God or angels as impersonators of saints: A belief and its contexts in the “Refutation” of Eustratius of Constantinople and in the writings of Anastasius of Sinai

Volume 6, issue 2 (winter 1998-1999)

by Dirk Krausmüller

In his article “L’ombre d’un doute” G. Dagron has challenged the view that the end of Late Antiquity was an “age of saints”.1 He has argued that the hagiographical literature of the 6th and 7th centuries presents a partisan view which tends to gloss over the considerable opposition against a pivotal role of saints in society. Clear signs of such an opposition can be found in the collections of Questions and Answers dating to that period. In this article I shall discuss one of the points to which Dagron has drawn attention.

In the answer to Quaestio no. 19 of the collection of Anastasius of Sinai we find the statement that “all visions of the saints in the churches and at the tombs are effected through holy angels”.2 This theory also appears in a more developed form in the answer to Quaestio no. 26 of a collection attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria where we are told that “the overshadowings and visions in the churches and at the tombs of the saints do not happen through the souls of the saints but through angels who change their shapes into the appearances of the saints”.3 The authors of the Questions and Answers were, however, not the first to express this view. Dagron has pointed out that a strikingly similar theory is already found in the late 6th century when it is attacked by the Constantinopolitan priest Eustratius in his “Refutation of those who say that the souls of men are not active after the separation from their bodies etc.”.4 In the preface to this treatise Eustratius describes the theory of his adversaries as follows: “When the souls of the saints appear to certain people they do not appear in their substance or own being but a divine power taking on their shapes gives the impression that the souls of the saints are active.”5

While the purpose of this theory is obviously to exclude an involvement of dead saints in the affairs of the living the argument is curiously oblique for the apparitions are accepted as real and simply explained in a different way. This is especially interesting since it would not have been impossible to deny their reality, as a passage in the writings of Maximus the Confessor (+662) clearly shows. At the beginning of the 8th letter to John of Cyzicus, Maximus confesses to the “yearning” he has felt for the addressee ever since he met him for the first time and then goes on to say: “Having been deemed worthy to have this yearning for you most holy one from the beginning I seem to see you always being present and to sense you conversing with me. … And I for one am convinced that my memory does not merely imagine you most holy one but that I sense you as being truly present”.6 Although in the end he thus stresses the reality of John’s presence, it is worth noting that Maximus at first considers the alternative explanation that his “yearning” might have induced his own imagination to conjure up John’s image based on the memory of a previous contact with him. We only need to replace this with the previous seeing of an icon to get an explanation which could well be used to reduce the apparitions of saints to mere figments of the mind.

A look at the remainder of this passage shows its relevance to our topic even more clearly. Maximus explains that he feels assured of the reality of John’s presence because it drives away his sinful thoughts.7 This idea is then restated in the following way: “For the effective power which is in you according to the grace of God drives away the molesting demons and thus gives a most clear sign for your presence”.8 Thus Maximus presents himself as a possessed man whose demons are expelled by the apparition of a saint. By using this image to express that his sinful thoughts leave him he clearly indicates that the experience of the miraculous healings at the shrines of the saints provides the background for this whole passage.

When Maximus bases his belief in the reality of John’s presence on the “real” effects it has on him he does, however, also give a clue why the authors of the Questions and Answers and the adversaries of Eustratius did not conclude that the visions were merely imagined. Obviously the beneficient effects of the apparitions of saints were something so widely agreed that they could not simply be negated but had to be explained in a different way.9

But what did these authors gain by substituting a divine force or angels for the saints? A passage in Eustratius’ “Refutation” shows that by introducing a divine power as actor his adversaries wanted to safeguard that all “supernatural” activity on earth comes directly from God. Having stated his own position that the saints themselves appear to the faithful Eustratius turns to his adversaries: “You who object will certainly say that it is the power of God which acts.” To this he replies: “And I agree! For who is so stupid not to think thus?”10 Then he deduces from God’s promise to “glorify those who glorify me” that the souls of the saints must be active and that therefore “God who has been glorified by them and glorifies them makes visible the souls of the saints to those who are in need of their help when it pleases him.”11 Eustratius constructs his argument in a way that God remains the sole actor and the saints are little more than his instruments who carry out his will through their apparitions. While Eustratius’ presentation serves its purpose to show that in the end there is no contradiction between the two models it must, however, be stressed that it does not correspond to the beliefs held by most of his contemporaries. As is amply testified in hagiographical literature the faithful experienced the saints as independent actors whom they expected to interact with God. When Eustratius deviates from this predominant view the obvious explanation is that he thus tried to prevent the objection of his adversaries that the activity of saints could lead to an infringement on the divine will.

In the Questions and Answers the angels take the place of the divine power of Eustratius’ adversaries as impersonators of the saints. Again we need to determine in what it is that the role of the saints as representatives of a distant God differs from that of the angels. The souls of the saints appear with and act through their own bodies and are therefore clearly distinguished from God. In the case of the angels, on the other hand, there is no link between appearance and “self” which means that they remain anonymous and therefore cannot be perceived as individual actors apart from God. This explains why angels are in fact dispensable elements in the discourse and why the concepts of “angels changing their shapes into the appearances of the saints” found in the Questions and Answers and of “a divine power taking on the shapes (sc. of the saints)” used by the adversaries of Eustratius are in the end interchangeable.

The link with God is further stressed when the angels are said to appear “through the command of God”.12 One could object that Eustratius had made the same point about the saints but in the case of the angels it clearly coincides with the beliefs held by the contemporaries. An episode from the Miracles of Cyrus and John by Sophronius of Jerusalem (+638) is especially instructive for an understanding of the different roles of angels and saints.13 The hero of this story is a fervent worshipper of the saints by the name of George. “When the limits of the life were reached George … departed from this life. And he saw the angels taking him and leading him away and Cyrus and John meeting them and asking them to give them the old man as a favour. The angels said that they could not do this since they served the divine command according to fixed rules; they said, however, that they would wait for their entreaty of God and for his second ruling. Having received this answer the martyrs turned to their entreaty and bent their knees to God and asked him to give them the venerator as a gift. And while they did this a voice came down from heaven and commanded to give the old man to the martyrs and fixed twenty more years in this life.”14

What we find here are two radically different concepts of the transmission of power. The angels are mere instruments of God’s will which they cannot change so that it is pointless for men to influence them in their favour.15 The saints, on the other hand, appear as real intermediaries who can negotiate the reversal of a decision.

There can be no doubt that this scene exactly mirrors the social experience of Sophronius and his contemporaries. The angels correspond to the representatives of the central administration who carry out its regulations in the provinces. The saints, on the other hand, are clearly not “regular” officials entrusted with standard tasks but rather correspond to local notables who are not directly dependent on the emperor and who can use their influence in favour of their clients when need arises.

Although the final decision is made by God, Sophronius’ account shows an initial discrepancy between the will of the saints and that of God which is then overcome through negotiation. By replacing the saints with angels the authors of the Questions and Answers could exclude this discrepancy.16 And the same aim was achieved even more effectively by the adversaries of Eustratius who by reducing all apparitions to a divine power completely eliminated all intermediaries. This means that while they are accepted as reality the negotiations of the faithful with the saints who appear to them are nevertheless deprived of their function and thus have lost all their meaning.

It must, however, be stressed that this is only one possible explanation for the belief in the impersonation of saints by angels or a divine power. In the last part of this article I shall return to this question and show that there could well be other reasons for holding this belief.

The adversaries of Eustratius and the authors of the Questions and Answers could only hope to convince others when they managed to disprove the obvious explanation that it is the saints themselves who appear to the faithful. Dagron has already remarked that they used the theory of the “sleep of the soul” for this purpose. His first case in point are the adversaries of Eustratius. I shall now give the full quotation of the passage from the preface of the treatise which I have already quoted partially at the beginning of the article:

“They insist on saying that after the departure from this life and the withdrawal of the souls from the bodies the souls themselves also remain inactive, be they holy or otherwise. Thus when the souls of the saints appear to certain people they do not appear in their substance or own being, as they say, but a divine power taking on a shape gives the impression that the souls of the saints are active. For those are in some place and can never show themselves to certain people in this life after the departure from the body”.17

This summary shows that Eustratius’ adversaries presented their views as a coherent system in which a radically “anti-Platonic” anthropology based on the interdependence of body and soul led to a denial of the posthumous activity of human souls and therefore necessitated the hypothesis that a divine power takes on the shape of saints as an alternative explanation to account for the apparitions of saints after their death.

Anastasius’ answer to Quaestio no. 19, on the other hand, presents us with a rather different case. According to Dagron his treatment of the topic is virtually identical with that of the adversaries of Eustratius. And indeed before stating that “all visions of the saints in the churches and at the tombs are effected through holy angels” Anastasius has attempted to prove that after death the soul is in a comatose state.18 He observes that even in life the faculties of the soul cannot function when the respective organs are maimed and that a fortiori the soul is completely incapable of functioning after its separation from the body.19 This shows his interest in questions of “natural history” which has been stressed by Dagron.20

When we look more closely at Anastasius’ answer to Quaestio no. 19 we see, however, one important difference. After having developed the theory of the sleep of the soul and before turning to the hypothesis that angels impersonate saints, Anastasius inserts a passage in which he restricts the posthumous inactivity to those who have died as sinners whereas he expresses the opinion that those souls who have acquired the Holy Spirit during their life-times are illuminated by Him and thus enabled to feel joy and praise God and intercede for each other.21 One can argue that this does not disprove his previous teaching about the sleep of the soul since the activity of the saintly souls does not originate in their self-movement but comes from the Holy Spirit as an outside force.

Regardless of the explanation, however, the admission that the saints are active after death has the consequence that the sleep of the soul cannot be used as an explanation for the following hypothesis that angels are responsible for the apparitions of saints.22 Anastasius must have felt the deficiency of his reasoning on the basis of the sleep of the souls for he then adds further arguments to shore up his belief. First he objects that a bodily appearance of saints is impossible since the resurrection of the flesh has not yet taken place.23 Then he states that the souls of the saints are circumscribed so that they cannot appear at the same time in different places.24 These arguments have in common that they are not dependent on the belief in a sleep of the soul. The former simply denies the visibility of dead saints but not necessarily their activity.25 And the latter does not even exclude the actual presence of the soul of the saint in one of these simultaneous apparitions.26 Anastasius thus falls back to a second and even to a third line of defense.27

The most likely explanation for this chaos is that Anastasius’ answer to Quaestio no. 19 ultimately goes back to a source containing an argument which was more or less identical with that of Eustratius’ adversaries and that the stringency of this argument was then destroyed by limiting the conclusion that all souls are inactive “be they holy or otherwise” to the souls of sinners alone. Otherwise it cannot be explained why Anastasius should have presented the now obviously unrelated theories of the sleep of the souls and of the angels as impersonators of saints in the same context. The phrase “as it seems to me” implies that Anastasius himself was responsible for this change.28

Despite the superficial similarity of the argument there is therefore a huge difference between the adversaries of Eustratius and Anastasius. For the former the belief that a divine power impersonates saints is the sign of a strong opposition against the saints whose role is completely negated through the stress on their posthumous inactivity.29 Anastasius, on the other hand, shows no principal opposition to an active afterlife of the saints let alone hostility towards them as a privileged group.30 As a consequence the close parallel we have drawn between the function of the divine power and that of the angels as eliminating the intermediate level between God and the living can only be said to apply to Anastasius’ source but not necessarily to Anastasius himself.

This leaves us with a serious problem. When the wish to do away with the saints could not have motivated him anymore why did he so doggedly adhere to the belief that angels impersonate saints despite the obvious weakness of his reasoning? It may, however, be that we are not asking the right question. While it is true that Anastasius uses a coherent argument of the kind proposed by Eustratius’ adversaries as starting point one cannot simply assume that logical coherence had the same importance for him. For a proper understanding of Anastasius’ intentions we need to compare his argument in Quaestio no. 19 with his treatment of other themes in his Questions and Answers. A good example is the controversy about whether the lifespans of men are predetermined by God or not. There are clear indications that Anastasius adheres to the theory that the term of life is fixed once and for all and can in fact be deduced from certain signs.31 This fits in well with his interest in natural history and the stress on the regularity of natural processes which has been pointed out by Dagron.32 But these statements are found in the context of an “abstract” discussion about the different types of prophecy. In those questions where he is expressly asked about the term of life, on the other hand, we find an outright denial that it could be predetermined by God or known by men.33 But here the explanation is of a radically different type. Anastasius points out that men would then only be repentent right before their death and thus argues with the bad effects such a predetermination and foreknowledge would have on the human character. This shows clearly that Anastasius’ “scientific” or “abstract” reasoning could well be at odds with his practical interests as a spiritual father and that in the end the latter would carry the day. So we are entitled to look for an explanation of the theory of the impersonation of saints by angels quite apart from the concomitant anthropology.

Bearing this in mind we can now return to Anastasius in order to find a satisfactory answer. A look at the parts of Quaestio no. 19 which we have not yet interpreted shows that the belief in the posthumous activity of the souls of the saints is not just a stray element found in an otherwise coherent context. At the beginning of his answer Anastasius establishes a parallel between God and the human soul as being created “in the image of God”.34He first lists apophatic predications of the divine essence like unknowable, untouchable etc. and states that they also apply to the essence of the soul.35 Then he turns to the operations of God and points out that God who is himself invisible shows his activities through his creation and that the soul mirrors him insofar as it is also invisible in itself but shows its activities through the body.36 This provides him with the starting-point for the subsequent development of the theme of the sleep of the soul for his next step is to conclude that the soul becomes inactive once its visible activities are made impossible through the loss of the body. This transition is, however, extremely awkward. Whereas up to this point Anastasius has striven to establish an exact parallel between God and the soul he now draws a conclusion which only applies to the soul without giving an explanation why without the creation God should not be equally inactive.

This muddle is caused by the fact that Anastasius here shifts from one belief system to another. The parallel between God and creation on the one hand and soul and body on the other has its place in an anthropology which stresses the closeness of the soul with God and presupposes that just as God does not need the world to be active the soul is not in need of the body. It was, however, completely rejected by those who adhered to the theory of a posthumous inactivity of the souls. In fact, a stress on the utter difference between God and all his creatures could be called the distinctive mark of their argument. This is especially obvious in Maximus’ 6th letter to John of Cyzicus where he points to this parallel in a refutation of this latter anthropology avowing that otherwise the soul could no longer be called “image of God” and ridiculing the fear of his adversaries that drawing such a parallel would amount to blasphemy.37

This shows that it would be too simple to conclude that Anastasius wrecks an otherwise straightforward argument through his wish to safeguard the activity of dead saints. One can equally argue that the theory of the sleep of the soul is the dysfunctional element in Anastasius’ argument. There are indications that Anastasius himself came to see it this way in the end. The image-relation between God and soul was a pet topic of his to which he returned in his first speech about the kat’ eikona.38 In this speech the hypothesis of the inactivity of the soul after its separation from the body also reappears. Here it is, however, attributed to a fictitious adversary and then refuted.39 Anastasius starts his argument by saying “that the soul as being in the image and likeness of God shows its invisible faculties through visible matter”.40 This corresponds exactly to the parallel he had drawn between God and the soul in his Questions and Answers but now he no longer concludes from this observation that the soul cannot be active without the body. Instead he says that “even when it is separated (sc. from the body) the soul which is pure according to nature and which is then found more perceptive and more spiritual and simple and unencumbered and bright in its substance can in a truer sense be called in the image and likeness of God”.41 When he now links the activity of the soul to its substance he constructs an exact parallel with God whose substance is equally self-sufficient and not dependent on the world. This can only mean that the implications of his argument in the Questions and Answers had finally dawned on him and that he had now changed it to avoid possible misunderstandings.42

The analogy between God and the soul, however, only demands that the soul is as perceptive without the body as it has been with it whereas Anastasius now says that the soul will then be even more perceptive. This shows that he has run the whole gamut from an “Aristotelian” to a diametrically opposed “Platonic” anthropology where the body is regarded as an encumbrance of the self-moved soul.43 At first sight, this looks like a tremendous change. The very fact, however, that these belief systems did not inspire a life-long allegiance in Anastasius suggests that for him they had lost the power to organize a stable symbolic universe.44 One can wonder whether this is simply the freak of an individual or whether it is not rather the sign of a general disintregation of traditional belief systems in the 7th century. This is, however, a question which cannot be addressed in this article.

Considering these changes it comes as a surprise that at the end of his speech on the kat’ eikona Anastasius restates his belief that the souls of the saints do not have contact with the living after the separation from their bodies. It goes without saying that this belief can in no way be explained by a Platonic anthropology. Anastasius’ explanation is therefore based on a completely different reasoning. Now he argues that being sent back to earth is a menial task which befits “servant spirits” like the angels but not the souls of the saints which are “master spirits” created in the image of a God who has then hypostatically united himself with this image.45

What Anastasius rejects here is the idea that the dead saints could be instrumentalized by God in his dealings with the living. When he presents the inability to communicate as the sign of a privileged position this sounds less odd when one remembers what the saints had to endure on their missions to the faithful. I shall only give one example from the Life of Sabas by Cyrill of Scythopolis (+ca. 558): A deacon who has lost money goes to the church of St. Theodore where he stays for many days expecting an apparition. When the saint finally comes the deacon complains that he has wasted so much time with praying and has not been helped. The saint then justifies himself by telling the deacon that he has had another task to see to and finally gives the information required.46 This shows clearly that the saints were believed to be constantly travelling from one church to another in order to satisfy the wishes of the living.47

The Late Antique collections of miracles give many more examples for the trivial matters saints have to deal with and the often crude attempts of the faithful to manipulate them in their favour. So it is not surprising that we find authors who worried about the role of the saints in these interactions. In his sermon on the martyr Leontius patriarch Severus of Antioch (+538) clearly shows the reservations he had regarding the stories of miracles which he narrated.48 He explained them with the condescension of the martyr who adapted to the level of insight of those who benefitted from his appearances and stated that to the perfect he reveals hidden things, to the middle ones he appears in a middle way, and “to those who have imperfect dispositions he condescends and amuses himself with prodigies as with small children”.49 Severus speaks about the “amusement” felt by the martyr but this lowering of one’s own level could also cause a keen feeling of pain. This is clearly expressed by Maximus in a passage of his Ambigua where he says that the inner state of the perfect shines through the body “so that those who are in need of some help may receive it from those who can give it” which obviously refers to miracles.50 The perfect himself, on the other hand, does not gain anything by his actions so that it comes as no surprise when Maximus exclaims at the end: “If only there was nobody in need of receiving benefits … and everyone was self-sufficient!”51 A similar statement we find in his Gnostic Chapters where Maximus first interprets Abraham’s travels from the “Land of the Chaldeans” via “Mesopotamia” to the “Promised Land” as the stages of “passionate life”, “middle condition” and “state full of all goods” which one has to go through to become a saint.52 In the next chapter he points out that some of the saints were taken into the Babylonian captivity thus going the opposite way and then states that “none of the saints appears to go down to Babylonia out of his free will” and that if some let themselves be carried away with the people “through force” they did this only because of the salvation of those who needed their guidance.53 These highly ambiguous passages present us with an image of the saints as social climbers who regard the help for their inferiors as an almost intolerable burden and feel a strong tension between their social obligations and the wish to enjoy the status they have achieved.

Anastasius’ belief in the impersonation of saints by angels could therefore be explained as a radical solution to that problem for it liberates the saints from unwelcome tasks and at the same time allows for a help of others through the substitution of angels. This is all the more likely as Anastasius himself acted as a spiritual guide which may have made him dread an equally burdened afterlife. This helps us to modify Dagron’s conclusion. Far from being opposed to the concept of the “saints” as a special and privileged group Anastasius tried to safeguard this concept against the encroachments of the “non-saints”.54

The barefaced egotism of the faithful is all too apparent in those texts which defend the active role of the saints. Under the reign of Leo VI (886-912) the quaestor Anastasius ho Traulo” wrote an encomium of St. Agathonicus which ends with an exhortation to his audience not to be confused by those who attribute the apparitions of saints to the angels.55 There we find the following argument: “Even if they are without their own body which has been put down through death they wait on the creator with the angels and are (also) not doubted to perform angelic ministrations”.56 What Anastasius ho Traulo” has in mind is obviously a very similar argument to the one set out by Anastasius of Sinai in his speech on the kat’ eikona and he counters it by making the saints “like angels”. This reasoning shows clearly that the concerns of Anastasius of Sinai are completely alien to him. From the beginning he has exclusively argued from the perspective of those “who are in need of help” whereas the point of view of the saints in all this is not considered at all.57

Summing up we can say that the adversaries of Eustratius deduced their belief that a divine power impersonates the saints from the theory of the sleep of the souls and thus integrated it into a coherent cosmology which was openly hostile to the saints as a privileged group. This was, however, not necessarily the case as the example of Anastasius of Sinai shows. Anastasius held the similar belief that angels appear in the shape of saints but he did not derive it from a specific anthropology be it “Aristotelian” as in his Questions and Answers or “Platonic” as in his speech on the kat’ eikona. Moreover, when he denied the saints their personal contacts with the faithful his motive was not hostility towards them but rather the wish to liberate them from an onerous task.

Notes

1 G. Dagron, “L’ombre d’un doute: L’hagiographie en question, VIe – XIe siècle”, DOP 46 (1992), 59-68.

2 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestiones et responsiones, no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717C: pasai hai optasiai hai ginomenai en tois naois è sorois toon hagioon di’ hagioon angeloon epitelountai. Cf. M. Richard, Les véritables “Questions et réponses” d’ Anastase le Sinaïte. Bulletin de l’IRHT 15 (1967-1968), 39-56. [= Opera minora 3. Turnhout-Louvain 1977, no. 64.

3 Ps-Athanasius, Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem, no. 26, PG 28, 613B: hai en tois naois kai sorois toon hagioon ginomenai episkiaseis kai optasiai ou dia toon psuchoon toon hagioon ginontai alla di’ angeloon metaschematizomenoon eis to eidos toon hagioon.

4 Cf. Dagron, L’ombre d’un doute, 64. Cf. J. Darrouzès, Art. Eustrate de Cple. DSp 4 (1960), 1718-1719. This long treatise was partly edited by Leo Allatius, De utriusque ecclesiae … perpetua in dogmate de purgatorio consensione. Rom 1655, 336-580. Since I had no access to this book I am quoting from the Codex Vaticanus graecus 511, foll. 151-204, on which Allatius’ edition is based, cf. fol. 151: logos anatreptikos pros tous legontas mè energein tas toon anthroopoon psuchas meta ten diazeuxin heautoon soomatoon, ktl.

5 Codex Vaticanus graecus 511, fol. 152r: kan oun fainoontai tisin hai toon hagioon psuchai kat’ ousian è huparxin idian … fainontai; dunamis de tis theia schematizomene psuchas hagioon energousas deiknusin.

6 Maximus Confessor, Epistulae, no. 8, PG 90, 441A1-2, 7-10: touton ton pothon ap’ arches pros tous hagiootatous humas echein axiootheis aei parontas horan dokoo kai dialegomenoon aisthanesthai …. kai peithomai ge mè psiloos ten mnèmèn fantazesthai tous hagiootatous humas alla parontoon alèthoos epaisthanesthai ….

7 Maximus, Epistulae, no. 8, PG 90, 441A5-6: humas parontas … kai pantas tous en emoi dusoodeis logismous apelaunontas.

8 Maximus, Epistulae, no. 8, PG 90, 441A10-14: …. to ginomenon plèroforian akribè tès humoon parousias poioumenos; hè gar en humin kata charin theou drastèrios dunamis hama tèi mnèvmèi tous diochlountas apelaunousa daimonas safestatèn tès humoon parousias parechetai dèloosin.

9 One must not forget that the proof used by Maximus had been used by Christian authors for centuries, cf. below note 31.

10 Codex Vaticanus graecus 511, fol. 158v: ereite oun pantoos hoi antilegontes hoos hè tou theou dunamis estin hè energousa; sumfèmi kagoo; tís gar houtoo tugchanei abelteros hoos mè houtoo fronei.

11 Codex Vaticanus graecus 511, fol. 158v: legei gar hoti tous doxazontas me doxasoo; poos oun doxazei mè energousoon toon psuchoon … toon doxasantoon auton hagioon …. ho doxastheis hup’ autoon theos kai doxazoon autous hotan autooi areskèi emfaneis toon hagioon kathistèsi ta psuchas tois chrèizousi thès autoon boètheias.

12 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717C: … di’ epitropès theou ….

13 Los Thaumata de Sofronio. Contribucion al estudio de la Incubatio Cristiana (Manuales y anejos de “Emerita” 31), ed. Natalio Fernandez Marcos. Madrid 1975.

14 Los Thaumata de Sofronio, miraculum 51, ed. Marcos, c. 11, 364: Geoorgios … toon horoon tès zooès plèroothentoon tès parousès zooès ekdedèmèken; kai tous angelous horai labontas auton kai apagonta kai kuron autois kai iooannèn sunantoontas tous marturas, kai charizesthai autois ton presbutèn presbeuontas, hoper poiein elegon hai dunameis mè dunasthai, theiooi de thespismati kata tropon douleuousai; menein d’ autoon tèn pros theon hiketeian apèngellon, kai deuteran autou prosdechesthai keleusin. tautèn labontes hoi martures tèn apokrisin, pros hiketeian etreponto, kai pros theon ta gonata klinantes, doorèthènai autois ton latrèn edeonto; kai touto poiountoon, ap’ ouranou foonè katefereto, didonai prostattousa tois martusi ton presbuteron, kai chronous eikosi en sarki diorizousa.

15 Cf. L&S s. v. kata tropon “according to custom”.

16 It must be stressed, however, that “angel” is not a monolithic category and that angels like Michael can well appear as individuals with a definite personality and history who then act as intercessors like the saints.

17 Codex Vaticanus graecus 511, fol. 152r: diischurizontai legontes hoti meta tèn tou biou toude metastasin kai tèn toon psuchoon apo toon soomatoon anachoorèsin anenergètous menousi kai autai hai psuchai eite hagiai eite alloos poos huparchousin; kan oun fainoontai tisin hai toon hagioon psuchai kat’ ousian è huparxin idian hoos autoi fasin ou fainontai; dunamis de tis theia schèmatizomenè psuchas hagioon energousas deiknusin; ekeinai gar en tini topooi eisi mèdepote dunamenoi meta tèn tou soomatos ekdèmian en tooide tooi biooi tisin emfanizein.

18 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717C: pasai hai optasiai hai ginomenai en tois naois è sorois toon hagioon di’ hagioon angeloon epitelountai.

19 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717A12-B14.

20 Cf. Dagron, “L’ombre d’un doute”, 61-63. Anastasius does, however, also list biblical passages in favour of his theory “so that nobody may think that we invent medical mythologies”, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 720A1-2: kai hina mè doxoosi tinas iatrikas hèmas muthologias anaplattein. A comparison with the Questions and Answers attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria is instructive for there biblical quotations are the only kind of proof, Ps-Athanasius, Quaestio no. 26, PG 28, 613B. This shows that the theory of a sleep of the souls was not necessarily based on “scientific” reasoning and that regarding this point Dagron’s conclusion only applies to Anastasius of Sinai. His two other points of alternative explanations for diseases and for miracles cannot be discussed here.

21 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, B14-C5.

22 That this is the case shows a comparison with patriarch Methodius in the 9th century who held an identical view of the afterlife but nevertheless accepted the apparitions of saints. Cf. his Life of Euthymius of Sardes, c. 44, ed. J. Gouillard, “La vie d’Euthyme de Sardes (+831), une oeuvre du patriarche Méthode”, TM 10 (1987), 83.

23 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717C6-13.

24 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717C13-D5.

25 The argument is, moreover, rather weak for Anastasius does not consider let alone explain why unlike the angels human souls should not be capable of taking on shapes which are not “real” bodies. A century earlier Eustratius had already suggested a solution for this problem by saying that the saints can be their own image-bearers. Cf. G. Dagron, “Holy Images and Likeness”, DOP 45 (1991), 23-33.

26 Such a distinction was actually made by patriarch Methodius in the 9th century. Cf. his scholion on the Passio S. Marinae, ed. H. Usener, Festschrift zur fünften Säcularfeier der Carl-Ruprechts-Universität in Heidelberg. Bonn, 1886, p. 53, ll. 4-5.

27 This is obvious from the phrase with which Anastasius introduces his last argument: ei de antilegein nomizeis. So it is not surprising when in the Questions and Answers attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria we find a further desintegration of this flawed argument. Here the sleep of the soul and the explanation for the apparitions are presented in two successive chapters so that the two steps of the argument are completely disjointed and the only remaining reason for depriving the saints of their contact with the living is the hypothesis of the circumscription of the souls, Ps-Athanasius, Quaestio no. 25, PG 28, 613A, Quaestio no. 26, PG 28, 613B.

28 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89 (= no. 19), PG 89, 717C2: emoi dokei.

29 Moreover, this is not the only deduction they made from the theory of the sleep of the souls for they also used it to explain away the efficacy of the prayers of the living for dead sinners. Most of Eustratius’ treatise is, in fact, devoted to a proof of the efficacy of the prayers for the dead. Thus, their hostility against the saints as a privileged group of dead who are able to alleviate the lot of the living is just a facet of a general attempt to sever all bonds between the living and the dead. The adversaries of Eustratius appear as moral rigorists who obviously considered all forms of solidarity as corrupting and as potentially directed against God and therefore developed the concept of an atomized society. Their position needs to be discussed in greater detail which cannot be done in this article.

30 Cf. his other statements about the afterlife in his Questions and Answers where he expresses the belief that the disembodied soul of a saint is not only active but can even see this world. Cf. e. g. Quaestio no. 91, 724B.

31 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 20, PG 89, 521A9-13: hoi akathartoi daimones … thanatous anthroopoon (sc. heuriskousin); esti gar sussèma tina entethenta hupo tès pronoias tooi anthroopinooi soomati malista en tais opsesin autou kai pro pollou chronou kai pro bracheos hoos fasin hoi tèn iatrikèn epistèmèn leptoos kai akriboos epanèirèmenoi.

32 Dagron, “L’ombre d’un doute”, 63, concludes that the attitudes found in the Questions and Answers show “une réaction concertée” against the contemporary triumph of hagiography and as a rethinking of faith after the Arab conquest “en balisant le domaine légitime de la science profane”.

33 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 21, 532C3-4: ei proginooskousin tou’o polla atopa emellon diaprattesthai.

34 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89, PG 89, 716C3-8.

35 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89, PG 89, 716C8-717A1.

36 Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestio no. 89, PG 89, 717A1-12.

37 Maximus Confessor, Epistulae, no. 6, PG 90, 429B-D.

38 Anastasius Sinaita, Sermones duo in constitutionem hominis secundum imaginem Dei necnon opuscula adversus monotheletas. Ed. K.-H. Uthemann (Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca 12). Turnhout-Löwen 1985.

39 Anastasius Sinaita, Sermones duo, ed. Uthemann, I, c. 5, 29: ei de legeis moi hoti ouden kath’ heautèn energei hè psuchè chooris tou soomatos.

40 Anastasius Sinaita, Sermones duo, ed. Uthemann, I, c. 5, 29: èdè touto kai hèmeis proeirèkamen (this refers back to I, 2, p. 27) hoti kai en toutooi kat’ eikona kai homoioosin theou ousa, dia tès hulès tès horoomenès tas aoratous autès deiknusi dunameis.

41 Anastasius Sinaita, Sermones duo, ed. Uthemann, I, c. 5, 29: plèn hoti kai choorizomenè tou soomatos hè kata fusin kathara psuchè, hè ousiai tote malista dioratikootera kai pneumatikootera kai haplè kai aparenochlètos kai footeinotera heuriskomenè, kat’ eikona kai homoioosin theou alèthesteroos dunatai prosagoreuesthai.

42 This is makes it likely that Anastasius wrote the speech after the QA for it is hardly conceivable that he replaced the sound argument presented here by a flawed one in the QA.

43 Cf. especially the key term aparenochlètos.

44 The almost playful treatment of these topics which is especially obvious in Anastasius’ development of the image-theme points into the same direction.

45 Anastasius Sinaita, Sermones duo, ed. Uthemann, I, c. 6, 30-31: hothen hoos theotimètos hèmoon hè psuchè oude apostelletai heis diakonian meta tèn apallagèn tou soomatos, kathoos hoi angeloi apostellontai; epeidè ekeina men eisi leitourgika ègoun doulika pneumata, hai de toon hagioon malista psuchai kat’eikona theou despotika pneumata … ei gar èlattootai ho anthroopos meta tèn parakoèn brachu ti par’ angelous hoos thnètos gegonoos, all’ homoos tetimètai polu ti par’ angelous dia tès tou theou logou en autooi kath’ hupostasin henooseoos.

46 Cf. the Life of Sabas, c. 78; E. Schwartz, Kyrillos von Skythopolis. Leipzig 1939, 184-185.

47 This belief would have been shared by Anastasius who as we have seen believed in the circumscription of the soul.

48 Homélie XXVII: Sur le saint martyr Léonce, Les Homélies Cathedrales de Sévère d’Antioche. Traduction syriaque de Jacques d’Édesse, publiée et traduite par M. Brière et F. Graffin. Homélies XXV à XXXI. (PO 36, 4) Turnhout 1974, pp. 559-573.

49 Severus, Homily XXVII, eds. Brière, Graffin, p. 567, ll. 1-8: “… et à ceux qui ont des dispositions imparfaites il condescend et s’amuse avec des prodiges, comme avec de tout petits enfants”.

50 Maximus Confessor, Ambigua, PG 91, 1108C: ef’ ooi … tous deomenous epikourias tinos hupo toon dunamenoon tuchein. The second point which does not concern us here is that the saint thus presents others with a model for imitation. As in Severus this is linked to condescension for the saint becomes everything to everyone thus representing on his level the workings of divine providence.

51 Maximus, Ambigua, PG 91, 1108C: hoos eige mèdeis èn ho eu pathein deomenos … auton hekaston arkein eautooi.

52 Maximus, Capita Theologica et Oeconomica, II, 48; PG 90, 1145C: ho empathès bios … ho epamfoterizoon tois enantiois tropos … hè pantos agathou peplèroomenè katastasis.

53 Maximus, Capita Theologica et Oeconomica, II, 49; PG 90, 1145CD: sèmeiooteon hoos oudeis toon hagioon ekousioos fainetai katelthoon eis tèn Babuloonian … ei de tines autoon kata bian ekei tooi laooi sunapèchthèsan nooumen dia toutoon tous mè proègoumenoos alla kata peristasin sootèrias heneken toon chrèizontoon cheiragoogias afentas ton hupsèloteron tès gnooseoos logon ….

54 After all, a saint is not the sum of the demands society makes on him but has his own voice. This is a point which has been neglected by P. Brown!

55 G. van Hoof, “Encomium in s. Agathonicum Nicomediensem martyrem”. AB 5 (1886) 369-415. Cf. S. Pétridès, Art. Anastase 73: Anastase le Bègue. DHGE 2 (1914), 1477, who points to a letter which Anastasius sent to Leo Choerosphactes in the year 907.

56 Anastasius, Encomium, ed. van Hoof, c. 16, 414, ll. 11-14: ei gar kai dicha tou oikeiou soomatos eisin apamfiasthentos toutou tooi thanatooi alla met’ angeloon tooi ktistèi paristamenoi angelikas leitourgias apotelein ouk amfiballontai. The remainder of his argument is made up of a refutation of the argument of circumscription.

57 Anastasius, Encomium, ed. van Hoof, c. 16, p. 414, l. 6: tois epikourias deomenois; cf. Maximus’ expression tous deomenous epikourias tinos quoted above note 50.


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