Translating Eusebius on the Psalms – a new blog

A friendly note from Justin Gohl of the Sophiaphile blog informs me that he is translating selected passages from the monster Commentary on the Psalms by Eusebius of Caesarea!

This is extremely good news.  This text is very long, and has accordingly been very neglected.  I seem to remember commissioning translations of a few of these myself, in fact.

Of course Justin is only nibbling at it, but he’s making the first ever translations of what he’s doing.  Here’s what he has done so far:

I don’t know if he will do any more, but this is just invaluable.  Blessedly he is translating the whole commentary for a given psalm.

More please!

Did Origen deny the idea that “there was a time when the Son was not”?

I came across an interesting claim on twitter here:

Origen anticipating & contradicting the Arian heresy 10yrs before Arius was born and 80yrs before Nicaea is Fire. “He who was a son according to the flesh came from the seed of David…According to the Spirit, however, he existed first & there was never a time when he was not.” …

It’s from Origen’s commentary on Romans 1, ch.5.

Pamphilus in his Apology (ch. 50) also quotes it in the Greek from Origen’s commentary on Hebrews. (tweet link)

It would be very interesting indeed if Origen explicitly rebutted one of the main claims of Arius a century later, that “there was a time when the Son was not.”  But did he?

There is an online copy of the Commentary on Romans, in preview here (Fathers of the Church 103, p.69, tr. Thomas P. Scheck), so let’s look at it.

5. Concerning his Son.83 He who was a son according to the flesh came indeed from the seed of David. Undoubtedly, he became that which previously was not, according to the flesh. According to the Spirit, however, he existed first, and there was never a time when he was not.84 It should be noted that [M849] he did not say, “who has been predestined Son of God…

83. Rom 1.3.
84. This formulation also occurs in Fr. in Heb 1.8 (= von Balthasar, Origen: Spirit and Fire, p. 77). The Greek formula is attributed to Origen by Pamphilus, Apology 1.3. Arius, whose teaching was condemned by the Council of Nicaea, 325, became infamous for his slogan, ἦν ποτε ὄτε οὐκ ἦν, “There was a time when he was not,” referring to the time before the Son was created. Origen’s expression clearly anticipates the Nicene and Athanasian definitions. Cf. Bigg, Christian Platonists, p. 167, “There is no shadow of a doubt that for Origen the Son is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father.” Cf. 10.8.5; 1.1.2; 1.2.9; 4.4.1.
85. Rom 1.4.

This is indeed what the text says.  The problem is that this portion of Origen’s Commentary on Romans does not exist in the original Greek, written before 250 AD.  It has reached us in Rufinus’ Latin translation, written around 400.  Rufinus was accused of attempting to rehabilitate Origen by mistranslation.  It is entirely possible that Rufinus introduced this phrasing, therefore (although I believe that these days the accusations against Rufinus are generally discounted).

How can we tell?

Well, let’s look at some of the other references.

There appears to be an error in the footnote here: Pamphilus, Apology 1.3 does not refer to these matters.  See below for this work.  But there is a problem here anyway – Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen has not reached us in Greek, but in a Latin translation by … Rufinus!  We’re back to square one.


In Hans Urs von Balthasar, Origen: Spirit and Fire. A thematic anthology of his writings, tr. R.J.Daly, 1984, we find this passage, attributed to Origen and supposedly from his lost commentaries on Hebrews:

123. If he is the invisible “image of the invisible God” (Coll: 15), I would like to venture the further affirmation that, as the likeness of the Father, there never was a time when he was not (cf. In 1:1-3). For when did God, who according to John is called “light” (1 In 1 :5), not have the “radiance of his own glory” (cf. Heb 1 :3), so that someone could dare to set the beginning of a Son who previously did not exist? When could the WORD whom “the Father knows” (cf. Mt 11:27; In 10:15), and who is the expression of the ineffable, unnamable and unutterable essence of the Father, not have existed? For they who dare to say that there was a time when the Son was not, should consider that they will also have to say that there was a time when there was no Wisdom, a time when there was no Life. But it is not right nor, because of our weakness, without danger to take it upon ourselves to separate God from his only-begotten Son, the WORD, who is with him eternally, the Wisdom in whom he takes delight (cf. Prov 8:30). For in this way God is not even considered to be eternally happy. 1

Daly adds, “1. This fragment probably comes, not from the lost commentary on Hebrews, but from the original Greek of PA 4, 1, 1. -R.J.D.”  (Pa = peri archon, On First Principles).

In the appendix, the source for section 123 is given as “Hebr. frag 1, 8 – Cramer VII, 361-362”.

But Cramer is a collection of materials from the Greek catenas in Paris.  Unfortunately the attributions of passages in the catenas are often wrong.  So this is not really evidence either!

None of this is very satisfactory, but I thought we might look at the French edition of the Commentary on Romans, as these often have good footnotes.  In the Sources Chrétiennes edition, SC 532, p.178-179, our passage is book 1, chapter 7, and it does indeed have an interesting footnote.

1. Qui filius secundum carnem quidem ex semine factus est David. Factus est autem sine dubio id quod prius non erat secundum carnem. Secundum spiritum vero erat prius et non erat quando non erat [1]. Observandum est enim quia non dixit: …

[1] Non erat quando non erat : Ce passage est cité et commenté par Pamphile dons son Apologie pour Origène, 52 (SC 464, p. 110) : « Il ‘fut fait’ ce qu’il n était pas précédemment, car il est evident que, selon la chair, il n’était pas antérieurement; selon l’esprit, en revanche, il était précédemment et il n’y avait pas de moment où il n’était pas. » Cetre formulation se trouve déjà dans le PArch I, 29 et IV 4, 1. C’est la première expression d’une formule qui sera utilisée lors de la controverse arienne, pour réfuter l’allégation que le Fils n’est pas consubstantiel au Père.

The SC confirms that we only have the Latin of Rufinus.  But it gives us a better reference for the Apology for Origen, section 52 of the SC edition (SC464).  In fact in section 51 Pamphilus tells us that what follows is from the Commentary on Romans.

Let’s take it from the FOC translation, also by Thomas P. Scheck:

46. PAMPHILUS. We have brought forth this single testimony concerning the deity of the Son of God from those books that his accusers especially rebuke. But doubtless in his other books as well he understands things in the same sense, nor does he contradict himself.

47. Concerning the fact that the Father is not prior to the Son, but the Son is co-eternal with the Father, he says the following in the first book of his Commentary on Genesis:

48. ORIGEN [12].156 For God did not begin to be the Father later, as though he were not the Father previously, as if he were impeded for certain reasons by which mortal men are usually impeded, so that they cannot immediately also be fathers from the time when they exist. For if God is always perfect, he does not lack the power by which he is a Father, and if it is good that he is the Father of such a Son, why does it matter or why would he deprive himself of this good and not become the Father immediately, if one can say it this way, from when he is able to be the Father? The same thing should likewise be said about the Holy Spirit.

49. PAMPHILUS. There is another testimony on the same subject in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews:

50. ORIGEN [13]. How else should one understand the “eternal light” except as referring to God the Father? But he, inasmuch as he is the light, never existed at a time when his radiance was not present with him—for a light without its radiance could never be conceived, which, if it is true, then there never was a time when the Son did not exist. But he was not unborn, as we have said of the eternal light. Otherwise, we would appear to be implying two principles of light. But, as the radiance of the unborn light, he was born of that light, having that same light as origin and source; yet there was not [a time] when he did not exist.

51. PAMPHILUS. There is another testimony on the same subject in the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans:

52. ORIGEN [14]. “Which he promised,” he says, “through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his Son, who was made according to the flesh from the seed of David”: that which previously did not exist “was made”; for it is clear that, according to the flesh, he did not previously exist; but according to the Spirit he existed previously, and there was never [a time] when he did not exist.

53. PAMPHILUS. The same thing is found in the first book of Peri archon, that the generation of the Son of God transcends any commencement: …

It’s easy to see from this why this view is attributed to Origen.  We do have the Greek of the Peri Archon, although I’m not going to look at it now.  But it’s saying, more loosely, the same thing in Pamphilus as the other sections.

But, as I remarked earlier, this is all Rufinus.  We do not have the Greek of Pamphilus’ book.

New! Free Patristic Greek text archive now online

A very important announcement today – the Patristic Text Archive has gone online in beta!  It’s here.

This is a new open-access collection of Greek (and other) texts, encoded in XML format (well, strictly it’s TEI), and freely available for download from GitHub, as I noted a couple of days ago.

But now the front-end has appeared, which means that the texts are displayed online in a format that anybody can read.

You click on the cover to get through:

Click on Open a couple more times, and you get the text, gorgeously formatted:

It’s very easy to browse, and there is so much of interest there!  If I tell you that this collection includes the text of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Commentary on the Psalms for ps.1-50, you will see why I am excited.

Sometimes the texts have translations with them.  There are 53 texts by Severian of Gabala (yay!) and I saw that De fide et lege naturae has a new German translation against it (double-yay!).

There are still a couple of glitches. I just clicked on the “About” link in Internet Explorer, and the page was blank below the heading (so use Chrome).  More importantly on a smartphone, the UI misleads the reader: if you click on the links you won’t be able to get into any of the texts unless you know to scroll right, because the “open” button is off-screen to the right.  (What they ought to do is to dispense with the “open” button and make the whole row a hyperlink).  But these are mere niggles.

This is immensely welcome.  Use it, everyone!  This must surely be the shape of things to come.

Ottoman drawings of the monuments of Constantinople

Few of us know anything about Turkish literature or manuscripts, and I am certainly not among that number.  But I was interested to discover that some illuminated Ottoman manuscripts contain pictures of Byzantine monuments.  (Presumably they also contain text as well).  Here are a couple that I have found online recently.

Here is the first.  The source is given as “Terceme-i Cifrü’l-câmi”, or maybe Tercume-i Miftah-i Cifr ul-Cami, which apparently translates to “The Translation of the Key to Esoteric Knowledge”.  This is an illustrated manuscript in Turkish, apparently dating to ca. 1600.

Note the heads on the serpent column, now alas vanished.  The church is Hagia Sophia, so this is the Hippodrome.

The next one (h/t @ByzantineLegacy) is from the “Hunername”, ca. 1530, which is another Ottoman illustrated manuscript.  It shows acrobats in the Hippodrome.

The Hunername is one of the more famous Ottoman illustrated manuscripts, written in 1584-88.  There is an article on it in French Wikipedia here.  It is held in the Topkapi Palace library, where its shelfmark is H.1523-1524 (i.e. in two volumes).

A further illustration, supposedly also in the Hunername, from here, via Wikimedia Commons, shows Mehmet II and the serpent column:

The Wikipedia commons page has the description,

“The text of the Hünername, written in the 1580s, claims that Patriarch Gennadios visited Mehmed II to tell him that if he damaged the Serpent Column the city would be infested with snakes, and a miniature was painted showing the patriarch giving this warning as the sultan throws his mace at a jaw.” Miniature from the Hünername”

The Turkish page does not say that this is from the Hunername, and only says that the heads of the serpent column were broken off by being used as targets during drills for horsemen, and adduces this picture as evidence of the Sultan doing just that.

The Wikipedia text seems in fact to derive from a 2013 page by Paul Stephenson, “The Serpent Column” which gives these fuller details:

The magical properties of the column were widely known and may have saved the column on two occasions: in 1204, Constantinople was sacked by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and much bronze statuary was destroyed or transplanted. Niketas Choniates composed a threnody for the city’s lost works of art, which did not include the Serpent Column. A reason for its survival is suggested on a later occasion, when Mehmed II “The Conqueror” captured Constantinople. The text of the Hünername, written in the 1580s, claims that Patriarch Gennadios visited Mehmed to tell him that if he damaged the column the city would be infested with snakes, and a miniature was painted showing the patriarch giving this warning as the sultan throws his mace at a jaw. Following Mehmed’s attack on a serpent head, there was a plague of snails. Mehmed, duly chastened, is said to have cauterised the roots of a mulberry tree that was growing within the column and threatening its integrity. the column, therefore, survived to be painted many more times by Ottoman miniaturists, notably the team of artists which produced the Surname-i Hümayun(fig. 4), also a product of the 1580s.

The Serpent Column was regarded as a talisman against snakes long before the 1580s. A version of the legend is reported by Kemal Pashazade, writing before 1512:[“Constantine son of Helena] caused to be made that bronze statue in the hippodrome which is the representation of three serpents twined together, and by making and designing that talisman he stopped up the source of the mischief of snakes whose poison is fatal to life.” Indeed, the column’s apotropaic powers were known to Russian travellers to Constantinople between c. 1390 and c. 1430, three of whom reported that “serpent venom is enclosed in the column.” This is also reported in 1403-6, by the Spanish ambassador Clavijo.

At a time when the Ottoman court had abandoned Constantinople (Kostantiniyye/Istanbul) for Edirne, the Serpent Column lost its heads. Various tales emerged, including one blaming an errant Pole, a member of a Polish ambassadorial delegation. Yet the most likely story is that related in a contemporary Ottoman chronicle: the metal which had supported the overhanging serpent heads for more than two millennia fractured on the evening of 20 October 1700. A head discovered a century and half later, during excavation and restoration work at Hagia Sophia, suggests that the heads were spirited away that night, but perhaps not so very far away. A close examination of the remaining head, in fact only an upper jaw, shows signs of hacking with a sharp object (fig. 5), suggesting that those who heard the heads fall with an almighty crash quickly set about it with axes, sharing the spoils as once crusaders had distributed other ancient works in bronze.

Stephenson in fact has since published a monograph on the subject.[1]

These images are interesting, but make me aware of the existence of a whole field of knowledge about which most of us know nothing.

  1. [1]Paul Stephenson, The Serpent Column: A Cultural Biography, Oxford University Press (2016).

A few fragments for the weekend

It’s time for a miscellaneous post.  Here are a few stories and notices from the last few weeks which may be of general interest.

    *    *    *    *

First up is a GitHub repository, containing an archive of open access antique Christian texts.  The title is the Patristic Text Archive, and it’s here.  Created by Annette von Stockhausen, you have to click down through the directories to find content (surely there must be a better way?)  So here we find Sever J. Voicu’s Greek text of Severian of Gabala, De fide et lege naturae.

h/t TEI Pelican, who also alerts me to versions of the works of Evagrius Ponticus here.

    *    *    *    *

Next, we all know that medieval manuscripts use abbreviations in order to save parchment.  No surprise there – if you had to make your own parchment by catching a sheep, you’d economise too!  But how did medieval scribes keep up with the abbreviations that we find so difficult today?

Well, they had handbooks of them.  Here’s a manuscript from Reichenau, dated 1013-1054 AD, now in the library at Fulda with shelfmark 100 C 4.  Folio 2r is online here. (Click to expand the image)

Medieval abbreviations in a medieval manuscript

H/T Stephanie J. Lahey @SJLahey.

    *    *    *    *

The next item that caught my eye is a strange story.  Appearing in the Union of Catholic Asian News, and dated 22 September 202o, it’s headlined, Chinese Catholics angry over book claiming Jesus killed sinner.

Catholics in mainland China are upset about the distortion of a Bible story in a school textbook, which claims Jesus Christ stoned to death a sinner woman in order to respect the law of the time.

The textbook, published by the government-run University of Electronic Science and Technology Press, aims to teach “professional ethics and law” to the students of secondary vocational schools.

The book quotes the story of Jesus forgiving the sins of a woman who committed adultery from the Gospel of John. But it has a changed ending.

The crowd wanted to stone the woman to death as per their law. But Jesus said, ‘Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.’ Hearing this, they slipped away one by one.

When the crowd disappeared, Jesus stoned the sinner to death saying, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead,” the textbook said.

So far, so very odd.  How do we know any of this?

A parishioner who uploaded the textbook on social media said the distortion was an insult to the Catholic Church.

“I want everyone to know that the Chinese Communist Party has always tried to distort the history of the Church, to slander our Church, and to make people hate our Church,” his post said.

Mathew Wang, a Christian teacher at a vocational school, confirmed the content but said the textbook content varies from place to place within China.

Wang added that the controversial textbook was reviewed by the Textbook Review Committee for Moral Education in Secondary Vocational Education.

Um.  That’s not very good.  So where is it, then – where’s the book?  Let’s see it.

Something about this story makes me wary.  I see that the story has been repeated by various websites, clearly without further investigation.  The mainstream media have ignored it.

    *    *    *    *

Finally, and continuing the theme of my previous post, here’s a bronze sestertius of Trajan, struck 112-114 which shows a picture of Portus, the new port of Rome constructed by Claudius, and expanded by Trajan.  This from the auction site:

A bronze sestertius of emperor Trajan celebrates the completion of his harbor expansion project in A.D. 113.

The coin, in virtually uncirculated condition, was found in the basilica at Caerwent in South Wales, not far from Caerleon.

H/t Jon Hawke.

    *    *    *    *

That’s it for now.  Have a good weekend!

UPDATE:  Commenter Suburbanbanshee reports that the original tweet (by @timothyshlong) for the Chinese story is here!

Google translate gives the text of the tweet as “Blatantly, tampering with the “Bible”, this so-called education, after all, is very gentle!”

This contains two images of the handbook.

And this:

I will see if I can find someone with Chinese to translate this material.

Reconstructions of Ostia and Portus from the air – painted by Katatexilux

A marvellous Italian website has come to my attention.  It’s called Progetto Katatexilux, and may be found at  (Note that you need to use Chrome to view this).

This pair of artists have drawn reconstructions of the ancient world.  Here are a couple of from their Ostia Antica project.  The first is Ostia:

I have been to Ostia several times, and I never realised that the river ran to the right, as you walked down the main street, starting from the railway at the right.

At the top of the first image is the new port built by Claudius, Portus.  And here it is!

The illustrations have been made for books.  They clearly need to be commissioned to do many more of these!


H/T Pablo Diaz on Twitter.

A few more letters of Isidore of Pelusium – 102-116

Ten years ago I attempted to get English translations made of letters of Isidore of Pelusium.  Each attempt failed for one reason or another.  This translation of letters 102-116 was made by Clive Sweeting in 2010, but never received a final revision, and was never published.  This seems a pity, so I post it here.

    *    *    *    *

LETTER 102  – To Timothy the Reader.  Against the Theopaschites and those who affirm one nature in Christ.

Just as sailors hide the hook with bait and thus catch unsuspecting fish, even so wicked allies of heresies, covering  their evil designs with fair words,  fatally ensnare the more simple-minded[1]. With all care therefore guard your heart lest in any respect you accept Christ’s nature after the Incarnation as an appearance[2]. For assent to one nature involves a denial of the other –(for) either the divine nature is subject to change or our (humanity) is diminished. This is the Charybdis of Manes, by means of which he strove to lead (us) all to Gehenna.

LETTER 103 – To the Same.  Why Our Lord after His Resurrection questioned Peter three times about love.

Our Lord’s threefold questioning of Peter about love is not a reason to suspect ignorance on the part of the Master (let certain persons not think amiss in this way), but the good Healer expelled the threefold denial by means of the threefold assent.

LETTER 104 – To Leontios. On those who unworthy aspirations touch on ordination as a bishop.

It does not for just anyone to set his sights on a bishopric, my dear fellow, but to those whose lives are governed by the laws of Paul[3]. If then you perceive that degree of scrupulousness within yourself, proceed cheerfully towards the ascent to such an elevated position, but if you do not possess this (quality), until you acquire it, do not touch that which is untouchable[4]. Beware of approaching the fire which consumes matter.[5]

LETTER 105 – To Eutonios the Deacon. Why John called the Jews generations of vipers[6].

John called the Jews “generations of vipers” as being more wicked than the offspring of wicked parents. For it is recounted that this wild species[7] devours the maternal womb when they are hatched. Since then they abandoned God who gave them birth and they mortified all the grace given to them through failing to make use of it, he quite reasonably likens them to those poisonous creatures, who negate their benefactions through ingratitude, or to put it otherwise devour them.

LETTER 106 – To Timothy the Reader.  On the saying, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade”[8].

You will need to reply to the searching enquirer. For he speaks, it is said, to the ears of those who hear.[9] Also “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. Our Lord said, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” to the sellers of doves, but with the priests who sell off the gifts of the Holy Spirit in mind. Since the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, this is an insult to those who trade in God. As for ‘’Take these away from here”, he means that there is no longer any need for blood (sacrifices); for I grant bloodless forgiveness of sins; from now on I wish the Spirit alone to make propitiation. The law of flesh is fulfilled, let the law of the Spirit prevail, and that of salvation commence.

LETTER 107- To the Same.  On the harmony of the Testaments.

The Son of God introduced no novelty of beliefs, dear friend, into the Law and the Prophets, but placed a term to those things which had been revealed of old concerning Him. If you open[10] the Old Testament with the utmost attentiveness, you will find the whole of the New Testament announced therein. For those then who rely on the Law and consider the way of the Gospel strange, from the words of the Law He clarifies the truth of the beliefs (communicated by) grace. Thus they will (come to) see the intrinsic harmony of both Testaments.

LETTER 108 – To Prohairesios the scholasticos[11]?  On the living Word.

You have in your possession, I am informed, a collection of discourses which delight the ear, but which do not nourish the soul. You are in need of the Living Word, which he who lacks is a (mere) sounding brass [12]. If then you acquire this, it is a sweet-sounding instrument for God and well – tuned for men.

LETTER 109 – To the monk Marathonios. Against the Macedonians or Spirit-Contesters.

If our God and Saviour after becoming Incarnate transmitted the Most Holy Spirit, counted as completing the Holy Trinity and by His invocation in Holy Baptism as freeing from sins, but on the Sacramental Table revealing ordinary bread to be His own Body in Taking Flesh, how is it then that you teach, you crackbrained fellow, that  (the Spirit) is made or created or belongs to subject nature and is not parent to and of the same substance as the royal nature?  For if subject, let it not be counted with the Master. And if it is a creature, let it not be compounded with the Creator.  But it is united and counted together, since an exact exponent of such belief must believe Christ, when He teaches infallibly concerning His own substance, even if you do not accept it, as one who would be wiser and boasts of knowing heavenly (realities) better than God or who rather prates insolently against God.

LETTER 110 – To the monk Crato. That he who has promised spiritual effort, must willingly embrace all its difficulties.

He who wishes to undertake spiritual effort and desires salvation readily embraces all its difficulties, whatever and how many they are. He who thinks he acts in a way contrary to his dignity in performing spiritual effort or in the acts of service it involves is endued with exterior pride, which it is not possible to discard – unless he keeps in mind his body, from where it has come into existence and where again it is dissolved.[13]

LETTER 111 – To Zosimos the Priest.  Concerning one ordained by means of money payment.

You have received the priesthood unholily, O unholy one, having stolen a heavenly article by means of payment, a second Caiaphas, receiving that of which one may not speak by means of silver. But there a hope exists that you will be changed towards goodness. For I do not wish to speak against you.

LETTER 112 – To Bishop Eusebios.  Whatever we say we priests should do.

In church you teach with fair words, oh but it were rather so in act. For you resemble someone throwing stones into the air and aiming[14] at the directness of their fall and (thereby) bringing[15] them down upon himself. For if the refutation of sins is perceived amongst us as denying its words by its acts, not only do we fail to prevent hearers from acting badly, but we also incur mockery teaching one thing yet doing  another.

LETTER 113 – To the Same.  That he has sold the priesthood for payment.

You are building the church fabric with useless stones, with lawless or rather with your impious resources. For you received the price of priesthood, as one who sells priestly office, and you gave this to Zosimos. The news is thus being spread throughout the entire area, so that both ears of all who hear it are buzzing.

LETTER 114 – To Timothy the Reader.

This is the explanation of the three periods of day and night of Our Lord’s entombment. It is written “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights; so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. He who promised fulfilling the prefiguration (type) of Jonah and who understands it accurately, since He was present with Jonah when he was thrown into the deep, and when he was vomited forth from the depth, fulfilled Jonah unfailingly, dwelling in the tomb as long as Jonah (did) in the whale; If you seek a second figure, this is it: At the sixth hour of Friday the Lord was crucified. From then until the ninth there was darkness; Take this from me to be night. Again from the ninth hour; this is again day. Then there is the Friday night, then the Sabbath. The night of the Sabbath is the morning of Sunday, according to the Evangelist who states  “When it dawned on the first day of the week” If you wish to learn a third reason, (it is) as follows. On the Friday the Lord gave up His spirit; this is one day. He passed the whole of the Sabbath in the grave; then there is the night belonging to the Sabbath. When Sunday dawned, He rose from the tomb, and this is day. Since, as you know, from knowing a part the whole is known[16]. For in this way we are accustomed to perform the remembrance of those who die. At whatever hour of the day someone dies, the following day only is omitted, and on the next day from dawn we hold the third day of his (commemoration). You have, I think, the solution to what you were seeking. For if those who fight dishonestly ask for three complete days and nights, reply that, if the emperor was receiving the supplication and petition of those in the mines or in prison and promised to give them release after the third day, and in advance of the set date granted them their freedom, it was rather by his rapidity that he declared the truth (of his intention). The Master, rising more swiftly than He had promised, will appropriately be worshipped by all.

LETTER 115 – To the monk Elias.

“What have you to do with the way to Egypt with a view to drinking Nile[17] water?”, the prophet said to the turnabout people, or rather God by means of him. What have you to do with the confusion from which you were separated by God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm? How is it that having laid hold on virtue and tasted the summit of philosophy, you revert to wickedness, and do not have in mind the word of Scripture, that “He who turns away from justice towards sin, the Lord will prepare him for the sword. Flee the billow and flee the waves. Christ has rebuked the wind[18], and no experience of storm will engulf you, if you hold fast to Christ, the harbour.[19]

LETTER 116 – To Ausonius[20] the Corrector.

Possessing a wise means of discovering truth, namely the many-shaped device of torments, use fear with regard to judgment, since divine legislation[21] has established you as a fear for the wicked.

[1] Cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, letter 101,7 (Grégoire de Nazianze, Lettres théologiques, Sources Chrétiennes, no. 208,38)

[2] With the alteration ‘one’ (nature) featuring in place of ‘appearance’ this injunction is specifically ascribed to Isidore by one of his earlier testimonia, See P.T.R. Gray: Leontius of Jerusalem: Against the Monophysites; Testimonies of the Saints and Aphoriae  (Oxford Early Christian Texts), 2006, 84.

[3] I Tim. 3,2 – 7; Tit. 1, 7 -9

[4] cf. I Sam. 7,1.

[5] cf. Ex. 3,5

[6] Mt. 3,7

[7] Isidore’s treatment differs substantially from the Physiologus.

[8] Jn. 2,16

[9] Mt. 11,15

[10] lit; unfold

[11] A term for professor of rhetoric.

[12] 1 Cor. 13,1

[13] cf. Gen;, 3,19

[14] diakonti – perhaps a corruption of a present participle (dative masc. sing.) although LSJ (and Bailly) quote the middle form diakontizomai. Alternatively participle. dioikounti.

[15] Lit.calling.

[16] synecdoche

[17]Following Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 1, 39,  Hesychius glosses Geon (Gihon, Gen.  2,13) as the Nile.

[18] Lc.8,24

[19] Less frequent among the many navigational metaphors of salvation. cf. Heb.6,19

[20] In this short selection of letters, only Ausonius’ existence (not even that of bishop Eusebius) is confirmed in J.R. Martindale, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol. II, A.D.395-527, but on the evidence alone of a fair number of letters addressed by Isidore to Ausonius or to a slightly varying homonym.

[21] Rom.13,4.


A coin from the days when English was a tribal language, ill-adapted to Roman letters

Every so often there is a news story about the difficulty of representing some foreign language in Roman letters.  This is especially the case for languages like Chinese which already have a  dedicated script.

Every script or alphabet exists for the purpose of representing the sounds of a language.  At those times when a language has never been written before, the new script will often be adapted from some existing letters.  Sometimes it takes a couple of attempts.  We are all familiar with the creation of the Cyrillic script by Cyril and Methodius, from Greek.

The truth is that Roman letters may be the standard today, but the Roman script was never devised to represent most of the languages that are today written in it.

Bible translators very often create the first written version of some tribal language.  Consequently they struggle with issues such as sounds that do not match any letter.  They end up creating clumps of letters, or using accents or something, in order to cope.

But few of us may have considered that the missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons had to deal with exactly the same problem.

English is not a language which was originally written in Roman script.  It was originally written in runes, which were devised to represent the sounds of the English language.  (We are all familiar with the appearance of English runes thanks to J.R.R.Tolkien.)

English spelling is as weird as it is for several reasons, but one of the reasons is that the English language contains sounds not found in Latin.  One example is the “th” sound, found in “the”.

In runic, “th” was represented by a single character, “thorn”, written as “þ”.  Indeed if you visit Iceland, as I have done, you will see this rune still in use, mingled into Roman script.  The thorn rune was often written with the loop open at the top, looking more like “y”.  This is the origin of such modern curiosities as “ye olde tea shoppe” – the “ye” was originally “þe”.

Few will be aware that there is numismatic evidence of the changeover from runes to Roman.  I owe my knowledge of this to Dr Kate Wiles, who posted a coin and a fascinating explanation to twitter here:

Coin of Offa, issued by moneyer Ecghun. East Anglian mint.  785-793 AD. Type 168.  See here.  Said to be found near Great Saxham, Suffolk, 2017.

This is a coin issued by King Offa in the 8th century, produced by the moneyer Ecghun. You can see on the left it says REX ᛭ OFFA.

On the right is the moneyer’s name, written EXCHVN. Which seems like an odd spelling.

It was made at a time when English was only just starting to be written with the Latin alphabet – previously, it had been written using runes. Latin and Old English didn’t have all the same sounds, though, so there were teething problems when working out how to spell some words.

Latin, for example, didn’t have the ‘dg’ sound we have in words like ‘edge’, so there was no obvious letter that English could use. The end solution in Old English was to use ‘cg’, but that took a while to settle.

Ecghun’s solution in the meantime was to import a rune to do the job – ᚷ is the runic character for G.

So this tiny coin is evidence of the earliest stages of English starting to be written with this alphabet. It’s a combination of two languages and two writing systems.[1]

It’s a fascinating story which doesn’t deserve to be lost in Twitter.  It certainly makes you look at English spelling a second time!  Thank you, Dr. Wiles, for drawing our attention to it!

  1. [1]Dr Wiles gives as a source Martin Findell & Philip Shaw, “Language Contact in Early Medieval Britain: Settlement, Interaction, and Acculturation”, in: W.M. Ormrod &c, Migrants in Medieval England, c.500-c.1500, Oxford (2020).

An email about the letters of Isidore of Pelusium

Isidore of Pelusium was a monk living in the Nile delta in the early-mid 5th century AD, in the times of Cyril of Alexandria.  We know nothing of him except that a collection about 2,000 of his letters – or rather short excerpts from them – was made by the “Sleepless” monks of Constantinople in the 6th century.  It’s never received a critical edition, but the text is actually quite interesting.  It may be a lost devotional classic.

Something over ten years ago – I write from memory – I became aware of this work.  I did so through the marvellous monograph of Pierre Evieux, who also translated the second half of the collection for the Sources Chrétiennes series.  It seemed a shame not to commission some English translations, and so I set out to do so, and I wrote about this here with the tag “Isidore of Pelusium”.  But it was all very hard, and I got nowhere much.  The bits and pieces all over the place that resulted were too much for me to ever collect.

Yesterday I received an email from Ted Janiszewski.  It seems that he and a friend have been looking at Isidore of Pelusium and trying to work out what exists in English.  He wrote:

What we’ve come up with is there are currently 53 numbered epistles in English, either posted to your blog, shared in the comments, or translated in your edition of Eusebius’ Gospel Problems and Solutions:

1–14, 27, 35–36, 78, 97–101, 212, 221, 310–311, 322, 448, 1106, 1214–1220, 1222–1229, 1241, 1243–1246, 1285, 1382, 1582

There are a further twenty unnumbered letters done into English in 1843 by William Roberts, as you mention here – but I haven’t yet checked to see whether there is overlap. A quick Google Books search uncovered translations of a few more fragments – and I’m sure there is more buried out there in monographs and journals. But this now is what we have.

I was wondering: you mention here (ten years ago today! how time flies) and again here that you commissioned letters 15–25. Did those ever come through?

I have written back to tell him that 15-25 never arrived.  My email box reveals that a gentleman named Mark Genter was working on them, and then everything went silent.

What I did find was a translation of 102-116, made by a gentleman named Clive Sweeting, but never placed online because he never received the payment we agreed.  I think after 10 years that it doesn’t matter, so I will do so in a bit.

Rather nice to hear about all this again!

Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis: Unfinished Book) – online in English

Dr Isabella Image has kindly written to me and offered to make available her translation of Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis: Unfinished Book).  Dr Image has worked on several academic translations, so it is very nice indeed to have this one made available.  She has also kindly made the result public domain, so please circulate it freely.  Here it is:

The footnote and formatting is my responsibility tho.

I have also added the files to here.

A very literal translation already exists on the web here, at Google sites.  The Patrologia Latina text may be found online here, and indeed also Italian and Spanish versions.

Dr Image adds:

You’ll want to know my credentials: my classics BA & MPhil were at Cambridge and my patristics DPhil was at Oxford. I’ve published Augustine translations before (with Walsh & Collard) and also my doctorate (on Hilary of Poitiers).

It is very good news indeed to have this.  Thank you!