Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chapter Eight of My New Book

Gregory Thaumaturgus was the most important leader in the early Christian Church after St Paul.  The problem of course, is that few people in the English speaking world realize this.  Why don't we know much about Gregory?  He was certainly extremely popular in the Greek speaking world.  In 1936 William Telfer wrote a 344 page book on the various expressions of the cult of this saint in the Christian world.  All of these strange customs preserved down to the modern age venerating a man who is almost completely unknown to us.  How did it get this way?  What are the circumstances which led the Theodore of Clement and Origen's correspondences slip into obscurity?  The answer begins with our 'road map' to Christian antiquity - the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea.

Gregory and his partner Athenodorus are mentioned three times in what remains of Eusebius original works. All references are highly favorable but most happen to be in one of the most problematic sections of the chronology - Book Six starts off almost wholly devoted to the controversial figure of Origen.  We have already noticed one glaring error at the beginning of that book - where Demetrius's reign is said to coincide with the tenth year of Septimius Severus.  There are many more difficulties in this particular book and undoubtedly some of it has to do with Eusebius and his circle protecting Origen.

Most people who use the Church Histories as an infallible resource to understand the beginnings of Christianity are completely unaware that what has come down to us is a reworking of lost work of Eusebius called the Chronicle (Chronicon).  The work was composed in divided into two parts. The first part (Greek, Chronographia, "Annals") gives a summary of universal history from the sources, arranged according to nations. The second part (Greek, Chronikoi kanones, "Chronological Canons") furnishes a synchronism of the historical material in parallel columns, the equivalent of a parallel timeline, where each line is a year. It is the longest preserved list of Olympic victors, containing however mainly the stadion (running race) winners from 776 BC to 217 CE.

It was from this original material published before 325 CE that our familiar Church History was developed.  However scholars are almost unanimous that Eusebius most important single resource for developing this material was the "five books on Chronology" or the "Chronography" of Julius Africanus.  He described this chronicle as "a work accurately and laboriously prepared."  Eusebius almost certainly knew Africanus right at the beginning of his scholarly career. If the man hadn't inspired and fascinated him to some extent, it would be hard to explain why, in the wake of Africanus' Chronography, he began his activity with a similar monumental historical work.

The literary genre chosen by Eusebius is that of Africanus. Eusebius also copied his basic chronological structure, attempting to bind together the various historiographical traditions of the Hellenistic and Semitic world and place them in a Christian perspective.  Eusebius admits to having a copy of the chronicle in a later work.   and it is highly likely that he had it at his disposal already when he was writing the chronicle.
It is for this reason that his testimony is so precious for the reconstruction of Africanus' work, but for various reasons this treasure is not easy to rescue.

The most serious impediment is the unfortunate transmission of Eusebius' text itself and the lack of a satisfactory modern edition. The literary character of the 'Chronological Canons' was probably quite similar to Aficanus own work.  A prose text with many inserted tables, it contained various historical themes which were collated and placed into direct relationship with one another by means of theoretical discussions and synchronisms. This part of Eusebius' work is only preserved in its entirety in an early Armenian translation and in a number of Greek fragments. The latter part/volume constitutes Eusebius' main innovation: a juxtaposition of the whole history of of mankind from Abraham to the present day in a large table, containing several columns for the various historical themes.

A second obstacle in evaluating the material in Eusebius' chronicle is the heterogeneous way in which he exploits Africanus's work. In some cases, he quotes him directly, mostly in order to criticize him. In a few cases, the critique is not explicit in that he quotes in an affirmative way, but then goes on to add implicit corrections, which has a habit of rendering his quotes rather misleading to say the least. But by far the biggest and most difficult group of citations are those in which Eusebius simply cites the historical material.  his predecessor without questioning him or even mentioning his name. Such cases are difficult to identify.  Parallels drawn between the material of Syncellus, which are attributable to Africanus and passages in Eusebius' chronicle are in some cases conclusive.

The Chronology itself was actually written, as Markschies notes, either in the reign of Caracalla (211 - 218 CE) or Elagabalus (218 - 222 CE).  The eighth century Byzantine chronicler Georgius Syncellus certainly had the original text before him when he makes reference to the original shepherd's tent of Jacob preserved in Edessa being "destroyed by a thunderbolt around the time of Antoninus the emperor of the Romans, as Africanus states, who has written his history up to the time of this Antoninus."[5]  The odd thing about Eusebius's use of Africanus is that the Church History ultimately places him in the completely incorrect period.  He is sandwiched between the description of events during the reign of Maximinus Thrax (235 - 238 CE) and Philip the Arab (244 - 249 CE).

The Chronology was certainly Africanus's most important accomplishment.  Since the work clearly influenced Eusebius scholars have often puzzled why this account is placed here rather than the events of 217 - 222 CE.  Yet the problem takes on even greater weight when we see that Gregory Thaumaturgus appears in the chapter which immediately precedes the Africanus narrative.  Eusebius writes:

While Origen was carrying on his customary duties in Cæsarea, many pupils came to him not only from the vicinity, but also from other countries. Among these Theodorus, the same that was distinguished among the bishops of our day under the name of Gregory, and his brother Athenodorus, we know to have been especially celebrated. Finding them deeply interested in Greek and Roman learning, he infused into them a love of philosophy, and led them to exchange their old zeal for the study of divinity. Remaining with him five years, they made such progress in divine things, that although they were still young, both of them were honored with a bishopric in the churches of Pontus.(6.31)

As noted above, the account of Africanus immediately follows:

At this time also [emphasis mine] Africanus, the writer of the books entitled Cesti, was well known. There is extant an epistle of his to Origen, expressing doubts of the story of Susannah in Daniel, as being spurious and fictitious. Origen answered this very fully. Other works of the same Africanus which have reached us are his five books on Chronology, a work accurately and laboriously prepared. He says in this that he went to Alexandria on account of the great fame of Heraclas, who excelled especially in philosophic studies and other Greek learning, and whose appointment to the bishopric of the church there we have already mentioned. (6.32)

Clearly Gregory and Athendorus seated as bishops in Pontus and Africanus being renowned are related.  Yet there is something unmistakably strange about the placement of Africanus in this late period.

As Africanus's Chronology ended some time around 217 - 221 CE and Eusebius was heavily indebted to the text, one might have expected some sort of marker in the Church History.  Eusebius does the same thing for other chroniclers.  Yet in the case of Africanus he goes so far as to only make reference to his visit with Heraclas in 215 CE over twenty years after it happened.  It was only a few chapters earlier that Eusebius describes Heraclas as first assuming the throne of Alexandria:

It was in the tenth year of the above-mentioned reign (= Caracalla) that Origen removed from Alexandria to Cæsarea, leaving the charge of the catechetical school in that city to Heraclas. Not long afterward Demetrius, bishop of the church of Alexandria, died, having held the office for forty-three full years, and Heraclas succeeded him. At this time Firmilian, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, was conspicuous.(Church History 6.26)

So Africanus meets Heraclas sometime before the completion of his Chronology (c. 215 CE) but it goes completely unmentioned here.  Instead Eusebius goes on to announce in 6.29 that "in Alexandria Heraclas, having received the episcopal office after Demetrius, was succeeded in the charge of the catechetical school by Dionysius, who had also been one of Origen's pupils."(6.29)

So the order is - Heraclas on the bishop's throne c. 215 CE (6.26), Heraclas replaced by Dionysius in (6.29) Heraclas meets Julius Africanus in Alexandria c. 215 CE.  It simply doesn't make sense.  Even stranger is the fact that the initiation of Gregory and Athenodorus is described in 6.31 with the word "While Origen was carrying on his customary duties in Cæsarea, many pupils came to him."  In other words Origen was still at Caesarea when Gregory and Athenodorus came - 'still' referencing the statement in 6.26 that he had just ran away from Alexandria in 215 CE and moreover in 6.27 the allusion to Firmillian urging Origen to come to Cappadocia but meeting him in Judea instead "remaining with him for some time, for the sake of improvement in divine things. And Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus, bishop of Cæsarea, attended on him constantly, as their only teacher, and allowed him to expound the Divine Scriptures, and to perform the other duties pertaining to ecclesiastical discourse."

There is a significant disconnect here.  All the evidence seems to come from the period around 215 CE and derives at least in part from Julius Africanus's Chronology.  Nevertheless Eusebius seems to have taken this cluster of information and spread it out over the bare boned outline of the period covering the beginning of the so-called Crisis of the Third Century.  At 6.28 he introduces Maximinus Thrax saying that "on account of his hatred toward the household of Alexander, which contained many believers, he began a persecution, commanding that only the rulers of the churches should be put to death, as responsible for the Gospel teaching."  Yet this is totally unsubstantiated as is the claim that Origen wrote On Martyrdom and other books allegedly during persecutions at this time.

The reference to Gordian follows (6.29) but by now an explanation emerges for why Julius Africanus and the material related to Gregory and Athenodorus were moved here.  Eusebius had no information about Christians prominent or otherwise to fill in the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century.  The Empire after all was collapsing from within.  We have to wonder whether anything notable was even preserved from this period.  Indeed most critical of all is the fact that in his earlier Chronicle Eusebius actually discusses Africanus under Caracalla (211 - 217 CE).[8]

As such Eusebius moves the reference to Gregory, Julius Africanus, his chronicle to fill in the hole in his narrative.  Yet it is important to note that the original understanding was that Gregory and Africanus were contemporaries at the beginning of the third century.  In Jerome Letter 70 the two are separated from a list of later authorities as living at the same time and having the same basic character:

There are also in circulation the books of Julius Africanus, who wrote historical works on chronology, and of Theodore, who was subsequently called Gregory, men endowed with the miracles and virtues of the apostles. All of them interweave the teachings and sayings of the philosophers to such such an extent in their books that you might be at a loss as to which to admire in them first, their secular learning or their knowledge of the Scriptures."[8]  

Jerome here remembers both men to have apostolic character because of their working of wonders.  Yet a number of witnesses to the original chronicle of Africanus adds another name to the list of contemporaries - Clement of Alexandria.

The ninth century Byzantine scholar George Monachus determined in part from Africanus' Chronology that at  "living during his [Decius'] rule were Clement, author of the Stromata, and Africanus and Gregory Thaumaturgus."[9]  Many scholars today act as if they are puzzled by the statement.  Yet we have just seen that Eusebius places Africanus just before Philip the Arab (244 - 249) and references a five year apprenticeship for Gregory.  This makes clear that in Africanus's original Chronology Clement was mentioned in the same breath with Gregory.[10]

Clement is generally thought to have lived until 225 CE.  Yet when was he active?  While it is well established in our best sources that Eusebius often ignores Africanus' original material, there are good grounds for believing that he willing misrepresented early details of the life of Origen. For instance in the eighth century Byzantine scholar George Cedrenus we read the statement:

Commodus, son of Marcus, reigned for 12 years, 5 months [...] As the most learned Africanus says: During his reign, Clement, author of the Stromata, was becoming known in Alexandria. Origen became a pupil of Clement. Montanus, the heresiarch, was also living at that time. He claimed that he himself was [the] Paraclete.[11]  

Francis Thee in his Julius Africanus and the Christian View of Magic notes that "in his account of the reign of Commodus, Cedrenus cites 'Africanus the Chronographer' as placing 'Clement the Stromatist' in this time, with the following clause making Origen a pupil of Clement. The next paragraph, describing the reign of Pertinax, cites Eusebius as placing the floruits of Symmachus, Porphyry, and Africanus, and the martyrdom of Leonidas, father of Origen, in this reign."

We cannot comment on all the assertions made in this reference but it is worth noting that the allusion to Leonides being martyred in 193 CE certainly works better than the obvious mistake in Book Six of Eusebius where it is timed to Demetrius's rise to the bishopric shortly after 'the tenth year of Severus.'  The original reading must have been 'the tenth year of Commodus' which agrees with what is written in Book Five.  If Origen's father's death is pushed back ten years the same should also be done for the date of his birth - i.e. from 185 to 175 CE.

This is justified by taking a close look at perhaps the most important historical references in the writings of Origen - a statement likely made in 235 CE:

Behold who ruled thirty years ago, how his rule flourished, but suddenly “like the flower of the grass” he withered away; then another after and another, who next became rulers and princes and “all their glory” and honor withered away, not only “as the flower,” but also as dry dust and was scattered by the wind. Not even a vestige remained of it. (HomPs 36 1.2)

These words appear in Origen's Homily on the 36th Psalm. Origen refers to a ruler whose rule flourished 30 years ago and then withered “like the flower of the grass”, to be followed “by another,” all of whom had their glory that also withered and was scattered like dust, so that no vestige remains of it.

Nautin has suggested that the man to whom Origen refers who ruled thirty years ago was Septimius Severus. Origen refers to four rulers in the paragraph, all of whom had their moments of glory, he says, and then faded. I think he is referring to the four Severan rulers: Septimius, Caracalla, Elagabalus, and Alexander, skipping over the usurper Macrinus who ruled only one year after he had murdered Caracalla. Septimius Severus died in February 211. The latest date for Origen’s sermon, then, if he was using Septimius’ death as his point of reference, would be 241.  Nautin then proposes that Origen's homilies were delivered at Caesarea in one of the following three year periods:  238-41, 239-42, 240-43, or 241-44 with the Homily on Psalms beginning the liturgical cycle.[12]

Yet if you simply look at the information in the passage it seems rather clear that the most likely time for the composition of these words is the reign of Maximinus Thrax (235 - 238 CE).  After all the end of the Severan dynasty would have been most topical then.  The reason is so reluctant to accept this date is that he doesn't know what to do with Eusebius's statement that Origen was over sixty when he first allowed these homilies to be recorded.  This contradicts the traditional assumption that Origen was eighteen or so at his father's death in 202 CE.  There were no known persecutions during this period in history.  Yet it is worth noting that the Second Book of Clement's Stromata generally thought to have been written in 193 CE makes specific references to contemporary persecutions in Alexandria.

Eusebius's entire understanding of the life of Origen is faulty.  Once we see that Eusebius moved the account of Julius Africanus from Caracalla in his Chronicle to the period between Gordian and Philip the Arab, the idea that the related story - "at this time also' - of Gregory and Athenodorus must also have taken place 215 CE.  After all Gregory's original panergyric for Origen makes specific reference to him going to Caesarea as Origen first arrived there.  There is absolutely nothing in Eusebius's narrative which suggest that Origen was continually residing in Caesarea since his escape from Alexandria in 215 CE.

Moreover it is also worth noting the reference to Firmilian c 215 CE - "it was in the tenth year of [Carcalla] that Origen removed from Alexandria to Cæsarea, leaving the charge of the catechetical school in that city to Heraclas. Not long afterward Demetrius, bishop of the church of Alexandria, died, having held the office for forty-three full years, and Heraclas succeeded him. At this time Firmilianus, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, was conspicuous.  He was so earnestly affected toward Origen, that he urged him to come to that country for the benefit of the churches, and moreover he visited him in Judea, remaining with him for some time, for the sake of improvement in divine things."

We cannot forget that when Gregory of Nyssa tells the story of Gregory's initiation, it takes place alongside Firmilian.  "After he had passed through the whole education of worldly wisdom, he met a certain Firmilian, from a prominent Cappadocian family, a man of similar moral principles, as he showed by his subsequent life, since he became an ornament of the church of Caesarea, and he manifested to his friend what he wanted to do with his life: to focus on God.  When he learned that his friend was preoccupied with the same strong desire, he forsook all concern with worldly philosophy and went .with him to the one who at that time was giving instruction in the philosophy of the Christians  (this was Origen, often mentioned in books)."  It would have been impossible for Gregory of Nyssa to have constructed this narrative in this way unless he had received a tradition that Thaumaturgus was present in Caesarea c. 215 CE.


[9] [Symeon Logothetes (Leo Grammaticus [76,14 - 77,1 Bekker] = Theodosius Melitenus [56,25 - 57,2 Tafel]) ~ Georgius Monachus continuatus (360,4-6 Murait = PG ПО, 552C)]

[11]  [ Symeon Logothetes (cod. Vat. gr. 163, f. 20r = Leo Grammaticus [71,2-11 Bekker] = Theodosius Melitenus [54,6-14 Tafel]) et ps. Symeon f. 79v-80r = Georgius Cedrenus (441,3-12 Bekker)]

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