From my diary

It’s hotter than hell in the office in which I work, which is not helping me get anything done!  However I’m also close to Cambridge University Library, and I’ve made two trips there in the evening this week, in search of books and articles.

I’m still thinking about Severian of Gabala.  I’ve now obtained a copy of Sever J. Voicu, “Severien de Gabala,” Dictionnaire de spiritualite 14 (Paris, 1990), 752-63.  This article is essential for anyone interested in Severian.  It lists all his works and adds notes on each, over and above what is found in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum.   I must go through this and revise my own list of works accordingly.

My colleague Albocicade, who is collecting French translations of Severian, and OCR’d the Voicu article, has noticed that the Voicu article notes the existence of an unpublished French thesis, J. Kecskeméti, Sévérien de Gabala. Homélie inédite sur le Saint-Esprit, Paris, 1978 (Worldcat and IdRef), on CPG 4947.  It might be possible for a Frenchman like himself to access this.  Here’s hoping.

Bryson Sewell has sent me a couple of pages of his upcoming translation of Severian’s De Spiritu Sancto.  I think this is liable to contain theology: everybody hide now!  So far he’s started to talk about the difference between the Son being “begotten of the Father”, while the Spirit “proceeds from the Father”.  Good news that this is well underway.

My main other activity in the last couple of days has been obtaining some materials for the Mithras temples at Santa Prisca in Rome (quite amazing, this one), on the island of Ponza, and the one at Santa Capua Vetere.  A commenter on my Mithras website asked about the date of the Santa Prisca Mithraeum.  It seems to have been setup in the wine-cellar of an imperial property, which had once been the private house of Trajan before he became emperor.  The wine cellar even had a little water supply of its own, for cleaning the amphorae.  Somewhere else in the cellars is, perhaps, the origins of the church of Santa Prisca.  But I haven’t come across anything about that yet.

Severian bibliography updated

A couple of tweaks to my Severian  bibliography.  As ever, this is not an academic bibliography but just something for my own use from which to commission translations.

  • Severian of Gabala – works (PDF)
  • Severian of Gabala – works (.docx)

UPDATE: Forgot to add notes from Homiliæ Pseudo-Chrysostomicæ.

UPDATE: Newer versions here.

Unpublished homilies by Severian of Gabala which are not listed in the CPG?

I’m preparing to commission an English translation of CPG 4188, Severian of Gabala’s De Spiritu Sancto (=PG 52. 813-826).  While searching the web for any indication of an existing translation – for I wouldn’t want to duplicate – I came across an article by Danish scholar Holger Villadsen here.  Then, blessedly, I came across a draft of it here, OCR’d, thereby allowing me to use Google Translate to follow the text.

Villadsen was going to edit some of Severian’s homilies for a new volume in the GCS series, but was obliged to withdraw.  So he has some familiarity with the manuscripts, unlike myself.

He lists a couple of interesting-sounding homilies, which are not listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, and have never been printed.

  • Contra Ioudaeos et Graecos.  Supposedly R.F. Regtuit of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam 1987, included the text of this in his dissertation.  Incipit=πάλιν Ιουδαϊκή κακία.  But Villadsen does not list Regtuit’s 1992 publication of an edition and translation of CPG 4204, In incarnationem domini.  I have this, and it is plainly a thesis.  So I wonder whether there is confusion here.  Unfortunately Regtuit’s book is not to hand.
  • Ad imaginem.  This apparently exists in manuscript cod. Paris. gr. 758, ff. 45-52v.  Incipit=Πρώην ἡμῖν ὁ λόγο.

Note that the original draft contained the incipit for both, which I give; but the (unspecified) font was pre-unicode and the text is gibberish.  If anyone reading this recognises the encoding, or can work out what the words must be, please add a note in the comments.

UPDATE: Fixed incipits – thank you (I presume “logo” should be “logos”!)


Severian of Gabala – On repentance and compunction – now online in English

Bryson Sewell has now translated for us Severian of Gabala’s sermon on repentance.  This is another rather splendid ancient sermon, as most of those attributed to Severian seem to be (so far!).  Whether they are really by Severian may reasonably be doubted a lot of the time, I admit.

Anyway here it is.  It’s also at  As ever, these are public domain.  Use them however you like.

Review: “Commentaries on Genesis 1-3: Severian of Gabala” from IVP Academic

Severian of Gabala is best known, if he is known at all, for his six sermons on Genesis 1-3.  His fame, or notoriety, is because he expounds a curious flat-earth theory in them.   This opinion, very rare among early Christian writers, is enough to stigmatise him in modern eyes, and his work has consequently received far less attention than it deserves.  As a result, his work has never been translated into English, until the work of R.F. Regtuit on a single homily in 1992[1], and, this year, the translations of Bryson Sewell.[2]

So it is a pleasant surprise to learn that a translation of these six sermons In Cosmogoniam – plus, unexpectedly of the Quomodo animum acceperit Adam – appeared inn 2010, from IVP Academic.[3]  It was translated by the late Australian scholar Robert C. Hill, who died in 2007, so this must have been one of the first volumes to be commissioned.

The physical shape of the book is tall and slim.  It shares the format of the Ancient Commentary on Scripture series exactly, being about 50% taller and wider than a Sources Chrétiennes volume, but much slimmer.  This makes sense only in the context of the ACS volumes, which were tall, wide and necessarily thick, and it is clearly intended to stand on a shelf with them.  The manufacturing details are also the same, and the print and typesetting also.

The translation of Severian is literal rather than popular, but perfectly serviceable and fulfils admirably the brief to produce a scholarly translation of service to all sections of the academic community.   The style is very literal, as most translations are today, without sacrificing readability too far.  On occasion the text does slip over the line into translationese, but these points are thankfully few and very rarely obscure the sense.

In the sermons, Severian tends to wander all over the subject, but his comments will be interesting to students of biblical studies, precisely because they are expository.  The translator compares the Antiochene approach with that of Chrysostom, from the same school; and also with the more allegorical style of Didymus the Blind.  He notes that Severian is by no means the dull literalist that he is sometimes supposed to be, resorting to typology without a qualm.

On the other hand the approach that Severian takes to Cosmology, interpreting stray phrases from the scriptures in order to build up a weird picture of the universe unlike that held by anyone else, either then or now, will endear itself to few.  Such people have always existed, of course: indeed I read today on Paleojudaica a post in which some Jewish scholars attempted to perform a geographical calculation of the size of the Garden of Eden using as a basis a rabbinical claim that “the entire world drinks from the runoff of the Garden of Eden.”  It is welcome to be able to judge the merits of the case in Severian’s own words.

The book is lacking in one respect, in that the translator does not seem to have appreciated that the reader may find it difficult to visualise the picture of the world in question.  This is surprising; and an unfortunate omission.  The English translation of Cosmas Indicopleustes (online here) thought it worthwhile to reproduce some illustrations from the manuscripts.  It would be interesting to know whether the medieval manuscripts of In Cosmogeniam are illustrated.

All the same the publisher should have included a diagram in homily 3.  Essentially Severian suggests that the world is in the shape of a tabernacle (presumably square, with a dome atop it, the sides and roof being the “firmament” of Genesis 1-3); and that the sun does not go underneath the earth, but round to the north side where it is hidden by a “wall”.  You will have to read the book to see his list of proof-texts for this!

One point will certainly strike the reader – the repeated appearance of phrases such as “pay attention please”.  The translator seems to have understood these as indicating boredom by the audience, and the reader may suppose this.  But Regtuit points out that these phrases appear elsewhere in Severian’s output and may indicate something more like “please concentrate – this bit is difficult”.   Severian was a popular preacher, and it is unlikely that sermons which nobody found interesting would be copied.  There is a paper to be written, I think, on the use of such phrases in Severian.

The homilies are printed without any divisions other than paragraphs.  The chapter numbers found in Migne are not indicated, nor the column numbers.  I do not know what the policy of IVP is, but it is unfortunate for the reader.  Readers will quite often come to read this book when following a reference in a footnote somewhere; and these are always to either the chapter or the PG column.  Indeed Hill uses the latter system himself in his introduction.  Many will ask which bit of the text is “homily 3, chapter 5”!

The footnotes are mainly biblical references, combined with comparison of Severian’s exegesis with other commentators of the period.  The sole index is an index of biblical passages.

As one of the first volumes to appear, there is a series introduction, directed mainly at institutional subscribers.  This tells us inter alia that the intention is not to produce material aimed at a particular constituency but rather to produce scholarly translations that would be useful to everyone; and quite right too.  In this case the translator was a liberal Australian Catholic, I think.  The volume is certainly not directed to IVP’s usual constituency, which does not seem to feature at all in the volume.  The general standard is certainly as good as the Fathers of the Church volumes.

The translator’s “introduction” is an interesting but frustrating piece of work, especially to myself, since I am in the habit of reviewing such things from the translations that I commission, and fixing some of the problems that appear.  This “introduction” does not actually introduce Severian or his works!  That’s a fairly basic failure, albeit hardly an important one.  The text is instead a rather unfocused and sometimes repetitive discourse about Severian.  It makes hard reading, even for someone as familiar with Severian and his work as myself.  Regtuit is a better model for the reader, and likewise Aubineau in his edition and translation of De centurione.  However this problem could be fixed rather easily by prefixing a couple of pages to this portion of the book, outlining what we know about Severian, his life and his work, and the reception of it by scholars.

The introduction also doesn’t explain very well just why the reader should want to spend his time reading Severian or his works; Hill writes as if he disliked his author – one can only sympathise with the task of translating someone you dislike! – and the sniping is irritating after a while.

However the persistent reader will find some useful points are made.    While Hill clearly can’t understand why anyone ever listened to Severian, he still quotes enough to make the latter’s charm quite clear.  He rightly highlights the word-pictures that Severian paints, and his flair for dramatisation, when describing biblical scenes, although Hill meanly questions whether Severian borrowed these from somewhere else, despite an utter lack of evidence for this.  We learn that it is possible that Severian delivered Quomodo animum immediately following the six sermons, during Lent in 401.   Severian’s interest in a scientific approach to the text receives mention – as does the complaint of his audience that it wasn’t theological enough!  Montfaucon’s dislike of Severian comes through – the monk was doubtless influenced by the enmity between St John Chrysostom and Severian here – and a few snippets of this are translated.  The discussion of different approaches to exegesis is interesting, but diffuse.

The defects of the introduction, and indeed the lack of reader-focused explanatory comments in the translation, are probably the result of two factors.  Firstly this was the last work by Dr Hill, who died soon afterwards.  Secondly the series editors were just beginning their task, and were probably too inexperienced or unable to exert much control over the translator.

But these criticisms are minor points, easily fixed by consulting other books on Severian.  The core of the book is a very solid, academic translation of the key works of Severian of Gabala.  IVP are to be commended on making it accessible to us all.

  1. [1]Remco F. Regtuit, Severian of Gabala: Homily on the Incarnation of Christ (CPG 4204). VU University Press, Amsterdam, 1992.
  2. [2]Published on this site: so far of De pace, and De fide et de lege natura.
  3. [3]The volume also contains a translation of book 1 of the Commentary on Genesis by the Venerable Bede, which will not be reviewed here.

Severian of Gabala, “De fide et de lege natura” – now online in English

Bryson Sewell has made the first English translation of another work by the 4th century preacher, Severian of Gabala.  This one is On faith and the natural law (De fide et de lege natura).  It is a homily on faith and works, in terms that would undoubtedly have interested Martin Luther, had he known it.

The item may be found on here, or below:

The work is public domain – do whatever you wish with it!

A Coptic life of Severian of Gabala (!)

Severian of Gabala was the enemy of John Chrysostom.  The latter’s importance necessarily involved Severian’s eclipse, and all the accounts of their quarrel are written from John’s point of view.  Or so I thought.  But an email from Albocicade, a correspondent of this blog, reveals a “Life of St. Severian of Gabala”, in the Arabic Synaxary of the monophysites.

It is understandable that the Copts would preserve some kind of account.  For although they also revere Chrysostom, it is also a fact that Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, was also an enemy of Chrysostom, and is also revered as a saint.  The rehabilitation of Severian is a necessary consequence of that of Theophilus.

Interestingly there is a mention of a Montanist congregation at Gabala.  It is perhaps doubtful that the life is anything but fiction, however.

This text was published by René Basset with a French translation in the Patrologia Orientalis 1 (1907).  It is short, so I shall give an English version from the French here.  The life of Severian follows that of “Saint Dioscorus”.

    *    *    *    *

7th day of Tut (= 4th September)

On this day rested in the Lord the Holy and Virtuous Father Severian, bishop of Gabala.  The name of his father was Valerian.  He studied profane philosophy at Athens, and went to Caesarea where he studied the sciences.  Then he returned to Rome, where he studied the ecclesiastical sciences, and learned by heart all the ancient and modern books, in a few years.  After this his parents died, leaving him a considerable and immeasurable fortune.  He wished to give this to Christ, in order to receive a hundred-fold reward in its place.  He built a hospice for strangers, the unfortunate, and the poor; he placed attendants there, to receive the money for the poor, such that even today these places are called by his name.  His uncle was the governor of the town; he complained about him to the emperor Honorius, because he had dissipated his fortune saying, “I give it to our Lord Christ in order to receive the equivalent [in heaven], as he said in his gospel.”  The emperor admired this, and ordered him not to separate himself from him in his palace, to go with him to church and to pass the entire night in prayer.  For the emperor also was a righteous man: he led the life of a monk and wore a hair-shirt under his royal robe.  The patriarch (pope) of Rome was then St. Innocent; he learned from God that Severian was doing good to huge numbers, and began to honour and venerate him.  The saint [Severian] was loved by the masses; his reputation reached Theodosius, who was reigning at Constantinople.  When the saint saw the respect in which he was held, he feared that his trouble was in vain, and decided to leave secretly.  An angel of the Lord appeared to him, and ordered him to go to the town of Gabala, where he would lead many souls.  He left by night, accompanied by his disciple Theodosius, to whom he had given the monastic habit.  The Lord sent him a light in the form of a wheel which preceded him until he arrived at Gabala.  There was there a convent at the head of which was a holy man.  He learned in a dream about St. Severian.  He went out to meet him, and made known to him his vision, and the saint was extremely surprised.  His history followed him to this place, and an innumerable crowd gathered around him.  The emperor Theodosius sent abbots to grow the convents which he founded, after an angel of the Lord had determined the place where they should be.  These became a refuge for many souls, and the Lord worked by him many miracles.

Among these, the daughter of the governor of Gabala had a demon in her, who said to her father, “If you make Severian leave this place, I will go out of her.”  When the father went to find Severian and told him about the matter, asking him to heal her, the saint wrote a note in which he said, “In the name of Jesus, the Christ, you shall go out of her.”

A troop of Samaritans and other people attached themselves to the soldiers, and wanted to get into the convent.  The saint made darkness come upon them and they remained for three days without sight, until they implored him with many tears, and he sent them away.

Likewise all the monks who were under his authority prayed over anyone who was ill and they were healed.  He encouraged and instructed each of them so well that they became like angels.

The bishop of this town was named Philadelphus.  He learned in a dream sent by God that the saint would occupy his place.  He sent to almost all the communities and recommended them to support him in order (to fulfil) the intention of God and, following the opinion of the righteous rulers and leaders, he was made bishop and began with a great struggle to protect his flock.

In that town there was a Jew named Saktar, very learned and proud that he was possessed of the law of Moses.  He went to find the saint and disputed with him, but no word was able to come out of his mouth.  Then the Lord informed him [Severian] in a dream that this man [Saktar] would be part of the blessed flock.  When Saktar returned to his house, he saw in a dream places of torment, and a voice saying, “Here are the faithless Jews and those who don’t believe in our Lord the Messiah.”  The next day he went to find St. Severian, fell at his feet and asked to become a Christian.  He baptised him, him and all the people of his house.  When the other Jews learned that their leader had become a Christian, they believed, were baptised, and became Christians as if they had been born into the religion of Christ.

Likewise there is another sect of magicians who are called Montanists.  When the saint asked them to enter the faith, they did not do so, because they had confidence in their art.  In fact, when a man came towards them, they would throw dust in his face and he would see nothing.  Then the saint asked our Lord the Messiah, with many tears, to bring them into the holy flock.  The Lord sent upon them, but not on the Christians, various illnesses like those with which the Egyptians were affected before.  They recognised that this was the consequence of their disobedience towards the saint.  They went to find him and became Christians.  The town formed but a single flock.  The demon screamed in pain and cried out, in the form of an old man with torn clothing, “I am tormented on all sides: Egypt is filled with holy monks; at Rome, there is Innocent; at Constantinople, John Chrysostom; This place remains to me, and Severian has taken it from me.”

The Persians sent a message to the kings Theodosius and Arcadius, wishing to make war.  They sent the letter to the saint.  When he learned of it, he wrote to them to comfort them: “We belong to Christ; our realm comes from Christ; we have therefore no need of arms, lances or men”; and he reminded them one by one of all the things that God had done to kings, before the forty-day fast; and the Persians went away.

As for the business of John Chrysostom with the empress, the saint came with all the bishops.  He addressed all kinds of remonstrances to the empress, saying that John Chrysostom had done nothing which deserved exile.  When she did not listen, he returned to his town.

He composed discourses, exhortations and sermons which are copied in the church down to the present.  He grew old and attained the age of 100.  Ten days before he died, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and invited him to leave.  He made his recommendations to his flock, and fell asleep in the Lord.  His death happened two years before that of St. John Chrysostom, who died the same year as Epiphanius of Cyprus.  The body of the blessed Severian was buried fittingly; funeral orations and panegyrics were made, and he was laid to rest in the tomb.  May his prayer be with us.  Amen.

Severian bibliography updated again

I’ve done a little more work on the Severian bibliography, so here’s an updated version.  It’s still a work in progress, but at the moment I have other things preventing me working on it.

  • Severian of Gabala – works (PDF)
  • Severian of Gabala – works (.docx)

UPDATE: Later version here.

English translations of Chrysostom “De Severiano Recipiendo” and Severian’s “De pace” now online

Long ago I became aware that there were two related sermons in the Patrologia Graeca.  The first was given by John Chrysostom, after the empress had interceded to patch up a dispute between him and another bishop, and entitled De Severiano RecipiendoThat Severian must be received.  The other was delivered the next day, by his enemy, Severian of Gabala, and entitled De paceOn peace.

The peace did not last, and Chrysostom was driven into an exile from which he did not return.

The two sermons are very short, in the PG, and in Latin.  They reach us as part of a collection of sermons, made in antiquity, perhaps by Ananias of Celeda.  They take Greek sermons, and produce abbreviated Latin versions of them.

The original text of Chrysostom’s sermon has not reached us; but Severian’s Greek was discovered in the monastery of Mar Saba, and published in 1891.

I first tried to get these translated longer ago than I can remember.  This failed.  I then had another go in 2010, which also failed after a short sample – 3 sentences – was produced.

After his work on the 3 sermons of Chrysostom on the Devil, Bryson Sewell has kindly rattled off a translation of both of these.  It is great to have them; and even better to have them so quickly.

Both are of the highest interest.  Chrysostom’s sermon is interrupted by the cheers of his supporters, even in the abbreviated version; while Severian, clearly preaching to a not-very-friendly crowd, strains every nerve and produces a marvellous display of rhetoric.

As ever, the results are now online, and in the public domain.  Copy freely and use as you will.

These files will also appear on once its new and wonky uploader allows it!

UPDATE: Now at here.

UPDATE: Files updated to correct an error in the introduction – the speeches were delivered before John’s first exile, not after it.

Severian of Gabala – bibliography (updated)

I uploaded a list of the works of Severian of Gabala here.  I’ve worked on it a bit more since, and revised versions are now available:

  • Severian of Gabala – works (PDF)
  • Severian of Gabala – works (DOCX)

I don’t seem to have done anything on these for a week, so best to park them here!

UPDATE: Newer version here.