Category Archives: Patristics

The Commandment of Love

Love was at the heart of the desert fathers’ world. Whatever diverse motives may have first drawn them to the desert, whatever particular struggles occupied them during their sojourn there, the end of all their longings was ultimately expressed as love. The language, the attitudes, and the actions of the desert fathers were filled with this longing, with the desire to be touched and transformed by love. Nearly every significant act in the Sayings either moved toward or grew out of the commandment of love. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the biblical commandment to love, more than any other, defined and gave shape to the world in which the desert fathers lived. The memories of that world, preserved by later generations of monks, suggest that love was seen as the hallmark of early monastic life. A brother once asked an old man why in these [latter] days the monastic life did not bear the kind of fruit it had born in earlier days. The elder answered him simply and directly: “In those days there was charity.” The desire to remember the days when life in the desert was characterized by love accounts for the many stories preserved in the Sayings which portray the desert fathers’ struggle to love.

Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert (Oxford, 1993)

The Sayings referred to in the remarkable excerpt above are, of course, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (the alphabetical collection), often referred to by their traditional Latin title, Apophthegmata Patrum. [There is a widely available English translation by Sr Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (Cistercian Press, 1984); I began a translation here, as well, which I will recommence soon.] Burton-Christie provides a thorough introduction to the Sayings through a very sympathetic reading. I’d recommend it for anyone wanting a quick overview of the intructional ethics of the desert fathers. This introduction in the end is larger than the work itself, which is not too surprising, though it has only barely skimmed the depth of the riches of the Sayings. Can you tell I’m impressed? My only quibble is with the subtitle “Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism”. It smacks of an editorial hand, for one thing. For another, Scripture does not play so primary a role in Burton-Christie’s book on the Sayings. What he does show is how well-internalized Scripture was amongst the desert fathers, to the degree that their lives and instruction were permeated by not only Scriptural phrases and imagery, but by what we might recognize as the underlying ethic of much of Scripture as understood in the first centuries of the Church. The majority of the book therefore focuses on the phenomenon of the “word” given by a desert father in response to a request for such. To anyone who has read the Sayings attentively, none of Burton-Christie’s book will be new. But such a person will (like myself) recognize the value of his book as a sympathetic introduction to the Sayings for a thoughtful and well-read reader who is interested in the Sayings but uninformed concerning the expression of monasticism in Egypt of that day. This will be an excellent introduction in that sense.

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Ending of Second Oration Against the Jews

Roger Pearse has posted and released to public domain a translation of the until recently missing ending of the Second Oration Against the Jews by St John Chrysostom. The full text of this second oration is known to exist in only one manuscript belonging to the Leimonos Monastery on the island of Lesvos in Greece. The discovery of the full text of the sermon is described by the intrepid explorer who found it, Wendy Pradels, here.

Please see Roger’s page of the footnoted and annotated English translation of the ending of Oration Two.

An English translation of the Second Oration (without the above “lost” section) is available at the Medieval Sourcebook, though it appears to lack the incomplete ending that, if memory serves, manifests itself in a sentence fragment. English translations of the other Orations Against the Jews are available on the same page.

Many thanks to Roger!

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Of a kind

Through the advice of the serpent which he advised to Eve, Adam went out from Paradise. Its punishment was hard and grievous. God took from it its food and gave to it the dust. It was thrown on the earth and moved on its belly. He made it without feet, because by them it had injured and rushed against Adam. It eats dust all its days until eternity, because it deceived Eve with food. He set it as an enemy and gave its head to be trampled underfoot. For like the serpent which caused Adam to err, misleading, troublesome, evil, bullying, treacherous and unrighteous people have arisen among us who build injustice and destroy righteousness.

They plant wickedness and root out grace.

They let the weeds grow and destroy the wheat.

They revile the just and bless the unrighteous.

They love the haughty and hate the humble.

They praise the treacherous and hold them to be true.

They despise and hold the truthful to be false.

They vow iniquity and fulfil dishonesty.

They conceive and bring forth words of destruction.

They pervert their tongues and speak emptiness.

They are empty of goodness but puffed up with treachery.

There are no fruits in them to eat because they are infected with the poison of the serpent.

St Aphrahat. Demonstration Fourteen: On Exhortation, 12.
Translation by Kuriakose Valavanolickal.

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Popular Patristics Series, cont’d

This post follows on another in which I listed the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents of each volume and the texts translated where indicated. Two volumes have since been added to the series.

37. Mark the Monk — Counsels on the Spiritual Life [volumes one and two combined in one volume]
Volume 1: Translation, Notes, Introductions by Tim Vivian; foreword: Rowan Williams
Volume 2: Translation, Notes, Introductions by Tim Vivian and Augustine Casiday
Works: [Vol. 1:] A Letter to Nicholas; Nicholas’ Response to Mark; On the Spiritual Law; Concerning Those Who Imagine That They Are Justified by Works; On Repentance; Concerning Fasting; The Mind’s Advice to its Own Soul; [Vol. 2:] On Melchizedek; A Monastic Superior’s Disputation with an Attorney and Discussion with His Fellow Monks; On the Incarnation: A Doctrinal Treatise Addressed to Those Who Say That the Holy Flesh Was Not United with the Word but Rather Partially Clothed It, Like a Coat. Because of This, They Say, the Person Wearing the Garment Was Different from the Garment Being Worn; Concerning Holy Baptism; Appendix: Jerome the Greek, “Works Useful to Every Christian”
Texts: Georges de Durand, Marc le Moine. Traités I. SC 445, and Marc le Moine. Traités II. SC 455.

38. St Basil the Great — On Social Justice
Translation, Introduction, Commentary: C. Paul Schroeder; foreword: Gregory P. Yova
Works: To the Rich, I Will Tear Down My Barns, In Time of Famine and Drought, Against Those Who Lend at Interest; Appendix: The Pseudo-Basilian Homily On Mercy and Justice
Texts: Yves Courtonne, ed. and trans. Saint Basile: Homélies sur la richesse: edition critique et exégetique (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1935); PG 31.

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Funny typo

My first copy of The History of the Church by Eusebius is the Penguin Classics edition translated by G. A. Williamson, revised, edited and with a new introduction by Andrew Louth (Penguin Books, 1989). This is the trade paperback edition (7 3/4 x 5 1/8 in. or 19.75 x 13 cm), which I prefer to the normal paperback sized edition of the same text that I’ve got squirreled away here somewhere….

Anyhow, I decided to start reading through Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History again as my nighttime relaxing reading before bed, and ran across a thorogouhly hilarious typographical error that I thought it would be a delight to share. It occurs in a section on Polycarp, the famous bishop of Smyrna, in which he runs into the arch-heretic Marcion (p. 117):

Polycarp himself on one occasion came face to face with Marcion, and when Marcion said ‘Don’t you recognize me?’ he replied: ‘I do indeed: I recognize the firstborn of Satin!”

Yes, there it is: “the firstborn of Satin!’

Here’s the Greek, which is quite snappy:

καὶ αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Πολύκαρπος Μαρκίωνί ποτε εἰς ὄψιν αὐτῷ ἐλθόντι καὶ φήσαντι· ἐπιγίνωσκε ἡμᾶς, ἀπεκρίθη· ἐπιγινώσκω ἐπιγινώσκω τὸν πρωτότοκον τοῦ σατανᾶ.

Unfortunately, it seems that our Father among the Saints Polycarp Bishop of Smyrna wasn’t making a comment upon the unfortunate sartorial sense of the wretched heretic Marcion, shipwrecker of souls. The “Satin” is simply a typographical error for “Satan”. Unfortunately the typo really turns quite a dramatic moment into a rather silly thing. Hopefully it’s been corrected in later printings.

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Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies

Mount Thabor Publishing has released Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, their single-volume edition of annotated English translations of the surviving homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas (1286-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica, and one of the touchstones of Eastern Orthodox Theology. While St Gregory is well-known for his support and defense of hesychasm and Orthodoxy against a creeping scholasticism, and his treatises on hesychasm (particularly The Triads) have gained much attention, his homilies have generally received less attention, and have never been completely translated into English. This very welcome complete English translation of the full corpus of St Gregory’s homilies is the responsibility of Christopher Veniamin and the Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, England.

The volume is larger than I thought it would be (xxxviii + 761 pages), a sturdy hardcover, tastefully bound, with a dust jacket. A PDF file of the Table of Contents and sample pages is available on this page.

Having read through the front matter, Introduction and first sermon, with all associated notes, I thought to tell people of the excellence of this volume. The notes are extremeley valuable, including the historical notes that clarify incidental statements in the homilies, and a wealth of bibliographic help. This truly is a “scholar’s edition” as Mount Thabor Publishing has labeled it, in that one using this volume will be well-directed to the wealth of already published material on St Gregory, hesychasm, and related subjects.

Yet, this volume will also be welcome to the general reader, who is not to be expected to flip to the endnotes for all the details. Such a reader will find great benefit in St Gregory’s homilies. He was well-known and well-loved for being a great pastor, and this quality shows in his sermons. They will be of great benefit to the faithful Orthodox reader in particular, as the words of the Saints are always of benefit to us. I haven’t sat down to make a list yet, but Mr Veniamin notes in the introduction that nearly all the Sundays of the year and the Great Feasts are covered in this collection.

For those finding the price a bit high, Mount Thabor Publishing also offers a set of three paperbacks with a selection of St Gregory’s homilies, arranged thematically. These volumes are described in the bottom half of this page.

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Sermons of St Gregory Palamas

Mount Thabor Publishing is offering a pre-release discount of their new edition of the complete and annotated homilies of St Gregory Palamas in English, in one volume. St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies is introduced, translated, and annotated by Christopher Veniamin. The blurb makes this out to be an excellent and more than complete edition:

The first edition of all sixty-three extant sermons by St. Gregory to appear in English translation, presented together with an Introduction to the Homilies, over 1,000 notes and scholia, an index of Scriptural References, an index of Names and Subjects, and an index of Greek Words – designed to transform this remarkable treasury of Patristic wisdom into an invaluable reference resource for the student of theology.

This edition will undoubtedly become an instant classic. It’s exciting to see the homilies of St Gregory Palamas about to explode into the Anglophonic world, and to think of the possibilities resulting from this publication’s wide distribution. We should remember that these homilies have been treasured as spiritual food by Orthodox monastics from the instant they were first spoken, for an unbroken nearly 700 years.

For those who don’t care to have annotations and a scholarly apparatus cluttering the page, these same homilies are available in three separate volumes of the series Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas: Mary the Mother of God, The Saving Work of Christ, and On the Saints.

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