The only source of information available about Socrates (c. 380-450) is his Church History, so little is known about this historian. Socrates probably spent most of his life in Constantinople working as a legal expert or advocate, which accounts for his being called “Scholasticus.” He belonged to a circle of scholars in Constantinople. Socrates was a lover of peace, speaking with abhorrence on the atrocities of war and the strife caused by theological differences. Socrates viewed history as a recording of the disturbances of peace. Sometime between 439 and 450 he wrote his Church History as a continuation of the history by Eusebius of Caesarea. This is a valuable sources of information for the history of the fourth and early fifth centuries.

Socrates’ history begins with the reign of Constantine in 305 and ends with the seventeenth consulate of Emperor Theodosius II in 439. His history includes both church and social events. However, like the other continuators of Eusebius, he gives more attention to the Greek church of the Eastern Empire. It is written in 7 books, each one covering the period of an emperor. Julian (360-364) and Jovian (363-364) are combined into one book because their reigns were so short.

Socrates originally relied upon Rufinus as his primary source, but when he later revised his text in many places he abandoned Rufinus in favor of more reliable sources. His other major sources include Eusebius (especially Life of Constantine), Athanasius, and the Synagogue of Sabinus. In addition to these he used the orations of Libanius and Themistius, an epic poem by Eusebius Scholasticus on the war with Gainas, and a chronicle of events at Constantinople. He used many other sources in his work. Franz Geppert (pp. 112-132) has demonstrated that Socrates intricately wove together all of his sources.

Historians value Socrates’s work for his accurate citation of sources and good judgment in assessing materials. Socrates attempted as much as possible to reach eye witnesses. Socrates style is characterized by simplicity and plainness.  He wrote without pretention for the benefit of both learned and unlearned men. Thus he attempted to produce a plain, unadorned, writing style. However, Socrates made use of humor and satire. He often quoted proverbs and clever sayings and knew the importance of anecdotes and reminiscence to interest his reader.

 

Church History

Incipit: Εὐσέβιος ὁ Παμφίλου ἐν ὅλοις δέκα βιβλίοις τὴν ἐκκλησιαστικὴν ἱστορίαν ἐκθέμενος
Date: c. 439-450
CPG: 6028
TLG: 2057.002
Earliest ms: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, plut. 69.5, 11th century. A digital image of this manuscript is available online here.
Early editions: The first available edition was Estienne (Paris 1544). The standard edition became Valesius (Paris 1668). Later there were also the Oxford editions of Hussey (1853) and Bright (1893)
Early versions: There was a Migne version of Valesius (PG 67: 33-841). Excerpts of Socrates in Latin appear in the Historia Tripartita of Cassiodorus/Epiphanius (CSEL 71, 1952). Fragments of a Syriac version and two Armenian recensions also survive (cf. CPG 3: 166-167).
Most recent Greek editions: Greek text: P. Maraval and P. Périchon, SC, Socrate de Constantinople, Histoire ecclésiastique (Livres I-VII), SC 477, 493, 505, 506 (2004-2007).

G. C. Hansen, GCS, NF 1 Historia Ecclesiastica (1995).

English translation: A. C. Zenos, “The Ecclesiastical History by Socrates Scholasticus,” in NPNF2, Vol. 2 (New York, 1890), pp. 1-178. A revised translation by Kevin Knight is available online here.

 

Bibliography:

Geppert, Franz. Die Quellen des Kirchenhistorikers Socrates Scholasticus. Liepzig: Dieterich’sche Verlag, 1898.

Norris, Frederick W. “Socrates Scholasticus.” In Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Edited by Everett Ferguson. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1990, p. 858-859.

Rohrbacher, David. The Historians of Late Antiquity. London: Routledge, 2002. p. 108-116.

Wallraff, M. “Socrates of Constantinople (Scholasticus).” In Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity. Edited by Angelo Di Berardino. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2014, p. 608-609.

 

Created by OT – 12/8/17

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