Cyril of Alexandria on posthumous anathemas

Letter 72 of Cyril of Alexandria, To Proclus, Bishop of Constantinople, is an interesting item.  The Greek is in PG77, column 344, and there is an English translation by John McEnerny in FOC77, p.72 f.  Nestorius has been deposed and exiled, and the hapless Proclus installed in his stead as bishop of Constantinople.  Cyril has won his civil war, and is now concerned to solidify his victory.

But throughout the East some were exceedingly vexed at this, not only of the laity but also of those assigned to the sacred ministry. … Yet by the grace of God either in pretense or in truth they speak and preach one Christ and anathematize the impious verbiage of Nestorius. In the meanwhile things there are in much tranquillity and they run toward what is steadfast in the faith day by day, even those who once were tottering.

But victory in civil war is always arrogant.  Some of Cyril’s supporters have arrived in Constantinople and asked the emperor to use his power to condemn the long-deceased scholar Theodore of Mopsuestia as well.

But his name in the East is great and his writings are admired exceedingly. As they say, all are bearing it hard that a distinguished man, one who died in communion with the churches, now is being anathematized.

Of course Nestorius was indeed following the ideas of Theodore, but Cyril is nothing if not a politician.  An exposition written by Theodore had been condemned at an Eastern synod; but the name of Theodore was not mentioned:

But while condemning those who think in this way, in prudence the synod did not mention the man, nor did it subject him to an anathema by name, through prudence, in order that some by paying heed to the opinion of the man might not cast themselves out of the churches.

The translation is somewhat awkward, or, more likely, Cyril’s prose is itself convoluted.  But what Cyril means here is that, if the synod had understood that Theodore was being condemned, they might have refused to go along with Cyril’s plans.  Cyril calls disagreement with himself “casting yourself out of the church.”  He adds:

Prudence in these matters is the best thing and a wise one.

Then to the matter:

(4) If he were still among the living and was a fellow-warrior with the blasphemies of Nestorius, or desired to agree with what he wrote, he would have suffered the anathema also in his own person. But since he has gone to God, it is enough, as I think, that what he wrote absurdly be rejected by those who hold the true doctrines, since by his books being around the chance to go further sometimes begets pretexts for disturbances.

The second sentence is hard to understand, so I took a look at the PG.

I couldn’t make anything of that either, unfortunately.  The parallel Latin is somewhat obscure also:

Quoniam vero ad Deum abiit, sufficit, ut ego puto, ea quae absurde ab ipso scripta sunt rejici ab iis qui recte sentiunt, cum iis, qui in ipsius libros incidunt, etiam ulterius progredi tumultuum occasiones nonnunquam pariat.

But since he has gone to God, it is sufficient, as I think, for the things which are absurdly written by him to be rejected by those who think rightly; to go still further with these things, which they meet with in his books, may sometimes create the occasions for disturbances.

Not sure about the Latin of the last bit – shout if you can see it better!

And in another way since the blasphemies of Nestorius have been anathematized and rejected, there have been rejected along with them those teachings of Theodore which have the closest connection to those of Nestorius. Therefore, if some of those in the East would do this unhesitatingly, and there was no disturbance expected from it, I would have said that grief at this makes no demands on them now and I would have told them in writing.

I have read this several times.  I think Cyril is saying that, if the Easterners were happy about rejecting Theodore, then nothing need be done about him; and that Cyril would be happy to say so in writing to them; a writing that could be held in evidence against him, in the putrid politics of the time.

(5) But if, as my lord, the most holy Bishop of Antioch, John, writes, they would choose rather to be burned in a fire than do any such thing, for what purpose do we rekindle the flame that has quieted down and stir up inopportunely the disturbances which have ceased lest perhaps somehow the last may be found to be worse than the first?

This seems to mean that he has heard from “the most holy John”, his political foe, that the Easterners are NOT happy about rejecting Theodore, and if they have to do so, may reject Cyril’s settlement entirely, and go back to supporting Nestorius.

And I say these things although violently objecting to the things which Theodore, already mentioned, has written and although suspecting the disturbances which will be on the part of some because of the action, lest somehow some may begin to grieve for the teachings of Nestorius as a contrivance in the fashion of that spoken of by the poet among the Greeks, “They mourned in semblance for Patroclus but each one mourned her own sorrows.”

He thinks the Easterners will rally around the name of Theodore, while meaning Nestorius.

(6) If, therefore, these words please your holiness, deign to indicate it, in order that it may be settled by a letter from both of us. It is possible even for those who ask these things to explain the prudence of the matter and persuade them to choose to be quiet rather and not to become an occasion of scandal to the churches.

So, he continues, please tell my partisans from me to shut up, stop rocking the boat, and let the Easterners get used to the idea of rejecting Nestorius.

It is obviously unfair to condemn a man who died in the peace of the church for saying things that were later turned into a big argument.  Cyril says something of the sort, but I’m not sure that this is the thrust of his argument  His appeal is instead to politics and prudence.  Principles are for free men, and the world that he lived in was not such a society.

On the other hand it’s easy to be unfair to Cyril.  He was effectively the political leader of Egypt, as his predecessor had been, and as his successors were to be.  His life was entirely a matter of politics.  Politics is the art of the possible.  Cyril did not think that condemning Theodore at this time was possible, even though he would have liked to.


Cyril of Alexandria’s lost “Commentary on Hebrews” now available in English!

Last year we heard that the lost Commentary on Hebrews by Cyril of Alexandria had been rediscovered in three Armenian manuscripts in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  The publisher has now produced an edition in Armenian with facing English translation!

The price is about $60, which is not expensive.  It is available from here.  Details:

Item number: 100702
Title: Commentary on the Letter to Hebrews (Classical Armenian with English translation) / Մեկնութիւն Եբրայեցւոց թղթոյն (գրաբար բնագիր և անգլերեն թարգմանություն)
Author: Cyril of Alexandria
Language: Classical Armenian, English
Publication date: 2021
Publisher: Ankyunacar Publishing

This is the first English translation of the newly found Armenian manuscript of Cyril of Alexandria, which is his most comprehensive text of the Commentary on the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. It contains the full commentary by Cyril of the first three chapters of the Letter to the Hebrews.

Only fragments from the Greek original and Armenian and Syriac translations of the Commentary of the Letter to Hebrews by St. Cyril of Alexandria (†444) were known until now.

The present Armenian critical text and the English translation are placed on facing pages.
The book has an index for both Armenian and English texts.

ISBN 978-9939-850-51-1
395 pages
size 13.5×21 cm

Cover of Cyril of Alexandria, “Commentary on Hebrews”

This is excellent news!  It means that anybody who buys this will be among the first to read the work since ancient times, and certainly among the first ever English-speakers to read it.

Maybe I shall get myself a copy for Christmas!


Lost ancient text found in Armenia: Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Hebrews

Excellent news today via Matthew R Crawford.  It seems that Cyril of Alexandria’s lost Commentary on Hebrews has been discovered.  It is preserved in three Armenian manuscripts held in the Matenadaran library in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.  An edition has been prepared, and is for sale here at, for the modest sum of around $30.

Apparently it’s about 43,000 words in length, filling 220 pages.  So this is not a small work.  The editor of the critical text is Hacob Keosyan.  ISBN 978-9939-850-44-3.  At that price, I think they may sell quite a few copies.  I’m tempted myself.

The fragments of the Commentary on Hebrews are listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under CPG 5209 (3).  It’s in vol. 3, page 8.  They were edited by Philip Pusey in an appendix to his edition of the Commentary on John, and also appear in the PG 74, cols. 953-1006.  There are Greek, Latin, Syriac and Armenian fragments.

Last year Joel Elowsky produced a translation of Cyril, entitled “Commentaries on Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews” through IVP, so he has been unfortunate in his timing.

There is an article: Parvis, “The Commentary on Hebrews and the Contra Theodorum of Cyril of Alexandria”, JTS 26 (1975), 415-9.  From this I learn that Cyril’s commentary is, inevitably, directed against one of his political-religious foes.  In this case it is Theodore of Mopsuestia.  It is referred to by one of his opponents, and so must have been written before autumn 432.  It must have been written after his feud with Nestorius began in 428.

It is always good to recover a text from the night.  Let us hope that someone can produce an English translation of it soon.

The other point that comes to mind is that we need a new and fuller catalogue of the Matenadaran in Yerevan.  What else is there, one might wonder?

UPDATE: I have found another article on the web here, in Russian, by “Priest Maksim Nikulin”.  The English abstract reads:

In the present article the author studies one of the exegetical works of St. Cyril of Alexandria, his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This work has been preserved only in fragments contained in catenae, florilegia, and quotations by other authors. The author identifies the texts that have survived to our day and the testimonies of later authors, who confirm that St. Cyril had written a Commentary on Hebrews. The author then provides an overview of the existing publications of this work with an indication of the manuscripts used by scholars of each edition. The author provides the opinions of different scholars about the dating of the work, all of which date it to the anti-Nestorian period of St. Cyril’s life, afer 428 AD. The author comments on the valuable insight by P. M. Parvis, who found in this work a fragment of St. Cyril’s polemics against the Antiochian exegesis and Christology of Teodore of Mopsuestia. The author also considers the hypothesis of P. E. Pusey, who believed that two works of different genres were composed by St. Cyril commenting on Hebrews, as well as the opinions of other scholars about this hypothesis. The author comments on the Armenian fragments of this work studied by J. Lebon. Finally, the author provides a hypothesis about the structure of the work.

I imagine that Dr Nikulin will be excited by the new discovery!


Why can’t I find this passage from Cyril of Alexandria’s “Commentary on John” in the text?

Cyril of Alexandria wrote an extensive Commentary on John in twelve books.  It is not entirely preserved.  Books seven and eight have not reached us, although a few quotations survive in the medieval bible commentaries known as the catenas.

The commentary tends to be less well-known than other patristic commentaries.  The doubtful reputation of Cyril in the west, deriving from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, ensured that the editors of the 19th century Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection omitted his works.

A correspondent writes to ask why he can’t find the text for this Latin passage, taken from this 1618 edition of Bucer, De gubernatione ecclesiae (p.50), in any modern version of Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John:

Ad cuius rei confirmationem statim profert duo testimonia ex Evangelio Ioannis et Cyrillum ita loquentem: Magnum revera apud Iudaeos opprobrium ducebatur, si quem de Synagoga eiecissent. Sicut enim nunc homicidae, vel adulteri, vel caeteri capitalibus criminibus rei ab ecclesia pelluntur: ita tunc confessores Christi a Iudaeorum synagoga eliminabantur.


On this matter confirmation is at once brought forward from two testimonies from the Gospel of John, and Cyril therefore saying, “In fact great reproach was expressed among the Jews, if someone was expelled from the synagogue.  For just as today murderers, or adulterers, or parties to other capital crimes are expelled from the church: so at that time confessors to Christ were thrown out from the synagogue of the Jews.”

Likewise Baronius in his Annales on p.398 also quotes it here like this:

This is an example of a curious feature of the early printed editions of Cyril.  We can see this in the 1520 edition (online here), which is a reprint of the 1508 first edition.  If we look at the 1520 text, it is notably different, and shorter, from that found in the parallel Greek and Latin edition of 1638 (online here).

Our passage is found in the 1520 in book 6 of Cyril’s commentary. It appears on p.242, in chapter 20.  The context is the man born blind whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  The pharisees cross-examined him about this.  It did not go well.

John 9:

30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (ESV)

Here’s p.242 of the 1520 edition, here, starting on line 2 as “id revera magnum…”.

If we look at the start of the volume, we find that the man who made the Latin translation was George Trapezuntius – literally “George from Trebizond”.  He was one of the circle of young Greek exiles around Cardinal Bessarion.

By contrast the 1638 edition, p.636-7, on John 9:34 begins here, but contains no such words.

Likewise PG 73, col. 1006. The English translation from the 19th century gives us this, for book 6:

And here again learn that what was done is typical of a true event: for that the people of Israel were going to utterly loathe the Gentiles as nurtured in sins from erroneous prejudice, any one can recognise from what the Pharisees said to that man. And they expel him, exactly as they who plead the doctrine of Christ are expelled and cast out by the Jews.

The last phrase “exactly as…” corresponds to “ita tunc confessores…”.  But the bit before doesn’t.

Well, what do we make of this?

We all know that Gutenberg devised a way to do printing ca. 1450.  This pretty much killed off the hand-copying of books, as prices fell to 20% of what they had been, and kept falling.  But printing Greek was another matter altogether. The heavily abbreviated and ligatured medieval Greek minuscules were simply a nightmare to reproduce using moveable type.  Greek manuscripts continued to be copied, often by Byzantine exiles in Venice, well into the 16th century.  Nor was the knowledge of Greek in the west nearly as widespread as that of Latin.

In consequence most Greek texts were first published in translation, in Latin.  This translation was itself often made by a Greek exile, such as those who clustered around Cardinal Bessarion.  When it was actually possible to print the Greek, it was sometimes the case that the older Latin translation did not fit with the Greek.  Perhaps it had been made from a different version of the text.

In this case, the Latin “translation” is not what the Greek has to say.  Did George of Trebizond get it wrong?

The strange answer is to be found  in a 1988 article about the use of Cyril by Erasmus in his Annotationes on John.[1]  This tells us:

The first printed edition of the Commentarium on John was the Latin translation made by George Trapezuntius before 1486, published by Josse Clichtove and printed by Wolfgang Hopyl at Paris in 1508.   But Trapezuntius had known only the first and last thirds of the Commentarium; Books 5-8, covering John, 7, 25-12, 48, were lost and hence not represented in his translation. Clichtove reports in his preface that these books are missing not only in the manuscript he used for his edition but also in three Latin and two Greek manuscripts in the library.

In a reissue of the 1508 edition made in 1513-1514, Clichtove and Hopyl inserted between the end of Cyril’s Book 4 and the beginning of his Book 9 Clichtove’s own supplement of the missing books, numbered 5-8 and composed largely from the Homilies on John by Chrysostom and the Tractates on John by Augustine. The supplement had its own preface describing what Clichtove had done and its own pagination, but in all other respects the edition was identical to that of 1508. It was the supplemented edition that was revised and reprinted in 1520, this time with new title page, colophon, and pagination.

What an extraordinary proceeding!  The publisher composed his own “books 5-8”, and sold them embedded in the old translation by George Trapezuntius!  The “preface” on p.104 of the 1520 edition is hardly visible as such, and the spurious material is clearly labelled as Cyril in the running headers at the top of the page.

Clichtove’s preface in the 1520 edition of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Commentary on John”

Based upon this misleading edition, Erasmus then quoted the material.  From Erasmus it passed into other literature of the period, including Baronius’ Annales (p.398 in this late reprint).

It’s a very interesting discovery, and a warning when dealing with old editions.

(My thanks to our correspondent, who looked up all the old editions and references which I have made use of above).

UPDATE (26/6/19): Revised with added screen-grabs and explanatory material.

  1. [1]Jane E. Phillips, “Erasmus, Cyril, and the ‘Annotationes’ on John”, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, vol. 50, No. 2 (1988), pp. 381-384. JSTOR

“Parabalani” – an early order of male nurses? or Cyril’s “goon squad”?

The Watts book, City and School in late antique Athens and Alexandria, continues to offer interesting passages.  It’s a book to be read for the text, rather than the footnotes, although there are plenty of these.

We take up the story in Alexandria, after the murder of Hypatia in 415 by a gang of thugs acting under the direction of Cyril of Alexandria.  Orestes is the prefect.

From page 200:

The events immediately following Hypatia’s death are not clear. Orestes and the city councilors who had been working with Hypatia were obviously shocked by the murder. Lacking the lynch pin that held their party together, their opposition seems to have fallen apart. It has been suggested by C. Haas that Orestes had himself transferred after the attack. [187] This may be right. At any rate, he is not heard from again. It seems, however, that the Alexandrian council had become alarmed enough at the bishop’s conduct to send an embassy to Constantinople. This embassy apparently led to the passage of a law placing the parabalani, Cyril’s notorious goon squad, under the control of the prefect.[188] But it was only two years before this law was overturned and Cyril regained control of their ranks.[189] By the early 420s, Cyril had come to dominate the Alexandrian council completely. And the murder of Hypatia represented the turning point that led to this victory.

Although the killing of Hypatia had eliminated any effective opposition to Cyril’s regime, the brutality of the act soiled Cyril’s reputation for a long time. …

188. For this law see C. Th. 16.2.42.
189. Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity, 314-15.

But who or what are the parabalani?

We find out from a law preserved in the Theodosian code 16.2.43:

Parabolani, qui ad curanda debilium aegra corpora deputantur...

The parabolani, who are deputed to care for the suffering bodies of the sick…

There are in fact only three mentions of this group in antiquity.  Everything we know about them must be derived from this slender data base.  Fortunately we can quote them all here.

The first two are both in the Theodosian Code.  In fact there are two laws,16.2.42 and 43.  Here is the Pharr translation of both:

42. The same Augustuses to Monaxius, Praetorian Prefect.

Whereas, among other useless claims of the Alexandrian delegation,[122] this request also was written in their decrees, that the Most Reverend bishop should not allow certain persons [123] to depart from the City of Alexandria, and this claim was inserted in the petition of the delegation because of the terror of those who are called attendants of the sick,[124] (Quia inter cetera Alexandrinae legationis inutilia hoc etiam decretis scribtum est, ut reverentissimus episcopus de Alexandrina civitate aliquas . .. non exire, quod quidem terrore eorum, qui parabalani nuncupantur, legationi insertum est) it is the pleasure of Our Clemency that clerics shall have nothing to do with public affairs and with matters pertaining to the municipal council.

1. We further direct that the number of those who are called attendants of the sick[124] shall not be more than five hundred. Moreover, the wealthy and those who would purchase this office shall not be appointed, but the poor from the guilds, in proportion to the population of Alexandria, after their names have been submitted, of course, to the Respectable Augustal Prefect and through him referred to Your Magnificence.

2. We do not grant to the aforesaid attendants of the sick[124] liberty to attend any public spectacle whatever or to enter the meeting place of a municipal council, or a courtroom, unless, perchance, they should appeal to a judge separately in connection with their own cases and interests, when they sue someone in litigation or when they are themselves sued by another, or when they are syndics[125] appointed in a cause common to the entire group. The condition shall be observed that if anyone of them should violate the foregoing provisions, he shall be removed from the registers of the attendants of the sick and shall be subjected to due punishment, and he shall never return to the same office.

3. Furthermore, We grant to the Respectable Augustal Prefect the power to appoint successors to the deceased attendants of the sick, under the condition that is designated above.

Given on the third day before the kalends of October at Constantinople in the year of the seventh consulship of Theodosius Augustus and the consulship of Palladius. [September 29 (October 5), 416.][126]

122. Embodied in their petition to the Emperor, as stated in the decrees of their municipal council, 12, 12, n. 3.
123. M. suggests a lacuna; his emended text would read: should not allow from the City of Alexandria any . . . not to depart. As to the claim that was inserted in the petition of the delegation, because of the terror of those who are called attendants of the sick it is the pleasure of Our Clemency.
124. parabalani. See Du Cange, s.v. parabolani. Because of the nature of their work these clerics were possessed of a reckless disregard for personal danger. They were often religious fanatics and espoused the cause of the poor and oppressed. Thus they were potential sources of sedition, and the provisions of this law were designed to restrain them, 9, 40, 16; 16, 3, 1, n. 2.
125.  Legal representatives, official advocates.
126. 12, 12, 15.

The next law, from 418, two years later, also relates to the parabalani:

43. The same Augustuses to Monaxius, Praetorian Prefect.

We formerly directed that there should be five hundred attendants of the sick, who are assigned to care for the suffering bodies of the sick. But since We have learned that this number is insufficient at present, We command that six hundred instead of five hundred shall be established as the number. Thus, according to the judgment of the Most Reverend Bishop of the City of Alexandria, there shall be chosen for such responsibility six hundred attendants of the sick from among those who had been attendants formerly and who are experienced in the practice of healing, excluding, of course, dignitaries and decurions. Moreover, if anyone of the aforesaid attendants should be removed by the common lot of man, another shall be chosen in his place, according to the will of the aforesaid priest, excluding dignitaries and decurions. Thus, these six hundred men shall be subservient to the commands and regulations of the most reverend priest and shall continue under his supervision. The rest of the provisions included in the general rule of the law formerly issued with respect to the aforesaid attendants of the sick and their attendance at public spectacles and courts and all other matters, shall be observed, as has already been decreed.

Given on the third day before the nones of February at Constantinople in the year of the twelfth consulship of Honorius Augustus and the eighth consulship of Theodosius Augustus. [February 3, 418.]

We should note that both laws also appear in the legal Code of Justinian (529 AD), book 1, title 3 (de episcop.); 17, which is an abbreviated version of the first, and 18, which is the second.  Both are online here.  May we perhaps infer that the group still existed at that date?[1]

The third reference is in the minutes of the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 AD.  The minutes are discussing events at the “robber council” of 449 in Ephesus.  Cyril had been succeeded by Dioscorus as bishop of Alexandria.  As often happens, a wily and unscrupulous man who knew how to use violence for political ends was followed by a disciple of less political acuteness, and even greater violence.  Dioscorus intimidated the  bishops, and got what he wanted.  But within a year the emperor Theodosius II was dead; his successor Marcian was hostile; and at Chalcedon retribution was in the air. Here is the Liverpool University translation of the passage in the Acts, p.269.[2]

851. While this was being read, Basil the most devout bishop of Seleucia in Isauria said: ‘I do not need other witnesses. Through the blessed Bishop John, I asked my declaration to be corrected, because I feared you, most devout Dioscorus; for you then applied great pressure on us, partly external and partly in what you said. Armed soldiers burst into the church, and there were arrayed Barsaumas and his monks, parabalani, and a great miscellaneous mob. Let everyone testify on oath, let the Egyptian bishop Auxonius testify on oath, let Athanasius testify on oath, if I did not say, “No, lord, do not destroy the good repute of the whole world.”’

852. Dioscorus the most devout bishop of Alexandria said: ‘Did I coerce you?’

853. Basil the most devout bishop of Seleucia in Isauria said: ‘Yes, you drove us to such a murderous crime by means of the threats of the mob after the deposition of the blessed Flavian. From the way he is now disrupting the whole council you can guess what force he applied then, when he had control of everything, including the sentence. Six of them[312] are left, and yet he can throw us all into disarray.’

854. Dioscorus the most devout bishop of Alexandria said: ‘My notary Demetrianus is ready to prove that you asked him secretly to alter your statement.’

855. Basil the most devout bishop of Seleucia in Isauria said: ‘I ask your magnificence that each of the metropolitan bishops, those of Lycaonia, Phrygia, Perge and the others, come here and affirm on the gospels if, after the deposition of the blessed Flavian, when we were all downcast, some of us not daring to raise our voices and others slipping away, he did not rise up and stand on high, while he declared, “Look! If anyone refuses to sign, he has me to reckon with.” Let the lord Eusebius [of Ancyra] testify on oath if he did not run the risk of being deposed because he delayed his sentence for a short time.’

312. The reference appears to be to six attendants in Dioscorus’ suite.

The delicious description of the brutal Dioscorus as “most devout” is a mere piece of ecclesiasticism, like the use of words like “venerable”, and “reverend”, applied to clergy who are not necessarily either.

What do we learn from these three passages?

We learn that the parabalani were established to care for the sick. The first law (416 AD) shows that it was a designated “office”, which some might consider worth purchasing (so presumably in receipt of money or other benefits); but that in fact they were creating a “terror”, by invading theatres, councils and court-rooms.  It places them under the control of the city prefect, and limits their numbers. The second law (418 AD) places them back completely under the control of the bishop; namely good old, bad old Cyril of Alexandria.  The third account (449 AD) shows them being used for intimidation of council proceedings at the direction of the new bishop of Alexandria.

“Goon squad” seems an apposite name for the band.

Let’s finish with a few other bits of data, themselves not very indicative of anything.

The Greek word used in the Acts of Chalcedon is παραβαλανεῖς, which literally means bath-attendants. Sometimes it is given as παραβολᾶνοι, those who disregard their lives, as in attending those with communicable diseases.[3]

Joseph Bingham in Origenes Ecclesiasticae, 1834, reads the law 42 above as suggesting that the parabalani were clergy; because of the ban on clergy meddling in city administration.  However this is not necessarily the case.  The ban may refer to Cyril, not to the parabalani.

There is an article on the subject in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2, p.1582.  This references two modern articles, both accessible online if you have JSTOR access.  But neither adds very much.[4]

It is really hard to like Cyril of Alexandria.  The mystery is why anybody would consider such a man a saint.

  1. [1]Wikipedia claims that a further law is found in the Code of Justinian, 1.2.4, but this is in error.  The title reads: The Same, to Nicenus, Praetorian Prefect. Let no more than nine hundred and fifty canons be appointed for the Church of this great City, and let no one have the power to add to their number, or to change it, or to substitute others for those who may die; and let none of those of this body who exceed the abovementioned number and have been appointed through patronage, and have been denied the right of innovation, claim those things which have been bestowed upon the Holy Church by way of honor, or as necessary privileges. Given at Eudoxiopolis, on the seventh of the Kalends of September, during the Consulate of Honorius, Consul for the eighth time, and Theodosius Junior, Consul for the third time, 409.
  2. [2]Joseph Bingham in Origenes Ecclesiasticae, Or, The Antiquities of the Christian Church, 1834, vol.. 1, p.302, gives the reference as “Con. Chalced. Act. i. tom. iv. p.252”.  Translation from The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, vol. 1, translated by Richard Price and Michael Gaddis, 2005.  Translated Texts for Historians 45.
  3. [3]Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2, p.1582, where the former is preferred.
  4. [4]A. Philipsborn, “La compagnie d’ambulanciers ‘parabalani’ d’Alexandrie”, Byzantion 20 (1950), 185-90. JSTOR.  W. Schubart, “Parabalani”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 (1954), 97-101.  JSTOR.

English translation in progress of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Contra Julianum”

A correspondent has advised me that Matthew Crawford is engaged in making the first ever English translation of Cyril of Alexandria’s Contra Julianum, the 10-book work refuting Julian the Apostate’s attack on the Christians.  And it is true!  Dr C. has uploaded the preface and opening sections of book1 to his account here.

This is excellent news.  Making an English translation is going to be very hard work; some “900 pages of difficult Greek”.  But it is great to learn that someone is going to attempt it.

More power to his elbow!


New edition of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Against Julian” is soon to appear – offline, and very pricey

In the early 5th century, Cyril of Alexandria found it necessary to write a large apologetic work.  The book was in response to Julian the Apostate’s anti-Christian work Against the Galileans. This was written some 50 years earlier by the then emperor, but must have continued to circulate. Cyril made a series of extensive quotations from the work, reorganised them into a logical sequence (as he tells us at the start of book 2),  and wrote his own reply to each.  No doubt secretaries performed much of the manual labour, and Cyril dictated replies.

10 books of Contra Julianum have reached us, and a handful of fragments of the next 10 books also.  The work is little known in English, since no translation has been made into that language.  Indeed no complete translation has ever been made into any modern language.  The Sources Chretiennes began an edition, with a splendid French translation, but only a single volume, containing books 1 and 2, ever appeared.  No modern critical edition, even, existed.  Readers have been forced to rely on reprints of the 17th century Aubert edition.

For some years Christoph Riedweg and his team have been labouring at the task of making a critical edition of the text of this huge work.  An email today advises me that the first volume, containing the text – no translation – of books 1-5, will very soon be available in the GCS series, and published by De Gruyter.  The publisher’s information page is here.  It informs us that the work will be published in November 2015, and priced at $168.  De Gruyer kindly make a PDF available also, at precisely the same price.

Everyone should welcome this publication.  Contra Julianum contains any amount of useful information about antiquity and Christian thinking.  I look forward to the second volume also!

But … what a price!  And … I say that I look forward to a second volume, but there is no chance that I will ever own a copy of either; or even be able to use it, unless I come across a pirate copy.  It will, most likely, be most used in this manner.  This seems wrong.  But then, these books are not made for you or I.

Today there was an article in the Guardian on this very subject that every academic should read.  Here are some extracts, but it is worth reading in full.

Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy

An editor called me up to ask me if I’d like to write a book. I smelled a rat, but I played along…

A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them. …

“How much would the book be sold for?” I inquired, aware this might not be his favourite question. “£80,” he replied in a low voice.

“So there won’t be a cheaper paperback edition?” I asked, pretending to sound disappointed.

“No, I’m afraid not,” he said, “we only really sell to libraries. But we do have great sales reps that get the books into universities all across the world.”

“So how many copies do you usually sell?” I inquired.

“About 300.”

“For all your books?”

“Yes, unless you would assign your book on your own modules.”

I was growing fascinated by the numbers so I asked how many of these books they published each year.

“I have to…” he started (inadvertently revealing that this was a target that had been set) “…I have to publish around 75 of these.” … And he’s just one of their commissioning editors. …

Another colleague, on discovering his published book was getting widespread attention but was too expensive to buy, tried to get the publishers to rush out a cheaper paperback version. They ignored his request.

These may sound like stories of concern to academics alone. But the problem is this: much of the time that goes into writing these books is made possible through taxpayers’ money. And who buys these books? Well, university libraries – and they, too, are paid for by taxpayers. Meanwhile, the books are not available for taxpayers to read – unless they have a university library card.

In the US, taxpayers are said to be spending $139bn a year on research, and in the UK, £4.7bn. Too much of that money is disappearing into big pockets.

So what are the alternatives? We could stop publishing these books altogether – which may be advisable in a time of hysterical mass publication. Or we publish only with decent publishers, who believe that books are meant to be read and not simply profited from. And if it’s only a matter of making research available, then of course there’s open source publishing, which most academics are aware of by now.

So why don’t academics simply stay away from the greedy publishers? The only answer I can think of is vanity.

Of course the last bit is rather unfair.  An academic career requires publication in reputable format, and nobody can be blamed for doing what the system requires in order to feed their families.  But it raises disturbing questions of integrity and sustainability.

An edition of Contra Julianum serves a real need.  But the high prices and closed access compromise the entire system of academic publication.

All the same, let us congratulate Dr R. and his team.  Well done!  This was work of permanent value.


From my diary

The first draft has arrived of Methodius, De cibis, translated from the Old Slavonic, using manuscript 40 of the Lavra of Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius.  It looks very good, except that the translator has used the Authorised Version as the basis for the bible quotations and allusions.  I’ve suggested that he use the NRSV instead.

The translation is being done by Ralph Cleminson, whose grasp of Old Slavonic is clearly first-rate – he suggests that the translation from Greek into Old Slavonic may have been done in Bulgaria – but of course he doesn’t know my shibboleths, or I his.  However we seem to be getting there.

One thing that I always do, when reviewing a translation – and I always review any text that I commission, no matter who does it – is to make sure that it means something.  This means reading the prose, and trying to follow the thread of the author’s thought.  It is essential for editors to do this, as it often preserves us from errors, not in translating words, but in translating sentences.  We have all seen the unhappy results of a student getting all the words right but paying no attention to what the author was saying!

It is remarkable how much the use of antique expression obstructs the modern English reader from grasping the sense of a text.  This is so, even for a reader such as myself, who habitually reads English literature from past centuries, and is currently reading the Letters of an English Country Parson, James Woodroffe, from ca. 1800.  We all know it; but perhaps we fool ourselves by thinking that the odd “thee” and “thou” is of no importance, and that stilted sentence structure is something we can overcome.  But we deceive ourselves, if we do.

This was brought home to me forcibly yesterday, when I tried to read through the draft.  I had to give up about half-way through, after realising that I had no idea what the author was saying any more!  Now my efforts were not aided by four nights of sleep deprivation and a splitting headache; but, even so, that day I did a good day’s work for someone else, so I should have been able to read a 13-page document.

Fortunately I was more successful today, and I have made various suggestions to improve the readability of the final product, and sent them off.

But we do now have a translation of De cibis.  If the translator were to drop dead, or to refuse to do anything that I have asked for, I could still fix it enough to be usable myself.

One thing that helped me, when I did read the text, was that, as I went, I started to break the text into English paragraphs.  It is remarkable how that helps, compared with just looking at the wall of text preserved in the manuscript.  It is an old journalists’ trick to over-paragraph a text for readability, and it is one that I employed today.  I commend this point to anybody intending to translate Cyril of Alexandria!!

Unlike De vita, the manuscript is divided by headings in red, which do correspond to the content.  Whether these are ancient or medieval, whether these are authorial, or whether they were added by a Greek scribe, or a Slavonic one, I do not know.

There are  two more short works by Methodius in Slavonic, which were translated into Russian by Michael Chub in the 1960’s, and are present in the ms. 40 of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra.  These are On Leprosy and On the Leech.  No trace of De Vita, or De Cibis, exists in Greek.  But this is not true of the next item, De Lepra, where a Greek fragment is preserved.   This is also the case for De resurrectione and it raises the question of what to do in such cases.

Other things being equal the original language must have priority over a version, however good.   But when we have fragments, what we mean by this is that either we have a quotation from the work, preserved in some later writer, or, worse, a catena fragment, from some medieval Greek bible commentary.  In the latter case the compiler usually modifies the opening and closing words, alters the tenses, and abbreviates etc, in order to create a running narrative.  Even a quotation may display some of these features.  So … what do we do?

My thinking at the moment is to translate both.  That is, to give the translation of the Old Slavonic as the main text.  When we get to a passage extant in Greek, give the translation of the Greek but footnote the translation of the Slavonic; or do the reverse if we think the Greek is damaged.

It will be interesting to see how it works out.

The other short work, On the Leech – such charming names, but these works are really quite interesting! – has no such problems.  That leaves us with the next text, a big one: De resurrectione, in two books.  The price of doing that at the same rate-per-word of the short works might be prohibitive, and I might try to negotiate a bulk discount, or find someone willing to do it cheaper.  Also there are substantial Greek remains, mostly from Epiphanius’ Panarion.  We have a translation of that in English already, so that raises other questions.  We’ll see what to do with this when we get there.

In other news, I’m hoping to persuade a gentleman familiar with Cyril of Alexandria’s works to finish off the translation of his Commentary on Isaiah.  This was started by Robert C. Hill, who died after translating the commentary as far as Isaiah 50.  Holy Cross Press published what he had done in 3 volumes, as I have blogged before.  To this end, I have presented him with a copy of the Hill translation.  But of course there is no obligation on him to do so.

I’ve also come across a post on Ancient World Online, directing my attention to a site listing patristic commentaries on Genesis, and referencing a book from 1912 (?) as the source.  I will look further into this next week, if time and tent-making permit.

Back in the winter, I did commission a translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis 1-3, whose fragments are preserved in Syriac and published by Sachau.  Unfortunately the translator went silent on me, and I have therefore rerouted the money put aside for this to other purposes.  Never mind.  One day it will happen, if I am spared, and if I find someone with the necessary language skills.


The “Glaphyra” of Cyril of Alexandria and Matthew 27:25 (part 3)

This continues the series dealing with patristic quotations of Matthew 27:25 – “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”  Cyril of Alexandria is our current target, but I think we’re getting close to the end.

Now I’ve dealt with the first and second quotations from the Glaphyra.  I think that I probably got a little sidetracked into the larger issue of how an author regards the Jews generally, which of course would be catastrophic because there is so much material.

The third and fourth passages from the TLG are as follows:

  • PG69 col. 629 line 17: ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ἡγούμενον· πυῤῥὰ δὲ ὅτι τῆς οἰκονομίας ὁ τρόπος ἐφ’ αἵματι γέγονε δι’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν. Ἄμωμος δὲ, διὰ τὸ ἀπλημμελές· οὐ γὰρ οἶδεν
  • PG 69 col. 649 line 17: Χριστῷ, ταῖς ἑαυτῶν κεφαλαῖς καταγράφουσι τὸ δυσσέβημα, λέγοντες· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.» Οἱ δὲ τῆς παρ’ αὐτοῦ γλιχό-

The first of these is on Numbers, “On the red cow which is burned away from the camp.”  But … it does not appear to contain our text.  It is, in short, a spurious result from the TLG search, itself necessarily imperfect.  The passage is all about sacrifice and blood, and the blood of the Lord as a replacement for it.

The other passage definitely does contain Matthew 27:25.  This is on Deuteronomy, the first passage discussed from that book.  The context is again about how Christ is wounded for our sins.

For the baptized are cleansed through his death: for this, I think, is because the hands may be cleansed by him.  Obviously by confessing that they are partakers in the impiety of the Jews, they obtain remission.  For the Jews, maddened against Christ, brought condemnation on their own heads, saying, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”  But they were hoping for grace from him, and they sought the cleansing of holy baptism, by which they understood that he would honour them, did not say so much, saying, “Our hands did not shed this blood.”  In Christ, therefore, there is purification.  And if anyone from among the Jews would like to understand rightly, what the divine disciples indeed did before others, and who they believed through these things, it will be established for them without any undeserved obscurity; then also they themselves may be honoured and chosen, avoiding indeed the impiety of Israel, and joining themselves to Christ, upon whom be honour and worship with the eternal Father and consubstantial Spirit, now and forever and to the end of the world. Amen.[1]

This neatly makes the point that the issue is not race, but religion.

  1. [1]Abluentur enim in mortem ipsius baptizati : hoc enim arbitror, est quod ab ipsis manus sint ablutae. Nimirum ut sic confitentes, quod impietatis Judaeorum participes sint, consequentur remissionem. Nam Judaei in Christum debacchati sua ipsorum capita damnaverunt impietatis, dicentes: «Sanguis ejus super nos et super filios nostros.»Qui autem ab ipso exspectabant gratiam, sanctique baptismatis mundationem quaerebant, per quae intellexerunt se ipsum honorare, tantum non exclamarunt, dicentes : «Manus nostrae non effuderunt sanguinem hunc.» In Christo igitur est purificatio. Et si quis ex Judaeis recte sentire voluerit quod quidem fecerunt prae aliis divini discipuli, quique per hos crediderunt, quibus sane haud immerito personatus imponetur; tum et ipsi fuissent honorati et electi, impietatem quidem Israelis devitantes, ac se per fidem copulantes Christo, quem decet honor et adoratio cum aeterno Patre et consubstantiali Spiritu, nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

The “Glaphyra” of Cyril of Alexandria and Matthew 27:25 (part 2)

Yesterday I gave the first of the four passages in the Glaphyra in which Cyril quotes Matt.27:25, “His blood be upon us and our descendants.”  Today I continue with the second.  The TLG entry is as follows:

  • PG 69 col. 349 line 29: Ἕτερον γὰρ, οἶμαι, παρὰ τοῦτό ἐστιν οὐδὲν τὸ ἀσυνέτως εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ Χριστῷ· «Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν.»

This is found in book 7 of the Glaphyra which starts at col. 336, and begins as follows:

On the blessings of the twelve patriarchs.

The scope and principle of the present book is to narrate the things which Jacob predicted for the sons descended from himself.  But first it is obvious that the meaning of the text is very intractable, and not easy for ordinary people, but contains an abstruse and obscure significance within itself.  But the blessed method [of interpretation] is not confused, and will not have it so, and that so far was more difficult than this.   Indeed the divine Jacob undertook to predict to his sons what the final outcome would be.  Indeed he made mention of the past, and measured sin, indeed firstly of Reuben himself, and after this for Simeon and Levi.  Who indeed would dare to say that a  legitimate commemoration of past things and of sin was a road by which blessings would come?  Would he not be considered a liar, and a stranger from the true faith?  And so it is very awkward to take up this passage with these feelings.   What then shall we say, inviting full approval from them to our design?  Because the explanation of our prophecy or prediction will introduce completely a type of the synagogue of the Jews, or, to speak briefly, of the whole race, and of exactly those who are of one tribe, of what sort they were in their day, whether they should be condemned or on the other hand approved: likewise in what way, if he was in them, or ???  For look at the way in which he describes another covenant to come, from those which had already been made, and truly sets forth the event of the future for others from the declaration or interpretation of their very names.  Therefore it was written so, “But Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, and I will make known to you what will happen to you in the last days.  Gather together, and listen, sons of Jacob: listen to your father Israel.”[1]

With these words Cyril gives us fair warning that he is going to discuss the future of the Jews, as seen in the words of Genesis 49.  We need to understand the context, of course.

He then moves into a section headed “Concerning Reuben”.  But almost immediately he mentions the actions of Reuben in sleeping with his father’s wife, and says that “the rest of what is given here, I believe nobody will consider as relating to what will happen in the last days.  It would be absurd to think so.”  Instead he suggests that the story relates to the unfaithfulness of the “synagogue” – i.e. the doctrinal adultery of Israel – to God.  Quotations from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Christ himself are used to point up their willingness to transgress the law of God. “The fornicating woman is, therefore, the synagogue of the Jews.  But the chaste and blameless virgin, ‘free from any spot or wrinkle’, is the church…”  “For old and wrinkled is the synagogue of the Jews, and on the other hand the new and faithful people flourish.”  … “For it is right to understand the people of Israel as impure and full of wrinkles, who would not accept the purification of Christ.” … “And Christ himself asks, ‘Which of the prophets did your fathers not kill?  And you have filled up the measure of your fathers.”  He continues by quoting the “vehement attacks” of Christ on “the leaders of the Jews”.

The next section is headed “Concerning Simeon and Levi”, and starts by quoting Genesis 49:5-7, on the wickedness of the brothers Simeon and Levi.  He then discusses the shedding of blood for redemption, illustrated by various episodes in the Old Testament, and the section ends as follows, before moving on to “Concerning Judah”:

Although each of these may be said to be complete in its own time, nevertheless we now remind and repeat this.  You understand that some were freed by their own covenant from the accusation of shedding blood through the [sacrifice of a] calf, which represents Emmanuel.  For it is right, I think, that they, when they justify themselves, speak thus: “Our hands have not shed this blood.”  Of course you will discover that the people of the Jews never said this, but in fact instead, after sacrificing the calf, they dared to say further, “Our hands have shed this blood.”  This is the same as what they ignorantly said concerning Christ, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”[2]

It’s interesting to see the sacrifices of the OT linked so definitely to Christ.  But one can’t help feeling that the listener would not be induced to regard the Jew with esteem by any of this; rather the reverse.

Two more passages to go.

  1. [1]Latin translation as given in the PG, from which I have translated this: Scopus quidem atque institutum praesentis sermonis est narrare ea quae Jacob filiis ex se natis creatura praedixit. Sed prius quasi contestatur, difficilem admodum esse dictorum sensum, neque vulgo obvium, sed abstrusam obscuramque significationem in se habere. Immistum vero est benedictionis modo, id quod non ita se habet, et quod adhuc his difficilius est. Promittit quidem divinus Jacob praedicere filiis quae novissimo eventura sint; facit vero praeteritorum mentionem, et peccatum metitur, primum quidem ipsius Ruben, ac post hoc Simeonis et Levi. Quis vero dicere audeat esse legitimum benedicendi modum praeteritorum peccatorum commemorationem? Annon is mendax et a recta ratione alienus habeatur? Obscurus itaque admodum est capere volentibus hac de re sermo. Quid ergo dicemus, adhibentes probationem hisce a nobis propositis commodam? Quia explicatio ipsius prophetiae sive praedictionis omnino nobis introducet typum Synagogae Judaeorum, aut, ut summatim dicam, totius generis, atque adeo eorum quae uniuscujusque tribus sunt, qualisnam illa futura sit suo tempore, an damnanda, an e diverso approbanda: item quomodo, aut in quibus fuerit, et quo illa quae secundum ipsa sunt evadant. Vide autem quo pacto aliis quidem, ex iis quae jam facta sunt, futura describit, aliis vero ex ipsa nominum declaratione sive interpretatione futurorum eventum declarat. Scriptura est igitur sic: “Vocavit autem Jacob filios suos, et dixit: Congregamini, ut annuntiem vobis quid accidet vobis in novissimis diebus. Congregamini, et audite, filii Jacob; audite lsraelem patrem vestrum.»
  2. [2]Verum etsi de hisce singulis suo tempore dicendum sit accurate, illud tamen nunc admonemus, et dicimus. Intelligis quo pacto seipsos liberent nonnulli ab accusatione fusi sanguinis per vitulam, quae adumbrat Emmanuelem. Oportet enim eos, ut arbitror, quando se excusant, ita dicere: “Manus nostra non effuderunt hunc sanguinem.” Verum enimvero populum Judaeorum nunquam hoc exclamasse reperies, quin potius, postquam taurum enervarunt, ausi sunt insuper dicere : “Nostra manus effuderunt hanc sanguinem.” Nihil enim aliud quam hoc est, quod imperite de Christo dixerant: “Sanguis ejus super nos, et super filios nostros.”