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xII. Life of Socrates.
We cannot but regret the fact that the age in which Socrates lived cared little, if at all, about recording the lives of its literary men. The only sources of information in this respect are the writings themselves of these literary men and the public records, in case they held the double character of literary men and political or ecclesiastical officials. As Socrates did not participate in the public affairs of his day, our information respecting him is confined to the scanty and incidental items we may gather from his history. As he was not very fond of speaking of himself, these data are few and often of doubtful significance. In fact, the reconstruction of his biography from these scattered items is a matter of difficult critical investigation.
All that these inadequate materials yield of his biography may be summed up as follows:
He was born in Constantinople.55
So he says in V. 24.
He nowhere mentions his parents or ancestry, and no information has
reached us on this point from any other source. The year of his birth
is inferred from what he says of his education at the hands of the
grammarians Helladius and Ammonias.66
V. 16. On the destruction of the Serapeum, see
Sozom. VII. 15; Theodeoret, H. E. V. 22; Nicephor. XII. 25;
Eunap. Ædes. par. 77; Suidas,
Σάραπις. Helladius, according to
Suidas, wrote a Dictionary, besides other works. Cf. s. v.
These grammarians were originally Egyptian priests living in
Alexandria—the former of Jupiter, and the latter of Pithecus
(Simius); they fled from their native city in consequence of the
disturbances which followed the cleansing of the Mithreum and
destruction of the Serapeum by the bishop Theophilus. It appears that
at that time an open conflict took place between the pagans and
Christians, and many of the pagans having taken part in the tumult,
laid themselves open to criminal prosecution, and to avoid this, took
refuge in other cities,—a large number of them naturally in
Constantinople. TheChronicon of Marcellinus puts this event in
the consulship of Timasius and Promotus, i.e. 389 a.d. Now, as Socrates was very young77
when he came to these grammarians, and it was the custom to send
children to the schools at the age of ten, Valesius has reasoned that
Socrates must have been born in 379; others have named 38088
Valesius’ reasoning is based on the assumption
that Socrates was sent to the grammarians as soon as they arrived at
Constantinople. If, however, an interval of several years elapsed
before his going to them, the date of his birth must be put
correspondingly later. The only certainty reached through this datum is
that he was born nor earlier than 379.
as a more probable date for this event. Other data for ascertaining the
exact date of Socrates’ birth are of very doubtful significance.
He speaks, for instance, of Auxanon,99
I. 13 and II. 38.
a Novatian presbyter, from whom he had received certain information;
but as Auxanon lived till after the accession of Theodosius the Younger
in 408 a.d., it is impossible to draw any
conclusion from this fact. So again Socrates mentions the patriarchate
of Chrysostom in Constantinople (398–403) as if he had received
his information at second hand,1010
VI. 3, and
and thus implies that he was perhaps too young to be an interested
eye-witness of the events of that period. But how young he was we
cannot infer from this fact; and so cannot take the patriarchate of
Chrysostom as a starting-point for our chronology of Socrates’
life. Still another item that might have served as a datum in the case,
had it been definitely associated with a known event in Socrates’
career, is his mention of a dispute between the Eunomians and
Macedonians which took place in Constantinople in 394.1111
If he were an eye-witness of this quarrel, he must have been old enough
to take an interest in it, hence about fourteen or fifteen years of
age. But this conclusion, even though it coincides exactly with the
date found previously (379), is not at all certain, as he does not
state that he was an eye-witness; and if the reasoning is correct, then
he was not too young to be interested in the events of
Chrysostom’s patriarchate which occurred a little later. Thus, on
the whole, while it is extremely probable that Valesius is right in
setting the date of Socrates’ birth in 379, this event may have
taken place several years later.
Nothing further is known of Socrates’ early life
and education except that he studied under Ammonius and Helladius, as
already noted. Valesius has conjectured from the mention of
Troïxilus, the famous
VII. 1 and 2. See note on VII. 1. Socrates speaks of
Troilus as a native of Side in Pamphilia, and mentions Eusebius and
Silvanus and Alabius (both the latter bishops) as distinguished pupils
of Troilus, and finally adds that Anthemius, who during the minority of
Theodosius acted as regent, was dependent on the influence of Troilus;
in which connection he further adds that Troilus was not inferior to
Anthemius in political sagacity.
that Socrates must have received instruction from this teacher also,
but with no sufficient foundation.1313
Professor Milligan, in Smith & Wace’s
Dictionary of Biography, even says that Socrates assisted Troilus, but
adduces no proof for the statement.
Socrates always remained a resident of Constantinople,
and was evidently proud of his native city, and fond of alluding to its
history as well as its actual condition. He relates how the Emperor
Constantine enlarged it and gave it its present name in place of the
former heathen name it bore (Byzantium).1414
He speaks of its populousness, and at the same time of its ability to
support its many inhabitants from its abundant resources.1515
IV. 16, end; VII. 37.
He looks on its public structures very much as the ancient Israelite
did on the ‘towers and battlements’ of Jerusalem. He
mentions especially the walls built by Theodosius the Younger, the
Forums of Constantine and Theodosius, the Amphitheatre, the Hippodrome
with its Delphic tripods, the baths, especially that called Zeuxippus,1616
the churches of which he names at different times as many as five;
viz.: the church of the Apostles, erected by Constantine
especially for the burying of the emperors and priests;1717
the church of St. Sophia, which he calls ‘the great
church’; the church of St. Irene,1818
II. 16; I. 37.
located in the same enclosure as that of St. Sophia; the church of
St. Acacius, together with its appendages;1919
II. 38 and VI. 23.
and the chapel of St. John, built seven miles outside the city.2020
Besides these he also mentions circumstantially the porch and shambles
and porphyry column near which Arius was attacked with his sudden and
the region called Sycæ, and the tomb of Alexander the
Paphlagonian, who was tortured and died in prison during the temporary
supremacy of the Arians.2222
Although there is no distinct mention of his ever having
left the great city,2323
it is improbable that, like his great Athenian namesake, he was averse
to traveling. In fact, his frequent mention of the customs of
Paphlagonians, Thessalians, Cyprians, and others with minuteness of
detail, rather gives the impression that he had visited these
According to the preponderance of evidence Socrates was
trained as a pleader or advocate, and practiced this profession for a
time. Hence his cognomen of Scholasticus.2424
The various meanings of this word may be found in Du
Cange’s Glossarium Mediæ et Infimæ
Græcitates and in Sophocles’ Greek Lexicon of the
Roman and Byzantine Periods. From its primary meaning of
‘student’ it came to be applied to any one who had passed
through study to the professions, of which the advocate’s was
one. From the absence of the cognomen in Photius’ account of
Socrates, Bibliotheca Cod. 28, as well as in that of Nicephorus
Callisti, H. E. I. 1, Hamburger, as quoted by Fabricius,
Bibl. Græc. VII. p. 423, note g, and Ceillier,
Auteurs Sacrés, XIII. p. 669, doubt whether the title was
rightly applied to him. Valesius argues from internal grounds that
Socrates was a layman and a lawyer. Harnack, on the other hand, denies
that there is any evidence of juristic knowledge in Socrates’
History, even in such passages as I. 30, 31, and V. 18.
At the instance of a certain Theodorus he undertook to write a
continuation of the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, bringing it
down to the seventeenth consulate of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger
This year is the last definitely mentioned in his work.
He must have lived, however, until some time after that date, as he
speaks of a revision of the first two books of the History.2626
How much later it is impossible to tell: it was not certainly till
after the end of Theodosius’ reign; for then he would have
brought down his history to that event, and thus completed his seventh
book according to the plan, which is evident in his whole work, of
assigning one complete book to each one of the emperors comprised in
Of the character of Socrates as a man we know as little as of the events of his life. Evidently he was a lover of peace, as he constantly speaks with abhorrence of the atrocities of war, and deprecates even differences in theological standpoint on account of the strife and ill-feeling which they engender.
knowledge of Latin has been inferred from his use of Rufinus,2727
I. 12, 19; III. 19; IV. 24, 26.
De jure sacerdotali, p. 278. Cf. on
translation by Gelasius, Smith & Wace, Dictionary of Christian
Biography, II. p. 621.
conjectures that Socrates read Rufinus in a Greek translation, and that
such translation had been made by Gelasius.
Inasmuch as he lived in, and wrote of, an age of
controversies, and his testimony must be weighed according to his
theological standpoint, this standpoint has been made the subject of
careful study. There is no doubt left by his explicit declarations
about his agreement in the main with the position of the orthodox or
catholic church of his age, as far as these are distinguished from
those of Arians, Macedonians, Eunomians, and other heretics. But as to
his attitude towards Novatianism there has been considerable difference
of opinion. That he was a member of the Novatian sect has been held
after Nicephorus Callisti2929
Niceph. H. E. I. 1.
by Baronius, Labbæus, and others, and argued from various
considerations drawn from his work. Some of these are: that he gives
the succession of the Novatian bishops of Constantinople;3030
Cf. V. 21; VII. 6, 12, 17.
that he knows and mentions Novatian bishops of other places, e.g. of
V. 14; VII. 9, 11.
that he mentions Novatian churches as existing in Phrygia and
II. 38; III. 11.
in Nicomedia and Cotyæum,3838
and in Alexandria;3939
that he knows and describes their church edifices;4040
II. 38; VII. 39.
that he knows their internal troubles and trials,4141
especially their position on the Paschal controversy;4242
that he gives vent to expressions of a sympathetic nature with the
rigor practiced by the Novatian church;4343
IV. 28; V. 19; VI. 21, 22; VII. 25.
that he records the criticisms of Novatians on Chrysostom and the
opinion that his deposition was a just retribution for his persecution
of the Novatians;4444
VI. 19 and 21.
that he attributes miracles to Paul, Novatian bishop of
VII. 17, 39.
takes the testimony of Novatian witnesses,4646
I. 10, 13; II. 38; IV. 28.
rejects current charges against them,4747
and finally speaks of the death of Novatian as a martyrdom.4848
On the other hand, Valesius, followed by most of the
more recent writers on Socrates, claims that all these facts are due to
the extreme impartiality of the historian, his sense of the justice due
to a sect whose good he appreciated, together with his lack of interest
in the differences between their standpoint and that of the Catholics.
Socrates treats other heretical sects with the same generous
consideration, e.g. the Arian Goths, whose death he records as a
and yet he has never been suspected of inclining towards Arianism. At
the same time he mentions the Novatians as distinct from the Catholic
VI. 20, 23; IV. 28; V. 19; VII. 3.
and everywhere implies that the Church for him is the
To account for the apparently different conclusions to
which these two series of considerations point, some have assumed that
Socrates had been a Novatian, but before the writing of his history had
either gradually drifted into the Catholic Church, or for reasons of
prudence had severed his connection with the lesser body and entered
the state church, retaining, however, throughout his whole course a
strong sympathy for the communion of his earlier days.5151
So Harnack in Herzog-Plitt, Real-Encykl. and
Others attribute his favorable attitude towards Novatianism to his
general indifference for theological refinements, others to mere
intellectual sympathy for their tenets. In the absence of any definite
utterance of his own on the subject, a combination of the last two
motives comes nearest to sufficiently explaining the position of
Socrates, although his rather unappreciative estimate of Chrysostom5252
VI. 3, 4, 5, 15, 18, 19, 21.
and his severe censure of Cyril of Alexandria5353
are both more easily accounted for on the ground of a more intimate
relation between the historian and the Novatians, as both of the
above-named eminent men were declared enemies of Novatianism.
In other respects it cannot be doubted that the creed of
Socrates was very simple and primixiiitive. The one essential article in it was the
doctrine of the Trinity; all others were subordinate. Even as to the
Trinity, he would have accepted a much less rigid definition than the
one propounded at Nicæa. As, however, the latter had been
generally adopted by the church, he finds himself defending it against
Arianism as well as against all sorts of compromise. He believed in the
inspiration of the great synods as well as in that of the Scriptures,
and was satisfied to receive without questioning the decisions of the
former as he did the teachings of the latter. He was not, however,
particular about the logical consequences of his theological positions,
but ready to break off upon sufficient extra-theological reasons. His
warm defense of Origen and arraignment of Methodius, Eustathius,
Apollinaris, and Theophilus,5454
VI. 13, 17; VII. 45.
for attempting to belittle the great Alexandrian, shows how his
admiration of a genius came into and modified his estimates. He
considered all disputes on dogmatic statements as unnecessary and
injurious, due to misunderstanding; and this chiefly because the
parties in the dispute did not take pains to understand one another,
and perhaps did not desire to do so because of personal jealousies or
previous and private hatreds.5555
I. 23; cf. also II. 40, end:
He is willing to refer such lawful questions on doctrinal points as may
come before him to the clergy for decision, and is never backward about
confessing his ignorance and incompetency to deal with theological
He makes a cogent defense of the use of pagan writings
alleging that some of the pagan writers were not far from the knowledge
of the true God; that Paul himself had read and used their works; that
the neglect or refusal to use them could only lead to ignorance and
inability to meet pagans in debate; that St. Paul’s ‘prove
all things, hold fast that which is good,’5757
1 Thess. v.
21, with which he combines
Col. ii. 8. The latter passage can only be acted
upon, according to Socrates, as the ground of a knowledge of that
philosophy which is to be guarded against as vain.
and Jesus Christ’s ‘be ye approved bankers’5858
saying is sometimes attributed to Paul, but more usually to Jesus. It
occurs in Clem. Hom. II. 51; III. 50; XVIII. 20; Ap.
Const. 36, 37; Epiph. Hær. 44. 2; Orig. (in
Joan.) IV. 283; Clem. Alex. Strom. I. 28; Eus. H. E.
VII. 7, 3.
gave distinct support to the study of the whole field of knowledge; and
that whatever is worth studying in non-Christian literature is capable
of being separated from the rest and known as the truth. Socrates
himself was acquainted more or less extensively with the works of
Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Xenophon, from among the classic writers,
besides those of Porphyry, Libanius, Julian, and Themistius of a later
period, and perhaps with those of many others.
One more characteristic of Socrates must be mentioned;
viz., his respect for the church and its institutions. He had a high
regard for clergymen in virtue of their ordination. And although, as
already shown, he took occasion to express himself critically of the
highest dignitaries, such as Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, yet
the person of a bishop or presbyter is in a certain sense surrounded by
sacredness to him. Monks are models of piety. In his eulogy of
Theodosius the Younger,5959
he compares the emperor’s devoutness to that of the monks, making
the latter, of course, the high-water mark in that respect. But even as
respects the ordinances of the church, his regard for them was not
slavish or superstitious. He advocates extremely broad views in regard
to the observance of Easter, considering a very precise determination
of it too formalistic to be consistent with the liberty of the New
Dispensation. So, likewise, in regard to many other of the ceremonies
of the church, he takes pains to show by a description of the various
ways in which they were performed in different quarters that they were
not essential, but of subordinate importance.6060
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