more specifically, “diet.”

[27] This letter comments on Psalm 75:8 (LXX Psalm 74:8).

[28] This use of χαίρω means “taking leave of,” “parting,” or “putting away”; see LSJ, IV.3 of χαίρω.

[29] This syntax is difficult, in part because the text does not seem certain (i.e., parentheses are around the infinitive ἐπιλησμονεῖν). And the meaning of this parenthetical word is similar to the nominative plural adjective οἱ ῥάθυμοι. It seems the infinitive is redundant and should be ignored. So, I treat the verb φαντάζω like the verb φαίνω. φαίνω can be the main verb of a clause, take an implied infinitive (εἴναι) or participle (ὄντες), and take a predicate nominative (see II.B of φαίνω in LSJ). This fits our context; and so we ignore the parenthetical verb ἐπιλησμονεῖν. It could be argued that the parenthetical infinitive ἐπιλησμονεῖν could be the complementary infinitive to the main verb φαντάζω (here, φαντασθῶμεν).  But LSJ notes that this verb should take an infinitive and an accusative; here we do not have an accusative. Instead, we have a plural nominative.

[30] Or, “satisfied.”

[31] I take δριμύτερον adverbially. It is also in the comparative state.

[32] I.e. evading questions.

[33] The Greek is awkward here. Literally it reads: “For you, pursuing shabbiness, are not hidden.” Note the Latin translation of this sentence: Nec enim mihi obscurum est, te vilitatem hic aucupari.

[34] For the meaning of ἀσκήσεως, see note 18 above.

[35] I take σύμμετρον as absolute in meaning: “in due measure,” “right-sized,” or “moderate.”

[36] Literally, “suffering.”

[37] The grammar up to this point is awkward. I rearranged the word order to show more clearly the intended parallelism between the healthy body and the sick body and soul.

[38] I.e., the body or soul.

[39] Or more generally, “completion” or “perfection.”

[40] This phrase “frivolous practice” may be translated more neutrally, i.e., “indifferent interaction”; context, however, suggests something more pointed.

[41] A feminine object is implied here. The only feminine singular antecedent which makes logical sense is “belly.”

[42] I rendered these present verbs in the future for clarity.

[43] This construction is ἔχω with a direct object and a predicate object (see note 2 above).

[44] ὡς as a comparative particle is usually translated “as.”

[45] Literally, “he.” This unidentified subject is likely the one who has maltreated the recipient of the letter. Isidore predicts calamity or a change in heart for this unidentified person.

[46] See LSJ εἲδω B.1, p. 483 for this idiom.

[47] Literally, “the change.”

[48] The Latin translation has vitium (“sin”).

[49] Literally, “tribe,” “race,” or “kind.”

[50] Or more generally, “way of life” or “conduct.”

[51] This is an aorist participle.

[52] Literally, “you prepared the heart.”

[53] I take the phrase τῶν θείων δογμάτων as modifying τὴν ἀκοὴν (“the report”); thus: “according to the report of godly opinion, you prepared your heart.” The Latin translation also follows this decision: ad divinorum dogmatum auditionem pectus adornabas.

[54] Literally, “lose thought of.”

[55] For “Simon,” see Acts 8:9-24.

[56] See ψεύω A.3; B.II in LSJ, p. 2021.

[57] The intention of Simon, i.e., not his actions.

[58] Here the Greek grammar here is awkward.

[59] Literally, “articles of agreement,” thus, “covenant” or “treaty”; see συνθήκη in LSJ συνθήκη definition II.2 and Lampe definition 4.

[60] Generally, “practice” or “discipline”; more specifically, “asceticism” or “monastic life.” See note 18 above.

[61] Or more generally understood: “conduct,” “behavior,” or “way of life.”

[62] For τίθημι plus and infinitive, see τίθημι B.II.5, p. 1791 in LSJ. Here τίθημι is a verb of thinking and the infinitive acts like a participle.


Back to Isidore of Pelusium’s letters

An email reached me today from a chap volunteering to take on a commission for some Greek and Syriac (and Armenian for that matter, although I have none in mind at the moment).  I’ve written back and asked for some details.  It might be nice to get him to do a few of the letters of Isidore of Pelusium, at least as a starter.

This reminded me that someone translated 14 of Isidore’s letters during the summer, and that — as I dimly remembered — I commissioned some more, as I remarked here.  I wonder if I ever published those 14 letters online?  I certainly meant to!  I paid for them, after all, and the last revision was rather good and rather readable.  I must hunt them out.  Meanwhile I have written to the translator asking what happened with regard to the next chunk. 

There’s no lack of material to commission.  There’s sermons by Chrysostom, such as the two on Christmas.  I think I listed a bunch of Chrysostom material some time back.

There’s also material by Severian of Gabala.  That reminds me that I ought to write to two other people, each of whom was going to do a sermon and neither of whom I have heard from since.  There is such a thing as being too busy, and I suspect I probably qualify!   But it illustrates why reliability is such a virtue in a translator. 

Then there are works by Cyril of Alexandria, such as his Apologeticus ad imperatorem, explaining himself after the Council of Ephesus.  There’s John the Lydian, On the Roman Months (De Mensibus), book 4 of which is intensely interesting.  Andrew Eastbourne translated the section on December for us a while back.  Indeed John’s work might form a nice volume three in the series of translations I am publishing, although I suspect a UV photographic copy of the manuscript might be a necessary precursor.

Who knows?  The email is welcome, and let’s see if we can get something done.


Letters of Isidore of Pelusium

A translation of the first 14 letters of Isidore of Pelusium came in this morning.  It’s generally looking good, although the people I use to verify this are on holiday!  But I’ve paid the sum agreed anyway — the chap has certainly worked on it seriously — and commissioned letters 15-25 for the same treatment.

The letters of Isidore do need some kind of running commentary on them, to tie the book into a readable whole.  How this might be done I don’t yet know.

I need to find some more translators and commission some more books for publication.  I wonder how IVP found their translators?  I’ll wander around at the patristics conference next week and see if I can make contact that way.


Cyril of Alexandria buys the government

The collection of letters of Cyril of Alexandria that has come down to us is really a dossier of materials surrounding the Nestorian controversy.  That unedifying story has many low points.

One that sticks in my mind is letter 96.  This consists of a list of bribes of courtiers in Constantinople.  I found a copy online today, and I thought I would share it.  The translation must be that of the Fathers of the Church series, and if so must be copyright to them. So don’t treat this as public domain: it isn’t mine to give you.  But I imagine a quotation of one letter should be within fair usage.

It is possible that the court was so corrupt that no-one could be heard unless “presents” were given.  The phrase “customary gifts” noted in the footnotes tends to suggest this.  All the same, it’s not nice reading.  Bribes to one official, to act as mediator with another official, all of it simply to do whatever business a major dignitary of the empire thought right to do.  Um.


A catalogue of things dispatched from here to the following who are there, by my lord, your most holy brother Cyril. 1

To Paul the Prefect: four larger wool rugs, two moderate wool rugs, four place covers, four table cloths, six larger bila (rugs or curtains), six medium sized bila, six stool covers, twelve for doors, two larger caldrons, four ivory chairs, two ivory stools, four persoina (= pews?), two larger tables, two ostriches (= pieces of furniture?); and in order that he would help us in the cause about those matters which were written to him: fifty pounds of gold. 2

(2) And to his domestic, one wool rug, two rugs, four bila, two stool covers, and one hundred gold coins.

(3) To Marcella, the chambermaid, the same as was dispatched to him, and that she would persuade Augusta 3 by asking her: fifty pounds of gold.

(4) To Droseria, the chambermaid, the same as was dispatched to Marcella, and that she would help her as was written to her: fifty pounds of gold.

(5) To the prefect Chryseros, that he would cease to oppose us, we were forced to dispatch double amounts: six larger wool rugs, four moderate rugs, four larger rugs, eight place covers, six table cloths, six large bila rugs, six medium sized bila, six stool covers, twelve for chairs, four larger caldrons, four ivory chairs, four ivory stools, six persoina, four larger tables, six ostriches; and if he shall have acted in accordance with what were written to him by the most magnificent Aristolaus with the lord Claudianus intervening as mediator: two hundred pounds of gold.

(6) And to Solomon, his domestic, two larger wool rugs, four place covers, four table cloths, four bila, four stool covers, six covers for chairs, six caldrons, two ivory chairs, two ostriches; and just as was written to lord Claudianus, so he may use persuasion to forward the proposal: fifty pounds of gold.

(7) To lady Heleniana, who is [the wife] of the prefect of the praetorian guard, the same in all things which were dispatched to Chryseros, so also to her; and in order that the prefect, persuaded by her, would help us: one hundred pounds of gold. As to her assessor, Florentinus, just as the things sent to Solomon, equally the same also to him and fifty pounds of gold.

(8) And to the other chamberlains customary suppliant gifts 4 have been dispatched.

To Romanus the chamberlain: four larger wool rugs, four place covers, four bila, four stool covers, six covers for chairs, two caldrons, two ivory chairs; and so that he would aid in our cause: thirty pounds of gold.

(9) To Domninus the chamberlain: four larger wool rugs, four larger rugs, four medium sized bila, four table covers, four medium sized bila, six stool covers, six covers for chairs, two larger caldrons, two ivory chairs, two ivory stools, four ostriches; and so that he may help us according to those things which were written to lord Claudianus: fifty pounds of gold.

(10) To Scholasticius, the chamberlain, the same in all things as those which were dispatched to Chryseros: and one hundred pounds of gold. And to Theodore, his domestic according to the promises of lord Claudianus, if he should persuade Scholasticius that he desist from friendships with our adversaries: fifty pounds of gold. We have directed also gifts4 to him which ought to persuade him that he should think in our favor: two wool rugs, two place covers, four table cloths, four rugs, four stools, six stool covers for chairs, two caldrons, two ostriches.

(11) To the most magnificent Artaba the same in all things as those which were dispatched to Scholasticius both in kinds: and that he would help us as was written to him: one hundred pounds of gold.

(12) To Magister, the same in all things as were dispatched to Artaba, in the same kinds: and one hundred pounds of gold. And to his domestic equally in all things as those dispatched to Rufinus.

(13) And to the quaestor, the same as those things which were destined for Magister: and one hundred pounds of gold. And to his domestic Ablalius equally in all things as Eustathius.

(14) A letter was written by your brother to the most reverend clerics so that all these things be dispatched, if anything was done out of devotion to my holy lord and should happen to be accomplished, and that is what is necessary, with the good will and advice of the lord Philip and the lord Claudianus.

1  For the critical text of this letter see Schwartz, ACO 1.4 pp. 224-225. Geerard numbers this letter 5396 in CPG.
2  The libra was the Roman pound of 12 ounces.
3  Pulcheria, elder sister of Theodosius II. She received the title Augusta when she became regent in 414.
4  The word eulogiae, here translated “gifts,” appears to be a diplomatic phrase actually meaning. “bribes.” It is difficult to pass judgment on this matter. The court at Constantinople evidently was corrupt. One very revealing item is found on p. 224, line 28: eulogiae consuetudinariae supplices, “customary suppliant gifts.” If this was customary, the action of Cyril was not so unusual. How this treasure was transported to the capital is an unanswered problem. The date of this catalogue was during the time of the council or soon after it. Wickham, Select Letters, 66, note 8, translates persoina as possibly “pews” or “benches,” and suggests that the ostriches must be pieces of furniture or of upholstery. See P. Batiffol, “Les présents de Saint Cyrille à la cour de Constantinople,” Bulletin d’ancienne littérature et d’archéologie chrétienne, 1 ( 1911), 247-264 (= Etudes de Liturgie et d’Archéologie Chrétienne, Paris, 1919).


From my diary

Lots of work this afternoon.  The translator writing direct to the typesetter with instructions caused quite a flurry!  But the situation is now under control and I’m back in the middle, vetting and batching up changes.  It’s quite impossible for anyone  to do something like typesetting with two people issuing instructions anyway.

So it meant that this afternoon I had to boil down all the emails and turn them into something sensible.  I ended up using features of Adobe Acrobat which I have not used before.  What I did was right-click in the area I needed to change, and choose “Add sticky”.  This put a postit-like box on the page, which I could position in the margin and add notes in.  I also highlighted text that was changing.

This is a very good way of sending corrections to the original language.

Another thing that came in was a revised translation of the first four letters of Isidore of Pelusium.  I commissioned a sample of these, but it wasn’t very satisfactory.  This version is much better, and the footnotes are good.  The English is still a bit tortured, tho.  I’ve gone through it and marked up queries and so forth in blue.  I think the result might well be do-able, tho.  A couple of sentences had no main clause, tho, which is worrying (and might be a feature of Isidore’s text, which is very abbreviated).

I also had an email from the chap in India who transcribed a bunch of Syriac text for me for the web a while ago.  Apparently he’s on the market again.  I think I’ll get him to do the letter of Mara bar Serapion.  It might be interesting if he could translate some Syriac for me.  But people whose first language is not English tend to have difficulty with this.

Life is pretty busy for me at the moment.  In real life I am trying to get a new job, and the agency I am dealing with are being very difficult to deal with.  I was supposed to start on Monday; after weeks of delay, after sitting here all day twitching, the contract was emailed to me at 5:50 pm!  And when I look at it… it’s not what I was supposed to get.  Indeed it’s horrible in places.  So I’m rather tired and hope everyone will make allowances.


Always verify your references

To Norwich this morning, mainly to escape my cleaning lady.  But I went into the cathedral library, where I knew that they had a 1696 edition of the works of Julian the Apostate.  This includes the text of Cyril of Alexandria, Contra Iulianum.

According to the Sources Chretiennes edition of books 1 and 2 (only), this edition was the source for Migne’s Patrologia Graeca text.  But you can never tell, unless you look.

In I went, accordingly, and asked to see the book.  The library was merged with a modern theology library some years ago, and closed to visitors.  The new librarian has made it into a rare books room.  This is rather a pity.  Sitting among the volumes in a library founded some centuries ago was a treat by itself.

Anyway out came the book, a massive folio volume in white leather.  As soon as I tried to use it, it became clear that no-one had opened it in years, if not decades or longer.  The spine was tight and stiff.  Indeed it looked like an original 17th century binding to me.  It was almost impossible to open more than about 30 degrees.

But the effort was worthwhile, because it revealed that this cannot be the source for the PG text.  The PG text prints the full text of books 1-10, which survive complete.  But there were certainly books 11-20 in antiquity, because people like John Damascene quote them!  In the PG, therefore, there is a meagre collection of fragments following book 10.  I know that there are Syriac fragments, and I would be surprised if there are not Arabic fragments too, and indeed Armenian ones.  For Julian’s book attacked the bible; Cyril’s reply necessarily defends it; and such comments must be of interest to catenists.  Cyril was such an important figure in monophysite Christianity, that we would expect his work to travel into those languages.

None of this extra material is present in the 1696.  Therefore Migne, for these items at least, used some other source.

It all goes to show that you cannot rely on what you read in even the best editions.  You must check.


Styles of translation – an example from Isidore of Pelusium

A friend has been typing up the Greek text of letter 212 of Isidore of Pelusium for me.  This is one of the fragments of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Gospel Problems and Solutions, so I have a translation of it.  The friend commented on the style of translation adopted, versus a more literal approach. 

Your translator did a nice job making a loose translation that is quite faithful to the intent and meaning of the letter.   …  I don’t think the translator was too loose.  For an academic translation, which is usually more literal, it does toe the line a little bit, but it does make a far more interesting and pleasant read.   Here are two passages that I translated literally.  Mine are in [normal text], your translator’s are in italics.

Τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον καὶ ὄν καὶ δοκοῦν, ὅσον πρὸς τὴν τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀσθένειαν, φημὶ, κατορθώσας, ούκ ἄν περὶ τὸ δυνατὸν ἐξησθένησεν

He accomplished, I say, something both apparently and actually – as far as human weakness is concerned – impossible; so he would have shown no weakness in a matter that was possible.

For, I say, having accomplished what both is and seems impossible, as much as concerns the weakness of man, he would not be weak concerning what is possible.

Τὸ μὲν γὰρ θᾶττον ἀναστῆναι, ἔγκλημα οὐκ εἶχε

An early resurrection was irreproachable.

For a swift resurrecting does not have reproach. [Infinite changed to a participle]

For to resurrect swiftly does not have reproach. [Adjective changed to an adverb]

He adds:

I added an alternate translation of the last bit.  Basically there is an infinitive acting like a noun that is modified by an adjective.  In English we either have to make the infinitive a participle or the adjective into an adverb to be grammatically correct.  We can’t say “For to swift resurrect does not have reproach” but that is what the Greek says.  I guess what I am saying here is that either of my two translations I gave are equally literal in their own way. 

Now there are those who quibble about how “literal” is a meaningless and a subjective term, but I think that being able to reconstruct the original language from a translation is a fairly objective standard.  Irenaeus’ Against Heresies has a loose Latin translation and a very literal Armenian translation.  The Armenian can potentially be used to reconstruct the Greek.  The Latin can’t really.  It doesn’t mean one is necessarily better than the other, it just means one is more literal.  I would be interested in what more professional people think of my “literal” translation.  Maybe they have better suggestions!

Any such suggestions would be welcome, as would opinions on the version in Italics.


Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, vol. 2 now on Archive.org

A customer for my CDROM of the Fathers wrote to ask if I had a PDF of vol. 2 of Cyril’s Commentary on John, since I had scanned it for my site.  Luckily for him I had the chance to look, and found the images first shot.

I’ve now uploaded a searchable PDF of this volume to Archive.org.  It’s here:


(Or will be in a few minutes)

This was the final volume in the Oxford Movement Library of the Fathers series of translations.  The series began in 1838.  By 1880 E.B.Pusey was dead, and the movement was history.  Yet, somehow, this one last volume appeared, in 1885.  It wasn’t published by Parker of Oxford, and it wasn’t edited by Pusey; but the title-page was uniform with it.  The last few volumes were unnumbered.

By this time the Ante-Nicene Fathers series was 20 years old.  Most collections of the Library of the Fathers were obsolete.  Very few of them indeed ever acquired this last, final volume.  I obtained this one through the courtesy of Glasgow University Library, who benevolently photocopied it and posted it to me.  May their name be ever remembered; for I doubt any other copy of this very, very uncommon book, is ever likely to get scanned.

Volume 1 of the Commentary contained books 1-5.  It was translated by Phillip E. Pusey, the crippled son of old Pusey, who predeceased his father.  P.E.Pusey edited Cyril’s works, and his editions still have value.  But as a translator he was useless, tending to transliterate the Greek.  A vicious review, which I have never been able to locate, halted his efforts and he never proceeded further with Cyril on John.  The otherwise unknown T. Randell did this volume, and made a nice job of it.  It’s far easier to read than vol. 1!  It covers books 6-12, although some of those books are lost and only catena fragments were available.

There’s quite a lot of Orthodox interest in this text.  Let’s hope this helps make it more available. 



Isidore of Pelusium did not pirate Eusebius

Somewhere I read that book 2, letter 212 of Isidore of Pelusium was an unacknowledged copy of part of Eusebius Ad Marinum.  This would make it valuable as a witness to the text of the latter.  But I sent the text to the translator today. He has just informed me that in fact it takes rather a different approach to the same bible difficulty — how is Jesus dead for 3 days — and is not part of the Eusebius text.  We’ll translate it anyway, but I need to go back and find out who said that it was.