Roberto Caro on the date of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

In my last post on the Sermo de Symeone et Anna, “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” (CPG 1827), I mentioned that I had no access to the discussion in R. Caro, La homilética mariana griega en el siglo V (= Greek Marian Homilies in the 5th Century), Dayton, Ohio (1971-2), vol.2, pp. 610-617.  But commenter “Diego” kindly pointed out that the whole work is downloadable  from here.

Caro’s interest is in material about Mary and the ecclesiastical devotion to her.  In the volume above he reviews 28 works from the 5th century, all of them pseudonymous and few much studied.  So this is a valuable study, even for those not particularly interested in that subject.

I ran Caro’s text through Google Translate, as I know no Spanish, and I thought it might be useful to give some extracts here that help us understand why he reaches the conclusion of a 6th century text.

The thirty-one manuscripts indicated by A. Ehrhard attribute it to Methodius, Bishop of Patara (and Olympus).  A. Wenger observes that the piece is included in the homiliaries of the 7th century, and therefore Bardenhewer’s hypothesis, that it is by Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century is inadmissible; he believes that it should be dated from the 5th century,2 coinciding with the opinion of E. Amann.3

  1. Laurentin, loc. cit.
    3. DThC X, 1613.

He then summarises the work, and goes on:

In what circumstances was this homily delivered? First of all, it deals with the panegyric of a liturgical festivity: the characteristic σήμερον repeated five times in the exordium, the expression ἑορτὴν ἄγομεν referring precisely to the liturgical assembly, the mission of the ecclesiastical orators in the liturgical assembly and the far-from-exegetical development of the theme that predominates in homilies of this type.

Which liturgical festival? The answer is not as easy as seems at first sight: if we dispense for a moment with the title of the homily and we focus our attention on the first sentence of the exordium, we would affirm that it is about Christmas: the day of salvation when God comes into the world… The second sentence offers a different aspect: inspired by the image of the living ark, the speaker quotes at length the text of Isaiah 6,1-9 that allows him to present Mary as the royal throne of the Lord, centres on the town of Bethlehem, the place of birth, and allows him to refer to the Marian festival… Starting with the third sentence and by means of a sudden and forced step, the previous ideas are linked with the scene of the presentation in the temple that will be the subject of the rest of the homily.

Undoubtedly, the festivity of Hypapante comes to occupy the center of the homily, but one gets the impression that the speaker deals with the liturgical theme from a quite peculiar angle: reading the summary gives a sufficiently clear idea of how the figure of Mary dominates the evangelical picture, diverting its initial Christological orientation and making the speaker’s thinking confused and disordered.

The extensive and enthusiastic address to the city of Jerusalem, surprisingly structured in the form of χαιρετισμοί, parallel to that found in the preceding homilies, suggests a Jerusalem origin for the homily.

Some clues will help to investigate the date of composition:

The style is more typical of literary decadence with its verbosity and continuous digressions, its frequent repetitions, its introductory formulas and editorial deficiencies in the dramatic dialogues; yes, some lyrical highlights and some examples of anaphoric repetitions can be pointed out; the praise trend predominates: Christological praise, Marian, Simeon, or to Jerusalem, or to the Catholic Church, to the people themselves. Certain unusual expressions draw our attention: …

The orator’s christological thought seems to echo the christological controversies of the fifth century: inexplicable double generation of the Word,the double personality, divine and human, of Christ, his unity before and after the incarnation. The Mariological thought belongs to a period of greater doctrinal evolution.

The very orientation of the liturgical festivity in Jerusalem suggests a later period, in accordance with previous data, perhaps the 6th century, without absolutely excluding the possibility that it belongs to the late 5th century, as Wenger believes.

In this hypothesis how do we explain the explicit allusion to the Symposium on Chastity that most likely determined the manuscript tradition in favour of Methodius of Olympus? The observations we made about the contradictory character of the exordium, open the possibility that our speaker used the beginning of an authentic homily by Methodius, which would constitute a very interesting liturgical testimony on the festival of the birth. Perhaps it could be a reference to a brief comment that the speaker had previously made to the authentic work of Methodius. The possibility of a false allusion to give authority to a homily that has little value in itself cannot be excluded.

He then turns to evaluating the Mariological ideas.

The first basic aspect is the divine maternity affirmed explicitly and frequently…

This divine maternity is always presented as virginal…. the birth was immaculate, exempt from natural laws, not only because her conception was carried out without the work of a man, but because the Lord kept natural virginity intact and indissoluble. after childbirth. …

Special attention deserves the doctrine on the salvific activity carried out by Mary. Activity that is exercised indirectly by her powerful intercession as mother of the Redeemer….

Note that although the ideas correspond to the Mariological heritage of the 5th century, its exuberant and sometimes exaggerated formulation corresponds better to the characteristics of Byzantine oratory.

It all sounds very conclusive, especially the points about the veneration of Mary, because the author is so familiar with the normal  usage of the 5th century.  There does not seem to be any real case that the homily is authentic, or early.