Yesterday I quoted a story from the Acts of Nicaea II (787) where a monk was told it would be better to visit every brothel in the City rather than abandon worshipping the images of Christ and his Mother. This is attributed to Sophronius, but a kind correspondent pointed out that it is in fact taken from the Pratum Spirituale (“Spiritual Meadow”) of John Moschus, where it is chapter 45.
The Pratum Spirituale (CPG 7376, BHG 1441-1442) is a collection of lively hagiographical stories of eastern monks and hermits, today divided into some 219 chpaters, composed by the author during the reign of Heraclius during and after the capture of Jerusalem by the Sassanid Persians in 614 AD. Composed in Greek, it exists in Latin, Armenian, Arabic, Georgian (from the Arabic), Ethiopian, and Old Slavonic – the last named version being of considerable importance for the text.
As with all hagiographical texts, there is considerable variation in the manuscripts, and in this case the edition of Migne (PG 87 vol. 3, columns 2852-3112) is rather a mess. Fortunately there is an article which analyses the manuscripts for us, by P. Pattenden, “The text of the Pratum Spirituale“, JTS 26 (1975), 38-54. From this I learn that there are over 100 manuscripts, although many contain only parts of the text – sometimes just a single chapter. Pattenden divides them into three groups.
- The φ group is best represented by Florence, Mediceo-Laurenziana, Plutei x. 3 (12th century) (= F), which gives the text in 301 numbered chapters in the same order as Migne except that chapters 7 and 8 are reversed.
- The π group is represented by Paris Graecus 1596 (12th century) (= P), which contains Moschus in three separate series interspersed with other ascetic texts including Anastasius of Sinai.
- The μ group is a condensed version of the π group text, represented by Marcianus Graecus II, 21 (middle of 10th c.) (= M). The archetype of this group of manuscripts seems to have been a rather careless copy of a lost manuscript belonging to the π group.
Photius in his Bibliotheca, cod. 199, refers to two versions of the Pratum Spirituale, one of 304 chapters, one of 342. It is likely that these two versions are the φ and π groups.
The φ group – i.e. F and related manuscripts – seems to be the more authentic version, and is more attentive to getting the names right. It is supported by the Old Slavonic version, which follows the text of F in numbering and text, but with an additional 35 chapters on the end, taken from some other collection of ascetic stories.
A critical edition of the φ text is apparently in progress, by Marina Detoraki of the University of Crete, according to an article at Dumbarton Oaks here. It does not seem to have appeared as yet, so we are left with Migne’s text, which again is traced by Pattenden.
The Pratum Spirituale first became known in the West through a translation into Latin made by the careful and intelligent Ambrogio Traversari around 1420-30. This was based on a Greek manuscript sent to him by the Archbishop of Crete. Traversari’s translation by printed in 1558 by Lipomannus, who reorganised it into 219 chapters. This text was included in the 1615 Vitae Patrum by Heribert Rosweyd, and reprinted by Migne as PL 74, col. 119-240.
A copy of the Rosweyde volume found its way into the hands of a retired (now deceased – 25th August 2004) Welsh priest named Benedict Baker who translated extensive chunks of it, including the Pratum, and placed them online at his site Vitae Patrum (index here, the Pratum begins here). This translation has appeared in various places on the web.
The Greek text was first printed by Fronton du Duc (Fronto Ducaeus) at Paris in 1624, with a parallel Latin translation. This contained only 115 chapters, however. Duc does not state clearly which manuscripts he used, but Pattenden has identified that he used Vatican gr. 738, 12th c. (= R), a mixed manuscript of φ and π, for many chapters, and another manuscript which seems to have eventually been bought by Sir Thomas Phillips, ms. 1624, and in Pattenden’s day was in Berlin as ms. 221 of the East German Deutsche Staatsbibliothek.
A better and more complete Greek edition appeared in Paris in 1681 by Jean Baptiste Cotelier, who located a Greek text of most of the remaining chapters of Traversari and printed it, with a new parallel Latin version of his own. Cotelier used four main Paris manuscripts, Paris Gr. 916, 11th c. (= A), from the φ group; Paris gr. 1605, 12th c. (= X) from the π group, and two manuscripts of extracts.
The Cotelier text, with some additions was the text given by Migne in PG 87. But Migne omits the prologue, or life of Moschus, given by Duc and Rosweyde.
It is apparently noticeable that Traversari’s translation is based on a much better Greek text than either of the editions.
The Migne PG 87 Greek text has been translated by John Wortley, The Spiritual Meadow (Pratum Spirituale), Cistercian Studies 139, Kalamazoo (1992). Let us look at chapter 45, which is on p.35-6:
45. THE LIFE OF A MONK, A RECLUSE ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES AND CONCERNING THE VENERATION OF AN ICON OF THE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
One of the elders told us that Abba Theodore the Aeliote said that there was a certain recluse on the Mount of Olives, a great warrior against whom the demon of sexual desire waged battle. One day when <the demon> attacked with vehemence, the elder began to give up in despair and to say to the demon: ‘How much longer are you not going to let me go? Desist from growing old together with me’! The demon appeared to him in visible form, saying: ‘Swear to me that you will never reveal to anybody what I am about to tell you and I will no longer wage war against you’. The elder swore: ‘By Him who dweUeth in the heavens I will not tell anybody what you say’. The demon said to him: ‘Desist from venerating this icon here and I will call off my war against you’. The icon in question bore the likeness of our Lady Mary, the holy Mother of God, carrying our Lord Jesus Christ. The recluse said to the demon: ‘Let me go and think about it’. The next day he sent for Abba Theodore the Aeliote (the one who told us this story) for at that time he was residing at the Lavra of Pharon. When Abba Theodore came, the recluse told him all there was to tell and received this reply: ‘In fact you were ensnared when you swore, abba. But you are quite right to speak out. It were better for you to leave no brothel in the town unentered than to diminish reverence from our Lord Jesus Christ and from his Mother’. Abba Theodore strengthened and comforted the recluse with many words and then returned to his own place. The demon re-appeared to the recluse and said to him: ‘What is this then, you wicked old man?’ Did you not swear to me that you would not tell anybody? Why then have you revealed everything to the man who came to see you’! I tell you, you wicked old man, you will be tried as an oath-breaker at the day of judgement’. The recluse answered: ‘I know that I gave my oath and broke it, but it was with my Lord and Creator that I broke faith; you I will not obey. As the initiator of evil counsel and of the oath-breaking, you are the one who will have to face the inescapable consequences of the misdeeds you brought about’.
The version by Revd Benedict Baker is as follows:
Chapter XLV. The life of an anchorite MONK on the Mount of Olives, and his veneration of an icon of MARY, the most holy birthgiver of God.
Abba Theodorus Aeliotes told us about an anchorite on the Mount of Olives, a great (spiritual) athlete, battling strenuously with the spirit of fornication.
“Why can’t you leave me alone?” he cried with a loud moan one day when the demon was attacking him particularly strongly. “You’ve been with me all my life. Get away from me!”
The demon suddenly appeared visibly before him.
“Swear to me,” he said, “that you won’t tell anyone what I am about to say to you, and I won’t bother you any further.”
“By him who lives in the high heavens,” he replied, “I swear not to tell anyone what you say to me.”
“Stop venerating this icon,” the demon said, “and then I will stop attacking you.”
Now this icon consisted of a lifelike painting of our holy lady Mary the birthgiver of God carrying our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Give me time to think about this,” said the anchorite.
The next day he let this same abba Theodorus know about it. He told him everything that had happened. Theodorus was at that time living in the Laura of Pharan.
“It was very wrong of you, dear abba,” the old man said to the anchorite, “to swear an oath to the demon. Nevertheless you have done the right thing in telling me about it. What you need to do now is to make sure you have no truck with any dealings in that realm, lest you renounce the worship of God, our Lord Jesus Christ and his mother.” He went on to say a great deal more to strengthen and comfort him before leaving him in his cell.
The demon appeared to the anchorite once more.
“What’s this, you wicked old man?” he said. “Didn’t you swear to me that you would not tell anybody? So why have you told all to that person who visited you? I’m telling you, you will be condemned as a perjurer in the day of judgment.”
“I know that I have sworn an oath and broken it,” the anchorite replied, “but that oath sworn in the name of my God and Creator I have broken in order that I should not be obedient to you. But as for you, the prime source of false counsel and perjury, you will not be able to escape the punishment prepared for you.”
It is noticeable that Mr Baker’s version does not contain the striking line about the brothel, but instead this:
What you need to do now is to make sure you have no truck with any dealings in that realm, lest you renounce the worship of God, our Lord Jesus Christ and his mother.
In fact Mr Baker seems to have paraphrased, with the intention of making the text easier to read and both accessible and edifying. This is an entirely legitimate approach to an ancient text, so long as the reader is aware of it. Indeed Mr Baker’s translation is really rather moving at points, and may be recommended to those wishing to read what was, after all, intended as a devotional text.