Archive for the ‘John Matthews’ Category

The Word "Baptism" in Gothic

May 2, 2014

My baptistic friends (or any of my friends that think that only immersion is baptism) will be glad to know that in the Gothic Bible, one of the words that is translated, rather than transliterated, is the word we transliterate “baptism.” In “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” Heather et al. provide the following item:

βαπτίζειν/ -ίσμα/ -ίστής (baptizare/-isma/-ista): daupyan, daupeins, daupyands (sc. John the Baptist); cf. ufdaupyan, ‘dip’, diups, ‘deep’; Ger. taufen.

It’s not a matter of earth-shattering significance, but it is interesting as a minor lexical note to observe that the fourth-century Greek/Latin/Goth speaker Ulfila (see earlier discussion hereand here) evidently understood “baptism” narrowly as “dip” as opposed to more broadly as “wash” or the like.



The Passion of St. Saba the Goth

May 2, 2014

Many Goths who professed faith (whether Nicene or not) suffered martyrdom – sometimes at the hands of the pagan Goths, sometimes at the hands of other Christians.  St. Saba the Goth was an apparently orthodox (i.e. Nicene) Christian who died at the hands of the pagans.  For a variety of reasons, it’s hard to have a great deal of confidence in this story, although presumably there was actually a professing Christian man who was drowned by the pagans.  In “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” p. 102, Heather et al. explain: “As with other texts of this nature, part of the function of the Passion is precisely to authenticate the circumstances of martyrdom in order to validate the cult that ensued from it.”  Likewise, p. 104, n. 17: “The first and last paragraphs of the Passion closely imitate the corresponding sections of the Passion of St. Polycarp … .” (see the discussion of that interpolated work at this link).

Ulfila: The Trinity, the One True Church, and Appeals to Scripture and Tradition

May 1, 2014

In a previous post (link) we mentioned that we would be discussing Ulfila’s trinitarian errors.  What did Ulfila believe? In “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” pp. 128-29, authors Heather et al. explain:

Ulfila’s theology shares with Arius its emphatic differentiation between the three Persons of the Trinity. Auxentius further reports his hostility to both of the above groups (i and ii) who wished to use language in ‘-ousios’ ; both views, with others, Ulfila denounced as irreligious and Godless heresies, the work of Antichrists (§29[49]). This is firmly in line with Auxentius’ repeated insistence that Ulfila’s teaching conformed with that of Christ and the evangelists as shown in the New Testament, and with ‘tradition’. The New Testament never uses language involving ‘-ousios’ when describing the relationship of Father and Son, and one of the main criticisms of both ‘homousians’ and ‘homoeusians’ was that their definitions were non-scriptural. Ulfila based his position entirely on Scripture, and Auxentius’ account of it is liberal in its citations.

The groups listed as (i) and (ii) are the homousians (led by Athanasius of Alexandria but also championed by the Cappadocian fathers: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa) and the homoeusians (led by Basil of Ancyra).

Heather et al. provide a translation of The Letter of Auxentius, which was cited by the 5th century Arian theologian Maximinus, but includes a description of Ulfila.  Two chaptering systems have arisen for the letter, and I’ll be using the same citation system as the book does:

From chapter 26[44-45] (p. 138 of Heather et al.):

In accordance with tradition and the authority of the divine scriptures, he never concealed (the truth) that this God is in second place and the originator of all things from the Father and after the Father and on account of the Father and for the glory of the Father; and furthermore that he is great God and great Lord and great king and great mystery, great light [… c. 28 letters …] Lord, provider and lawgiver, redeemer, saviour [… c. 50 letters …] originator of […], just judge judge of all the living and the dead, holding as greater (than himself) God his own Father [John 14.28] – this he always made clear according to the holy gospel.

From chapter 28[47-48] (pp. 138-39 of Heather et al.):

He therefore strove to destroy the sect of homousians, because he held the persons of the divinity to be, not confused and mixed together, but discrete and distinct. The homoeusion too he rejected, because he defended not comparable things but different dispositions, and used to say that the Son is like his Father, not according to the erroneous depravity and perversity of the Macedonians that conflicts with the scriptures, but in accordance with the divine scriptures and tradition.

From chapters 31-33[51-54] (pp. 139-40 of Heather et al.):

Now since there exists only one unbegotten God and there stands under him only one only-begotten God, the Holy Spirit our advocate can be called neither God nor Lord, but received its being from God through the Lord: neither originator nor creator, but illuminator, sanctifier, teacher and leader, helper and petitioner [… c. 15 letters] and confirmer, minister of Christ and distributor of acts of grace, the warrant of our inheritance, in whom we were ‘sealed unto the day of redemption’ [Eph. 4.30]. Without the Holy Spirit, none can say that Jesus is Lord, as the apostle says; ‘No man can say, Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit’ [I Cor. 12.3], and as Christ teaches; ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me’ [John 14.6]. And so they are Christians who in spirit and truth worship and glorify Christ [cf. John 4.23], and render thanks through Christ with love to God the Father.
Steadfast in these and similar doctrines, flourishing gloriously for forty years in the bishopric, he preached unceasingly with apostolic grace in the Greek, Latin and Gothic languages, in the one and only church of Christ; for one is the church of the living God, ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ [I Tim. 3.15]: asserting and bearing witness that there is but one flock of Christ our Lord and God, one worship and one edifice, one virgin and one bride, one queen and one vine, one house, one temple, one assembly of Christians, and that all other assemblies are not churches of God but ‘synagogues of Satan’ [Rev. 2.9, cf. 3.9].
And that all he said, and all I have set down, is from the divine Scriptures, ‘let him that readeth understand’ [Matt. 24.15]. He left behind him several tractates and many interpretations in these three languages for the benefit and edification of those willing to accept it, and as his own eternal memorial and recompense.

Obviously, we should not agree with Ulfila’s errors, even while we recognize interesting parallels between his appeals to scripture and tradition and those of his opponents, as well as the claims of unique catholicity of those in agreement.


Ulfila and Early Church Priorities

April 29, 2014

Ulfila (also sometimes written as Ulfilas, Ulphilas, Uliphilus, or the like) is possibly the most famous of the Goths in church history.  For those caught up in the terminology of today, no we’re not talking about Emo types, but the Germanic warriors who dominated a big chunk of Europe toward the end of the Roman Empire.

Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History 6:37 at 11 (Heather et al. translators of this and other works in “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” p. 100) describes Ulfila in this way:

As a matter of fact, he had given the greatest proof of his courage, resisting many dangers on behalf of the faith at the time when the Goths were still worshiping in pagan fashion. He was also the original inventor of their letters, and translated the holy books into their native language. It is for this reason, then, that the barbarians from over the Danube in general adhere to the doctrines of Arius.

I’m certainly not supportive of any of the anti-Nicene groups that existed in the fourth century (especially not those associated with Arius).  Nevertheless, it is notable that it was a priority even at that time to translate the Bible into the language of the people as a predicate to evangelizing them.  Likewise, keep in mind that Nicaea in the fourth century did not necessarily have the prestige it now enjoys.  Heather et al. explain (p. 131):

To take up Sozomen’s second point, the fact that Ulfila was not a declared opponent of Nicaea does not make him a supporter of it — if indeed this whole way of seeing the matter is not anachronistic. One suspects that in the fluidity of the first ‘post-Nicene’ generation adherence to that settlement was not the touchstone of orthodoxy that it later came to be.

Philostorgius’ Church History 2.5 (Heather et al. pp. 134-35) provides a similar report to that of Sozomen (and Sozomen may, in fact, be reliant on Philostorgius, see pp. 96-97):

It was this Ulphilas who led the exodus of the pious ones, being the first bishop appointed among them. He was appointed in the following circumstances: sent with others by the ruler of the race of the Goths on an embassy in the time of Constantine (for the barbarian peoples in those parts owed allegiance to the emperor), Ulphilas was elected by Eusebius and the bishops of his party as bishop of the Christians in the Getic land. Among the matters which he attended to among them, he was the inventor for them of their own letters, and translated all the Scriptures into their language — with the exception, that is, of Kings. This was because these books contain the history of wars, while the Gothic people, being lovers of war, were in need of something to restrain their passion for fighting rather than to incite them to it — which those books have the power to do for all that they are held in the highest honour, and are well fitted to lead believers to the worship of God.

One interesting point to note about this is that clearly Ulfila (or more likely his group, rather than just him personally) had a pretty clear concept of the canon of Scripture.  We can’t accurately judge that canon today, because the Goths were non-Niceans (and generally classified therefore as Arians) and consequently most of their literature was destroyed by the dominant orthodox.
Heather et al. explain (chapter 5, p. 124):

The precarious survival of these texts is a reflection of the thoroughness with which the victorious ‘orthodox’ church of the fourth and later centuries succeeded in eliminating the writings, and in large part the reputation, of its opponents.

Indeed, a similar fate awaited the Gothic translation of the Scriptures.  Very few manuscripts survive and much of the evidence we have for the text is based on the fact that parchment was expensive and consequently reused (Heather et al., p. 147):

It is noteworthy that all these texts, like the Codex Carolinus referred to above, are preserved as palimpsests, that is to say on pages of parchment cleaned of their Gothic texts and re-used, but still decipherable beneath the later writing: we can easily imagine how, as the Gothic kingdom of Italy was replaced by Byzantine domination, copies of the Gothic Bible would become superfluous and join the stocks of discarded books whose materials were available for re-use.

Not only were Gothic Bibles not useful to non-Gothic-speakers, they were suspected.  Salvian, in De Gubernatione Dei 5.2.6 (Heather et al., pp. 156-57) argues:

They read the same things, you say, that are read by us. But how can they be the same, when they were written in the first place by bad authors, and are badly interpolated and badly translated? They are not really the same, because things can in no sense be called the same when they are defective in any part of themselves. Things that have lost their completeness do not keep their integrity, nor do they retain their authority in any way when they are deprived of the power of the sacraments. It is only we who posses the holy scriptures full, inviolate and complete: for we either drink them at their very source, or at least as drawn from the purest sources through the service of a pure translation.

Heather et al. again (p. 148):

To summarise, no part of the Gothic Bible survives complete, though the relatively extensive remains of the New Testament that we do possess are perhaps the most useful from a historical point of view, because of the Graeco-Roman terminology which they contain; in a manner of speaking, this replicates the Goths’ own experience in confronting the Roman empire and its institutions. Enough fragments of the Old Testament survive to attest to its existence in Gothic; the absence of the Books of Kings from the surviving fragments is consistent with Philostorgius’ assertion that these books were not translated by Ulfila, but obviously insignificant as evidence, given the tiny quantity of the Old Testament text that does survive.

In short, the Bible was an important priority in the early church, even for those “Christians” whose theology included serious Trinitarian errors.  Lord willing, I’ll address some of those errors in a subsequent post.


Ancient Historians – More or Less Reliable than Modern Historians?

April 28, 2014

The fathers weren’t always good historians. When we challenge some of their particular historical claims, it’s not rare for people to argue “Surely father X, being over a thousand years closer to the event in question, had access to better sources than we do. Therefore, we should trust the fathers’ account.”

There is some intuitive appeal to that argument. After all, time does wreak havoc on documents, and presumably all the documentation we have from those events necessarily existed in the time of the fathers, together with further documentation now lost.

Still, the argument is flawed. The documentation may have existed, but the individual fathers may not have had access to the documents. Documents from one part of the empire were not necessarily available throughout the empire.

Furthermore, some of the fathers very uncritically accepted others’ historical accounts. In some case, such acceptance was a rational necessity: there was no way to verify every detail, and what could be readily verified seemed to be more or less accurate. Sometimes a historian was working from the account of a previous well-respected historian.

Peter Heather and John Matthews have written “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” (Liverpool University Press, 1991, Volume 11 of the Translated Texts for Historians series). This work is a go-to work for understanding the Goths of the 4th century, and incorporates a wide variety of historical research into the subject, including archaeology.

The authors note this problem I’ve mentioned above (chapter 4, p. 97, internal citation omitted):

In adapting his predecessor’s narrative, however, Sozomen compounds several errors of Socrates, notably in supposing Ulfila to have been active in Gothia in the time of Fritigern and Athanaric, and he moves from he persecution of the late 340s, as a result of which Ulfila left the Gothic territories, to that of the early 370s without any apparent awareness that different events are in question, or that Ulfila, expelled from Gothia in the first persecution, had no personal connection with the second. Further, his conception of the chronological connection between the Hunnish attack on the Goths, the settlement of the Goths in Thrace, the supposed dissension between Athanaric and Fritigern and the latter’s conversion to Christianity is, to put it mildly, confused.

That’s Socrates the noted historian, not the much earlier Socrates, the noted philosopher.

You may recall other examples of this same kind of principle. When you read the Koran, it seems pretty clear that Mohammed was under the impression that Jesus’ mother Mary was the same person as Miriam, Moses’ sister. The name of the two people was the same, but – as most people familiar with the Bible know – the two were eons apart, chronologically.

Mohammed is a fairly extreme example, but he was over 1200 years closer to the time of Jesus than we are, yet was in a vastly inferior position in terms of his historical knowledge. So, when we consider modern historical research against patristic historical assertions, we should be open to the idea that modern historians often do have access to better quality resources, research materials, and methodologies than their ancient predecessors.


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