Friday, February 27, 2009

Misquoting Athanasius

It's very popular among Rome's apologists today, to make claims that famous church fathers, those that "Protestants" would have heard of, held to the same views as Rome teaches today. Unfortunately for Catholicism, history is not her friend. So, while occasionally a church father or two will provide some seemingly helpful material for the apologist for Catholicism, these sorts of things often aren't really good enough to provide a compelling case from the best known fathers.

So some of these apologists turn to spurious works: pseudographic writings that are attributed to some father but were not actually written by him. This can happen two ways: (1) unintentionally or (2) deliberately.

The unintentional error can happen to anyone. One of the callers to the "Dividing Line" radio program recently made reference to a quotation with respect to the Johannine Comma that John Calvin had attributed to Jerome. Upon the further investigation, it appears that the author of the quotation was not Jerome himself, but a later writer using Jerome's name. Thus, the person who called unintentionally used a pseudographic writing (through simply adopting what Calvin said, but not investigating it more thoroughly).

A deliberate error is more serious. I have a particular quotation in mind, and at this point, I want to refrain from stating that Rome's apologists are deliberately quoting a pseudographic source as though it were authentic. After all, they may simply be falling into the same error that our caller fell into of using outdated or inaccurate information from a secondary source.

Nevertheless, a particular quotation allegedly from Athanasius has come to my attention. Athanasius is one of those church fathers that lots of "Protestants" have heard of and respect. It would be an interesting survey to do, but I think that among Reformed Christians especially, one would find almost no criticism or negative attitudes towards Athanasius: after all, Athanasius stood for orthodoxy against error in a Martin-Luther-esque manner - "Athanasius Contra Mundum" (Athanasius Against the World).

Athanasius was a Reformer in his day, so what a shock it would be to "Protestants" if Athanasius turned out to be Roman Catholic! And of course, unbeknown to typical "Protestants", there are a number of areas where there would be a significant difference between Athanasius doctrines or practices and those of the more Biblical churches of the Reformation. Those legitimate differences, however, are apparently not enough.

So, now we find apologists for Rome citing a spurious, pseudographic work entitled "Homily of the Papyrus of Turin." This work is not part of any standard corpus of Athanasian writings, and no scholar who deals with Athanasius has (to my knowledge) ever identified it as authentic. It is not found in any Greek manuscripts but apparently comes down to us in a single Coptic manuscript. The manuscript does have the name "Athanasius" at the top, but this is not a sufficient reason to consider it an authentic work, as anyone familiar with ancient manuscripts would be aware.

Who are the guilty parties? Well, we see Steve Ray both at his own site as well as at the Catholic Answers site and This Rock magazine, Dave Armstrong, John Salza at CAI, and if one searches the Internet one will find quite a number of lesser luminaries in the field of Roman apologetics providing the same quotations.

Why are they doing this? I would like to assume that they just don't know better. As noted above, Mr. Ray's use of this spurious, pseudographic work was published in the popular This Rock magazine in 2005, which would have given it a wide distribution. It is possible that many folks that are using this quotation simply got it from Mr. Ray, mistakenly believing that Mr. Ray carefully checks his sources.

But where did Mr. Ray get it? Mr. Ray doesn't read Coptic (as far as I know) - so how did he get an English translation of the text to present? I think the answer to that question lies in Mr. Luigi Gambero's book, "Mary and the Fathers of the Church," first published in English in 1999. At pages 106 and 107, Mr. Gambero provides two quotations from this source. Mr. Gambero himself cites to the earlier work of Louis-Théophile Lefort, in Le Muséon 71 (1958).

Scholarly citations aside from Mr. Gambero typically correctly identify the work as Pseudo-Athanasius (see, for example, Virginia Burrus' citation at p. 258 of Late Ancient Christianity or David Frankfurter's citation at p. 35 of Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt) or at least identify the work simply as "attributed to" Athanasius or other indicators of the dubious (at best) nature of the claim that Athanasius was the work's author.

What about Mr. Gambero? He provides no argument at all in favor of authenticity of the quotation. Since Mr. Gambero did not write the book in English, but instead the work was translated from the Italian original, perhaps the translator left out some indication that Mr. Gambero had originally provided. Unfortunately, where I am now, a copy of the Italian original (published in 1991 and now out of print and largely unavailable for sale in a used condition) is not within my reach. If any of my readers has a copy and would care to let me know what citation is provided by Gambero in the original, I'd be much obliged.

Assuming that the translator has done a proper job, however, we are left weighing the weight of the scholarly consensus against authenticity with an unexplained citation by Mr. Gambero to the work as though it were authentic. Furthermore, Mr. Gambero (while certainly a scholar within his field) is not entirely without bias. One web bio described him this way:
Fr. Luigi Gambero, S.M., a Marianist priest, studied philosophy and theology at the University of Fribourg and the Lateran University in Rome. He specialized in Mariology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Marianum in Rome. He presently teaches patristics at the Marianum and at the University of Dayton.
I attempted to find contact information for Mr. Gambero through the University of Dayton, but it does not appear to be available. Again, if a reader is able to get in contact with Mr. Gambero, I would be much obliged to have the opportunity to hear his own explanation for this use of a pseudographic work, which has resulted in widespread miscitation of the work in the world of modern Roman apologetics.

Hopefully, this article will spur Mr. Ray and others to begin publishing suitable retractions to try to undo the (we assume unintentional) errors they have been propagating. I note that I would include in that group Mr. William Albrecht who recently posted a video in which reads back from this work as though it were Athanasius (link), even mistakenly using the section title from Gambero ("In Praise of the Blessed Virgin") rather than the actual title of the work.

This is not the first time I've brought this matter to light. I had previously discussed this on my blog (link), and no one from the side of Rome has come forward to correct this mistake or justify this citation.

So here's my challenge to Albrecht, Armstrong, Catholic Answers, CAI, and Steve Ray: stop using spurious and pseudographic quotations to try to bolster your cause. We realize that this may have been an unintentional error, but you can no longer use ignorance as an excuse now that this matter has been brought to light. When Alpha and Omega Ministries discovers an error in a quotation from the church fathers, we're not afraid to fix the mistake (as demonstrated here). We're not afraid of what the Early Church Fathers actually said or didn't say, are you?


Updates: 4 March 2009

1) As noted in my more recent post in response to William Albrecht's attempted defense of the spurious (or - at best - dubious) work, since the scholars I already named in the article above weren't enough for Mr. Albrecht, I've added one more, Mr. Angelo Gila. Mr. Gila is not only a doctor of theology, whose doctoral thesis was a study of the Marian writings of Severus of Gabala, but Mr. Gila is also a Servite friar - a friar in the order of the Servants of Mary - as well as a resident of the Turin area of Northern Italy (the very area where they papyrus manuscript fragments are housed). In a scholarly article published in the "Theotokos" journal, (Theotokos VIII (2000) 601-631), at page 613, Mr. Gila correctly identifies this work as Pseudo-Athanasius.

2) One kind reader has noted that Jay Dyer is another of the folks that have used this quotation (link). [Further update: 5 March 2009 - Mr. Dyer has graciously agreed to remove his reliance on that particular quotation. My hat is off to Mr. Dyer.]

3) Another kind reader has observed that it might be helpful to provide the work's number in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum. This work has been indexed and is included in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum, Volume 2, from Athanasius to Chrysostom (published 1974). At that time, the work was identified as Homilia adversus Arium, de s. genetrice dei Maria and was assigned the index number 2187, which is in the range of the "dubious" works for those works attributed to Athanasius.

Updates: 5 March 2009

1) Mr. Hoffer has correctly pointed out that Virginia Burrus is the editor of "Late Ancient Christianity," but that the article in question is also by David Frankfurter. This ought to have been pointed out above.

2) Other editors besides Burrus could be identified as approving of Frankfurter's identification of this work as Pseudo-Athanasius. For example, see "Envisioning Magic" edited by Peter Schäfer et al., page 126, and "Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice" edited by Richard Valantasis, page 475. In both cases, the articles in question are by David Frankfurter.

3) Probably it's worth providing an example of the entries that this work gets in a couple of lists. The Université Laval (of Quebec) provides the following entries (under the direction of René-Michel Roberge), respectively in "by the author" and "by the editor" lists of patristic works:

ATHANASE ?, "Homilia aduersus Arium, de s. genetrice dei Maria" (coptice)
Lefort, L.-Th. * ATHANASE ?, "Homilia aduersus Arium, de s. genetrice dei
Maria" (coptice) * (introduction, apparat critique, traduction française,
repagination du papyrus, commentaire et notes) *22124 1P197 1958 PRSY (link to author index - pdf)

Lefort, L.-Th. * ATHANASE ?, "Homilia aduersus Arium, de s. genetrice dei
Maria" (coptice) * (introduction, apparat critique, traduction française,
repagination du papyrus, commentaire et notes) *22124 1P197 1958 PRSY (link to editor index - pdf)

Likewise, the Biblindex provides the entry corresponding to the Center for Patristics Analysis and Documentation (CADP) collection as follows (source):

ATHANASIVS ALEXANDRINVS ? Homliia aduersus Arium, de s. genetrice dei Maria 93470 CPG 2187

In both of the lists above, the "?" is the designator that the work is a dubious work, rather than being within list of authentic works (which would omit the "?"). The lists could have gone further and indicated the work as explicitly pseudographic by using the indicator "pse" - a straw that only someone desperate to continuing citing the work would grasp at.


Anonymous said...

I will bore a hole to the heart of the matter straight away.

Mat 28:11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.
Mat 28:12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers
Mat 28:13 and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.'
Mat 28:14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
Mat 28:15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

With ancient words as the following, the prior words make a whole lot of sense to me why someone/s would exercise the evil powers of the human will to spin a doubt as though "Truth", if there ever was such a doubt for the citation in question:

Ecc 10:19 Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.

We are well within our Sovereign Rights to doubt history and citations seeing Adam's sin began with himself and is here to stay!

I know my own weaknesses attest to the fact, when "my" chips are down, I am looking for every bit of support and sometimes, hastily I accept it and later on I am finding ways of hiding the judgment so to keep myself looking at least as good as My Teacher and Master and thankfully, Savior/Friend.

It is nevertheless inexcusable for me to revert to my old in light of His New.

Mat 4:15 "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--
Mat 4:16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."
Mat 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

How else does the devil keep his kingship/kingdom front and center than by playing with dirty cards on the table?

The redress hereon seems sufficient. It would be well within their rights to respond to it though seeing you, TF, have only one axe to grind?

Mat 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

orthodox said...

Please, the hypocrisy!

When is White going to issue a public statement that his citation
is wrong in Ch 11 of Scripture Alone?

Timothy said...

>"Athanasius is one of those church fathers that lots of "Protestants" have heard of and respect. It would be an interesting survey to do, but I think that among Reformed Christians especially, one would find almost no criticism or negative attitudes towards Athanasius"

I would argue that the "no criticism or negative attitudes " is because Athanasius is largely unknown to the average "Protestant". I'm halfway tempted to get a clipboard and survey people on the street to discover if they know anything remotely biographical about the man.

God bless... +Timothy

Turretinfan said...


a) There's nothing particularly troublesome about his biography, for a "Protestant" although the idea of "the church" excommunicating a "Saint" so many times should be troubling for those who put their trust in a church.

b) But I agree that most people could not identify what church Athanasius was the bishop of - and might not even be able to say with any assurance what century he lived in.


Churchmouse said...

I would argue that the "no criticism or negative attitudes " is because Athanasius is largely unknown to the average "Protestant". I'm halfway tempted to get a clipboard and survey people on the street to discover if they know anything remotely biographical about the man.

I would venture to think that the average "Catholic" knows nothing of Athanasius as well. As a former Catholic, I know this to be the case. Sure, ECF's are quoted with some regularity, but as to how Catholics familiarize themselves with these men, you would have to be a pretty good Catholic to know. Even in the realm of sainthood, Athanasius is pretty much a word to most Catholics and not one that has much familiarity.

Anonymous said...

I agree: you have presented a good case that that quote is spurious. I will remove it.


Turretinfan said...

My hat is off to you, Jay!

Anonymous said...

I did write a response, however, roughly on the topic:

Turretinfan said...

Yes. Mr. Bellisario (and I'm not trying to put the two of you in one box) has posted similar observations regarding the non-Protestant views of Athanasius. No doubt his views differed from my own on a number of points.

Thankfully, my theory of how we come to know the truth doesn't require that the major figures of church history all believe the same thing as me - or even the same thing as each other.


Turretinfan said...

"Orthodox": the answer to your question is that he did so on today's Dividing Line broadcast.