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500B.—The Festal Letters, and Their Index,

Or Chronicon Athanasianum.

————————————

The latter document is from the hand, it would seem, of the original collector of the Easter Letters of Athanasius (yet see infr. note 6a). He gives, in a paragraph corresponding to each Easter in the episcopate of Athanasius, a summary of the calendar data for the year, a notice of the most important events, and especially particulars as to the Letter for the Easter in question, viz., Whether any peculiar circumstances attended its publication, and whether for some reason the ordinary Letter was omitted.

The variations of practice which had rendered the Paschal Feast a subject of controversy from very early times (see Dict. Christ. Antiq. Easter) had given rise to the custom of the announcement of Easter at a convenient interval beforehand by circular letters. In the third century the Bishops of Alexandria issued such letters (e.g. Dionysius in Eus. H. E. vii. 20), and at the Council of Nicæa, where the Easter question was dealt with (ad Afros. 2), the Alexandrian see was requested to undertake the duty of announcing the correct date to the principal foreign Churches as well as to its own suffragan sees. (This is doubted in the learned article Paschal Letters D.C.A. p. 1562, but the statement of Cyril. Alex. in his ‘Prologus Paschalis’ is express: cf. Ideler 2, 259. The only doubt is, whether the real reference is to Sardica, see Index xv. and Ep. 18.) This was probably due to the astronomical learning for which Alexandria was famous38123812    So Leo Magnus (Ep. ad Marcian. Imp.) ‘apud Ægyptios huius supputationis antiquitus tradita peritia.’. At any rate we have fragments of the Easter letters of Dionysius and of Theophilus, and a collection of the Letters of Cyril38133813    We trace differences of opinion in spite of the authority of the Alexandrian Pope in ‘Index’ xii, xv, xxi, and Ep. 18..

The Easter letters of Athanasius were, until 1842, only known to us by allusions in Jerome (de V. illustr. 87) and others, and by fragments in Cosmas Indicopleustes purporting to be taken from the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 22nd, 24th, 28th, 29th, 40th, and 45th. Cardinal Mai had also shortly before the discovery of the ‘Corpus’ unearthed a minute fragment of the 13th. But in 1842 Archdeacon Tattam brought home from the Monastery of the Theotokos in the desert of Skete a large number of Syriac mss., which for over a century European scholars had been vainly endeavouring to obtain. Among these, when deposited in the British Museum, Cureton discovered a large collection of the Festal Letters of Athanasius, with the ‘Index,’ thus realising the suspicion of Montfaucon (Migne xxvi.) that the lost treasure might be lurking in some Eastern monastery. Another consignment of mss. from the same source produced some further portions, which were likewise included in the translation revised for the present volume38143814    Further details in Migne, P.G. xxvi. 1339 sqq. and Preface (by Williams?) to Oxford Transl. of Fest. Epp. (Parker, 1854.).

(1) Number of Festal Letters of Athanasius.—This question, which is of first-rate importance for the chronology of the period, must be regarded as settled, at any rate until some discovery which shall revolutionise all existing data. The number 45, which was the maximum known to antiquity38153815    The very late Arabic Life of Ath. alone gives 47 (Migne xxv. p. ccli.), a statement which we may safely ignore in view of the general character of the document which is ‘crowded with incredible trivialities and follies’ (Montf.), outbidding by far the ‘unparalleled rubbish’ (id.) of the worst of the Greek biographies (see Migne xxv. p. liv. sq.)., is confirmed by the Index, and by the fact that the citations from Cosmas (see above) tally with the order of the Letters in this Syriac version in every case where the letter is preserved entire, while Letter 39, preserved by a different writer, also tallies with the reference to it in the Index. It is therefore unassailably established on our existing evidence that the last Easter letter of Ath. was his ‘45th,’ in other words that 45 is the full or normal number of his festal letters. This clinches the reckoning of the Index and Hist. Aceph. that he was bishop for 45 Easters (329–373 inclusive), i.e. for parts of 46 years (328–373 inclusive). Moreover it corroborates, and is rivetted firm by, the statement of Cyril. Alex. Ep. 1, that Athan. graced the see of Alexandria ‘fully 46 years.’ ‘Il le dit en voulant faire son eloge: de sorte qu’il y a tout lieu de croire qu’il n’a point passé les 46 ans: car pour peu qu’il fust entré dans la 47me année, S. Cyrille auroit dû naturellement luy donner 47 ans38163816    The italics are ours. Cf. Rufin. H. E. ii. 3, ‘xlvi anno sacerdotii sui.’.’ So Tillemont (viii. 719), whose opinion is all the more valuable from the fact that he is unable to harmonise it with his date for the accession of Ath., and accordingly forgets, p. 720 (sub. fin.), what he has said on the previous page.

But we observe that many of the 45 Letters are represented in the ‘corpus’ by blanks. This is doubtless often the result of accidental loss. But the Index informs us that in several years, owing to his adversities, ‘the Pope was unable to write.’ This however may be fairly understood to refer to the usual public or circular letter. Often when unable to write this, he sent a few cordial lines to some friend (Letter 12) or to the clergy (17, 18) or people (29? see notes there) of Alexandria, in order that the true Easter might be kept (cf. the Arian blunder in 340, Ind. xii, with the note to Serapion Letter 12 from Rome). But occasionally the Index is either corrupt or mistaken, e.g. No. xiii, where the Pope is stated to have written no letter, while yet the ‘Corpus’ contains one, apparently entire and of the usual public kind. We may therefore still hope for letters or fragments for any of the ‘missing’ years.

501(2) The Festal Letters are fully worthy to rank with any extant writings of Athanasius. The same warmth, vigour, and simplicity pervades them as we find elsewhere in his writings, especially in such gems as the letter to Dracontius (Ep. 49). Their interest, however (apart from chronology), is mainly personal and practical. Naturally the use and abuse of Fast and Festival occupy a prominent place throughout. Repeatedly he insists on the joyfulness of Christian feasts, and on the fact that they are typical of, and intended to colour, the whole period of the Christian’s life. We gather from Ep. 12 that Lent was kept less strictly in Egypt than in some other Christian countries. He insists not only upon fasting, but upon purity and charity, especially toward the poor (Ep. 1. 11, cf. Ep. 47. 4, &c.). We trace the same ready command of Scripture, the same grave humour in the unexpected turn given to some familiar text (Ep. 39) as we are used to in Athanasius. The Eucharist is a feeding upon the Word (4. 3), and to be prepared for by amendment of life, repentance, and confession of sin (i.e. to God, Ep. 7. 10). Of special importance is the Canon of Holy Scripture in Ep. 39, on which see Prolegg. ch. iv § 4.

It should be observed that the interval before Easter at which notice was given varied greatly. Some letters (e.g. 1, 2, 20) by a natural figure of speech, refer to the Feast as actually come; but others (17, 18) were certainly written as early as the preceding Easter. Letter 4 was written not long before Lent, but was (§ 1) unusually late. The statement of Cassian referred to below (note to Ep. 17) is therefore incorrect at any rate for our period.

(3) The Index to the Festal Letters.—This chronicle, so constantly referred to throughout this volume, is of uncertain date, but probably (upon internal evidence) only ‘somewhat later’ (Hefele, E. Tr. vol. ii. p. 50) than Athanasius himself. Its special value is in the points where it agrees with the Hist. Aceph. (supr. Prolegg. ch. v.), where we recognise the accredited reckoning of the Alexandrian Church as represented by Cyril and Proterius (see Tillem. ubi supr.). The writer undoubtedly makes occasional slips (cf. Index iii. with Letter iv. and p. 512, note 1, Index xiii. with Letter38173817    Some phenomena might suggest (Hefele, ii. 88, note) that the Index was originally prefixed to another collection of the letters, and was copied by a collector or transcriber of our present corpus; cf. Index xiii., note 17b, and p. 527, note 1. xiii.!), and the text would be a miracle if it had come down to us uncorrupt (see notes passim): but on the main dates he is consistent with himself, with the Chron. Aceph. and (so far as they come in contact) with the notices of the Alexandrian bishops above mentioned.

The writer’s method, however, must be attended to if we are to avoid a wrong impression as to his accuracy. Firstly, his year is not the Julian but the Egyptian year (infr. Table C) from Aug. 29 to Aug. 28. Each year is designated by the new consuls who come into office in the fifth month. Secondly, in each year he takes a leading event or events, round which he groups antecedent or consequent facts, which often belong to other years. Two or three examples will make this clear. (α) Year Aug. 30, 335–Aug. 28, 336: leading event, exile of Athanasius (he reaches CP. Oct. 30, 335, leaves for Gaul [Feb. 7], both in the same Egyptian year). Antecedent: His departure for Tyre July 11, 335, at end of previous Egyptian Year. (β) The ‘eventful’ year Aug. 337–Aug. 338: leading event, triumphant return of Athanasius from Gaul, Oct. 21, 337. Antecedent: death of Constantine on previous 22nd of May (i.e. 33738183818    Misunderstood by Hefele, vol. ii. p. 88 (E. Tra.).). (γ) Year 342–3: leading event, Council of Sardica (summons issued, at any rate, before end of Aug. 343). Consequent events: temporary collapse of Arian party and recantation of Ursacius and Valens (344–347? Further examples in Gwatkin, Studies, p. 105). Bearing this in mind, the discriminating student will derive most important help from the study of the Index: when its data agree with those derived from other good sources, they must be allowed first-rate authority. This is the principle followed in the Prolegomena (ch. v.) and throughout this volume. On the main points in dispute, as strewn above, we have to reckon with a compact uniform chronological system, checked and counter-checked by careful calculations (Hist. Aceph.), and transmitted by two independent channels; in agreement, moreover, as concerns the prior and posterior limits, with the reckoning adopted by the successors of Athanasius in the see.

N.B.—The translation of the Index and Festal Letters is revised by Miss Payne Smith from that contained in the Oxford ‘Library of the Fathers.’ A German translation by Larsow was published at Berlin 1852. The Latin Version (from an Italian translation) of Card. Mai is in Migne, xxvi. 1351 sqq.

The following Tables bear specially on the Festal Index.

Table C. The Egyptian Year.

After the final settlement of Egypt by Augustus as a province of the Roman Empire, the use of the Julian form of computation was established in Alexandria, the first day of the new Calendar being fixed to the 28th of August, the 1st of Thot of the year in which the innovation took place; from which period, six, instead of five, supplementary days were added at the end of every fourth year; so that the form of the Alexandrian year was as follows. The months from Phamenoth 5 (Mar. 1) onwards are unaffected by leap-year.

Thot

29 August

Pharmuthi

27 March

Paophi

28 September

Pachon

26 April

Athyr

28 October

Paoni (Payni)

26 May

Choiak

27 November

Epiphi

25 June

Tybi

27 December

Mesori

25 July

Mechir

26 January

Epagomena

24 August

Phamenoth

25 February

N.B.—In leap-years, the Diocletian year (see p. 503, note 4) began on the previous Aug. 30, which was accordingly the First of Thot, owing to the additional ‘epagomenon’ which preceded it. Accordingly all the months to Phamenoth inclusive begin a day late. Then, the Julian intercalary day coming in as Feb. 29, Pharmuthi and the succeeding months begin as shewn above. (See Ideler, vol. I, pp. 161, 164, also 140, 142.)

502Table D. Of the Chronological Information Given in the Index to the Paschal Letters.

————————————

N.B.—The Year of our Lord, the Golden Numbers, and Dominical Letter, and the date of Easter according to the Modern Reckoning, are added. The age of the Moon on Easter-day is apparently given from observations or reckoned by some lost system (see Index x. xxii.); in about one case out of three it varies from the modern reckoning, perhaps once or twice from corruption of text. The Epact is a day too little for 342, 344, 361, 362, 363 (see Galle in Larsow;. F.B. 48, sqq.).

Easter Day.

Number of Letter.

Year of Diocl.

Year of our Lord.

Egyptian Calendar.

Roman Calendar.

Modern Reckon-ing.

Day of Lunar Month.

Epact (age of Moon on Mar. 22).

Sunday Letter and Concur-rentes.

Indictn.

Golden Num-bers.

44

328

19 Pharm.

XVIII Kal. Mai

14 April

18

25

1 F

1

6

I

45

329

11 Pharm.

VIII Id. April

6 April

22

6

2 E

2

7

II

46

330

24 Pharm.

XIII Kal. Mai

19 April

15

17

3 D

3

8

III

47

331

16 Pharm.

III Id. April

11 April

18

28

4 C

4

9

IV

48

332

7 Pharm.

IV Non. April

2 April

20

9

6 A

5

10

V

49

333

20 Pharm.

XVI I Kal. Mai

38193819    According to the usual Antegregorian rule, Easter would fall on April 22. 15 April

15

20

7 G

6

11

VI

50

334

12 Pharm.

VII Id. April

7 April

17

1

1 F

7

12

VII

51

335

4 Pharm.

III Kal. April

30 March

20

12

2 E

8

13

VIII

52

336

23 Pharm.

XIV Kal. Mai

18 April

20

23

4 C

9

14

IX

53

337

8 Pharm.

III Non. April

3 April

16

4

5 B

10

15

X

54

338

30 Phamth.

VII Kal. April

26 March

18½

15

6 A

11

16

XI

55

339

20 Pharm.

XVII Kal. Mai

15 April

20

26

7 G

12

17

XII

56

340

4 Pharm.

III Kal. April

30 March

15

7

2 E

13

18

XIII

57

341

24 Pharm.

XIII Kal. Mai

19 April

16

18

3 D

14

19

XIV

58

342

16 Pharm.

III Id. April

11 April

16

29

4 C

15

1

XV

59

343

1 Pharm.

VI Kal. April

27 March

15

11

5 B

1

2

XVI

60

344

20 Pharm.

XVII Kal. Mai

15 April

19

21

7 G

2

3

XVII

61

345

12 Pharm.

VII Id. April

7 April

19

3

1 F

3

4

XVIII

62

346

4 Pharm.

III Kal. April

38203820    According to the usual rule, Easter would fall on March 23; see Letter 18, note 3. 30 March

21

14

2 E

4

5

XIX

63

347

17 Pharm.

Prid. Id. April

12 April

15

25

3 D

5

6

XX

64

348

8 Pharm.

III Non. April

3 April

18

6

5 B

6

7

XXI

65

349

30 Phamth.

VII Kal. April

38213821    According to rule, Easter would fall on April 23, which perhaps was the day really observed, as it agrees with the age of the moon; but see note on Index No. xxi. 26 March

19

17

6 A

7

8

XXII

66

350

13 Pharm.

VI Id. April

8 April

19

28

7 G

8

9

XXIII

67

351

5 Pharm.

Prid. Kal. April

31 March

18

9

1 F

9

10

XXIV

68

352

24 Pharm.

XIII Kal. Mai

19 April

18

20

3 D

10

11

XXV

69

353

16 Pharm.

III Id April

11 April

21

1

4 C

11

12

XXVI

70

354

1 Pharm.

VI Kal. April

27 March

17

12

5 B

12

13

XXVII

71

355

21 Pharm.

XVI Kal. Mai

16 April

18

23

6 A

13

14

XXVIII

72

356

12 Pharm.

VII Id. April

7 April

17

4

1 F

14

15

XXIX

73

357

27 Phamth.

X Kal. April

23 March

17

15

2 E

15

16

XXX

74

358

17 Pharm.

Prid Id. April

12 April

17

26

3 D

1

17

XXXI

75

359

9 Pharm.

Prid. Non. April

4 April

20

7

4 C

2

18

XXXII

76

360

28 Pharm.

IX Kal. Mai

23 April

21

18

6 A

3

19

XXXIII

77

361

13 Pharm.

VI Id. April

8 April

17

29

7 G

4

1

XXXIV

78

362

5 Pharm.

Prid. Kal. April

31 March

25

38223822    Read Moon 20, Epact 11. 10

1 F

5

2

XXXV

79

363

25 Pharm.

XII Kal. Mai

20 April

20

21

2 E

6

3

XXXVI

80

364

9 Pharm.

Prid. Non. April

4 April

16

3

4 C

7

4

XXXVII

81

365

1 Pharm.

VI Kal. April

27 March

19

14

5 B

8

5

XXXVIII

82

366

21 Pharm.

XVI Kal. Mai

16 April

20

25

6 A

9

6

XXXIX

83

367

6 Pharm.

Kal. April

1 April

16

6

7 G

10

7

XL

84

368

25 Pharm.

XII Kal. Mai

20 April

16

17

2 E

11

8

XLI

85

369

17 Pharm.

Prid. Id. April

12 April

15

28

3 D

12

9

XLII

86

370

2 Pharm.

V Kal. April

28 March

15

9

4 C

13

10

XLIII

87

371

22 Pharm.

XV Kal. Mai

17 April

16

20

5 B

14

11

XLIV

88

372

13 Pharm.

VI Id. April

8 April

19

1

7 G

15

12

XLV

89

373

5 Pharm.

Prid. Kal. April

31 March

21

12

1 F

1

13


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