Hymnody and the Early Christian Liturgy.
From the beginning the character of the Christian liturgy was more dogmatic than lyrical. This is connected with its mystical realism. On the human side, the liturgy is, first of all, a confession — a testimony of faith, not only an outpouring of feelings. It is for this reason that the dogmatic and theological disputes left such a noticeable trace on the history of liturgical poetry. As early as the dogmatic disputes of the late second century, references to ancient psalms to the glory of Christ, the Lord God, receive the power of a theological argument as evidence from liturgical tradition. St. Basil the Great, in his disputes with the Arians over the Divinity of the Spirit, also relies on the testimony of liturgical tradition. Pope Celestine subsequently advances a general principle that a law of faith is defined as a law of prayer — ut legem credendi statuit lex supplicandi (Capitula Celestini, 8, alias 11). The redaction of these chapters which are known to us evidently belongs to Prosper of Aquitaine. Thus the liturgical rite obtains recognition as a dogmatic monument or dogmatic source.
At an earlier time creative improvization occupied a very significant place in the liturgy (see I Corinthians 14:26). This was the case even in the second and third centuries, as the testimony of Justin Martyr and Tertullian bear witness. These were primarily hymns and psalms — songs of praise and thanksgiving. It is sufficient to name the great prayer in the Epistle of Clement of Rome. Other of these ancient hymns remained in liturgical use forever; for example, the ancient hymn, Gladsome Light — Φώς ιλαρόν which dates back to the very earliest of times and is still sung at every Vesper Service in the Orthodox Church. Mention must also be made of the doxologies and hymns of thanks in the Alexandrian copy of the Bible, and in the seventh book of the Apostolic Constitutions.
In the fourth century we observe a liturgical turning point. It was partly connected with the dogmatic struggle, and partly with the development and spread of monasticism. Very instructive is the famous Fifty-Ninth Canon of the Council of Laodicea (fourth century) which forbids “reading ordinary psalms and books not determined by the rule of the Church” — διωτικούς ψαλμούς; ουδέ ακανόνιστα βιβλία. “No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the Church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments.” Later Byzantine canonists suggested that what is at issue here are the so-called “psalms of Solomon,” and others similar to those. It is more probable to think that the Laodicean rule had a wider and more direct meaning. By analogy with the Sixtieth Canon which defines the contents of the Biblical canon — precisely in connection with the liturgical reading of the Biblical books — it is possible to see in the Fifty-Ninth Canon an attempt to consolidate a definite “canon” in the liturgy as well, excluding all “unholy” hymns from the liturgical ordinary. This prohibition refers to all “false” hymns into which dogmatic ambiguity and even plain delusion had easily entered. Phrygia had always been in its own way a nest of heresy, and psalms were a very convenient and effective means for disseminating and instilling false views. We know very well that this means was constantly being utilized by ancient sectarians and false teachers. It is sufficient to recall the hymns or “psalms” of the Gnostics and Montanists, and, from a later era, the hymns of Arius in his Thalia and Apollinarius’ New Psalter. Under the conditions of dogmatic struggle, the attempt to bring liturgical singing within precise and strict bounds was entirely understandable. The simplest solution of all was to return to Biblical psalmody, to the “proclaiming” of the canonical psalms attributed to David. From the beginning they came into Christian use from the observances of the services from the synagogue. In the fourth century Biblical motifs became even more noticeable in the liturgy. This was instituted deliberately — it was not merely an involuntary recollection.
The liturgical procedure established by St. Basil the Great in his cloisters had special influence. His disputes with the Neo-Caesareans was characteristic. They accused him of innovations: he had introduced antiphonal singing of songs and singing with refrains. St. Basil did not deny that this was a new procedure — besides, it had already been accepted everywhere (see Eterius’ Pilgrimage concerning the service in Jerusalem). However, the Neo-Caesareans had their innovations too — some “supplications” (“litanies”) of a penitential nature. But this is not what Basil is stressing: “and we do nothing but pray publicly about our sins, only with the difference that we petition our God not with human phrases, like you, but with words of the Spirit” (Letter, 207). St. Basil emphasizes that with the Neo-Caesareans there is much which proves to be insufficient “because of the antiquity of the statute;” that is, obsolescence (see On the Holy Spirit, chapter 29).
The custom of psalmody with refrains becomes common at this time in urban or synodical churches — both in Alexandria under St. Athanasius and in Antioch under Diodore and St. John Chrysostom. “In our gatherings David is first, middle, and last,” says St. John Chrysostom. This was the rebirth of Old Testament custom (see the refrain in the very text of the 135th Psalm). From the refrains there gradually developed new psalms closely tied to the Biblical text which they reveal or elucidate. Psalmody (the “sequence of psalms”) receives a special development in the monasteries. Here a daily cycle of prayers and liturgy was compiled and consolidated. At its foundation lies the “versification” of the Psalter. Monks in Egyptian monasteries avoided long prayers. Prayer has to be frequent, but concise — “lest the Enemy have time to distract our heart,” as the abbot Isaac explained to John Cassian.
Solemn singing was considered inappropriate. “Monks did not go into the wilderness in order to sing melodic songs,” said an Alexandrian abbot to his disciples. “What kind of emotion is possible for monks if in the Church or their cells they raise their voices like oxen!” This striving to pray “with the words of the Spirit, this abstention from new hymns and psalms composed “according to the custom of the Hellenes” is very characteristic. Sometimes verses from patristic works were joined to the Psalms and Biblical songs. For example, the abbot Dorotheus speaks of St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ “song of dicta.” Monastic liturgies, whether cenobitic or anchoritic, were more penitential as opposed to the more ancient “cathedral” liturgy which was solemn and laudatory.
New liturgical poetry begins to develop comparatively late and very gradually on the new foundation. New hymns are composed. The story of the venerable Auxentius (of the time of the Council of Chalcedon) is interesting. The people would throng before his cave. The ascetic would proclaim individual verses and the crowd would respond with short refrains — from the Psalms or the ancient hymns. One of Auxentius1 friends was Anthimius, the first creator of anthems.” The liturgical rite developed independently in various places. Especially important centers were the Great Church in Constantinople — the Hagia Sophia, the Sinai cloisters, and the laura of St. Sabas the Illuminator. At first it was the influence of the monasteries of Syria and Palestine which was decisive in the history of liturgical poetry. From here come all the significant psalmists of the sixth and seventh centuries, and even the eighth century, right up to St. John of Damascus. Here the traditions of Greek and Syrian poetry intersect. These new hymns reflect the era with its Christological disturbances and disputes. The idea of consolidating the already existing rite arises very early. Thus is composed the “regulations” — the Typikon. The Greek title expresses not only the motif of a norm or order but first of all a model. The Typikon is not so much a book of rules as a book of examples or models.
We are forced to reconstruct the history of hymnody from comparatively late records. It is not always possible to detach the most ancient layers from later strata with total certainty. The inscriptions of names even in the oldest manuscripts are not very reliable. Generally speaking, the oldest hymns were supplanted by the works of later psalmists, particularly in the period when the statutes were definitely consolidated or recorded. In addition, the liturgy becomes more and more anonymous and supra-personal. Early Byzantine liturgical poetry reaches its highest peak in the dogmatic hymnody of St. John of Damascus.
Within the ranks of early Byzantine poets and hymnologists we must mention first St. Romanus ‘Melodus’ — ό μελωδός (c. 490-560). Strangely enough, none of the historians mention him. We know of his life only from the Menaion under October 1. Hie was of Syrian origin, from Emesa. Legendary material indicates that he was of Jewish origin. He was a deacon first in Beirut before coming to Constantinople under the reign of Anastasius I (491-518). St. Romanus was a creator of the Kontakion, a term which comes from the staff about which the inscribed scroll is wrapped. They were “hymns of praise for Holy Days” and usually had an acrostic of his name. The Kontakion is organized in a strophic system and usually consisted of twenty-four stanzas. Each stanza is a perfect structural imitation of the first. The metrical system of the Kontakion is based on stress and accent and hence the rhythm was influenced by the melody. It is not easy to determine the volume of his creative legacy precisely. Approximately one thousand hymns have been ascribed to him but only approximately eighty metrical sermons have come down to us under his name. Among the best are his Kontakia for the great Holy Days — Christmas, Candlemas (the feast commemorating the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple which is known in Eastern Christianity as υπαπαντή, which is The Meeting1 of Christ with Simeon), the Annunciation, and the Resurrection (or ‘Easter’) — “If you entered the grave, Immortal…”).
St. Romanus’ works stand out for their richness and the elegance of their poetic form. Their content is quite simple and free of allegory, but the author’s dogmatic pathos reaches a high intensity. He is always concerned with a Christological theme. He sings of the invariable union of two natures, and constantly goes on the attack against the heretics — his songs are full of polemical allusions. He is harsh in his denunciations of philosophers and especially doctors. This is fully in keeping with the mood of Justinian’s time. With the rise of the canon in the composition of the Matin service, most of the works of St. Romanus were forced out of use. St. Romanus has been described as “perhaps the greatest religious poet of all time” and his works as “masterpieces of world literature.”
We also know little about the life of another great Byzantine hymnologist, St. Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740). And once again what knowledge we have comes from the Menaion. The chronicler names Andrew of Crete among the members of the council held in 712 under pressure from emperor Philippicus-Bardanes (711-713), the council which repudiated the acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This was an act of unworthy compliance but not of apostasy. The council held in 712 was a Monothelite council and at this St. Andrew subscribed to the repudiation of two wills in Christ. In 713 he retracted and explained his doctrine in a metrical confession. St. Andrew was a native of Damascus, became a deacon in Constantinople (c. 685) and the head of a refuge for orphans and the elderly, and later became archbishop of Gortyna in Crete in 692. He was a remarkable orator and hymn-writer. He evidently was the first composer of the famous Great Canon — ό μέγας κανών. The Triodion which bears the name of St. Sophronius probably belongs not to St. Andrew but to Joseph the Hymnologist of the ninth century. Most of St. Andrew’s canons went out of use quite early.
The most remarkable one by St. Andrew is, of course, the ^ . It is known to us in a later revision by the Studites. The Irmos and anthems of Marius the Egyptian do not belong to Andrew. More than anything else, this is a unique penitential autobiography — hence, that élan and intensity of personal feeling which permeate this epic of a grief-stricken soul. Biblicism is characteristic for St. Andrew. At times he virtually repeats Biblical texts. The Great Canon is overcrowded with Biblical reminiscences. A long line of vivid penitential images from the Bible stretches from Adam to the prudent thief. The Biblical text is very often perceived allegorically — but this is moral, not speculative, allegorism. St. Andrew expresses few dogmatic motifs. Penitential lyrics predominate. We should also note his Triodia for the first days of Holy Week (they are now sung at Vespers in the Eastern Orthodox Church during Holy Lent). As a liturgical form, the canon received its furthest development and refinement in the creations of St. John of Damascus and Cosmas of Maiuma (he must be distinguished from another hymn-writer named Cosmas who was his and St. John of Damascus’ mentor. However, it is virtually impossible to distinguish the works of the two hymn-writers named Cosmas. In the eighth century Stephen the Sabbite was also composing canons of hymns. The iconoclastic troubles also had an unhealthy effect on Church singing and hymnology.
Among the monuments of Constantinopolitan hymnody we must make note of the renowned Acathistus — ακάθιστος which literally means “Not Sitting” because it was sung standing. In the later statutes this famous liturgical hymn in honor of the Blessed Mother Mary became sung — and still is — on the Saturday of the fifth week of Great Lent. It consists of twenty-four stanzas of various lengths, each beginning with one of the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. The text is based on the Gospel narratives of the Nativity. The author of the Acathistus is unknown. According to a widespread belief it was composed by Sergius, the Monothelite patriarch of Constantinople in thanksgiving for the deliverance of his city from the Avars and Slavs in 626. But this is very doubtful. It has also been ascribed to George Pisides but this too is doubtful. A ninth century manuscript of St. Gall claims that it was written by patriarch Germanus who, after the defeat of the Saracens before Constantinople in 717-718, instituted a special feast in which the Acathistus was to be sung. Some scholars accept this but it, too, is not at all conclusive.
Apparently the Acathistus is preserved in a later revision which altered the original plan and the very theme of the hymn. Originally its theme was more Christological than Mariological. This original redaction can be dated with some hesitation to the time of emperor Heraclius in the early seventh century (610-641).
At the very beginning of the sixth century a certain Palestinian monk named Nephalius wrote against Severus. We know of this only through Severus’ response, his Orationes ad Nephalium. A little later John the Grammarian of Caesarea voiced his objections to Severus. This John also wrote in defense of the Council of Chalcedon and should not be confused with John Philoponus, the Monophysite philosopher of Alexandria who bears also the title “the Grammarian.” We also know about these objections only from Severus’ work, Contra Grammaticum. From the same period is the polemical work by John of Scythopolis, Against the Aposchistae, which St. Photius claims was written as a response to a work titled Against Nestorius written “by the father of the Aposchistae.” The only work of John’s for which there is any substantial record is his Apology, a work in defense of the Council of Chalcedon. The fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council refer to John’s work Against Severus (see Doctrina patrum de Incarnatione Verbi). Heracleon, bishop of Chalcedon, wrote against the Eutychians and Photius refers to an expansive work by Heracleon against Manichaeism. Mention should also be made of the Dogmatic Panoply, probably composed by Pamphilus of Jerusalem, who was a friend of Cosmas Indicopleustes (Cosmas, the “Indian navigator,” was a merchant from Alexandria who later in life became a monk; he travelled on the Eastern seas and wrote the noteworthy Christian Topography — Χριστιανική τοπογραφία — which is an attack on the Ptolemaic system in favor of certain fantastic doctrines of astrology used to attempt to harmonize with a literal understanding of the Bible — the main value of his work is its geographical information and its testimony to the spread of Christianity at that time).
The time of Justinian was a time of special polemical agitation connected with the attempts to reach an agreement and reunite the Church. To start with, we must note the dogmatic epistles of the emperor himself. In any event, Justinian was theologically educated. For all of his attraction to reunification with the Monophysites, he himself theologized in a completely orthodox way. Only in his old age was he carried away by the doctrine of the Aphthartodocetists but his edict on this has not come down to us. According to Michael the Syrian, Justinian’s Aphtharto -docetism differed little from the views of Julian of Halicarnassus (Chronicle, 9, 34).
Justinian’s weakness was in hurrying to decree his theological views as the norm of confessions. Also, in his striving for unity, he would sometimes be too tolerant, while at other times he would turn into “a Diocletian.” However, in his theology he always tried to start from the patristic traditions. His theological tastes are very typical — he was repulsed by Antiochene theology and exasperated by Origen. Closest to him were St. Cyril and the Cappadocians. In general, Justinian was very close to Leontius of Byzantium and Leontius of Jerusalem but we do not encounter in Justinian the doctrine of “enhypostasisness” — his language is less precise.
The polemical activity of Ephraem of Antioch dates back to Justinian’s time. Ephraem was patriarch from 526 to 544. His writings are known to us from St. Photius. He wrote against the Nestorians and the Monophysites, in defense of St. Cyril and in defense of the Council of Chalcedon. He was a resolute adversary of Origenism. Especially curious are his remarks against the Julianists (concerning Adam’s “immortality”).
The dogmatic and polemical tracts of John Maxentius, who is well for his participation in the so-called “Theopaschite”disputes, are very interesting. He also disputed with the Nestorians, the Pelagians, and the Monophysites. He developed the formula of the Scythian monks — “One of the Holy Trinity suffered” — into an integral theological doctrine on redemption.
Also extremely interesting is the dogmatic epistle of a certain monk Eustaphius ^ , in which the dispute with Severus is reduced to the question of two operations — this was in connection with the Monophysite criticism of Pope Leo’s Tome. St. Photius recounts in detail a book by a certain monk Jovus, titled On the Incarnation. This work is very characteristic in its plan and terminology.
It is especially necessary to note a tract by Timothy of Constantinople ^ [De receptione haereticorum; Περι των προσερχόμενων τη άγια εκκλησία. This work is rich in factual data concerning the history of the persuasions and divisions within Monophysite circles.
The activity of Anastasius of Antioch dates back to the late sixth century. He occupied the throne in the sixties but was later exiled and incarcerated. He returned to Antioch about 593. He wrote extensively in his confinement, mostly against the Aphthartodocetists. His compositions were published only in a Latin translation. It is characteristic that Anastasius relies almost exclusively on the Scriptures, and almost does not mention the fathers at all. Anastasius’ basic idea is the sufferings of the God-Man. His ideas were echoed by St. Maximus the Confessor and St. John of Damascus.
St. Eulogius of Alexandria was active at the same time. As one of the Antiochene father superiors, he ascended the Alexandrian throne about 583 and occupied it until his death in 607. He wrote extensively but most of his writings are known to us only from excerpts provided by St. Photius. Of the fragments preserved by St. Photius’ quotations, the passages from the apparently voluminous dogmatic work On the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation are especially characteristic. It must be stressed that St. Eulogius develops the doctrine of the “natural” human will in Christ very precisely. He speaks directly about “two operations” and “two desires,” and he corroborates his reflections with a deep analysis of the basic Gospel texts. In this respect he is the direct predecessor of St. Maximus the Confessor.
Of the writers of the seventh century we must first of all name St. Sophronius of Jerusalem. He came from a monastic milieu. There is much foundation for seeing a future patriarch in that Sophronius the Sophist. He was from Damascus, and born about 560. In his youth he was a “sophist;” that is, a teacher of philology. But early on he went into a monastery, the laura of St. Theodosius, where he met and became good friends with John Moschus (d. 619 or 620), the seventh century Byzantine monk, traveler, and writer, known mainly for his collection of vivid monastic tales entitled Λειμων [in Latin known as Pratum spirituale] which he dedicated to his friend St. Sophronius. Together, John Moschus and St. Sophronius travelled widely — to Palestine, Egypt, Sinai, Cyprus, Antioch, Egypt and Rome. It was in Rome that John Moschus died. St. Sophronius brought his remains to the monastery of St. Theodosius. He completed and published John’s Leimon [Pratum spirituale].
St. Sophronius was again in Egypt in 633. He was there when the Monothelite movement began, and he immediately came out against Cyrus of Phasis, patriarch of Alexandria. In that same year St. Sophronius travelled to Constantinople to attempt to persuade Patriarch Sergius I, the leading figure among the Monothelites, to accept the orthodox position but his mission failed. In 634 he was elected to the throne of Jerusalem. This was the time of the Saracen invasion and taking of Jerusalem. By the autumn of 637 St. Sophronius saw that the Holy City of Jerusalem had no choice but to surrender. St. Sophronius, however, refused to deal with anyone about the surrender except the caliph himself. And in point of fact the caliph did undertake the journey from Medina to Jerusalem. The Caliph Omar entered the city in his ragged clothing, common for the caliphs of Medina but not for the later caliphs of Damascus and Bagdad, and was given a tour of the Holy City’s monuments by St. Sophronius. It is reported that St. Sophronius remained externally polite but that he was disgusted at the ragged sight of this new master of the Orient. And, seeing the caliph in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, St. Sophronius is reported to have said: “Lo, the Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by Daniel, who stands in the Holy Place.” Shortly after Omar’s visit, St. Sophronius died in 638.
St. Sophronius was not a theologian by vocation. He spoke out on dogmatic themes like a pastor. Most important is his famous Synodical Epistle which was published upon his ascent to the throne of Jerusalem. Here St. Sophronius offers a detailed profession of faith in light of the Monothelite temptation which was then manifesting itself. His Synodical Epistle was subsequently accepted at the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681) as a precise exposition of faith: “We have also examined the Synodical Epistle of Sophronius of holy memory, former Patriarch of Holy City of Christ our God, Jerusalem, and have found it in accordance with the true faith and with the Apostolic teachings, and with those of the holy approved Fathers. Therefore we have received it as orthodox and as salutary to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and have decreed that it is right that his name be inserted in the diptychs of the Holy Churches.”
St. Sophronius’ ^ is very mild. It insists only on the essentials. First, he speaks of the Trinitarian mystery, then he moves on to Christology. He speaks in the customary manner of antitheses, which recalls Pope Leo’s Tome. The Incorporeal is made flesh, and the Eternal accepts birth in time — the true God becomes a true man. In the Incarnation the Logos accepts the “whole human composition... flesh which is consubstantial with us; a rational soul which is similar to our souls; and a mind which is completely identical to our minds.” He accepts them in such a way that everything human begins to be when it begins to be the humanity of God the Logos.
Two natures are unified in a single hypostasis, “being patently cognizable as two” — and even in union each preserves the whole totality of the special qualities and attributes characteristic of it. St. Sophronius reaches a conclusion about the distinction between two activities from the invariance of two natures (he does not speak of two wills). The reason for this is that the difference between the natures is revealed precisely in actions or activities. “We profess both natural actions in both natures and essences, from which for our own sake an unmixed union exists in Christ, and this made the single Christ and Son a complete God, whom we must also recognize as a complete man.”
Both actions or activities relate to the One Christ through the inseparable unity of his Hypostasis. And God the Logos operates through humanity. However, Christ experiences everything human “naturally” and “in a human way” — φυσικώς και ανθρωπίνως although not by necessity or involuntarily. It is here that St. Sophronius’ emphasis lies: “in a human way,” but without that “capacity for suffering” or passiveness which is characteristic of the “simple;” that is, the sinful nature of man.
St. Sophronius enters the history of Christian literature not so much as a theologian but as a hagiographer and psalmist. It is hard to determine the share of his participation in the composition of the work known as ^ . There is no doubt that the praise and legends about the miracles of Saints Cyrus and John the Healer belong to him. The “service book” doubtlessly does not belong to him. The authenticity of the collection of “anacreontic”poems is almost beyond dispute. These are not liturgical psalms but rather homilies expressed in rhythmical speech.
The explanation of the liturgy which is known under St. Sophronius’ name does not belong to him, although generally he worked on the Church statutes. Simeon of Thessaloniki attributed to Sophronius the introduction to the rule of the cloister of St. Sabas, a rule in general use in Palestine.
St. Anastasius of Sinai [Anastasius Sinaita] was the Father Superior of the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. From here he travelled more than once around Syria, Arabia, and in Egypt, with polemical and missionary aims. We know very little about his life. He died about twenty years after the Sixth Ecumenical Council; that is, in about 700. He was primarily an erudite person.
All his books were written for disputes. His main work is ^ — οδηγός. It would be better to translate this as “handbook.” It was composed from individual chapters and epistles in which St. Anastasius investigates the individual and particular objections of the Monophysites on the basis of the Scriptures and from the testimony of the ancients. The book containing One Hundred and Fifty-Four Questions and Answers is of the same nature, although in its present form it cannot be considered his. This work is more a handbook of eristics (the art of debate) rather than one of “dialectics.” True, St. Anastasius unmasks the spirit of petty, abstruse questioning; however, he himself looks into petty difficulties and permits perplexing questions. For the historian there are many important details in this work, especially in the explanation and application of the texts from Scripture. His references to the ancients are also very important. But the spirit of a system vanishes, coherence weakens, and attention becomes lost in a labyrinth of aporias.
We must also consider the possibility that St. Anastasius may indeed be the author of a work entitled ^ . Of the twelve original books, only the last has come down to us in the original. The explanation is given only allegorically (“anagogic contemplations”). St. Anastasius explains the psalms as well. It must be stressed that St. Anastasius always thinks in Aristotelian categories, although he considers “Aristotle’s blather” to be the source of all heresies.
In the Christological disputes the question of theological tradition was forcefully raised. This was connected with the fight of school or trends. The time had come to sum up the historical — and sometimes critical — situation and to fortify one’s profession with the testimony and authority of the ancient fathers.
We find a systematic selection of “patristic opinions” already in St. Cyril’s polemical epistles. The Antiochenes, especially Theodoret in his Eranistes, also were actively engaged in the collection of ancient testimonies. In the West St. John Cassian refutes Nestorius with the aid of the testimony of earlier teachers. Pope Leo the Great refutes Eutyches using the testimony of the fathers. The councils of the fifth to the seventh centuries attentively reread the collections of patristic writings, especially at the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils and at the Lateran Council of 649. Excerpts from ancient writers are especially abundant in Leontius of Byzantium and Leontius of Jerusalem and in St. Maximus the Confessor.
Thus dogmatic florilegia arc gradually put together. With this a literary form typical of the Hellenistic epoch is revived. For the needs of teaching or for polemics associated with various schools of thought, numerous collections of model excerpts or testimonies of ancient patristic writers — most often those of an edifying nature — were put together at this time. It is sufficient to recall Plutarch’s Apophthegma or Stabeo’s famous collection.
It is virtually impossible to trace the history of Christian florilegia in all their detail. The most significant of them is known under the name The Words of the Holy Fathers or A Selection of Phrases [usually called in Latin the Doctrina patrum de Incarnatione Verbi]. This collection is preserved in several manuscript copies which represent different redactions. The oldest of these manuscripts goes back to the eighth or ninth centuries. We have to date the compilation of the code to the time of the Sixth Ecumenical Council but previous to the outbreak of iconoclasm. There are some grounds for speculating that the compiler is St. Anastasius of Sinai. In any case, the selection of texts in the this collection of patristic writings is very reminiscent of the collection of texts in Anastasius’ Guide.
It is especially necessary to note as well the collection of Sacra Parallela, which is known under the name of St. John of Damascus (c. 675-749). Its literary history has not yet been entirely explained. In the manuscripts we also encounter codes of patristic pronouncements on individual questions — for example, on the dogmatic meaning of certain texts, in particular Matthew 26:39 ff. and Luke 2:52.
These collections were subject to further reworking, and would be augmented with new articles when new issues captured theological attention. In the iconoclastic period there arise special collections containing testimony about the veneration of holy ikons — St. John of Damascus has such a code of texts, and there is one in the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787). Various collections of an edifying nature receive a wide circulation. Their origins are primarily connected with liturgical needs, with the custom of the so-called “prescribed readings” which replaced the free sermon (see Trullo, 19). In an earlier time, during the liturgy the acts of martyrs were usually read. Later these started to be replaced by more or less extensive excerpts from patristic works, most often from the writings of John Chrysostom. However, the custom of “prescribed readings” was definitely established comparatively late. For the historian all of these collections present a dual interest. First, they frequently preserve important fragments of lost works. Secondly, these compilations allow us to establish the average level and scope of historical and dogmatic knowledge in a certain epoch. They tell us more about the readers than about the writers.
The exegetical collections are of a different nature. They were compiled in the process of exegetical work on the Holy Scriptures, and were developed from comments or observations on Biblical texts — the so-called scholia. This was a classical custom — compare, for example, the scholia to the different classical authors; scholia on legislative and other juridical documents were different. The explanations of different interpreters are deposited one upon the other. In the process of recopying or revising the so-called “lemmas” — that is, the exact references, are omitted very frequently. Interpretations sometimes are blended into a coherent text. Usually the names of the interpreters are designated with brief signs which are often conventional and sometimes obscure.
The impartiality of the compilers of the Christian exegetical collections or “chains” [catenae] is characteristic; one could say, rather, their peculiar unscrupulousness. The compilers of these collections usually strive for completeness and variety — of course, within the limits of the material known or available to them. Therefore, they have no difficulty in putting authors of opposite tendencies next to one another — Origen next to Diodore, Severus or even Apollinarius next to Theodore of Mopsuestia. After all, even heretics have healthy and valuable ideas. This “impartiality” adds a special importance to the exegetical compilations. They preserve many fragments from books which have been lost or spurned — the exegesis, for example, of Origen, Didymus, and Diodore. This frequently allows us to restore forgotten motifs in the history of exegesis in general and of the interpretation of individual characteristic texts. Sometimes in the catenae we find exegetical fragments by very early authors — St. Hippolytus, for example, and Papias of Hierapolis — and archaic theological motifs come to life before our very eyes. However, it is not easy to use the catenae. Indications of authorship are often vague, unreliable, and sometimes patently incorrect. We even have to rely not on a collection’s compilers but on later copyists — strictly speaking, on the scribe of the manuscript copy known to us. Nevertheless, the material extracted from the catenae is very important. To this day it has yet to be exhausted or thoroughly studied.
The first to work at compiling exegetical collections was Procopius of Gaza (c. 475-538), the head of the school in Gaza for many years. A number of his exegeses have remained — first of all, his extensive exegesis on the Octateuch, which has not been published in its entirety to this day. In his preface Procopius describes the method of his work. First, he collects and copies out the opinions of the exegetes he has selected — the “selections” or “eclogae” Then, since explanations very frequently coincide, he shortens his code, leaving only divergent opinions. His exegesis, too, is such an “abbreviation.” For the most part, Procopius used the exegeses of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Cyril of Alexandria. Procopius explained the book of Isaiah in addition to the Octateuch. His scholia on the books of Kings and the Paralipomenon- — παραλειπομένων — [which is Greek for “of the things left out” and is the name by which the two books of Chronicles are known traditionally in Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox reference], which are mostly based on Theodoret have also been preserved. Procopius1 authorship of the commentaries on Proverbs and the Song of Songs, known under his name, is not indisputable.
The exegeses of Olympiodorus, an Alexandrian deacon who lived in the first half of the sixth century, on ^ on Jeremiah; on Baruch; on Lamentations; and on the Gospel of Luke are of the same nature.
Later interpreters are more independent. For example, Gregory of Agrigentum (Grigenti) in Sicily, who lived in the late sixth century. Born near Agrigentum, he made a pilgrimage to Palestine where he was ordained deacon by the patriarch of Jerusalem. In Rome he was consecrated bishop of Agrigentum. Apparently he was a victim of character assassination. It is known that Gregory the Great addressed several letters to him. He had either died or been deposed by about 594 and there exists a long life on him in Greek ascribed to Leontius of Byzantium but, in any case, apparently revised by Simeon Metaphrastes. An exegesis on Ecclesiastes was long attributed to him. However, some recent scholars maintain that this exegesis on Ecclesiastes was the work of a ninth century bishop, Gregory of Agrigentum, who is venerated in the Eastern Church on his Feast Day of November 23. Others also reveal an independence — Icumenus in his exegesis of Revelation (c. 600) and Anastasius of Nicaea in his exegesis of the Psalms (late seventh century). It is especially necessary to note the famous exegesis attributed to Andrew of Caesarea on Revelation (not later than 637) — it was subsequently revised by Arethas of Caesarea, a contemporary of St. Photius. The modern world is deeply indebted to Arethas, a celebrated scholar and patron of classical letters, despite his rather deplorable character. Andrew’s work, subsequently revised by Arethas, is full of references to the ancients. He often even cites the opinions of the pre-Nicene fathers. He understands Revelation allegorically. In other copies his book is even inscribed directly with Origen’s name.