More on Severian of Gabala

It seems that I am not the only person interested in Severian of Gabala.  I have come across a series of publications by Remco F. Regtuit, who is assistant professor of Greek at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

So far I have seen none of his works, but articles on “The Charm of Severian of Gabala” — something I have noted myself — suggest good things!  Unfortunately none of this material seems to be accessible online.

One interesting publication I learned of is Henning J. Lehmann, Per piscatores: studies in the Armenian version of a collection of homilies by Eusebius of Emesa and Severian of Gabala, 1975.  This is research on a collection, published between 1956-9 in Handes Amsorya by Nerses Akinian, based on Ms. New Julfa 110.  It sounds very like the collection published a century earlier by Aucher, which perhaps exists in several manuscripts. 

Another is an edition and translation of an unpublished homily, ed. by Aubineau, Un traité inédit de christologie de Sévérien de Gabala : In centurionem et contra Manichaeos et Apollinaristas. Cahiers d’Orientalisme V.  Geneve, 1983.

But once again, how do we access any of this?


Severian of Gabala, “Homily on the Seals”

While surfing this evening I came across a reference to a Discourse on the Seals by our old friend Severian of Gabala, the bishop who preached with a pleasant Syrian burr and was a rival of John Chrysostom’s.  It was in an 1815 book  by Nathaniel Lardner, on p.620 of vol. 2 of his works, On the credibility of the Gospel history, chapter 119 of which is devoted to Severian.

In an oration concerning Seals, Severian expresses himself in this manner:

Let heretics often observe that saying, “In the beginning was the word.” Indeed, the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when they began their preaching, did not immediately say what became Christ’s dignity, but what was suitable to their hearers’ capacity. Matthew, at the beginning of the gospels, says, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Why does he not say, “the son of God?” Why does he, with such low expressions conceal his dignity?’

Having answered those queries, he also observes the beginnings of the gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke, and adds: 

‘All three, therefore, attended to his dispensation in the flesh; and, by his miracles, gradually instilled his dignity.’

He afterwards compares John to thunder, and says, he is terrible to heretics; whilst the other three evangelists only lightned. He likewise says, until John wrote, the best defence of the right faith, and the best weapons against heretics were wanting.

And, in his discourse on Seals, the beginning of the first epistle of John is expressly cited as John’s: and it may be reasonably supposed, that he likewise received the epistle of James.

From the CPG (vol. 2) I learn that CPG 4209 is De sigillis sermo (BHG 2351; PG 63, 531-544; Savile 5, 689-698).  I always wondered what that was.  It doesn’t sound too long, and might be quite interesting to have translated.  Something like 7 columns of Migne, at $20 each – $140? Hmmm.  I think I will just go and peek at Migne now.

It seems to be in six chapters.  The Latin translation was made for the Migne edition, the old one being too much of a paraphrase.  Severian attacks the extreme Arians in it.


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.


Severian of Gabala, sermon 1 on Genesis online

A little while back I started translating the six sermons of Severian of Gabala on Genesis from the French version of Bareille.  Not that this process  has any scholarly value, but it should help to get Severian better known.  Unfortunately I had to stop after the first sermon for pressure of other things.

I found the first sermon on disk this afternoon, and I have tidied it up and uploaded it here.  I place it in the public domain. Have fun!

A proper academic translation of the sermons of Severian on Genesis will be coming out at the end of the year.  Translated by Robert C. Hill, it’s published by IVP.

IVP have a big programme  to translate patristic bible commentaries.  I know it needs doing; but I’m not sure that I approve.  IVP has a defined mission, to publish popular books to support people doing the Lord’s work through evangelism at our universities.  I really do not see patristics as part of that.  SPCK once had a mission for the gospel.  It too once went down the patristic route.

IVP is doubtless accustomed to sharing in the hostility that its Master attracts.  Preaching the gospel is hard, in our selfish age, and living it still more so.  It is very easy to linger on the “plain of ease”, doing stuff for which men will mostly only praise.  I hope that this venture does not mark the dilution and extinction of the key Christian publisher of our days.


Thinking about Severian on Genesis

Severian of Gabala ca. 400 preached at least six sermons on the six days of Creation.  Six have reached us in Greek; there are rumours of a Seventh in Arabic, although this is unpublished.  The sermons are notorious as advocating a flat-earth cosmology, although I suspect this projects back quite a few ideas not present in the texts themselves.

Yesterday I finished translating the first sermon into English from the old French translation of Bareille.  Translating a translation is always unsatisfactory, and if I had endless money I wouldn’t dream of it.  But it still has some value, if not for the scholar; the ordinary mortal can at least gain a sense of what the text contains and its structure and argument.

However I grew more dissatisfied as I proceeded.  I really do feel that a proper translation of these six sermons is necessary and desirable.  Nor am I satisfied that Bareille is that accurate.  At one point he suggests more or less the opposite of what the Greek says, and what the context makes clear he must mean — I presume a “not” has dropped out of his translation in the printing process. 

These sermons are really very interesting.  Surprisingly, Severian is not an obscurantist, but a man of a probing and scientific mind.  He rejects the appeal to the authority of past writers, and appeals regularly to what can actually be seen, and for original thinking.  Admittedly he comes to seriously mistaken conclusions; but they are not self-evidently daft conclusions, given the state of knowledge at the time.  He is also preaching to an audience which is hoping to trip him up — it would be very interesting to learn the circumstances under which he felt obliged to preach on this subject.

I will consider commissioning a translation of these from Greek.  It’s 70 columns of Migne, which won’t be cheap; but if done well, done once, will always be worth doing.  If I can get hold of a copy of the Arabic, I might have a translation made of that as well, and perhaps do the set in book form.  If I do that, of course, I would need to get the Greek transcribed.

I’ve never digitised a lot of Greek.  So I’ve just emailed Dr. Maria Pantelia at the TLG, on a whim, suggesting that perhaps we might work together on digitising the Greek.  If I pay for some of it, perhaps it would benefit both sides.  If not, of course, I’ll find another way.


Severian of Gabala, De Pace – translation is go!

I’ve been negotiating to get a translation of the full Greek text of Severian of Gabala’s sermon On Peace made.  The translator has accepted, and it should be ready by the middle of May, or — more likely — end of June.  The translator is not a Yank or a Brit, so some correction of the English will be necessary.  The report from the reviewer was basically positive, tho.  My estimate at the moment is that it will cost $150 to do, plus whatever a corrector charges, which is quite a bit, but worth it.  I’ll put it in the public domain and post it online when it arrives.

UPDATE: 14/12/2011: The translator never completed any more and emails went unanswered.  Oh well.


Sermons of Chrysostom after his first exile

John Chrysostom made a lot of enemies very quickly in Constantinople after he became patriarch, especially among the more corrupt clergy and court officials who objected to his campaign for higher standards of behaviour. They quickly arranged for him to be deposed and exiled.  But when the Constantinople mob found out, a riot was threatened and he was quickly recalled.

After his return, attempts were made to patch things up, especially with Severian of Gabala who had been insulted pretty seriously by John’s deacons. 

I find in Migne three sermons; De Regressu Sancti Joannis (PG52, col. 421), De Recipiendo Severiano (col. 423), and Severian’s reply De Pace (col. 425).  All three are given in Latin, and seem far too short to be full versions.  I don’t know if there are more sermons than these three.

The full Greek text of Severian’s reply exists, and indeed it turns out to be online.  But what about the Chrysostom sermons?  Are there Greek versions of these, and if so where?


Severian of Gabala and the heavens as a “tent”

Severian is famous — or infamous — because he compared the sky to a “tent” and then to a “pavilion” in his sermons on Genesis, e.g. in homily 1, 3:5.  I’ve been thinking about this.  A tent to us is a square thing, and the idea is outlandish.  But what did the word mean to Severian?  What is being said?

To find out, we need to see the Greek. 



This I rendered from French as follows:

5. Let us now ask where the sun goes down, and where, during the night, it purses its course?  According to our adversaries, under the land; and we who look at the sky as a tent, what is our feeling on this?  Look and see, I beg you, whether we are in error, or whether the truth of our opinion appears clearly, and whether reality is in agreement with our hypothesis.  Imagine that above your head a pavilion has been set up.  East would be there, north here, south there and west there.  When the sun has left the East and starts to set, it will not set under the land; but crossing the limits of the sky, it traverses the northern areas where it is hidden by a kind of wall from our gaze, the upper waters concealing his journey from us; and, after having traversed these areas, it returns to the East. And where is the proof of this assertion?  In Ecclesiastes, an authentic and not interpolated work of Solomon: “The sun rises and the sun sets,” it is written there;  “while rising, it moves towards its setting, then it turns to the north;  it turns, it turns, and it rises again in its place.”  Eccl., i, 5.

The first word used — rendered “tent” by Bareille in his French translation — is σκηνή, which LSJ at Perseus give with a range of meanings.  The word “skene” is what we get “scene” from, in a theatrical sense, as in the stuff on the stage, referring to the wall at the back of the stage behind which things went on.

I. a covered place, a tent, Hdt., Soph., etc.: —in pl. a camp, Lat. castra, Aesch., Xen.
      2. generally, a dwelling-place, house, temple, Eur.
II. a wooden stage for actors, Plat.:—in the regular theatre, the σκηνή was a wall at the back of the stage, with doors for entrance and exit; the stage (in our sense) was προσκήνιον or λογεῖον, the sides or wings παρασκήνια, and the wall under the stage, fronting the orchestra, ὑποσκήνια.
       2. οἱ ἀπὸ σκηνῆς, the actors, players, Dem.
      3. τὸ ἐπὶ σκηνῆς μέρος that which is actually represented on the stage, Arist.; τὰ ἀπὸ τῆς σκηνῆς (sc. ᾁσματα), odes sung on the stage, id=Arist.
       4. metaph. stage-effect, unreality, σκηνὴ πᾶς ὁ βίος “all the world’s a stage, ” Anth.
III. the tented cover, tilt of a wagon, Aesch., Xen.: also a bed-tester, Dem.
IV. an entertainment given in tents, a banquet, Xen.

There is quite a range of meanings in there, and there may be post-classical meanings that LSJ doesn’t have.  Is “tent” quite adequate?  Wouldn’t “covered area” be better?

The second word used is καμάραν — rendered “pavilion”.  This also has a range of meanings:

καμάρ-α, Ion. καμάρ-η μα, ἡ,
 [A] anything with an arched cover, covered carriage, Hdt. 1.199, D.C. 36.49 ; covered boat or barge, Str. 11.2.12, cf. Gell. 10.25 ; vaulted chamber, Agatharch. 62, PStrassb. 91.5 (i B.C.), D.S. 18.26, BGU 731 (ii A.D.) ; vault of a tomb, CIG 2241 ( Chios ), 3007 ( Ephesus ), 3104 ( Teos ), IG 7.2725.4 (Acraeph.); vault of heaven, LXX Is. 40.22 ; vaulted ceiling, τοῦ ἑπτακλίνου PCair.Zen. 445.9 (iii B.C.) ; tester-bed, Arr. An. 7.25.4 ; vaulted sewer, as gloss on ψαλίς, Sch. Pl. Lg. 947d, Hsch.
 [II] Medic., hollow near the auditory meatus, Poll. 2.86 .
 [III] pl., = ζῶναι στρατιωτικαί, Hsch. (Cf. Avest, kamarā ‘girdle’, Lat. camurus, unless Carian, cf. καμαρός 11 .)

which all adds up to “something with a curved top”.  The LXX meaning in Is. 40.22 of “vault of heaven” is perhaps what is in mind here, conceived of as curved.

Cosmas Indicopleustes adopted the idea of Severian — which was speculation by the latter.  His model was a cube with a domed roof.  The fact that this meant the world had corners was no problem — on the contrary! — because the bible talks about the four corners of the world.  I haven’t read enough of Severian to find his reference to corners, but it looks as if this is the pattern here too.


Henry Savile and his edition of the works of Chrysostom

Looking at the Clavis Patrum Graecorum — a text that should certainly be online — we find that the works of Severian of Gabala appear in two main editions, under the name of Chrysostom.  There is the 1718-38 century edition of the works of Chrysostom by Montfaucon, the Benedictine editor in France.  This is what Migne reprinted.

But there is also an edition by Henry Savile, published at Eton, of all places, in 1612.  A couple of Severian’s sermons only appear in this edition.

I am impressed by the CPG, by the way.  It neatly clears up what exists for Severian, and where it may be found; in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Armenian.

Philip Schaff’s introduction to the works of Chrysostom in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers edition is useful.  After discussing the marvellous labours of Montfaucon, he adds:

The edition of Sir Henry Savile (Provost of Eton), Etonae, 1612, in 8 vols. for., is less complete than the Benedictine edition, but gives a more correct Greek text (as was shown by F. Dübner from a collation of manuscripts) and valuable notes. Savile personally examined the libraries of Europe and spent £8,000 on his edition. His wife was so jealous of his devotion to Chrysostom that she threatened to burn his manuscripts.

Lady Savile was not the first wife to threaten her husband’s books, out of jealousy, as Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars records.

But is the edition accessible?  Is it online?  It is, after all, a very old book, and the USA did not exist when it was published.  It is US libraries, after all, who have made Google Books and what they are.

A search suggests that it might form part of “Early English Books Online”, a project which is not freely available.  UK taxpayers funded it, so naturally it has been placed under the control of a commercial company and only rich institutions are allowed to use it.  (It is depressing, sometimes, to see the combination of waste and greed and littleness of mind characteristic of British higher education).  You can’t even see if it is in there.

Does anyone have access to EEBO, and can check whether it is there?


Severian of Gabala, Homily 3 on Genesis, chapter 5

I’ve translated roughly a little more of the French translation of Bareille of these sermons, which I increasingly find interesting.  I’m getting an idea of why Severian was such a popular preacher.  I really think that I will commission a translation of the homilies on Genesis by Severian (although I think I would use the best translator I know on them).

5. Let us now ask where the sun goes down, and where, during the night, it purses its course?  According to our adversaries, under the land; and we who look at the sky as a tent, what is our feeling on this?  Look and see, I beg you, whether we are in error, or whether the truth of our opinion appears clearly, and whether reality is in agreement with our hypothesis. 

Imagine that above your head a pavilion has been set up.  East would be there, north here, south there and west there.  When the sun has left the East and starts to set, it will not set under the land; but crossing the limits of the sky, it traverses the northern areas where it is hidden by a kind of wall from our gaze, the upper waters concealing his journey from us; and, after having traversed these areas, it returns to the East. 

And where is the proof of this assertion?  In Ecclesiastes, an authentic and not interpolated work of Solomon: “The sun rises and the sun sets,” it is written there;  “while rising, it moves towards its setting, then it turns to the north;  it turns, it turns, and it rises again in its place.”  Eccl., i, 5.  Otherwise it is during the winter that you will note this southward journey of the sun, and its movement in the direction of the north; then, it does not rise in the centre of the East, it inclines towards the south, and, following a shorter route, it makes the day shorter; once it has set, it continues its circular direction, and the nights then are longer. 

We all know, my brothers, that the sun always does not start at the same point.  How then do the days become shorter?  Because the sun, to rise, moves from the south; then, from where it rises, it follows an oblique path, and from this comes the brevity of the days.   As it sets in the extremity of the west, it must necessarily traverse during the night the west, north, all of the east, to arrive on the edge of the south; from which inevitably follows the length of the night.  When the distance traversed and the speed of travel are the same, the nights then are equal to the days.  After that, it moves northwards as during the winter it had moved south; it rises in the northern heights and makes the day longer;  on the other hand the curve which it must follow during the night being shorter, the nights also become shorter. 

This is not what the Greeks have taught us:  they do not want these teachings, and they claim that the sun and the stars continue their course beneath the land.  But no, the Scripture, this divine mistress, the Scripture leads us and dispenses her light to us. 

Thus the Lord has made the sun, a torch which never weakens; he made the moon, whose glory shines and fades alternately.  The work reveals the workman.  The workman never knows failure, the work is also eternal.  The moon does not lose its light, it is concealed only to our eyes, a faithful image of mortal men. 

Think of the centuries that have passed since its appearance!  And yet, when the moon is new, we say:  The moon is born today.  Why this language?  Because we see a figure of our corporeal life there.  The moon is born, grows, reaches its apogee, only to then decrease, diminish and disappear:  and we also, we are born, we grow, we arrive at our apogee; then we fade, we decline, we age and we disappear in death.  But, just as the moon reappears then, we also will come back to life and another life is reserved for us.  This is why the Saviour, to teach us that, following the example of our birth on earth, a new birth awaits us beyond the tomb, expresses himself in these terms:  “When the Son of man comes at the time of the new Genesis.”  Matth. xix, 28. 

So the moon guarantees the resurrection to us.  What! she says to us, you see me disappearing to reappear, and you lose all hope?  Wasn’t the sun itself created for us, as well as the moon, and all creatures?  What does not promise us our resurrection?  Isn’t the night the image of death?  When darkness covers our bodies, you recognize nobody any more.  Often it happens that you touch with your hand the face of someone sleeping, and you do not know whose face this is, whose is that one; and you ask, so that the voice allows you to recognize those whom the darkness conceals from you.  So in the same way as the night hides the features of everyone, and as we do not recognize one another any more, when we are all together; in the same way death destroyed the human form and prevents us recognizing them any more. 

Walk through the tombs, look at the skulls which they contain; do you recognize to which people they belonged?  He knows who formed them; He who delivered these bodies to dissolution knows from where they came.  And you do not admire the creative power of the Lord?  There is a multitude of men, and none is exactly the same as any other.  You could traverse the ends of the universe in vain, you would not find two men who resembled each other exactly; and, when you believe you have found such, there would be presented in the eyes or the nose a difference which would justify this astonishing truth. Two children come out of the same place at the same time, and their resemblance is imperfect.