Salvian, Letter 9, to Salonius: on why he used the name Timothy when writing Ad Ecclesiam

In Forgery and counterforgery, Ehrman makes great play of the “confession” of Salvian that he forged a work in the name of the apostle Timothy.  Unfortunately he does not give the text of the letter in question.  The reference is to letter 9 in the collected letters, although it is not found in the unique manuscript of Salvian’s letters, but instead is found prefixed to the text of Ad Ecclesiam, the work in question.

Let us have the Fathers of the Church translation.[1]  I will discuss it, and E.’s treatment of it, in my next post.

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Salvian to Bishop Salonius,[2] my lord and most blessed pupil, father and son, disciple by instruction, son through love and a father in honor.

You ask me, my dear Salonius, why the name of Timothy was signed to the little treatise To the Church, done recently by a certain author of our day. In addition, you add that unless I add a clear reason for using the name, while the surname of Timothy is affixed to the treatise, the books may perhaps be reckoned among the apocrypha.

I am most thankful to you for your judgment of me, by thinking that my faith is so zealous that I would not allow the authorship of a work on the church to be in doubt. Thus, a writing that is most salutary should not be lessened in value because its authorship is uncertain. I have already pointed out that the books deal with issues of today and that they were written by a man of our own day in his zeal and love for things divine. This alone could suffice for removing completely any suspicion of apocryphal composition. Those treatises which are recognized as not being Timothy’s are not suspected as apocryphal.

Perhaps someone is inquiring who is the author, if the Apostle is not the author? They are asking whether he signs his own or a different name to his books. That is true. Indeed, this can be asked, and rightly asked, provided that the inquiry can bring good to anybody. Besides, if the inquiry is useless, why is it necessary that curiosity go to all this trouble, when knowledge will not have any benefit from the curiosity?  In every volume, profit is sought more from reading the book than from the name of the author.

Therefore, if there is profit in reading, and each author, no matter who he is, possesses the wherewithal to teach his readers, what matters to him a word which cannot help those who are seeking knowledge? Most worthily the saying of the angel can be answered to this inquisitive person: ‘Do you seek the family or the hired servant?’ Since there is no profit in a name, he who finds profit in writings unnecessarily seeks the name of the writer. As I have said, this is an adequate statement of the case.

I will tell you the more obvious facts because, my Salonius, my ornament and aid, I cannot refuse you anything In these books about which I am speaking there are three things which can be asked. Why did the author address his book To the Church? Did he use a borrowed name or his own? If not his own, why a borrowed name? If a borrowed name, why in particular did he choose Timothy as the name to be written? Here is the reason for writing the books To the Church.

The writer himself, as the very writings themselves testify is so concerned in his soul for the worship and love of God that he thinks nothing must be put before God, according to that saying of Our Lord: ‘He who loves his son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.’ However, the lukewarm and negligent think this saying must be observed only in time of persecution.

As if, indeed, there is any time when anything should be preferred to God, or as though there are men who think that Christ must be considered more precious than all other things in time of persecution, but in all the remaining time He must be considered of less value. If that were the case, we would owe the love of God to persecution and not to faith. Then only will we be good when the evil persecute us. Actually, we owe a greater or certainly not a lesser love to God in times of peace than in adversity.

The very fact that He does not allow us to be afflicted by the evil is all the more reason why we should love Him. He acts toward us with the indulgence of the best and most gentle father, who wishes us, in peace and quiet, to show our faith more by works of religion than to prove our faith in persecution and bodily punishments. Therefore, if nothing is to be preferred to Him at the time when things are going badly with us, should He not also be preferred at the time when He deserves to receive more because of His indulgence? But these arguments are more fitting for another time. Let me now complete what I began.

The writer whom I have mentioned saw the manifold insidious diseases of almost all Christians and realized only that not all things did not stand in second place to God, but that almost all things were preferred to God. The drunken seem to spurn God in their drunkenness, the greedy in their greediness, the unchaste in their lust, the cruel in their cruelty.

What is more serious in all these faults is that not only are they committed with criminal violence over a long time, but they are not even corrected afterward by penance. Even in those who are said to be penitents the penance itself is rather a name than a reality, because names of things mean little if they do not possess reality. The name of virtue means nothing if it has no force.

Very many, in fact almost all, who abound in goods and are conscious of their misdeeds and greater crimes do not even deign to redeem them by confession and satisfaction, or, what is easier, by gifts and works of mercy. What is more irreligious, they neglect this not only in time of prosperity, but also in times of adversity, not only when they have security but when they are in poverty. So great is the religious disbelief of men and so grave the sloth of unfaithful souls that, when many leave their greatest wealth to their heirs, sometimes even to strangers, they think their only loss is what they donated for their own hope and salvation. Indeed, though this is serious in almost all, it is especially so in those whom even the profession of sanctity accuses of a like criminal lack of faith. This very malady is great among those who are not laymen, but it is especially so in those who arrogate to themselves the name of religious.

Thus, he who wrote this treatise saw that this evil was general and that this almost universal crime was common, not to worldly men only, but even to penitents and converts, to widows professing chastity, and to young girls consecrated at the holy altars. A sin to be reckoned as monstrous, as I have said, it has reached even to the Levites and priests and, what is much more deadly, even to the bishops. Because of this, many of those I mentioned above, who are without love and without offspring, who have neither families nor children, allot their wealth and goods not to the poor, not to the churches, not even to themselves. What is greater and more outstanding, they do not even allot it to God, but to men of the world, especially to rich men and strangers. Seeing all this, the writer’s heart was kindled, during the writing, with a zeal for God like a burning fire.

His marrow glowed with a sacred love, his zeal was unable to do otherwise in such warmth than to burst forth with a voice of sorrow. But nobody was seen more suitable than the Church, of which they who did these things were a part, to whom that voice could be directed. It is superfluous to write for one or for a few, where the case is general. Therefore, this reason convinced and compelled the writer that the books about which I am speaking be sent to the Church.

Now I speak about the second question: why the books are not titled with the author’s name. Though there is one special reason for this, I think there could have been many. First, there is that reason which derives from the mandate of God, by whom we are ordered to avoid the vanity of worldly glory in all things, lest, while we seek a little breath of human praise, we lose a heavenly reward. Consequently, God wishes us to offer prayers and gifts to Him in secret. He orders us to commend in secret the fruit of good work, because there is no greater devotion to faith than that which avoids the knowledge of men and is content with God as its witness. Our Saviour says: ‘Let not your left hand know what your right hand does, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you.’

Therefore, this reason alone could satisfy the writer for withholding and concealing his name from the title, that what he had done for the honor of his Lord he would keep for divine knowledge only, and what shunned public acclaim would become more commendable to God. The writer must confess that his principal consideration was that he himself is humble in his own eyes and lowly in his own estimation. He thinks he is the least and the last, and, what is more important, he thinks in this manner in pure faith, not by the means of an assumed humility, but by the truth of an honest judgment.

Hence, rightly thinking that others must also evaluate him as he evaluates himself, he rightly inserted a strange name on his books, lest the insignificance of his person detract authority from his salutary statements. In a way, all things said are esteemed as much as is he who says them. Indeed, so weak are the judgments of our day and almost so meaningless that they who read do not consider so much what they read as whom they read, nor so much the force and strength of what is said as the reputation of him who speaks.

For this reason, the writer wished to be completely hidden and to keep out of the way, lest writings which contained much helpfulness should lose their force through the name of the author. This is the reason for anyone who inquires why the author assumed another’s name.

There remains an explanation of why the name Timothy was chosen. To answer this question, I am about to return afresh to the author, for he is the cause of all the questions which have been raised. As he excelled in humility when he assumed a strange name, so he excelled in fear and caution when he used the name of Timothy. Indeed, he is fearful and scrupulous, and sometimes he is afraid of ‘white lies’; he fears sin so much that sometimes he fears things which should not be feared.

When, therefore, he wished to withhold his own name from the title of the book and to insert another’s name, he was afraid of falsehood even in this change of names. He thought that the sin of falsehood should never be committed in the exercise of a holy work. Being thus placed in uncertainty and doubt, he thought it would be best to follow the most holy example of the blessed Evangelist, who, affixing the name Theophilus to both beginnings of his divine works, wrote for the love of God when he was apparently writing to men. He judged it most fitting that he direct his writings to the very love of God by whom he was impelled to write.

Thus this writer about whom I am speaking made use of this argument and counsel. The Evangelist, being conscious that he had done all things in his writings for the honor of God, just as he had done all for the love of God, wrote the name Theophilus. For a like reason did this writer write the name of Timothy. For, as love is expressed by the word Theophilus, so is honor of the divinity expressed by the word Timothy. Thus, when you read that Timothy wrote To the Church, you must understand thereby that it was written to the Church for the honor of God, even that the very honor of God directed the writing. Rightly he is said to have written through whom it happened that the book was written.

For this reason, therefore, the name of Timothy is inscribed in the titles of the books. Indeed, the writer thought it fitting that, since he was writing the books for the honor of God, he would consecrate the title to the very honor of the Divinity. You have, my Salonius, my dear one, you have what you demanded. I have fulfilled the work of an ordered task. There remains, since I have discharged my part, that you discharge yours; that is, that you pray our Lord God and, by praying, ask that the books To the Church, written only for the honor of Christ, may be as profitable with God to their writer as he desires them to be profitable to all. I think this desire is not unjust. It is a desire by which someone asks that they be as profitable for his own salvation as he hopes they will be profitable to all for the love of God. Farewell, my Salonius, my ornament and help.

  1. [1]The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter, tr. by Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan.  Fathers of the Church, 1947.
  2. [2]Son of Eucherius and pupil of Salvian. Salvian dedicated the treatise
    On the Governance of God to him.