4th British Patristics Conference – day 3

8am, and there is no-one at the breakfast queue.  Evidently attendees were catching up on their rest after the previous day.  It was necessary to vacate our rooms by 10am, so this was my own next priority.

The day started with three sets of three papers.  Unfortunately I had to leave after the first paper, because I had far to go to get home.  So I went to hear Hazel Johannessen, Enslaving the tyrant: the language of demonic slavery in Eusebius of Caesarea’s ‘Laus Constantini’.  This paper was brought on by noticing how often Eusebius refers to bad rulers being demon-possessed (e.g. LC 5:3).  The bad ruler cannot rule effectively, as he is enslaved himself to pleasure, licence, wealth, rage, fear and to “bloodthirsty demons”.  The idea itself has connections with Philo’s Every Good Man is Free (17, 30-31); and Plato, Republic 575C-D, where the idea of a bad ruler as a slave is put forward.  The questions were answered effectively.

There was an aside in the question-and-answer session that made me uneasy, and caused me to reflect about this paper and a couple of others.  We must always consider, when we read something, whether what an ancient author has to say might actually be true!  I don’t think any of us would be very flattered by a literary study of our works that failed to ask this question!  And it is so easy not to; so easy to just presume the values and ideas of the circle in which we live, and treat authors, whose works have lived for a millennium and more, merely as meat, as so much material, to be examined, criticised, at times judiciously approved; but never listened to, to discover things that we did not know about the world and ourselves.

After this I had to sneak off.  Into the car, on this very hot day, and drive home.  I am, I must admit, very glad to get home!

4th British Patristics Conference – day 2

Not much sleep last night — the bed had a sag in it, and creaked when you moved — so off to breakfast at 8am feeling rather the worse for wear!  But breakfast was catered rather excellently.  It was again a brilliantly sunny day, which helped no end.

At 9am Alastair Logan delivered an hour-long paper on the idea that the original burial places of Peter and Paul in Rome were only modestly remembered; that the remains were transferred to the Basilica Apostolorum during the 3rd century, around the time of the Decian persecution; and that the Vatican basilica owes its origin to Constans, rather than Constantine.  There were a number of archaeological slides, mostly rather hard to follow.  I was unsure how well-founded this hypothesis was, tho — tiredness played a part –, but it was interesting to hear.

At tea I found myself talking to Carol Downer and a gentleman who turned out to be Zurab Jashi, a Georgian scholar who had delivered a paper yesterday.  The lack of an English introduction to orient scholars unfamiliar with Georgian came up.  Apparently there was a group of Georgian scholars at the Oxford International Patristics Conference last year, although few were aware of this.  Georgia itself is in a state of near-war, and funds for research are low.  I suggested that perhaps the way to do this was to make it a matter of propaganda.  It must be in the interest of the Georgian state that scholars in the west are aware of the literary heritage of Georgian patristic literature, especially of what Greek texts exist in that language; and so perhaps the creation of a volume of Georgian patrology ought to be funded.

After tea there were three sets of short papers.  I skipped the first set, although I am told that the paper by Hauna Ondrey on the Old Testament exegesis of Cyril of Alexandria was good.  However I did go to hear Luise Marion Frenkel on a letter by John of Antioch to the Prefect of the East, to counter Cyrillian propaganda after the Council of Ephesus.  This was a very interesting item, although Dr. F. delivered it in a difficult-to-follow monotone (I think a language barrier is the problem here).

The point that she was making was that senior figures in Roman life depended on their reputation for influence; and that consequently defamation played a critical role in the disputes of the period, as a way to lessen that influence and cause the circle of friends and supporters to diminish.  One way to do this was to hold synods to issue “condemnations” (I was irresistably reminded of how contributors get lynched in Wikipedia today, at this point), to the extent that most bishops had been condemned by one synod or another.

The letter of John[1] is preserved in the dossiers translated into Latin in the 5th century by the Nestorian sympathiser Marius Mercator, who thereby preserves much material from the oriental position otherwise lost.  The Latin was given in a handout, but sadly no English translation.  Interestingly the letter contains no theological argument; instead it is all about violations of Roman policies of civic law and order.  The Cyrillians are accused of stirring up disturbances.

I likewise skipped the third set.  But coming out from the Frenkel lecture I bumped into Gillian Clark, who had come down for the day.  I discussed with her the idea of an introduction to Georgian patristic literature in English, and she suggested talking to Sebastian Brock, whose network of contacts is extensive.

Lunch consisted of some not-very-special sandwiches.  Just before that, I saw Sebastian Brock leave early, so I was unable to raise the matter.  But apparently Gillian Clark had caught him, and he thought that perhaps he did know someone who could help.  I need to write to him.

After lunch around half the delegates went on a tour of Exeter Cathedral and its library, organised by Morwenna Ludlow.  I did not get much out of this, I confess, out of sheer tiredness, although the Dean welcomed us.

On returning, there was a meeting to discuss publication of papers in Studia Patristica; and when and where the next conference should be.  There was agreement that the next meeting would be run by Kings College London, probably at their St Albans conference centre, in 2014.  There was also discussion of whether to create a British Patristic Society, to support the conference, in which opinions differed.

At 4pm papers resumed.  I went to a paper delivered by William Jupp on Abba Arsenius – the origins of his role as tutor to the emperors.  This was an interesting paper, addressing the question of whether the desert father Arsenius, before he renounced the world, was appointed tutor by Theodosius I to his infant sons Arcadius and Honorius.  The Greek text of Arsenius’ Apophthegmata[2] says that Arsenius was this tutor.  This is extant in very early manuscripts, and later writers and most scholars have followed this.  But two have dissented, based on a Latin version[3].  I suggested that a look at the Syriac text might give a deciding vote.

The next two sessions I spent on my bed trying to get some energy together!   

But at 5:30 I went to hear Kenneth Noakes “A name in Europe”: an assessment of the influence of Martin Routh (1755-1854) as a patristic scholar.  Routh compiled Reliquiae Sacrae, consisting of fragments (only) of ante-Nicene authors in 5 volumes, a work of European reputation.  It’s always very interesting to hear about the work of scholars of past generations.

Dinner was at 7:30, where the menu was well above the standard of ordinary catering.  And I’m back to the room now, and writing up the day.

Tomorrow the conference runs through until lunchtime.  But with a 6-hour drive home, I rather think that I shall depart after the first papers, one of which I have promised to hear.  There are items later; Bella Image has a paper on Latin evidence for Origen’s Commentary on the Psalms, which I would greatly like to hear.  But I really need to be home at a reasonable hour tomorrow, in order to be fit to travel and work on Monday. 

It was commented that the number of seniors who attended was lower than usual, while the balance was made up of post-graduates.  This indeed affected somewhat the financial stability of the conference, as the latter pay much less.  But the reason for this is the Exeter location, ideal as it is in every other respect, but situated at a great distance from anywhere else. 

A good day, but I would have got much more out of it had I managed to sleep last night!  Wish me luck for tonight!

  1. [1]Coll.Cas.127; ACO I.4. p.79-80
  2. [2]PG 65, col. 88-108.  Text is 5-6th century.
  3. [3]PL 53, 955C.

4th British Patristics Conference – day 1

Up and into the car at 6:15am to drive to Exeter University, where the 4th British Patristics conference is taking place today.  The sun shines, the roads are relatively clear, and I arrive at the St Luke’s Campus near the centre of the city around 10:15.  This is far too early for anyone at St Luke’s, and I end up driving into Exeter town centre and wandering around for 2-3 hours.  It’s a pleasant modern city centre. 

Then back and park up, and check in at 1:30.  Meet Sebastian Moll on the way back to the car park.  Inspect the room; discover that it faces south and is boiling hot.  Change rooms. Around 60 people are on the conference.  Carol Downer is there, who translated the Coptic section of the Eusebius book.  I promise to send her some materials from this project.   Then have to rush into the lecture theatre for the opening address at 2:30.  Morwenna Ludlow is running the conference.

The first item is a plenary address by Sebastian Brock, the foremost Syriac scholar of our age, Crossing linguistic barriers in the Christian East.  The title conceals a subject of very wide interest — translations of patristic texts between Greek and the oriental languages, what, and when, and who survived in what language.  It’s an hour and a quarter of very dense material, which must have left a few people reeling, but not me.

Interestingly Dr Brock stated that quite a lot of Syriac patristic texts were translated into Middle Persian.  “Virtually nothing survives” from the latter, so I wondered how we knew.  But the Chronicle of Seert in the 4th century records a bishop who made such translations, we learned; that there was hagiographical literature, and a law-book, and liturgical material.  There are also a few translations from Middle Persian into Syriac.

We learned that Irenaeus in Syriac is from catenas.  There are 5th century Syriac translations of Greek texts, which are paraphrased such that they are one and a half times the size of the Greek.  5th century translations are paraphrases; 7th century ones are “mirrors”, which can be retranslated back.  The famous British Library manuscript from 411 AD which contains the Syriac version of Eusebius’ Theophania is actually the oldest dated literary manuscript in any language.

He also discussed Syriac texts translated into Greek.  It is interesting to hear that the Clavis Patrum Graecorum entries for Ephraem the Syrian in the Greek translation are about as extensive as those for Chrysostom!  And that in both cases, the spuria make up the bulk of the texts.

Sebastian Brock also mentioned the existence of a new patristic language, Caucasian Albanian.  This has nothing to do with Albania, but is a Caucasian language from the Caucasus.  Only the under-text of a palimpsest of a Georgian lectionary from Sinai is known.

He also suggested that one way to get an idea of what has been published in the way of oriental texts is to leaf through the CPG!

At 4pm there is tea.  There are a couple of jugs of water and fruit-juice which are speedily emptied on this boiling hot afternoon and not refilled.  Fortunately I brought water with me.

At 4:30 the short papers begin.  I attend Sebastian Moll’s paper, Are vegetarians heretics?  He discusses the early church’s attitude, a little diffusely, but points out that generally abstinence from meat is associated with abstinence from alcohol and celibacy. The only people who adopt the “veggie-only” pattern are heretics, and for this reason the Council of Ancyra required ascetics to demonstrate that they would eat meat, even if just the once.  The Marcionites did not eat meat, apparently.  He gives a great quotation where St. Jerome quotes Terence, “Venus shivers unless Ceres and Bacchus are with her” as an illustration that abstinence promotes continence.

At 5:00 I go to hear Hannah Hunt, Who’s wearing whose clothes? Manichaean and Gnostic threads in the “Hymn of the Pearl.”  I miss the start of this, unfortunately, and find it difficult to get into.

None of the 5:30 papers appeal, probably because I am starting to feel very tired.  Probably I would have gone to hear Markus Vinzent on Marcion’s Gospel – Do patristics and New Testament Studies merge? except that I understood that Dr. V. could not make it and that it would be read for him.  In fact I bumped into him later, and he had managed to make it after all.

So I get a break between 5:30-6:30, which I spend horizontal in my room (together with the desktop fan that I brought with me), very glad that I am not south-facing.  Then I drift along to the tea bar, and chat to whoever is around.  Dinner at 7 is rather scrumptious.  I am a terribly fussy eater, yet even I am very happy with the choices (something which did NOT happen on a recent holiday break).  The university has done us proud here. 

At dinner I find myself sat next to Sebastian Brock and Timothy Barnes.  Dr Brock kindly answers various questions.  He is, quite frankly, one of the nicest people I have met in patristics, without disparaging anyone.  Meanwhile I get a chance to talk to Tim Barnes, who tells me that he has just sent off a translation of the pretty-much unknown funeral sermon for John Chrysostom, together with 30 of his letters, for the Liverpool TTH series.  All jolly good company for dinner.  Afterwards a few of us head across the road to Waitrose to get some bottles of wine and crisps, and a general chit-chat takes place in the tea-room.  I bail around 9:30, and go in search of my laptop!

A good day.  It’s always great to listen to people who know about the things that we discuss here, and know far more than I do!