Office, and appointment to office, in early Christian communities

Some years ago I was invited to contribute an essay to a forthcoming Cambridge History of Ancient Christianity. This volume contains essays setting out the status quaestionis and proposing new avenues for enquiry.

My given subject was office and ordination.

I should have known that something was wrong when the publisher sent a pdf contract and would not accept an electronic signature. I was supposed to print, sign, scan and send. I told them that that if they wanted a “real” signature they should have the courtesy to send a “real” contract with a stamped return envelope and not expect me to do their clerical work for them. They said they couldn’t. I said they could write the essay themselves. They sent a paper contract. I sent it back without a stamp.

If you think you can see a rant against the shenanigans of publishers coming on, you are right. They are, as always, paying in tommy. If you don’t know what this rather obscure phrase means, it is a system of reward by which payment is made in goods, not money,  goods which can only be obtained from the company making the payment in the first place. This system has been illegal in the UK since the Truck act of 1831 (now incorporated into new legislation) but is still widely used by academic publishers. English-speaking readers may recognize the origin of the term “tommyrot.”

I wrote the essay. The editors were happy but then, under pressure from the publisher, stated that they considered it too long. David Parker, I recollect, used to say that Bultmann carved up the Gospels with the delicacy of a college servant cutting a pie. They took the same approach to my essay (although, to be fair, they quoted Tertullian, who described Marcion as editing not with a scalpel, but a sword, and were entirely open about what they were doing, and why.) After seeing what they had done I had little choice but to do the same myself, using the same approach but retaining what I hope were the more interesting bits.

Now doubt the book will come out in due course, swelling the publisher’s coffers and doing little for my reputation. I have, however, posted the original and uncut version on academia.edu. Quod scripsi, scripsi. Enjoy!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Office, and appointment to office, in early Christian communities

  1. Randy Burgess

    Alistair,
    You have been most helpful to me in the past. I am hoping that you can help me find lists of the Episcopal Bishops and their cities in the 3rd through 5th Centuries.
    Randy Burgess

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  2. That’s a tough one! All I can think of is the lists of bishops at the various synods… starting with Ernest Honigmann, “The original lists of the members of the Council of Nicaea, the Robber synod, and the Council of Chalcedon” : Byzantion 16 (1942-1943), 20-80, of which I can provide a copy should you wish. I have a vague memory of reading such a list in the Bod some years ago, possibly (from my notes) from, Franz Gillmann, Das Institut der Chorbischöfe im Orient (Munich: Lentner, 1903), though sadly I have no copy of this.
    For the earlier period Roderic L. Mullen, The expansion of Christianity: a gazetteer of the first three centuries (Leiden: Brill, 2004) is a fantastic resource; where named bishops are known they are mentioned under each entry.
    Can anyone else help here?

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