Thursday, May 9, 2013

J D Barnes METHODIUS, MAXIMUS, AND VALENTINUS Journal of Theological Studies, N.S., Vol. XXX, Pt. 1, April 1979

It is a notorious fact that a passage of more than two hundred lines appears, in identical or largely identical form, in three different works ascribed to three different authors:

(1) in Eusebius' Praeparatio Evangelica (vii. 22), where it is quoted as from Maximus, On Matter—a writer whom Eusebius elsewhere dates to the reign of Septimius Severus {HE v. 27.1);
(2) in the dialogue conventionally entitled 'On right belief in God' (De recta in deumfide), whose main interlocutor is named Adamantius and which was ascribed to Origen from the fourth century onwards (pp. 146.15-162.3);[1]
(3) in Methodius, On Free Will (5.1-12.8).[2]

The close similarities between the dialogue and Methodius continue beyond the point where Eusebius' quotation stops, and in both writers the passage quoted by Eusebius is preceded by another virtually identical passage of almost one hundred lines (pp. 135.25 ff. = On Free Will 3.1-4.5). In addition, the dialogue contains a number of very substantial similarities to Methodius' dialogue On the Resurrection, sometimes extending over several pages.[3]

What is the relationship between the three writers ? At first sight, it might seem that Maximus should be the source of the other two.[4] But a close comparison of Eusebius' quotation with the dialogue and with Methodius shows that, whatever Eusebius intended to do, he has in fact quoted Methodius, from whom there is hardly a single significant or substantial divergence in wording over more than two hundred lines.[5]

An explanation of how and why Eusebius does this must await an elucidation of the relationship between the dialogue and Methodius, but of the fact there can be no serious doubt. Eusebius, therefore, may be disregarded in a discussion of the relationship between the other two passages. The prevailing view of this relationship derives from an article published in 1888, in which Theodor Zahn argued that the dialogue copies Methodius, from which he deduced the inevitable corollary that the dialogue was written no earlier than c. 300.[6] Zahn's conclusion has subsequently been adopted by editors, translators and commentators, and in standard works of reference.[7] To the best of my knowledge, no scholar has contested Zahn's arguments or his main conclusion in order to argue that Methodius copied the dialogue. This latter view I hope, if not to prove conclusively, at least to render more plausible and more probable than the conventional one.


The dialogue De recta in deum fide is preserved both by several Greek manuscripts, of which only one is earlier than the fourteenth century,[8] and in a Latin translation made by Rufinus in 399, which survives in a single manuscript of the twelfth century.[9] This fact is very relevant to the date, the original title and the authorship of the dialogue. The form of the work is a series of linked but separate conversations in which Adamantius refutes the dualistic theories of five interlocutors. The Greek text consistently and clearly identifies the type of heresy which each espouses: Megethius and Marcus are Marcionites (pp. 16; 60; 96; 114; 200), Marinus is a follower of Bardesanes (p. 114), and Droserius and Valens are Valentinians (pp. 136; 152; 154). Rufinus translates accurately all except one of the passages which establish these identifications, but he also makes three additions, or glosses, external to the text of the actual dialogue, which have no parallel in the Greek: Megethius is twice described as a Manichee (pp. 3; 5) and Marcus as Marcionis schismaticus, ut sunt Manichaei (p. 61), where the Greek has merely MapKiajvioTrjs (p. 60). Zahn explained the contrast by the hypothesis that the Greek version, reworked under Constantine, omits the original references to Manichaeism.[10] That will not do. The whole dialogue is devoted to a problem as central to Mani as to Marcion, Valentinus, and Bardesanes: how many uncreated First Principles are there, one or more? Yet the heterodox ideas attacked are not those of Mani and his followers, but ones advanced by thinkers of the second century. The natural inference from that fact is that the dialogue was composed before Mani's ideas became familiar to the inhabitants of the Roman Empire, i.e. before the end of the third century.[11] In the three places where Rufinus refers to Manichees, he has surely glossed the original in an anachronistic fashion, precisely because he missed an allusion which he expeced the text to contain.

The relation of the Greek and Latin versions to the original appears to be different in a passage which refers to persecution. The Greek text describes persecution as a thing of the past, and expressly states that 'now the emperor is a worshipper of God' (p. 40.20)—which entails a date after 313. Rufinus' version, however, represents persecution as a contemporary phenomenon:

Meg(ethius) d(ixit): Vel ex eo quod in persecutionibus sumus semper, manifestum debet esse quod alterius dei sumus, contrarii huius qui fecit mundum et odit nos cum suo mundo. Denique sic scriptum est, quia cor regis in manu dei est (Proverbs 21.1), huius scilicet qui praeest huic regno et habet in manu sua cor regis et inclinat illud ad persequendum nos. Ad(amantius) d(ixit): . . .Secundum etenim hanc rationem quam dicis omnes reges, quippe quorum cor in manu eius dei sit qui adversatur bom dei famuhs et favet his qui sui sunt, deberent omnes omnino persequi Christianos, nee unquam aliud agere posteriorem liceret quam egit prior. Nunc autem videmus quod alios oderat llle qui prior fuit, et alios dehgit qui nunc est . . . . Sed nee nos soli persecutionem patimur. Et prophetae eadem passi sunt . . .. Similiter autem et Christi discipuli, exempla prophetarum sequentes, persecutionum saevitiam tolerant (1. 21, p. 41.12- 43-2).

Zahn argued that Rufinus here preserves the sense of the Greek original, which a reviser changed to meet the changed circumstances of Constantine's reign and a Christian emperor.[12] On the other side, V. Buchheit has contended that Rufinus, whom he brands as a notorious mistranslator, has perverted the original, whose composition must accordingly fall later than 324.[13] This latter opinion is implausible. First, it postulates a writer under Constantine who ignores all the theological issues of the late third and early fourth century in order to refute antiquated heresies which flourished in the second and third centuries. Second, it appeals to an estimate of Rufinus' capacities and honesty as a translator which has been vigorously challenged in the case of other works.[14] And third (though this is not so strong an argument), a motive for falsification of the passage is lacking, unless Rufinus be supposed deliberately to have altered the dramatic date of the original dialogue. Zahn's view of the relationship between the two passages remains by far the more probable.[15] But, if it is correct, then Zahn's date of c. 300 is too late. The passage quoted presupposes a single Roman emperor and virtually continuous persecution: that should exclude composition during the persecution which began in 303, when there were four emperors and when different emperors adopted divergent policies towards the Christians. On the natural interpretation of Rufinus' version, the allusions to the different religious policies of successive emperors suit the middle of the third century—and no other period, either earlier or later. Specifically, the successive emperors who loved and hated the Christians (apparently in that order) should be either Severus Alexander and Maximinus, or Philip and Decius.[16] Admittedly, the date of composition may be significantly later than the dramatic date of the dialogue, in which Adamantius is presumably intended to be Origen, who probably died in 252I4..[17] Nevertheless, no Christian writing much after 260 could plausibly represent persecution as a frequent contemporary phenomenon.[18]

Both its philosophical and its historical content, therefore, indicate that the dialogue ought to be dated long before the end of the third century.[19] Its author's name was known neither to Basil and Gregory nor to Rufinus, and it leaves no trace in the Greek manuscripts. The prologue which precedes the work in the manuscripts describes it as 'Dialogue of Adamantius, also called Origen, about right belief in God, with Megethius and Marcus, Droserius, Valens and Marinus the heretics', while an editorial note in the Philocalia observes that 'this passage is found word for word in Origen's dialogue with Marcionites and other heretics, where Eutropius adjudicates and Megethius opposes',[20] and Rufinus describes the work in similar words as libri Adamantii Origenis adversus haereticos numero quinque. The author, therefore, remains to be identified.[21] Nor does the late evidence of the manuscripts prove that the original title was 'On right belief in God'. Neither Basil and Gregory nor Rufinus seems to know what the dialogue was originally entitled: on the available evidence, the original title could have been 'Adamantius'— or even 'On Matter'.


The chronology of Methodius' career and works is obscure. Four facts, however, stand out. First, Methodius was alive early in the fourth century: in a work written in 310, Eusebius complained that he had recently turned against Origen, despite having praised him in the past.[22] Second, Jerome's report that Methodius was martyred 'at the end of the last persecution' should indicate that he died in 312 or 313.[23] Third, the long work On the Resurrection, which is overtly hostile to Origen, is later than the Symposium, which propounds some ideas which resemble Origen's and perhaps even derive'from him.[24] Fourth, the Symposium belongs to a period when Christians were not being actively persecuted, and was therefore written between c. 260 and c. 300.[25]

These facts suffice to render the hypothesis that the dialogue used Methodius highly improbable. First, Methodius appears, on the independent evidence, to be the later writer: in particular, the anti-Origenist On the Resurrection should have been completed towards the end of Methodius' life—therefore, hardly much earlier than c. 300. Second, it is implausible, on philosophical grounds, to suppose that the writer of the dialogue, for whom Origen is a figure of authority and deserving respect, closely copied a work devoted to attacking Origen's ideas. However, if it is Methodius' work On the Resurrection which copies the dialogue (not vice versa), that implies most strongly that the resemblances between the dialogue and Methodius' On Free Will also result from imitation by (not of) Methodius.


When Zahn argued that the dialogue copies Methodius, he did not undertake a close comparison of the two texts with an open mind. He argued rather from the general literary and artistic inferiority of the dialogue, and specifically that the introduction of Valentinus' doctrines in the dialogue reflects Methodius' dialogue-form in an inappropriate context.[26] A general argument of this nature should not be regarded as decisive, since some authors are capable of improving on models whom they imitate closely. Moreover, the specific comparison adduced by Zahn tends to support the opposite conclusion.

In the dialogue, a document is read (pp. 136-142), which is described as 6 opos TOV OvaXevTivov and TO 86yp.a OvaXevrivov and designated as a quotation from Valentinus' own writings (opOorarov 86y/j.a KO.1 opos aKAvirjS ixTtOels VTTO TOV aotf>ov OiaXevTivov). It begins as follows:

OvTcuol 8e TTCOS ev SiaTedeTodcu vofii^wv inl TT)V OIKIO.V avexu>pow TrjV ifxrjv Trj 8e eTnovor), TOVTCOTI orj/xepov, eX8d>v icopwv 8vo Tivds, Ofieyevels dvBpanrovs Xiyw 8rj, 8ia.TrX7)KTit,oixivovs KO.1 XoiSopov/xevovs OAATJACHS, erepov Trpos TOV erepov, TOV S' av irdXtv 6jj>inaT (pp. 136.25-138.4).

From the two men and their behaviour, the writer infers the existence of two gods, hostile to each other. Can this be an authentic quotation from Valentinus? Modern students of Gnosticism silently imply a negative answer by steadfastly ignoring the passage. It shows, nevertheless, a marked affinity of thought to something which Hippolytus reports: Valentinus said he saw a new-born baby which told him it was the Logos, then he added a tragic myth and thence derived his heretical ideas.[27] Similarly, the document quoted in the dialogue appeals to Greek mythology in the course of its exposition. As for the opening words of the quotation, they do not (as Zahn supposed) necessarily indicate derivation from a dialogue: they could come from a letter, and Valentinus (it is known) propounded his theories in letters which, artifice or not, read like genuine letters.[28]

In Methodius' dialogue On Free Will, the same passage is put into the mouth of one of the interlocutors, whose name may be Valentinus and who may be intended to be the heresiarch himself (3-5).[29] It occurs in a continuous passage, but what precedes does not perhaps perfectly explain why the speaker should have been in a good humour on the preceding day (2.1-9). Comparison of the passages, therefore, does not suggest that their relationship differs from that which chronological and philosophical arguments indicate: it is Methodius who imitates the dialogue, not the dialogue which copies Methodius.

It should be observed that this conclusion does not depend on the assumption that the quoted document is a genuine letter of Valentinus. It requires only the hypothesis that the author of the dialogue regarded it as such. However, if the dialogue does preserve a genuine, though unnoticed, fragment of Valentinus, then Methodius must be the imitator. Clearly the authenticity of the quotation merits a most careful examination by students of Gnosticism.


If the preceding arguments are valid, the dialogue conventionally known as De recta in deumfide was written long before A.D. 300, probably close to the middle of the third century. Can its author be identified ? There are three possibilities—Maximus, Methodius, and unknown author—of which none can be completely excluded. The dialogue could conceivably be an early work of Methodius, which he later plundered when composing On Free Will and On the Resurrection, even though it differs greatly in style from Methodius' known writings. Alternatively, the author may be otherwise unknown. But the third possibility is the most attractive: that Eusebius has preserved the writer's name, even though he misdates him by fifty years. For if De recta in deum fide is indeed identical with Maximus' On Matter, then the cause of all the confusion can be elucidated. When composing the Preparatio Evangelica, Eusebius employed assistants to insert the quotations into the text which he dictated:[30] in this case, the assistant mistakenly inserted the passage of Methodius which so closely resembles the passage which Eusebius intended to quote—from Maximus' surviving dialogue on matter and the origin of evil.

Although it is dangerous to build hypothesis on hypothesis, this reconstruction will perhaps explain a divergence of traditions about Methodius' date and milieu which existed at least as early as 392: Methodius, Olympi Lyciae et postea Tyri episcopus . . .. Ad extremum novissimae persecutions, sive ut alii adfirmant, sub Decio et Valeriano, in Chalcide Graeciae martyrio coronatus est (Jerome, De Viris Illustribus 83).

The problem of deciding which episcopal see or sees Methodius occupied is notoriously difficult: Greek traditions independent of Jerome have Olympus and also Patara, while Tyre is often repeated from Jerome, and various items of late evidence state that Methodius was bishop of Side in Pamphylia, Myra in Lycia and Philippi in Macedonia.[31] It seems, however, that Tyre must be an error (perhaps Jerome misheard or misunderstood),[32] whereas for a bishop to move from the small town of Olympus to the important city of Patara is extremely plausible. Moreover, the setting of Methodius' dialogues, the Symposium and On the Resurrection, confirms a Lycian milieu. It may be proposed, therefore, albeit with diffidence, that Methodius was bishop of Olympus and then of Patara, and that he was executed at Patara on 20 June 312[33]—perhaps after a trial by the emperor Maximinus who may well have visited Patara during the summer of that year.[34]

The divergent tradition known to Jerome, which assigns Methodius to Greece and to the middle of the third century, may derive precisely from a confusion of Methodius with Maximus. Much commends the hypothesis that it was Maximus, the writer of the extant dialogue on matter and the origin of evil, who was martyred in Greece under Decius or Valerian. His work deserves to be restored to a historical and intellectual context, from which both Eusebius and modern scholarship have displaced it.[35]

[1] All references are given to the (admittedly unsatisfactory) edition of W. H. van de Sande Bakhuyzen, G.C.S. iv (1901). The new edition in the same series promised by V. Buchheit (Byzantinische Zettschnft, h (1958), p. 314) has not yet been published. Buchheit has, however, produced a separate edition, with commentary, of Rufinus' translation alone (Studia et Testimoma Antiqua, i, 1966).
[2] Edited by G. N. Bonwetsch, G.C.S. xxvii (1917), p. 157.6—178.9.
[3] Listed by van de Sande Bakhuyzen, op. cit., pp. xxxvui f.; Bonwetsch, op. cit., p. IX.
[4] E. Salmon, Dictionary of Christian Biography, iii (1882), pp. 884 f. This view appears to be reasserted by K. Mras, in his edition of the Praeparatio Evangelica: he holds that Eusebius quotes Maximus, whom Methodius copied (G.C.S. xlin.i (1954). P- 4O5)-
[5] J. A. Robinson, The Philocalia of Origen (1893), pp. xl ff.; 212 ff.—though he does not adequately distinguish between the separate questions of what Eusebius quotes and how Methodius and the dialogue are related.
[6] T. Zahn, 'Die Dialoge des "Adamantius" mit den Gnostikern', Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte, ix (1888), pp. 193-239.
[7] Van de Sande Bakhuyzen, op. cit., p. xvi; A. Harnack, Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius, 11 (1904), pp. 149 ff.; Bonwetsch, op. cit., p. ix; J. Farges, Methode d'Olympe: Du libre arbitre (1929), p. 6; A. Vaillant, Patrologia Orientalis, xxn (1930), p. 637; F. X. Murphy, Rufinus of Aquileia (345-411)- His Life and Works (1945), p. 124; J. Quasten, Patrology, ii (1953), pp. 146 f.; H. Musunllo, St. Methodius, The Symposium: A Treatise on Chastity (Ancient Christian Writers, xxvn, 1958), p. 3; G. Schroeder, Eusebe de Cesarie: ha Preparation livangehque, Livre VII (Sources chretiennes, cxv, 1975), p. 119; E. Junod, Origene, Phdocalie 21-27: Sur le libre arbitre (Sources chretiennes, ccxxvi, 1976), p. 67.
[8] viz. Venetus Graecus 496, probably of the twelfth century, from which all the other manuscripts appear to derive, cf. P. Koetschau, Theologische Literaturzeitung, xxvi (1901), cols. 475 ff.
[9] Discovered and published by C. P. Caspan, Kirchenhistorische Anecdota, 1 (1883), pp. 1-219, it is printed en face with the Greek text by van de Sande Bakhuyzen, G.C.S. iv, pp. 1-243—to which references are here given. [10] Zahn, op. cit., pp. 213 ff.
[11] Eusebius dates the entry of Mani's ideas into the Roman Empire c. 280 (Chronicle, p. 227 Karst; HE. vii. 31; Jerome, Chronicle 2231 Helm).
[12] Zahn, op. cit., pp. 205 ff.
[13] V. Buchheit, 'Rufinus von Aquileja als Falscher des Adamantiosdialogs', Byzantinische Zeitschrift, li (1958), pp. 314—28, and in his edition (1966), pp. xxxv ff.
[14] J. M. Rist, 'The Greek and Latin texts of the discussion on free-will in De Principus, Book III*, Origeniana {Quaderni di 'Vetera Christianorum', xii, I97S). PP- 97-n 1; H. Crouzel, 'Comparaisons pre'cises entre les fragments du Peri Archon selon la Philocalie et la traduction du Rufin', ibid., pp. 113—121.
[15] Van de Sande Bakhuyzen conveniently prints the words which have probably been altered in smaller type (p. 40).
[16] For the changes in imperial attitude in 235 and 249, see Eusebius, H.E. vi. 28; 39.1; 41.9 (a letter of Dionysius of Alexandria).
[17] Eusebius, H.E. vi. 14.10 ('ASa/uivTios (KH TOUTO yap fy TW 'Qpiycvfi vii.i (death).
[18] Eusebius, H.E. vii. 13 ff.; Lactantius, Mort. Pers. 4-6.
[19] It may be relevant that it puts the word '6y.oovoi.os' into Adamantius' mouth (p. 4.12): it was condemned by the council of bishops at Antioch which deposed Paul of Samosata in 268 (Athanasius, De Synodis, 43.1; 45.4; Hilary, De Synodis 8i-a; Basil, Epp. 52.1).
[20] van de Sande Bakhuyzen, op. cit., pp. xxiii; xi.
[21] Hence the theory that the dialogue was published anonymously or pseudonymously by a disciple of Methodius (A. Vaillant, Patrologia Onentalts, xxii (1930), pp. 646 ff.).
[22] Jerome, Contra Rufinum, i. 11 (P.L. xxiii, col. 423): 'Eusebius . . ., in sexto hbro 'AnoXoyias Origenis, hoc idem obiicit Methodio episcopo et martyri, quod tu in meis laudibus criminans, et dicit: Quomodo ausus est Methodius nunc contra Origenem scnbere, qui haec et haec de Origenis locutus est dogmatibus ?'
[23] Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, 83.
[24] Methodius, De cibis 1.1 (p. 427.10 ff.), expressly states that the Symposium has been completed, but that he is still working at On the Resurrection. For discussions of Methodius' 'Origenism', see H. J. Musunllo, St. Methodius, The Symposium (1958), p. 180.
[25] Musunllo, ibid., pp. 11 ff.; 175 f.
[26] Zahn, op. cit., pp. 231 ff.
[27] Hippolytus, Refutatio vi. 42.2 = Valentinus, frag. 7 Volker.
[28] Clement, Strom. 11. 36.2; 11. 114.6; 111. 59.3 = frags. 1-3 Volker.
[29] The manuscripts style the speakers 'OvaX ' (or 'Ova.' or 'Ov.') and "OpBoS (o|os)' (pp. 147.21; 156.14; 162 ff.). Bonwetsch expanded the contraction as 'OvaXevTiviavos' (in the index, p. 540). But the parallel of 'Thecla' in the Symposium suggests that the speaker may be Valentinus himself.
[30] K. Mras, G.C.S. xliii. 1 (1954), p. lviii.
[31] On the evidence and its evaluation, see especially F. Diekamp, 'Ober den Bischofssitz des hi. Martyrers und Kirchenvaters Methodius', Theologische Quartalschrift, cix (1928), pp. 285-308; Musunllo, op. cit., pp. 170 ff.
[32] Tyrannion was bishop for several years until his martyrdom c. 312 (Eusebius, H.E. viu. 13.3): there is, therefore, no niche for Methodius at Tyre at the appropriate time, cf. T. Zahn, Zeitschnft fiir Kirchengeschichte, viii (1886), pp. 18 ff.
[33] For the day, Synaxanum Eccl. Cpl., cols. 757-8, cf. Propylaeum ad Ada Sanctorum Decembris (1940), p. 404.
[34] Maximinus resided in Nicomedia from summer 311 to spring 312, and was at Antioch in July or August 312 (Eusebius, H.E. ix. ga.4; 6.3; 3; Malalas, p. 311 Bonn), apparently after visiting Panamara in Caria (Sylloge3 900).
[35] I am extremely grateful to my colleague John Rist for discussion of the problems which surround Methodius and for his careful scrutiny of this attempt to solve some of them.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.