Monthly Archives: December 2014

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)http://www.catholicireland.net/church-a-bible/church/january-saints/1264-11-st-paulinus-of-aquileia-730-802-scholar-at-charlemagnes-court-archbishop

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   [ + ]

Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost: Notes

A brief analysis of the fifth-century tongues of Pentecost text by Basil of Seleucia.

As found in Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 64. Col. 420 to 421. Supplementum Ad S.J. Chrysostom Opera. Homilia in S. Pentecosten.

It is a difficult but important text.

The complexity resides in the fact the writer assumes a basic knowledge and background to the first Pentecost that is not shared by the modern reader.

Basil of Seleucia was the bishop of a region titled, Seleucia in Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. His writing style has thought to be greatly influenced by John Chrysostom,(1)The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. As found at CCEL but a connection cannot be made when it comes to the doctrine of tongues. Chrysostom’s view was very limited, while Basil’s was extensive.

There is no doubt that Basil believed the tongues of Pentecost to revolve around the miracle of language and sound. He believed the purpose of this outward grace was for the proclamation of the Gospel throughout all the nations. The question of how Basil thought this miracle occurred is puzzling. He stitched three different opinions on the mechanics behind the miracle into one narrative without completely resolving the tensions between them.

  • It follows in a similar thought pattern found in Gregory Nazianzus’ work on the subject. Whereas Nazianzus posited two interpretations, one being a miracle of speech, and the other of hearing(2)See Nazianzus’ Tongues of Pentecost Paradox — though Basil’s second has little to do with a miracle of hearing, but on the producing of a divine sound.

  • The reader could understand it as the restoration of the primordial language that first was spoken before the fall of Babel, which the human mind has never lost the capacity to understand the sound heard. And when this first language was revived, those of every linguistic background understood it.

  • However, towards the end of the text, the emphasis shifts to the instantaneous ability to speak in a foreign language, but it is not entirely clear.

He nowhere intimates this was a non-human, divine, or prayer language. He was not aware of such theories during his time.

The grammar is impeccable in the Greek language. He consistently utilized synonyms throughout. It also has numerous words that can be traced to Ionic Greek — this is something I have never come across before within Greek Patristic writers.

His use of the noun tongue/language is intriguing. He used the multi-Greek noun (Doric, Aeolic, Ionic, Epic), γλῶσσα, on most occasions, but in others he switched to the Attic noun, γλῶττα. Why?

An analysis of the noun γλῶττα in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) shows that it commonly interchanged with γλῶσσα. Particular attention was paid to Chrysostom whose texts have this same characterization. Attic Greek was the common language throughout Byzantium and γλῶττα would have been the preferred pronunciation. However, the Biblical text and christian doctrines are built around γλῶσσα. It is part of the christian religious vocabulary which the Attic speaking and writing Greeks had to honor. In the cases where the noun was not being used in the strictest religious sense, the authors would switch to γλῶττα.

Over time, my thoughts may change on this piece as more information from other authors come to light. There is a tension here that is not completely explained. ■

For more information see:

References   [ + ]

Fifth-Century Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost

An English translation on Pentecost written by Basil of Seleucia in the fifth-century.

As translated from Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 64. Col. 420 to 421. Supplementum Ad S.J. Chrysostom Opera. Homilia in S. Pentecosten.


As it transpired in the past; and the flame was flickering upon mount Sinai and Moses was being taught about establishing the framework of the Law in the midst of the fire. Now then from the highest place a fire was kindling a flame, running above the apostles heads. Moses at that time is the one who set the Laws for the Hebrews in motion for the salvation of the nations. For this reason the memory of the ancient wonder is being mixed together for new things, and once more the fire is being aroused in the same semblance of the exhibitions, that those things in the present times are believed to be about the one and the same God. For that reason it is the fashioning of divided languages so that it would make those who are receiving this, teachers. So that those moved in the midst of the fire, were authorized as masters of the inhabited world.

For in the past, one voice and also one language rules over all, the audacity of the tower brought on division, and a struggle of languages that ensued, brought to an end the war against heaven. And innumerable languages, with myriads of sounds thoroughly frightened, and nevertheless they did not find the one sound heard, because they were not in agreement on the singular voice. But a single language was diced apart, and divided the minds, and a dissolved language restrained the hands. Now, on the other hand, the gift has synthesized the divided tongues upon the mouth into each one the specific language. The outward grace extends the boundaries of the master, and births the many roads of faith.

O incredible wonders! The Apostle was speaking and an Indian was being instructed. A Hebrew was uttering a sound, and a foreigner being educated. The sound of grace being made known, and the hearer understanding the word. Goths were recognizing the sound. The Ethiopians recognized the language. Persians were marveling upon this one speaking, and who was teaching foreign nations by the agency of one language. How much the nature was enlarged for the various races, so great the outward grace was being richly adorned with languages. On this account then the nature of the fire, which is dividing, is multiplying exponentially the work, for a stream of light is the richness of the gift. By all means the nature of the fire which was kindled was not seen to diminish, but the impartation is growing. Thus, the gift being poured forth is multiplying the river. In fact the one torch-fire is in the process of kindling infinite yellow-flames, and demonstrates that all these things are arranged with luminous wonders. And the light of the torches is not passing away. In this way the gift of the Spirit crosses over from one to the other, and fills those, and from these proceeds to the others.

On this account the gift comes at that moment upon the apostles first, and among these as if the gift had seized the Acropolis and flows to the believers. All are being filled and it does not stop the streams of the gift. Therefore, the language of fire was lighting upon. Additionally, each disciple was a vessel of innumerable languages, and they were loquaciously speaking to those present, and these people debate about the teachers prize. And those present were spectators of the wonder. And the multitude of hearers, who have been divided by the nation, was not lacking, because with the words in the local vernaculars belongs the apostle’s persuading language. For even as having been immersed in things, these are receiving the sound by the touch of the fire. The knowledge they grasped was instantaneous. And a faith that was being explained, and a gift that was astonishing, and a God that was made known. ■


For background notes and analysis relating to this translation see Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost: Notes.

For more information on the authorship, see A Chrysostom Conundrum.

For the actual Greek and Latin source, see Basil of Seleucia: Greek and Latin text.

Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost: Greek and Latin text

A portion from a fifth-century sermon on Pentecost written by Basil of Seleucia in the Greek and parallel Latin.

As found in Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 64. Col. 420 to 421. Supplementum Ad S.J. Chrysostom Opera. Homilia in S. Pentecosten. Differences in a duplicate text printed in Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 52. Col. 807 to 812 are noted in the footnotes.

Greek Text

δ᾽. Οὕτως ἅρα ποτὲ καὶ κατὰ τὸ Σίναιον ὄρος ἡ φλὸξ ἐτινάσσετο, καὶ Μωῦσῆς ἐν μέσῳ πυρὸς νομοθετεῖν ἐδιδάσκετο· ἀλλὰ(1)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff Ἄλλη νῦν μετεώρου πυρὸς ἴπτετο φλὸξ,(2)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff ἴπτατο τὰς ἀποστολικὰς κορυφὰς σταδιεύουσα. Ὁ γὰρ τότε Μωῦσέα ταῖς εἰς Ἐβραίους νομοθεσίαις κινήσας αὐτα, εἰς τὴν τῶν ἐθνῶν σωτηρίαν. Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ παλαιῶν μνήμη θαυμάτων τοῖς νέοις ἀνεμίγνυτο· καὶ πάλιν μεσιτεύειν τὸ πῦρ τῷ παραπλησίῳ τῆς θέας, τὸν αὐτὸν ἐκεῖνον εἶναι Θεόν τοῖς παροῦσι πιστούμενος(3)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff πστούμενον · πρὸς δὲ γλώσσας μεριζομένη τορνεύεται, ἵνα διδασκάλους τοὺς ὑποδεχομένους ἐργάσηται· ἵν᾽ἐν πυρὶ πορευόμενοι, παιδευταὶ τῆς οἰκουμένης ὑπάρξωσι· Πάλαι μὲν οὖν μίαν φωνήν τε καὶ γλῶσσαν ἀπάντων ὑπάρχουσαν, ἡ πάλαι τῆς πυργοποιΐας διεμέριστο(4)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff διεμέμεριστο τόλμα, καὶ μάχη γλωσσῶν ἀντεισείη,(5)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff άντισείει τὸν κατὰ τὸν οὐρανὸν(6)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff τῶν οὐρανῶν πόλεμον παύουσα. Καὶ γλῶσσαι μυρίαι μυρίοις φθέγμασιν ἔπληττον, ἀκοήν δὲ μίαν οὐχ εὕρισκον πρὸς τὸν ἦχον οὐκ ἐπινεύουσαν· ἀλλ᾽ἡ γλῶττα τμηθεῖσα, καὶ τὰς γνώμας ἐμέρισε· καὶ γλῶττα λυθεῖσα, τὰς χεῖρας ἐπέδησε. Νυνὶ δὲ ἡ χάρις διαιρεθείσας γλῶσσας(7)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff γλώττας κατὰ στόματα εἰς τὴν ἐνὸς ἑκάστου γλῶσσαν συνήθροισε τοὺς τῆς διδασκαλίας ὅρους πλατύνουσα, καὶ πολλὰς ὁδούς τεκνουμένη(8)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff τεμνομένη τῆς πίστεως.

ε᾽. Ὤ τῶν παραδόξων θαυμάτων! Ἀποστολος ἐλάλει, καὶ Ἰνδὸς ἐδιδάσκετο· Ἑβραῖος ἐφθέγγετο, καὶ Βάρβαρος ἐπαιδεύετο· ἡ χάρις ἐξηχεῖτο, καὶ ἀκοῂ τὸν λόγον ἐδέχετο. Γότθοι τἠν φωνὴν ἐπεγίνωσκον, καὶ Αἰθίοπες τὴν γλὼτταν ἐγνὠριζον· Πέρσαι τοῦ λαλοῦντος ἐθαύμαζον, καὶ ἔθνη βάρβαρα ὑπὸ μιᾶς ἠρδεύετο γλώττης· ὅσον ἡ φύσις τοῖς γένεσιν ἐπλατύνετο, τοσοῦτον ἡ χάρις(9)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff χάρι ἀντεπλούτει ταῖς γλώτταις. Ἡ μὲν οὖν τοῦ πυρὸς φύσις μεριζομένη πολυπλασιάζει τὴν ἐνέργειαν· πηγὴ(10)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff Πηγὴ γὰρ φωτός ἐστιν ὁ πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος. Πάλιν ἠ τοῦ πυρὸς φύσις οὐκ οἰδεν(11)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff εἴδεν ἐφαπτομένη(12)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff ἐπιπταμένη μειοῦσθαι· ἀλλ᾽ἡ μετάδοσις, αὔξησις· οὔτως ἡ χάρις ἐκχεομένη πολυπλασιάζει τὸ ῤεῖθρον· μία μὲν λαμπᾶς μυρίους ἀποτεκοῦσα πυρσοὺς, καὶ πάντας δείκνυσι κοσμοῦντας(13)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff κομῶντας τοῖς φέγγεσι· καὶ ἡ τοῦ φωτὸς λαμπηδῶν, οὐκ ἀφίησι(14)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff ἀφήσιν · οὔτως ἡ χάρις τοὺ Πνεύματος, ἀφ᾽ ἑτερων εἰς ἑτέρους μεταφοιτῶσα, καὶ τοὺς ἑτέρους πληροῖ, καὶ τοὺς ἀφ᾽ὦν πρόεισι. Πρῶτον τοίνυν ἐπὶ τούς ἀποστόλους ἡ χάρις ἐλθοὺσα, καὶ τοὺτους ὥσπερ ἀκρόπολιν καταλαβοῦσα, καὶ δι᾽αὐτῶν τοὺς πιστεύοντας ἐπικυμαίνουσα, πάντας(15)MPG Vol. 52 Spuria. In Pentecosten Sermo III, Col. 809ff πάντα πληροῖ, καὶ τὰ τῆς χάριτος οὐ συστέλλεται ῥεῖθρα· ἡ μὲν οὖν τοῦ πυρὸς ἐφίπτατο γλῶσσα· γλωσσῶν δὲ ἦν μυρίων δοχεῖον μαθητής ἕκαστος. καὶ τοὺς παρόντας ἀπεφθέγγοντο, τῶν διδασκαλικῶν ἀγώνων ἀπτόμενοι· καὶ θέατρον ἦσαν οἱ παρόντες τοῦ θαύματος. Καὶ πλῆθος ἀκροατῶν τῷ γένει μεριζόμενον, οὐκ ἠπόρει, γλώσσης ἀποστολικῆς πειθούσης συγγενέσι τοῖς ῥήμασι· Ὥσπερ γὰρ τινι βαφῇ, τῇ τοῦ πυρὸς ἐπαφῇ τήν φωνὴν ἐκδεχόμενοι, ἄχρονον τὴν γνῶσιν ἐλάμβανον· καὶ πίστις ἐδιδάσκετο, καὶ χάρις ἐθαυμάζετο, καὶ Θεὸς ἐγνωρίζετο.

Latin Text 1

As found in Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 64. Col. 420 to 421. Supplementum Ad S.J. Chrysostom Opera. Homilia in S. Pentecosten.

4. Sic quoque antiquitus circa Sinaiticum montem flamma micabat, dum Moyses medio in igne ferendæ legis artem discebat. Nunc autem ex altiore loco flamma demissa in apostolicos vertices currit. Qui enim Moysen ad ferendam Hebræis legem excitavit, idem nunc ad salutem gentium incumbit. Atque ideo, veterum memoria prodigiorum novis miscetur, voluitque rursus pari specie ignem intervenire, ut unum eumdemque Deum et nunc et olim operantem monstraret. Ideirco autem Spiritus in divisas linguas se fingit, ut receptores discipulos erudiret, quatenus ignis instar discurrentes, mundi magistros se præberent. Et olim utique unam linguam et universalem, turris illa fabrica audax divisit ; linguarum vero discordia subsequens, bellum contra cœlum diremit. Et infinitæ quidem linguæ infinitis sonabant vocabulis, verumtamen unum auditum non reperiebant, quia hic sono illo non percellebatur ; sed divisa lingua, mentes ipsas dividebat ; et soluta lingua manus vinciebat. Nunc vero gratia divisas per ora linguas, in unam cujusque linguam coadunavit, sic terminos magsiterii dilatans, viasque fidei multiplicans.

5. O insperata miracula ! Apostolus concionabatur, et Indus erudiebatur : Hebræus loquebatur, et Barbarus ad fidem informabatur : gratia sonum edebat, et auditus sermonem excipiebat. Gothi vocem agnoscebant, Æthiopes linguam intelligebant : Persæ dicentem mirabantur, et gentes barbaræ unica lingua edocebantur : quanto magis humana natura in nationes varias se dilatabat, tanto gratia linguis ditior fiebat. Rursus veluti vis ignis tacta non minuitur, sed dando potius augetur ; sic gratia effussa, fluentem suum auget : una fax innumeras faces accendit, cunctasque splendoribus micantes efficit : lucis quoque lampas nequaquam dificit : sic prorsus Spiritus gratia ab his in alios transiens, et illos simul, et eos unde discedit, replet. Quamobrem primo quidem in apostolos gratia veniens, atque his tanquam acropoli occupatis, atque ipsorum opera credentes inundans, cunctos replet, neque ideirco gratiæ fluvius sistitur. Descendit igitur ignea lingua, unusquisque autem discipulus innumerarum linguarum fit receptaculum, atque coram præsentibus eloquenter orant, et in magisterii stadium se immittunt, quos theatri instar circumsistebant miraculi admiratores. Multitudo autem audientium distincta licet nationibus, attamen non hæsitabat, quia vox apostolica gentilibus cujusque verbis suadebat. Nam veluti tinctura quadam, ignis contactu, imbuti, vocem apostolicam recipientes, æternam doctrinam hauriebant : fides tradebatur, gratiæ admiratio erat, Deus cognoscebatur.

Latin Text 2

As found in Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 52. Col. 807 to 812. Spuria. Ad Homilies In Pentecosten. Sermo III.

Sic itaque olim in monte Sina flamma commovebatur, et Moyses in medio ignis ad legem ferendam instituebatur. Alia nunc sublimioris ignis flamma involavit, quæ in verticibus apostolorum insedit. Nam is qui tunc Moysen movit ad leges Hæbræis ferendas, hæc nunc ad gentium salutem edidit : quapropter veterum miraculorum memoria novis admixta fuit : rursumque ignis in medio sistitur, ut ex similitudine spectaculi probaretur illum ipsum esse Deum, qui præsentibus miraculis fidem faceret. Gratia autem in linguarum liguras distribuitur, ut illas suscipientes doctores efficeret, ut in igne ambulantes, magistri orbis essent. Cum olim una vox et lingua omnium esset, audax turris constructio linguarum divisionem intulit : et pugna linguarum bellum in cælos susceptum sedavit : ac linguæ innumeræ innumeris emissæ sonis perterre-faciebant, sed auditum non unum reperiebant ad sonum vocis annuentem : sed divisa lingua sententias quoque diverserat, et soluto lingua manus alligabat. Nunc autem gratia divisa linguis ora in uniuscujusque linguam collegit, doctrinæ terminos extendens, et multas fidei vias aperiens.

O stupenda miracula ! apostolos loquebatur, et Indus docebatur ; Hebræus loquebatur, et barbarus instituebatur ; gratia per sonum effundebatur, et auditus verbum percipiebat ; Gothi vocem noverant, et Æthiopes linguam agnoscebant ; Persæ loquentem admirabantur, et populi barbari ab una lingua irrigabantur ; quantum natura genere multiplicabatur, tantum gratia linguis ditescebat. Ignis natura divisa operationem multiplicat. Gratiæ namque divitiæ fons luminis sunt. Rursumque natura ignis dum alta attingit, non minuitur, sed dum communicatur, accre(s)cit : sic et gratia effusa fluenta sua multiplicat. Una lucerna quæ sexentas parit faces, quæ omnes splendidæ lucent, et luminis fulgor non abscedit ; sic gratia Spiritus ab aliis in alios procedens, et illos replet, et eos a quibus proficiscitur. Gratia igitur primo in apostolos, venit, et hos quasi arcem capiens, ac per eos in fideles exundans, omnia replet ; gratiæ namque fluenta non contrabuntur. Ignis igitur lingua involavit, quivis discipulus millium linguarum receptaculum erat, ac præsentes illi alloquebantur, ad certamina prædicationis se conferentes. Qui miraculo præsentes erant, theatrum constituebant : aderat et multitudo auditorum genere discrepantium, nec deerat lingua apostolica, quæ propriis cuique verbis prædicaret. Nam quasi instinctura quadam ignis contactu vocem accipientes, cognitionem non tempore partam accipiebant, fides docebatur, gratia admirationi erat, Deus cognoscebatur ;

References   [ + ]