Tuesday, July 23, 2013

More problems with language exchange sites and how to make them better

In theory, you would think writing little journal/notebook entries and then having them corrected would be a great exercise. Not so much if you're a minority language learner. In fact, once you move out of the major languages, things don't work so well. Here are some of the problems:

1. People who list languages they don't really speak.

Occasionally, it's true, I list languages that I am an advanced learner in as 'fluent', but I do that mainly in the hopes of finding anyone at all to correspond with. But as I browse through the profiles of minority language 'speakers', it's patently obvious that a large percentage of these people don't speak a word of the language, let alone are 'native' or 'fluent'. Latin is particularly a culprit for this.

There's not really a good way to fix this, how do you call people out on this? I suspect the only way to deal with this is in other mechanisms on the site.

2. Writing and correcting entries

Assuming your site has bothered to differentiate enough minority languages instead of lumping them all together, what sort of control is there on what is actually written 'in' those languages. It's no good selecting 'browse Gaelic entries' if most of them are just in English anyway. Introduce some basic crowd-sourced metrics that allow people to vote "not in correct language" on each entry. Enough negative votes, the entry gets flagged/removed and needs to be appealed to be restored. Or at the very least it should move to the bottom of the search results.

Further, implement rating systems for corrections, and make them language distinct. I need to know that learner213 has a great record at correcting English, but has 2 points correcting Greek. And if someone ends up with a woeful negative score for a certain language, consider barring them for 'correcting'.

Third, make it easier to offer corrections in your non-native languages. Yes, it's great to have native speakers fixing things. But native speakers aren't always 'right', and they often don't know why they're right. An advanced/fluent L2 speaker can easily offer corrections, and often explain quite well what exactly needed to be fixed.

All these language exchange websites could be a lot better, to be honest. Most are an exercise in endless frustration.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gaelic and Ahn's Method (2)

Just a follow up from my recent post about Gaelic via Ahn's method.

I have now started my umpteenth blog, Ahn's Gaelic, which will go live at the end of this month, and from August 1st will feature daily lessons in Gaelic via Ahn's method. There will be 500 lessons in the first series, and I have already lined up the whole first month. So pop over there and subscribe or do whatever you do in this post-google-reader world.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Language exchange websites and their interface flaws

I'm talking about Lang-8, verbling, italki. I'm going to compare how they permit you to identify languages you know/are studying, and how their system design affects their usability.

Lang-8 lets you list one native language, and then 2 (for non-premium members) languages you are studying. No indication of ability is available. It includes Latin, Gaelic, Mongolian, but not Ancient Greek.

verbling lets you list languages you are fluent in, and languages you are learning; they cannot be the same. It permits Latin, Gaelic, Mongolian, not Ancient Greek.

italki lets you list several languages, you can have multiple native languages, you may rank each language according to CEFR levels. It permits Latin, Mongolian, but not Gaelic or Ancient Greek. It includes an 'Other' category but you cannot specify what that language is, and may only have one.

1. Native language assumptions

Lang-8 forces you to choose only 1 native language. Too bad if (a) your bilingual from childhood, (b) your native language is a minority language not listed. The default assumption on Lang-8 is that native speakers, and really only native speakers, are the best for correcting the work of others in that language, no real concession is given to fluent L2 speakers of that language.

2. Rating languages

Lang-8 and verbling both operate with a simple binary opposition: you either know a language or you don't. Anyone who has studied a language and been asked, "So do you know X?" realises how difficult a question that is to answer. Unless you are a C2-level speaker you are likely to hedge your answer. verbling makes it more difficult to work around this issue, because you can't be fluent and a learner at the same time. So the ability of people to find and interact with more advanced learners is hindered. Why would someone want to do that? Quite simply, sometimes you don't need a fluent/native speaker, you would do fine practising with someone else who is learning the language. And in the case of minority languages, you are much more likely to find fellow learners than fluent speakers.

3. Minority language options

I have a fairly specific set of minority languages in view, but the problems I encounter are even worse for more endangered languages. Firstly, all three sites offer 'Latin', presumably because default lists of languages on the internet tend to list Latin. However, if you actually select Latin and see who has chosen Latin, you are often met with a lot of non-Latin learners, and sometimes Spanish speakers. Secondly, the inclusion of Mongolian is non-remarkable, it's a large enough language. Thirdly, I don't know why italki doesn't list Scottish Gaelic, it's an anomaly. At least 60,000 speakers. If you were a speaker or a learner of a more endangered language, say Blackfoot (estimated 5,000 speakers) you have no real options, you have to go to 'Other'. But 'Other' is an incredibly unhelpful category. Unless you can specify what 'Other' is, you have to trawl through every listing of 'Other' searching for another Blackfoot speaker.

As for Ancient Greek, I feel like if Latin can get an entry, Ancient Greek ought to have one.


Anyway, what am I getting at? These sites, like most of the internet language resources, favour majority languages. But that's not surprising. What is frustrating is that their system design makes them harder to use and ultimately less useful if you're interested in a minority language.

Simple improvements would change this:

1. Stop using simply binary distinctions between speaker/learner. Adopt the ability to rate every language according to its proficiency, like italki currently does.
2. If you allow error-correction of text entries, allow people to correct in languages they are not-fluent in. Either implement a vote system to allow for quality control, or limit it to CEFR listed C1/C2 speakers.
3. Allow multiple 'Other' options.
4. Allow user-specified 'Other' options, and let these be searchable.
5. Rewrite the list of languages offered according to ISO codes. The list would become huge, but you could simply separate it into two categories: major languages and minor languages, split by speaker population, and then anyone going for a majority language will easily find it, and people interested in minority languages will be able to go searching for their particular language.

[Edit: I will add in here Livemocha for completion. I think the functionality of Livemocha has declined since its recent takeover, but it actually does better in the language options than all the others: it allows multiple languages on both 'I speak' and 'I am learning', at multiple levels, and you can list the same languages in both groups, it also includes every language I am interested in except Ancient Greek, this is the best set-up of all the language sites I discuss]

Monday, July 15, 2013

The 'Council' of Sirmium, 357, and "The Blasphemy of Sirmium"


In 357 Constantius’ program of pushing for theological consensus in the West came to a significant head at the council of Sirmium. Actually, it is contested whether there was any kind of synod per se, with T.D. Barnes suggesting that it was actually a much smaller gathering that produced this creed, and that the only actual council was the earlier 351 council.[1]

Regardless, we do have a text of a creed produced at this time, of which a Latin version is given in Hilary, De Synodis 11, and a Greek translation in Athanasius De Synodis 28 as well as Socrates HE 2.29.
My translation follows Hilary’s Latin, in accordance with the note in Athanasius that the creed was composed in Latin, but I have included some points of comparison with the Greek.


Since there was thought to be some debate concerning the faith, all things have been carefully handled and discussed at Sirmium, with the most holy brothers and our fellow-bishops Valens, Ursacius, and Germinius being present. It is known that there is one God, almighty and Father, just as is believed throughout the whole world: and his only[2] son Jesus Christ the Lord our Saviour, begotten before the ages from that very one[3]. Yet it is neither possible nor proper to declare Two Gods; because the Lord himself says, I will go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God[4], for this reason there is one God of all things, just as the Apostle taught. Is he God of the Jews alone? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Indeed, also of the gentiles. Since indeed it is one God, who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.[5] But in all other matters they agree[6], nor were they able to have any difference. Insofar as some have been disturbed by ‘substantia’, which is termed οὐσία in Greek, that is (to be understood more precisely), ὁμοουσίον, or what is termed ὁμοιούσιον, no mention ought to be made of these whatsoever. And neither is anything to be said about them from the cause and rationale that they are not contained in the divine Scriptures, and that they are above the knowledge that pertains to humanity, nor is anyone able to explain the birth of the Son, concerning which it is written, Who shall explain his generation?[7] However it is clear that the Father alone knows how he generated his own Son, and the Son who he was generated from the Father. There is no ambiguity, that the Father is greater. It is doubtful to none, that the Father in honour, dignity, splendour, majesty, and in the very name of Father, is greater than the Son, the Son himself testifying He that sent me is greater than I[8], and that this is the catholic [dogma], no one is ignorant, that there are two persons of Father and Son, the Father greater, the Son subordinate with all those things which the Father has subordinated to him [i.e. to the Son]. That the Father has no beginning, is invisible, immoral, impassible. But that the Son is born[9] of the Father, God from God, light from light. The generation of which Son, as was said before, no-one is able to know except his own Father. But that this Son of God, our lord and God, as is read, took flesh or body, that is , humanity, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, as the Angel announced[10], as all the Scriptures teach, and especially the Apostle, the teacher of the Gentiles himself, that he took humanity from the Virgin Mary, through which[11] he suffered.[12] This is the conclusion and verification of the whole faith, that the Trinity is to be always preserved, as we read in the Gospel, Go and baptise all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit[13], whole and perfect is the number of the Trinity. The Paraclete, the Spirit, is through the Son, who was sent, came according to promise, to instruct, teach and sanctify the apostles and all believers.

The creed of Sirmium 357 is often taken to be another major turning point in the debates of the 4th century. Our accounts of what actually occurred are scarce and confused.[14] It seems that the creed was composed primarily by Ursacius and Valens. Hilary attributes it also to Ossius, but he was close to 100, so his active participation may be slightly doubted. Some call this an Anomoian creed, but it is not quite that far gone. Far better to identify this as the emergence of a full-fledged Homoian position. This is seen not merely in the careful avoidance of ousia and homo(i)ousion language, but direct opposition to it coupled with forbiddance of the terminology, on the basis of it being unscriptural and that the manner of generation is unknowable, and so no longer to be discussed. This isn’t theologising, it’s the proscription of theologising. The unity of Father and Son is reduced to agreement/harmony/συμφωνία, and the Son is strongly subordinated to the Father. John 14:28 is cited, but no attempt is made to reconcile this in anyway with John 10:30. The mention of the Spirit is incredibly brief, echoing the purpose clause of the 4th Antiochene, but little else.

The effect of Sirmium 357 is twofold. On the one hand we see the emergence of a Homoian ‘faction’ or ‘alliance’ with figures such as Acacius of Caesarea and Eudoxius of Antioch (bishop of Antioch, later of Constantinople) taking the lead, as evidenced by the subsequence Council of Antioch in 357 or 358, where Eudoxius and Acacius ratify and affirm the Sirmium text[15]. The Homoian faction was not particularly stable, and Western and Eastern adherents headed in slightly different directions. Furthermore the Eastern Homoians were not themselves able to hold a coherent platform, as seen with the emergence of Aetius and the genuine Anomoian/Heterousian position in the early 360s.[16]

On the other hand you see the emergence of reaction against Sirmium 357, not least in Hilary’s decision to write De Synodis, but also the response of George of Laodicea and Basil of Ancyra, of which we will treat shortly in association with the Council of Ancyra 358.



[1] T.D. Barnes, Athanasius and Constatnius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire Cambrdige, Mass.: HUP, 1992, pp231-32.
[2] cf. μονογενῆ in Ath.
[3] ex ipso, ἐξ αὐτοῦ. If the Latin were truly reflexive, it would have to be se, and the Greek would have to follow.
[4] John 20:17
[5] Romans III, 29-30. Latin has present where Greek has future for justify.
[6] convenerunt, cf. συμφωνεῖ
[7] Isaiah 53:8. enarrare is the Latin, διηγέομαι in the Greek.
[8] John 14:28.
[9] natum, cf. γεγεννῆσθαι
[10] cf. Luke 1:31
[11] quem, referring back to hominem; the ‘man’ that Jesus’ took to himself was the means through which he suffered.
[12] I have preferred to translate homo as humanity, rather than ‘man’, since what is in view is clearly the assumption of human nature.
[13] Mt 28:19
[14] Hanson, The Search, 343ff., Simonetti, La Crisi, 227ff.
[15] Sozomen iv.12-15
[16] Ayres covers some of this in Nicaea and its Legacy, pp137-9.

353, 355, 356 Councils of Arles, Milan, Béziers

Arles and Milan

Sozomen, HE IV.8 gives an account of the council. He mentions over 300 Western bishops, few Eastern bishops. The Easterns insisted that Athanasius be condemned to banishment. Sozomen records only Dionysius of Alba, metropolis of Italy, Eusebius of Vercella, Paulinus of Treves, Rhodan(i)us (of Toulouse) and Lucifer, as bishops who opposed this decision. They protested that it was a “plot” to suppress Nicene faith, and they were banished. Sozomen then notes that Hilary was exiled with them.  Sozomen seems dependent upon Rufinus for his account.

Socrates gives a brief account in HE ii.36. He agrees with Sozomen in listing Dionysius bishop of Alba, metropolis of Italy; whereas Athanasius in Epist. ad. Solitar has him as bishop of Milan, metropolis of Italy. The Synod at Ariminum that follows is seen by both Sozomen and Socrates as a result of Milan, and Constantius’ desire to achieve ecumenical unity on the issue.

Theodoret HE ii.12 also treats of the Council of Milan. He adds little new, and depends chiefly upon Athanasius.

Rufinus HE i.19,20 also discusses the Council, but without much further detail.

Sulpitius Severus in Historia Sacra ii.39 mentions not only the Milan council, but the Arles and Bitterae [sic] councils. He characterises the stand-off as the Eastern/Imperial attempt to secure condemnation of Athanasius, matched by Western determination to first discuss the true faith, and then consider the question of Athanasius. He refers to Paulinus’ banishment as prior to Milan, while Dionysius subscribed to the condemnation of Athanasius, and was only banished afterwards when he refused to concur with a letter of Valens and Ursacius. Furthermore, the case of Rhodanius’ exile is given as resistance based upon “fellowship with Hilarius”. Only Severus gives us this indication that Hilary had any leading role at all.
Athanasius in Hist.Arian 31-46 gives an account of the period, mention both Arles and Milan. He depicts the events as driven by Constantius and his preference for ‘Arian’ doctrines. However Athanasius is light on details of the events of those councils, instead focusing on Imperial measures aimed at securing his condemnation, and the heroic confession of those exiled at Milan, named above. Athanasius makes no mention of Hilary here.

356    Béziers/Baeterra

It has been typical to date Hilary’s exile to the 356 council of Baeterra. The reason for this is disputed. The traditional reading has understood it as the result of Hilary’s stance for Nicene Orthodoxy. Alternative views have been that it was a charge of immorality (H.M. Gwatkin), of political (Feder, Chadwick, Christof).[1] Our primary sources for understanding this council are Hilary himself, in Ad Constantium. Coupled with Hilary’s de Synodis, and the omission of Hilary in Athanasius’ account of bishops deposed for resisting Arianism. The text is dateable to 360, since he makes claims about Constantius’ legitimacy as emperor, which he would almost certainly not do if he knew of the proclamation of Julian[2]. He further indicates a period of five years (quinto abhinc anno) from the events that he briefly narrates: the exiles of Paulinus, Eusebius, Lucifer, Dionysius (the later three occurring at Milan in 355, Paulinus at Arles), an act of rupturing communion from Saturninus, Ursacus and Valens but together with Gallic bishops, then being compelled to attend the council at Baeterra (ad Biterrensem synodum compulsus), where he attempted to present a denouncement of their heresies, but was prevented, and from then exiled.

Barnes treatment continues with an examination of chapter 11 of Ad Constantium. In this section Constantius is compared to a ‘rapacious wolf’. He argues particularly (i) that Constantius is compared to ‘a Nero’, i.e. a pagan persecutor, but is worse because one cannot flee a so-called ‘Christian’ persecutor like Constantius. (ii) reference to Paulinus’ exile, couple with ‘edicts that terrorised the faith’ – to be identified with the push for Arles to ratify Sirmium 351. Further reference to Paulinus being twice-exiled, first to Phrygia and then extra christianum nomen. (iii) a clear reference to the arrest of Dionysius of Milan in 355; (iv) Liberius’ exile and return, which situates the arrest between Milan and Baeterra (so autumn 355), and a return in 357. (v) that Rhodanius was expelled after the council of Baeterra; Jerome says that he was exiled at Arles, Rufinus and Sozomen in conjunction with Milan, but those are almost certainly simple conflations of 3 councils held in quick succession.[3]

Barnes’ treatment then continues with the examination of the opening letter of De Synodis particularly with the inclusion of et provinciae Aquitanicae; this would mean that Hilary greets the bishops of all provinces except Sequania, Alpes Graiae et Poeninae  and Alpes Maritimae, Viennensis, and Narbonensis, but conspicuously greets the province as a whole and the clergy of Toulouse. Barnes conjectures that it is because the council was a provincial synod of Narbonensis, that the Narbonensene bishops deposed him, and that the council was held between 356 April 7th and May 17th.[4]

The last part of Barnes’ article deals with the question of why Hilary was exiled; Athanasius understandably omits Hilary, because Hilary in his de Synodis gives some praise for Antioch 341 and Sirmium 351, and these two councils condemn Athanasius. Athanasius has no desire to align himself with someone who endorses councils that condemn him. This might imply that those councils were valid and so their condemnation of Athanasius was valid. The marginal notes of Hilary in the copy of De Synodis sent to Lucifer of Cagliari seem to indicate a defense by Hilary of himself, that Hilary tore up the document that was brought to him from Milan – documents agreeing with the condemnation of Lucifer and others at Milan, and affirming the Creed presented there.



[1] Barnes, Timothy David. ‘Hilary of Poitiers on His Exile’.  Vigiliae christianae, 46 no 2 Je 1992, p129.
[2] ibid., p130
[3] ibid., p132-4.
[4] ibid., p135.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The 351 Council at Sirmium

For our purposes, the next most significant counsel is this one. It is well attested, with mentions in both Socrates (HE 2.29-30) and Sozomen (HE 4.6), and Athanasius gives a Greek text of the creed, while Hilary provides a Latin version.

Socrates says the cause of the council was Photinus being more provocatively open about his particular teaching, and that the emperor (Constantius II) summoned the council. Mentioned by name are Mark of Arethusa, George of Alexandria, Basil of Ancyra, Pancratius of Pelusium, and Hypatian of Heraclea (Easterns), and Valens and Hosius (Western). Socrates provides a Greek text in line with Athanasius’. He then subjoins a ‘Latin text translated into Greek’, but this in fact the 357 Creed.

Sozomen gives more detail of Photinus’ theology, and both Sozomen and Socrates mention Hosius as an unwilling attendee. Sozomen also goes into more detail on the effects of the council, that Photinus after his deposition, challenged a disputation, and Basil of Ancyra debated with him for some time. Basil was largely victorious, and Photinus was both condemned and banished.

Here is the text from Athanasius, De Synodis 27:

But they would not abide in these; for again in Sirmium they came together against Photinus, then composed again a faith[1], no longer so drawn-out, nor as great in words; but removing the majority and adding other things, as if they have heard the suggestions of others, they wrote as such[2]:
We believe in one God, Father Almighty
the[3] Creator and Maker of all things
from whom all fatherhood in heaven[4] and earth is named[5]

And in his only–begotten Son the Lord Jesus the[6] Christ
begotten, before all the ages, of the Father: God from God, light from Light;
through whom things both[7] in heaven and on earth came to be, things visible and invisible:
being Word, and Wisdom[8], and true light, and Life;
him being made man in the last of days for us,
and born of the holy Virgin, and[9] crucified, and died, and buried;
and raised from the dead on the third day, and taken up into heaven
and seated at the right hand of the Father;
and is coming at the consummation of the ages to judge the living and dead,
and to give to each according to his deeds;
whose kingdom being unceasingly[10] remains into the infinite ages.
For will be sitting at the right hand of the Father, not only in this age, but also in the one to come;

And in the Holy Spirit, that is, the Paraclete; which being promised to the apostles, after his ascension into heaven he sent, to teach them and remind them of all[11], he sent[12]; through whom also the souls of those purely believing in him are sanctified[13].

I.                 But those saying the Son was of nothing, or from a difference hypostasis, and not from God, and, there was a time or age when he was not, the holy and Catholic church knows as aliens.
II.               Again then we say: If anyone says the Father and the Son are two Gods, let him be anathema.
III.              And anyone saying Christ is God, before ages Son of God, does not confess him subservient[14] to the Father for the framing of the universe, let him be anathema.
IV.              If anyone dares to say that the Ingenerate, or a part of him, was born of Mary, let him be anathema
V.               If anyone says that the Son is before Mary according to foreknowledge, and not that he was with God, generated before the ages from the Father, and that all things were came into being through him, let him be anathema.
VI.              If anyone affirms the essence of God to be broadened or contracted, let him be anathema.
VII.            If anyone shall say that the essence of God being broadened made the Son, or names the Son the enlargement of his essence, let him be anathema.
VIII.          If anyone shall say that the Son of God is conceptual or pronounced Word, let him be anathema.
IX.              If anyone shall say that the Son of Mary is only human, let him be anathema.
X.                If anyone calling the [son] of Mary [to be] God and human, thus means God the Ingenerate, let him be anathema.
XI.              If anyone “I God the first, and I after these, and beside me there is no God”[15] that is said for the denial of idols and non-existent Gods, shall take it in the sense for the denial of the Only-Begotten before ages God, in a Jewish manner, let him be anathema.
XII.            If anyone hearing “The word became flesh”, understands the Word to have changed into flesh, or to have taken flesh undergoing alteration[16], let him be anathema.
XIII.           If anyone hearing that the only begotten Son of God [was] crucified, shall say that his Godhead has undergone corruption, or passion, or alteration, or lessening, or destruction, let him be anathema.
XIV.           If anyone shall say that “Let us make man” was said not by the Father to the Son, but God himself to himself, let him be anathema.
XV.            If anyone shall say that it was not the Son that appeared to Abraham, but the Ingenerate God, or a part of him, let him be anathema.
XVI.           If anyone shall say that with Jacob, not the Son as man wrestled, but the Ingenerate God, or a part of him, let him be anathema.
XVII.         If anyone shall take, “The Lord rained fire from the Lord”[17] in the sense not of the Father and of the Son, but say that he rained himself from himself, let him be anathema; for the Son, Lord rained from the Father, Lord.
XVIII.       If anyone, hearing that the Father is Lord, and the Son Lord, and the Father and Son Lord, since there is Lord from Lord, says that there are two Gods, let him be anathema. For we do not co-ordinate Son to Father, but subordinated to the Father; for neither did he go down to Sodom apart from the Father’s will, nor rain from himself, but from the Lord, manifestly the Father authorising it; neither does he sit at the right hand from himself, but he hears the Father saying “Sit at my right hand”[18]
XIX.           If anyone says that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one person, let him be anathema.
XX.             If anyone, calling the Holy Spirit ‘Paraclete’, shall mean the Ingenerate God, let him be anathema.
XXI.           If anyone shall not say, as the Lord taught us, that the Paraclete is other than the Son; for he said “and the Father, whom I will ask,  will send to you another Paraclete”[19] – let him be anathema
XXII.         If anyone shall say that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Father, or of the Son, let him be anathema.
XXIII.        If anyone shall say that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three Gods, let him be anathema.
XXIV.        If anyone shall that the Son of God has come to be by the will of God as one of the works, let him be anathema.
XXV.         If anyone shall say that the Son has been begotten, with the Father not-willing it, let him be anathema. For the Father, not constrained, led by physical necessity, as not wishing, begot the Son[20], but both at once willed it, and atemporally and impassionately manifested him generated from himself.
XXVI.        If anyone shall say the Son is ingenerate and without-beginning, as if speaking of two without-beginning and two-ingenerate, and making two Gods, let him be anathema. For the Son is head, who is the beginning of all. But God is head, who is beginning of Christ. For in this way we piously lead all things through the Son to the one unbegun beginning of the universe.
XXVII.      And again exactly we speak the idea[21] of Christianity: if anyone shall not say that Christ is God, Son of God, existing before-ages, and having been subservient to the Father for the framing of the universe, but that from when he was born of Mary, from then he was called both Christ and Son, and took a beginning of being God, let him be anathema.

Commentary on the Council:

There is little doubt about the focus of the council. Held in Sirmium, deliberately called to deal with Photinus and his teaching, and a creed formulated that gives a mostly Eastern consensus in denouncing Photinus. The presence of Valens and Hosius should not distract us, both being figures associated with Imperial efforts to achieve ecclesiastical consensus, and more aligned in theology to the Eastern bishops.

The creed is indeed, as Athanasius’ says, a reversion to the 4th Antiochene after the excesses of the Macrostitch. Variations are almost entirely negligible, except two choices: (1) they have left out “Power” as one of the titles or designations of the Son, (2) they have maintained “unceasingly” (Macrostitch) instead of “indissoluble” (4th Antiochene) in regards to the Son’s eternal kingdom.

The anathemas are lengthy, and again represent an attempt to plot a middle course depicting two extremes of genuine Arianism, and Western Modalism. The first is the now standard rejection of Arian formulations. Subjoined to this is an immediate denial of ditheism; this is most likely prompted by a Photinian claim that their position was tantamount to ditheism, which Photinus’ own monarchial modalism is trying strenuously to avoid. The third anathema is where things get truly interesting, as it explicitly upholds subordination of the Son, at least so far as the creation goes. The fourth denies that the Father was begotten – though here is a good place to note how the Easterns have prioritised the term “Unbegotten” or “Ingenerate” as the title of God the Father. It is this trajectory of prioritisation that will lead to the theologies of Aetius and Eunomius, who go from priority to determination.

Attempts to reconstruct Photinus’ theology are largely mirror-readings. If we build our understanding of Photinus on the basis of Marcellus, then the 4th anathema is a rejection of modalism applied to the Incarnation – the one God, the Unbegotten, cannot be begotten. Photinus’ understanding of the Incarnation, or at least his opponents’ understanding of his understanding, is further depicted in the 5th, that the Son’s pre-existence is only a matter of fore-knowledge, which is tantamount that the Son qua Son only comes to be in the Incarnation, and beforehand we may speak only of ‘Word’.

The 6th and 7th anathema must also be read together; here the idea opposed is that the essence of God can be “enlarged” or “contracted”, i.e. that it is a quasi-physical subsistence that admits of increase or decrease. The practical application of that idea is in the 7th, where the Son is seen as an ‘increase’ of God’s ousia. If our accounts of Photinus’ ideas are generally reliable, then Photinus considers the Son only as the human incarnation of the Logos, and his view is a combination of adoptionism with modalism. As such, the ‘enlargement’ of God into the Son is the only viable solution for him to hold a modalist incarnation. The language is reminiscent of Sabellius.

The 8th-10th continue to attack Photinian incarnation-theology. The 8th deals with how Photinus, and Marcellus before him, articulate the distinction between the Father and the Logos – in terms of analogy with a word spoken or mentally conceived. This is rejected as unsatisfactory. Subjoined then is the rejection of the Son as merely human, mentioned above. The 10th then combines the two understandings – if the Christ is ‘man’ in the sense of ‘mere human’ and God in the sense of the Unbegotten being incarnate, this is an unacceptable formulation of Incarnation, being the combination of adoptionism and modalism.

The next set of anathemas is interesting for two related reasons. Firstly they deal with a set of texts that appear favoured or utilised by Photinus in arguing for his theology. So they are interesting to us because of what they reveal of his exegesis. But they are also interesting in the way they privilege a different reading of those texts. Creedal and anathema-formulation did not restrict itself to what was right or wrong doctrine, but extended in some instances to what was correct or incorrect interpretation of texts.

Thus the 11th deals with Isa 44:6 read in a monarchial way to deny pre-incarnation deity to the Only-Begotten. The council aligns this reading with Jewish apologetic claims, and offers a ‘correct’ reading, that this is in fact written contra false gods, not contra the Only Begotten. Again, this is noteworthy, since similar exegetical patterns emerge over the subordination of the Son in texts from John’s gospel, where pro-Nicenes will adopt the same strategy used here.

Likewise the 12th rejects a reading of John 1:14 as alteration of the Word[‘s subsistence]. No alternate interpretation is offered. As this deals with the incarnation, so the 13th tackles the Passion, and denies that the deity in particular undergoes the passion in any terminology. Strong dynamic monarchianism has no alternative but to say that the Unbegotten suffers the passion, since there is no distinction of persons to make any distinction possible.

The 14th through 17th each deal with OT theophanies or references which Photinus denies are pre-Incarnate Christophanies. Gen 1:26, Gen 18, Gen 19:24, Gen 32 are the four incidents or verses in question. In each case the anathemas privilege an interpretation that reinforces either a Christophany or a 2-person understanding. The 18th anathema builds of the 17th, but again denies the charge of ditheism. It strongly affirms subordinationism in the council’s relation of Father to Son.

The 19th through 23rd deal with the Holy Spirit also, rejecting any teaching that admits only of one person in the Trinity, or else modalism about the Spirit, or as a part or portion. The 23rd represents the denial of ditheism in the council’s theology, except expanded to a denial of tritheism in keeping with the discussion of the Spirit.

The 24th through 27th return to the issue of how the Son is begotten, with a fairly clear denial of the position that it is somehow necessary, coupled with an affirmation that it is an act of will, but different in kind to the creation of the works. Looking forward, the insistence upon volition is going to lead to union of will instead of union of essence, that is going to split apart the broad Eastern consensus of the 340s into the Homoian and Anomoian positions of the 360s.

The final anathema warps things up and repeats and emphasises some of these key claims.

The Sirmium council is ultimately of significance in the development of the period not because of its long list of anti-Photinian anathemas, but because it marks out how the Easterns perceive Western theology. As we see in the 343 councils, and in the later 350s councils, there are repeated attempts to align Marcellus, Photinus, and Athanasius together as associated figures with comparable theologies. Yet, arguably, neither Marcellus nor Photinus are representative of the majority of the Western bishops, though they are willing to defend Marcellus more than Photinus, but largely because the way the attacks and anathemas are formulated in the East set off warning bells for Western bishops concerned about tritheism from the East, in the same way that the Easterns suspect much of the West of monarchical modalism. Not to collapse the whole debate into West/East ‘tendencies’ towards Oneness and Threeness, but this is, at least in the 340s-350s, part of the dynamic of the councils and the misunderstandings that are taking place. We’ll see how the move against Photinus becomes a more general ploy for ecclesiastical, Imperial-backed unity in the councils of Arles, Milan, and Béziers coming up next.



[1] i.e. a creed
[2] The creed is substantially the 4th Antiochene. I have noted variations in the text of Athanasius from the 4th Antiochene
[3] article added
[4] singular for A.4th plural
[5] Eph 3:15
[6] article added
[7] τά τε for A.4th τὰ πάντα
[8] “and Power and Life” lacking, “Life” added afterwards
[9] καὶ replaces A.4th τὸν
[10] following the Macrostitch’s alteration here
[11] slight word order variation, not indicated in my translation.
[12] ἔπεμψε, largely redundant given that ἀποστεῖλαι is already present earlier in this clause.
[13] shift from future to present tense.
[14] ὑπουργηκότα
[15] Is 44:6 Ἐγὼ πρῶτος καὶ ἐγὼ μετὰ ταῦτα, πλὴν ἐμοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν θεός.  LXX
[16] τροπὴν ὑπομεμενηκότα
[17] Gen 19:24
[18] Ps 110:1
[19] Jn 14:16
[20] the negatives can be confusing. The whole first clause indicates the way in which the Father did not beget the Son, the whole second clause indicates how he did beget the Son.
[21] ἔννοιαν