Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Momigliano on Ecclesiastical Historiography

Momigliano begins his sketch by pointing to the difficulties that 18th century Italian historiographers faced with respect to the Church hierarchy, in a century-spanning way.
An event of the fifth century [i.e. Emperor Vallentinianus III giving the pallium to the bishop of Ravenna, as part of raising Ravenna to an archbishopric, RCK] as told by a local ecclesiastical historian of the ninth century [i.e. Agnellus of Ravenna, author of a Liber Pontificalis, RCK] still had practical implications for the eighteenth century---and not only in Ravenna, but everywhere in Christendom. (p.136)
This precedent-directed connection is glossed by Momigliano as follows:
The very continuity of the institution of the Church through the centuries makes it inevitable that anything which happened in the Church's past should be relevant to its present. (p.136)
[[RCK: That argument of course only holds because of the conservative nature, as a structure that cannot reform, only re-explicate or rephrase. Institutions such as companies that re-innovate themselves every couple of years do not have these problems at all; the fact that IBM used to make meat scales has zero impact on their current foundational physics research.]]

Clearly Momigliano is right, that even across the denominational ditches,
A Church that consciously breaks with its original principles and its original institutions is inconceivable. (p.136)
The Church knows a return to the principles, not a break with them. (p.136)
 Momigliano argues that this both simplifies and complicates the task of the ecclesiastical historian.
[The Church historian, RCK] ... has to write the history of an institution which began in a precise moment, had an original structure, and developed with clear changes. It is for him to judge where the change implies a betrayal of the original purposes of the institution. On the other hand the historian of the Church is inevitably faced with the difficulty of having continuously to relate the events of the individual local churches to the corpus mysticum of the Ecclesia universalis. (p.136)
Momigliano believes that secular historians can focus on retelling the past, without the chance of much challenging of their results (pp.136f).
The historian of the Church knows that at any point he will be challenged. (p.137)
Church historians prepare for these challenges by rigor in the documentation of their retellings of the past. (p.137)

[[RCK: The argument that historians have few challenges to their retellings, presumably outside of their discipline, is only true if they work on a topic whose connection to the present is unclear. In general, Momigliano seems to work with an inverted arrow of time; the question is the applicability to the present times, and it is the principles' impact on the present time that are at issue, not the relationship of these principles to the past. A biography of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or the other founding fathers is no less challenged in the present day US, because their principles project forward, because the history of politics in the US is interpreted as an unfolding of the original Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution plus Amendments. A biography of Sam Houston, outside of Texas, or of Davy Crockett, has no such projections.]]
We have defined what seem to us some of the essential elements of ecclesiastical historiography: the continuous interrelation of dogma and facts; the transcendental significance attributed to the period of the origin; the emphasis on factual evidence; the ever present problem of relating events of local churches to the mystical body of the Universal Church. (p.138)
Momigliano points out that this is but an enumeration of the features of the first Church history of Eusebius of Caesarea, who is effectively without predecessor in his creation of his ecclesiastical history.

Momigliano explains the analogy between Eusebius' endeavor and the "secular" historiography of the pagan contemporaries.
... the succession of the bishops in || the apostolic see represented the continuity of the legitimate heirs of Christ; whereas the preservation of the purity of the original teaching of the Apostles gave internal unity to the Church. Apostolic succession and doctrinal orthodoxy were the pillars of the new Christian nation [i.e. the Church, RCK]; its enemies the persecutors and the heretics. Thus ecclesiastical history replaced the battles of ordinary political history by the trials inherent in resistance to persecution and heresy. (pp.139f)
Though Eusebius was inspired by the Acts of the Apostles for the spreading, the Old Testament and Flavius Josephus for the Holy Nation, and the Books of Maccabees for the struggle against persecution, his conception was novel (p.140).

Momigliano believes that Eusebius was inspired by Diogenes Laertius and his history of the philosophical schools, where the term diadoche denotes the notion of "succession", and the distinction of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, as well as thorough antiquarian documentation (p.140). Momigliano points to similar documentation in Flavius Josephus and Maccabees, and to the rabbinic tradition of succession as similar parallels (pp.140f).

Momigliano sees the very difficulty of Eusebius in his departure from a point where the Roman state and the Christian nation are two separate entities, a model that would no longer hold when what was Caesar's and what was Christ's would become indistinguishable (p.141).
There was a very real duality in Eusebius' notion of ecclesiastical history which was bound to become apparent as soon as the Christians were safely in command of the Roman state. (p.141)
Thus, the problem was spelled out for all followers of Eusebius:
... how to deal with this divine institution's very earthly relations with other institutions in terms of power, violence, and even territorial claims. (p.141)
A Church in power can hardly separate itself from the State in which it exercises its power. (p.141)
... wherever Church and State tend to coalesce, it is difficult to separate heresy from political rebellion, dogmatic differences from court factions. (p.141)
In fact, none of the other ecclesiastical historians of Late Antiquity mentioned to get past this problem, using the succession of the emperors rather to structure their work chronologically, instead of the succession of bishops or metropolitans (p.141).

Momigliano cites some of the immediate successors of Eusebius and shows how they deal with the amalgamation, both positively and negatively. Sozomenus---student of Socrates, another immediate successor of Eusebius---openly invites his emperor, Theodosius II "to revise and censor what he has written" (p.143). Theodoretus, a provincial involved in the Nestorian dispute, "warns the emperors that if they fail in their duty to orthodoxy they may be punished by God on the battlefield" (p.143).

As a corrective view, Philostorgius is useful, as he embodies the same principles in an non-orthodox way, as he was "an Arian of the Eunomian variety" (p.144).
... his Ecclesiastical History started with the origins of the Arian controversy .... He adopted clear apocalyptic tones and liked to believe that the disaster of Adrianopolis in 378 was not unconnected with the persecution of the Arians. He saw the importance of the sack of Rome in 410 ... [which goes almost ignored by the orthodox Church historians, RCK]. (p.144)
Momigliano sees the ecclesiastical history after the Latin condensation, the Historia Tripartita of Cassiodorus and Epiphanius (p.144), as as complicated by the fact that the illusion of a Universal christianity could not longer be maintained, and that all state history had become local too. The restoration of the Eusebian program did not really happen, inspite of the excellent work of Otto von Freising, Adam von Bremen, Beda Venerabilis and Hugo of Fleury, (p.146), Flodoardus of Rheims, Ordericus Vitalis of Normandy (p.148), until the Centuriae of Magdeburg in 1559 (p.146): Luther had studied the Rufinian translation; Caspar Hedio reissued parts of the text in his Chronica of 1530, which drew upon Eusebius and the Tripartita; and Flacius and the centuriators "knew their Eusebius by heart" (p.149).

[[RCK: The Centuria by Matthias Flacius and Johannes Wiegand of Magdeburg, among other achievements, exposed the Pseudo-Isidorian Canones that had become part of the Decretium of Gratian, through source critical methods, in an attempt to show the Catholic Church as the departure and the Lutheran Reformation as the Restoration of the true church. They were therefore, just as Momigliano would have predicted, busily appealing to the mystical body of the ecclesia universalis and using documentary evidence to make their case.]]
What both Protestants and Catholics wanted to prove was that they had the authority of the first centuries of the Church on their side. Consequently, the ecclesiastical history that the religious controversies of the sixteenth century demanded was a history of the Universal Church---not a history of special [i.e. particular, RCK] churches. (p.150)
Not only had the "standards of precise documentation" evolved since the time of Eusebius, but the latter "had no suspicion that the very course of events of the first Christian centuries could be disputed and that there might be more than one interpretation of basic events" (p.150).

This focus on the original Church dropped the Christian nation by the wayside.
They [i.e. Flacius, Baronio---the Catholic historian of the Counter-Reformation, cf. Vol 3 in German translation from the Baroque---and their followers, RCK] were concerned not so much with the Christians as with Christian institutions and doctrines. (p.150)
Throughout the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, this focus on the Universal Church,  whether from the Protestant or the Catholic side, is not lost.
Even the revolutionary Gottfried Arnold, who sees the real church outside every existing denomination, does not yet doubt that the true ecclesia exists somewhere. (p.151)
Momigliano nominates several candidates for having shaking the consensus of "the existence of the invisible, Universal Church" (p.152). Momigliano points to Johann Lorenz von Mosheim's Institutionum historiae ecclesiasticae of 1755; Ferdinand Christian Baur, a student of Hegel; or Max Weber's religious sociology, which "put the Christian Church on a level with any other religious society---or perhaps with any other human society" (p.152). Momigliano's favorite is Pietro Giannone, who wrote a sketch in prison in the 1740s that could not be published until 1859, the Istoria del Pontificato de Gregorio Magno (p.152). [[RCK: Giannone had earlier written a History of the Kingdom of Naples in two volumes, which was how he aligned the political with the religious.]]

Momigliano reminds his audience that the first historian to write a history of the origins of Christianity, who was not a theologian, in Germany was Eduard Meyer in 1921 (p.152).

Momigliano draws the two irresolvable different positions, which he considers beyond mediation.
Those who accept the notion of the Church as a divine institution which is different from other institutions have to face the difficulty that Church history reveals only too obviously a continuous mixture of political and religious aspects: hence the distinction frequently made by Church historians of the last two centuries [i.e. 19th and 20th, presumably, RCK] between internal and external history of the Church, where internal means (more or less) religious and external means (more or less) political. (p.152)
By contrast, the historians of the Church as a worldly institution have to reckon with the difficulty of describing without the help of a belief what has existed through the help of a belief. (p.152)

Bibliographic Record

Arnaldo Momigliano, Ecclesiastical History, in: Arnaldo Momigliano, The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography, (= Sather Classical Lectures Vol 54), University of California Press (Berkeley-Los Angeles-Oxford) 1990, pp.132-156.

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