Monthly Archives: October 2012

Friday at Kalamazoo Part II

I left off with my last Kalamazoo Session Post about five months ago. I intend to finish these which will be an interesting experience. A couple of weeks ago I gave an agrosecurity presentation for a bunch of university types. I was able to go back to past programs I’d been to over the previous 5 years, look at my notes and instantly figure out what they meant. I’m less confident about being able to similarly decipher my Kalamazoo notes a few months later but I intend to give it a shot. I imagine there will be a few papers I won’t be able to figure out and will ignore and others where all I’ll be able to give are a few key concepts without an overall theme. So picking things up from 11:30 Friday morning …

After the morning session I took advantage of the two hours before the next in the same building and made my one foray into last year’s antisocial behavior by grabbing a chair to make some calls and make sure the program I’d strung back together with duct tape for the following week was still in one piece. Following this I grabbed a bite, ran into Cullen Chandler and proceeded to Session 282, Late Antiquity II: Christian and Pagan Culture in Late Antiquity.

First up was Doug Jarvis of Carleton University. Doug (I can call him Doug because we chatted for ten minutes or so before the session started) is a Law History student which gave him a bit of a different perspective in his paper, “The Politics of Empire and Desire in Late Roman Antiquity: A Post-sexual Revolution Era Reading of St. Augustine’s Confessions.”

My notes for this are sparse and I won’t editorialize so this will be a brief list of some key concepts. He approached this topic from the basis of two historical shifts; the modern sexual revolution and a late Roman change in faith combined with the disintegration of Roman family structures. Augustine’s conversion story was a reaction in response to failures of the Romano-Pagan society. In joining the Church an individual found him or herself with immediate value while as a member of society one’s best hope was to become a friend of the Emperor. Lust and the response to it was prominent in The Confessions. My notes related to sexuality are rather thin however I do have that a theme of The Confessions is that sexual desire is the basis of original sin and that Carleton argued that Augustine’s discussion of his personal issues were a response to the contemporary political situation. Bleh – really poor synopsis there. Sorry folks but keep reading, the rest of this post is better. I recall that Carleton faced tougher questioning, more aggressively challenging, than I’m accustomed to at Kalamazoo but I don’t remember the specifics.

Craig Gibson from the University of Iowa followed with “Art and Rhetorical Education in the Late Antique Greek East.” He looked at how education was evolving during this period to focus on the artist and art as having a responsibility to teach morality. He opened with a focus on the Progymnasmata which was a handbook of writing exercises Libanius put together to use in his school and which later became widely disseminated. Libanius emphasizes that the artist will struggle with passion and must take care that this will not destroy his capacity to create. The artist cannot escape passion, particularly love, but must be transformed to be able to create meaningful images (Gibson had a handout which emphasized visual images but Libanius must have also meant written representations). Pseudo-Nicolaus, a student of Libanius whose writings are believed to make up part of Progymnasmata, adds morality into his writings. He depicts Hera as lawfully married, a preferred status to the unlawful seeking after pleasure which existed previously. In order to honor Hera, she must be depicted as lawfully married. Ps-Nicolaus also discussed modesty, describing Athena as possessing womanly modesty however, as one breast is often exposed, she is also engaged in a battle with lust, which must constantly be guarded against. Gibson believes that this (and a couple other examples he used, such as Choricius) shows a new understanding of the role of art. The artist has become a public figure with a responsibility to perform art in such a way as to benefit their community, morally as well as by providing beauty or inspiration.

The next paper continued to focus on art. Simon Zuenelli, a Phd candidate from Leopold-Franzen University in Innsbruck, presented on, “The Dionysiaca of Nonnos as a Typical Poem of Late Antiquity.” The main purpose of this paper was rehabilitation. The Dionysiaca has a very negative reputation these days. Zuelli admitted that there are some grammatical errors however he feels it qualitatively fits in quite well with other Late Antique poetry. This poem is very digressive however this is fairly standard for poetry of this time and should not be used as a criticism.

The final paper was my favorite of the session. Robert Winn from Northwestern College in Iowa gave, “On Avarice: Eusebius of Emesa and John Chrysostom.” The primary question this paper tried to answer was, Did Eusebius’ On Avarice influence Chrysostom’s later denunciations of greed in his sermons? Winn proceeded to examine this by taking a close look at Eusebius. He denounces his audience. For Eusebius, Christians are greedy but don’t have any idea that they are wrong. He tells them that wealth causes war and divides families. Christians believe they can bribe God through offerings using money they’ve stolen from others. People are selling their souls and are willing to sell the truth. Redemption is possible however and people can achieve this by following models. These include Christ, John the Baptist, Martyrs, and the Apostles. For Eusebius, modern Christians are the Apostles’ successors, should they choose to behave in such a manner. Chrysostom uses many of Eusebius’ themes in some of his sermons, including that wealth causes war and greed results in violence. Chrysostom echoes Eusebius’ descriptions of those to model good behavior on, particularly John the Baptist. Winn believes it is possible that Chrysostom’s inspiration may have been Origen but thinks it much more likely that it was Eusebius. Really good paper and I suppose I should mention that I marked in my notes to look for Winn’s book which you can find on Amazon. I’ve wishlisted, but have not purchased it – one of the benefits of being too busy to read much on history has been that my book purchases have gone way down over the past few months though I expect that will change before too long.

I had debated what session to go to for the 3:30 session and chose wrong. Instead of heading to the third Society for Late Antiquity Session I decided to go to Session 327: Networks of Travel and Communication in the Early Middle Ages. I’ve mentioned before that a few months after hip replacement, when I really had to hustle to walk somewhere the hip started to bother me pretty significantly. So I decided that rather than walk from Bernhard to Schneider I’d take the shuttle. Well, the shuttle didn’t show up outside Bernhard until it was about time for the next session to begin so I walked in late. I’m a stickler for punctuality. One of my peeves I guess. It is a very rare meeting where I’m not on site 15 minutes or more ahead of time – the only exception is when it’s in my building. So I was very unhappy that I walked in 10 minutes late, which was not helped by the fact that the door was locked and someone had to get up and let me in. And when I walked in late I didn’t walk in on Andrew Gillett talking about, “Making Networks: Strategies of Communication for Western Embassies to the Imperial Court in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries” which was the reason I chose this session. And no, this change was not in the Congress Corrigenda.

However two speakers were there and their papers were pretty good. Although I walked in late, I enjoyed “Reconstructing Networks of Travel and Communication in Early Medieval Ireland” by Rebecca Wall Forrestal of Trinity College at the University of Dublin. She used some nice visuals to help describe archaeological evidence for local networks. When I entered she was discussing textual evidence from the Life of Bridget. Based on this, regional rulers were responsible for road maintenance. They were subject to fairly strict requirements detailing what a particular road should be able to do and instructions for building. A big issues is that while placenames may be used to indicate where roads may have been, it’s difficult to use names to date them. She provided a more detailed examination of County Waterford which includes the Blackwater Valley. As a summary, mills generally served as a community center, churches were generally located close to roads and ringforts were also fairly close. Several long distance roads (20-50 km) have been identified but they have not been able to solidly establish dates for them. While towns/villages have not been identified, they have found that many homes on farms were built fairly close to each other. She suspects there were many local trackways which archaeology hasn’t been able to find. The overall impression she had of the area is that it was a series of interlocked clusters of homes and communities.

Matthew Harpster from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M gave a very interesting paper on, “Maritime Connectivity and Regionalism in the Mediterranean.” Harpster related what recent finds in the Mediterranean revealed about naval trade networks. By analyzing the origin of materials found in shipwrecks they are able to re-construct trade linkages. What he found was that trade by sea was regional. Materials originating in the East tended to be found in the East while materials originating from the West were found in the Western Mediterranean (his East-West boundary was the Italian peninsula). He contrasted this with the fact that a great deal of eastern amphorae are found in the west along land routes. I regret that I did not write down the dates which his finds covered. Good paper (actually he gave a presentation – not sure it was a paper) and a good session even though I showed up late and didn’t hear what I’d hoped to.

Following this session I headed back to Valley and the books. I worked my way through the rest of the exhibit by the time it closed, except for Powell’s. I debated grabbing something to eat and decided to drive up to Fetzer instead. They have a bunch of social events there in the evenings, complete with a cash bar so I thought I’d grab a beer (ended up having two) while I waited for the Projects in Digital Medieval Studies poster session. I ran into Guy Halsall on my way in and chatted with him for a few minutes. Then after I sat down I talked to a woman from Kalamazoo who home schools her kids and brings them to the Congress every year which I thought was very cool. Unfortunately, the session itself was a disappointment. It was designed for all digitally oriented sessions from Congress to have displays at and when I showed up there were only three, though a couple were pretty interesting.

I headed back to the dorm, planning to clean up a bit and then call some people and find out if anyone was as late for dinner as I was, or at least thinking of going out where there was food. Near the entrance to the dorm I heard some grad students lamenting that they hadn’t gotten to Bilbo’s. I told them that I wouldn’t take them there (figured there’d be no tables by that time on a Friday) but I’d pick up a pizza if they wanted. So I ran up there (was surprised to see that there were empty tables after all), ate with the grad students for a bit and then headed for bed.

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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Conferences


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The Construction of a Heresy

I have a hard time communicating to people why reading about and studying (it isn’t formal but while I’m not a historian I do consider what I do to be studying) history is such a passion of mine. Apparently my physical appearance doesn’t lead people to think of me as someone who spends a great deal of his spare time reading. As an example, a few months ago at a department meeting a young lady decided we had enough recent hires that we needed to do something to get to know each other better. She arranged a mixer which was patterned on speed dating where people switched seats every couple of minutes after chatting with each other. When she reached my table and I explained my history interest; this blog, conferences I go to, etc., her immediate response was, “I never would have dreamed that – I always thought of you as someone who did guy things.” On follow up those “guy things” would have included hunting and fishing. Now I don’t know why reading history can’t be a guy thing but I’m sure she left the chair puzzled as to why history fascinates me so much. I recently came across something which I hope can provide an example.

In my last post I mentioned how David Gwynn discussed Athanasius’ role in portraying Arianism and its adherents as a cohesive group which held to a fairly uniform set of beliefs. I recently finished Sara Parvis, Marcellus of Ancyra and the Lost Years of the Arian Controversy, 325-345 which revises this even further. This is a good book which provides a detailed look at the religious conflicts in the two decades following Nicaea, including examining dates of various sources and Church Councils, the makeup and purposes of the respective Councils, and the gradual hardening of opinions during this period. Definitely not for beginners and I imagine a lot of what Parvis has to say is controversial but she does provide detailed arguments though in many cases she is forced to rely on her sense of logic rather than actual evidence which is always hazardous.

Anyway, on page 180 she has a subheading titled, The invention of Arianism. I don’t think I can explain how delighted I was when I came across this. If I could, I could provide a solution to the problem I stated in my first sentence of this post. All I can say is that while I didn’t literally skip across my living room or break into a dance or anything, it wouldn’t have taken much to get me there. Never mind that it blasted yet another hole into one of my preconceptions from when I first started seriously reading up on early Christianity. This isn’t the first point in this where I’ve discovered I was wrong, though so far I think it may be my largest error.

Icon from the Mégalo Metéoron Monastery in Greece, representing the First Ecumenical Council of Nikea 325 A.D., with the condemned Arius in the bottom of the icon.
Image from the Mégalo Metéoron Monastery in Greece. This representation of the 325 Council of Nicaea shows Arius as condemned, kneeling beneath Constantine. The Monastery was constructed in the mid-14th century (I don’t have detailed information on the date of the image) so this is a nice example of how Arius came to be portrayed, not of his actual role or status in the controversies. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In essence, Parvis argues that there was no such thing as Arianism before about 340. Arius was a figure in the struggle over Orthodoxy but a minor one. Instead, during the period of Athanasius’ second exile (339-346) he and Marcellus created Arianism as a tool in what was primarily a political struggle between Eusebius of Nicomedia and his allies, and Athanasius, Marcellus, and Julius of Rome. This struggle became enmeshed in the conflicts between Constantius and Constans over rule of the Empire (or rule over parts of it anyway).

After Marcellus and Athanasius spent their year together in Rome, however, a new animal arises in the writings of both: the full-blown Arian heresy, modelled on the constructs of the old heresiologies, with its diabolical initiative, its roots in previous heresies or philosophies, and its single male heresiarch with his malignant followers, who propagate theological perversions with great vigour, persecute the orthodox, and, most importantly of all, have been clearly condemned by the Church. p. 181. 1

Parvis’ discussion of this covers pages 180-199 and there’s no way I can completely cover her argument. However there are some interesting pieces of evidence which support this. First is Nicaea itself. The 325 Council, while condemning those who deny the Son’s eternity, or who believe he is of a different essence than the Father, does not anathematize them. They are wrong, but still in communion with the Church. 2

It is also interesting that Nicaea does not name Arius or Arians. This has to wait for the Council of Constantinople in 381, following the lead of Theodosius earlier that year where he decreed that the Nicene faith was the only proper one. 3

Then there are the various creeds published by the Eusebian party over the years. As I mentioned in my previous post, most of these are not Arian. Some, such as the Fourth Creed of Antioch, are very close to orthodox. But Athanasius condemns them all as Arian (almost all anyway), however distinct they are from “classical” Arianism. 4 And above all, there is the difference in Athanasius’ writings, from spending over 10 years discussing doctrinal issues with barely a mention of Arius, to this sudden, concerted expression of a well-developed heretical doctrine.

Why Arius? Why did Athanasius and Marcellus name their heresy after him? He was a presbyter, not a bishop. As the Eusebian party said from Antioch, “We have not been followers of Arians – how could Bishops, such as we, follow a presbyter?” 5 Now there’s no evidence, just my opinion, but it seems likely that Arius was more of a convenient target than anything. He was a figure in all of this but bishops such as Eusebius or Asterius were far more prominent. However they were also closely allied with Constantius. It would have been hard to go after them without implying that the Emperor was guilty by association. The fact that Arius was dead by this time couldn’t have hurt either. And claiming that a group of bishops were basing their direction based on a presbyter would further discredit them.

In essence, after Athanasius and Marcellus were exiled, they started to play hardball. They created a specific target, Arius, and helped define his doctrine. The rhetoric increased in volume and intensity and, in Athanasius’ case, the Creed of Nicaea came to be used as a weapon. Whatever the Eusebian party came up with, even if it might be able to be considered orthodox, it wasn’t Nicene and Athanasius was there to contest it. While there was a theological dispute, the real conflict was a political one where the Eusebians contested with the Athanasian party for control of the Church. Arianism was crafted as a weapon.

An interesting aside in all of this is the role of Constantine. His intervention and what seems to be a search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict ended up dragging things out for another four decades. Now maybe the Alexandrian party wouldn’t have achieved a decisive victory at Nicaea but if they had the battle over orthodoxy (and the political one for control of the Church) might have been over much more quickly. And within a few months of Nicaea, Constantine had done an about-face and was supporting the Eusebians. Too bad he didn’t keep a diary to let us know what he was thinking. I can almost read it:

Dear Diary, Friggin’ bishops. Alexander wants to kick half of them out of their sees and for what – over a disagreement about a few words? I don’t have time for this mess. I just finished with Licinius and who knows how many pissed off leftovers of his are running around. The Persians are still acting up and Mom tells me that my son and my wife are getting it on with each other every chance they get. I don’t have the time to replace 90 bishops and deal with everything that would cause. Better to come up with a solution and get ’em off each others’ necks.

So this is what I call fun, discovering something completely new. It’s also, I think, evidence of how poorly read I am in this area. I have a feeling what Parvis is discussing isn’t new – it may even be the mainstream opinion. But it was new to me. Her argument is persuasive though I have to guard myself from being overly willing to adopt opinions which point to increasing historical complexity. And there are a bunch of specifics she offers which must be points of disagreement among the scholarly community. If I wanted to, I could dive into several more books and probably a dozen journal articles to refine my thinking further. Actually I do want to, but I won’t. I’ve spent nearly a year tracing back from the end of the 4th century and am only now at the Council of Nicaea. If I’m ever going to read back to the origins of Christianity and then return to the 5th and 6th centuries, I can’t go into a detailed investigation of every issue, however interesting I find it.

1 Parvis believes Athanasius and Marcellus spent 340 together in Rome.

2 Parvis believes that Nicaea would not have been viewed as a victory by Alexander of Alexandria and his party. She argues that he and his group had been working toward an ecumenical council which would prove decisive in the adoption of their doctrine. Instead, the Eusebian group, while told to set aside their doctrine, continue as members of the Church and are allowed to retain positions of influence.

3 For Theodosius’ law, see Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History VII.4. Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History V.9 preserves the synodal letter of the Council of Constantinople while Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiatical History V.8 provides a summary of the Council.

4 We should be very grateful to Athanasius for preserving the various creeds developed by the Eusebian party. His de Synodis 25.2-5 provides the text of this creed.

5 From Athanasius, de Synodis 22.

Gwynn, David M., Athanasius of Alexander: Bishop, Theologian, Ascetic, Father. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2012). ISBN: 978-0-19-921095-4.

Parvis, Sara, Marcellus of Ancyra and the Lost Years of the Arian Controversy, 325-345. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). ISBN: 978-0-19928-0131.

Robertson, Archibald, ed., Select Writings and Letters of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Series 4. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers (2012). ISBN (for 14-volume set): 978-1-56563-116-8.


Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Historiography, Religion


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