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Niki Tsironis

Historicity and Poetry in ninth-century, Homiletics: the homilies of patriarch Photios and George of Nicomedia

From PREACHER AND AUDIENCE, Studies in Early Christian and Byzantine Homiletics. Edited by Mary B. Cunningham and Pauline Allen, ed. BRILL LEIDEN • BOSTON • KOLN 1998.

In Byzantium, as well as in other civilisations and cultures, from the Jewish congregation to primitive shamanism and the Maori,(1) the preacher played the role of the intermediary between God and the community, leading its prayer, interpreting the word of God, making the eternal revelation relevant to the present reality of the community, and teaching the rudiments of faith and the social and ethical implications of the sacred writings. In the early Byzantine period the preacher was the one who, by means of exegetical, apologetic and polemic writings, warded off the enemies of the truth, the dogma of the church, as it was formulated through the negation of heresies and the differentiation from non-Christian groups, like the Hellenes, the Jews and later, the Muslims.(2) On the other hand, one has to bear in mind that from the early Christian centuries preaching had been a function of the church inextricably linked to the liturgy, and that it was in this sense that it fulfilled part of the scheme that was to be set forth by Karl Barth, namely that Christian truth is the word of God and ritualised in preaching and sacrament.(3)

The preacher in ninth-century Byzantium seems to have the same function. In this case the homilist fulfils the role of the prophet and the intermediary between God and his people through a poetic process which aims at transporting the audience to the divine realm. Rhetoric and rhythm are employed as the essential tools for such an enterprise, together with the unlimited images deriving from the scriptures. However, in the homiletic corpus of the ninth century we shall be able to distinguish two distinct approaches to homiletics. Two figures will serve us as examples: Photios, patriarch of Constantinople, and George, metropolitan of Nicomedia. Our first source is much better documented(4) than our second and, given that the reader is probably familiar with the secondary literature about Photios, the 'minor figure' of George of Nicomedia will be given first place in this paper. The essential paradox of the case is that the homilies of the far more important figure of Photios survive only in seventeen manuscripts, whereas just one of the homilies of George is preserved in thirty manuscripts. The manuscript tradition attests to the greater liturgical use (and presumably popularity) of George of Nicomedia, in comparison to Photios.(5)

How can this be explained? The answer lies in the difference of approach of the two authors. George of Nicomedia writes in a much more poetic and less direct style, whereas a great part of Photios's homilies are written for particular occasions. Perhaps their contemporary character made their use by other homilists difficult and for this reason they did not circulate widely. Another part of the answer concerns the nature of homiletics per se, and in this respect we can take our case study as evidence for the 'rules' of the genre of homiletics. This genre cherished much more the poetic style of the latter since it conformed better with the style of ecclesiastical literature as a whole and with its extratemporal character.

George of Nicomedia is often referred to as a minor figure of the ninth century(6) and is known through his hymnographic and homiletic work that is preserved in numerous manuscripts.(7) A close friend of Patriarch Photios, who dominates the second half of the ninth century, George of Nicomedia died after 880(8) and hence we should place his birth in the first or second decade of the ninth century. From the various titles of manuscripts we assume that he was a monk, rhetor and chartophylax of Hagia Sophia before he was elevated to the rank of bishop and, subsequently, to that of metropolitan of Nicomedia.(9) As becomes evident from the correspondence of Photios,(10) which varies in tone, length and style depending on the occasion, the two men did not merely share interests but they were also linked by a deep friendship.(11)

George of Nicomedia must have divided his life between Constantinople, where he started his career, and Nicomedia.(12) His work consists of homilies, most of them dedicated to the Mother of God, that were delivered on various feast-days such as the Nativity of the Mother of God, the Presentation into the Temple, and the Annunciation. Of the published works that survive more than 75% are marian homilies, including the unique case of a marian homily on Good Friday. Though the homilies themselves do not contain any clear reference to the location of their delivery, we can at least place them chronologically towards the middle of the ninth century.

As far as Photios is concerned, the rich biographical evidence we have about him enables us, in a number of cases, to define the spatial and chronological framework of the homilies. The whole corpus is divided by Laourdas into three categories: historical, i.e. occasional, panegyrical, and catechetical homilies. The division is somewhat arbitrary in that in the second and third categories the editor includes homilies that, as he himself notes, refer to contemporary issues. Hence, the two homilies of Photios that refer to the Arian heresy(13) were meant to attack, even if indirectly, the schismatics of his day. Similarly, the homilies on Lent, apart from their instructive character, refer to the malice of his opponents and to the preacher's responsibility as the shepherd of the flock entrusted to him by the church. It is this flock that he addresses, asking it not to pay attention to what is said about him and to let its own virtuous behaviour become a model for the ‘others’.(14) Hence we see that it is not easy to divide up Photios’s homiletic corpus in a meaningful way. In the first example I quoted, the ancient heresy of Arius becomes an excuse for the preacher to chastise heresy and exhort his public to preserve the unity of the church — this is also the subject of the other two homilies on Lent. I would tentatively suggest that, in order to appreciate and read fully the content of the homiletic corpus not only of Photios, but of George of Nicomedia as well, we should set aside these first-glance divisions and try to uncover the symbolism employed by the preacher, which he shared presumably with his audience.

As far as the location and chronology of the homilies of Photios are concerned, we know that certain homilies were preached at the Church of Hagia Eirene, whereas others were preached at the Great Church of Hagia Sophia.(15) The location, wherever it is provided, is given in the title of the homily, whereas the dating in most cases is provided by the internal evidence of the text and by references to contemporary events such as the attack of the Rus, or the synod of 867, that are testified to in other sources.(16) Some of the orations were delivered in the presence of the emperor, presumably Michael III, such as the two homilies on the Annunciation(17) or the emperors, as in the case of the homily on the inauguration of the mosaic of Hagia Sophia.(18)
The plural employed by Photios for the 'rulers' obviously refers to the time of the joint rule of Michael III and Basil I. The examples could be numerous, but it would be more interesting to try to detect who were the others who were present in the congregation, apart from the 'Christ-loving' emperors.

In general, we could assume that his audience was lay, since there is no reference either to monastic rule or discipline and the identified churches were not associated with any monastic foundation.(19) Furthermore, the elaborate and highly rhetorical style of Photios’s homilies suggests an educated and presumably aristocratic audience. In favour of an aristocratic audience is the preacher’s reference to his congregation in the homily on the Synod of 867. Photios, apart from the emperors, refers to the 'choir of patricians', the ones who have served by the side of so many generals and taxiarchs against so many and so great heresies.(20) But the aristocrats in ninth-century Constantinople could not have been more than a part of the congregation. The rest of the people could have been officials of the court, traders and other average professionals of the capital. They were undoubtedly aware of the issues of the day and in this respect it is worth noting Photios's effort to gain their support with reference to his rivalry with the ex-patriarch Ignatios and his followers. These homilies, where Photios tries to persuade his audience that they should not listen to the malevolent comments of their neighbours and that the unity of the church was of primary importance,(21) give rise to the idea that, apart from the devoted followers of either party, there was a body which, like present-day voters, had to be won over. And in this case the pulpit offered an opportunity for propagating one's cause.(22)

Less obvious is the case of George of Nicomedia, not only because we do not know where and when his homilies were preached, but also because they seem to be devoid of direct references to contemporary events. As far as his audience is concerned, we can say with some certainty that it was a lay audience since the preacher often refers to men and women, people of various ranks of society and different backgrounds, giving them advice on various aspects of life. In his homily on the Conception and Nativity of the Mother of God we read:

...(people of) every age and every rank, of the worldly and of the above the worldly order. Priests and kings, and those who show to those below the lofty attitude and the government. Rulers and ruled, old and young, virgins and mothers and sterile women... (23)

How exact is the description of his audience? In a similar passage Germanos of Constantinople addresses his own audience in similar terms:

... while we, the peculiar people of God, priests and rulers, lay and monastic, slaves and free, craftsmen and farmers, vintners and fishermen, young and old, men and women,...(24)

The passages have obvious similarities. Although both preachers address their congregations in like manner, urging them to honour the feast of the Mother of God, we may presume that, even if it represents a commonplace of panegyric, this topos would not have been employed in the case of a monastic audience where other terms of address would have been applicable. A highbrow audience is also presumed in the supplication of George of Nicomedia to the Mother of God in the epilogue of the same homily: you, for their eagerness, adorn the present congregation both with material and with spiritual joy, contributing in return your great gifts...

The passage is followed by a supplication to the Virgin to enable the choir to perform in an even more divine way and to give it the sound that befits the exultation of the ones who celebrate the feast in heaven.(25) The reference probably hints at an act of patronage by one or more members of the congregation. If my reading is correct, these references allow us to deduce that the audience of George of Nicomedia was an aristocratic lay audience, an assumption that could be further supported by the high style of the language he uses.

Important for the definition of the audience and for the function of homiletics are the ethical imperatives that the preachers voice in their homilies. As we have already seen, Photios insists on the unity of the church and the peace among the people. In his second homily on the Annunciation, he stresses the way in which the soul should be prepared to accept the salvific mystery that reveals the economy and philanthropy of God, bringing presents to the Mother of God. By presents he means the virtues of the soul: the unmarried, virginity, the married, the peace and welfare of their household; and those who have failed, repentance and doing good works. The virtues of justice, forgiveness, endurance, mildness and hospitality are also described as presents.(26) The avoidance of enmity, fasting, ascesis and the reading of the scriptures are advised in the first homily on Good Friday where the obtaining of virtues is described as a continuous fight, for which man will be rewarded by the wreath-giver, Christ.(27) The power of repentance through tears is praised in the second homily on Good Friday, where Photios exhorts his audience to prepare itself for the hour of death, when they will be asked to answer for their deeds to God. The best way for such a preparation is the acknowledgment of sin and contrition of the heart, claims Photios. Even if it is not for the sake of the goodness of the deed but for fear of punishment, we should be generous, compassionate, avoid gluttony, disputes and discords, and follow the commandments of the Lord, says the preacher. Wealth is seen as a token of condemnation on the day of the Last Judgment and therefore good works are given special emphasis.(28) Photios covers the whole range of pastoral advice to his flock, stressing the interdependence of virtues which are crowned by purity of heart. Fasting is worth nothing if it is not accompanied by a pure heart full of love for one's neighbour, he repeats in the homilies on Lent.(29) Prominent in the whole homiletic corpus of Photios is the less pastoral and more theological subject of the rebirth of man in Christ that is also to be found in the homilies of George of Nicomedia. Encountered in almost every homily in one form or another, the subject of rebirth stands for the rejection of the laws of the Old Testament and as the only human guide towards salvation. Inextricably linked is the notion of divine economy that features in numerous occasions in his homilies.(30)

George of Nicomedia edifies his congregation, setting forth the example given by biblical characters. George does not refer openly to his congregation in the way of John Chrysostom; rather, his didacticism is artfully covered within his theology and does not consist in a set of rules that has to be followed. George expresses his reservation about legalism in the context of the Old and the New Covenant, but also on numerous occasions where he draws a sharp contrast between spiritual life and the observance of social convention and law. His deep theological understanding is expressed in the guiding model of persons such as the parents of the Virgin, Joachim and Anna, and the Mother of God herself. Their qualities and attitudes towards life and its hardships become at the same time a way to a deeper understanding of the orthodox faith and a pattern to be followed. Joachim and Anna become the subject of an elaborate treatment by the author and are set forth as an example for couples. Their 'common opinion' (ὁμογνωμία) is praised along with their prayer life and the harmony that characterises their relationship. Joachim is praised for his dedication to God and to his wife for which he is granted the answer to his prayer.(31)
George dwells repeatedly on the triptych of virtues: philanthropy, fasting and prayer. In the case of Joachim, philanthropy is equated with justice, an idea that reveals the author's perception of social consciousness.(32) With a certain degree of exaggeration which is characteristic of George's style, Joachim is said not to have given to the poor only part of his goods but to have given them so much that in the end he was left with nothing for himself.(33) Prayer is seen as the way to relate personally to God and that is also the meaning that the author gives to the term 'theology' with reference to the mother of the Virgin. Anna is said to have been talking to God, i.e. praying, and hence she had a direct knowledge of God. She is further praised for her sobriety, endurance, faith and especially her fervent prayer to the Lord.(34) Endurance is also ratified with reference to the persecution of Joachim and Anna by the Jewish community because of their sterility. The couple does not react with wrath towards their fellow citizens but instead they both turn separately to God, asking him to grant them an offspring. In this process, utilitarianism when approaching God is castigated since the sole aim of man's actions should be the knowledge of God. When Joachim questions himself about the barrenness that God made him face, this self-questioning is praised as part of an attitude of vigilance and attentiveness towards the ways in which God manifests himself.(35) Chastity is also referred to as a virtue when accompanied by the triptych of virtues and is recommended as a model not just for monks and nuns but for lay people as well. Above all virtues, George praises Anna's humility which was received by God as the 'sweetest scent and offering'. The aim of Christian virtues, as expressed by the author, is the knowledge of God and the eventual deification of humanity, a notion that is denoted by the repeated references to its regeneration or renewal. Finally, the homily on the Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple becomes an opportunity for George to refer to the way that Joachim and Anna offered back to God what is his, recalling the spirit and the words of the Divine Liturgy.(36)

Interesting for the circumstances under which the homilies were delivered is the question of continuity. In his article about homiletic trilogies, Chevalier refers to groups of homilies that were preached on the same day or night, in the same church and for the same congregation.(37) One of his examples is provided by George of Nicomedia and his two groups of three homilies on the Conception of St Anne and the Presentation of the Mother of God in the temple. His argumentation for establishing the continuity of the homilies is based on the internal evidence of the text, and I would only like to add to these two groups a third incomplete set of homilies which I believe were delivered on two subsequent days of Holy Week: Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In the first homily, entitled Oration on the "there stood by the Cross of Jesus his mother and his mother's sister" and in the bodily burial of our Lord Jesus Christ on Holy and Good Friday',(38) George of Nicomedia after his introduction attempts to give an explanation of the discord in the accounts of the Crucifixion given by the 'divine evangelists'. The presence of the Mother of God standing at the foot of the Cross is witnessed only in the Gospel of St John. In the second homily, Oration on the standing by the Holy Sepulchre of the Mother of God and thanksgiving for the glorious Resurrection', the homilist attempts in an identical way to explain the reason why the presence of the Mother of God at the Holy Sepulchre is not recorded in any of the synoptic Gospels.(39) The structure of the first part of the two homilies is identical since in both of them the homilist tries to prove the presence of the Virgin in the respective situations and makes her the central character in the oration. The second homily is much shorter than the first and it forms a natural continuation of the events narrated in the first, which concludes with the deposition and burial of the Lord. Furthermore, the epilogue of the homily on Good Friday predisposes the audience for the subject of the homily on Holy Saturday. It reads:

Indeed, I glorify her as the only participant who saw your saving suffering; as the herald of the benefit and the evangelist of immortality and the cause of your glorification. But as you were the first that saw him and brought the good news, Lady, in the same way may you reveal in our hearts his spiritual joy.(40)

The epilogue of the Friday homily clearly prepares the audience for the next homily. The homilist leads his congregation patiently from the events of Thursday in Holy Week to Saturday and to the Resurrection of the Lord. Hence, the length of the homily on Good Friday, thirty columns of the Patrologia Graeca, could be explained in terms of the liturgical context in which the sermon was delivered. If we accept that the homily on Good Friday was read during the vigil of Friday, we could explain the repetitions that occur in the text and especially the three laments of the Mother of God that divide the homily into three parts: the way to Cavalry, crucifixion, deposition and burial. The laments form a refrain which encapsulate the elements that we find in all the subsequent hymns on the subject and which were officially incorporated into the readings of the church in the following centuries. These refrains can be well understood within the context of an all-night vigil.(41) Further evidence that favours this option can be found in the liturgical typika in which the homily on Good Friday is ordered to be read on the vigil of Friday and the megalynaria of Saturday in Holy Week,(42) where we encounter the hymns commonly called the Lament of the Mother of God.(43) The homily on Holy Saturday must have been delivered during the Saturday morning liturgy of St Basil, in which the first resurrection of the Lord is celebrated. It expresses the spirit of the 'internal resurrection' and the conquest of the Lord over death. The content and the tone of the text announce the Resurrection that is imminent, but for a great part dwell on the spirit of the previous day. Judging from the events narrated it could not possibly have been delivered on Easter Sunday at dawn. The homily missing in the trilogy is precisely the one that was delivered on Easter Sunday, and this last one either remains unedited in some manuscript or is lost for ever.

Photios's corpus also provides examples of homilies that were delivered on consecutive days. Examples include the two homilies on Lent and another two homilies on the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea. According to their editor, the homilies on Lent must have been delivered during the first week of Lent. In the epilogue of the first homily the preacher says that if his audience behaves in this (i.e. the prescribed) way and shows that they treasure his exhortations by their deeds, they will allow him to continue preaching and the opportunity will be given in the following week. In the introduction of the second homily he refers to his outstanding debt, that is, to the promise that he has to keep. In his homilies on Nicaea I, the continuity is implied in the introductory lines of the respective homilies. Photios starts his first homily with the words: 'At the end of the last homily, if you remember...'(44) He clearly refers to a homily that was previously delivered and in which he narrated the events before the death of Arius. The second homily on the same subject takes up the narrative from the end of the previous one: 'The defenders of the church, as we have already said...'(45) Here we have an example of a 'trilogy', but it would be reasonable to suppose that there could well have been other homilies on the same subject. The nature of the collection of the homilies is such that it does not allow us to be sure whether other homilies in the same series existed. However, the schema that Chevalier has suggested should be left open in order to encompass either sets of two homilies, or series of homilies on a particular subject determined either by the occasion, such as Lent, or by the preacher, such as the sermons on Arius and the First Ecumenical Council.

Patriarch Photios and George of Nicomedia wrote their homilies in an elevated literary style employing all the means provided by classical rhetoric as taught in Byzantium and employed by the predecessors of the genre. The language of Photios is far more elaborate than George's, at least as far as his vocabulary is concerned. A detailed comparison of the literary style of both authors falls outside the scope of the present paper. They share the qualities that reveal their classical education and linguistic expertise. Both preachers extensively employ rhetorical tropes and figures for the composition of their homilies, but their common use of rhetoric does not produce the same effect. The personal style of each author remains distinct, a fact that should be considered as a result of the content and the directness with which they do, or do not, approach their audience.

The complicated style of the marian homilies of George is in accordance with the panegyrical character of the texts.(46) It is the same baroque style that made George of Nicomedia one of the most popular homilists of his time and which has been mostly criticised by modern scholars.(47) The author makes use of homoioteleuton, anaphora, and especially hyperbole, exclamation, rhetorical question, and antithesis. These last four devices could be said to form the basis of George's homilies, expressing at the same time the essential paradox of orthodox dogma and his great predilection for rhetoric.

Judicial rhetoric is echoed in George's homily on the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple where he uses the typical apostrophe ‘O men' and defends himself for undertaking the attempt to celebrate the feast of the Mother of God as if he were in front of a court.(48) He uses hyperbole in order to persuade the audience that the Mother of God was present not only at the foot of the cross but also at the Holy Sepulchre, where she was the first to witness the Resurrection of the Lord. He says that the evangelists did not record her presence because they spoke only about the Marys who left the tomb and then returned to the sepulchre, and found it unnecessary to refer to the one that was already there.(49) The pattern of antithesis is perhaps the most common rhetorical device used in homiletics. In the homily on Good Friday, when referring to the pain of the Mother of God as she watched the body of Christ hanging from the cross, George asks: 'Whose heart would not become softer than wax even if it were harder than stone on beholding the frightful sight?'(50) Exclamation is an especially interesting device for homiletics since through it the preacher directs the response of his audience.
Thus we could imagine that the exclamations play the role of the words of the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy. They represent the common feeling that is pronounced by the preacher. At the same time, during the exclamations, the preacher sets aside his position of authority, sharing and voicing the common feeling of his congregation. The exclamations express either admiration and wonder, or abomination and reproach:

Ο paradoxical success! Ο prayer that crosses heavens and flies towards the very throne of glory! ... Ο faith of the just!...(51)

Or elsewhere it is used as an utterance of contempt directed against the human race that put the Lord to death:

Ο mostly unjust daring! Ο unholy judgement!...Ο murderous intent armed against my painless childbirth!(52)

The same end is served by the rhetorical questions which in the case of George are used alternatively either in order to introduce the explanation of a biblical quotation, as in the case of the explanation of the discord between the evangelists in the account of the crucifixion, or in order to heighten the impact of the description by using different words as an alternative form of exclamation. Thus in the homily on Good Friday we read: 'Hence, was there any disagreement, among the heralds of truth? Not at all'.(53)

Elsewhere the impact of the narrative is heightened by a sequence of rhetorical questions:

But who will enumerate the arrows that penetrated her heart at that time? Who will recount in words her pains that are beyond words? ... How did she hold out to see the all-good son and Lord being arrested by wicked creatures...? Whom was she following abducted...? Whom was she awaiting then?(54)

All the rhetorical devices mentioned above attest to the classical education of the homilist while indicating the convention of the genre and the taste of the audience. Examining the homilies, we see that the conventional elements of the genre function as landmarks which serve as a guideline to the homilist in the composition of his work, while for the audience they represent recognisable forms which aid their understanding. Rhetorical commonplaces are one of these recognisable elements. Scholarly research has focused on anti-Jewish polemic as the most striking feature of the genre of homiletics. In the past the question that researchers tried to answer was whether anti-Jewish polemic, which was introduced into homiletics in the second century A.D., reflected a real danger which the homilist and his congregation confronted.(55) The anti-Jewish literature of the first Christian centuries found its way in the homiletic corpus of the Byzantine authors, who incorporated it in their homilies either as a set-piece, or in the form of a dialogue.(56)

At the theological level, orthodox dogma was gradually defined within the context of a dialectic relationship between ‘orthodox' and 'heretics'. The ‘otherness' of heretics implied by the very definition of orthodoxy as the 'true dogma' was further emphasised by means of anti-Jewish polemic. Such polemic, more often than not, served for the Byzantines as a vehicle for the definition of their own identity as opposed to those of alien peoples and unbelievers. The example of John Ghrysostom's homilies has attracted a great deal of attention if one is to judge from the amount of secondary bibliography that has been produced on the subject.(57) His eight homilies Adversus Judaeos that were preached in Antioch represent perhaps the best known and studied case of a preacher who was thought to respond to his contemporary reality.(58) However, as we move towards the middle Byzantine period, the danger of proselytism of Christians by Jews or of judaising Christians becomes fainter, and Jewish polemic can hardly be considered as a response to the external danger of the Jewish communities, even though the reign of Leo III witnessed one of the rare instances of official legislation against the Jews.(59) The function of the topos for the community in the middle Byzantine period is a question that has been tackled by M. Cunningham, who perceives anti-Jewish invective as a vehicle for the identification of the community as opposed to the Others'.(60) The homilies of George of Nicomedia with their short, sharp antithetical clauses offer further support to her case:

For which mystery could be loftier or more joyous than the one we behold?...while for the Jews who did it it became fearful and horrible. To them dim, to us glorious; to them the retribution for killing God, to us the delight of the knowledge of God; to them grief, to us exultation; theirs the murder, ours the benefit. They envy our merriment. For they dared against the coming Saviour. They rebuked him, we welcomed him; they, throwing out of the vineyard the inheritor, killed him, while we, receiving the benefactor in the church, we are given life; they, cross; we, salvation by the cross.(61)

It is clear that the preacher is eulogising the righteousness of the right dogma of his congregation as opposed to the Others', the murderers and the unbelievers. Also, anti-Jewish polemic is most virulent in the context of the role of the Jews in the Passion of Christ. The epithets 'Christ-killer' and 'Christ-murderer' are found in Christian literature from the fourth century onwards.(62) The terms are often exaggerated in a way that recalls the caricaturised representations of the Jews in the iconography of western Christendom.(63) Recent studies have demonstrated the same phenomenon
with reference to the Byzantine psalters of the iconoclastic period. In her book Visual Polemics, Kathleen Gorrigan demonstrated the new meaning that the representations of Jews acquired during this period: 'During the eighth and ninth centuries Iconoclasts were regularly called Judaizers and Iconoclasm was equated with Judaism'.(64) The reason for the association of the two groups was on the one hand their shared views about aniconic worship, but on the other, it was the grouping together of those who challenged orthodox dogma, whether unbelievers, heretics, Hellenes or Muslims. Moreover, in the treatise Adversus Constantinum Caballinum, Jews are described as the quintessential heretics because, unlike the Hellenes, they had the truth and they rejected it.(65) Hence we see that anti-Jewish polemic in the ninth century served not merely as a vehicle of identification for the community but also as a way of rejecting Iconoclasm.

The case is also supported by the use of invective by Photios in his homiletic corpus. The patriarch employs invective against Jews, heretics, Iconoclasts and schismatics alike. A great part of his homiletic corpus contains, or is even dedicated to, polemic. On the one hand there are the standard cases where homilists habitually employ anti-Jewish polemic and the invective forms part of the typical features of the text. Such are the cases of homilies on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. On the other hand, there are instances where the reader gets the impression that Photios has consciously chosen a certain subject in order to develop his polemic. Such is the example of the two homilies on Arius and the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea. There are also homilies, like the panegyric delivered at the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, where Photios just takes the opportunity to include a piece of anti-Jewish invective, in the form of a dialogue with a Jew.

In the homilies on Arius, there are striking instances where Photios draws a parallel between Arians and Iconoclasts, and elsewhere between Arius himself and the Iconoclast Patriarch John the Grammarian.(66) The triumph over heresy is also brought into the picture in the homily on the inauguration of the apse mosaic of the Mother of God at the apse of Hagia Sophia. In this homily, the triumph of orthodoxy is attributed to the Mother of God, who is further paralleled to the church that is 'beautiful and dressed as a bride, clean of all its wounds'.(67) The end of Iconoclasm is said to mark another attack on death, not by the burial of the Lord, but by the restoration of the icon of his Mother. The identical terms in which the patriarch expresses his condemnation of all heretics shows the equation of all outsiders to the true dogma, probably including his personal enemies, namely the Ignatians.

Other topoi commonly employed are the eulogy of the feast, the humility topos, and the participation of nature in the events narrated. The introductory part of the homilies reveals the awareness on the part of the preacher of the need to capture the audience. Introductions, especially of panegyrics, tend to be highly rhetorical and to employ vivid and poetic imagery. Metaphors of sky, sun, nature, angels singing and glorifying God and so on are commonly used to transport the audience from the cares of earthly life to the eternal reality of the kingdom of God. A great number of synonyms and circumlocutions is employed for the expression of the three components which focus on the eulogy of the feast, namely, the divine mystery, the feast and the audience. The terms are interchangeable since what seems to matter is not the exactitude of expression but the poetics which entice the audience. The poetic imagery is unfolded by a succession of almost synonymous epithets which express the joy, elation, gladness, exhilaration, sweetness, brightness, nobility, and so on, of the feast. Most of the panegyrical homilies of George of Nicomedia begin with an introduction of that kind, and similar examples are to be found in the homilies of Photios, Andrew of Crete,(68) Germanos of Constantinople and others. Also common is the conclusion of the panegyric by a supplication to Christ or the Mother of God to protect, enlighten and guide the congregation.

John of Damascus begins his marian homilies employing another topos of Byzantine homiletics, namely that of humility.(69) This topos consists of the deliberate self-debasement of the preacher and it often concludes with a more general statement about the inadequacy of speech to express the loftiness of the mystery commemorated and celebrated. The preacher excuses himself for daring to talk, and beseeches God, or the Mother of God, to help him carry out his task, adding that it was not his vanity that lead him to the attempt but his fervent desire to praise God and the feast.(70) As we can see, we are dealing in fact with two topoi of which the first concerns the author himself and the second the art of speech. The second topos corresponds to the commonplace of the diatribes against paideia often employed by Byzantine homilists.(71)

The role of nature is a theme that derives from the scriptures and especially from Genesis. In the Psalms special emphasis is given to the creation as the 'work of the fingers of God' (Ps 8:3) which obeys his will. 'The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fullness thereof, thou hast founded them', says Psalm 89: 9, ii. The compassion of nature which shares either the joy or the grief of the event celebrated in the homilies is used in order to engage the audience, and to emphasise the importance and the universality of the celebration of the feast.

Examining the homilies, we see that the preacher composes his work using the topoi of the genre as building blocks which he intersperses in his text. The stories are provided by the scriptures and apocryphal literature which are interpreted in a literal, moral or spiritual way. In the case of George of Nicomedia, the interpretation of the scriptures is mostly spiritual, although the term does not express adequately the effect of his homiletic corpus. The meaning that he tries to convey to his congregation is purely theological, adapted conveniently to the level and needs of his congregation. Hence, George does not use jargon, i.e. technical theological terminology, although in his narrative the articles of the orthodox faith are asserted. The scriptural stories are commonly embellished with details taken from apocryphal literature and the writings of the Fathers. The characters are elaborated in a way that reminds the reader of the progymnasmatic exercises of ethopoiia and ekphrasis. Images and adjectives formerly used by other homilists for the Mother of God are taken up by George and often they are combined with phrases and images which derive from hymnography.(72) All these elements are linked and expressed through the personal ingenuity of the author. The sources he uses for his composition derive from both oral and literary traditions.(73)

The characters are brought to life through the homilist's appeal to the emotion of his audience. In her recent semantic study of economy in preaching, Marie-José Mondzain refers to the way in which persuasion is related to conversion through poetic language and appeal to the emotions. Using the example of John Chrysostom, 'un remarquable manipulateur sacré qui pratique le shamanisme du verbe', she exemplifies the importance of emotions in understanding the divine reality. George of Nicomedia seems to have been aware of the issue and he skilfully employs his rhetoric in order to reach and move his audience. The end he achieves could be identified with the definition of ekphrasis as formulated in the rhetorical theory of Hermogenes(74) and Aphthonius, to chose two of the best known and most influential rhetors in Byzantium, as 'a descriptive speech bringing the thing shown vividly before the eyes'.(75) The detailed description is certainly one of the qualities George's homilies possess, but not the only one. Apart from the narrative, the author, taking ekphrasis one step further, concentrates on the elaboration of the emotional state of the characters. In his narrative the external and the internal reality are equated and they are both portrayed in a speech whose visual qualities make the listeners feel as if they are participating in the events described.

The categories under which the homilies of both preachers fall do not allow us to make a direct comparison of the two. The surviving homiletic corpus of Photios to a great extent consists of occasional homilies, whereas only George of Nicomedia's panegyrics survive. In Photios the participation of the audience is instigated mainly by the direct manner of address, his reference to contemporary reality and pastoral concerns. Rhetoric serves its purpose in the process of engaging the audience, but it is not in the typical manner of homiletics. Although the basic elements are there, Photios does not conform to the pattern of homiletics established by his predecessors, but offers himself as a valuable source of historical information for the modern historian. Alternatively, we could say that he conforms to a different strand of the homiletic tradition, the best known predecessor in which had been John Chrysostom. Perhaps the deviation from the main strand was a sign of their exceptional acumen. However, should we consider Photios and George of Nicomedia as representatives of distinct strands? The study of their work suggests that despite the variation of nuances they draw material from a common tradition which they in their turn fashioned and passed on.


1. See C. L. Rice, 'Preaching', in M. Eliade (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion 7 (New York-London, 1987), 494-6.

2. K. Gorrigan, Visual Polemics in the Ninth-Century ByzantinePsalters (Cambridge, 1992), 6; Averil Cameron, 'Disputations, polemical literature and the formation of opinion in the early Byzantine period', in G.J. Reinink-H.L.J. Vanstiphout (edd.), Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Medieval Near East, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 42 (Leuven, 1991), 106-7.

3. K. Barth, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of the Word of God, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1936-56), passim. Barth, referring to the word of God and to its form, recognises three aspects: the Incarnation where the Son of God became a human person; the written word, that is, as I understand it, the Gospel and the canons of the church; and the Word of God in ritual and in preaching. It is the same process inversed that justifies our ability to talk about God. A human being can talk about God because God has chosen to become a human being and to speak in our own language.

4. An extensive bibliography is at the disposal of the reader. For the works of Photios see B.Laourdas, Photiou Homiliai (Thessalonike, 1959); Eng. trans, with introduction by C. Mango, The Homilies of Photius Patriarch of Constantinople (Cambridge, Mass., 1958). See also P. Lemerle, Byzantine Humanism, Byzantina Australiensia 3 (Canberra, 1986), 205-35; Ε Dvornik, ThePhotian Schism: History and Legend(Cambridge, 1948); idem, 'The Patriarch Photios and Iconoclasm', DOP 7(1953), 69-97; W. Treadgold, Byzantine Revival 780-842 (Stanford, California, 1988). Photios has been studied more as a humanist, or with reference to Iconoclasm, the schism, and the Christianisation of the Slavs, than as a theologian and preacher. Exceptional is the study of G. Kustas, 'History and theology in Photius', Greek Orthodox Theological Review 2 (1963-4), 37-74.

5. For the manuscript tradition of the homilies of Photios see Laourdas (1959), 117*-28*; Mango (1958), 8 and 24-35. For George of Nicomedia see my article, Ά biographical note on Hosios Georgios, Metropolitan of Nicomedia' (forthcoming).

6. J. Darrouzes, 'Georges de Nicomédie', Dictionnaire de Spiritualité 6 (1967), 242.

7. BHG 131, 381, 683, 1078, 1102, 1108, 1109g, 1111, 1125z, 1139, 1144k, 1152, 1156, 1364b, 1967, 1968; PG 28, 973-1000; PG 100, 1336-529.

8. Darrouzès (1967), 242.

9. In the manuscripts containing the homily on Good Friday he is referred to as ἐπίσκοπος (Ottob. gr. 14, tenth century) ἀρχιεπίσκοπος (Par. gr. 1505, twelfth century), ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Νικομηδείας ὁ ρήτωρ (Vat. gr. 1636, f. 2O1v, twelfth century) or μητροπολίτης (Vat. gr. 564, f.54v, thirteenth century).

10. B.Laourdas-L.G. Westerink, (edd.), Photios Epistulae et Amphilochia, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana, 6 vols. (Leipzig, 1983-8).

11. D. White-Stratoudaki, Patriarch Photios of Constantinople (Brookline, Mass., 1981), 77•

12. Probably around 860, a couple of years after Photios was elevated to the patriarchal throne.

13. Homilies 15 and 16 in Laourdas (1959), 139-63.

14. Homilies 13 and 14 in Laourdas (1959), 128-38. See for example, esp. 130.25-32; 138,5-10.

15. The homilies numbered 9, 10, 13, 14 and 18 in Laourdas (1959) were preached ‘from the pulpit of Saint Sophia' whereas Homilies 1, 2 and 6 were delivered at the Church of Hagia Eirene. See Laourdas's introduction, 109*. However, note the debate about the identification of the imperial church that was inaugurated by Photios; Homily 10 in Laourdas (1959), 99-104 and introduction, 56*-64*, with bibliography.

16. Homily 3 and 18 in Laourdas (1959), 29-39 and 173"80. For example, the event is also narrated by Theophanes Continuatus, 196, Leo the Grammarian, 240-1, etc.

17. Homilies 5 and 7 in Laourdas (1959), 53-61 and 74-82. See esp. Homily 7.15-17: "Ἀλλά τί μοι, λαός τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ βασιλέων φιλοχριστότατε, προθύμως οὕτω καὶ λαμπρῶς συνηθροίσθητε καὶ τὸ ἱερόν τοῦτο καὶ σεπτὸν ἐξωραΐσατε τέμενος...'

18. Homily 10 in Laourdas (1959), 99-104• The presence of the two emperors is also noted in the title: 'παρουσίᾳ τῶν φιλοχρίστων βασιλέων'.

19. R.Janin, Les églises et les monastères de Constantinople (Paris, 2nd ed. 1969).

20. Homily 18 in Laourdas (1959), 173-80 and esp. 179.27-32.

21. Homilies 6, 13, 14, 15 and 16 in Laourdas (1959).

22. Recent scholarship has laid emphasis on the instability of the followers of the 'parties'. A great part of the population of the capital did not have strong convictions and were responding to the current of the day. See R. Morris, Monks and Laymen in Byzantium, 843-1118 (Cambridge, 1995), 11-5 and 90-3; D. Turner, 'The context of a theology: Iconoclasm and the development of the Iconophile dynamic, c. 780-830' (forthcoming).

23. Oratio in Conceptionem ac Navititatem sanctissimae Dominae nostrai Dei Genitricis semper Virginis Mariae, PG 100, 1376C-99B; see esp. 1381C.

24. Encomium in sanctam Deiparam: Quando triennis praesentata est in templo, ac in sancta sanctorum a suis parentibus illata, PG 98, 312 B-C.

25. PG 100, 1397D.

26. Homily 7 in Laourdas (1959), 79-18-33 and 80.1-13.

27. Homily 1 in Laourdas (1959), 1-11 and esp. 10-11.

28. Homily 2 in Laourdas (1959), 12-28 and esp. 17-18.

29. Homilies 13 and 14 in Laourdas (1959).

30. For the notion of economy and its relevance to Iconoclasm, see M.-J. Mondzain, Image, icône, économie. Les sources byzantines del'imaginaire contemporain (Paris, 1996), passim. According to the author (87), pictorial representation was only made possible through the use of the key notion of economy that was 'authorised' by Christ himself through his Incarnation. For the economical relationship between icon and prototype, see 104-7.

31. Homily I, In Oraculum Conceptionis S. Deiparae, PG 100, 1352 A-B.

32. Homily III, In Conceptionem ac Nativitatem..., PG 100, 1385 A-D.

33. Homily III, PG 100, 1385 C.

34. Homily II, PG 100, 1361A-4C

35 Homily III, PG 100, 1388B-C.

36. ‘τὰ σὰ ἐκ τῶν σῶν σοὶ προσφέρωμεν κατά πάντα καὶ διὰ πάντα'.

37. C. Chevalier, 'Les trilogies homilétiques dans l'élaboration des fêtes mariales, 650-850', Gregorianum 18 (1937), 361-78.

38. PG 100, 1457A-89D.

39. George of Nicomedia explains the discrepancy between the evangelists in terms of the accounts of the Crucifixion in the synoptic Gospels where it is mentioned that 'they all forsook him and fled...' (Mk 15:50). Cf 'Then all the disciples forsook him and fled...' (Mt 26:56). George of Nicomedia identifies John the 'beloved disciple' with the 'divine evangelist', who followed Christ to Golgotha, and so the homilist argues that he was the only one who could testify to the presence of Mary at the foot of the Cross.

40. PG 100, 1489C.

41. S. Janeras, Le Vendredi-saint dans la tradition liturgique byzantine, Studia Anselmiana 99 (Rome,1988), 355ff.

42. For a study of the megalynaria on the basis of the Triodia, see Th. Detorakis, 'Ἀνέκδοτα Μεγαλυνάρια τοῦ Μεγάλου Σαββάτου', Ἐπετηρὶς Ἐταιρείας Βυζαντινῶν Σπουδῶν 47 (1987-89), 221-46.

43. Μ.Alexiou, 'The lament of the Virgin in Byzantine literature and modern Greek folk-song', Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 1 (1975), 111-40.

44. Homily 15 in Laourdas (1959), 139.1-3.

45. Homily 16 in Laourdas (1959), 152.1-3.

46. I. Ševčenko, 'Levels of style in Byzantine prose', in Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantibistik 31/1, XVI. Internationaler Byzantinistenkongress, Aktenl/l (Vienna, 1981), 289-312.

47. Mango (1958), 8.

48. In SS. Mariae Presentationem, PG 100, 1404.

49. In SS. Mariae Assistentiam in Sepulcro, PG 100, 1496B.

50. Homily VIII, PG l00.

51. In SS. Mariae Presentationem, PG 100, 1413B-C

52. In SS. Mariae Assistentem Cruci, PG 100, 1469C.

53. In SS. Mariae Assistentem Cruci, PG 100, 1461B.

54. In SS. Mariae Assistentem Cruci, PG too, 1464C, I465A

55. Gorrigan (1992), 33 and n. 33.

56. See, for example, the way in which the fifth-century homilist Proclus of Constantinople reproduces the dialogue between a Christian and a Jew, a form of polemic that goes back to Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, as well as to the numerous anonymous dialogues of the time. See Proclus of Constantinople, Oratio in Sanctum Pascha, PG 65, 796A, and Jan Barkhuizen's chapter in this volume.

57. R. Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews (Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, 1983). See also M. Simon, 'La polémique anti-juive de S. Jean Chrysostome et le mouvement judaïsant d'Antioche', Annuaire de l'Institut et d'Histoire Orientales et Slaves 4 (Brussels, 1936), 403-21. See Wendy Mayer's chapter in this volume.

58. Wilken (1983), 67-70 and passim.

59. P.J. Alexander, 'Religious persecution and resistance in the Byzantine empire of the eighth and ninth centuries: methods and justifications', in idem, Religious and Political History and Thought in the Byzantine Empire (London, 1978), X, 238-64.

60. M. Cunningham, 'Polemic as exegesis: anti-Jewish invective in Byzantine homiletics' (forthcoming).

61. In SS. Mariae Assistentem Cruci, PG 100, 1457A-C.

62. S.H. Griffith, Jews and Muslims in Christian Syriac and Arabic texts of the ninth century', Jewish History 3 (1988), n. 46. Anti-Jewish polemic is encountered in our earliest example of a homily on the Passion of the Lord, namely Melito's homily, On Pascha. See O. Perler (ed.), Meliton de Sardes, Sur la Pâque, SG 123 (Paris, 1966), 100-14, where anti-Jewish polemic becomes the basic element in the sharp contrast drawn by the author between the philanthropy of God and the ingratitude of the Jews. For an English translation of the homily see S.G. Hall (ed. and trans.), Melito of Sardis, On Pascha and Fragments (Oxford, 1979); interesting discussion by A. Manis, 'Melito of Sardis: hermeneutic and context', Greek Orthodox Theological Review 32 (1987), 387-401.

63. E. Revel-Neher, The Image of the Jew in Byzantine Art (Oxford, 1993), 79-83 and esp. 81.The author does not accept that Jews were depicted as caricatures in Byzantine art, in contrast to the example of western Christian art. Instead she holds that 'the Byzantine iconographic attitude was characterised by a propensity to make a visual statement without passing judgment...'. With reference to the Khludov psalter, cf. Corrigan (1992), passim. For a comprehensive overview of recent research on the subject, see A. Cameron, 'Byzantines and Jews: some recent work on early Byzantium', Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 20 (1996), 249-74; eadem, 'The Jews in seventh-century Palestine', Scripta Classica Israelica 13 (1994), 75-93.

64. Corrigan (1992), 30-1.

65. John Damascene, Adversus Constantinum Cabalinum, PG 95, 333.

66. There is a parallel between Arius and John the Grammarian in Homily 15, Laourdas (1959), 140.17-32 and 141.1-5. For a parallel between Arians and Iconoclasts in Homily 16, see Laourdas (1959), 155.12-35 and 156.1-19. See also A. Cameron, 'Texts as weapons: polemic in the Byzantine Dark Ages', in A. Bowman —G. Woolf (edd.), Literacy and Power in the Ancient World (Cambridge, 1994).

67. Homily 17 in Laourdas (1959), 167-8.23-35; 1-16.

68. See the chapter by Mary B. Cunningham in this volume.

69. See the chapter by Andrew Louth in this volume.

70. See, for example, the opening paragraphs of Photios's Homilies 17 and 18, Laourdas (1959), 164 and 173.

71. See P. Allen with C. Datema, Leontius, Presbyter of Constantinople, Fourteen Homilies, Byzantina Australiensia 9 (Brisbane 1991), 5 and X.14.19, XI.12.

72. See my article, 'Convention and originality in the homily on Good Friday by George of Nicomedia', in E.A. Livingstone (ed.), Studia Patristica 30 (Leuven, 1997), 332-6.

73. It would be useful to study the theory of orality as formulated by Lord and Parry with reference to the oral singers of Yugoslavia and applied to Byzantine literature by M. and E. Jeffreys in order to see in more concrete terms the way in which topoi are employed by preachers as 'building blocks' for the composition of their homilies. Such A study could give us a more clear idea about the method of composition and transmission of homilies. In the near future I intend to develop my preliminary study on the subject.

74. We do not really know whether the influential corpus that acquired so much authority during the late antique and Byzantine periods was truly written by the sophist Hermogenes, who worked in Asia Minor during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the second century. See G.A. Kennedy, Greek Rhetoric under Christian Emperors (Princeton, 1983), 58-9; Hermogenes's corpus is published in H. Rabe (ed.), Opera (Leipzig, 1913).

75. Aphthonius defines the progymnasmatic ekphrasis as 'λόγος περιηγηματικὸς ὑπ' ὄψιν ἄγων ἐναργῶς τὸ δηλούμενον'; Η. Rabe (ed.), Aphthonius, Progymnasmata (Leipzig, 1926), 242. This definition was commented upon by John of Sardis in the ninth century and Doxapatres in the eleventh. For John, see Kennedy (1983), 275-77; for Doxapatres see ibid., 312 and n. 23.

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