Fifth century ecclesiastical history can be a depressing business, if you’re a Christian. All these bigots and dimwits and political chieftains… in our darker moments, we may find ourselves asking how any of this can be of God?
In these moments, it’s worth remembering that the history of mankind is not written exclusively in books, and that political history is perhaps the falsest history there is. Today I have had occasion to look up St. Isidore of Pelusium in Quasten’s “Patrology”, and found, as I recalled, a genial man with his heart set on God.
Isidore lived in the 5th century, but little is known about him. He left behind a collection of letters, more than 2,000 in number. These have never been properly edited, and the oldest and best manuscript was unknown to what is still the standard edition, that of the Jesuit Schotte. This is the text reprinted in the Patrologia Graeca, which is the text available to me. The order of the letters in there is neither chronological, nor that of the author. A proper edition would be a blessing.
Most of the letters are very short; a quarter of a column in Migne. Eight of them are to Cyril of Alexandria, whose position he supported in the Nestorian controversy. But at the same time, Isidore had the courage to tell this mighty political figure that his actions at the Council of Ephesus had left most people feeling that Cyril had acted like a jerk. This may have prompted Cyril to intensify his efforts to explain and vindicate himself, in numerous apologias.
Another is to the emperor Theodosius II, whose bailiffs at the Council had tried to settle matters on their own authority. Isidore reminds him that minor bureaucrats are not competent to decide theology. There are a mass of personal letters. One, to a certain Timothy the Lector, tells him to avoid pointless arguments – a lesson many online might take to heart.
Migne’s edition does not seem to be indexed. I can’t tell what other gems may be found there. At some point in the manuscript tradition it was divided into five books. A simple list of contents would be a useful thing.
Because of the connection with Cyril, whose Apologeticum ad Imperatorem is being translated for me on commission, I have tonight gathered the letters to Cyril, and to the emperor, and asked someone to translate them, again on commission, at 10c a word.
Are there any Isidorists out there? I can’t find any critical editions, any translations into modern languages. I suspect that this collection needs attention. We might start with a list of letters!