Patristics Conference addendum

One of the papers that did not really get delivered, because of technical problems, was by Allen Brent on pagan imagery in Christian art.  He started by putting up a list of possible explanations.  This he has kindly sent to me at my request, because I thought it was interesting all by itself.  The explanation is that the art is:

1. Crypto Christian: an illegal society veiled its Christianity by using pagan forms that made it harmless in the eyes of hostile contemporaries (Wilpert).

2. Purely conventional: Sarcophagi and frescoes were simply the conventional products of a particular pagan workshop.

3. Represent iconography submitted to a process of expurgation that removes innocuous associations but leaves traces of paganism (Finney)

4. Pagan all along: their Christian appearance deceptive, like e.g. the Avercius Inscription or emanate from what is supposed to be a semi-Christian environment (e.g. Valentinus or Barbeliot Gnostics)

5. Products of a shared form of life (Wittgenstein) between Christians and Pagans where ability to disagree in opinion depended on agreement in formal, non-verbal iconographic categories (Brent).

The first option he considered simplistic, although I am not clear why.  He did ask, tho, whether Roman officials were that interested in Christian burials.  Those of us who remember the martyrdom of Polycarp, where the saint is denied burial, may query this.


Other reports on the patristics conference

… are starting to appear online.  Here is one from Sara Parvis.  This mentions a very interesting paper:

Scott Manor, a third-year PhD student here, meanwhile presented a paper arguing that Epiphanius’ Alogi (a group beloved of scholars who want to argue that John’s gospel was a disputed text right up to the end of the second century and beyond) never existed.

If anyone knows of more, please let us know.


Patristics Conference Diary 4 – Day 3

This day also started early as I had to get to my car (25 minutes walk away), get it into the Bailey, load it up, while parked on a double yellow line, drive it back, and walk back again!  

At breakfast (8-9am) I found myself sitting opposite a post-grad from Exeter who turned out to be doing a thesis on Tertullian (I think it might have been Donna Cooper, but I am terrible on names and faces!).  I pointed her in the direction of the Chronica Tertullianea bibliography and reviews of all the scholarship, and suggested that a scanner plus Google translate might well help with French language.  The thesis is something to do with feminist critiques of Tertullian, but I spent too much time offering advice and probably not enough listening. 

The first paper was at 9:15, and off to it I went.  This was Zurab Jashi, on the Trinitarian Exegesis of Gregory of Nazianzen.  Unfortunately Dr Jashi read his paper with such a heavy accent that I realised after five minutes that I had not followed his argument.  I didn’t see any point in listening for a further 15 minutes so bailed out.  There were three more papers, running up to 11:20, but I didn’t listen to any of them.  The day was sunny, and I was tired, and I went out into Durham, to BHS where I sat in their restaurant overlooking the river and enjoyed a bread roll and a drink!  I then went up to the cathedral and bought a ticket to see the monks’ dormitory, and the treasury with the coffin of St. Cuthbert.  The coffin dates to 690 or thereabouts, and is in pieces.  Cuthbert’s body remained incorrupt through the middle ages, and was still intact at the reformation when the grave was looted of the gold gifts given down the years.  The grave was excavated in 1899, when it was found that the body had finally decayed, but that there were still remains of fabric and a gold cross previously hidden in it which had thus eluded the plunderers.  Cuthbert’s bones were reburied in his shrine. 

I then wandered into the library, and asked if I could see the medieval inventories of the abbey library.  Those on duty were very helpful, and I agreed to come back after lunch. 

At 11:35 there was the final session, a plenary lecture by Mark McIntosh on the artisan’s design: creation in the mind of God.  This was unusually interesting, as he traced an idea from Origen through Augustine to medieval figures like Eriugena and Bonaventura.  It seems that Augustine in his commentary on John imagines an artisan who is making a chest.  The artisan first makes the chest in his mind, because if he doesn’t have the chest there, he simply cannot produce the chest.  The chest is a living thing, because his mind is alive.  When he creates the physical chest, the mental design does not disappear.  It remains; and if the chest is damaged and needs repair, the artisan can do so from the chest in his mind.  Augustine uses this image as an analogy for how God creates us.  However all this was tied up with the Platonic forms, and I did not follow that part of the argument.  He also read bits of Origen, from De principiis, which seemed to put forward a similar idea.  This leads me to think that I need to get a good, readable modern translation of De principiis and read it! 

At 12:50 the conference closed; 1-2pm was lunch, and people were then dispersing.  

I then made my way back to my car to get my camera (20 minutes each way) and then to the cathedral, where I looked at the inventories.  Unfortunately a less-friendly curator had appeared, and the idea of photography was met with “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that”.  But I did discover that the printed text of the inventories did not really reflect what was on the page. 

After that I did some shopping, walked back to my car once more (for the fifth time that day), and headed out.  It was 4pm, far too late to go home, so I booked into a hotel north of Newcastle.  The day tomorrow is said to be good weather, and a visit to Hadrian’s Wall might be nice! 

There’s wifi in this hotel.  But the demands for money are so exorbitant, and the restrictions on bandwidth and speed so aggressive, that I will pass.  I’m sure you can all wait until Monday!


Patristics Conference Diary 3 – day 2

These reports are being posted late.  The reason is lack of internet access.  There was no wifi at the conference, so I had to use some static machines with guest logins.  On the evening of Wednesday 1st September 2010 (day 1) these failed to work, and continued to be out of service all day on day 2.  They did return on the morning of the last day of the conference, but of course that was rather too busy to permit blogging.

It is now the evening of day 3, and I am typing this in a room at the Newcastle airport Premier Inn, as I have decided to visit Hadrian’s Wall tomorrow.  But I am still unable to get online!  I don’t want to let the memory fade further, so here are my impressions.  Of course my memory may be at fault, so don’t rely absolutely on this as a summary of the papers! 

Day 2 of the British Patristics Conference in Durham started for me at 6:15am, when I was woken by the noises of some muppet taking a bath in the bathroom adjacent to my room.  I had forgotten the joys of college living!!!  It continued with a text message at breakfast (8-9am) from my bank about fraudulent use of my debit card, followed by my battery going dead.  Dealing with this naturally took precedence (!), so I missed the plenary session that started the day. 

The first paper that I heard was at 10:50, by Luise Frenkel, on Preaching at the Council of Ephesus (431).  Frenkel pointed out that the minutes (=’acts’) of the council record that the churches in Ephesus were used by those attending the council as a platform from which to preach the decisions of the Cyrillian party, even while the council was going on.  Helpfully she issued a handout of 14 extracts from those acts, illustrating how control of the pulpit formed part of the struggle at the council.  Nestorius and his supporters — in any case few — were denied access, and complained to the emperor: 

[…] Bishop Memnon, having become the leader of the riot, shut us out of the holy churches, the holy martyria, and the holy Church of the Apostle, to prevent us taking refuge from our harassment, while he opened up the great church to our opponents and made them hold council there. (Nestorius to the emperor, ACO I.i.5, p. 14, ll.19-23) 

Frenkel asked very relevantly just who these sermons were directed to.  It had to be the ordinary people of Ephesus, who were thereby brought into the dispute and led to believe the Cyrillian representation of it.  Again and again the extracts highlighted the Cyrillian claim that refusing to say “theotokos” (=Mother of God) amounted to a denial of the incarnation.  Nestorius had said that “God is not a three-month old child”, (doubtless meaning God the Father); and this was played for all it was worth by his opponents.  Examining sermons preached outside the sessions, therefore, reveals more about the politics of the dispute than might be supposed.  This was a very fine paper, and I hope it will be included in the volume of papers which is to appear from Peeters. 

One of the extracts amused me, as showing how the florid language was barely listened to by those uttering it: 

Phoebammon bishop of Coptos said, “The letter of the most devout Nestorius is in no way in accord with the creed issued by the holy fathers assembled at Nicaea or with the letter of the most holy and most God-beloved Cyril.  So anathema to those with such beliefs!” (ACO I,i,2 p.35, ll.17-20)

There was not lacking the note of the stake and the burning either; the homily of Rheginus (ACO I, i, 2, p.71, ll.4-9):

It is needed that after much time, for the refutation of your impiety, … you and your company die, having become engulfed in fire or an earthquake, so that it is evident for the simple ones that you have been condemned… For the God logos …. will assign for you a fixed place of correction with torture on the day of Judgement. 

Frenkel is working mainly on the homilies delivered by Theodotus at Ephesus, and clearly the work will be very informative.

I think that I mentioned that I found myself talking to Richard Price during one of the coffee breaks.  Dr Price has translated great chunks of the acts of the councils for the Liverpool TTH series.  He mentioned that a good many serious scholars do not even know that such acts (=minutes) exist for councils such as Chalcedon.  I would image that few of us do!  Isn’t it a pity that these transcripts of the councils are not available on the web?  Doubtless they would be gleefully embraced by atheists; but that is no reason not to make them available.

I then went to another room to hear Paul Parvis on How to lynch a patriarch without really trying: Peter the Iberian and the consecration of Timothy the Weasel.  This was about the career of Peter the Iberian in the 450’s, about whom I knew very little. The paper dealt specifically how he was involved in the murder of the Chalcedonian patriarch Proterius of Alexandria and the consecration of the monophysite Timothy Aelurus.  Again an excellent handout with English extracts from primary sources was given out. 

The little kingdom of Iberia in the Caucasus was the kernel of the medieval kingdom of Georgia, and Peter was a member of the Iberian royal family.  His name was Nabarnugi, and he grew up as a hostage at the imperial court in Constantinople, being raised by the empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II.  He belonged, in short, to the very top layer of Byzantine society; and then he ran off and became a monk in Palestine, and gathered a reputation for holiness.  Dr. Parvis showed how his social status affected his entire career.  Bureaucrats were afraid to act against him.  His personal reputation for holiness meant that he had political power.  These two elements — high status and popular support — meant that he was able to do some pretty extreme things. 

He was involved in the revolt of the monks against the decisions of Chalcedon between 452-3.  The bishop of Jerusalem, Juvenal, had accepted the council, and been rewarded with a patriarchate.  But the result was an insurrection.  He was met returning to his diocese by enraged monophysites.  The monks ended up shutting the gates of Jerusalem and holding out for 20 months.  The new emperor, Marcian, and his wife Pulcheria, proceeded very carefully against the insurgents, although ultimately soldiers were used to end it. 

Peter had been ordained as bishop of Maiuma, near Gaza, during all this, and had been a strong supporter of the monks’ leader Theodosius.  He slipped away quietly to Alexandria afterwards, unmolested, and lived quietly there.  Proterius did send assassins against him; but “the Lord told Peter they were coming”, perhaps via a covert message from officials aware that serious consequences might fall upon the city if a member of the imperial family were killed that way.  Perhaps there was a deal; they wouldn’t chase after him, so long as he at least pretended to be hiding.  But he also travelled up-country to Oxyrhynchus and felt safe preaching against the patriarch Proterius.  Again his status meant that local officials were wary of interfering with him.  When Marcian died, Proterius was lynched by the mob.  Timothy Aelurus (‘the weasel’) was the monophysite candidate; but there were no bishops around to consecrate him.  Peter was dragged out of hiding — according to John Rufus, his biographer — helped consecrate him, and then again did a runner.  

All this is documented in Evagrius Scholasticus, and in the biography by John Rufus.  The handout helpfully gave a bibliography, and included two chunks of the Plerophoriae, 56 and 3.  This is evidently a Syriac source, edited by F. Nau in the Patrologia Orientalis 8.1, in 1912.  So this was another excellent paper, presented very well and which I hope will be printed. 

A question was asked by someone who turned out to be himself a Georgian.  From this we learned that there are a considerable number of Georgian texts which mention Peter, some not favourably.  This was news to us all, including Dr. Parvis, who said that as far as anyone knew the Georgian texts were derived from John Rufus, but of course there might be all sorts of things in manuscript unknown in the west. 

My next choice was to listen to Andrew Teal, on connections between Marcellus of Ancyra and the Cohortatio ad Graecos of ps.Justin.  Dr Teal believes that material by this 4th century bishop, condemned under Constantius, may be preserved among the spuria of Justin Martyr.  Unfortunately Dr Teal read his paper in a low monotone which I found very irritating, and after 5 minutes of indistinct and seemingly not very relevant material I felt obliged to bail out.  I suspect the written paper will be interesting, tho.  Another paper at the same time had attracted my interest: Mark Smith on “A robbers’ den? a fresh look at the second council of Ephesus, 449 AD”.  That would probably have been a better choice. 

These three papers were followed by lunch, after which there was something unusual.  Rev. Prof. Mark McIntosh, one of the plenary speakers, and holder of a chair at Durham university, is also a canon of the cathedral.  In fact Bishop van Mildert had established a number of chairs intended for canons, of which Dr. McIntosh holds the last.  He showed us over the cathedral, including the shrine of St. Cuthbert, and we all ended up in the monks’ garden doing a group photograph. 

During this I found myself next to Markus Vinzent, who I knew was involved with the Swiss project to edit Cyril of Alexandria’s monster work against Julian the Apostate.  Little has been said about this for some years, and my last contact with them suggested that it was moribund.  But it seems not!  In fact the text of books 1-10 has been completely edited, and German and French translations are proceeding.  The edition should appear in 2012 from GCS; the German will appear separately, and the French as a Sources Chretiennes text.  I asked Dr Vinzent if he was happy for me to report this, and he was.  At the moment they are editing the fragments of books 11-20, and looking for people to do the Syriac fragments.  Dr Vinzent seems to be one of these people who make publications happen! 

When we got back, there was a hour dedicated to deciding when the next conference will be, and other issues in patristics.  The decision was for Exeter, in 2012, leaving 2011 for the Oxford Patristics Conference.  One comment that came out was that most people found the 20 minute papers at this conference superior to the 13 minutes at Oxford; and I agree with this.  Another interesting snippet was that the Oxford conference is now so expensive that those attending have to get grants to do so.  In order to get grants, they have to present papers.  This means that more and more papers need to be fitted in.  

It is reasonably obvious to me, although the point was not made, that junk papers are the inevitable result. I believe that this will kill the conference in due course; for who will pay large sums to listen to junk?  None of the papers at Durham were junk, and the general standard was higher, in my view. 

At 4pm the sessions resumed.  I went to hear Allen Brent on the use of pagan imagery in Early Christian art.  Why does it happen?  What are the possible theories?  The opportunity to hear about this extremely interesting subject was largely destroyed by technical problems. The late running meeting meant that there was no time to set up the projector, necessary to display the iconography, which took 10 minutes, thereby making it impossible for Dr Brent to deliver more than part of his paper.  The next speaker was Timothy Barnes, who made plain that he wasn’t going to wait! 

The possible theories were laid out in the powerpoint presentation.  Unfortunately this was not in the handout, which contained interesting excerpts from Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus’ Refutatio, discussing the use of pagan themes.  I remember only that the first alternative was the Christians used pagan images to hide their illegal cult from the authorities, and a little about a couple more.  Dr. Brent asked whether the authorities were that bothered about how people got buried.  Another choice was that the images were just the stock choices available from pattern books.  Yet another suggested an expurgated choice of images.  The Christos-Orpheus-Dionysius gem appeared, treated as genuine. 

I must write to Dr. Brent and ask for his list of possibilities.  It was extremely interesting, and a great pity that the subject was not really explored. 

As I remarked, at 4:25 Tim Barnes bustled in, to talk about New Light on Constantine.  This was a paper made up of bits and pieces, ahead of a new books that Dr. Barnes has coming out. 

He began by discussing the dating of the epigrams of the pagan Palladas, found in the Greek Anthology.  These are often dated late, because of a mention of Hypatia; but we learned that K. W. Wilkinson has demonstrated that the dating is wrong, the references either belong to epigrams that cannot be by Palladas or else have been misunderstood, and that he in fact belongs to the time of Constantine. 

Dr. Barnes also discussed work on the vision of Constantine, which the pagan source attributes to Gaul, and Eusebius, from Constantine himself but many years later, to before the battle of the Milvian bridge, and suggested that the two were in fact referring to a single event, in Gaul, which Constantine came to understand as being from the Christian God. 

He then went on to discuss Constantine’s influence over Christian liturgical feasts.  The only session at the council of Nicaea which we know Constantine chaired was that on the date of Easter.  Sorting out a single date was of personal importance to Constantine, who was travelling around the empire where different dates for this most important festival were in play.  Dr Barnes asked whether Constantine could be responsible for the date on which Christmas was celebrated in Rome, as he stayed in Rome in 312 through to 6th January 313, the date of Epiphany and the date at which Christians at that period celebrated.  Is it possible, he asks, that Constantine was the one to influence Christians to celebrate on 25 Dec., as part of his personal transition from Sol Invictus to Christ? 

He then went on to discuss the arrangements for the succession of Constantine made in 335 and 336.  Constantine was setting up a tetrarchy, two Augusti, two Caesars.  He started by creating his three sons as Caesars, plus their cousins Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, and intermarrying them with his daughters and relatives of Julius Constantius and other senior consuls.  The intention was for the oldest, Constantinus and Constantius, to be Augusti in the West and the East, supported by Constans and Dalmatius.  But it didn’t happen, because Constantine died, on his way to Antioch where Constantius was awaiting him.  Constantius made a frantic dash to meet him, once his illness was known, but in vain.  This left a situation with no emperor; for only an Augustus could make an Augustus.   The brothers agreed to pretend that Constantine was still alive with the connivance of the imperial officials.  Meanwhile Constantius arranged for the murder of all his cousins, leaving only the infants Gallus and Julian alive. 

Dr Barnes illustrated this by a rescript to the Italian city of Hispellum (ILS 705), ostensibly by Constantine — already dead — plus his three sons, but with no mention of Dalmatius, who was clearly also already dead.  But the real issuer, he pointed out, must have been Constans, who was in Milan, and in a position to grant privileges, and not Constantine somewhere in Asia. 

The book should be very interesting! 

There was an hour’s break, and then the plenary lecture by Andrew Louth, who turned up dressed as an orthodox priest, complete with long beard, black robes and gold chain.  Apparently he joined that communion some years ago, which I had not known.  Over the next hour he discussed whether monasticism really comes from Egypt, instancing the late nature of many of the sources (although I myself felt his argument was unconvincing).  He preferred instead to see Basil of Caesarea as an originator, although even then Basil found ascetics in operation rather than started them off.  The most interesting idea he put forward, to me, was the idea of urban monks being commonplace in late antiquity, and not just the desert monks. 

At 7:30 a five course dinner ensued, followed at 9pm by a reception of cheese and wine in honour of Dr Louth’s retirement.  Interestingly the latter said that he was disposing of his academic books, and would simply leave his office open “tomorrow” and invited people to take away what they would.  It seems that selling paper books is getting harder, even for the professionals. 

That was quite a long day!  But most enjoyable.


Patristics Conference Diary 2

I checked in, and at 2:30 went down to the book displays.  These were fairly limited, but since I was resolved not to buy any more academic books if I could help it, this was all to the good.  About 60 participants are listed.

The first session at 3:30 was a lecture by Caroline Humfress on Patristics and Roman law.  This began with the observation that lawfare (a favourite subject of Ezra Levant) — the use of the courts by special interest groups to extend their imperium — is on the increase in our day, and that where religion and law meet is therefore a subject of current interest.  The lecture proceeded to identify various ways in which the law has moved from being increasingly secular and secularising, through to the 1980’s when a reverse trend began to be noticed, to this decade when books on religion and law are being published all the time and the “deprivatisation” of religion is now on the table.  The lecture was delivered with great clarity, over an hour and a quarter, and was of great interest.  Unfortunately it did not stick in my memory!

This was followed by two sessions with three alternatives.  I chose Thomas Fedrick Illsley’s The defence of Eusebius of Caesarea in 17th century Anglicanism.  The Catholic writers Baronius and Petavius had listed the ways in which the fathers disagreed, in order to promote the idea that the church must be able to decide which is right, and exalted Athanasius.  Eusebius came in for criticism as a semi-Arian.  In response to this Bishop Bull in his Defence of the Nicene Creed and William Cave in a letter to someone (I couldn’t catch this) looked more at what the Nicene definition meant at the time.  They listed ways in which Eusebius definitely rejected the Arian propositions of Arius himself, the only ones around at the time.  Eusebius does frequently indicate that the Son is subordinate to the Father; but always in status, not in nature.  They pointed out that he signed the creed, they made use of the shorter form of his letter to the churches of Caesarea (the additional material in Theodoret they rejected as an addition), and they indicated that, while he may not have agreed with Athanasius, his views were indeed those of the Nicene council, reached after careful thought, agreed to in the case of peace, and should be judged accordingly and not by later invective in Jerome against Rufinus.  At the end of the session Timothy Barnes arose and suggested that the real case against Eusebius has to be found in the Eclogae propheticae, only discovered ca. 1840, where Christ is called “deuteros theos” repeatedly.  This Bull and Cave could not have read.  He then made the point that the same expression was found in the Praeparatio evangelica and enquired how they dealt with this.  The answer was as second in status, not in nature; Eusebius believed that the Father and Son were of the same substance.  The speaker also made the point that the unnatural concentration on the word “homoousios” was really Arian propaganda, to make the Nicene definition seem strange by concentrating on one unusual word, and that the whole creed should be considered.

The final paper (at 5:25) was by Sebastian Moll, Marcion after Harnack.  Dr Moll began by saying that he would far rather address an English audience than a German one, as the latter would tend to say “how dare you disagree with Harnack”!  He listed four things about Marcion which Harnack stated in 1921; and suggested that all were flawed.  Most interesting to me was when he quoted Harnack demanding that the Old Testament be dumped, and then suggested that actually nothing in Marcion himself corresponds to this (Apelles held this view, but not Marcion).  Rather, he suggested Marcion thought the Old Testament really did reveal the evil God, and, being a dualist, retained that for just that reason, like one of two eyes.  His revised ‘Gospel’ was likewise intended to portray the good God.  All this led me to think that I should revisit the Marcion testimonia, to see what they really say! 

During the coffee breaks I found myself talking to Richard Price, who has translated large wodges of the acts of the ecumenical councils for Liverpool University Press.  It was very interesting to hear about his work, and how many people are not even aware that there are acts available for these councils.

At dinner there was discussion of whether there will be a volume.  I hope both these papers will appear! I sat next to Andrew Maguire of, and was interested to hear that the letter of Theodoret on the death of Cyril of Alexandria was online at his site (here).  The letter may be spurious, but who knows?

Tomorrow has a very long list of papers I would like to hear, plus a tour of the cathedral led by one of the canons.  But there is relatively little on Friday, so if the weather is good I might duck that!


Patristics conference diary – day 1

I drove up to Durham yesterday — 277 miles — in glorious sunshine and got myself checked into the Durham East premier inn.  The conference arrangements have been somewhat haphazard, so I called St. Johns College and enquired about early arrival today.  They told me that I could have saved myself the hotel bill!  Memo: check such things with the people providing accomodation.

This morning is an equally beautiful day.  Central Durham is very lovely in the sunshine.  I got my room, got my car parked, and then spent the morning wandering around enjoying the weather.  The light and the sun reminded me of Rome.  I went into a BHS and had a roll and a glass of coke, in a restaurant with a view over the river.  The world was full of light, and a delight to wander around in.

Formal check-in for the conference is 13:30, at which point I hope to find out who is attending etc.  I’ve just found the computer room — I have been unable to get my laptop to communicate with the wifi network, for lack of the necessary instructions — and hope to blog throughout the conference.

Mind you, with the weather as it is, who wants to be indoors?  If all the papers tomorrow look boring, I might drive up to Hadrian’s Wall!  It’s within striking range from here.

There’s at least one paper today that I definitely want to hear.  There’s also a number of “plenary addresses” — anything lasting 75 minutes is suspect to my mind — but the first one, on the connection between the Fathers and Roman Law, might well be interesting.

Since I don’t formally arrive until 13:30, I need to shoot off and get some lunch first.  Fortunately there is a Tesco Metro nearby, and an M&S.

More updates later.