26 May 2009

The Hexaemeron of St Anastasius of Sinai

Okay, I think the time has finally come to start posting the excerpts I promised. To take the books in the order in which I mentioned them, and also to begin by making use of the one book that was given to me, I’ll start with the Hexaemeron (St Anastasius of Sinai, Hexaemeron, ed. and trans. Clement A. Kuehn and John D. Baggarly, SJ, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 278 [Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2007]). First, here is the opening paragraph of the Introduction, in which the significance of this book is explained:

The Hexaemeron, traditionally ascribed to Anastasius of Sinai [Kuehn and Baggarly make it clear that the authorship is an extremely difficult question], may be one of the most important works of Christian mysticism from the Byzantine era; it is certainly one of the most controversial. Three factors make it especially significant. 1) It is one of the longest and most detailed surviving examples of Christian mystical exegesis as practiced in the Byzantine period. In its deeply spiritual vision, it serves as a counterpoint to the more literal interpretation of Genesis found in Basil’s popular Hexaemeron. Although the date of composition is still in question, it reflects a seventh-century vision. 2) The Hexaemeron is an extensive and unified exposition of the theology of an important Church writer. If Anastasius of Sinai did not compose it, the author made every effort to be in harmony with several Anastasian sermons on the creation of man, the Viae Dux, and other related works. 3) The Hexaemeron is not only steeped in biblical literature, but also contains a large reservoir of quotes and paraphrases of the early Church Fathers on the first three chapters of Genesis. (p. xiii)

Second, here is an interesting passage from St Anastasius’s preface to the work:

2. . . . The occasion demands that I speak poetically. And if I sing to those that understand, then you that are profane, shut the doors on your ears! [Ed. note—‘This line was borrowed (directly or indirectly) from an Orphic verse.’] . . .

3. There are those who perform sacred and secret rituals that cleanse blemishes from the soul. When these celebrants have all joined together in full assembly and are about to bring forth into open view, as from the silent innermost shrines, the objects of the divine and most sanctifying rites—secret, mystical, belonging to the Godhead—they would never perform such a revelation in front of the general crowd, where the unitiated are mingling about. There would be the chosen one of the ministry—who is just beneath God’s higher and intimate choir—standing like an incense-bearer outside the sacred gates of the most sacrosanct. And with a great command he separates from the chaste objects those for whom it is the custom to mock such things. He himself is in fear of him by whom the dirty attendant was cast away as far as possible from the joy of the wedding reception, because he had not put on clothes appropriate for the divine banquet.

Since this is so, when we come responding to his invitation, we do not hang our hopes on eloquence, sweet stories, the idle chatter of philosophical discussions, or rhetorical devices. And we do not come arrayed in wild iambic verses, which do no one any good. For along with Christ, we have a fellow traveler who says that the wisdom of the Greeks makes nonsense of the cross, but is itself stupidity. We are discussing divine Scripture, which was presented by a man with a weak voice and sluggish tongue yet which has been universally confirmed and cherished by country folk, farmers, fishermen, cobblers, and the illiterate. It has embarrassed the clever. It has shown them to be morons and useless.

Finally, here is a passage from the commentary itself—Book 1, VI.3, where St Anastasius continues to discuss the very first verse of Genesis:

It says the following: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. It uses the name heaven collectively for all the heavenly and spiritual arrangements: both of the holy forces and of the spiritual order. Thus, you must consider first the cosmos above. This was created—as the theologian says—in the following way: ‘First he takes thought of the angelic and heavenly forces; and the thought was a done feat.’ Then it uses the name earth for this perceptible and visible world, collectively with its own heaven, and all the things upon the earth along with man that have come into being and exist, both animate and inanimate. So by saying In the beginning God made the heaven, it raised your mind up to the creation of the whole arrangement above. Then by introducing and the earth, it brought your mind down to the establishment of the fulfillment below. And through a part—I mean the earth—it presented to you the whole compass. It used synecdoche, so that you recognize not only the earth, but also its surrounding heaven. Thus in two phrases, in one definition, it encompassed the act of creating and the creation itself of both the spiritual world and the visible world. And God did his creating in the beginning: that is, in his paternal beginning, which is the Word. For all things came into being through him and in him.


+Metropolitan SAVAS of Pittsburgh said...

Have you read "Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narrative," by Peter C. Bouteneff (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008)? If not, I'd be happy to send it you way.


Aaron Taylor said...

I have not read this, and I would be very interested and grateful if you did send it!

+Metropolitan SAVAS of Pittsburgh said...

Excellent! Please send your mailing address to me at bishopsavas@goarch.org.