Was Salonius Salvian’s “own bishop”?

One statement that appears repeatedly in the discussion of Salvian in Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and counterforgery is that Salvian was “caught by his own bishop” in writing a forgery.   The main question is one that I am addressing in this series of posts.  But was Salonius, Salvian’s friend and former pupil, as Salvian tells us in his Letter 9, actually Salvian’s “own bishop”?

Of course E.’s book is far too broad-brush to be able to deal with points of detail like this, although it should have refrained from statements not verified, surely?  Probably E. borrows this from some other modern discussion, although I have not come across it.   But the question seems more difficult than it first appears.

A quick search will reveal that the island of Lerins,[1] where Salvian of Marseilles was a monk, is on the Riviera.  It will also reveal that Salonius was bishop of Geneva on the edge of modern Switzerland.  Dioceses can be large, but I don’t think that the 5th century bishop of Geneva can have exercised episcopal oversight in Lerins, far closer to many other cities.  Geographically that seems impossible.

But do we know that Salonius was bishop of Geneva?  It seems that we do.  In John M. Peppino’s 2009 dissertation St. Eucherius of Lyons: Rhetorical Adaptation of Message to Intended Audience in Fifth Century Provence, p.18 f., (Google books preview of Proquest item) we find a very useful discussion of the life of Eucherius and his sons Salonius and Veranus.  It seems that Salonius signed the declaration of the council of Orange in 441 AD as bishop of Geneva,[2] and was probably made bishop some time after November 439.[3]

Peppino mentions L. Duchesne’s Fastes episcopaux de l’ancienne Gaul 1 (1900), vol. 1, p.227 as a source, and this would probably repay further investigation.

Secondly, we may also ask whether a monastic community was subject to the local bishop at all.

In medieval Britain I believe that the great abbots, such as the abbot of Bury St Edmunds, saw themselves as the equals of bishops, ruling large areas of land and holding considerable political power.  But was this so in 5th century Gaul?

For all matters concerned with Catholic regulation, my first stop is always the old Catholic Encyclopedia, whose article on Abbots is here.  The section on “kinds of abbots” tells me that they all tend to have exemption from episcopal authority, of increasing degree.  Nor is this marvellous; monks (including their abbots) are laymen, not clerics.  They are not ordained and owe no ecclesiatical authority to anyone else.

A monastic community will need to have communion, however, and a priest will be needed to celebrate this.  Consequently we get things like the eastern “hieromonk”, a monk who is in priest’s orders, who can therefore “do the business” for the community.

Salvian was referred to as “presbyter”, so must have been ordained by a bishop.  Unless this happened in later life – I don’t think we know – then the ordination must have involved someone other than Salonius.  If Salvian was ordained as a young man, Salonius may not even have been born.

In conclusion, it would appear that E.’s statement that Salonius was Salvian’s “own bishop” is quite unlikely to be correct.  In view of the uncertainty, it seems doubtful that E. knew whether the statement was correct when he made it.   It may have been imagination, or borrowed from somewhere else.   I would suggest that we presume weakness rather than dishonesty, however; a principle that E. himself would have done well to follow in his book.

For E.’s argument all of this is unimportant.  It does not affect the main question whether we say that “Salvian was caught by a contemporary bishop” rather than “Salvian was caught by his own bishop”.  The latter statement is more striking, of course; but the urge to paint pictures can be an enemy of careful scholarship.

As a postscript, while researching this online I came across a Google books preview of Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (2012) which contains a vivid portrait of Salvian, his context and his work as chapter 26.  On p. 436 we find the following interesting statement:

The first known work of Salvian, written sometime between 435 and 439, addressed this theme. It was called Ad Ecclesiam—an Open Letter to the Church— and came to be known as On Avarice. Characteristically, for a member of a Provencal in-group, Salvian adopted a pen name. He was Timothy—the Timothy to whom Saint Paul had written so much advice on the management of the church. He went out of his way to justify both the pen-name and the book itself in along letter to Salonius.

A look at the footnotes (p.620) gives the following helpful addition (footnote 1):

The best studies of Salvian known to me are J. Badewien, Geschichtstheologie und Sozialkritik im Werk Salvians von Marseille, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 32 (Gottingen: Vandenhouck and Ruprecht, 1980); and, more recently, D. Lambert, “The Uses of Decay: History in Salvian’s De gubernatione dei“, Augustinian Studies 30 (1999): 115-30; and L. Pietri, “Riches et pauvres dans l’Ad Ecclesiam de Salvien de Marseille,” in Les Peres de l’Eglise et la voix des pauvres, 149-61.

Brown gives a picture of Salvian as a popular preacher in Marseilles!

  1. [1]A history of the community exists: A.C. Cooper-Marsden, The History of the Islands of the Lerins: The Monastery, Saints and Theologians of S. Honorat, 1913 (online here), although it is not useful for Salonius: see p.234.
  2. [2]Peppino gives the reference CCL 148: 87; presumably the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina vol. 148, p.87. From the Brepols site I learn that CCSL vol. 148 is C. Munier, Concilia Galliae a. 314-506, published 1963.
  3. [3]Peppino, p.19.

Ehrman on the long recension of Ignatius

Some busy days have prevented me getting to grips with Ehrman’s Forgery and counterforgery.  My query about the Apollinarians earlier today led me back to it, as a Google link brought me to the Google Books version, where I found material on the long recension of the letters of Ignatius of Antioch.  I thought that I would review this section, therefore.

Pages 460-480 are headed “the pseudo-Ignatian letters”.   Let’s have a quick refresher on the background.

In the Greek manuscript tradition we find numerous manuscripts of a collection of 13 letters attributed to Ignatius of Antioch, the apostolic father.  This is known as the long recension; for 7 of these letters have reached us, but only just, in a handful of manuscripts in a shorter version, which we will refer to as the short version.  The differences between the two seem to relate to late 4th century theological arguments, with an Apollinarian or Arian tinge.  Finally there is a Syriac epitome of 3 of the letters, and I have seen a reference in Aphram Barsoum to Syriac texts of other letters.

E. begins by stating more or less what I have told you, and then discusses the discovery in the 17th c. by Archbishop Ussher that the long version had been tampered with, and the recovery of the short version.  He then moves on to discuss the author, summarising the scholarship of Lightfoot and others, and including the recent (1975) work of D. Hagedorn suggesting that the interpolator is the same as the author of a commentary on Job attributed to Origen.[1]

E. usefully describes the argument that the commentary author may be an otherwise unknown Julian of Antioch, so named in 1 manuscript of a catena which sometimes ascribes the work to “Julian” — the abbreviated designations in catenae are a nuisance! — and whose name is, we are told, present in the prologue.  E. tells us that Hagedorn thought that the two works are by the same author, as well as the Apostolic Constitutions, a church order of the same period, introducing itself as from the apostles.  Usefully he tells us why the commentary and the AC should be associated: “…35 points of contact … precisely the same topics, using precisely the same somewhat unusual expressions” and then that verbatim similarities of wording show that the author of the long recension and the commentary must be the same.  The argument is, on the face of it, a reasonable one; although arguments based on similarities are notoriously subjective, and can easily give false positives.  The Arian nature of the Commentary is also explained — the author rejects both homoousios and homoiousios, which marks him plainly as an Arian.

However E. then goes on to address objections to the identification without actually making clear what those objections are.  The main objection is that the long recension is not markedly Arian, while the Commentary makes its loyalties quite clear.  This E. evades by appealing to the idea that the author might have developed his views.  So he might; but the reader deserves to have the objection stated plainly.  To his credit E. makes clear that there is anti-Arian seeming material in the long recension.

The next section is entitled “Purpose of the forgeries”.  It is hard to say why somebody composed the long recension, for the obvious reason that we know nothing for certain about the author (aside from the proposals of Hagedorn), and certainly not what his motivations were. E. proceeds to discuss this by suggesting that much of the material is written as if from a 2nd century outlook, and attack various heresies of the period, as listed in the stock anti-heretical treatises of the 4th century.  All this material is useful, and E.’s acknowledgement of Lightfoot is generous.

But at this point E.’s over-emphasis on “forgery! forgery!” causes the reader confusion.  E. tells us that the author must have wanted to put forward his own theological position.  This is probable enough, to be sure; but it tells us little, for the same is true of most authors, and we have already seen that we don’t know for sure what the author’s theology was, unless we accept Hagedorn’s theory.  Worse, it is speculation.  We don’t know what the author wanted: we can only infer.

Next he tells us that the author is:

… clearly engaged, consciously, in the act of forgery…

But surely we do not know this?  It is likely enough, again; but we actually know nothing about the origins of the long recension, nothing about its author, and treating theory as fact is for politicians, not scholars.

E. however believes that we know the author intended forgery because of the author’s “attempts at verisimilitude” and because some of his alterations to the genuine text are “highly significant”.  The logic is not easy to follow here.

The first point will make little sense to us unless we realise that E. is trying throughout his book to argue that small personal details in letters, far from being indications of authenticity, are in fact indications of forgery — he is, inevitably, thinking primarily of reasons to debunk the N.T. here.  Such broadbrush arguments are not impressive: if I write a letter, or a blog post, what I put in it depends on who I write to and what I have to say, and how I feel.  It would be unwise for E. to assign posts on this blog as “authentic” or “interpolated”, based on such a criterion.

The second point is left unclear; but E. then devotes a couple of pages to “important features” of the long recension, which is probably intended as explanation.  Unfortunately it is not easy to follow the argument, nor the connection to what precedes and follows it.  Lack of focus is a failing of this book throughout.  It makes it very hard to read a work critically, when the subject drifts off into points whose connection with the topic is tenuous.  Here E. has been poorly served by his publisher, who should most certainly have edited it more tightly.

He then moves onto some work of his own, looking for theological battle-cries in the text of the long recension (including changes to Ignatius’ own wording) and finding many phrases which sound a bit heretical, in one way or another, notably with a subordinationist flavour.  These ought to be tabulated, not left in the body of the text.  But this leads the reader nowhere; the text again loses focus and drifts off into a very vague discussion of whether the author might or might not be an Arian, and might be addressing somebody unknown rather like Marcellus of Ancyra.  This takes up most of the remainder of the section, and might perhaps be useful to someone interested in the long recension.  As E. rightly remarks, a thorough study would be nice to have.

One defect in this last section of the text is that E., on p.476, having already presented his data on fingerprint phrases on p.470-4, then starts to list further pieces of data.  This is very naughty.  Any critical reader will demand all of the data first; and then the theory later.  For to mingle the two makes it hard for the reader to evaluate the argument.  Indeed doing so is a trick of polemicists to shut down disagreement; and again the publisher should have caught this.

The discussion of the long recension is a bit waffly.  The bits that are good are mainly by others, and the bits that are original are not that well structured.  But on the whole it’s a useful summary.

  1. [1]E. does not give the full bibliographic reference: it is Dieter Hagedorn, Der Hiobkommentar des Arianers Julian, Patristische Texte und Studien, 14, Berlin: deGruyter, 1975.

Bart Ehrman says that I am a Moonie. And a Scientologist.

An interesting post at Paleojudaica here, drawing attention to a review of a new book by a certain Bart Ehrman, who is described as a professor of New Testament textual criticism and apparently writes books trying to prove that the New Testament is complete nonsense.  That would seem like an unusual role for the normal text critic, whose job is to heal the transmission damage of texts to help us read them, not to create barriers between texts and people.  The review is by David Licinicum, and is wittily entitled Lies, Damn lies, and Patristics.

Christian literature in the first few centuries after Christ is similarly littered with homegrown lies, deceptions leaders willfully foisted on the gullible faithful. So argues Bart Ehrman in his impressive and wide-ranging Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Although related phenomena come into view at various points, he zeroes in on works bearing a false authorial claim. The number is startling. Ehrman offers each only a brief treatment, and he still needs more than 600 pages.

A google books preview of the work is accessible.  I might review the book, if I can obtain a copy.  In the meantime I have dipped into this, and found a couple of things which seem rather worrying.

On page 1, for instance, I find that Dr Ehrman has redefined the word “forgery” for his own purposes to mean “a literary work with a false authorial claim, that is, a writings whose author falsely claims to be a(nother) well-known person”.  This is not the usual meaning of the word, which has a very loaded meaning: “a lie, swindle, cheat” in modern English.  Anyone reading his book will know that.

Using a loaded term which has been “redefined”, in order to associate a pejorative term with early Christian literature, is a very odd thing to do.  I can’t imagine any scholarly motive for doing that.  If we write a study of some phenomenon, in order to inform, the last thing we want to do is to attach loaded terms to our investigation.

There is more, on the same page.  After making a claim that most first century literature is not by the authors universally attested by every scrap of ancient testimony, he goes on to say that “matters begin to change with the second Christian century” and then lists some forgeries: the ps.Clementine Recognitions, the writings of ps.Dionysius the Areopagite, and the letters of Paul and Seneca.

Yet everybody knows that the Clementine Recognitions, in their current form, are certainly works of the 4th century, so rich in the composition of the novel-like texts condemned in the Decretum Gelasianum; that the unknown author of Dionysius the Areopagite wrote in the times of Maximus Confessor, probably at the end of the 5th century; and that the letters of Paul and Seneca belong to the 4th century also.  The motives of their authors are unknown.  The presumption of guilty intent, involved in using the word “forgery”, is all very well.  But why mis-date these?

But the best is to be found elsewhere.

At the opening of chapter 6 is a further introduction, which heaps up lists of texts whose authors are unknown or clearly mistaken, as if there was an industry of forgery in “early Christian times”.  I was amused to find ps.Tertullian’s Adversus Omnes Haereses in this, a text that became attached to Tertullian’s name during the middle ages through the accident of being transmitted with a bunch of Tertullian’s works.  We have no idea who the author was, but we need not suppose he attached Tertullian’s name to the work, as Ehrman’s readers will infer.

All this will give only one impression to the general reader; which is that the early Christians were forging texts on an industrial scale.  It achieves this, by repeating his earlier accusations against the New Testament, and then mingling rapidly together all sorts of documents, Christian and heretical alike.  He knows very well that the heretics often forged ‘gospels’ in the names of apostles, and that the Christians tell us so (and, when extant, their contents tell us so).  But he prefers to write as if this was a Christian phenomenon.  This is a curious thing to do.

In a thousand years time, when Christianity in the 20-21st century is studied in universities, there can be little doubt that extinct heresies like the Moonies, Scientology, etc, will not be studied independently.  They will form a tiny part of the curriculum of Christian history in the period.

If Bart Ehrman were preserved in a test tube and able to control that curriculum, to judge from chapter 6 of his book, he would instead assert that the Christians, the Moonies, and the Scientologists were all equivalent, and all more or less the same.  He would write in such a way, say about brainwashing, that the ordinary reader would presume that the Christians did it routinely in this century, because the Moonies and Scientologists did and, hey, they’re all the same, and who’s to say who is the “true Christian”.

Which means, apparently, that I am a Moonie.  And a Scientologist.  At the same time.  Whatever is convenient for Dr Ehrman’s argument.

I think everyone has the right to state their own religious position.  And if so, we might like to grant the early Christians the same privilege.

I haven’t ventured further into the book, so I cannot say whether it has any useful scholarly content.  But thus far it seems to be a wretched piece of work.