Origins of the ANCL and US piracy of it

The well-known Ante-Nicene Fathers series began life as a series of translations of the Fathers undertaken by presbyterian Edinburgh publishers T. & T. Clark, and published on subscription as the Ante-Nicene Christian Library.  “The T. & T. Clark Story” by John A. H. Dempster (1992) gives some fascinating details.  A print run of 4 volumes in 1895-6 was  160 volumes.  Unit cost was around 2s. 3d. to produce, and the volumes sold at around 5s each.  Four volumes were issued a year, and the regularity of this was admired by the Bookseller (1 June 1869, p.470).

But on average the publisher only sold 11 copies of each volume in any one year (it may have been more initially, of course), so the series was very much a long term venture with a lot of money paid up front for limited return.  The same was true of their series of the works of St. Augustine (this was originally of 16 volumes but the last one, a Life of St. Augustine, by Robert Rainy, never appeared owing to other pressures on that busy man).  Clarks were therefore publishing at least in part for Christian motives, rather than financial ones.

Even in those days US sales mattered, because it allowed the print run to be extended (with a new title page featuring the US ‘publisher’!) and so reduced the cost.  But the US copyright law didn’t really protect foreigners, and piracy of British works was endemic.  Essayist Augustine Birrell salutes his many non-royalty-paying US readers in one of his collections of essays.  This situation affected the ANCL also.

It seems that US firms would announce their intention to pirate, and then try to force the UK publisher to accept some kind of financial deal, which gave the pirates sole rights for the US.  These would rarely be advantageous, but the victim was pretty much powerless.

In 1884 the Christian Literature Publishing Company (CLPC) began to produce a pirate version of the ANCL: the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  This was edited by the episcopalian bishop of New York, A. C. Coxe.  T. & T. Clark remonstrated, and pointed out the damage that this was already doing to their sales, but to no effect: ‘finding we had no escape from anyone who chooses to pirate, all we could do was to make the best bargain we could.’  A private letter to Philip Schaff makes plain that Clarks found it hard to understand ‘how Christian men — with Bishop Coxe at their head — could do such a thing.  It is sheer robbery.’ 

After various negotiations and changes of terms, CLPC agreed to pay T. & T. Clark $125 per volume as a flat fee.  This seems to have been paid and, curiously, it seems possible that T. & T. Clark actually did financially better from this than from their sales of the ANCL via Scribners, their US agent.

CLPC went on to appropriate material from other T. & T. Clark volumes, and indeed Oxford Movement volumes, to produce the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series (reviewed here in the 1887 NY Times).  This too was piracy, and again Clarks had to agree.  And thus a classic was born!


Archko forgery ‘fingerprint’

Stephen C. Carlson’s book on “Secret Mark” is a splendid achievement, not least for the way in which it builds up a convincing picture of how a literary faker works and thinks.  I was reminded of it when I received an email from James Irsay, who takes an interest in the Archko volume.  This is one of those curious works which E.J.Goodspeed called “modern apocrypha” — works that profess an ancient origin but are in reality of recent composition and made in order to promote some opinion or (more commonly) to make money.

The Archko volume professes to contain a number of documents from the Vatican library and Constantinople. 

Could I possibly be the only person to have figured out the origin of the elusive and learned professor Whydaman, who allegedly, as an ice bound visitor at the home of the Archko Volume’s author, Rev. W.D. Mahan, told him of the existence of the true “Acta Pilati” in the Vatican?

Even after Goodspeed wrote…

“There are obviously some grave difficulties with Mr. Mahan’s document and his story of how he secured it. To begin with, the name of Henry C. Whydaman does not have a German ring. As Professor Schmiedel, the distinguished scholar of Zurich, has since pointed out, Whydaman is no German name, and Westphalia is not a place but a province.”

How about this—- WHYDAMAN = WDMAHAN (Archko author W.D. Mahan) + “Y’ (as in “WHY” of WHYDAMAN).

This reminded me at least of some of the ‘fingerprints’ that Carlson believes that Morton Smith left in “Secret Mark” for the intelligent to find and be amused at. 


Quasten’s “Patrology” — new volume available!

Everyone knows that Quasten’s 4 volume handbook of the fathers of the church ends ca. 451.  Few know that the Italian edition has two further volumes.  I discovered on Monday that the first of these has been translated into English; I bought one on Tuesday while at the Oxford Patristics Conference, on seeing the publisher in a corner of a tent!  Get it from NOW!

The format is exactly as before; writers are introduced in chronological order, their life and works are summarised (with bibliography), their works are then discussed individually (editions and translations listed); finally for major writers their theology is discussed.

This volume covers Greek and oriental church fathers from 451 AD (Council of Chalcedon) to John Damascene in the 8th century, the last of the patristic writers.  It includes separate sections on Syriac and Coptic writers.

Frankly this is invaluable.  Prior to this one had to rely on scanty mentions in short works like Altaner’s “Patrology”, itself elderly.

It’s not as good as Quasten vol. 4, which was prepared by the same team.  The bibliographies are shallower.  Annoyingly instead of listing the edition, entries sometimes just refer to the entry no in the “Clavis Patrum Graecorum”.  No-one has that to hand, since none of us can afford it.  Likewise the translations are scanty.  It’s a bit odd that it is published separately, rather than as Quasten vol. 5 (which is what it is), but possibly commercial tussles are responsible.

But it’s still essential.  I’ve finally worked out who the Julianists were that Severus of Antioch denounces, for instance.  But then, I’ve only read around 60 pages so far.  It can be taken to bed and read sequentially, as an excellent way to access the story of those centuries.  And I will!  (Mind you, whatever will I do now with my copy of the Italian version?)

Sadly the translator, Adrian Walford, has died.  He did start on translating the other volume, on later Latin writers, but died of cancer before getting very far.  Let us hope that the Institutum Augustinianum find another English translator.


Useful books or peddling hate?

I learned from the bar of advertisements at the top of this page that a certain R.J.Hoffmann has published a translation of the fragments of Julian the Apostate Against the Galileans (i.e. Christians), through Prometheus Press.

Hoffmann published first a translation of Celsus’ work against the Christians, as reconstructed from the quotations in Origen’s Contra Celsum, which has often been translated in full. This was published by Oxford University Press, but received only two scholarly reviews, one nominal and the other which accused him of rewriting the text to ‘improve’ it and make Celsus Philosophus sound like a modern atheist. The translation is very punchy. But I had occasion to examine a couple of passages, and found that Hoffmann’s version did not represent the text in Origen at all accurately. On the other hand these passages were extremely acceptable to the lower forms of online atheist.

Next up was a translation of Porphyry’s lost work against the Christians. This in fact consisted not of a translation of all those fragments but only of those which came from the Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes. In other words, he was translating only what already existed in an English version. The general accuracy of translation is better, and the book only let down by poor editing and the omission of all the material for which at that time no English translation existed. It seems to have attracted less scurrilous use than the first.

In 2004 the new book appeared. The fragments originally come from Cyril of Alexandria’s Contra Julianum, which unfortunately does not exist in English; but Dr. H. has only translated those portions which have already been translated. Again he has used Prometheus Press. It will be interesting to see if the book is listed in l’Annee Philologique, since the Porphyry was not.

A good translator is a benefit to us all. A translator who shares the religious sympathies of his subject can be a great boon, and can make a text far more accessible. I have long believed that Tertullian should only be translated by young men, who can relate to the fire of his thought! Those influenced by the flower-power generation are ideal to translate those muddled-mystic gnostic texts, which sensible people like myself can only yawn over. We all benefit, and no-one is the worse for the enterprise.

But there is also the risk that shared sympathy can go too far. An early 20th century Italian priest-translator of Tertullian introduced into De praescriptione haereticorum a phrase which completely changed the meaning of the sentence in a papalist direction. No doubt the change was an honest mistake, but an editor of a different confession would have preserved him from it. This problem is still more acute when it comes to shared hatreds.

Dr Hoffmann has a talent for expressing ancient anti-Christian writing in an accessible way. But so long as he continues to rewrite ancient polemic while omitting material not already translated, certain doubtless unworthy suspicions will continue to fester. Do any of these books serve any pleasant or scholarly purpose? I would like to hope so. But if so, what?


Porphyry Against the Christians

I’ve been reading Robert M. Berchman’s translation of the fragments of Porphyry’s attack on the Christians.  It’s good to have this book, because those fragments were not really accessible to English-speaking readers.  

Half of it is full of introductory stuff, with lots of philosophical jargon.  This isn’t nearly as useful as T.D.Barnes article in the JTS from 1973 on Porphyry; to read that is a liberal education!  But it’s not bad. 

Berchman does refer to the translation of R.J.Hoffmann, which I reviewed on my site, unlike l’Année Philologique who ignore it.  The translations aren’t as readable as Hoffmann, but are probably more accurate.  Berchman seems aware that his intended audience is undergraduates — although how many American undergraduates know the meaning of terms like “hylic” might be queried!  But at $130, few will buy it.  My guess is that  it will get extensively photocopied.  It’s a good, solidly useful thing to have, and I’m glad that Brill recognised the need for such a book.

On my own site is a page which starts out to do the same thing, but is incomplete.  I intend to go through the Patrologia Graeca and add in more.  Berchman’s book means that at least I can check my translations!