Category Archives: Patristics

Pseudo-Chrysostom Sermon, Part 2

The other day, WordPress decided to get rid of about half of the sermon post, which I had to rewrite; and then later it gave up on letting me post anything more. So I guess I’m not going to fight it anymore; and here’s a second post with the non-Chrysostom, non-Ephrem, non-John Damascene sermon. Back to talking about the widow who was planning to make some cakes for herself and her kid, and then die of starvation, before Elijah came along and multiplied oil.

To her, in a time of famine, Elijah was sent, when nearly all the ground was cracking into pieces from drought — when the sky was burning, and the air turned bronze, and the clouds were held back. When not an herb, not a flower, not a thorn branch, not a dewy breath of air, and not an ear of grain stirred. When the rivers dried up, and the breasts of springs would not let down the waters, and the sea at the river mouth had nothing coming into it, with no sweet water or rain running down.

Then Elijah was sent to the poor woman, and to the widow.

But look, a widow endures trouble even in a time of prosperity. And yet the prophet left the rich, who had loaves of bread, and descended from the mountain, and came to her.

So why is it better that he bring the fire down from heaven than that he bring down bread?

Could he not do it?

Oh yes, he could. But he doesn’t do it.

Why?

Because then the widow would be deprived of the fruit of her hospitality. But in this other way, he multiplies both the handful of flour and the tiny drop of oil, by his blessing.

For the prophet was not so much fed, as that he provisioned the poor woman. And he proved that her hidden heart was a resolutely purposeful and good one (euproaireton). [cf. 2 Cor. 9:7, “proairetai kardia”]

The mighty God does this with all the saints who are in the world, so you are fed yourself [by others]. He presents a gift, so that at the time of hospitality, one may pick out the resolutely purposeful and good hearts from their fruit. (cf. Mt. 23:33, Lk. 6:44)

But if those indebted [to God] may not be persuaded to receive them with welcome, either they will be fed by birds, like Elijah on the mountain; or by a prophet-host, like Daniel in the pit; or by a sea animal, like Jonah by the whale; or they will rain down food for themselves, as with our fathers in the wilderness. For, when not received with welcome by the true indebted, the manna rained down from heaven, and water sprang forth from the rock.

But whenever the saints should go about living with others in the world, He suspends His right hand. And when He should see them afflicted, He allows it, so that, taught by the grace given to them through others, having shown beneficence to them, the many willing may harvest fruit of salvation.

Therefore Elijah was sent to the widow – to her and nobody beside her (cf. Lk. 4:26) — not for the handful of flour, which was the very thing which she got with toil, and which would have been enough for her and her son in better times.

And what did he say to her?

‘”Fetch me a little water in a vessel, so I can drink.” (3 Kgs 17:10/1 Kgs. 17:10)

But as she was going after it, ‘he cried out after her… “And bring me a bit of bread in your hand.”‘ (3 Kgs. 17:11/1 Kgs. 17:11)

And she, who did not have anything, spoke to him — and what she did not have, she was granted.

Why?

‘”As [your] Lord lives, I have no ash cake; but only a handful of flour, and a little oil in the bowl.”‘ (3 Kgs. 17:12/1 Kgs. 17:12)

Admirable, because in such a lack of food, what her present poverty left to her was not denied to him.

How many inviters now, who, treating gold and silver like clay, renew good deeds to their friends, and how many flatterers refuse to take them? And turning to the ones consoled for an investment, letters are drawn up in terms stronger than iron; and the hand that was accepted at first is handcuffed by the scribes, taking the gold as proxies and mediators.

But at the first sound, she did not deny him that handful of flour.

And what did the prophet say to her?

“Hurry, and make an ash cake, and first give it to me, and afterwards make one for yourself and your son.” (cf. 3 Kgs. 17:13/1 Kgs. 17:13)

The saying of the prophet was a testing, a trial of heart, a touchstone of resolution. And the heart of that blessed woman was as if under a yoke; and it was tested.

How would she choose? To care for her own son, or to hospitality for the prophet?

But her decision was to accept trouble for herself and for her child, and to receive the prophet with welcome. For she sees that “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward… and he who pours a cold cup of water… in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” (cf. Mt. 10:41-42)

And what did the prophet say to her? “Hurry.”

[This is not in our existing Septuagint versions of 3 Kgs. 17:13. But it is in the LXX version of Genesis 18:6, in which Sarah is told to make cakes.]

In fact, therefore, was he so hungry as to beg for hurry?

Not at all; instead, he begged the cheerful and warm haste of doing good, not the haste of suffering or “necessity. For God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7, cf. Deut. 15:10)

“Hurry… and make it for me first… and afterward, for yourself and for your son.”

“Hurry,” as Abraham hurried when the angels came to stay — “to the cattle,” to the “calf,” so that he could welcome the Lamb. (LXX Gen. 18:7)

And like Sarah, she hurried to make an ash cake, so that she could receive the hidden Bread from the Heavens. (LXX Gen. 18:6)

“Hurry,” and do a sacrifice to God, like Abraham — and not “Do it for yourself first, and then for me.” Not like Cain; not like Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli the priest; who insulted God, first receiving the first fruits of the gifts offered to God. But do in haste what has been commanded.

And so, having considered her wealth, the ash cake bread — it was acceptable — it was worthy of proclamation, and He filled the house of the virtuous woman. For He says, “It shall not run out — the handful of flour in the pitcher, and the oil in the cruse — until the Lord gives rain upon the earth.” (LXX 3 Kgs. 17:14/cf. 1 Kgs. 17:14)

Why until then?

Also according to necessity.

For the end is to restrain the old Law, until there should be a loosing of the rain of new grace. And the work followed the word.

Do you see how virtuous women harvested the fruits of hospitality? For the fruits of virtuous labors are famous, and the root of prudence is imperishable.

O women, you have heard about the practices of wicked women, and the excellences of virtuous women! Therefore, love the latter, but do not long [to be like] the former! And imitate the latter, but hate the former!

So that by following the virtuous around the racecourse — I say more beautifully, by following them in their holy dance — you may be counted in Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

And that’s both parts of the sermon. As you see, it’s not misogynist at all.

An ash cake or hearth cake or hoecake is when you make flatbread on a nice flat stone next to a fire, using it like a baking sheet, and then you rake warm ashes over the top, using the ashes like aluminum foil or a pot lid. When the bread is done, you take it out of the ashes; and since it’s a flatbread, the ashes can be brushed off. It’s a camping thing, nowadays, but it used to be a standard way to make bread. You can also roast skin-on potatoes in ashes.

White ashes are hot enough for cooking; gray ashes are too cool. And if you don’t want to be eating ashes, it’s good to wrap the cakes in leaves, or to put a lid on top of the cake before piling on the ashes. And if you don’t have a flat stone (or don’t trust local stone varieties in the fire), you can even use a sturdy board as your cookie sheet, like this guy. (Because the ashes shouldn’t be hot enough to set your board on fire.) Propping it up in the air next to the fire, like this guy does, is a pro move that is also used to cook meat. (The infamous Civil War recipe for cooking rat uses a board, but the peacetime use was cooking squirrel. Obviously the meat is very lean and skinny.)

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Pseudo-Chrysostom, “On the Beheading of the Forerunner and Baptizer, John; and on Herodias.”

Part 1:

Jezebel has come around again, asking [Ahab] to seize Naboth’s vineyard, and to pursue St. Elijah into the mountains. But I suppose I do not connect them alone, in a daze; but that you all can hear it with me (who am the voice of the evangelist), and wonder at the freedom of speech of John, the shallowmindedness of Herod, and the brutish madness [theriode manian] of impious women.

Then what did we hear?

‘For Herod had laid hold of John… and put him into prison.’ (Mt. 14:3)

Why?

‘Because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.’ (Mt. 14:3)

And you rightly blame the shallowmindedness of Herod for bringing in this most miserable woman.

What would you say, and how would you explain the remarkable wickedness of these women?

Indeed, it seems to me that no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women. [Ἐμοὶ μὲν δοκεῖ μηδὲν εἶναι ἐν κόσμῳ θηρίον ἐφάμιλλον γυναικὸς πονηρᾶς.]

Surely the sermon by me now is in regards to evil women, not about virtuous and sensible [agathes kai sophronos] women. And indeed, I know many women to be honestly behaved and virtuous [euskemonas kai agathes], whose lives I have recounted, along with the reward of their works — for edification, and for stirring up a love of good things.

But indeed, no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women. What is more ferocious among four-legged creatures than the lion? Nothing. What is more savage among serpents than the dragon? Nothing. And yet, both the lion and the dragon give way, in this matter, to evil women.

My witness is wisest Solomon, saying, “I would rather dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to live together with an evil and sharptongued woman.” (Sirach 25:23, LXX Sirach 25:16) And lest you should suppose the prophet to have said this as irony, you should study it according to these same matters.

In the lion’s den, Daniel was treated with awe; but indeed, Jezebel slew the righteous Naboth. The whale served Jonah in his belly; Delilah handed over the caught and bound Samson to the foreign-born. The dragons, asps, and horned vipers shivered before John in the desert; but indeed, Herodias cut off his head at a banquet. Ravens nourished Elijah on the mountain; Jezabel pursued Elijah to kill him, after the favor of rain had been given.

Then what did she say?

‘”If you are Elijah and I am Jezebel, may the gods do these things to me, and add these other things, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like the life of one of those you killed.” And Elijah was afraid… and ran for his life’ (LXX 3 Kgs. 19:2-3/1 Kgs. 19:2-3), and he ran from her ‘forty days’ road into the wilderness’ (LXX 3 Kgs.19:8/1 Kgs. 19:8). And when he came ‘under the broom tree… and asked, concerning his life, that he might die,’ he said, ‘”O Lord God, let it be enough now; take my life from me… for I am no better than my fathers.”‘ (LXX 3 Kgs. 19:4/1 Kgs. 19:4)

Oh, my! The prophet Elijah was afraid of a woman?

The same guy who commanded the globe’s rains with his tongue? Who brought down fire from heaven (cf. Sirach 48:3), and awoke the dead with a prayer (cf. 3 Kgs. 17:17-22/1 Kgs. 17:17-22)? He was afraid of a woman?

Indeed, he was afraid. So there is no wickedness that can be compared with an evil woman.

Wisdom speaks as a witness to this word when she says, “There is no head worse than the head of a serpent, and… there is no wickedness… above… the wickedness of a woman.” (LXX Sir. 25:15, 13/Sir. 22-23, 19)

O evil and sharp spear of the Devil! Through a woman, at the beginning, in Paradise, [the Devil] ran Adam through. Through a woman, he instigated David, the mildest man, to trickery for killing Uriah. Through a woman, he led Solomon, the wisest man, to lying. Through a woman, he blinded and cut off the hair of Samson, the strongest man. Through a woman, he laid low the sons of Eli the priest. Through a woman, he locked up Joseph, the noblest man, in prison. Through a woman, he cut off the head of John, the lantern of all the world.

But what am I saying about humans?

Through a woman, he made angels fall from heaven. (cf. Gen. 6:2?)

Through a woman, he has slain all, murdered all, dishonored all, cursed all. (cf. Eve.)

So a shameless woman spares no man (oudenos). She honors no Levite, she reveres no priest, she fears no prophet.

O evil wicked woman of evilest evil! Even if she be poor, she is rich in evil. But if wealth be her co-worker, twice the evil unbearable life! An incurable disease is the untamed wild animal.

I have seen both an asp tamed by gentling, and lions and tigers and panthers soothed and made mild. But a bad woman both rages when insulted, and swells up when gently treated.

So if she has a husband who is a ruler, she sharpens him with her wiles, night and day, to do murder, as Herodias did to Herod. If she has a husband who is a poor man, she stirs him up with tempers and quarrels. If she happen to be a widow, she herself holds everyone in dishonor.

She does not restrain her tongue for fear of the Lord; neither does she look toward the future Judgment, nor does she look toward God; nor did she know to heed the institution of friendship.

To a wicked woman, it is nothing to hand her own husband over to death. Even back then, Job’s own wife, reckless of her own blasphemy, would have handed over righteous Job, saying, “You should say some word [a curse] to the Lord, and be finished!” (Job LXX 2:9)

O, one of wicked temper! O, one of chosen lack of distress! To see the guts of her own husband not spared under the blistered pustules, as if under the sparks of burning coals, and all his flesh seized by worms. She did not turn to pity, to see him all rolled up into himself, and burning, and agonized, and constantly gasping for breath, with pain in his mouth. Not softened with compassion to see him first in royal purple robes, and then with his naked body on a dungheap. She did not remember her habit of old toward him — not as far as his glory days and when she was blooming beautifully.

And what?

“You should say some word to the Lord, and be finished!”

O gratitude of a woman! O soothing lotion in the bath preparation room of pain! O institution of friendship of one equally yoked!

Therefore, at the time he was sick, should he have uttered such a word from you [or not]? And [did you or] did you not cleanse his disease with lotion, with your prayer and beneficence?

So did temporary chastisement not suffice for him, but do you also help him toward “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46) for blasphemy? Or do you not know that “Every blasphemy and sin will be forgiven to humans, but however, blasphemy toward the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”? (Mt. 12:31, variant quote)

Would you like to see another equally-yoked one of wickedness?

Look at Delilah with me.

For she both cut off the hair of that manly Samson and tied him up, handing him over to the Gentile tribes — her own man, her own bedmate. She warmed him, coaxed him, flattered him, pretended love for him. She loved him yesterday, she cheats on him today. She warmed him with loving yesterday, she buried him by cheating on him today.

And wasn’t he handsome? And who at that time was more handsome than him, who bore seven locks on his head, which carried the image of the sevenfold Grace?

And wasn’t he manly? And who at that time was more manly than him, who, alone on the road, choked a lion, and who laid low a thousand Gentile tribesmen with a single jawbone?

But wasn’t he holy? He was so holy that when there was a lack [of water] and he was thirsty, he prayed; and still water sprang forth, from the damaged place left [in Ramath-lehi], by the jawbone he held in his hand; and from there he poured out the remedy for his thirst.

And the one so handsome, the one so manly, the one so holy — his own wife tied him up for the enemy, handing him over to the Gentile tribesmen.

And from where, therefore, came a woman who prevailed against one so manly?

Out of the household of the man, from his beneficence. She looted the mystery of his strength by night, overcoming him, naked, with a strong rope. 

For this reason, Wisdom orders you, “Beware what you entrust to your bedmate.” (LXX Micah 7:5)

Tell me, what kind of wild animal ever considered such a thing? What dragoness wants to destroy her equally yoked one? And what kind of lioness would hand over her male for slaughter? 

Do you see that Wisdom hit the mark when she said that “There is no head worse than a serpent’s head” and “there is no evil like an evil woman”? 

And clearly, he who has a wicked wife has already paid the wages of his lawlessness. The word is not unwitnessed. Listen to Wisdom talking: “A wicked woman will be given to a lawless man, for wicked works.” (Sirach 26:26)

But the word about this has to be the end, absolutely, about wicked women.

Part 2: 

But at present, we must remember the virtuous women (tas agathas) most of all. For virtuous women look for the excellence of their own virtuous husbands, and they are counted as the crowns of their husbands’ previous labors.  (cf. Prov. 12:4)

The blessed Shunammite woman — who, having urged her husband, built a little room for Elisha, so that whenever he came he could have his rest unhindered — was virtuous and hospitable, preparing for him “a bed… and a lampstand… and a table.” (2 Kgs. 4:10)

The bed was not lacking a bedcover (himation); instead, it had bedclothes (stromata) fit for a prophet. The lampstand was not without a lantern; instead the light had oil poured into it. The table was not left empty of bread; instead it had fruit and meat.

But what could be said, what, about that blessed widow who hosted the prophet Elijah? Poverty of goods in no way hindered her, because she was rich in purpose. She had no bread, no wine, no side dish, not another earthly thing besides the consolation of poverty. No wheatbearing seed was offering her material for bread; no vine grew her a  sweet juicy bunch of grapes. No tree was offering her its late summer fruit.

For how could they, with no place with a handspan of arable earth, nor a cubit of ground for planting a vine? 

Otherwise, in the hot season, in the plowed fields of bowing grain, she would glean the ears of wheat let fall from the hands of the scythe-reapers, putting away food in proper measure to the time, according to the cycle of the year. 

Continued in next post.

Here’s the text of the sermon in digital format.

Modern article on the text parallels and reversals between Jezebel/Herodias and Ahab/Herod. “Femme Fatale Redux: Intertextual Connection” Very nice summation.

A good chunk of this sermon is found under the name of St. John of Damascus in Sacra Parallela Recensiones secundi Alphabeti, aka Parallelon. It’s also attributed to St. Ephrem under the title “Kata ton Poneron Gunaikon.”

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Not a Chrysostom Quote, Not Quoted Correctly

There’s a longish list of supposed quotes from the Fathers that shows up repeatedly in supposedly feminist works. The quotes are almost always in identical wording of an English translation, and they never provide citations from the Fathers. Rather, they cite other feminist authors, who also turn out to have cited other feminist authors as authorities. It shows up in the Congressional Record, in Irish letters to the editor, and in the Antioch Review from 1954… but with never a citation.

This is just the dumbest thing. It’s not scholarly. It’s a pre-Internet photocopy meme, or even a mimeograph meme. You can smell the purple ink.

So here’s a meme picture drawing from the Internet meme version, from “Women Without Religion”:

https://me.me/embed/i/11820961

via MEME

However, unlike many meme quotes, this one wasn’t just made up from wholecloth. It was made up from a different quote, by a different author, with a different context, which was only in existence in Greek at a monastery on Mount Sinai and some other places, and in a Latin translation, during the entire Middle Ages. (And it was also a sermon which took pains to avoid being misogynist, both in Latin and Greek, if you read the whole thing.The author specifically says in the first paragraph that he’s not talking about good and honest women. Sheesh.)

It was from a sermon by an anonymous author. It is referred to as Pseudo-Chrysostom, because it was one of many sermons misattributed to him. The Greek manuscript was found in the Sinai Polycephalon, from the 5th-7th centuries. It was a sermon about Herodias getting Salome to dance and to ask for St. John the Baptist’s head. (The sermon is also misattributed to St. Ephrem of Syria and to St. John of Damascus, so it’s Pseudo-Ephrem and Pseudo-Damascene too.)

The actual quote says, “It seems to me, that there is no other beast [therion, wild animal] on earth like an evil woman.”

And there’s a long list of Biblical bad women, but the sermon ends by praising good women.

So it’s not Chrysostom, it’s taken out of context, and it makes a specific “an evil woman” into Woman. Checks off most of the bad quote boxes, and it’s also terrible scholarship.

The paper that had the quote with actual Greek text in it was “Motivations for the Beheading of John the Baptist in Byzantine and Old Georgian Writings” by Maia Barnaveli, in the journal Phasis, 2014. (So “not all women.”)

The citation for the homily itself is Sinai Polycephalon of 864th Year, ed. by A. Shanidze, Tbilisi, 1959, 212-215; and also in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, tome 59, columns 483-490. The quote itself is in column 483 of Migne, in Greek, and in column 485 in a Latin translation that was kicking around.

Thank you, Maia Barnaveli!

I will get the Greek wording in here, but I have to get to work.

UPDATE: Even in Migne’s Chrysostom edition, back in Victorian times, the homily was listed under Spurious Works!!!!

And apparently the meme list… at least partly comes from Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum! Seriously, ladies and gentlemen? You are quoting a medieval nutcase’s out of context meme list, and turning it into a modern feminist meme list? I know what his misogynist excuse was, but what’s yours? Why am I having to dismantle his crud “proof,” when you could have done it?

(And heck, I’m sure there’s dismantling already, in the medieval anti-Malleus literature. Arrrgh.)

UPDATE 2: The sermon is actually a two-part structure, and the subject is evil wives and good wives. The first part compares Herodias to Jezebel and St. John the Baptist to St. Elijah. Then it brings in Job’s wife and Delilah, and closes with various references to evil women/wives in Micah, Sirach, and Proverbs. The second part talks about the rich, married Shunamite woman who housed Elisha, and the poor widow who housed Elijah, as examples of good women.

Seeing as both “gune” and “mulier” mean “wife” as well as “woman,” it’s possible that the best translation of the quote is that it is about an “evil wife.” (And actually, there’s several true crime shows just about evil husbands and/or evil wives….)

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Mustang Souls

“….Our Lord Christ has a palace which has many storerooms and a “cellar of wine” (cf. Sgs. 1:3; Sgs. 2:4), and it is understood to include the spaces of “the fields,” within which, having entered through the gates and admiring them, the blessed Paul gave praise, saying, “O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33) 

Among its many riches – that is, among the multitude of saints – this palace is understood also to hold mustang souls [animas agrestes], which have been caught by the Church’s hunters from the woods of philosophy, in the net of faith; after being penned up and gentled, they run to and fro through the fields of the Divine Scriptures, and with speed down the literary racecourse, for the enjoyment of the daughters of Jerusalem.”

— Apponius, Explanation of the Song of Songs

  • “agrestis” is kind of a weird word. It relates to “ager,” field, so “agrestis” can mean rural or rustic, or a peasant type of person. But when “agrestis” is describing animals, it means a wild animal, not a farm animal. So I guess it’s basically “stuff not in the city” or “animals of the woods and countryside.”
  • The passage was talking about Songs 2:7, with “the roe deer” and “the harts of the woods,” or possibly talking about she-goats as in the Hebrew. But I’m pretty sure there weren’t deer races or goat races in the ancient world. (Camel races, yes.) I’m guessing/suggesting that Apponius is talking about horses, because he does use a lot of horse imagery.
  • There were people who hunted things like deer or wild horses with nets. You basically hid the nets, made them into a sort of giant corral, got a lot of people to act as beaters to scare the animals into moving into one area, and drove all the animals into them. I assume something like this is being pictured.

UPDATE: Okay, maybe he is talking about goat races.

Apponius tends to bring up an image, and then talk about something else, and then circle back to the image. And yes, he does seem to be talking about either roe deer or some kind of mountain-loving goats. Possibly not so much a racetrack as a path, but all the same! What the heck!

Man, patristics as a window into the ancient world is just so weird.

I still contend that mustangs are as much “agrestis” as “ferus” or “saevus,” or any of the other Latin options for “wild.”

Roe deer are apparently an odd species, because like songbirds they like to live in woodlands that aren’t too dense, and that border on cleared agricultural land. They’ll live in wilderness too, but they have lived alongside humans since Neolithic times. So they really are “agrestis” in the sense of countryside animals. (We don’t really have them in the US, except in deer parks.) They stay in forest cover during the day, and then go into the open at twilight or at night.

They live in most of Europe and in Iran, and in Neolithic times they lived in Jordan. So even though the Hebrew is talking about gazelles and regular deer in Songs 2:7, it’s not that weird for the Latin translator to take it as roe deer and regular deer.

The idea that the daughters of Jerusalem would be able to freely watch roe deer during the day does suggest a deer park, on the grounds of a palatium, where the deer were so tame that they didn’t worry about predators. (Or goats. Or gazelles. Both of which are more daytime species.)

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Apponius on Songs 2:6

Therefore, as has often been said, the soul yoked together with the Word of God is led into an understanding of the Law by roaming through each of the decrees of Scripture, and by tasting the flavors of the divine Books in every vessel of the wine cellar, as if drunk on the wine of joy, made from hope of the blessedness to come — which is why it suits her to say later that she is “weak with love.”

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Jerome’s Letter 60

I’m looking into Apponius’ comments about ordered and disorderly charity/love (charitas ordinata and inordinata), and it turns out that St. Jerome said something about that.

Letter 60 is a condolence letter written to his friend Heliodorus, bishop of Altinum, on the occasion of his nephew Nepotian’s death. Nepotian had been a Roman soldier but spent his pay on charity. When he got out of the army and went to live in Altinum, to learn from his uncle, he “went through the usual stages and was ordained a presbyter.”

Jerome had various things to say about Nepotian. In conversation about Scripture, he “would listen modestly, answer diffidently; support the right and refute the wrong, but both without bitterness; and instruct his opponent rather than vanquish him.” He “would frankly confess from what sources his several arguments came… This, he would say, is the opinion of Tertullian; that, of Cyprian; that of Lactantius, that of Hilary; Minucius Felix speaks to this effect; thus Victorinus; and Arnobius after this manner. Myself, too, he would sometimes quote….”

But here’s the money quote: “By assiduous reading and long-continued meditation, he made his breast a library — of Christ.”

Here it is in Latin: “Lectioneque assidua, et meditatione diuturna, pectus suum bibliothecam fecerat Christi.”

After a lot of hints and outright pleading, Jerome had written one of his letters to Nepotian (Letter 52), and Nepotian loved it so much that he kept it on his person, re-read it to himself and others, and sometimes inadvertently slept with it. Ha! (But you can’t blame him.) The letter was a treatise on the duties of the clergy, and Nepotian took it to heart. He left his priestly tunic to Jerome, as a final gift, while he was dying.

But the memorial letter also talks about a few other things.

Nepotian was a guy who, along with all his charity giving and work, “while he despises himself in the flesh and walks abroad… in his poverty, he still seeks out everything that may adorn the church.”

He was also a guy who “took pains to keep the altar bright, the church walls clean from soot, and the stone floor swept. He saw that the doorkeeper was constantly at his post, that the door curtains were at the doors, the sacristy clean, and the vessels shining. The careful reverence that he showed in every holy ritual led him to neglect no duty, small or great. Whenever you would expect him to be in church, you found him there.”

Furthermore, he was also an artist: “…he adorned both the basilicas of the church and the halls of its martyrs with sketches of flowers, foliage, and vine tendrils; so that everything attractive in church… bore witness to the labor and zeal of the priest set over it.”

Jerome consoles his friend Heliodorus for his loss as uncle and bishop, and hints that Nepotian had been the obvious next candidate for bishop to succeed Heliodorus at his passing. But he advises Heliodorus not to grieve too much, so as not to seem like a disbeliever or give a bad example.

“What is desirable is to appear as if he is absent from you, not dead; as if you await him, not as if you had lost him.”

It’s a good letter, with a lot to chew on.

(Translation slightly altered from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation, over on New Advent. Because I am picky.)

UPDATE: St. Heliodorus of Altino was in fact the first bishop of Altino/Altinum. His relics were translated (ie, moved) to Torcello during a time of barbarian invasion, so you’ll find his remains in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta there. His feast is on July 3.

St. Nepotianus of Altino’s feast is on May 4.

American Catholic highlighted Jerome’s comment about Nepotian, back in 2018.

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“The Emperor Constantine” by Dorothy L. Sayers

It turns out that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a _lot_ of cathedral and radio plays, but that only some of them were available in print in the US – until recently. Wipf and Stock put out a series of reprints earlier this decade. You can get them on paper for about $20, or as Google Play ebooks for about $5 less.

The Emperor Constantine is a pretty fun play that was written for the (Anglican) Colchester Cathedral folks. Using the old legend that Constantine was the grandson of Coel Hen (Old King Cole of Colchester through his daughter Helena), Sayers created a hometown proprietary interest in Constantine and the exciting events of his reign, as well as his successes and failures at being a good emperor and a good Christian man.

One of the important features of the play is a “courtroom battle” at the Council of Nicaea, using what we know about the speeches given at the Council by Arius (in defense of his novel system of Arianism) and Athanasius (speaking for orthodoxy and his elderly bishop, Alexander).

Which brings us to the old Big Finish audio play, Doctor Who: The Council of Nicaea, by Caroline Symcox. Symcox is married to BBC writer Paul Cornell, and she’s also an Anglican curate. Supposedly she put a lot of study into this audio drama, but it is riddled with inaccuracies and/or outright lies.

The entire plot of her story is that Erimem, a pagan ancient Egyptian queen traveling with the Doctor, is determined to get Arius a chance to speak at the Council of Nicaea. (When actually, Arius was practically the first guy to speak! It was Athanasius who had to get special permission to speak for his bishop, because he was considered too young to formally participate in the Council.)

Arius was 60, and Athanasius wasn’t even 30 yet. Of course, the audio play portrays Arius as being younger than Athanasius, and Athanasius as being an old stick in the mud. It just boggles the mind. There’s also a lot of confusion of the way various eras of Egyptian monks acted. And so much stupid.

Symcox also insists through several characters that there is not much importance to the question of whether Jesus Christ was God Almighty from all eternity, or just a sort of hemi-demi-semi god. The whole Council of Nicaea is silly; everybody just wants to oppress free thought and Arius; and Christianity is mean to women. (Remember that she is an Anglican curate in the UK. She gets paid by her government to teach Christianity.) It’s slightly more subtle than that, but not much.

And yet, Symcox had a good feminist example before her, in the form of Sayers’ play. Sayers is a giant part of Anglican and English literary culture, as well as BBC history. I can’t imagine that Symcox was totally ignorant of Sayers’ play. If she was, why was she?

It’s amazing how many layers of goodness and fun, as well as deep thought and interesting characters, can be found in Sayers’ play — even though it’s just a minor work in her portfolio.

And it’s just as amazing how many layers of stupidity and malice can be found in stuff written by SJWs, purely for SJW reasons.

(And yet, believe it or not, they have a whole series of Erimem novels in the UK now, just as they have a whole series of novels about the execrable Bernice Summerfield. Blehhhhhhhh.)

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St. John Chrysostom: Feminist

I didn’t find much online about the Fathers’ opinion of 1 Corinthians 11, so I went looking and found some interesting stuff.

In defending St. Paul’s statement about “the head of Christ is God” not being Arian or Adoptionist or anything derogatory to the divinity of Christ, St. John Chrysostom actually shows his feminist side! Woot!

From “Homily 26 on First Corinthians”, Section 3.

“Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words [“the head of Christ is God”] they contrive against the Son.

But they stumble against themselves. For if “the man be the head of the woman,” and the head be of the same substance with the body, and “the head of Christ is God,” the Son is of the same substance with the Father.

“Nay,” say they, “it is not His being of another substance which we intend to show from hence, but that He is under subjection.”

What then are we to say to this?

In the first place, when anything lowly is said of Him, conjoined as He is with the Flesh, there is no disparagement of the Godhead in what is said, the Economy admitting the expression.

However, tell me how you intend to prove this from the passage?

“Why, as the man governs the wife,” says he, “so also the Father, Christ.”

Therefore, as Christ governs the man, so likewise the Father governs the Son. “For the head of every man,” we read, “is Christ.”

And who could ever admit this? For if the superiority of the Son compared with us, be the measure of the Father’s compared with the Son, consider to what meanness you will bring Him. So we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God.

For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow. Such as this: “the head of Christ is God:” and, “Christ is the head of the man, and he of the woman.” Therefore if we choose to take the term, “head,” in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this?

But do you understand the term “head” differently in the case of the man and the woman, from what thou dost in the case of Christ?

Therefore, in the case of the Father and the Son, we must understand it differently also.

“How understand it differently?” says the objector.

According to the occasion. For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master.

For what if the wife be under subjection to her husband? It is as a wife — as free, as equal in honor.

And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God.

For as the obedience of the Son to the Father is greater than we find in men towards the authors of their being, so also His liberty is greater. Since it will not of course be said that the circumstances of the Son’s relation to the Father are greater and more intimate than among men, and of the Father’s to the Son, less.

For if we admire the Son — that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him — we ought to admire the Father also, that He begot such a son — not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counsellor is no slave. But again, when you hear of a counsellor, do not understand it as though the Father were in need, but that the Son has the same honor with Him that begot Him. Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars.”

Heh. Anyway, the rest of his comments are a bit less feminist… but still, a lot more feminist than some people online!

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: St. Cyril of Alexandria

Another goodie from the collection at Tertullian.org! This one is adapted from the Syriac version of St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke, which he apparently gave as a series of sermons. The 1859 translator was R. Payne Smith, a sublibrarian at the Bodleian Library who also edited and published the Syriac manuscript.

So here’s St. Cyril on eggs and Lk. 11:12, in Sermon 79.

“….We sometimes draw near to our bounteous God, offering Him petitions for various objects, according to each one’s pleasure — but occasionally without discernment, or without any careful examination of what truly is to our advantage, and of what, if granted by God, would prove a blessing; and what would be to our injury, if we received it.

“Rather, by the inconsiderate impulse of our fancy, we fall into desires replete with ruin, and which thrust the souls of those that entertain them into the snare of death and the meshes of hell.

“When, therefore, we ask of God aught of this kind, we shall by no means receive it. On the contrary, we offer a petition fit only for ridicule.

“And why shall we not receive it? Is the God of all weary of bestowing gifts upon us?

“By no means.

“‘Why, then?’ someone perhaps may say, ‘Will He not give, since He is bounteous in giving?’

“Let us learn from Him. Or rather, you have already heard Him here saying, ‘What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ (Lk. 11:12)

‘Understand,’ He says, ‘by an image or plain example taken from what happens among you, the meaning of what I say.’

“‘You are the father of children; you have in you the sharp spur of natural affection towards them; in every way you wish to benefit them. When, therefore,’ He says, ‘one asks of you bread, without delay and with pleasure you give it, as knowing well that he seeks of you wholesome food. But when, from want of understanding, a little child that knows not yet how to distinguish what it sees, nor moreover what is the service and use of the various objects that fall in our way, asks for stones to eat, do you,’ He says, ‘give them? Or rather, do you not make him desist from any such desire as would be to his injury?’

“And the same reasoning holds good of the serpent and fish, and the egg and scorpion. If he ask for a fish, you will grant it. But if he see a serpent, and wish to seize it, you will hold back the child’s hand. If he want an egg, you will offer it at once; and encourage his desire after things of this sort, that the infant may advance to riper age. But if he see a scorpion creeping about, and run after it, imagining it to be something pretty, and being ignorant of the harm it can do, you will, I suppose, of course stop him, and not let him be injured by the noxious animal.

“When therefore He says, ‘You who are evil’ — by which He means, ‘you whose mind is capable of being influenced by evil, and not uniformly inclined to good like the God of all’ — ‘You know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more shall your heavenly Father give a good spirit to them that ask Him?’ And by ‘a good spirit,’ He means spiritual grace. For this in every way is good, and if a man receive it, he will become most blessed, and worthy of admiration.

“Most ready, therefore, is our heavenly Father, to bestow gifts upon us; so that whosoever is denied what he asks, is himself the cause of it. For he asks, as I said, what God will not give…

“Examine, therefore, your prayer. For if you ask aught, by receiving which, you will become a lover of God — God, as I said, will grant it. But if it be anything unreasonable, or that is able to do you an injury, He will withhold His hand.

“He will not bestow the wished-for object, in order that He may neither give you anything of an injurious nature — for this is completely alien from Him — nor let you harm yourself by receiving it.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Aelfric of Eynsham

In Aelfric of Eynsham’s homily, “On the Greater Litany” (“In Letania Maiore”), he also draws from St. Augustine’s egg material when quoting Lk. 11:12.

“God is our Father through his mildheartedness [ie, mercy]. And the fish betokens faith, and the egg, holy hope; and the loaf, true love.

“God gives these three things to His chosen, for no man can have God’s kingdom unless he has these three things. He must believe rightly, and have hope in God, and have true love for God and men, if he would come to God’s kingdom.

“…The egg betokens hope. For the birds do not propagate like other animals, but first give birth to an egg; and then, with hope, the mother raises that egg to be a bird. In like manner, our hope does not yet come to what it hopes for, but is like an egg. When it gets what it has been promised, it will be a bird.”

This translation is adapted from The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Vol. 1: The Sermones Catholici, or Homilies of Aelfric, by Benjamin Thorpe.

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Even More St. Augustine

In Sermon 105, c. 4-10, St. Augustine elaborates further on the symbolic meaning of the “three opposing” choices of gift in this passage, and he gives the egg a little more credit. Here’s the egg parts from chapters 5-10:

“What’s left is hope — which, it seems to me, is compared to an egg. For hope is for a thing that has not yet arrived; and an egg is something, but it’s not a hen yet.

“And so quadrupeds give birth to children, but birds to a hope of children.

“Therefore, it is for this that hope cheers us on: that we may despise present things and hope for what is to come, forgetting what is behind us, when we are reaching forward along with the Apostle [Paul]. For he says it this way: ‘But one thing I do: I forget what is behind in stretching forward to what is ahead, leaning toward the finish line, to win the palm leaves of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.’

“Nothing is such an enemy of hope as considering what is behind us — that is, to put hope in those things which cross our path and slip past us….

“Be afraid of the example of Lot’s wife. For she looked behind her, and she stayed where she looked. She was turned into salt; she was pickled in brine as an example for the prudent.

“The Apostle Paul has spoken about this hope, like this: ‘For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For why does a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for that which we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’

“‘For why does a man hope for what he sees?’

“There is an egg. It is an egg, and it is not a hen yet.

“And there is a turtleshell. The turtle is not seen, because it is covered by the shell. With patience, it can be awaited. Let it warm up, and it will come back to life.

“Work toward this finish line: to lean forward, to forget the past. For the things which are seen are temporal things.”

“‘Not looking back,” he says, ‘at what is seen, but considering what is not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal things, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Cor. 4:18)

“Therefore, reach out your hope to those things which are not seen. Wait for them! Hold on! Don’t look back!

“Fear the scorpion coming for your egg! See how it strikes with its tail, which it holds behind it.

“Therefore, don’t let the scorpion kill your egg! Don’t let this world kill your hope, I tell you, with the poison that’s behind it, which goes against you!

“How much the world says to you! How much ruckus it makes behind your back! It’s all so you will look back — that is, put your hope in things of the present. But not really of the present — they can’t be said to be things of the present, because they don’t stay that long.

“And it’s so that you will move your hope away from what Christ promised and has not yet given you, but which He will give because He is faithful. It’s so that you will turn your soul away, and wish to quit, still in this dying world.

“…If I have hope, if I hold onto hope, my egg will not be struck by the scorpion.”

“…All those who blaspheme against our Christ because of these adversities — they are the tail of the scorpion.

“Let us put our egg under the wings of this Gospel hen who clucks, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem,’ to those false and wandering ones. ‘How often would I have gathered together your children, as the hen gathers her chicks? But you would not.’

“It is not said to us: ‘How often would I’ and ‘You would not.’

“For this Hen is the Divine Wisdom. But He assumes flesh so that He may fit with His chicks.

“Look at the other hen – the one of molting plumage shaking her wings, with a voice broken and quavering and weary, and sluggish to gather her little ones.

“Therefore, let us put our egg — that is, our hope — under the wings of this Hen over here.

“Perhaps you notice how a hen can peck up a scorpion. So therefore, would that this Hen would also peck up and devour these blasphemers, creeping out of their caves and crawling across the earth, and stinging us with evil! Let the Hen drag them into her Body and turn them into eggs!

“…Let them stop blaspheming. Let them learn to adore. Let the stinging scorpions be eaten by the Hen, and be converted by being drawn into the Body! Let them be trained on earth, and crowned in Heaven.”

This is actually topical, as one of the old games with Easter eggs was to knock your egg against that of a neighbor at table, and see which egg was the strongest.

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: More St. Augustine

In Sermon 61, St. Augustine references Luke 11:12 and other passages to show that, even when we are wicked, the Father still loves us and is good to us.

Sermon 61, 1-2:

“A wonderful thing, brothers! We may be evil, but we have a good Father.

“…Therefore, brothers, since we evil ones have a good father, let us not remain evil forever.

“Nobody evil does good. If nobody evil does good, how can an evil person do good to himself?

“The One Who is always good makes good out of evil… We know He gives His children good things ‘according to the time’ (Rom. 9:9): good temporal things, good bodily things, good carnal things, even when we may be evil.

“And what are these good things, if you doubt them?

“Fish. Eggs. Bread. Fruit. Grain. This light, this air. These things which we observe — they are good.

“Men are celebrated for such riches, and they do not recognize other men as their equals in such things — in things, I say, for which men are celebrated — loving flashy clothing, rather than considering the same skin that’s underneath.

“These riches are good things, all the same. But all these good things which I have mentioned, they can be owned by either good people or evil.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: Tertullian

Tertullian also references Luke 11:12 in his book Against Marcion, lib. IV, c. 26. (Adapted by me from Peter Holmes’ 1870 translation.)

“Even if he has offended, man is more friends with the Creator than with Marcion’s [demiurge] god. Therefore he knocks at the door of Him to whom he has the right to come — the One Whose gate he could find, Whom he knew owned bread, Who will be home in bed with the children Whom He had willed to be born. Even if the knock comes late, Time belongs to the Creator.

“…So recognize Him Whom you call the Creator as Father, too. It is He Who knows what His children need. For when they asked for bread, He gave them manna from heaven… not a snake instead of a fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg.

“…Marcion’s god, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a scorpion to give away, so he couldn’t deny what he didn’t own. Only God could do it — He who holds, but does not give out, the scorpion.”

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A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: The Venerable Bede

I think I will look around and find some egg quotes in the Fathers. Here is one.

From St. Bede’s commentary on Luke (Lk. 11:12):

“‘Aut si petierit ovum, numquid porriget illi scorpionem?’

“In ovo, indicatur spes. Ovum enim nondum est foetus perfectus, sed fovendo speratur.”

“‘And if [a man’s son] should ask for an egg, will [his father] hand him a scorpion?'”

“Hope is shown in an egg. For an egg is not yet a complete offspring, but it is hoped for and kept warm.”

Bede seems to have gotten this from St. Augustine’s Letter 130 to St. Proba, “a religious handmaiden of God.” She was a nun who wrote letters full of questions, to folks like St. Jerome and St. Augustine. This letter was one of the many answer- slash- treatises she got from these guys.

“‘Aut si ovum petit, numquid porrigit ei scorpium?’ …

“Spes in ovo, quia vita pulli nondum est, sed futura est, nec iam videtur, sed adhuc speratur. Spes enim quae videtur, non est spes.”

“‘But if he asks for an egg, will he hand him a scorpion?’…

“Hope [is signified] in the egg, because the life of a hen is not yet there, but it is coming; nor can it now be seen, but it is still hoped for. For ‘hope which can be seen is not hope.’ (Rom. 8:24)

Augustine and Bede both compare the fish, egg, and bread to faith, hope, and charity; whereas the snake, scorpion, and stone represent the devil making unbelievers in God, worldliness making unbelievers in eternal life, and the hardheartedness making people who have no charity.

You’ll also notice that St. Augustine is using a cool (but more inaccurate) Old Latin translation of the Bible, because the Vulgate hadn’t been finished yet. And both versions of the Bible use “numquid,” a question word indicating that the answer is “No.”

St. Augustine is going by the state of the art, when it comes to Greco-Roman natural philosophy. But St. Bede seems to indicate more clearly that an egg is alive — just not ready to go.

I suspect that monastic life in England included more contact with chicken coops than the life of a minor North African Roman aristocrat, or a bishop in Hippo.

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