- Leontius of Byzantium: Complete Works by Brian E. Daley, SJ.
Leontius of Byzantium: Complete Works
Oxford Early Christian Texts
Oxford: Oxford University, 2017
Pp. xvii + 616. $205.00.
When the many readers of Aloys Grillmeier’s standard work on the early history of Christian thinking about Jesus arrive at the sixth-century theologian Leontius of Byzantium, they are informed, “Until recently there was no attempt to produce a critical edition of the authentic works which were or should be ascribed to one and the same Leontius. This important goal is now close to completion.” (Christ in Christian Tradition, 2 vol. [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995], 181) This reference is to Brian Daley’s 1978 dissertation. In the intervening decades, Daley has made any number of important and lengthy contributions to early Christian studies, but this long-promised critical edition had yet to appear, until now.
Daley is unsurpassed as a translator when it comes to rendering technical theological Greek into readable, and at times, eloquent English prose. This is the first critical edition of Leontius’s Greek corpus since that of Angelo Mai published in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca in the early nineteenth century (flaws noted 26n147, 96–97). The establishment of the Greek text is its own scholarly achievement. Daley includes a robust critical apparatus that incorporates textual variants, identifications of biblical, classical, and patristic citations, marginal scholia found in manuscripts, and textual attestations in later Greek authors. In addition to the six treatises, Daley happily includes the texts and translations of extensive florilegia (extracts of prior texts in support of arguments) assembled by Leontius and appended to three of the treatises.
In his introduction and notes, Daley contextualizes the corpus historically within the notoriously complicated and contested history of late antique Origenism. To this end, Daley sifts through the several Leontiuses of the period and concludes that the author of the corpus is distinct from his contemporary, Leontius of Jerusalem, but likely the same Origenist Leontius of the Vita Sabae of Cyril of Skythopolis (12–25). The six treaties themselves are in their entirety serious, technical, heavy-going, ancient Christology. Those without Greek may struggle, but with work can learn the relevant distinctions and categories. Anyone [End Page 333] desiring to learn this material first-hand from an expert would be hard-pressed to find a better volume to study.
Daley’s Leontius is a “strict Chalcedonian” (75) resistant to Christologies lacking the balance enshrined in the conciliar definition. Leontius follows Cappadocian terminological precedents to apply definitions and distinctions codified in the Trinitarian controversy to Christology (179, 305, 319). Readers may well be astounded how in the ecclesially polarized sixth century, each side could be so vigilant in warding off what they feared the most that they managed to alienate the other side; namely, the divine suffering entailed in a too unified Christology on the one hand, and on the other, the lack of transformation or even humanly meaningful divine presence in a too differentiated Christology. Leontius labors to infuse speech with greater analytic capacity so as to assuage both fears and to express a mystery that preserves but does not mystify the subtle truths of the incarnation. Leontius thus calls his readers to navigate between “some Scylla or opposed Charybdis” to find a middle course (343). The persistent issue was not so much the existence of the humanity or the divinity of Christ (both of which were asserted by all parties at the time) as how to articulate the mode of their relation and the thorny issues entailed in Christ’s death, where the Divine Word made human suffering truly his own without being engulfed by it. At every turn, as Leontius enriches and refines the language of Chalcedon, he also refutes what he understood to be pious-sounding phrases that mislead the mind and prove inadequate to the mystery (as in the formula thought to be Cyril of Alexandria’s but, in fact, Apollinarian, “One nature of God the Word, made flesh” [320–23]).
According to Leontius, “when there is a struggle and a discussion about doctrine, then we must refrain from using verbal ambiguities, and...