Falsely Attributed to Gelasius of Cyzicus
According to the book’s author, this work was written to uphold the faith confessed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 against the Monophysite heresy of Eutyches (c. 380-c. 456). In his narrative, the author also mentions the recent insurrection of Basiliscus which took place in 475-476. Thus, this work was written sometime during the last quarter of the 5th century, most likely not too long after 476. While this work has often been attributed to Gelasius of Cyzicus, there is no indication that a man by this name ever existed. However, the author does tell us he was the son of a priest of Cyzicus, a city on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, in present-day Turkey.
As mentioned before, the author of the Anonymous Church History wrote this work in view of the Monophysite controversy. The author argues against the Eutychians who claimed that they were the ones who were actually upholding the truth which was agreed upon at the Council of Nicaea. Thus, by writing a history of the Council of Nicaea, the author intended to present the faith which had actually been agreed upon there and prove that the Eutychians were the ones who were straying from that faith.
Since the anonymous author lived near the end of the 5th century, he was not an eyewitness of the Council of Nicaea or any of the events surrounding it. Thus, he relied on the accounts of previous historians for his information. He claims that years before he recorded this account, he had studied and taken notes from an old parchment book which had once belonged to a man named Dalmatius and which contained “all those things which were spoken and done and approved during that virtuous and Holy Synod” (1.0.2). However, when he wrote the Anonymous Church History, he no longer had this document at his disposal, so he supplemented his notes with the accounts of other historians. He often quotes Eusebius of Caesarea, whom he considers to be the most reliable source. He also quotes Rufinus, whose words he says originally came from Gelasius of Caesarea (1.8.1; this reference may have caused the entire work to be mistakenly attributed to a Gelasius). Portions of his text also strongly resemble the accounts of Socrates and Theodoret, but he never names either of them as sources for his history. The anonymous author and those two historians may have all used the same non-extant sources, in particular the history of Gelasius of Caesarea. In addition, the work contains possible fragments from other non-extant works, such as the Christian History of Philip of Side.
Structure and Content
The Anonymous Church History is divided into three books. The first book contains an introduction in which the author explains the information previously described on this page—his background, his purpose, and his source of information. After the introduction, the first book focuses primarily on Emperor Constantine. It summarizes his military campaign against Maxentius, including the famous stories of Constantine’s vision and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. It also quickly recounts his victory over Licinius. Throughout, the author upholds Constantine as a most pious and God-loving emperor. The second book centers on the Council of Nicaea itself. It first gives some background information about Arius and his heresy and then continues with Constantine’s call for a synod and his opening remarks. A large portion of the second book gives the arguments of Arius through his hired philosophers and the refutations given by the orthodox attendees of the synod. The Nicene Creed and Canons of Nicaea are also given, as well as a few letters of Constantine concerning what was decided by the synod. The third book, rather than a chronological history, is an assortment of various stories and letters which the author found fit to include. Some of them, including multiple letters of Constantine, are closely related to the Council of Nicaea. Others, such as the stories of Helen, Frumentius, and Edesius do not. In his Bibliotheca, Photius I of Constantinople (c. 815-897) indicates that the third book ends with the baptism and death of Constantine. However, the extant texts do not contain this ending. Rather, they end abruptly with Constantine’s letter to the synod at Tyre. We have also provided a more detailed outline of the three books of the Anonymous Church History.
The Anonymous Church History has faced severe scrutiny and harsh criticism for centuries. Shortly after Robert Balfour translated this work into Latin in 1599, many scholars deemed it to be completely worthless. Some argue that his entire history is either copied (which much of it is) or doubtful at best. These opponents of the Anonymous Church History reject the author’s apparent claim that he is getting his information from some written document which contains the words and events of the Council of Nicaea. They also condemn the work for its seemingly fabricated discourses and anachronisms, namely, the arguments between Arius’s philosophers and the orthodox fathers and the discussions on the Holy Spirit which the author claims took place at the Council of Nicaea. However, since very little attention has been given to this work up until the past century, a more in-depth analysis of the Anonymous Church History is still necessary. For although many of these criticisms do appear to be true, this work is still of value. For one, the Anonymous Church History contains fragments of older sources which are no longer extant. It also contains seemingly more authentic copies of letters found in other historical sources, such as Athanasius’s letter to Constantine. In addition, it gives us insights into how the events of the 4th century and the Council of Nicaea were recalled and used to justify theological beliefs just one century later and how orthodox Christians used the Council of Nicaea, both properly and improperly, to defend their faith.
To our knowledge, the preliminary translation presented here is the first English version to be presented to the public. At the present, Book 1 is available in its entirety, and Book 2 and Book 3 will be added in parts as it is translated. The translation is based on the the Greek text in Hansen’s 2002 GCS edition. For a list of all the other editions, translations, and resources which were referenced throughout the translation process, click here.
While much time and research has gone into this translation, it is still in many ways a draft translation. Therefore, we encourage users to contact us with corrections and suggested improvements. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The numbering system used to divide the text is consistent with the numbering in Hansen’s 2002 GCS edition. The numbers along the left margin, which are separated by a period, indicate the book number, chapter number, and section number, respectively. Bible references contained in brackets [ ] are not a part of the Greek text. Some Greek words which are difficult to translate into English are also included in brackets. Direct quotations from other church historians are indicated in footnotes. However, while these are quotations, note that our anonymous author’s wording is at times different from that of the published editions of the sources he quotes. A more in-depth analysis would be necessary to ascertain whether he is quoting more loosely (as is often the ancient custom), or whether he was using texts that differed from those we possess. At other times, words or phrases are seemingly omitted or added intentionally. The entire Greek text of Hansen’s 2002 GCS edition is available online here. For the full apparatus, cross-references, or any further information on this work, please see Hansen’s 2002 GCS printed edition.
|Incipit:||Σύνταγμα τῆς ἐν Νικαίᾳ ἁγίας συνόδου|
|Early editions:||Balfour, Robert, ed. Gelasii Cyziceni commentarius actorum Nicaeni Concilii, cum corollario Theodori Presbyteri, de Incarnatione Domini. Paris: Federic Morell, 1599.
Heinemann, M. and G. Loeschcke, ed. Gelasius. Kirchengeschichte. GCS 28. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1918.
|Early version:||Robert Balfour, Latin (Paris, 1599)|
|Most recent Greek edition:||Hansen, G.C. ed. Anonyme Kirchengeschichte:(Gelasius Cyzicenus, CPG 6034). GCS, N.F. 9. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2002.|
|English Translation:||Jensen, N. trans. Anonymous Church History: Book 1. 2017.|
Hansen, G.C. ed. Anonyme Kirchengeschichte:(Gelasius Cyzicenus, CPG 6034). GCS, N.F. 9. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2002.
Created by NJ 3-15-17
Last edited by NJ 4-13-17
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