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Reviewed by:
  • Church History
  • H. A. Drake
Philostorgius. Church History. Translated by Philip R. Amidon. Writings from the Greco-Roman World, 23 Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007 Pp. xxv + 284.

It is easy to come to Philostorgius with great hope and leave him feeling confused and frustrated. As the only one of the surviving fifth-century Church historians to hold views condemned as heretical, Philostorgius holds the promise of an alternative to a dominant narrative of the theological controversies of the fourth century that rests so heavily on the spirited writings of Athanasius. But the twelve books of his history survive primarily in Photius’s ninth-century epitome, and his judgments can seem both erratic and unreliable. Though labeled an Arian, Philostorgius consistently describes other known Arians as “consubstantialists,” and even has hard words for Arius himself, while handling the apostate [End Page 161] emperor Julian with the gentlest of gloves. Such quirks can make Philostorgius seem hopelessly muddled. Small wonder, then, that the only English translation until now was made more than 150 years ago, by Edward Walford in the 1855 Bohn’s Library edition. In keeping with the program of that series, Walford’s introduction and notes were minimal, and the translation itself perforce could not take advantage of Joseph Bidez’s groundbreaking 1913 edition (now available in a second edition by Friedhelm Winkelmann [Berlin, 1972]), which collated Photius’s text with other works that relied either on Philostorgius or a source common to both.

Philip Amidon’s new translation supplies both of these desiderata. His translation is based squarely on the Bidez text and his introduction and extensive notes are designed to guide readers through the shoals of the episcopal battles waged in the wake of the Council of Nicaea. Many of Philostorgius’s idiosyncrasies are thereby explained. Although scholars long followed Athanasius’s lead in labeling all opponents to Nicaea’s homoousion creed as “Arians,” more recent scholarship has adopted a more nuanced understanding of the fissures and divisions that emerged as clerics struggled to develop the theological tools to define their faith more precisely. None did so more radically than Aetius and his talented pupil Eunomius, who concluded that the Son, far from being the “same substance” was not like the Father in any way—thereby gaining the label anomeans.

This was the teaching to which Philostorgius subscribed. To anomeans (or Eunomians, as they were also known after the name of their teacher), even Arius, who was willing to concede similarity between Father and Son, had erred, and this explains Philostorgius’s treatment of him. In using the term “consubstantial” to describe all opposing views, Philostorgius was simply making reverse use of the same brush with which Athanasius had tarred all his opponents as “Arians.” Julian, on the other hand, cultivated Aetius’s friendship and shielded him from the wrath of his enemies, thereby earning Philostorgius’s gratitude.

For comparison, I spot checked a few passages in both translations. Walford was generally more straightforward, Amidon more technical. For example, at 2.13, describing the last acts of the martyr Lucian, Amidon’s translation reads, “he [Lucian] offered the awe-inspiring sacrifice while he was lying on his own chest,” whereas Walford’s translation reads, “he lay upon his own back and offered the venerable sacrifice upon his own breast”—a significant divergence. In this case, as in many others, Amidon’s loyalty to the Bidez text is the reason for the difference. The Passio Luciani does indeed depict the martyr using his own chest as the offertory table, but Philostorgius’s epitomized text lacks such elaboration. Walford thus used a less reliable text to make a more readable translation. Amidon, by contrast, explains the problem in a note, and even proposes a resolution (emending anakeimenon to anakeimenēn in Philostorgius’s text), but faithfully translates Bidez’s text as it stands.

Amidon also adheres to another of Bidez’s decisions. In his edition, Bidez was establishing a text for scholars who he could presume were already familiar with Philostorgius’s narrative. He therefore interpolated parallel passages from other works, such as the Suda and the Artemii Passio, for ease of comparison. These interpolations...