Dating John of Carpathus to the 6th century: A textual parallel between his Capita hortatoria and the Pandectes of Antiochus of St. Sabas

Volume 7, issue 1 (summer 1999)

by Dirk Krausmüller

John of Carpathus is the author of two religious texts, the Capita hortatoria and the Capita theologica et gnostica.1 Consisting of short statements about various spiritual topics which are arranged in a seemingly random fashion, these texts belong to the literary genre of “centuries”. The first one focusses on “practical” themes and envisages beginners as readers for whom it provides guidance in their fight against demons and passions whereas the second is more “theoretical” and addresses philosophical questions for the benefit of a highly educated and spiritually advanced readership.2

Despite the growing interest in Eastern spirituality the teachings of John of Carpathus have not been given much attention by scholars. The last in-depth analysis was undertaken by M. Th. Disdier in an article which was published in two instalments in 1932 and 1940/1942.3 Since then John’s appearance in secondary literature has been confined to dictionaries and handbooks.4 One of the reasons for this comparative neglect may be that the dating of John’s life has remained extremely vague and that it has therefore been impossible to interpret his writings within a clearly defined context. The only certain terminus post quem that has been established so far is the year 400 since the “century” as literary genre was only invented by Evagrius Ponticus in the late 4th century. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that John’s texts betray a strong dependence on Evagrian concepts.5 This has led to the surmise that they belong to the early, pre-Byzantine period of Eastern spirituality.6 Unfortunately, however, no proof has been found to substantiate this impression. John is not referred to by other authors before the 9th century when patriarch Photius mentions him in his Bibliotheca so that the year 800 must be regarded as the first incontrovertible terminus ante quem.7 Apart from this, only one further attempt has been made to date the author of the two “centuries”. It has been suggested that he might be identical with the bishop of Carpathus by the name of John who participated in the synod of 680/81.8 Although this has been reiterated by all scholars who have addressed the question it is evident that the mere identity of the very common Christian name cannot be regarded as proof that we are dealing with the same person.9 As a consequence, even in the most recent secondary literature John of Carpathus is still dated to the time between the 5th and the 8th century.10

The purpose of this article is to introduce new evidence through which this long timespan can be considerably narrowed. The argument will be based on a comparison between John’s Capita hortatoria and the Pandectes scripturae sacrae of Antiochus Strategius.11 Antiochus was a monk of St. Sabas who lived through the Persian occupation of Palestine which followed the conquest of Jerusalem in 614.12 During that time he compiled the Pandectes as a concise guidebook for monks in 130 chapters.13 Each chapter consists of a string of quotations from the Bible which are interspersed with borrowings from earlier spiritual texts as De oratione and De octo malignis spiritibus by Evagrius Ponticus (Ps-Nilus) and the Centuria gnostica by Diadochus of Photice.14 It must, however, be stressed that the list of Antiochus’ sources cannot be considered comprehensive since no systematic comparison with other texts has been undertaken so far.15 Therefore it is not surprising that a juxtaposition of the following two passages reveals a further textual parallel.

In homilia 22 of the Pandectes we read under the heading “On rashness” (peri propeteias):

The law says: ‘If they have testified against him and he does not kill him he shall pay.’ Sometimes at a party the vainglorious thought leaps forward and wants to speak when it is not the right time. The good thoughts beg you to destroy the thought that is fond of silly talk; if you do not destroy him in silence but allow him to come forward then you will pay the debt having been given over by the judgement either to a great sin. For when someone who is rash in word or in deeds is also confused he also very much likes to give laws.

Fèsin ho nomos: ean oosin diamemarturèmenoi autooi kai mè afanisèi auton apotisei: estin hote en sumposiooi prospèdai ho kenodoxos logismos lalèsai boulomenos para ton kairon: diamarturountai se hoi agathoi logismoi afanisai ton filofluaron logismon: ean toinun mè afanisès auton en sioopèi alla parachooreis auton proelthein tote loipon apotiseis to oflèma è hamartiai megalèi hupo tès dikès paradotheis: hotan gar propetès en logooi è en pragmasin echei kai to tholeron hèdista de kai thesmothetein thelei. 16

And this is what is found in the 59th chapter of the Capita hortatoria of John of Carpathus:

The law says: ‘But if they have testified against him and he does not kill him he shall pay.’ Sometimes at a party the vainglorious thought leaps forward and wants to speak when it is not the right time. The angelic thoughts beg you to destroy the thought that is fond of silly and untimely talk; if you do not destroy him through good silence but allow him to come forward to the outside having become puffed up with vanity then you will pay the debt having been given over by the judgement either to a great sin or to some heavy physical pains or to vehement attacks by brothers or to the punishment in the world to come. For we shall be brought to account for an idle and vainglorious speech because of our uneducated tongue. Therefore we must guard our tongue soberly.

Fèsin ho nomos: ean de oosi memarturèmenoi autooi kai mè afanisèi auton apotisei: estin hote en sumposiooi propèdai ho kenodoxos logismos lalèsai boulomenos para ton kairon diamarturontai de soi hoi aggelikoi logismoi afanisai ton filofluaron kai akairon logismon: ean toinun mè afanisès auton tèi agathèi sioopèi alla parachoorèsèi autooi proelthein eis to exoo hupochaunootheis tooi tufooi tote loipon apotiseis to oflèma è hamartiai megalèi hupo tès dikès paradotheis è bareiais tisin odunais soomatikais è stibarais adelfoon proskrousesin è tèi kata ton mellonta aioona timooriai: kai gar huper argou kai kenodoxou logou logon apotisomen dia tèn tès gloossès apaideusian: dio dei tèn gloottan hèmoon nèfontoos fulattein. 17

It is obvious that the two passages are almost identical. Before attempting an explanation, however, it is necessary to make a few remarks about the meaning of this very condensed statement. It contains a warning against garrulity at meetings and its dire consequences. This is expressed in the form of an allegorical interpretation of a regulation in Exodus where it is stipulated what should be done in case an ox butts with his horns and thus kills another ox. In the last part of this regulation we read: “If the ox has become known as one that butts before yesterday and the day before yesterday and they have borne witness to his owner and he does not kill him he shall pay an ox for an ox.”18 In the interpretation the ox from Exodus is identified with the “demonic” kenodoxos logismos, the owner of the ox with the monk, and those who inform the owner about the true character of the ox before he can wreak havoc with the agathoi or aggelikoi logismoi.

This having been said, we can now address the question of how the two passages are related to one another. There are three possibilities to account for the striking similarity between them: first that John borrowed from Anthony; second that Anthony borrowed from John; and third that both borrowed from a common source.

Against the first of these possibilities one can point out that the highly educated author of the Capita hortatoria is not very likely to have quoted from a mere compilation of older texts like the Pandectes. This reasoning can be substantiated by a detailed comparison of the two versions. Such a comparison shows that there are a number of words and phrases in John’s version which are not found in Antiochus’ text.19 Especially interesting is the result of an analysis of the last section that both authors have in common. There the readers are confronted with the disastrous consequences of giving in to the vainglorious urge. John lists four points which are linked through “either … or … or … or …” (èèèè). Of these four points only the first one appears in the Pandectes. Nevertheless, in Antiochus’ text we also find “either …” (è …) at the beginning. Thus, it is evident that Antiochus used a source in which there was also at least one more consequence listed. When he adapted this source he cut off the last part of the sentence without bothering to delete the now meaningless “either” as well. This is very much in keeping with the often mechanical way in which compilers of florilegia treated their sources. Therefore, one can conclude that John’s text represents a more complete version of this sentence. Moreover, the next sentence in John’s version which is altogether missing in the Pandectes is also very likely to have been an integral part of the original text as the interpretation of Exodus is continued there.20

While it has thus been comparatively easy to exclude that John directly borrowed from Antiochus it is much more difficult to decide between the two remaining possibilities. This is due to the fact that the teachings presented in John’s “centuries” are not original in the modern sense but reflect traditional concepts. So one can e. g. point out that whereas in the Pandectes we find the non-descript hoi agathoi logismoi John speaks of hoi aggelikoi logismoi and that this is in keeping with the important rôle accorded to the angels throughout the Capita hortatoria.21 This does, however, not prove that John is responsible for the composition of the 59th chapter since aggelikos logismos is a term which he inherited from Evagrius.22

This impasse can only be overcome when one considers the passage in its entirety. The exhortation to guard one’s tongue during gatherings of monks already appears in the extant “practical” writings of Evagrius Ponticus. The relevant passages in Evagrius, however, are very short and therefore cannot have been the direct source for John’s elaborate treatment of the question.23 Much closer parallels are found in later texts, so e. g. in the Climax and especially in the Capita theologica et oeconomica of Maximus Confessor where we read: “He who rashly interrupts the listening of speeches in a meeting obviously suffers from love of glory.”24

What sets John’s chapter apart from even this last text, however, is that the teaching is presented as an interpretation of a Biblical verse. This use of allegorical exegesis is typical for the Capita hortatoria where we find many examples of it.25 Since in Late Antique spiritual literature there does not seem to exist a parallel for the use of Exodus 21, 36 to illustrate the dangers of “rashness” it seems likely that it is an innovation of John.26 If this is the case, we can conclude that in the decade after 614 Antiochus already made direct use of the Capita hortatoria and that John must have written before this date.

To establish a corresponding terminus post quem for John of Carpathus we must turn to his second “century”, the Capita theologica et gnostica. There he polemicizes against the belief that the world is coeternal with God.27 His polemic is phrased in a philosophical language which sports technical terms like sunhuparchein, asunuparktos and sunaidios.28 This topic and the concomitant terminology do not belong to the traditional stock of themes found in “centuries”. I am aware of only one other example, the Capita de Charitate of Maximus Confessor, which date to the 7th century.29 Both John and Maximus adapted the arguments developed in Christian treatises against the pagan teaching that the world is uncreated.30 This debate is known to have started only at the end of the 5th century when Zacharias Scholasticus composed his dialogue “Ammonius” against the Neoplatonic philosopher of the same name.31 Therefore it can be excluded that John of Carpathus wrote his Capita theologica et gnostica before this date.

Thus, we can conclude that the quotation of the 59th chapter of the Capita hortatoria in the Pandectes of Antiochus of St. Sabas and the polemic against the belief in the coeternity of God and the world in the Capita theologica et gnostica establishes the 6th century as the date for the composition of the “centuries” of John of Carpathus.


1 I. Capita hortatoria ad monachos in India (CPG, III, 7855), ed. Filokalia toon hieroon nèptikoon suneranistheisa para toon hagioon kai theoforoon pateroon, 1 (Athens, 3rd ed., 1957); and PG, 85, 1837-1860.

II. Capita theologica et gnostica (CPG, III, 7856), ed. D. Balfour, M. Cunningham, A Supplement to the Philocalia. The Second Century of Saint John of Karpathos (Brookline, Mass., 1994); and Latin in PG, 85, 811-826.

Both texts were also edited in an unpublished thesis by D. Ossieur, Tekstuitgave van de capita paraklètika en de capita askètika van Johannes Carpathius, met inleiding en tekstkritische aantekeningen (Diss. Gent, 1973).

A French translation of the Capita hortatoria is found in Héchysius de Batos, Chapitres sur la vigilance; Jean Carpathios, Chapitres d’exhortation et Discours ascétique, intr. and tr. J. Tournaille (Philocalie, 3, Abbaye de Bellefontaine, Bégrolles-en-Mauge, 1982).

2 This is in keeping with the tradition of spiritual writing instituted by Evagrius Ponticus. Cf. the succession of Evagrius’ writings with the Practical Treatise for beginners, the Gnostic for teachers, and the Gnostic Chapters for those interested in the theoretical foundation of his system, cf. Évagre le Pontique, Traité pratique ou Le Moine, vol. 1, intr. A. Gouillaumont, C. Gouillaumont (SC, 170, Paris, 1971), 31-32. For a short description of the two texts, cf. H.-G. Beck, Kirche und Theologische Literatur im Byzantinischen Reich (Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft, XII, 2, 1, Munich, 1959), 452.

3 M. Th. Disdier, ‘Jean de Carpathos, l’homme, l’oeuvre, la doctrine spirituelle’, Échos d’Orient, 31 (1932) 284-303; 39 (1940/42) 290-311. Unfortunately, the second part of this article has not been accessible to me.

4 Beck, Kirche und Theologische Literatur, 359, 452; L. Petit, ‘Jean de Carpathos’, Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 8 (1950), 753-754; D. Stiernon, ‘Jean de Karpathos’, Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, 8 (1974), 589-592; A. Kazhdan, ‘John of Karpathos’, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, 2 (1991), 1065; A. De Nicola, ‘John of Carpathus, Encyclopedia of the Early Church, 1 (1992), 444; R. Aubert, ‘Jean de Carpathos’, Dictionnarie d’Histoire et de Géographie Ecclésiastiques, 27 (1997), 1378-1379.

5 Cf. Beck, Kirche und Theologische Literatur, 359: “Man darf von seinen Zenturien keine große Originalität verlangen; die Grundlinien liegen seit langem fest. Das Schema … ist das euagrianische.” Cf. also the almost identical statement in Stiernon’s article in DSp, 8, 590: “… on n’y trouve rien de très original et ce qu’elle possède de meilleur lui vient sans doute d’Évagre le Pontique.”

6 According to Stiernon, DSp, 8, 590, “la spiritualité de Jean rend un son archaïque et reflète en général la pensée ascétique prébyzantine.”

7 Photius, Bibliotheca, cod. 201, cf. Bibliothèque, vol. 3, ed. and tr. R. Henri (Paris, 1960). The manuscript tradition begins in the 9th century. A list of the manuscripts is found in Didier, ‘Jean de Carpathos’, EO, 31 (1932) 291-293; additional manuscripts in the article of Stiernon in DSp, 8, 590.

8 Cf. the lists of participants in J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 11 (Florence, 1759ff.), 653e, 693c.

9 Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur, 452: “Ob er identisch ist mit jenem Bischof Joannes von Karpathos, der auf der Synode von 680 anzutreffen ist, ist völlig ungesichert.” Nevertheless, elsewhere Beck seems to accept this date since he speaks of an “euagrianisch temperierte Mystik der dunklen byzantinischen Jahrhunderte”, cf. Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur, 359. Cf. also Kazhdan in ODB, 2 (1992), 1065, who seems to consider the identification likely.

10 Cf. Aubert’s article in DHGE, 27 (1997), 1378-1379.

11 Pandectes scripturae sacrae (CPG, III, 7843), ed. PG, 89, 1421-1856. For a short characterization of author and work, cf. Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur, 449-450. Cf. also J. Gribomont, ‘Antiochus Strategius’, Encyclopedia of the Early Church, 1 (1992), 52.

12 Antiochus wrote an eyewitness account of this conquest; cf. Antiochus Strategius, La prise de Jérusalem par les Perses en 614, tr. G. Garitte (CSCO, 203, Scriptores Iberici, 12, Louvain, 1960).

13 G. Bardy, ‘Antiochus’, Dictionnarie de Spiritualité, 1 (1936), 701-702. In recent years scholarly interest in Antiochus seems to have waned. O. Paolo, ‘La sanzione del poeta. Antioco di S. Saba e un nuovo carme di Arsenio di Pantelleria’, Byzantinoslavica, 49 (1988), 1-22, does not refer to the Pandectes.

14 S. Haidacher, ‘Nilus-Exzerpte im Pandektes des Antiochus’, Revue Bénédictine, 22 (1905), 244-250, identification of quotations from De oratione and De octo spiritibus malignis. These are, however, rather quotations from Evagrius; cf. Gribomont’s article in Encyclopedia, 1, 52. J. Kirchmeyer, ‘Une source d’Antiochus de Saint-Sabas (Pandectes 127-128)’, OCP, 28 (1962), 418-421, identification of Diadochus of Photice, Centuria, c. 12, 14, 67, 100. These are, however, not the only quotations which have been identified; cf. the quotations from early Fathers listed in Bardy’s article in DSp, 1, 701-702, including Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Hermas (with a list of parallels).

15 Cf. Gribomont’s article in Encyclopedia, 1, 52.

16 Pandectes, hom. 22, PG, 89, 1501A1-9; then follow quotations from the bible beginning with Proverbia 28, 26. It must be stressed that the text in PG is no critical edition and that its reliability is not beyond doubt.

17 Filokalia toon hieroon nèptikoon, 288.

18 Exodus 21, 36: ean de gnoorizètai ho tauros hoti keratistès estin pro tès echthes kai pro tès tritès èmeras kai diamemarturèmenoi oosin tooi kuriooi autou kai mè afanisèi auton apoteisei tauron anti taurou.

19 Cf. ton filofluaron kai akairon logismon in J vs. ton filofluaron logismon in A; tèi agathèi sioopèi in J vs. en sioopèi in A; proelthein in A vs. proelthein eis to exoo in J. Moreover, the following explanation hupochaunootheis tooi tufooi given by J is completely missing in A. Cf. also the variant readings like propèdai in J vs. prospèdai in A and (parachoorèseis) autooi in J vs. auton in A. On the other hand, A has diamemarturèmenoi as in Exodus whereas J has only the simplex.

20 This is evident from the verb apotisomen. Antiochus has a completely different conclusion to his introduction of his homilia which serves as transition to the following Biblical quotations. Here Kirchmeyer’s observations regarding the way Antiochus quotes Diadochus may give an explanation. Kirchmeyer could show that Antiochus combined passages taken from different contexts in a way that they appear to be a whole. Thus, the last part may well have been taken from some other source. Cf. Kirchmeyer, ‘Une source’, 421, on “la méthode de travail d’Antiochus”: “Abrégeant ou paraphrasant à son gré Antiochus adapte plus qu’il ne copie.” Already Bardy in DSp, 1, 701, had pointed out that the Pandectes is not a florilegium in the strict sense as the Antiochus changes and rearranges his sources.

21 Cf. c. 28, Filokalia, 282; c. 66, Filokalia, 290; c. 67, Filokalia, 290.

22 Cf. e. g. Evagrius (Ps.-Nilus), De diversis malignis cogitationibus, c. 7, PG, 79, 1209A: toon aggelikoon logismoon kai toon anthroopinoon kai toon ek daimonoon tèn diaforan ….

23 Cf. Tractatus ad Eulogium, c. 26, PG, 79, 1125C, with a warning against the akairos gloossa, and Ad Monachos, c. 94, ed. H. Gressmann, Nonnenspiegel und Mönchsspiegel des Euagrios Pontikos (TU, 39, 4, Leipzig, 1913), 161, with an admonition regarding the fulakè tès gloossès.

24 Maximus Confessor, Capita theologica et oeconomica, I, 27, PG, 91, 1093AB: ho en sunedriooi logoon akroasin propetoos anakoptoon ouk elathe filodoxian nosoon. Cf. the analysis of the sources for Maximus’ chapters in H. U. von Balthasar, Kosmische Liturgie. Das Weltbild Maximus’ des Bekenners (Einsiedeln, Trier, 1988), 576, who has not been able to identify the source for I, 27.

Cf. also John of Sinai, Climax, gradus 22: peri tès polumorfou kenodoxias, PG, 88, 953CD: epesèmènato tis toon horan dunamenoon kai diègeito blepoon: otiper, fèsin, en sunedriooi mou kathèmenou elèluthotes hoi tès kenodoxias kai tès huperèfanias daimones … kai ho men (sc. kenodoxos) enutte mou tèn pleuran … protrepomenos me legein tina theoorian è ergasian hèn pepoièka.

25 Other examples for allegorical interpretations are found in chapter 27, Filokalia, 281-282, cf. Judges 6-7; in chapter 65, Filokalia, 289-290, cf. Judges 16, 26 (in combination with Isaiah 7, 6); in chapter 88, Filokalia, p. 292, cf. Numeri 3, 41, 45; in chapter 87, Filokalia, 294, with reference to the trooglodutai; and in chapter 93, Filokalia, 295, cf. Amos 2, 9.

Equally significant is the comparative length of chapter 59 since as a rule John’s chapters are longer than those of Evagrius or Marcus or even Maximus.

26 Apart from the extant Greek writings of Evagrius Ponticus, the “centuries” of Maximus Confessor, and gradus 22 of the Climax, I have checked the Opuscula I and II of Marcus Eremita, PG, 65, 905-965 and the Centuria of Diadochus of Photice, cf. Oeuvres spirituelles, intr., ed. and tr. É. des Places (SC, 5ter, Paris, 1966), where the topic of silence and outspokenness is discussed esp. in c. 70, 130. Cf. also the passage about the guarding of one’s tongue in the 4th instruction of Dorotheus of Gaza, cf. Oeuvres spirituelles, intr., ed. and tr. L. Regnault, J. de Préville (SC, 92, Paris, 1963), §§ 52-55, 232-238. Of course, the fragmentary state of preservation of the Late Antique spiritual literature makes it impossible to conclude with certainty that John of Carpathus made use of an older source.

27 In some manuscripts the title of this text is “Chapters about the uncreated one and the created ones etc.”: kefalaia peri agenètou kai genètoon ktl., cf. Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur, 452.

28 The topic is discussed in the chapters 2, 3, 4, and 17; cf. A Supplement to the Philocalia, ed. D. Balfour, M. Cunningham; and the Latin translation in PG, 85, 811-813, 815.

29 Maximus Confessor, Capita de Charitate, IV, PG, 90, 1049A: tines fasi sunuparchein ex aidiou tooi theooi ta dèmiourgèmata … sunaidia tooi dèmiourgooi. The theme is, however, not addressed in other spiritual texts of the 7th century, e. g. not in the Centuriae of Thalassius the Libyan, PG, 91, 1427-1490.

30 The most famous example is the long treatise “About the eternity of the world” which was composed in 529 by the Christian philosopher John Philoponus in order to refute the arguments in favour of the coeternity of God and world brought forward by Proclus Diadochus, the head of the Athenian academy, in the previous century. Cf. Johannes Philoponus, De aeternitate mundi, ed. H. Rabe (Leipzig, 1899). For the date cf. R. Sorabji, ‘John Philoponus’, Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science, ed. R. Sorabji (London, 1987), 38-40.

31 Zacharias Scholasticus, Dialexis hoti ou sunaidios tooi theooi ho kosmos alla dèmiourgèma autou tugchanei on ap’ archès chronikès arxamenon, PG, 85, 1011-1144. At about the same time the Christian sophist Aeneas of Gaza addressed this question in his dialogue Theophrastus, PG, 85, 871-1004, esp. 964-965.