Category Archives: Patristics

A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe

The book A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865) is a seminal piece of literature. This well written work helps to provide valuable insights for the modern reader with the backstory on the conversion of Europe from a mystical to a rational society.

This book was written by William Lecky, an Irish-Anglican historian and politician (1838–1903). He greatly succeeded in studying and narrating the complex and evolving web of rationalism, morals, miracles, the supernatural, Catholicism, and Protestantism into a systematic and comprehensive portrait.

His work assists this blog in three different ways. Firstly, it demonstrates why the patristic writings were blotted out of the modern history on the doctrine of tongues. Lecky provided the logic behind this notable absence. (The following article on this blog The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy covers this in detail.)

Secondly, the book provides some history behind the doctrine of cessation in the protestant movement. He gives some hints as to why this doctrine arose.

Thirdly, he contributes to another interest of this blog and that is with the intersection of faith and mental health. He outlined a period that was consistently engaged in moral and spiritual purity – one which was percieved to bring them safety, health, stability, and protection from the elements. It was the antidote for humanity’s ills. Science was considered tertiary in this struggle for security. The greatest enemy to these four aims was the devil and his army of angels. Society felt that the active pursuit and limitation of the powers of evil would ensure their personal physical, emotional, and spiritual security. This fight against the devil allowed the excess imagination of many to run wild and caused countless executions. This supernatural crusade was especially against women. Many of whom were accused of being witches. Most of these women today would likely be listed with some form of mental illness, but back in this period, there was little concept of such a thing. It is a sad chapter in Western history.

However, this was not always the exclusive approach by the Church. Jean Claude Larchet demonstrates in his book Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing that at least from the Eastern Christian Church perspective, the treatment of mental health by the institutional church has had some progressive and merciful aspects too.

The reader must keep in mind that the irrational social response to the fear of the unknown cannot be restricted or blamed on the christian faith. It is a problem of the human psyche. Today we wrestle with the same problems of fear. Our world has significantly changed after the events of 9/11. The ever apparent fear of terrorists at the door have weakened citizen rights and has created serious suspicion upon any Muslim or anybody who looks Arab. The United States decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim dominated countries from entering their land underscores this irrationalism. This is but one of many examples. North American society is now driven by an irrational culture of fear in almost all of its decision making.

Many readers will not have the time to soak in Lecky’s voluminous treaty. The following are snippets from his work. The book itself is available at the Online Library of Liberty.

Quotes from A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe

Pg. 27 “There is certainly no change in the history of the last 300 years more striking, or suggestive of more curious enquiries, than that which has taken place in the estimate of the miraculous. At present, nearly all educated men receive an account of a miracle taking place in their own day, with an absolute and even derisive incredulity which dispenses with all examination of the evidence. Although they may be entirely unable to give a satisfactory explanation of some phenomena that have taken place, they never on that account dream of ascribing them to supernatural agency, such an hypothesis being, as they believe, altogether beyond the range of reasonable discussion. Yet, a few centuries ago, there was no solution to which the mind of man turned more readily in every perplexity. A miraculous account was then universally accepted as perfectly credible, probable, and ordinary. There was scarcely a village or a church that had not, at some time, been the scene of supernatural interposition. [Pg. 28] The powers of light and the powers of darkness were regarded as visibly struggling for the mastery. Saintly miracles, supernatural cures, startling judgments, visions, prophecies, and prodigies of every order, attested the activity of the one, while witchcraft and magic, with all their attendant horrors, were the visible manifestations of the other.”

Pg. 32 is in reference to cleansing the nation of perceived evil, and of demons, witchcraft and sorcery, the author goes into great detail showing the innumerable deaths that were caused by this superstitious conflagration.

Pg. 32 “Such was the attitude of the Church of Rome with reference to this subject, but on this ground the Reformers had no conflict with their opponents. The credulity which Luther manifested on all matters connected with diabolical intervention, was amazing, even for his age; and, when speaking of witchcraft, his language was emphatic and unhesitating. ‘I would have no compassion on these witches,’ he exclaimed, ‘I would burn them all!’ In England the establishment of the Reformation was the signal for an immediate outburst of the superstition; and there, as elsewhere its decline was represented by the clergy as the direct consequence and the exact measure of the progress of religious scepticism. In Scotland, where the Reformed ministers exercised greater influence than in any other country, and where the witch trials fell almost entirely into their hands, the persecution was proportionately atrocious.”

Pg. 36 “Indeed, the philosophy of madness is mainly due to Pinel, who wrote long after the superstition had vanished; and even if witchcraft had been treated as a disease, this would not have destroyed the belief that it was Satanic, in an age when all the more startling diseases were deemed supernatural, and when theologians maintained that Satan frequently acted by the employment of natural laws.”

Pg. 37 “It may be stated, I believe, as an invariable truth, that, whenever a religion which rests in a great measure on a system of terrorism, and which paints in dark and forcible colours the misery of men and the power of evil spirits, is intensely realised, it will engender the belief in witchcraft of [pg. 38] magic. The panic which its teachings will create, will overbalance the faculties of multitudes. The awful images of evil spirits of superhuman power, and of untiring malignity, will continually haunt the imagination. They will blend with the illusions of age or sorrow or sickness, and will appear with an especial vividness in the more alarming and unexplained phenomena of nature.”

Pg. 63 “Amid all this strange teaching, there ran, however, one rein of a darker character. The more terrible phenomena of nature were entirely unmoved by exorcisms and sprinklings, and they were invariably attributed to supernatural interposition. In every nation it has been believed, at an early period, that pestilences, famines, comets, rainbows, eclipses, and other rare and startling phenomena, were effected, not by the ordinary sequence of natural laws, but by the direct intervention of spirits. In this manner, the predisposition towards the [Pg. 64] miraculous, which is the characteristic of all semi-civilised nations, has been perpetuated, and the clergy have also frequently identified these phenomena with acts of rebellion against themselves. The old Catholic priests were consuin mate masters of these arts, and every rare natural event was, in the middle ages, an occasion for the most intense terrorism. Thus, in the eighth century, a fearful famine afflicted France, and was generally represented as a consequence of the repugnance which the French people manifested to the payment of tithes. In the ninth century, a total eclipse of the sun struck terror through Europe, and is said to have been one of the causes of the death of a French king.”

Pg. 69 “We find then that, all through the middle ages, most of the crimes that were afterwards collected by the inquisitors in the treatises on witchcraft were known; and that many of them were not unfrequently punished. At the same time the executions, during six centuries, were probably not as numerous as those which often took place during a single decade of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the twelfth century, however, the subject passed into an entirely new phase. The conception of a witch, as we now conceive it—that is to say, of a woman who had entered into a deliberate compact with Satan, who was endowed with the power of working miracles whenever she pleased, and who was continually transported through the air to the Sabbath, where she paid her homage to the Evil One—first appeared. The [Pg. 70] panic created by the belief advanced at first slowly, but after a time with a fearfully accelerated rapidity. Thousands of victims were sometimes burnt alive in a few years. Every country in Europe was stricken with the wildest panic. Hundreds of the ablest judges were selected for the extirpation of the crime. A vast literature was created on the subject, and it was not until a considerable portion of the eighteenth century had passed away, that the executions finally ceased.”

Pg. 81 “When the belief is confined to the lower class, its existence will be languishing and unprogressive. But when legislators denounce it in [Pg. 82] their laws, and popes in their bulls; when priests inveigh against it in their pulpits, and inquisitors burn thousands at the stake, the imaginations of men will be inflamed, the terror will prove contagious, and the consequent delusions be multiplied.”

Pg. 84 -85 “I know, indeed, few stranger, and at the same time more terrible pictures, than are furnished by the history of witchcraft during the century that preceded and the century that followed the Reformation. Wherever the conflict of opinions was raging among the educated, witchcraft, like an attendant shadow, pursued its course among the ignorant; and Protestants and Catholics vied with each other in the zeal with which they prosecuted it. Never was the power of imagination—that strange faculty which casts the shadow of its images over the whole creation, and combines all the phenomena of life according to its own archetypes—more strikingly evinced. Superstitious and terror-stricken, the minds of men were impelled irresistibly towards the miraculous and the Satanic, and they found them upon every side. The elements of imposture blended so curiously with the elements of delusion, that it is now impossible to separate them. Sometimes an ambitious woman, braving the dangers of her [Pg. 85] act, boldly claimed supernatural power, and the haughtiest and the most courageous cowered humbly at her presence. Sometimes a husband attempted, in the witch courts, to cut the tie which his church had pronounced indissoluble; and numbers of wives have, in consequence, perished at the stake. Sometimes a dexterous criminal availed himself of the panic; and, directing a charge of witchcraft against his accuser, escaped himself with impunity. Sometimes, too, a personal grudge was avenged by the accusation, or a real crime was attributed to sorcery; or a hail-storm, or a strange disease, suggested the presence of a witch. But, for the most part, the trials represent pure and unmingled delusions. The defenders of the belief were able to maintain that multitudes had voluntarily confessed themselves guilty of commerce with the Evil One, and had persisted in their confessions till death. Madness is always peculiarly frequent during great religious or political revolutions; and, in the sixteenth century, all its forms were absorbed in the system of witchcraft, and caught the colour of the prevailing predisposition.”

Pg. 86-87 “It is very difficult for us in the present day to do justice to these works, or to realise the points of view from which they were written. A profound scepticism on all subjects [Pg. 87] connected with the Devil underlies the opinions of almost every educated man, and renders it difficult even to conceive a condition of thought in which that spirit was the object of an intense and realised belief. An anecdote which involves the personal intervention of Satan is now regarded as quite as intrinsically absurd, and unworthy of serious attention, as an anecdote of a fairy or of a sylph. When, therefore, a modern reader turns over the pages of an old treatise on witchcraft, and finds hundreds of such aneedotes related with the gravest assurance, he is often inclined to depreciate very unduly the intellect of an author who represents a condition of thought so unlike his own. The cold indifference to human suffering which these writers display gives an additional bias to his reason; while their extraordinary pedantry, their execrable Latin, and their gross scientific blunders, furnish ample materials for his ridicule. Besides this, Sprenger, who is at once the most celebrated, and, perhaps, the most credulous member of his class, unfortunately for his reputation, made some ambitious excursions into another field, and immortalised himself by a series of etymological blunders, which have been the delight of all succeeding scholars.”

Pg. 102-103 “The foregoing pages will, I trust, be sufficient to elucidate the leading causes upon which witchcraft depended. They will show that it resulted, not from accidental circum stances, individual eccentricities, or even scientific ignorance but from a general predisposition to see Satanic agency in life. It grew from, and it reflected, the prevailing modes of religious thought; and it declined only when those modes were weakened or destroyed. In almost every period of the [Pg. 103] middle ages, there had been a few men who in some degree dissented from the common superstitions; but their opinions were deemed entirely incomprehensible, and they exercised no appreciable influence upon their contemporaries.”

Pg. 114-115 “From the publication of the essays of Montaigne, we may date the influence of that girted and ever enlarging rationalistic school, who gradually effected the destruction of the belief in witchcraft, not by refuting [Pg. 115] or explaining its evidence, but simply by making men more and more sensible of its intrinsic absurdity.”

Pg. 119 “The history of witchcraft in Protestant countries differs so little from its history in Catholic ones, that it is not necessary to dwell upon it at much length. In both cases, a tendency towards the miraculous was the cause of the belief; and the degree of religious terrorism regulated the intensity of the persecution.”

Pg. 157 “Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.”

Pg. 159 “All this has now passed away. It has passed away, not only in lands where Protestantism is triumphant, but also in those where the Roman Catholic faith is still acknowledged, and where the mediæval saints are still venerated.”

Pg. 161 “If these propositions be true—and I scarcely think that any candid person who seriously examines the subject can [Pg. 162] question them—they lead irresistibly to a very important general conclusion. They show that the repugnance of men to believe miraculous narratives is in direct proportion to the progress of civilisation and the diffusion of knowledge.”

Pg. 163 “We find, accordingly, that from the very beginning, Protestantism looked upon [Pg. 164] modern miracles (except those which were comprised under the head of witchcraft) with an aversion and distrust that contrasts remarkably with the unhesitating credulity of its opponents. The history of its sects exhibits, indeed, some alleged miracles, which were, apparently, the result of ignorance or enthusiasm, and a very few which were obvious impositions.”

Pg. 169 “Middleton met it by an attack upon the veracity of the Fathers, which was so eloquent, so uncompromising, and so admirably directed, that all England soon rang with the controversy. He contended that the religious leaders of the fourth century had admitted, eulogised, and habitually acted upon principles that were diametrically opposed, not simply to the aspirations of a transcendent sanctity, but to the dictates of the most common honesty.”

Pg. 171 “If the Fathers were in truth men of the most unbounded credulity and of the laxest veracity; if the sense of the importance of dogmas had, in their minds, completely superseded the sense of rectitude, it was absurd to invest them with this extraordinary veneration. They might still be reverenced as men of undoubted sincerity, and of the noblest heroism; they might still be cited as witnesses to the belief of their time, and as representing the tendencies of its intellect; but their pre-eminent authority had passed away. The landmarks of English theology were removed. The traditions on which it rested were disturbed. It had entered into new conditions, and must be defended by new arguments.”

Pg. 186 “Whatever is lost by Catholicism is gained by Rationalism; wherever the spirit of Rationalism recedes, the spirit of Catholicism advances. Towards the close of the last century France threw off her allegiance to Christianity, endeavoured to efface all the traditions of her past, and proclaimed a new era in the religious history of mankind. She soon repented of her temerity, and retired from a position which she had found untenable. Half the nation became ultramontane Roman Catholics; the other half became indifferent or Rationalist.”

Pg. 194-195 “. . .and the spirit of Rationalism has become the great centre to which the intellect of [Pg. 195] Europe is manifestly tending. If we trace the progress of the movement from its origin to the present day, we find that it has completely altered the whole aspect and complexion of religion. When it began, Christianity was regarded as a system entirely beyond the range and scope of human reason: it was impious to question; it was impious to examine; it was impious to discriminate. On the other hand, it was visibly instinct with the supernatural. Miracles of every order and degree of magnitude were flashing forth incessantly from all its parts. They excited no scepticism and no surprise. The miraculous element pervaded all literature, explained all difficulties, consecrated all doctrines. Every unusual phenomenon was immediately referred to a supernatural agency, not because there was a passion for the improbable, but because such an explanation seemed far more simple and easy of belief than the obscure theories of science. In the present day Christianity is regarded as a system which courts the strictest investigation, and which, among many other functions, was designed to vivify and stimulate all the energies of man. The idea of the miraculous, which a superficial observer might have once deemed its most prominent characteristic, has been driven from almost all its entrenchments, and now quivers faintly and feebly through the mists of eighteen hundred years.”

Believer/Unbeliever, Faithful/Infidel, What is best?

A question of properly translating πιστός and ἄπιστος in Byzantine Greek Church literature.

Should they be translated as believer/unbeliever, or faithful/infidel?

The translation of believer is not difficult to accept, though it is a tad ambiguous in today’s English, but unbeliever is too neutral. It does not reflect the intensity ascribed to by the majority of the original writers. Infidel may be better suited. It is a strong word that has near racist implications based on religious grounds, and has especially been propagated by media coverage of radical Islamic actions against those who do not share their beliefs. In reference to some Byzantine Church writings, infidel feels closer to the writer’s intent. Fidelis, which is the opposite word to unfaithful, and should be considered to replace believer is not used in contemporary English jargon so that is eliminated. Faithful is a better alternative than believer because it is more specific to matters of faith. Unfaithful has shifted in contemporary English to indicate a serious breech of trust in a marriage or partnership, and is ruled out. So I think faithful/infidel should be used more often in translating many Patristic texts.

This question has come up a number of times while I have been translating ecclesiastical Greek works. Didymus of Alexandria in past readings, and presently, John Chrysostom’s work, De Sancte Pentecoste have urged this question. Both these authors are by modern definition, fanatical Christians. Their use of these words are strongly charged, and I think using believer/unbeliever underplays their intent. However, the use of faithful/infidel may make too close an association with the modern readers idea of reckless fanaticism, and may be an overstatement.

There is no denial that this type of fanaticism existed. The distinction between faithful–infidel was so strong that infidels had lost status as fully human. I cannot pretend to know a detailed history of the words in question, nor trace the etymology in any minutiae, but can only offer general assumptions. I do know the definition of infidels being less than human had existed until the 8th century under the great European leader Charlemagne. Charlemagne previously forced conversions on all his defeated territories. If they refused, they would be killed, with perhaps the Jews being the only exception because of their religious heritage – though their status was considered one of the lowest ranks. This destruction of the pagans who refused to convert was considered a normative practice, and brought on the ire of two Church leaders, Alcuin of York, and St. Paulinus of Aquiliea who “insisted that conversion was the work of God, not of man, and instruction should be in terms the people could understand and not based on fear.”(1)

Perhaps there are other alternatives and ways to translate which I have overlooked and am not aware of. Any feedback by translators or historians who have grappled with this problem, and have come up with a solution would greatly be appreciated.

References   [ + ]

Origen on Knowledge

How to properly translate and understand Origen when he uses knowledge words.

Origen, a third century Church Father considered by many historians to be a great writer and thinker, was very much steeped in Greek literature, structure and thought. This was very much reflected in his writings.

This is especially found in the catena ascribed to him on I Corinthians.(1) See Origen on the Gift of Tongues for the actual translation One is hard-pressed to comprehend the semantics of his knowledge words. This applies to the majority of his other works as well.

Understanding these three words: γνώσις–gnôsis, εἲδησις–eidêsis, and επιστήμη–epistêmê are critical. These words all pertain to different nuances of the word knowledge. First of all, the English vocabulary does not distinguish between different forms of knowledge as the Greeks did. It is a problem of the limitations of the English language. The demand is then to do some dynamic translating which requires personal interpretation. So the the culture, background, and time-frame must be understood to properly reflect Origen’s intent.

The second problem is understanding what Origen meant specifically by these words. The concepts of gnôsis, eidenai and epistêmê have not been static and it depends on which era, culture and religion it is being used in. He was one of the first Christian authors attempting to integrate such terms and may not reflect medieval usage or what we modernly understand these terms to be.

There have been many attempts to distinguish these words with mixed results. Here are a number of examples:

  • Ellen Pagels attempted to do this in her book The Gnostic Gospels:

    …gnosis is not primarily rational knowledge. The Greek language distinguishes between scientific or reflective knowledge (‘He knows mathematics’) and knowing through observation or experience (‘He knows me’). As the gnostics use the term, we could translate it as ‘insight’, for gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself… Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level is to know God; this is the secret of gnosis.”(The Gnostic Gospels, p xviii-xix) Bentley Layton provides a similar definition in The Gnostic Scriptures: “The ancient Greek language could easily differentiate between two kinds of knowledge… One kind is propositional knowing – the knowledge that something is the case (‘I know Athens is in Greece’). Greek has several words for this kind of knowing-for example, eidenai. The other kind of knowing is personal aquaintance with an object, often a person. (‘I know Athens well’; ‘I have known Susan for many years’). In Greek the word for this is gignoskein…The corresponding Greek noun is gnosis. If for example two people have been introduced to one another, each can claim to have gnosis or aquaintance of one another. If one is introduced to God, one has gnosis of God. The ancient gnostics described salvation as a kind of gnosis or aquaintance, and the ultimate object of that aquaintance was nothing less than God” (The Gnostic Scriptures, p 9).”(2)As

  • The influential modern German Philosopher Martin Heidegger added his own thoughts to this:

    To know a person is sometimes eidenai, sometimes gignoskein, which, with the noun gnosis, often has the flavour of knowledge by acquaintance. Epistasthai, ‘to know, etc.’, is, for Heidegger, ‘to be on top of [vorstehen, lit. ‘stand before’] something, know one’s way around it’ – he associates it (controversially) with histanai, histathai, ‘to place, set (up)’, ‘to stand’. The derived noun episteme, ‘knowledge’, means approaching something, knowing one’s way around it, mastering it, penetrating its substantial content (XXIX, 49). Aristotle gave it the meaning of ‘science’, but in a sense distinct from modern scientific ‘research [Forschung]’ and ‘experiment’ (AWP. 74/121. Cf. XIX. 31ff., 91ff.)(3)Michael Inwood. A Heidegger Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Reprinted 2000. Pg. 112 as foundA Heidegger Dictionary

    Science can be one of the common terms used for epistêmê, but it conjures up the wrong images in the English reader’s mind. The translator should emphasize skill or expertise within this context.

  • The above solutions do not easily work with Origen’s Commentary on Corinthians. A more religious framework is needed. This can be found at Wikipedia:

    Gnosis (from one of the Greek words for knowledge, gnôsis is the spiritual knowledge of a saint[1] or mystically enlightened human being. In the cultures of the term (Byzantine and Hellenic) gnosis was a special knowledge or insight into the infinite, divine and uncreated in all and above all,[2] rather than knowledge strictly into the finite, natural or material world which is called Epistemological knowledge. [3] Gnosis is a transcendential as well as mature understanding.[4] It indicates direct spiritual experiential knowledge[5] and intuitive knowledge, mystic rather than that from rational or reasoned thinking. Gnosis itself is obtained through understanding at which one can arrive via inner experience or contemplation such as an internal epiphany of intuition and external epiphany such as the Theophany.(4)As found at: Wikipedia.

    At first reading, one may conclude that this Wikipedia text was a result of medieval Christian writings, so more inquiry has to be done. Stanford University’s webpage on philosophy is a good starting point. They outline the usage by the neo-Platonic position of Plotinus, whom Origen studied with, “In the first place, epistêmê refers to the particular cognitive state of the first hypostasis from the One, Nous, in which there is an identity between knowledge and what is known (VI. 6. 15). Our souls gain true knowledge by the presence of Nous, although Nous knows non-discursively while our souls characteristically know in a discursive way (V. 9. 7; IV. 3.18). It does all these things with certain knowledge (epistêmê) and not by opinion (I. 3. 4).”(5)As found at: Here Plotinus defines epistêmê as a “certain knowledge.”The translator has to be careful about the Christian definition of gnosis, as the early Church fathers such as Clement used the term but made it distinct from the actual term used by the gnostic movement itself. “To be sure, he constantly opposes the concept of gnosis as defined by the Gnostics.”(6) here.

  • Another Wikipedia articles describes the problem also can be found in a number of contemporary languages: “In 1865, philosopher John Grote distinguished between what he described as “knowledge of acquaintance” and “knowledge-about”. Grote noted that these distinctions were made in many languages. He cited Greek (gnônai and eidenai), Latin (noscere and scire), German (kennen and wissen), and French (connaître and savoir) as examples.”(7) The reference is found at Wikipedia.

  • Arthur Versluis, in his book, Magic and Mysticism: an Introduction to Western Esotericism, is one of the best sources for defining the early Church understanding of these words. He documents their use by Origen and other Christian leaders in this same time-frame:

    If heretical Gnosticism in its various forms died out relatively early, the concept of gnosis did not disappear from the Christian world. While heresiarchs like Valentinus and Basilides were remembered in the context of diatribes against them, still the concept of an orthodox Christian gnosis did continue into the medieval period through the work of those we might call “orthodox gnostics:” chiefly Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and most of all, Dionysius the Areopagite. These figures, and particularly the latter two, were imensely influential in later Christianity, and they insisted on the possibility, indeed, the necessity for direct experiential spiritual knowledge. Of these three seminal Christian writers, Origen discusses gnosis the least and largely by implication. For instance, in his Commentary on John, Origen distinguishes between “The Somatic [Bodily] and the Spiritual Gospel” and insists on the importance of both. He affirms the bodily coming of Christ but also affirms the immense importance of John’s “eternal Gospel,” properly called the “spiritual Gospel,” which concerns the “mysteries” and “enigma” of Christ’s life and words. We must, Origen concludes, be Christians “both somatically and spiritually” and partake in the Word (Christ) (I.9). And in his De Principiis. Origen alludes to the celestial “ordering and arrangement of the world,” to the “holy and blessed orders” through which humanity can ascend back to the condition of happiness from which many have fallen (VI.2). Here Origen is referring to the hierarchic orders of thrones, principalities, and dominions, of angelic hierarchies that, by implication, are realms through which humans can ascend to return to their divine condition. But whereas Origen is somewhat oblique about gnosis-it exists as a concept implicit in his work-Clement of Alexandria is much more implicit. In his Stromata, or Miscellanies, Clement writes at length about how “the gnostic alone is truly pious” (VII.1) and affirms that gnostic souls “surpass in the grandeur of contemplation” even the “holy ranks,” for the gnostic who is perfect in virtue and contemplation attains to the “nearest likeness possible to God and his son.” Clement is not at all endorsing heretical Gnosticism but rather is insisting on how gnosis is “a perfecting of man as man, [which is] consummated by acquaintance with divine things,” for by gnosis is faith perfected” (VII.10) In brief, the “gnostic soul, adorned with perfect virtue, is the earthly image of the divine power” (VII.11). The “life of the gnostic,” in Clement’s own view, is “nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord” (VII.16).(8)Arthur Versluis Magic and Mysticism: an Introduction to Western Esotericism.  Pg. 37

Perhaps too much is being emphasized out of these words. Origen quotes I Corinthians 12:8-10 in the Header 48 “ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως” and it simply means gnôsis as knowledge with no hidden, secret or divine meaning. The Septuagint also reflects this with epistêmê meaning only knowledge, ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ σοφία, ἐν δὲ πολλῷ βίῳ ἐπιστήμη.” “In length of time is wisdom, and in long life knowledge.”(9)As found at Elpenos Job 12:12

The modern Pentecostal movement may provide a clue. They make this distinction. There is an intellectual knowing, which is the result of using ones deductive reasoning and then there is knowing — a type of knowledge that changes ones perceptions and decision making processes, resulting in transformation, personal growth and changed behaviour. It is the prime impulse that motivates the Christian life and witness. It is not necessarily possessed by those with intellectual ability. They also believe that the intellect on occasion can impede the real knowing.

One also has to factor in two more important things: Origen was firstly a Christian religious zealot, and he not only was influenced by Greek philosophy, but by Jewish writings as well. He cannot be interpreted solely from classical Greek influences but all three. There isn’t strong enough evidence to demonstrate that Origen departed substantially from the Biblical use, but it is fair to assume a slight shift had occurred based on his play of gnôsis against eidenai, but not to the degree many of the above authors have suggested. With these above in mind Origen means gnôsis to be simply knowledge, the type that changes ones world-view and thought processes, ultimately being expressed in action. This is why Clement could write, “the gnostic alone is truly pious”.(10)IBID. Arthur Versluis, Magic and mysticism: an introduction to Western Esotericism.Pg. 37 So it is best to be left as ‘knowledge’. Eidenai is simply a factual knowing. ‘Grasping’ or ‘comprehending’ may be the most suitable English words as it refers the attempt to understand something from an intellectual perspective. Epistêmê is the skill, art or expertise in acquiring facts.

One must understand as well that Origen wasn’t trying to use mysterious philosophical words in his time to illustrate some esoteric christian life. He was attempting to be very practical. His concern in his coverage of I Corinthians was not in the literalness of the text but a personal application; how a person can be transformed and make positive decisions for daily living.■

References   [ + ]

Antisemitism in the Ancient Church

Trying to make sense out of the antisemitism found in a large corpus of Christian literature.

If anyone begins to read ecclesiastical writings with keen interest, it will be inevitable that one has to struggle with the anti-semitic remarks in ancient Christian literature. Anti-semitism is an over-simplification. This was a small part of a much larger problem. The church viewed anyone outside of the christian community as less-than-human especially Scythians (Russian type of peoples). The political and military aspirations of Christianity in some epochs sought to annihilate any person or communities that that did not embrace its message. Jews were lucky, due to their theological history, and were often spared. Although they got to live, they were second class citizens. At least they could tell their story of oppression. The many other pagans and whole unclassified communities who refused to convert have stories that will never be told.

Many familiar with Patristics will normally go first to the thoughts of John Chrysostom and will surprisingly find that he held the Jewish people with contempt. If he spoke today and wrote contemporary pieces on the Church and Jews, he would be charged with a hate crime under Canadian law.

It may be fairer to treat him in a little better light, but not much more. His intentions were defensive more than offensive because Judaism was a competing religion for his adherents. There existed at that time a warm relationship between Christianity and Judaism that allowed both parties to freely intermingle on many points, and there was a strong attraction by many of his adherents to Judaism. This proved to be a great challenge to Chrysostom to address. It was not a case of the stereotyped lowly Jew versus the Goliath of the Graeco-Roman Christian religion. It was a match of equals.

Antioch had a history of good community and Jewish relations, which undermined Chrysostom’s and the Church’s influence.

The following is a demonstration of how he reacted, and it is ugly:

“But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. Jeremiah said: “Your house has become for me the den of a hyena”. He does not simply say “of wild beast”, but “of a filthy wild beast”, and again: “ have abandoned my house, I have cast off my inheritance”. But when God forsakes a people, what hope of salvation is left? When God forsakes a place, that place becomes the dwelling of demons.”(1)Chrysostom. Against the Jews. Homily 1, 3:1.

Chrysostom vehemently wanted to break the relationship for his own political purposes:

“Many, I know, respect the Jews and think that their present way of life is a venerable one. This is why I hasten to uproot and tear out this deadly opinion. I said that the synagogue is no better than a theater and I bring forward a prophet as my witness. Surely the Jews are not more deserving of belief than their prophets. “You had a harlot’s brow; you became shameless before all”. Where a harlot has set herself up, that place is a brothel.”(2)IBID. Chrysostom. Against the Jews. Homily 1, 3:1.

Another clue that motivated Chrysostom’s posture was a third group called the Anomoeans:

“And so it is that I hasten to anticipate this danger and prevent it. This is what physicians do. They first check the diseases which are most urgent and acute. But the danger from this sickness is very closely related to the danger from the other; since the Anomoeans’ impiety is akin to that of the Jews, my present conflict is akin to my former one. And there is a kinship because the Jews and the Anomoeans make the same accusation. And what charges do the Jews make? That He called God His own Father and so made Himself equal to God. The Anomoeans also make this charge—I should not say they make this a charge; they even blot out the phrase “equal to God” and what it connotes, by their resolve to reject it even if they do not physically erase it.”(3)IBID Chrysostom. Against the Jews. Homily1, 1:6

This group appears to be a popular quasi-Christian group that integrated both Christian and Jewish elements together and re-defined the Trinity.

One must understand also that Chrysostom had no patience or mercy for anyone or any faith outside of the Christian message.(4)Chrysostom. Homilies Against the Jews. Homily 1, 4:9

Chrysostom’s message against the Jews contradicts the positive and warm relationship with the Jewish community espoused by Origen – a Church leader whom he respected.(5)The Jews in the Writings of Origen

Chrysostom was also known to have a brazen tongue and little tolerance for those even within the Church. He was banished for virulent language against a benefactor and leader, the Empress Eudoxia. He took contest against her because she erected a lavish statue of herself. He made some scathing remarks in regards to this(6)“Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.” Schaff, Philip ed. NPNF2-02. Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories by Salaminius Hermias Sozomen and Socrates of Constaninople. Pg. 150 and was banished to Armenia for this protestation.(7)

The over-zealousness of his rhetoric inside and outside the Church and his subsequent banishment labeled him an extremist by his own peers. This person cannot be held as the definitive example of Jewish-Christian, or any other Church relation. Neither can he be held as a representative of the official Church position during his time or any other.

The Jewish based The Encyclopedia Judaica also believes there were both negative and favourable relations between the Jewish and Christian communities in the third and fourth centuries. It wasn’t a scene that can be pictured as black and white antisemitism.

This did change over time. The complete separation of Greek Christianity from its Jewish foundation can be traced back to the emperor Constantine, who issued a decree over the celebration of Easter:

“under the 79th header, which is the first Council of Antioch itself, this is expressed with these words, “If anyone would be bold enough to change the definition of the holy and great council which was by the Nicean gathering, in the present devout and reverenced leader Constantine, regarding the solemn healing of the passover, we assess those to be excommunicated and banished of the Church, if then they should remain unmoved, obstinately against that which they have decreed as good. And this also was decried to the laity. If then those who are presiding over the Church,either episcopates, presbyters, deacons, should attempt to alter this definition, through the subversion of people and disturbance of the Church, to separately gather, and to celebrate the Passover with the Jews, this holy synod declares this (person) a stranger from the Church. Not only himself but any who should proceed to cause with manifold corruption and agitation. Not only are such kind removed by a minister, but also those who should attempt to communicate afterwards with the damned, they are damned.”(8)My own translation taken from, Liber de Paschate: Praefatio

This was the official beginning of legal ostracization of the Jews from the Christian realm and the loss of any Jewish identity within the movement — a movement originally founded by them.

Why such a strong statement? If the Jewish people were recognized as the people of God and holders of the oracles of God, then two possibilities could occur:

  • The power of religion, which was the base of any governmental authority in ancient times, would shift from Rome to Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders would be the ones establishing law, spiritual piety and directing the national social conscience. This would undermine the Roman governmental system.

  • The Romans and the Greek populace with such pride in their own identity could not be forced to adapt to a foreign religion belonging to a minor territory. They would naturally overthrow any monarchy or leadership that proposed such a thing.

The only option the Roman leadership had to retain their own power and integrate the originating Jewish faith into their own system was to scrub out the Jewish element and make it into a Greek identity.

And that is what Constantine started with the decree.

Neither Chrysostom nor Constantine can be declared official icons of fourth century Jewish-Christian dialogue. There were other powerful voices within the Church which promoted a different position.

Epiphanius, the fourth century Bishop of Salamis, wrote a book called the Panarion which was a polemic against certain groups that contested or challenged the institutional Church teachings. This writing is at times written in a condemning tone, almost a street-level vernacular. There are numerous references to Jews and movements within Judaism, but Epiphanius refrains from any serious attack on standard Judaism.

This isn’t always the case.

For example the Ambrosiaster document, first written in the fourth century and emendated up to the 13th illustrated Jews as antithetical to the Christian message. The Ambrosiaster writer(s) used the Jews as an abstract illustration of what one must not be.

Some go as far to say that the New Testament has an anti-semitic bias to it, especially from the book of John onwards. This may be taking it too far. Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler, a professor at the Hebrew University, directed another approach. He specifically addressed our Introductory Talmud class on the subject of antisemitism in the Bible, “You have to realize this was in-house fight.” The discussions in the New Testament are for the most part hostile tensions between various Jewish groups and individuals who were shooting fiery barbs at each other over Jewish legal issues. Third parties who are not Jewish that read these accounts can easily take it out of context.

This may be too simplistic, as the Book of John does appear in places to be written from a non-Jewish perspective and for a non-Jewish audience. It could easily be interpreted as critical of the Jewish race. One passage in particular, John 8:44 where Jesus stated, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire,” has given special license to many ignorant Christian leaders, movements and peoples over the centuries to treat Jewish people maliciously. Prof. Van der Horst, a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences cites this as one of the most destructive passages:

“In later Christian literature, that expression is picked up. This fatal short remark has had lethal consequences over two millennia. It cost tens of thousands of Jewish lives in later history, especially in the Middle Ages. This verse was taken by Christian Jew-haters as a license to murder Jews. These murderers thought: ‘If Jesus says that Jews have the devil as their father, we should eradicate them as best as we can.’

…I once argued before an audience of Christian ministers that if we were to confront John with the consequences of what he wrote, he would deeply apologize and say, ‘Please, delete it from my Gospel.’ Until the present day these words have their influence, because the average Bible reader cannot contextualize them in the first century when they were written.”(9)

It is not the actual problem of the Johanine writing, but the selective interpretation of it.

The great eighth century European ruler, Charlemagne, forced conversions on all his defeated territories. If they refused, they would be killed, regardless if they were Jews or otherwise. This brought on the ire of Alcuin of York who entreated Charlemagne that “that faith is a free act which cannot be enforced; that instruction, persuasion, love and self-denial are the only proper means for converting the heathen.”(10)History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.

Some would also want to single out the Jews as the object of Church oppression. This too is an overgeneralization. The Church had no respect for anyone who was not converted, whether it was a Barbarian German, Gaul, Spaniard, or a pagan. This was also extended to those within the Church realm too – Donatists, Montantists, Arianists, Marcionists, and the list goes on, were not treated much better. Those who were unconverted were considered less-than-human and did not have the same rights as those who were.

Chrysostom also reflected the spirit of the times. In this period the problem was not of antisemitism, but an issue of accepting a religion that did not have Greek or Roman origins, especially something as obscure as the Hebrew religion.

The Romans and Greeks considered the Hebrew religion unknown, foreign and non-Greek — everybody knew that the Greeks or to a lesser extent Romans were superior in every way. Nothing could originate outside of Greece or Rome that could be the center of their religion. The only way to make it universal within their world was to strip it of its Jewish identity, or any other nationality, and make it Graeco-Roman.

One must realize as well the writing style of the New Testament, which utilizes ‘the Jews’ in manifold ways within the texts was not written to mean from a non-Jewish standpoint. All the authors of the New Testament, with perhaps the exception of Luke, are Jewish. But then why is it written in such a third-party form? The Jewish historian Josephus utilized the same term, ‘the Jews’ in a similar context, as if he himself appeared to be a historian above Jewish bias, though his whole intention was to defend the Jewish people against antisemitism. This writing style is also found in the Talmud, though the frequency of usage is unknown,(11)Talmud Yerushalmi, Berakhot ix:1 as found in Ephraim E. Urbach. The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs. Trans. by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 1979. Pg. 81. Note here that R. Tanhuma was attempting to demonstrate the superiority of the Jewish religion over the Greek one. He recognized these two influences were in conflict. The New Testament writers were simply following the writing conventions of that time and it was not meant as a slight against the Jewish people.

What is one to make out of this? It is a human trait to want to lord over the vulnerable, the minorities, the poor, the widow, the orphan and rival groups. History is full of such examples of human nature. The Church has not been exempt. It is not simply a case against the Jews, but the Church’s stance against any group different than them. Other ethnic groups could also make a historical claim that they were discriminated against, but they were annihilated. The Jews escaping this pogrom because of their historic religious identity, still endured discrimination and were treated with lesser rights, but unlike the others, have lived to tell the story.

This is a dark part of our Christian heritage that many don’t know, or don’t want to know about. It is antithetic to the message Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:38). Unfortunately the historic Church writings on the subject cannot be erased or rewritten. The only option is to use these as examples in the past as lessons in what not to do in building a better world.

References   [ + ]

Is Tyrannius Rufinus a Reliable Translator?

A closer look at the reliability of Tyrannius Rufinus’ Latin translation of Gregory Nazianzus’ Greek work On Pentecost.

Little attention, if any, has been directed towards his Latin translations of Gregory Nazianzus, but debate has surrounded Rufinus’ translation of his other works. Using these other established discussions as a guide, this article ventures into determining how Rufinus fits in the Gregory narrative.

In a number of scholarly circles, the translations of Rufinus have been under careful scrutiny, and the consensus was that Rufinus’ translations were not reliable. However, this attitude is changing.

Jason Engwer over at triablogue blogspot argues that Rufinus has been vindicated against such negative claims. He quoted Thomas Scheck’s translation of Origen’s Commentary On Romans (1)(Origen: Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, Books 1-5 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2001]) as proof:

“If Schelkle’s investigation is correct, it seems that Rufinus’s Latin translation has been vindicated, at least in large part. It offers us the best source and most reliable witness for Origen’s thoughts, though Rufinus has expressed these thoughts in his own words. Even Scherer, who thinks that Rufinus has substituted his own exegesis at several points, admits, “The translation is often accurate, exact, and in large measure faithful.”

Engwer asserted his position in an earlier article by quoting two specialists:

John McGuckin refers to Rufinus as “generally a reliable translator” (WHO, 31).

Barbara Bruce, in her introduction to a recent translation of the homilies, comments that the “general reliability” of Rufinus’ Latin translations of Origen have been vindicated, despite the doubts of earlier scholarship and some scholars in our day (HOJ, 11). She continues:

“Other studies have confirmed the paraphrastic nature of his [Rufinus’] work, but have judged the changes to make for clarity and the thought to remain faithful to the Greek. …After explaining how he had expended much labor on changing the hortatory manner of the homilies on Leviticus into the form of an exposition and supplying what was wanting in the homilies on Genesis and Exodus, he said he translated the homilies on Joshua and a few others ‘just as we found them, literally and without great effort.’ Annie Jaubert, in her French translation of the Homilies, supported Rufinus’s statement. She noted constructions that were more dependent on Greek than on Latin syntax and a curtness of speech and density of expression that gave the feel of unpolished notes he may have been working from.”(16-18)(2)The full article along with footnotes can be found at the following article, The Twenty-Seven-Book New Testament Before Athanasius

Mark Humphries adds to the positive chorus when he investigated the reliability of Rufinus’ Latin translation regarding Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, where he concluded:

“Rufinus’s Latin translation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History is customarily regarded as an inferior creature to the Greek original. By examining Rufinus’s complete translation and continuation together, however, a more sympathetic understanding of his Latin version can be reached. This shows that Rufinus’s version was by no means a clumsy version of the Greek followed by a mediocre continuation, but was conceived of as a unified whole. Hence Rufinus revised Eusebius’s text not only where he found it to be deficient, but also in order to make it fit with a new vision of Christian history that took account of events subsequent to the age of Constantine. Viewed in this light, Rufinus’s version emerges as a more original contribution to ecclesiastical historiography than has been acknowledged hitherto.”(3)Rufinus’s Eusebius: Translation, Continuation, and Edition in the Latin Ecclesiastical History

No author has engaged in this question more than Ronald E. Heine in his book, Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus:

“Rufinus has long been maligned as a translator by critics. Hal Koch makes the statement that Koetschau’s edition of the de Principiis and de Faye’s investigations have shown that Rufinus cannot be trusted in his translation of that work. . . .J.E.L Oulton in comparing Rufinus’ translation of the Church History of Eusebius with the Greek text says, “Rufinus transgressed the bounds of freedom which every translator must be expected to observe.” Heinrich Hoppe says Rufinus sometimes misreads the Greek text because of the haste with which he works and his insufficient mastery of the Greek language, and that he makes additions and alterations in the areas of both theology and rhetoric.

. . .On the other hand, there has been a more positive evaluation of Rufinus’ work paralleling that of his critics. . . .Henry Chadwick . . .“I think it is evident that, so far as general fidelity is concerned, Rufinus emerges well from the scrutiny.” Gustave Bardy regarded Rufinus’ translation of De Principiis as a paraphrase, but one which renders correctly the general sense of the text. . . .Annie Jaubert’s conclusion regarding the reliability of Rufinus’ translation of the homilies on Joshua can be regarded as representing the general conclusion of the various scholars who have studied the different translations of Rufinus and have concluded that they can be trusted within certain limits.

. . .Jaubert’s study of the homilies on Joshua has shown that while Rufinus has remained true to Origen’s thought, his work should not be thought of as a translation, but as a free adaptation.

Henry Chadwick . . .“The voice is the voice of Origen, even though the hands are the hands of Rufinus.”(4)Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus by Origen and Ronald E. Heine. Pg. 30ff

Rufinus was well aware that Origen’s texts had begun the process of corruption immediately after they were originally written.(5)Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus by Origen and Ronald E. Heine. Pg. 34ff To combat this, Rufinus had early manuscripts available to him that we do not today, and was able to reconstruct. This was likely how he approached the work of Gregory Nazianzus’ On Pentectost.

With all this information at hand, how should a Rufinus translation of Gregory’s work be treated? I don’t think one should reject Rufinus’ writings as being too opinionated and not true to the original. It is, as noted above, a free adaptation that is committed to the sense, but adds a few hints of later Latin theological and doctrinetic perspectives.

It may be too early to make this conclusion. More comparative analysis need to made between the Greek and Latin texts.

This is looked into greater detail in the following article: Nazianzus tongues of Pentecost Paradox where it is found that he makes a critical translation error from the Greek that started a centuries long debate. ■

References   [ + ]

How to read a Greek Minuscule Text

Gregory Nazianzus On Pentecost

This article is for those who wish to read and translate Greek manuscripts as close to the original as possible.

Sometimes a thousand years is closest to the original, which means the copy was written somewhere between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. If this is the case, the copy was written in the Greek minuscule format.

Greek minuscule is a handwriting format that was much more efficient than its earlier counterpart. It used a smaller, and much more rounder style, and ligatures — that is the combining of letter combinations into one symbol, symbols for inflectional word endings, and abbreviations. Think of it as traditional handwriting combined with a shorthand texting format.

The Biblical or classical Greek student will not immediately recognize a Greek minuscule as being Greek. It takes some time to work with this writing style.

Wikipedia has a good introductory article on Greek cursive writing. It also has a miniscule alphabet at the bottom. It is a good general visual, but it does not help in specifics.

The handwritten alphabet is considerably different but workable. The greatest difficulties in reading minuscule are the ligatures. Here is a list found so far on online materials to assist one in reading minuscule Greek:

  • The Textual Critics Corner especially their list. The formatting and color choices of the website itself need some work but the text itself is a great resource.

  • The Paulos weblog contains an introduction to the typography of such texts, including letter forms, abbreviations, and ligatures. He doesn’t have a full list, but it is a good start.

  • Vernon Eugene Koy has developed a beta minuscule font with an almost complete listing of all the various forms along with the standard Greek equivalent. It is not known whether the font behaves correctly due the age of last posting and its self-description, but the list itself is indispensable.

  • Fordham University has a small cheat sheet on Greek miniscule letter combinations.

  • The Amsterdam NT Weblog has a short description of Abbreviations in Greek Minuscule Manuscripts

Some print editions do exist, though rare to acquire. On a number of occasions recommendations for Abbreviations in Greek Inscriptions: Papyri, Manuscripts, and Early Printed Books, compiled by Al. N. Oikonomides (Chicago: Ares Publishers 1974) comes up, though I haven’t found a copy yet. Another, Introduzione alla paleografia greca (1973) by E. Mioni, is very helfpul.

There are some older publications available online, such as Handbook of Greek and Latin Paleography by Edward Maunde Thomson, or Notes on Abbreviations in Greek Manuscripts by T.W. Allen, though extensive on paleographical pursuits, I find that they are not very helpful in providing a useful list.

Where to start?

The International Greek New Testament Project has created an excellent starter tutorial on transcribing Greek miniscule. Here is Chapter 1 and a link to the rest of the chapters

An alternative option is to find a Bible passage written in Greek minuscule and compare it with a text transcribed into the traditional Greek fonts used in most Bibles and textbooks today. For example the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12.

  • Click here for The Arundel MS 524 manuscript— an 11th century work found online at the British Library. Make sure the page is f.13r that you are looking at. Otherwise it is the wrong page. Matthew 5:3 begins at the end of the 15th line from the top of page.

  • Compare it with a Greek text in a font traditionally used such as the Greek New Testament found at Elpenor’s website, or, multiple Greek texts found at Unbound Bible.

If you wish to read some ancient ecclesiastical writing, like Gregory Nazianzus, here is a sample way of doing it.

  • Connect to the internet and to the British Museum’s online Manuscript viewer, specifically, MS 14772 This is a wonderful website. The capabilities of switching pages, zooming in and out, are effortless.

  • Then open a second browser window and link to a more contemporary Greek rendering of the same text at Wikisource. You can compare the texts in parallel and use it as a basis to understand the minuscule of MS 14772.

  • There is also an English translation for this Oration available at New Advent’s website. It is a helpful aid, but it is old, and the translation is based at times on a Latin copy. Use it, but be careful.

  • If you have them open and looking at both copies, the MS 14772 will appear to be chicken scratch. There are no chapter breaks, and spaces between words. Accents, glyphs, and markings abound, but don’t worry. In a few hours, using the more contemporary Greek as your guide, you will become comfortable with this format.

The Greek text being used as an example is the one found at the British Library called MS 14772. It is a thirteenth century copy of a work originally written around 381 AD by Gregory Nazianzus. Specifically, it is Oration 41 on the subject of Pentecost.

I hope this has been of assistance to anyone beginning their journey into reading ancient Greek texts. If you find any helpful information on this subject, please drop a line via comments here, Twitter, Facebook or email.

The Language of Ecclesiastical Greek

This article is intended to help beginners in Ecclesiastical Greek develop a strategy to translate a wide range of Church writings.

The Church fathers used the common written language in use during their time. This was Attic Greek.

There are two caveats though: first there are many sub-dialects in Attic Greek that the translator has to be conscious of. Secondly, many manuscripts were modified by medieval copyists and are mixed-bag of old and newer constructs.

Greek in the ancient world was much like the contemporary English language. There is koine English, which is a base form of English which many countries and regions share very similar commonalities. For example the United States south, British, and Australians can communicate with only a few problems. However, each one does have some distinct words and pronunciations that each party quickly recognizes and makes adjustments. Ecclesiastical Greek has many authors that wrote in their own sub-dialect similar to the slight differences found between British, American and Australian literature.

Ecclesiastical Greek writings span over a millennium and a wide geographical area which means there is a variety of Greek sub-groups in Ecclesiastical literature. Attic Greek is by far the most common one used.

Contrary to previous iterations of this article, ancient pidgin Greek does exist. It is especially evident in the New Testament texts. Most texts were written in Alexandrian Greek heavily influenced by Hebrew and Aramaic. However, by the time of the fourth century, when Greek authors began to proliferate, the Hebraisms were lost, giving way to more standard Greek syntax and word usage.

Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus of Alexandria are Alexandrian Greek writers. The influence of Alexandrian writers spread to leaders such as John Chrysostom, but not entirely. Gregory Nazianzus and the Cappadocian writers were not so inclined. The Cappadocians had a preference to classical Greek.

Chrysostom and Origen share a vocabulary that many dictionaries do not suffice. The spellings of some words have lingual shifts while other words are used exclusively only in their texts.

Every Greek Church father is slightly unique and has to be approached with the understanding that their Greek has some regional influences that may not be found anywhere else.

That means to immerse oneself in that persons writings in order to understand his style, nuances, peculiarities, commonalities and differences

A portion of the methodology used here at this site for translating is to read the text over a number of times and then type it into the computer. The typing allows one to slowly think about the copy and memorize the structure, content and relationships.

When the time comes for translating, this knowledge moves the work more consistently.

The translator discovers along the road of translating a number of Church writers that what is learned from translating one author may not entirely apply to another. For example Gregory Nazianzus may not apply for Epiphanius or vice-versa.

Classical and Byzantine Greek are represented fairly well in online and physical dictionaries. Alexandrian Greek used outside of the Bible is not so well addressed.

Some writings may promote Aeolian, Doric, Ionic and Attic Greek in their histories. Aeolian and Doric ceded to Attic (which was a more modern version of Ionic plus integration of other sub-dialects) by the time the great majority of Church writings came into existence. The only concern for the Church translator is Attic and its sub-dialects.

After the fourth century, Ecclesiastical Greek remained static for centuries. Since Latin took over the Church as the official language, those who wrote in Greek tended to be more simplistic. Either Greek was their second language, or their intended audience were not native Greek speakers. Because of this, later Ecclesiastical Greek is generally not as hard as the earlier manifestations.

Knowledge of classical Greek and philosophy is a must, and this cannot be stressed enough. Many books are written from a Greek philosophical framework. This is covered in Patrology and Greek Philosophy.

More information on how to translate the Church fathers can be found at Translation Tips on the Greek Church Fathers.

More on the Historical Rejection of Patristics

The controversy of magic and miracles in the Reformation, how both sides used Patristics for their own conveniences, and the rise of the word ceased in the Christian religious vocabulary.

The fifteenth to nineteenth centuries were focused on the Church tradition of miracles. The Church, which controlled the civil, and religious laws, established its authority and decision making through the works of miracles. It could not easily be questioned. As was previously written, this mysticism influenced every sphere of life; from politics, to health, taxes, and the natural sciences. It did not allow for dialogue, external accountability, or encourage scientific exploration.

The Medieval and Reformation supernaturalists had a greater propensity towards mysticism and overstated the ancient writers to propel their positions. It makes the modern reader think the Patristic writers were more deeply into the supernatural, magic, and miracles than they really were.

In order to bring a new civil order, the foundation of magic and miracle had to be broken. One of the biggest, and most convincing proofs against the mysticism of the time, was that the age of miracles had simply passed, or in its proper theological term, ceased. As previously noted in The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy, the idea popularized by Conyers Middleton had accelerated over time and became a movement called cessationism. By negating the power of miracles, certain established traditions, individuals, or practices were no longer considered divine, a new social framework could be built.

Both positions were in the extreme, and neither seriously took into account what the earlier writers represented.

If the fourth century writers were allowed to speak for themselves without the perceptions of either camp, miracles were not a priority – not because they had ceased, but it just didn’t fit in with the dialogues and practices of the day. The fourth century writers were more interested in developing doctrines around a Greek philosophical framework than in emphasizing the miraculous. The emphasis was on acquiring knowledge in such a way that changed your worldview and applying these life-lessons in everyday life. In fact, if one does not comprehend the Greek philosophical underpinnings in this period, then understanding of the earlier Church writers is compromised. The author and scholar Panagiotes K. Chrestou agrees, and made this point early on in his helpful book, Greek Orthodox Patrology: an introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers.

Secondly the earlier Church writers did not believe magic and miracles were necessary signs to validate the Church, their leadership or their devoutness, so, not much time was devoted to it. They did occur on certain occasions but neither the Church nor the individual was to be defined by them.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century Protestant theologians and Rationalists interpret the earlier Church writers de-emphasis on the supernatural to mean that the initial miracles of the Church had ceased. The absence should not interpreted this way.

For more info on Patristics and philosophy, read the article, Patrology and Greek Philosophy.

This is an addendum to a previously posted article, The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy.

The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy

How the overemphasis on Christian mysticism from the sixteenth century onwards, and the reaction to it, removed Patristic literature from the public conscience.

Contemporary study of ecclesiastical literature has delegated most records to the realm of myths and legends; it is not reliable for any historical pursuit. Therefore, any serious study of the subject has been popularly abandoned.

How did this happen?

The story begins with the emergence of the Renaissance era, especially so in Italy. The Renaissance is a fundamental movement that started in fourteenth-century Europe and spread throughout the western world. Indeed, it is the framework we live by today. The revitalization sparked a renewed interest in classical learning, languages(1), science, and literature.

The invention of the printing press, the fall of Constantinople to Muslim invaders which led to the emigration of Greek teachers and their valuable manuscripts, and the insatiable thirst for acquiring manuscripts, even by force, by luminaries such as Poggio Bracciolini, allowed for a greater expression of intellectual curiosity.

This intellectual freedom not only was found in some catholic circles such as Dante, and Erasmus, but became a cornerstone, and influenced the burgeoning protestant faith, especially those of Germany and England whose christian traditions and ways of thought have deeply influenced the English speaking world for centuries.

The correction against mystic rule

The ecclesiastical and political authorities during the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries were occupied with the works of the devil and intent on cleansing their society of any perceived evils. The ideal world was one that pursued holiness; questions of science, and explanations behind the forces of nature were matters of little importance. Their imagination ran wild with witches who flew on brooms during the Sabbath, demonic influences, possessions, exorcisms, people transforming into wolves, and hexes to name a few extravagances. This enthusiasm encouraged the authorities to rid themselves of such evils through tortures, and trials. These commonly led to purging by fire, or strangulation.

For more information the following works are recommended:

Lecky described a world where miracles and superstition had become seriously ingrained within the towns and cities:

Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.(2)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 157

He saw no difference in the attitudes between either the Protestants or the Catholics on the subject.

Church authority and leadership, which was often the government at the time, was established through the confirmation of miracles. If God so sponsored such a divine activity in a person or institution, how could the general population or individuals question such an institution or person? It was as if going against God.

Mysticism on a personal level is not a problem, but a whole society cannot operate being run by mystics or mystical guidance. It was a source of severe psychological, emotional, and social damage with everyone involved; a tyranny of fear. The only way to bring about correction was to sever the connection with the foundation of miracles and the supernatural. In order to accomplish this, the ancient ecclesiastical texts had to be removed from their high authority.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) through his idea of miracles and it is hard to decipher a clear position because of his semantics and wordiness. He does reaffirm the mantra that miracles had ceased. Partly out of the abuses that he had witnessed, and the other was because most miracles, if examined with the proper apparatus and intelligence, would be found to be a natural phenomena.(3)See Leviathan Chapter 32 and 37 for more information.

The great philosopher and physician John Locke (1632–1704) didn’t reject miracles altogether, but recognized the need for certain criteria to be met.

The eighteenth century English philosopher David Hume was one of the first to make such a clear attack against the abuse of miracles. He introduced a new structure based on reason in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. He included a methodology on defining miracles with little representation to that of religion.

The deletion of Patristic literature as a reliable source

When Conyers Middleton published Free Inquiry, he brought a death-blow to Patristic miracles and their authority. Middleton rallied that the miracles by the Church Fathers were dubious:

. . . and knowing no distinction between faith and credulity, take a facility of believing, to be the surest mark of a found Christian. Their arguments are conformable to their principles: for instead of entering into the merits of the cause, and shewing my opinion to be false or contradictory to any truth subsisting in the world, they think it a full confutation of it, to prove it contrary to the belief of the primitive ages, to the testimony of the ancient Fathers, and to the tradition of the Catholic Church: by the help of which venerable names, they insinuate fears and jealousies, of I know not what consequences, dangerous to Christianity, ruinous to the faith of History, and introductive of a universal skepticism. Terrors purely imaginary; grounded on error and prejudice ; which if suffered to prevail, would produce consequences more to be dreaded ; subversive of all true religion, as well as of every thing else, that is rational and virtuous among men.(4)A free inquiry into the miraculous powers, which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian church, from the earliest ages through several successive centuries by Conyers Middleton, 1749. Pg. Vff

William Lecky described how deep the cultural shift changed towards Patristic writings after the conclusion by Middleton:

It is manifest that an attack of this kind opened out questions of the gravest and widest character. It shook the estimate of the Fathers which had been general, not only in the Church of Rome, but in a great degree among the ablest of the Reformers. In the Church of England especially, the Patristic writings had been virtually regarded as almost equal in authority to those of the inspired writers.(5)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 170

. . . if the Fathers were in truth men of the most unbounded credulity and of the laxest veracity ; if the sense of the importance of dogmas had, in their mind, completely superseded the sense of rectitude, it was absurd to invest them with this extraordinary veneration. They might still be reverenced as men of undoubted sincerity, and of the noblest heroism ; they might still be cited as witnesses to the belief of their time, and as representing the tendencies of its intellect ; but their pre-eminent authority had passed away. The landmarks of English theology were removed. The traditions which it rested were disturbed.(6)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 171

From this point onwards the Church Fathers were either ignored entirely or were reduced to a collection of stories, and legends.

Middleton’s arguments rested on a number of patristic writers. Five in particular were prominently displayed: Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenæus, Clemens of Alexandria and Tertullian.

He noted some inconsistencies with the texts:

There is such an uniformity in all the primitive accounts of them, tho’ given by different Fathers and in different ages, of the Devils being scourged, burned and tortured by the Christian Exorcists ; and of their howlings, discourses and confessions, that they all seem to have been cast in the same mould ; and to have been the copies of an original story, transcribed by the later writers from the earlier than the natural descriptions, of what each of them had severally seen, at different times, and in distant places.

This evolution leads to Germany and the example of Erwin Rohde who authored one of the greatest works on the pagan Greek religion called Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. He was a great classical scholar and monumental writer in the latter half of the nineteenth-century.

However, when one peruses his literary masterpiece the reference to ancient christian literature is noticeably absent. But then, Rohde is not the only one to ignore the patristic writers. This approach can be found in commentaries, theological works, and Greek dictionaries produced in this period onwards. For example, in a study to determine the ecclesiastical doctrine of tongues, which is based on the Greek word γλῶσσα, glôssa, the source-books severely limit the Patristic references to only seven. These seven are not the best selections from the corpus of works available on the topic. It makes the ecclesiastical writers appear silent on the topic. Instead, the majority of the source-books concentrate on finding a definition from Greek classical sources, sparingly utilizing any Patristic works to validate the classical claim. They do not let the term stand on ecclesiastical usage.

This rejection of ancient ecclesiastical literature has gone to excess. A better balance in coverage is required. The ancient church fathers should not be considered infallible or their records sacred, but should be valued as key-pieces of literature reflective of different epochs.

The decline of the study of Patristics cannot be restricted simply to the rise of rationalism but reduced also because of anti-catholic bias. For this reason it was a diminished genre in Protestant circles. For example, Isaac Taylor wrote in 1842 that the Nicene miracles should be rejected because they “were wrought chiefly, or exclusively, in attestation of those practices and opinions which the protestant churches have rejected as popish.”(7)Ancient Christianity and the doctrines of the Oxford tracts for the times, Volume 2 by Isaac Taylor. Pg. 356

Mark Pattison, a Church of England priest who served as a rector at Oxford’s Lincoln College opined similar sentiments in the late 1800s:

In this protestant delineation, the church starts in the apostolic age in perfect purity, and is perverted by a process of slow canker, till it has become changed into its opposite, and is now the church not of Christ, but of anti-christ, an instrument not for saving men but for destroying them.(8)Mark Pattison. Isaac Casaubon: 1559–1614. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1892. Pg. 322

One must keep in mind too that patristics have been so badly neglected in the last two hundred years or so that it is a historical researchers gold-mine. There is likely an ecclesiastical writer’s narrative that can create a new perspective on any given topic.

What was mysticism replaced with?

The fundamental answer is philosophy with a sprinkling of common sense; which to many scholars meant classical Greek and Latin writers. This was a call to antiquity to awaken the slumbering mind from the present darkness and regain the paradise lost. A more thorough explanation is provided below.

The Rationalists were more structured in Germany, seeking to supplant such dogma and replace it with common-sense, intelligence and science without removing religion altogether. Johan Gottfried von Herder in Religion und Lehrmeinungen, produced such a sentiment and this was similarly promulgated by Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher in his Reden über die Religion an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern. Otto Pfeleiderer summed it up best in his 1890 publication The Development of Theology in Germany Since Kant and its Progress in Great Britain since 1825 and was convinced that both von Herder and Schleiermacher found that religion is a personal conviction than one of institutional social control. It cannot be forced. People must be allowed to express their religious identity.

The object of the two books was essentially the same ; they protested against religion being confounded with the opinions of the schools, whether theological or philosophical, and against its being mixed up with politics ; in word, against dogmatic and politico-ecclesiastical Christianity. They insisted, on the other hand, of the inwardness of the religious life, the immediateness of religious feeling, and especially on the free play of religious individuality.(9)The Development of Theology in Germany Since Kant and its Progress in Great Britain since 1825. By Otto Pfeleiderer, D.D., Translated by J. Frederick Smith. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. 1890 (as reprinted by Pg. 44

David Hume made his case from philosophy in the late 1700s with his publication, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.(10)An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and it evolved a century later to Germany where Erwin Rohde produced his highly praised work, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks.(11) A sample chapter of this great work is found at Rohdes, Psyche:The Cult of Souls He along with many others supported Greek classical philosophy as the solution because it was untouched by religious dogma, institutions, subservience to myths, and allowed free inquiry. On this subject Rhode wrote:

This was the direction pursued by these earliest pioneers of philosophy ; and they pursued it unhampered by any subservience to mythical or religious modes of thought. . . . And in fact, the foundations were now laid of that tremendous structure of free inquiry, which finally succeeded in weaving out of its treasure new worlds of thought, where even those who had quarelled or were dissatisfied with the old religion (now inwardly falling into decay for all its outward appearance of being at the most brilliant zenith of its powers) might yet find a refuge if they would not fall back upon sheer nothingness.

. . . Religion on its side was not represented by any priestly caste which might have been led to take up arms for religion and for what it believed to be its own interest alike. Theoretic contradictions might the more easily remain unobserved when religion depended so little upon fixed dogma or upon a world-embracing whole of opinions doctrines ; while Theology, wherever it accompanied the worship of the gods (εὐσέβεια), which was the real core of religion, was, just as much as philosophy, the business of individuals and their adherents gathered together outside the limits of the official religion of the state. Philosophy (except in a few special and unrepresentative cases) never sought open war with religion–not even with the weakened and diluted religion of the masses. In fact the juxtaposition of philosophy and religion (with theology itself by their side) sometimes went beyond the external conditions of the time, and affected the private intellectual life of certain thinkers. It might seem as if religion and philosophy were not merely different but dealt with different provinces of reality, and thus even strict and philosophically minded thinkers could honestly and without imagining disloyalty to philosophy, adopt particular and even fundamental conceptions from the creed of their fathers, and allow them to grow up side by side and at peace with their own purely philosophical ideas.[ref]Erwin Rohde. Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. Trans. by W.B. Hillis. New York: Books for Libraries Press. Reprint 1972. First Published 1920. Pg. 362

Click on the link to go to Part 2 More on the Historical Rejection of Patristics

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