Tag Archives: Gnomes of Nicaea

The Pseudo-Nicaean Canons

The council of Nicaea undoubtedly played an immense role in the development of the Christian Church, so it is no surprise that the canons of the council were of major importance to the early canonists. Not surprisingly too, the material ascribed to Nicaea is not small, as bishops and presbyters and scribes of all sort produced pseudonymous material to strengthen their case. What comes as a surprise is the fact, that most of it is not transmitted in Greek, but only in Coptic, Syriac or Arabic.

Stewart has produced a critical edition and translation of one of these documents, the Sententia Nicaea. (A.C. Stewart: The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea. Critical text with transl., introd. and comm. Piscataway 2015) Other than their transmission, they have nothing to do with Nicaea at all, as far as I know.

Another set of material runs danger of being confused with the Sententia, namely “die arabischen Kanones des Nicaenums”, or, as I would name them, the Pseudo-Nicaean Canons.

The Arabic material is found in the canonical collection of Macarius (14th century), s. Riedel 1900, p. 121 ss., in which the Nicaean material is grouped into 4 books. The second book consists of these 84 Arabic canons, which were translated into Latin by Echellensis as the eorundem sanctorum patrum 318 sanctiones et decreta, published in Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection, 1759, vol. 2, p. 981-1010. As mentioned in the previous post, a recension of it found its way into the Kitab al-Huda. This Arabic version was for a long time the only known version, hence the common name. Other than the shortened version of the Kitab al-Huda, there is no edition or modern translation.

More recent investigations pointed to the existence of the Syriac set of Pseudo-Nicaean Canons. They are linked to the name of Bishop Maruta of Maipherkat (4th/5th century), who supposedly translated the original Greek material into Syriac. The origin of the Pseudo-Nicaean Canons remains a mystery, though, and I feel more comfortable with Vööbus’ thesis of a grown tradition or living literature, that has its roots with Maruta and the early 5th century. I also cite Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. I, p. 588:

“Sicher waren die in Frage stehenden falschen Kanones von Nizäa schon vor 489 von der Kirche in Persien rezipiert, da eine so klare Anerkennung des römischen Primates, wie er in Kan. 2 (bei Maruta) ausgesprochen ist, nach der endgültigen Scheidung zwischen Römern (Griechen) und Persern nicht mehr denkbar ist. Die Geltung einzelner Kanones ist aber schon früher bezeugt…”

The Syriac version is edited and translated by A. Vööbus: The canons ascribed to Mārūtā of Maipherqaṭ and related sources. Louvain 1982 (CSCO 439-440), and translated into German by O. Braun: De sancta Nicaena synodo: syrische Texte des Maruta von Maipherkat, nach einer Handschrift der Propaganda zu Rom. Münster 1898.

Note that there are significant differences between the Arabic and the Syriac recensions, not only in the number of canons (84 in the Arabic, 73 in the Syriac) and the order of the material, but also in content. Depending from the Arabic set, there is again an Ethiopic version as part of the Senodos, ed. and transl. by P. Maurus a Leonessa: La versione etiopica dei canoni apocrifi del concilio di nicea secondo i codici vaticani ed il fiorentino, in: Rassegna di studi etiopici 2 (1942), p. 29-89. There is no comparative study of the different recensions, as far as I know, but see also:

  • F. Haase, Altchristliche Kirchengescihchte nach orientalischen Quellen, Leipzig 1925, p. 247-276.
  • Hefele/Leclercq, Histoire des conciles, vol. 1, p. 1139-1176, 1203-1221.
  • G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. 1, p. 586-593.

So, are these Canons a Church Order?

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Review of Batiffol’s Syntagma Doctrinae (and more!)

Digging around in the learned literature of the late nineteenth century I find a gem, a review by A. Robertson of Batiffol’s Syntagma doctrinae in The Classical Review 6 (8) (1892), 351-354. Far beyond its value as a review is the discussion of earlier work on the Syntagma and the Fides patrum, and in particular a trenchant discussion of Revillout’s theories about the derivation of these documents, alongside the Gnomai, from the Council of Alexandria.

There are also some interesting reflections on the credal form found in the Syntagma, and on the value of the document with regard to the text of the Didache.

Those without easy access to an academic library can find this with relative ease on archive.org.

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Gnomai of Nicaea in print

The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea is now in print, say Gorgias.

It’s been a convoluted and interesting road to publication. The need for the work occurred to me whilst preparing my work on the two ways, but I did not think I was the right person to do it. I still don’t, but nobody else would take it on. What is particularly interesting is that I started the work around the time that I opened this blog, which means that the journey is recorded.

http://www.gorgiaspress.com/bookshop/showproduct.aspx?ISBN=978-1-4632-0260-6

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The Gnomai of Nicaea: Publication

OK, contracts are signed (quick work!)

The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea will be published by Gorgias Press in the TECLA series. Sure to outsell Dan Brown (in my dreams.)

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Gno more Gnomes

When I get a minute I will be taking down the draft of the Gnomai from academia.edu. Out of nowhere I’ve had an offer from a publisher! Complete text, with translation, intro and notes, coming in due course as a (very short) monograph. Details to be posted once contracts are signed.

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The Gnomes of Nicaea: Yet another update

The progress is agonizingly slow… but in the meantime, yet another update has gone to academia.edu.

www.academia.edu/5161194/The_Gnomes_of_Nicaea_Work_in_progress

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More on dating the Gnomes of Nicaea

Mark DelCogliano has chipped in on Alin Suciu’s blog: Trinitarian-theology wise, the text seems to espouse (in the first paragraph) a pneumatology that does not consider the Holy Spirit a creature, and yet does not accord the Spirit a role in creation equal to the Father and Son, i.e. the Father creates through the Son, and the Spirit increases creatures. Therefore, a context in which fully pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology had not yet been accepted seems most likely — the third quarter of the fourth century is the best bet, but this may me too precise.
Sounds spot on. In the meantime I have read Athanasius’ Ep. virg. 1, preserved in Coptic (edited by Lefort in CSCO 150), which means that my reservations about the redacted-in homily on Mary were misplaced as it seems to breathe the same spirit even whilst being distinct. Thus increasingly the date-range suggested by Mark seems plausible.

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