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.


The date and authenticity of the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” of Pseudo-Methodius

The literature of antiquity is transmitted to us mainly in handwritten medieval books.  These are often more like loose-leaf binders than modern books, and can contain all sort of things.  A great number of ancient and medieval sermons appear in these volumes.  This is quite natural, since the volumes were copied exclusively by monks for almost a thousand years.  The author of the sermon is not always given, and when it is, the name may be ambiguous or wrong.  Part of what scholars do is to establish who wrote these texts.  I’ve been collecting some snippets of scholarship about one of these, which I thought I would share.

The surviving works in Greek of the patristic writer Methodius of Olympus (d. ca. 311 AD) were translated into English in the 19th century, and are included in the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection, volume 6.  The translator also included a translation of a sermon (online here), the “Oration concerning Simeon and Anna” (Sermo de Symeone et Anna, = CPG 1827 = BHG 1961 (vol. 3, p.241)). This is of interest because it contains clear evidence of the veneration of Mary.  Indeed if it were authentic, it would be some of the earliest evidence for the cultus of Mary.

The BHG tells us that the text  of the Sermo de Symeone et Anna was first edited by P. Pantinus, Homiliae IIII SS. patrum (Antverpiae, 1598), pp.18-154 (online here); reprinted by F. Combefis, Amphilochii opera (1644), pp.396-430 (online here); who is reprinted again in Migne, PG 18, cols.348-381; and finally edited by A. Jahn, S.P.N.Methodii opera omnia (1865), 105-113 (online here).

This sermon bears the name of Methodius in the manuscripts.  But according to R. Laurentin[1], the work is found in collections of sermons (“homiliaries”) of the 7th century, so this cannot refer to the later Methodius who was patriarch of Constantinople from 842-846 AD.  Likewise a portion of the text (PG 18, 360C) is quoted word for word by John Damascene (7-8th c.) in the Libellus Contra Jacobitas (PG 94, col.1489)

There is a list of manuscripts at Pinakes here.  Some are online.  This for instance is the beginning in Codex Vaticanus Ottobonianus graecus 85 (online here), on folio 76v, with a few words and then “Πάλαι ἱκανῶς, ὡς οἷον τε, διὰ βραχέων…” 

Here’s another from BNF gr. Coislin 274, f.158v:

Both have some introductory words, although my ignorance of Greek paleography doesn’t allow me to read either.  But I can pick out the name of Methodius alright.

The question of the authenticity of the sermon was discussed by V. Buchheit, Studien zu Methodios von Olympos, TU 69 (1958), p.133-140.  Methodius of Olympus died around 311 AD.  Now the work begins:

Although I have before, as briefly as possible, in my dialogue on chastity, sufficiently laid the foundations, as it were, for a discourse on virginity, yet to-day the season has brought forward the entire subject of the glory of virginity…… We keep festival, not according to the vain customs of the Greek mythology; we keep a feast which brings with it no ridiculous or frenzied banqueting of the gods, but which teaches us the wondrous condescension to us men of the awful glory of Him who is God over all.

From this, it seems that the sermon was delivered, it seems, on the feast day of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, the Feast of the Hypapante (Feb. 2nd), and the BHG lists it among the sermons on that date (vol. 3, p.241, BHG 1961).  But Buchheit states that this festival is not referenced by any source prior to 385 AD.  So this is a problem, if the sermon was composed by the Methodius who died ca. 311 AD.

The first line does refer to a quite genuine work by Methodius of Olympus.  But this sermon ends with a version of the Nicene Creed, including the keyword term “homoousios”, not used in this way before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Again, this is a problem of the same kind.

Buchheit also conducts a linguistic analysis, which I am not competent to comment upon.  He references the Byzantine use of prepositions and “clauses” which does not agree with the usage in genuine works of Methodius.

Based upon this, Buchheit concludes that the work has to be dated between 325 and the 7th century, and that the first sentence is merely a deliberate deception by the author:

Der unbekannte Verfasser oder ein Abschreiber hat diese Rede durch eine geschickte Fäl­schung in der Einleitung dem Methodios unterschoben. Bei dem Verfasser handeltessich umeinen geistig zweifellos hochstehenden und rhetorisch vorzüglich gebildeten Mann. Sein Stil war asianisch; die byzantinische Satzklausel hat er nicht angewendet.

The unknown author or a copyist has foisted this speech on Methodios through a clever forgery in the introduction. The author is undoubtedly a man of high intellectual stature and excellent rhetoric. His style was Asian; he did not apply the Byzantine propositional clause.  (Google translation)

Further work was done upon the sermon by Roberto Caro, in his 1965 thesis, La homiletica griega.  Unfortunately I have no access to this.  Parts of this were published as R. Caro, La homilética mariana griega en el siglo V (= Greek Marian Homilies in the 5th Century), Dayton, Ohio, 2 vols (1971-2), where the CPG says that the discussion is in vol.2, pp. 610-617.  Again I have no access to this at the moment, but apparently he concludes that the text is 5-6th century.

  1. [1]R. Laurentin, Bulletin Sur La Vierge Marie, Revue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 52 (1968), pp. 479-551, esp. 539-40, JSTOR.