Unsavoury authorities: the corruption of the church started when?

I have been reading Cathleen Medwick’s biography of Teresa of Avila.  This describes how St. Teresa founded a series of Carmelite convents in the Spain of Philip II.  Each was a return to the primitive Carmelite rule, rather than the rather more comfortable ‘relaxed’ rule then in vogue, and motivated by sincere desire to do what God wanted.

But I was most interested in the mention at the end of a Genoese merchant-turned-friar, Nicholas Doria, who began to be useful as a man of business to Teresa in her last years.  His contacts in Rome proved useful to her; but he also had a talent for conspiracy.  It seems that this capable man, after Teresa’s death, induced her close friend Fr. Gracian to promote him to the second position in the order.  He then outmanouvered the naive Gracian, took over the order himself, and expelled Gracian from St. Teresa’s own order.  Thus within a few years the reformed Carmelite order was in the hands of a man who had arrived right at the end, who had taken no real part in its struggles and whose only claim to belong was that his worldly skills had been useful on a couple of occasions to the saint.

Down the centuries, whenever Christian organisations have come to control property or acquired reputation, there have been individuals who have made their way into them for their own advantage.  Such people are often very effective politicians; and every organisation that exists in this world has to be aware of politics.  But their loyalty is to themselves, not to God.

I believe that something rather similar happened to Methodism after the death of John Wesley; that men who don’t even feature in Wesley’s journal then tried to seize his empire.

Many Christians believe that the church became corrupt during the years after the first council of Nicaea.  Once Constantine had legalised the church, being a bishop was rather less risky, and much more profitable.  Indeed this process had already begun in the time of Diocletian.  Eusebius records in the History of the Martyrs of Palestine, in a sentence often abused to try to prove him a liar, that he proposes to record only those events which are edifying, or that show that the church deserved the persecution.

When the Arian controversy arose, it was a local matter between Arius and his bishop.  It was Eusebius of Nicomedia who made it a contest across the whole Christian world.  Eusebius had some links with the emperor Licinius, but he had not suffered in the persecutions and became, first bishop of Berytus and then of Nicomedia in 318 AD.  Arius appealed to Eusebius for help; and Eusebius deluged the East with letters demanding that bishops support Arius (and, by implication, himself).  His quest for power had a set-back at Nicaea, where the vote went against him and he was exiled, but he was soon back — as such flexible men always are.  In the years that followed he arranged for the removal of stalwarts of the Nicene party such as Marcellus of Ancyra, on one pretext or another, and the replacement of bishop after bishop with his partisans.  He crowned his career by being the bishop who baptised Constantine on his death bed.

Yet within 50 years Arianism was dead.  It was never truly an issue.  The whole matter was perhaps merely the excuse for the pursuit of power of a man with little interest in what God wanted.

Is the old position correct, that the legal church soon became a corrupt church?  There are many who would disagree, not least Catholics and East Orthodox.  But when one looks at some of the 5th century councils, the spectacle of worldly men fighting like rats over the church is hard to stomach.  If we do not simply take this view — that all of this is merely the triumph of the world over the church — then how do we explain this business?


J.H.Newman and the Library of the Fathers

I mentioned earlier the possibility of a lost English translation of Chrysostom’s letters.  Today I got hold of Dessain’s edition of the Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. 5.  Sure enough on p.380 it indicated that John Jebb was translating De sacerdotio, not the letters; which seems to dispose finally of the legend.

Reading the surrounding letters brought me into contact with the scheme to translate the Fathers.  Newman said that translators should be paid 20 pounds per hundred pages; revised a day or two later to 25 pounds.  This was in 1838, but if we consider that in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility a curate might live on a salary of 50 pounds a year, we see at once that the fees were not small.  Clearly Newman and Pusey were not poor men.

I only read a selection of the letters, but I was forcefully struck by how clerical they were.  Newman was interested only in the clergy, and the gentry.  The laity, for all I could see, could go hang.  The church for Newman consisted only of the clergy, it seems.

Many years ago I remember reading the Everyman “Century of English Letters” in a punt on the Cherwell at Oxford in a volume which had lost its cover and been replaced with brown paper.  I have it still.  There I came across a couple of the essays of Augustine Birrell. On buying volumes of Birrell’s essays, full of charm and intelligence as they are, I came face to face with Newman.  Birrell had heard the Cardinal preaching at the Birmingham oratory, and gives us a picture of the great standing of the man in the society of his day.  The presence and attractiveness of the man and the preacher in person was clearly considerable; considerable enough to reach us through Birrell, over a century later.  Does snapdragon still grow under Newman’s study window in Trinity, I wonder?

In Ipswich market there used to be a bookstall, where huge numbers of books were offered at a very low price.  The stall vanished years ago, defeated by the determination of the borough council officials to relocate the market to somewhere that customers would not go.  But there I found a tatty paperback of Newman’s Apologia pro sua vita.  Mindful of the charm in Birrell’s essay, I bought it.  The publisher, imprudently, began the volume with two letters of Charles Kingsley to Newman.  In these I learned for the first time that Newman was often accused of being disingenuous, of arguments that were more clever than honest.  Newman’s replies were also printed.  These I read, and I read the Apologia

The end result was that I was convinced — by Kingsley!  Newman’s arguments were precisely as Kingsley represented them.  They seemed to me to exhibit precisely the jesuitry that Newman was accused of.  I placed the book in the pile destined for disposal and never thought of the man again.

Reading the collected letters today reminded me of this.  At one point Newman is asked for his views on the old and evil Act of praemunire, which was invented to subordinate church law to the state.  Newman gives his opinion as to how opposition to the law might be expressed; and follows with his real grounds and intentions.  In another he refers by efforts by the Christians in the Church of England to raise money to build more churches in London, and their natural request to the bishop that these should be served by Christian ministers.  None of this is of interest to him, and he has no interest in building churches himself; let them be served by the Christians who built them, and he would simply attempt to pervert those ministers to High Church views.  It is difficult not to find this cynical.  In yet another he refers to ‘dissent’; that is, those whom the state-appointed and corrupt bishops of Charles II’s reign forced out of the Church under an Act of Parliament which they boasted would damn half the country and starve the other half.  To Newman all this is nothing; let dissent be referred to simply as a “sin” and left there.

Perhaps it is unfair to condemn a man for his private correspondence.  The letters do have interest and charm, more than I expected.  But… I still feel no urge to read his Apologia.  J.H.Newman, unfortunately, remains outside of my sympathies, which is a pity.


Euripides lost and found

We tend to forget that our collection of plays by Euripides is very incomplete.  The Byzantine school syllabus had various set texts and standard collections of classical works.  Any text not in that subset stood a very good chance of being lost in one of the dislocations of culture that have occurred down the centuries. 

The most notable of these is the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the renegade army originally hired for the Fourth Crusade.  In the 9th century Photius had many texts unknown to us; afterwards we have much less evidence of now lost texts.  The capture of the city by the Turks in 1453 did dispose of the complete Diodorus Siculus in the Imperial Palace at Blachernae, reported by some of the early humanists, however. 

In the 1890’s a large fragment of one of the lost plays by Euripides was recovered from mummy wrappings in Egypt.  This consisted of a papyrus of the 3rd century BC.  Of course the man who made use of the old roll for packaging had no idea that this text would not survive otherwise, that all the library copies would die out, that his copy was the only one that would reach the far future.  But so it proved.  It highlights the role that pure chance plays in our access to the literature of antiquity.

In addition two pages from a manuscript written ca. 500 AD also contain portions of the text.  Did more exist at the time?

The text is fragmentary even so.  But a performance of the reconstructed text has just been given in the theatre at Ephesus as part of the 22nd Izmir International Festival, and the event will run for most of this month.   By such narrow shaves are treasures saved from going into the night.


Learning Greek in later life

Do children learn Greek at school any more?  If not, where do undergraduates for classics degrees come from?

This question must have exercised the minds of academics at Oxford and Cambridge for some time.  State schools certainly don’t do such an ‘elitist’ subject, which leaves only the private schools.  Unless classics is to become the preserve of those with wealthy parents, something has to be done.

Liverpool University is running a summer school on 4-8th August this year.  It offers 5 days of “intensive tuition” to get a beginner to intermediate level, and is targetted at prospective undergraduates.  I wonder what it involves?  Could any of us go?

Most of us lead busy lives.  We all have much to do, livings to earn, and our space time is scarce.  Do people learn Greek in later life?  If so, how?


Lynne Brindley’s British Library — time for abolition?

I was scanning an English translation of an obscure Syriac chronicle today, of which the British Library had sold me a photocopy.  I was struck by the poor quality, considering the huge price they had charged. They had also kindly stamped their name on every page, and placed a copyright notice on the front, itself probably quite spurious.  The comparison with Google books struck me; free, extensive, easy, as compared to costly rubbish supplied in paper format only.

It’s been awhile since I looked at the BL site.  But it has not changed much!  Lots of money spent on web design, but no content.  And remember, ordinary British taxpayers fork out for this foolery — it isn’t free.

I then found their annual report, and their plans for 2007-8.  It’s like reading something from 1985.  The very idea of digitising the collection and making it available to the public doesn’t feature.  Instead there’s loads of bureaucrat-speak nonsense, all of it about enhancing the enjoyment of… the staff!

The report as a whole is clearly the output of some kind of cheap video tool, full of self-flattering video clips, but light on text.

I then found the management structure.  It was headed up by this Lynne Brindley, of whom I know nothing except that there has been no real progress towards making material available online while she has been Chief Executive. 

A list of the roles of her direct reports tells its own story about priorities — “Finance and Coporate Services”; “Strategic Marketing & Communications”; “Human Resources”; “e-Strategy and Information Systems”, which is about keeping their PC’s working, not about delivering content to us; “Scholarship and Collections”, at long last; “Operations and Services”. 

Only two of those 6 have any respectable claim to be priorities of this organisation. Nowhere in the whole report could I find any indication of any intention to serve the 99% of the population who do not work in the British Library or its immediate vicinity.

Surely the time has come to ask why we, as taxpayers, fund this organisation?  What, specifically, does it deliver of benefit to the population of the UK?  It seems to concentrate on its own staff. 

The internet exists.  We’re all using Google books.  The catalogues of the Syriac mss are online — although not at the BL, of course! Brigham Young University did it instead.  But the BL ignores it all.

Lynne Brindley needs to be sacked.  Her reign has been a catalogue of wasted opportunities to develop a truly National library, in the way that the French National Library have done.  The British Library needs reform, or else abolition.  After all, if it is not useful to us all, why pay for it?


How much would it cost to translate all of Migne’s Patrologia Graeca?

I was imagining myself a billionaire again last night.  Sadly I awoke to poverty as usual.  But then I saw this post on Archaic Christianity about Migne.  It started me thinking about what I would do with all my billions.

I think that I would probably fund a complete translation of the PG volumes, just as they stand, and make them freely available online in English.   So what would that cost, exactly?

I calculate that at 10c a word of Greek, it would cost $20 per column, and most volumes have 1000 columns.  So a volume should cost $10,000 to translate. 

Now there are 220 odd volumes in the PG, so that would cost $2.2m, or thereabouts.   That’s not really a lot, is it?

Even if we doubled it, at $5m to translate all of this into English, it still wouldn’t be a lot, would it? 

Is there anyone out there with a spare $5m?


A lost English translation of Chrysostom’s Letters?

My interest was sparked by a sentence in Richard W. Pfaff, The Library of the Fathers: The Tractarians as Patristic Translators, Studies in Philology 70 (1973), p.329f.  This paper discusses the history of the Oxford Movement series of English translations.  On p.335-6 he says:

Two of the envisaged volumes of Chrysostom never appeared: a selection of letters and the treatise On the Priesthood.  The translation of letters had been undertaken before the series began by John Jebb, bishop of Limerick (d. 1833) and was completed by his son, also John, by at least 1852, but for some reason was never published.

Now this is exciting stuff!  For there is no English translation of the letters of Chrysostom, even now.  Just imagine if this manuscript were still around. 

No reference for this claim is given. I asked Dr. Pfaff, but after 35 years, quite naturally he can no longer remember where he got this information.  It’s not in H.P.Liddon’s biography of Pusey, which is the main source for the history of the ‘Library of the Fathers’.   The Dictionary of National Biography has an entry for Bishop John Jebb, and also indicates that the younger Jebb was a nephew, not a son.

I then asked Alan Acheson, biographer of John Jebb.   He referred me to the collected letters of John Henry Newman, volume 5:

Among these (Vol. 5, p.380) is a letter of J.H.Newman. My note on that reads thus: ‘On Jebb’s translation of De Sacerdotio [N. of Chrysostom] – in his nephew’s possession’. Newman then wrote: “Will write to Jebb tonight…connect the name of so popular a writer with our undertaking”. The year, by the way, was 1836 – after Bishop Jebb’s death in 1833 – so Newman was referring to the younger Jebb.

I’ve not yet checked the text in Newman.  But that is the answer, isn’t it?  Clearly Jebb had worked on “On the priesthood”, and somehow when Pfaff was editing his piece he didn’t have his notes before him (hence the lack of reference), moved the phrases around and inadvertently attributed the wrong work to him. 

There have been several translations of “On the priesthood”, including one in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, so it then becomes clear enough why it was never published.


Corpus Parisinum of the Greek Gnomologia finally published

Collections of sayings by philosophers and other bums are known as gnomologia – the idea being that they contain gnomic wisdom.  These things exercised quite a bit of influence in antiquity.

One of the most famous collections of these is the Corpus Parisinum, so called because it is preserved in a massive manuscript (Ms. Paris graecus 1168) in the French National Library.  It’s never been published, but it’s a central witness if you are trying to trace the history of a saying.

 Well, it has now been edited!  Dennis Searby has made a critical edition, with English translation, and Dimitri Gutas supplied a preface.  I only wonder how I can get a look at a copy!

PS: There’s a table of contents here.  One section (CP2) is pagan prophecies of the coming of Christ which didn’t make it into Maximus the Confessor.  Dr Searby kindly sent me his intro to that section.  The book is 1,000 pages, in two volumes, and looks like a treasure trove of valuable information.


Another collection of classical texts in English translation

Delighted to find this site, Theoi, contains a lot of translations of obscure classical authors. The site is New Zealand based, and most of the translations are from the Loeb library. Lots of these are actually out of copyright in the USA because the copyright was not renewed as the law required. I’m not sure of the details of NZ copyright law, but plainly it makes some good stuff available!

It’s great news to have all this online.  For instance, the Library of Apollodorus is a 2nd century handbook of Greek mythology, and so is one of our best primary sources for this subject.  The only thing that I found to regret is the copyright notice at the bottom, which claims copyright of the HTML formatting.  Whether this claim is legally valid I do not know (although it would seem untested at best); whether the site owner could really defend it I don’t know either (although that seems doubtful); but it’s ungenerous.  Freely you received, freely give.

On another note, we need to take the time to support the Loeb library, I think.  As a rule I have refrained from scanning material from it.  Hey, some of these volumes sell less than a dozen copies a year!  That won’t pay for storage even.

The Loeb series is our only popular series which prints both the Latin or Greek alongside the English.  The volumes have got cheaper over the years and now cost very little.  They are a treasure.   Let’s appreciate them.