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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Wallraff, Martin


Der Kirchenhistoriker Sokrates. Untersuchungen zur Geschichtsdarstellung, Methode und Person.


Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1997. 379 S. gr.8 = Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, 68. Lw. DM 138,-. ISBN 3-525-55176-2.


Henry Chadwick

The seven books of Socrates’ Church History cover the period from Constantine the Great and his council at Nicaea to Theodosius II and his council at Ephesus in 431. The work has in recent years attracted the attention it deserves, above all through G. C. Hansen’s magistral critical edition of 1995 (JThS 47, 1996, 324-327) in which the early Armenian version was much used with the expert help of Manja Sirinjan. The Berlin Academy proclaimed a fine commitment to the GCS editions crucial to the study of late antiquity by naming this volume the first of a new series. In English a valuable dissertation by Theresa Urbainczyk was published in 1997. In 1996 Hartmut Leppin’s study, Von Constantin dem Grossen zu Theodosius II, das christliche Kaisertum bei den Kirchenhistorikern Socrates, Sozomenus und Theodoret appeared in the series Hypomnemata 110. Naturally the recent books on Athanasius by T. D. Barnes, Annick Martin and Martin Tetz have weighty contributions to the subject. The monograph here under review is on a large scale with a wide and deep deployment of high scholarship.

W. points out that unlike Eusebius, for whom the structure of his history is given by the succession of bishops in great sees, Socrates articulated his story round emperors, Julian and Jovian being run together in book 3. An explicit theme of his attitude to church history is that it is inextricably bound up with the secular history of the empire. In his view there was a hidden ’sympathy’ between the two, and this was true for him when Julian harassed the Church and when Eudoxia harassed John Chrysostom - though in W.’s view John’s actions were far from wise in that affair. He does not believe everything in Palladius’ hagiographical Dialogue, and the matter in book 6 is a major source of independent information. When John’s honour was posthumously rehabilitated, Socrates was astonished that a similar rectification had not been granted to Origen, who was for him a leading light among ’the old writers’ of the age ’before the Church became divided.’

Book 3 on Julian is in the main both dependent on and polemic against Libanius’ Epitaphios (or.18), with an appendix on the short-lived Jovian whose treaty with Persia surrendered massive territory as well as Nisibis but whose coins represented it all as a wonderful victory for the emperor and the legions. Having been educated in youth by two pagan tutors, Socrates was sympathetic to classical literature. Julian’s notorious edict on schools was not in wording anti-Christian, though that was its consequence. It embarrassed Ammianus. There were Christians who thought the emperor correct and disapproved of believers teaching Homer and his misbehaving gods. Socrates grants a good press to Libanius as an orator and to Themistius. He was appalled by Hypatia’s death, with the sharp comment that murder was not a proper Christian activity.

A good chapter elicits the view of the emperor’s role, and passes on to Socrates’ sombre assessment of the clergy, then of monks in whom, apart from the much admired Evagrius, he was less interested than Sozomen. He liked the voice of the laity to be heard in episcopal elections as long as they were not merely the grandees.

There is a section on the sources used (especially Rufinus whom he could read in Latin and Gelasius of Caesarea, but also Eutropius in both Latin and a Greek version), Eusebius’ Life of Constantine being important for that emperor. W. embarks on a largely pioneer study of the author’s style, which Photius (cod. 28) thought unremarkable, and then traces his biography - born soon after 380, dying after 439 but before 450; he seems to have completed his history about 444. Surprisingly he never mentions the Theodosian Code of 439 which for the lawyer Sozomen would be important.

Socrates never conceals his affinity with the Novatianists among whom he had trusted friends, and it is hard to resist the conclusion that he not only had once been a member of this group, which was numerous in Asia Minor and in Constantinople, but was so at the time of writing. His criteria for estimating prominent bishops included their degree of tolerance for Novatianists. It is emphatically repeated that this group fully accepted the decisions of Nicaea, when the Novatianist Auxanon was actually present, and had no time for Arians of any colour. (He regarded the council of Serdica as being ’ecumenical’.) Notoriously Socrates judged the theological controversies of the age ’a night battle’, merely a figleaf for power struggles among bishops determined to foot-fault rivals. His famous chapter (5,22) cataloguing many differences of liturgical custom (’it would be hard to find two churches with identical rites’) and distinctive rules of canon law (e.g. priestly celibacy in the West, not required of presbyters in the East), can be read as a programmatic thesis for the reconciliation of separated ecclesial bodies, provided they accept the Nicaenum. There is no question of the Novatianist community having left the Church; the controversy is within the one Church of Christ, in which there are numerous diversities, such as the calculation of the date of Easter, which he regarded as an adiaphoron. He twice insists that controversy is the stuff of church history, and that if after his time there is no more controversy (which perhaps, in part ironically but also seriously, he hoped might result from his ecumenical programme of unity on dogmatic fundamentals with diversity otherwise on everything secondary) then future historians will have nothing to write about. It coheres with this position that he found Themistius on toleration a congenial author.

This distinguished monograph is buttressed by a full bibliography and a few thousand footnotes, many with loadbearing observations. On p. 92 Konstantins looks like a misprint for Konstantius. But the printing is good.