Journal of Theological Studies 25 (1924) pp. 364-377 [Extract]


TWO EXAMPLES OF LITERARY AND RHETORICAL CRITICISM IN THE FATHERS

(DIONYSIUS OF ALEXANDRIA ON THE AUTHORSHIP OF THE APOCALYPSE, AND TERTULLIAN ON LUKE vi).

SOME three years ago I contributed to this JOURNAL a paper on a difficult word in Clement's Stromateis, which I tried to explain by reference to the grammatical science of his time. The present article is on somewhat similar lines. It aims, not so much at elucidating (for |p365 the general if not the detailed meaning is clear) as at illustrating two passages from the Fathers in which they stray for a moment into the ideas and language of the secular scholars around them. In the other paper I made a reservation which I should like to repeat. We have in these cases without doubt Christian Fathers speaking as scholars or ex-students of contemporary learning, but they remain Christian Fathers still. I said then that I would not dogmatize on a term used by Clement, without knowing more of Clement and Christological controversy as a whole. So here : my knowledge of the Fathers with a few exceptions is scrappy, and it is possible that a fuller acquaintance with that vast literature might lead me to modify conclusions, which are based chiefly on what I know of that other large but very different literature, which is concerned with the secular culture and scholarship of the decaying pagan world.

I.

The first passage is the series of extracts made by Eusebius (H. E. vii 25) from the Περὶ Ἐπαγγελιῶν of Dionysius of Alexandria in which that writer develops his argument that the author of the Apocalypse is a different person from the author of the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles. This extract, of which Westcott says that there is 'no other piece of pure criticism in the early Fathers to compare with it for style and manner', has always received due notice from theological scholars, but I cannot find that its relation to the secular learning of the time has ever been carefully examined. I do not indeed suppose that such an examination will substantially increase our understanding of Dionysius's reasoning, for his three arguments drawn from (a) the fact that the author of one book gives his name, while the author of the other suppresses it, (b) the difference in the conceptions and terms in the two, (c) the difference in grammatical usage, present no difficulty. Still, as a matter of historical interest, it is surely worth our while to consider how far Dionysius was influenced by similar investigations of the scholars of his age into questions of authorship, and by their canons of literary criticism, and also how far he is using the terminology of the schools.

The need for discriminating between genuine and spurious works of classical authority was quite familiar to the grammarians from the days of the great trio Zenodotus, Aristophanes the Byzantine, and Aristarchus, all of whom taught in Dionysius's own city. Quintilian notes that it was one of the functions of the grammarians, not only to form ' canons' of the best authors in each branch, but also to exclude particular books from the list of the works of a particular author.1 Elsewhere he |p366 mentions a particular case. He tells us that Aristophanes was the first to lay down that a certain educational poem, the 'Precepts of Chiron', was not, as commonly supposed, the work of Hesiod.2 But Quintilian does not tell us what were the arguments used by Aristophanes; and in fact, though I would not venture to affirm that in the great and obscure mass of critical and scholastic work still extant none such is to be found, I do not know where any detailed discussion of such questions has been preserved except in the case of Homer.

The exception is of course for our purpose important; for since Homer, was predominant in Greek education (to say nothing of the fact that Alexandria in the past at any rate had been the chief home of Homeric scholarship), Dionysius is not likely to have been altogether ignorant of this form of ' Higher Criticism'. The questions that arose for discussion may perhaps be ranged under four heads. First the Homeric 'Apocrypha', the outlying works such as the 'Margites' and especially the ' Hymns'. These last were sometimes quoted as' Homer', even by writers like Thucydides, but they were not accepted by scholars, and there is no evidence that they received the devout attention given to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Next come the ' Separators' or ' Chorizontes', who declared that the two great poems were by different authors. This problem has considerable resemblance to that which exercised Dionysius, and it is no doubt possible that it may have been argued on grounds not unlike those which we find in Eusebius's extracts. On the other hand it appears that the ' Chorizontes' found no favour with the orthodox, and Dionysius may have had as little acquaintance with the question as a student of the last generation, trained in his youth in biblical studies but turned off afterwards to other interests, would have had with the Johannine problem. Thirdly came the 'dubia' within the two poems. Both Aristophanes and Aristarchus are stated to have alleged that the Odyssey really ended at line 309 of the 23rd book, but whether they meant that the rest was not written by ' Homer', or that the real story of the Odyssey ended at this point and the rest was an excrescence is not quite clear. But within this excrescence there is a solid mass, the genuineness of which was impugned by Aristarchus more definitely. This is Odyssey 24 1-204, often called the 'Second Necuia', in which the souls of the Suitors descend to Hades and there meet Agamemnon and Achilles. The grounds on which Aristarchus rejected this episode are given with considerable fullness by the scholiasts, who also- supply the answers of the apologists. These objections are mainly based on inconsistencies with regular Homeric beliefs or ideas, such as that only here is Hermes represented as the Conductor of Souls ; or on the use of names and phrases, e. g. nowhere else is Hermes called ' Cyllenius' or |p367 the Muses spoken of as ' the Nine Muses'. Finally there are the objections brought against individual lines or small groups of lines. These ἀθετήσεις (to give them their technical name) of Aristophanes and Aristarchus are also preserved by scholiasts. Most of them perhaps are based on considerations of sense or fitness, but some call attention to non-Homeric forms or words 3 and so far fall into line with Dionysius's second and third argument. So far the analogy between the criticism of Dionysius and that of the grammarians is vague, though not, I think, vaguer than we should expect in such different material. I pass on to a closer consideration of his treatment of the subject and especially of his terminology.

In the first extract made by Eusebius Dionysius tells us that some earlier critics had rejected the Apocalypse altogether on the grounds of its unintelligibility and declared it to be the work of Cerinthus, who had palmed it on the Church under the name of John. Dionysius himself does not reject the book on the ground of its difficulty, but is willing to believe that it has a higher meaning beyond his grasp. 

[I have regretfully omitted the remainder of this portion of the text, although it is interesting.  This is because it is very long, irrelevant to Tertullian, and studded with Greek which I have to enter manually.  If anyone really wants this article complete, email me]

On the whole we may say that Dionysius's terminology, with a few exceptions, follows the accepted usage of grammarians, critics, and |p374 rhetoricians, 4 and, as I said above, his method of treating the question of authorship is, as well as could be expected in such different material, on the lines which would be suggested by what we may suppose to have been his early education, and by the scholastic ideas which were current around him. The impression he 'leaves with me is of a man who has been familiar with literary criticism in his earlier life, but has been switched off to a different line of thought with the natural consequences. His attitude cannot, I am sure, be regarded as independent of the scholastic culture of his age. And conversely I should say that Dionysius's method of reasoning should be treated as a valuable testimony in our estimate of Alexandrine scholarship. If a monograph should be written on the ' Higher Criticism' as applied by the scholars of the ancient world to Homer and other texts, Dionysius's discussion of the Johannine question ought to hold in it a prominent if not a foremost place. There can be few, if there are any, other specimens of so careful and sustained a discussion of such a question. Yet I fear that there is every probability that such a monograph would entirely ignore Dionysius. For if it is true that our theological scholars have neglected the light which ancient grammar or criticism or rhetoric might throw on their studies, it is still more true that classical scholars have failed to use the help which that great body of literature which begins with the New Testament might have given them. Too often indeed have they deserved the censure, which the elder of that Par Nobile Fratrum, who head the small band of scholars, which has tried to hold an even balance between the Old Pagan and the New Christian worlds of letters, passed on those who ' fence off the half of Latinity with the notice, Christianum est; non legitur'. 5

II.

My second example is one of much less detail, and, as will appear from the sequel, is given mainly to point a particular moral or morals. It is a passage in Tertullian ad Marcionem iv 12, where in the course of answering Marcion's allegations that the sayings and actions of Christ contradicted the Old Testament he has arrived at Lk. vi and our Lord's defence of the disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath. After stating the facts he goes on ''excusat illos Christus et reus est |p375 sabbati laesi; accusant Pharisaei. Marcion captat statum (MSS status)6 controversiae (ut aliquid ludam 7 cum mei domini veritate) scripti et voluntatis. De scriptura enim sumitur creatoris et de Christi voluntate color.'

Tertullian is here applying to biblical criticism one of the most fundamental points in the school of rhetoric. At the very beginning of his course the student was taught to classify questions that might come up for discussion under their various status. The word is a translation of στάσις, and another rendering (used by Tertullian himself elsewhere) is constitutio, I doubt whether there is a real equivalent in English, but perhaps the nearest is 'issue'. The meaning, however, will be clearly seen when I say that the three main status were an sit, quid sit, and quale sit. That is to say we have to consider either whether an alleged fact is true or not, or whether an admitted fact or action is what it is alleged to be, or what the degree of right or wrong in it is. In a trial for murder a complete denial produces the status of an sit, a plea that it is rather manslaughter that of quid sit, a plea of justifying circumstances that of quale sit.

These three formed in Greek the λογικὰ στάσεις, a phrase rendered in Latin by status rationales; but besides these three rhetoric usually recognized certain νομικαὶ στάσεις. There were such questions as conflicting laws, ambiguities in a law, and above all the question si scriptum et voluntas, in Greek ῥητὸν καὶ διάνοια. The applicability of this ' status ' to the controversy of Lk. vi is obvious. Marcion is represented as stating that the Creator had laid down a certain law, which the disciples (with Christ's approval) had broken. If so, the case would be ἀσύστατος : there is no issue. But Tertullian holds that our Lord argues that while the scriptum was no doubt as represented, the voluntas of the Legislator was as he states, and it is on this question that issue was joined. That this is the general meaning is, I think, clear, but the details of the passage are obscure. Provisionally I should translate the whole as follows: 'Marcion cavils against the view that the issue raised is that of "letter and intention" (if I may be allowed to treat Divine Truth thus humorously), for he puts in a plea that it is a question of the letter of the Creator against the intention of Christ.' 8 But I do not regard this |p376 rendering as at all certain and I have cited the whole passage, because the general meaning, which is beyond dispute, seems to me to suggest a twofold moral.

In the first place distinctions of the type of the status-lore, which, no doubt, were mastered by every serious student of rhetoric, that is by every one who went through a course of Higher, or indeed we should almost say of Secondary, education, are something quite different from that popular conception of ancient rhetoric, which regards it as consisting in acquiring a facile mastery of phrases and so-called rhetorical artifices. The rhetoric of the schools had many sides, and not the least important of these is the preparatory training which it gave for law.9 Concrete or actual law was not perhaps taught in the ordinary schools. But the regular course involved a good deal of consideration of juristic principles, and the declamations which played so great a part in it are constantly founded on the supposition that certain laws existed.

My other point is this. Recent critics have been ready enough to suppose that the meretricious and insincere side of rhetoric had a baneful influence on Christian historians like Luke. I do not myself believe that this aspect of rhetoric existed to so serious an extent as these critics believe it did ; but assuming that it was so, what about the manifold other sides ? What, in particular, about the legal or semi-legal side which I have been considering ? To how many students of Lk. vi besides Tertullian must the thought have leapt, 'this is merely the "status scripti et voluntatis" which we learnt about at school'? The fact is that the influence of both the grammatical and the rhetorical schools on Christian thought, exegesis, and preaching, is a branch of history which has yet to be written.

In one of the earliest papers that I published on these subjects I ventured to write as follows : 'it is true that the schools did not teach |p377 people to write or speak with genius and power, but they did teach a very clear insight into the meaning, nature, and function of language. Perhaps their work may best be seen in two products of these centuries, which have had at any rate a very remarkable permanence the Roman Codes and the Creeds of the Christian Church.'

Writing now ten years later I might wish to add to or modify these words, but I should still maintain their substantial truth.

F. H. COLSON.

P.S. [Omitted]


Footnotes

1. p.365 1 Inst. Or. i 4, 3.

2. p.366 1 Inst. Or. i 1, 15.

3. p. 367 1 e. g. Il. 7, 475 was ' athetized ' on the ground that ἀνδράποδον was a word which only came into use in post-Homeric times : Odyssey 4, 62 on account of the non-Homeric form σφψ̃ν.

[...]

4. p.374 1 [Likewise omitted as lots of Greek!]

5. p.374 2 v. J. E. B. Mayor The Latin Heptateuch p. lvii.

6. p.375 1 The correction seems almost necessary and is adopted by Kroymann in the Vienna Corpus edition. It may be just possible, since one explanation of the term was the attitude or position taken up by the two combatants, that the plural was sometimes employed, but I have no evidence for it. The error might easily be made by some one who supposed that 'scriptum' was one 'status' and ' voluntas' another.

7. p. 375 2 MSS 'cludam ' or ' eludam '.

8. p.375 3 The difficulty lies in the last clause. I take it as above because (1) 'color' in this usage, though sometimes it may mean nothing more than 'a line of argument', seems generally to suggest an ingenious method of explaining away difficult or suspicious circumstances, and so far is more appropriate to Marcion than to Christ ; (2) the word 'Christi' seems inexplicable on any other supposition. It is essential to the ' status ' of ' letter and intention ' that both should emanate from the legislator, and so below we have 'adversus statum scripti et voluntatis Creatoris'. On the other hand, an opponent might well rejoin to the advocate of intention, 'you say this is the intention of the legislator; the letter is his, but the intention is yours only'. But the meaning must also be judged from the sequel which runs ' quasi de exemplo David introgressi sabbatis templum et operati cibum audenter fractis panibus propositions'. As it stands this makes for the 'color' being Christ's. Kroymann, however, supposes an omission after 'quasi' and suggests 'non instruct;', i.e. ' as though Christ did not know that He had an O.T. precedent.'

9. p.376 1 It is true that Tertullian is credited with an unusual knowledge of law (τοὺς Ῥωμαίους νόμους ἠκριβωκὼς ἀνήρ. Eus. H.E. ii. 2) and readers of this passsge may have thought of it as exhibiting the legal specialist, rather than the ordinary rhetorical student. But the most cursory reading of the extant rhetorical treatises will shew that the point must have been familiar to any one who mastered the regular course, that is to every well-educated Roman.


Greek text in unicode.


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