Leonitus of Byzantium

Completed Works

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Brian E. Daley, SJ
Oxford Early Christian Texts
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , July
     608 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Brian Daley, S.J., has left a particularly momentous contribution to patristic theology with his translation of the complete works of Leontius of Byzantium (485–544), the sixth century monk and theologian devoted to the cause of the interpretation of Chalcedon. Scholars have awaited this long-heralded edition for decades. Daley’s former Hochschule Skt. Georgen professor and mentor Aloys Grillmeier, S.J., had written, “Until recently, there was no attempt to produce a critical edition of the authentic works which were or should be ascribed to one and the same Leontius. This important goal is now close to completion” (Christ and the Christian Tradition, II-2, Westminster John Knox, 1995, 181). This edition now completes that goal, a project that began as Daley’s doctoral dissertation at Oxford in the 1970s (v). The significance of these Completed Works is not to be understated: there really is no equal to be found among the monographs on Leontius cited in the bibliography, especially since this is the first complete edition of the Greek in modern times (96). This critical edition opens many new avenues for future scholarship, provides a far more reliable text than one finds in the Patrologia Graeca, and attempts a correction of a number of longstanding assumptions about Leontius.

While the details of his life are scant, Leontius was likely born in Byzantium, as his name suggests, and received a very good education, which his writings demonstrate. Leontius likely entered the Palestinian desert later to live as a monk. To harvest important biographical details, Daley takes up a polemical attack on Leontius by a certain Cyril of Skythopolis, “a passionate neo-Chalcedonian’” (13) who wished to brand Leontius as the leader of a group of Origenists before the edict of Justinian. The most pressing theological matter of his day was the interpretation of the Council of Chalcedon, which had sought to define the manner of the union of the two natures of Christ in one hypostasis, or person.

During the last couple of decades of his life, Leontius was in Constantinople in the heart of a theological debate about the natures of Christ. Leontius found himself in a number of controversies while there: at odds with anti-Chalcedonians of the Severan party who wished to demonstrate that Christ had a single composite nature, and later at odds with anti-Origenists who wished to persuade the Emperor Justinian to condemn the followers of Origen and Evagrius. Some scholars such as David Evans (Leontius of Byzantium: An Origenist Christology, Dumbarton Oaks, 1970) have tried to detect an Origenist doctrine in Leontius’s writings, but as Daley observes, “there is, as I have argued at length elsewhere, virtually no trace in his works of any of the theological doctrines associated with Origen and his followers and condemned in 543 and 553” (13).

Daley describes Leontius of Byzantium as a “strict Chalcedonian” (75) so as to place him correctly vis-à-vis the groups known as the anti-Chalcedonians associated with Severus of Antioch, who would also come to be known as monophysites, and the neo-Chalcedonians, who were quite influential in Justinian’s condemnations of Origen and Evagrius. The works in this volume are all polemical in nature. Those works are the Contra Nestorianos et Eutychianos, a series of questions meant to show Nestorius and Eutyches as two extremes making essentially the same error with the authentic interpretation of Chalcedon in the middle; the supplement to the CNE known as the Epilyseis, a dialogue addressing new monophysite arguments; a series of theses against Severus known as the Epaporēmata; the Contra Aphthartodocetas, a work Daley says is not so much against anti-Chalcedonians as it is against Chalcedonians persuaded by the “incorruptible” body theory of Julian of Halicarnassus; a diatribe against Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus known as the Deprehensio et Triumphus super Nestorianos; and the Adversus Fraudes Apollinaristarum, a dossier of quotes of Apollinarius that Leontius hopes to show are falsely attributed to patristic authorities. Also included are appendices of scholia, uncertain fragments, and several tables comparing Leontius’s four florilegia—or, compilations of quotes from earlier Christian authorities—to other florilegia of Christian antiquity.

Leontius devotes much of his energies toward the terminological discussion of essence, nature, hypostasis, and person in light of Chalcedon. Being so far removed from Leontius’s theological milieu, it may be difficult for contemporary readers to appreciate his analysis, which Daley admits may seem “overly technical.” But Leontius’s efforts “are more than just academic hair-splitting,” Daley writes (75). In the words of Leontius, “our battle is not about formulas (μὴ περὶ λέξεων), but about the things themselves (ἀλλὰ περὶ αὐτῶν τῶν πραγμάτων), and their union and organic relationship to each other” (445). It is impossible to understand the mind of the great early Christian thinkers without understanding that they sought to articulate the truth of theological realities (πράγματα). For Leontius and others, error with respect to the divine mysteries results in absurdities and the upheaval of the divine economy.

The Greek and English text maintain a close alignment throughout the translated works, very helpful for those who like to work in both languages; this also has the added upside of abundant white space under the English text for research notes. The typography does suffer from some flaws, most notably the kerning issues in the Greek text, which are quite unpleasant at times. Advanced scholars wishing to read in the Greek should have no difficulty figuring out where spaces should be. For instance, lines 2 and 16 on page 116, line 13 on 118, line 21 on 132, and many others illustrate the reading difficulty that arises when a Greek text is prevented from hyphenation as seems to be the case here. This is a strange design flaw for the Oxford Early Christian Texts series, a problem I have not seen in other texts within this series.

This critical edition exceeds expectations. The full range of professional skills required to produce such a volume are, on the one hand, so eclectic that it often leads to works that lack breadth of treatment, depth of analysis, or accuracy in translation, and, on the other, so prohibitively elusive that it often prevents their publication altogether. Yet the translation is excellent, and the study is comprehensive. The extensive and well-organized bibliography provides nearly two hundred entries and will be a great aid to scholars. The most striking illustration of Daley’s care as a scholar is in my view appendix IV, which consists of a series of tables comparing each of the quotes in the Leontian florilegia with those in numerous other patristic florilegia. It is this sort of ornate detail that gives the reader the impression that this project has been a matter of sustained reflection for the author over the past few decades. Daley’s volume would qualify as anyone’s magnum opus, even his own, and posterity will ever be in his debt for this work.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kevin Clarke is Adjunct Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University.

Date of Review: 
January 8, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Brian E. Daley, SJ, is Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is a historical theologian, who specializes in the study of the early Church, particularly the development of Christian doctrine from the fourth to the eighth centuries. His publications include Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2013) and Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Baker, 2002). In 2014, he co-edited The Harp of Prophecy: Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms with Paul R. Kolbet (University of Notre Dame Press, 2014).

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