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Apollo as a Chalcedonian: A New Fragment of a Controversial Work from Early Sixth-Century Constantinople

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2016

Brian E. Daley*
Weston Jesuit School of Theology


It seems to have been something of a Christian commonplace, at the turn of the fifth century, to taunt the ancient pagan oracles for being unable to predict their own demise. “Where are the frightening and shadowy spectres of Hecate,” asked Gregory of Nazianzus in his Epiphany sermon of 380 or 381, “and the subterranean tricks and prophecies of Trophonius, or the mutterings of the oak of Dodona, or the sophistries of the Delphic tripod, or the prophetic drink of Castalia? The only thing they could not prophesy was this: their own falling into silence.” Commenting, some thirty years later, on the stinging challenge to the prophetic powers of the pagan gods in Isaiah 41:22, Jerome observed “that after the coming of Christ all the idols have fallen silent. Where is Delphic Apollo and Loxias, Delian and Clarian [Apollo], and the other idols that promised knowledge of the future and deceived mighty kings? Why were they able to foretell nothing about Christ, nothing about his apostles, nothing about the ruin and abandonment of their temples? If, then, they were not able to foretell their own downfall, how could they foretell the good or bad fortunes of others?”

Copyright © 1995 by Fordham University 

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1 Oration 39 (On the Holy Lights) 5 (ed. C. Moreschini; trans. P. Gallay, SC 358 [Paris, 1990], 156–58.

2 Commentarium in Isaiam Prophetam 12 [written 408–10] (PL 24:434, A3–11).

3 On the dating of the various parts of the Sibylline collection, see the foundational work of Geffcken, J., Komposition und Entstehungszeit der Oracula Sibyllina, Texte und Untersuchungen NF 8/1 (Leipzig, 1902), and the introductions and annotations to the translation of Collins, J. J. in Charlesworth, J. H., ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 (New York, 1983), 317–472.

4 Protreptikos logos 2.1–3.

5 Strom. 5.14.

6 See Lactantius, Inst. 7.13.6, quoting the Greek text of an oracle of Apollo of Miletus to argue for the indestructability of the soul — even though the same oracle, “ut divinae religionis inimicus,” had counselled Diocletian to persecute the Christians (De mort. persecut. 11.7). Cf. Eusebius Praep. evang. 3.14–4.9, 4.20, 5.5–10, 6.7 (from Oenomaeus), 9.10.

7 According to the Christian historian Sozomen, writing in the 440's, Apollo himself replied to Julian, when the emperor asked about restoring the oracle at his shrine at Daphne, near Antioch, that “the place was filled with dead bodies, and this prevented the oracle from speaking” (Hist. Eccl. 5.19.19). Julian understood this as a reference to the relics of the Antiochene Christian martyr-bishop Babylas, which had been transferred to the site by Julian's own brother Gallus. The relics were solemnly removed at the emperor's order, but the shrine mysteriously burned down a few days later: see Sozomen, Hist. Eccl. 5.19.10–5.20; Ammianus Marcellinus Hist. 22.12.8–13.3. Julian admitted the failure of his efforts to restore the oracle at Daphne: Misopogon 346B, 361BC. The eleventh- and twelfth-century Byzantine chronographer George Kedrenos says that Julian also sent his physician Oribasius to Delphi, to revive the oracle there, and received the oracular information that the god no longer had the power of speech (304A [ed. I. Bekker; Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, 33 (Bonn, 1838); 532.4–10]).

8 For the revival of interest in oracles with an eschatological flavor among both pagans and Christians in the late fourth century, see Chadwick, Henry, “Oracles of the End in the Conflict of Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century,” in Lucchesi, E. and Saffrey, H. D., eds., Mémorial André-Jean Festugière: Antiquité païenne et chrétienne, Cahiers d'Orientalisme, 10 (Geneva, 1984), 125–29.

9 See Batiffol, Pierre, “Oracula Hellenica,” Revue biblique 13 (1916): 177–99, for a good survey of the genre.

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10 Klaros. Untersuchungen zum Orakelwesen des späteren Altertums (Leipzig, 1889) 89ff.

11 Fragmente griechischer Theosophien, Hamburger Arbeiten zur Altertumswissenschaft, 4 (Hamburg, 1941) — a work which is unfortunately, if understandably, rare today in North America. Hereafter cited as Erbse.

12 See, e.g., Porphyry De Abstinentia 4.9; Eusebius Praep. evang. 1.5 (16D) [Christian revelation], 4.9 (147C) [Greek oracles, based on Porphyry].

13 No fragments remain to give us a clue of what the content of this doctrinal summary may have contained. If the collection originated in Alexandria, however, as Erbse and earlier scholars argue, it is more than likely that it reflected an anti-Chalcedonian Christology, since Alexandria was the stronghold of resistance to that Council from the late 450s onwards.

14 Echoing an expectation found among Christian authors since at least the third century, the document seems to have set the end of the world, six thousand years after creation, at either A.D. 501 or 507–8: see Erbse, , 1–3. For another “oracular” prophecy of the nearing end, from the first decade of the sixth century, see Alexander, Paul J., The Oracle of Baalbek. The Tiburtine Sibyl in Greek Dress, Dumbarton Oaks Studies, 10 (Washington, 1967); on the relation of this work to the Theosophy tradition, ibid, 118–20.

15 This manuscript, Tübingen 27, is a copy made by the humanist Bernhard Haus, in 1580, of a famous thirteenth- fourteenth-century manuscript of Greek apologetic works, mainly from the second century, which found its way to Strasbourg in the eighteenth century (as Codex Argentoratensis 9) and was destroyed in the burning of the library during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.

16 Greek text in E. Schwartz, Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum 2:1.1.128–130; translation in J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (New York, 1982), 154–55 (slightly altered). For both original text and translation, see also Tanner, Norman P., ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (London/Washington, 1990), 1:86.

17 For a survey of the theological, ecclesiastical and political controversies that followed Chalcedon, see especially Frend, W. H. C., The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (Cambridge, 1972); P. T. R. Gray, The Defense of Chalcedon in the East (451–553) (Leiden, 1979).

18 Text in Evagrius Scholasticus Hist. eccl. 3.14; translation in Frend, The Rise, 361.

19 On this canon, see my article “Position and Patronage in the Early Church: the Original Meaning of ‘Primacy of Honour,’ ” Journal of Theological Studies 44 (1993): 529–53, esp. 539–49, and the bibliography cited there.

20 In addition to the works of Frend and Gray cited above (n. 16), see now the detailed analysis of post-Chalcedonian Christology in Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 2/1 (Atlanta, John Knox, 1987) and Jesus der Christus im Glauben der Kirche, vol. 2/2 (original German ed.: Freiburg, 1989); vol. 2/4 (Freiburg, 1990). On the distinctive theological methods used in these debates, see also my “Boethius’ Theological Tracts and Early Byzantine Scholasticism,” Mediaeval Studies 46 (1984): 158–91, esp. 167–74.

21 See, for instance, the pro-Chalcedonian florilegium of passages from Cyril, probably assembled in Alexandria around 482, published by R. Hespel, Le florilège Cyrillien réfuté par Sévère d'Antioche, Bibliothèque du Muséon, 37 (Leuven, 1955). For a survey of Chalcedonian documentary activity in this period, see Richard, Marcel, “Les florilèges diphysites du Ve et VIe siècle,” Das Konzil von Chalkedon (Würzburg, 1951), 1:721–48 (= Opera minora I, 3).

22 For standard modern surveys of this “neo-Chalcedonian” approach to Christology, see Moeller, Charles, “Le chalcédonisme et le néo-Chalcédonisme,” Das Konzil von Chalkedon, 1:637–720; S. Helmer, Der Neuchalkedonismus. Geschichte, Berechtigung und Bedeutung eines dogmengeschichtlichen Begriffes (Diss. Bonn, 1962); A. Grillmeier, “Der Neuchalkedonismus,” Historisches Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft 77 (1958): 151–66 (= Mit Ihm und in Ihm [Freiburg, 1978], 371–85); Jesus der Christus, 2/2:48–82; P. T. R. Gray, “Neo-Chalce-donianism and the Transition from Patristic to Byzantine Theology,” Byzantinische Forschungen 8 (1982): 61–70. On the emergence of the “theopaschite” formula, “One of the Holy Trinity has been crucified,” as a point of controversy in the early decades of the sixth century, see especially Grillmeier, Aloys, “Vorbereitung des Mittelalters. Eine Studie über das Verhältnis von Chalkedonismus und Neu-Chalkedonismus in der lateinischen Theologie von Boethius bis zu Gregor dem Grossen,” Chalkedon 2 (Würzburg, 1952), 2:791–839; Jesus der Christus 2/2:333–59.

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23 For a portrait of Macedonius and a detailed analysis of his fall from power, see Frend, W. H. C., “The Fall of Macedonius in 511 — a Suggestion,” in Ritter, A. M., ed., Kerygma und Logos. Beiträge zu den geistesgeschichtlichen Beziehungen zwischen Antike und Christentum, Festschrift Carl Andresen (Göttingen, 1979), 183–95.

24 Ps.-Zacharias Rhetor Hist. eccl. 7.7.

25 See Grillmeier, , Christ in Christian Tradition, 2/1:275–76, for the extant text of this document and further discussion and bibliography.

26 See Rhetor, Ps.-Zacharias Hist. eccl. 7.7 (on Philoxenus). According to Ps.-Zacharias (ibid.), Macedonius was regarded by the Severan party as an unabashed admirer of the Antiochenes, and was said both to have commemorated Nestorius in the liturgy and to have compiled a florilegium of texts from Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, the arch-enemies of Cyrillian Christology. Another Syriac fragment preserves the statement of Severus and the fourteen non-Chalcedonian bishops who ordained him patriarch of Antioch in 512, accepting Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and the Henotikon, but anathematizing Leo's Tome, Chalcedon and a long list of Antiochene theologians (PO 2:322–25).

27 For the background of the use of this hymn and its versions, and further bibliography, see Schwartz, Eduard, Publizistische Sammlungen zum acacianischen Schisma (Munich, 1934), 241–43; Grillmeier, Jesus der Christus, 2/2:268–77. The crux of the misunderstanding was apparently that the three invocations of the hymn had always been taken, in the capital, to refer to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, while the Antiochene Church — its original home — had traditionally understood them all to refer to Christ. Thus a fairly minor addition to the text, officially authorized in Antioch at the time of the anti-Chalcedonian patriarch Peter the Fuller (471–79), sounded in pro-Chalcedonian Constantinople, forty years later, like a blatant confusion of divine and human realities, a step even beyond Eutyches's “confusion of natures” to include the entire Trinity in the suffering of Jesus.

28 Theodore Anagnostes Epitome 487M (ed. Günther C. Hansen, GCS [Berlin, 1971], 138).

29 Vita Severi (ed. M. A. Kugener, PO 2.3:236–37). Cf. Frend, “The Fall of Macedonius,” 191.

30 See Vita Severi (ed. Kugener, PO 2.1:109); Frend, “The Fall of Macedonius,” 192; Grillmeier (Christ in Christian Tradition, 2/1:278) identifies this debate with the occasion on 20 July 511, when Macedonius was forced publicly to curse the Council of Chalcedon (Ps.-Zacharias Hist. eccl. 7.8).

31 See Liberatus, Breviarium 19 (ed. E. Schwartz, ACO–13); cf. Schwartz, Publizistische Sammlungen, 243–44, n.3; Frend (“The Fall of Macedonius,” 192–94) emphasizes the importance of scriptural discussion in the controversy, especially insofar as it concerned the divine and life-giving character of the dead body of Christ.

32 Letter of Simeon of Amida, Ps.-Zacharias Rhetor Hist. eccl. 7.8.

33 Ibid.

34 Theophanes Chronographia 6004 (ed. C. De Boor [Leipzig, 1883], 1.155.3–4).

35 Ps.-Zacharias Hist. eccl. 7.8.

36 Ibid. 7.7–8; Theophanes Chron. 6004 (ed. DeBoor, 1.155.9–11); Evagrius Scholasticus Hist. eccl. 3.32.

37 Ps.-Zacharias Hist. eccl. 7.8. Simeon's letter quotes the emperor as saying on this occasion: “Whoever sets out to make common cause with Macedonius, or has communication with him, is opposed to my majesty.”

38 Theodore Anagnostes Epitome 488M (ed. Hansen [n. 28 above] 139); Evagrius Scholasticus Hist. eccl. 3.32.

39 Ps.-Zacharias Hist. eccl. 7.8. It is a striking fact that since the late fourth century a strongly unitive view of God was generally coupled with a view of Christ that strongly distinguishes between his two natures, while a more unitive Christology is associated with a clearer emphasis on God as a Trinity of persons. This identification is clear in the emperor's remarks, as cited in Simeon's letter (n. 35 above).

40 Ps.-Zacharias Rhetor Hist. Eccl. 7.8. According to Theophanes (Chron. 6004: De Boor, 1.155.12–20), Celer brought the copy of the acta to Macedonius so that he could publicly tear them up, but the patriarch responded by laying them on the altar.

41 See Grillmeier, , Christ in Christian Tradition, 3/1:310–17; cf. Viktor Schurr, Die Trinitätslehre des Boethius im Lichte derskythischen Kontroversen” (Paderborn, 1935), 127–37; Hans-Georg Beck, “The Early Byzantine Church,” in Karl Baus et al, The Imperial Church from Constantine to the Early Middle Ages, ed. Jedin, H., History of the Church, vol. 2 (New York, 1980), 432–36.

42 Cod. Marc. Gr. 573 (coll. 415), fols. 26v–30r. This beautifully preserved manuscript, in the fine early minuscule hand of a single scribe, once belonged to Jacopo Contarini and is one of seventeen manuscripts left by him to the Marciana in 1714. See Zanetti, A. M. and Bongiovanni, A., Graeca D. Marci bibliotheca codicum manuscriptorum per titulos digesta (Venice, 1740), 300; Elpidio Mioni, Codices Graeci manuscripti Bibliothecae Divi Marci Venetiarum: Thesaurus Antiquus II (Rome, 1985), 478. Mioni does not attempt to identify this text further, and lists the part after the verse “oracle” (lines 61–end) as a separate work.

43 The original florilegium has been edited by R. Hespel, Le florilège cyrillien (n. 21 above); Severus's refutation of it, as a patchwork of quotations taken out of their contexts, is entitled Philalethes: ed. Hespel, R., CSCO 133 (text), 134 (translation) (Leuven, 1952). For a discussion of both works, see Grillmeier, , Jesus der Christus, 2/2:20–48.

44 The version of these lines contained in the Theosophia differs sharply in some places; it contains two additional lines (after lines 36 and 39), and omits line 40. See Erbse, (n. 11 above), 170–71.

45 Compare, for instance, the depiction of Jesus shedding “hot tears” for his dead friend Lazarus (52–53) with Iliad 16.3.

46 Atheniensis Graecus 1070, fols. 186r-v; the text is re-edited by Erbse, 214–15.

47 Parisinus Graecus 690, fols. 248v–249r; see Erbse, , ibid.

48 Erbse, 215.

49 Ibid., apparatus.

50 Text in Angelo Mai, Spicilegium Romanum, 4 (Rome, 1840), 340–97; oracle: 376. It is reproduced in Acta Sanctorum 56, Octobris VIII [for 20 October] (Paris/Rome, 1866): 856–85; oracle: 873. Portions of the vita are also edited by J. Bidez, as appendices I and II to his edition of Philostorgius's Church History: GCS (2nd ed.; Berlin, 1972), 150–65; oracle: 164. It may be significant that St. Artemius, although reputedly an Alexandrian, was venerated primarily in Constantinople, where his relics were preserved in the Church of St. John the Baptist (Prodromos).

51 The text of this vita is edited by J. Viteau, Passions des Saints Écaterine et Pierre d'Alexandrie (Paris, 1897); for a re-edition of the text and a thorough discussion of its sources, see Klostermann, E. and Seeberg, E., “Die Apologie der heiligen Katharina,” Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft 1/2 (1924): 31–87. For the relationship of this life to the work of Malalas, see Bidez, J., “Sur diverses citations, et notamment sur trois passages de Malalas retrouvés dans un texte hagiographique,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 11 (1902): 388–94.

52 The Passio Artemii has vv. 35–43 of the present text [i.e., the short “oracle” contained in the Theosophia plus the first line of its continuation]: AS 873; the Passio Catharinae includes a more complicated patchwork: lines 42b–44, 47b–48a, 50b, 52, 57, 58b–60: see Klostermann, and Seeberg, , “Die Apologie,” 40 and 54–56.

53 This letter is reproduced in PG 97:722–25; for the paraphrase of this oracle, see 724CD; Erbse, 211–12. For a discussion of the text, and of the wider tradition of collections of putative sayings from pagan wise men, see von Premerstein, Anton, “Griechisch-heidnische Weise als Verkünder christlicher Lehre in Handschriften und Kirchenmalereien,” Festschrift der Nationalbibliothek in Wien (Vienna, 1926): 647–66, esp. 649–50 and 656. This paraphrase, which still contains some of the Ionic vocabulary of the original “oracle” but is written as prose, contains, in abbreviated form, lines 42 (the end of the first part of the oracle), 45–47, 51, and 53–56.

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54 Münster, 1907.

55 For the text of this little collection, see Pitra, J., Analecta Sacra, 5 (Paris/Rome, 1888), 305–08; Erbse, 202–08. The paraphrase of the present oracle is found in Pitra (308) and Erbse (206–07).

56 Pitra, , Analecta, 305; Erbse, 202.

57 In the pro-Chalcedonian florilegium of passages from Cyril that Severus attacked in his Philalethes, for instance, the word used to characterize the purpose of the first section, where the chief terms of the Chalcedonian definition are put in parallel with similar terms from Cyril's writings, is “comparison,” άντιπαράθεσις (Hespel, Le florilège cyrillien [n. 21 above]) — in the Syriac translation, pechmā (Severus Philalethes [n. 43 above]).

58 Although it is not a direct quotation from the Old Testament, the reference to the “shame and confusion” that is sure to come on those who rely on human power suggests such Septuagint passages as Ps. 43:16, Isa. 45:16–17, and Dan. 3:44.

59 It is interesting that all three quotations are given in variant forms of the usual Septuagint text. The first, Psalm 118:8–9, corresponds to the pre-correction reading of the Codex Alexandrinus, and may simply represent a minor variation in the sixth-century text of the Greek Bible. The second, however, from Sirach 2:10–11, by substituting ἤλπισεν for ἐπίστευσεν and the third, by omitting the whole middle section of Jeremiah 17:5, give readings found in Chrysostom but not in the standard Septuagint manuscripts. If differences in biblical text-form were an important part of the debates between Severus and Macedonius, as Frend argues (“The Fall of Macedonius,” 192–95), these citations — which suggest a biblical source of an Antiochene-Constantinopolitan type — again identify this text squarely with the camp of Macedonius.

60 It is worth noting that the text of John 17:11 quoted here follows the “Alexandrian” reading in opposition to the version quoted by John Chrysostom, which omits the second half of the verse. As Severus himself recognized in his famous letter to Thomas of Germanicaea on biblical variants, the issue of finding a reliable Bible text was more complex than a simple opposition between Alexandrian and Antiochene traditions; see Ep. 108 (PO 14:266–70).

61 Ps. Zacharias Scholasticus Hist. eccl. 7.10; cf. the Chronicon miscellaneum ad a.d. 724 pertinens (ed. E. W. Brooks; trans. I. B. Chabot, CSCO 3:221 [text], 4:168 [trans.]). For further details of the Synod of Sidon, see Duchesne, L., L'Église au VIe siècle (Paris, 1925), 2729; Schwartz, Publizistische Sammlungen (n. 27 above), 245; Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition (n. 20 above), 2/1:279–81.

62 According to Ps.-Zachary (ibid.), Flavian's response to the proposal of Cosmas and his associates was to say, “It is enough for us to anathematize the books of the school of Diodore [of Tarsus] and the charges made by some people against the Twelve Chapters of Cyril [i.e., Theodoret's Refutation of Cyril's Twelve Anathemas], and Nestorius — lest we stir up the sleeping snake and corrupt many with his poison!” For Flavian, the main task was still damage control.

63 Scholion ad 11. 4–5 (eodem manu): ΠΡΟΣ ΤΑ ΤΕΛΗ ΤΗΣ ΣΥΜΦΩ<ΝΙΑΣ> ‘EΠEΓΕΓΡΑΠΤΟ ‘ΟΥΤΟΣ ‘Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ

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