Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jesse Tree Wood: Trunk, Vine, Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit-Part 3

 Continued from previous blog.
       In the fifth century, most probably before 440 CE, Socrates Scholasticus wrote in Historia Ecclesiastica Book 1 Chapter XVII about how the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena went to Jerusalem, searched for and found the Cross of Christ.  It was Constantine I and his mother, Helena, who had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the site. [10]  This is the first reference to finding the cross of Crucifixion.

      [She] found three crosses in the sepulchre: one of these was that blessed
     cross on which Christ had hung, the other two were those on which the
     two thieves that were crucified with him had died. With these was also
     found the tablet [alternatively, board] of Pilate, on which he had inscribed
     in various characters that the Christ who was crucified was king of the Jews.
     Since, however, it was doubtful which was the cross they were in search of,
     …bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius,…solved the doubt by faith, for he sought
     a sign from God and obtained it. The sign was this: a certain woman of the
     neighborhood, who had been long afflicted with disease, was now just at
     the point of death; the bishop therefore arranged it so that each of the crosses
     should be brought to the dying woman, believing that she would be healed
     on touching the precious cross. Nor was he disappointed in his expectation:
     for the two crosses having been applied which were not the Lord's,the
    woman still continued in a dying state; but when the third, which was the
     true cross, touched her, she was immediately healed, and recovered her
     former strength. In this manner then was the genuine cross discovered.
    The emperor's mother erected over the place of the sepulchre a magnificent
    church,[alternatively, house of prayer] and named it New Jerusalem,
    having built it facing that old and deserted city. There she left a portion
    of the cross, enclosed in a silver case, as a memorial to those who might
    wish to see it: the other part she sent to the emperor, who being persuaded
    that the city would be perfectly secure where that relic should be preserved,
    privately enclosed it in his own statue, which stands on a large column of
    porphyry in the forum called Constantine's at Constantinople...Moreover
    the nails with which Christ's hands were fastened to the cross (for his
    mother having found these also in the sepulchre had sent them) Constantine
    took and had made into bridle-bits and a helmet, which he used in his
    military expeditions.

            Writing a few years after Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomenus, began writing his Historia Ecclesiastica after 443 to bring the history of the church up to year 439, though the portion of his work that covers the years 425-439 has been lost.  In his Book II, he also wrote two chapters about Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine I, visiting Jerusalem.  The first chapter is about finding three crosses in Jerusalem.[11]  Sozomenus wrote “Helena repaired to the city for the purpose of offering up prayer, and of visiting the sacred places.  Her zeal for Christianity made her anxious to find the wood which had formed the adorable cross.  But it was no easy matter to discover either this relic or the Lord’s sepulchre.”

          In his version, Sozomenus offers an alternative explanation for finding the site, “some say that the facts were first disclosed by a Hebrew who dwelt in the East, and who derived his information from some documents which had come to him by paternal inheritance…”  Sozomenus went on to write, “When by command of the emperor the place was excavated deeply, the cave whence our Lord arose from the dead was discovered; and at no great distance, three crosses were found and another separate piece of wood, on which were inscribed in white letters in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin, the following words: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.’”  Sozomenus wrote that the soldiers had discarded the crossed after removing the bodies of Jesus and the thieves so it would require a sign to figure out which was the true cross.  As in Socrates’ version, the three crosses were brought to a lady sick to the point on death.  When the third cross was laid on her, she was immediately cured and rose from her sick bed.  Then,

          the venerated wood having been thus identified, the greater portion of it was
          deposited in a silver case, in which it is still preserved in Jerusalem: but the
          empress sent part of it to her son Constantine, together with the nails by
          which the body of Christ had been fastened. Of these, it is related, the emperor
          had a head-piece and bit made for his horse, according to the prophecy of
          Zechariah, who referred to this period when he said, ‘that which shall be upon
          the bit of the horse shall be holy to the Lord Almighty.’

            Theodoret , bishop of Cyrrhus from 423-457, was the third author of an Ecclesiastical History.  Theodoret wrote about 450 CE.  In his Book I, Ch. 17, he wrote a compact version of the finding of the true cross and its recovery and preservation.

   When the empress beheld the place where the Saviour suffered, she
    immediately ordered the idolatrous temple, which had been there erected,
    to be destroyed, and the very earth on which it stood to be removed. When
    the tomb, which had been so long concealed, was discovered, three crosses
    were seen buried near the Lord’s sepulchre. … [T]he wise and holy
    Macarius, the president of the city, resolved this question in the following
    manner. He caused a ladyof rank, who had been long suffering from disease,
    to be touched by each of the crosses... For the instant this cross was
    brought near the lady, it expelled the sore disease, and made her whole.

   The mother of the emperor… gave orders that a portion of the nails should be
   inserted in the royal helmet, in order that the head of her son might be
   preserved from the darts of his enemies. The other portion of the nails she
   ordered to be formed into the bridle of his horse…

  She had part of the cross of our Saviour conveyed to the palace. The rest was
  enclosed in a covering of silver, and committed to the care of the bishop of the
  city, whom she exhorted to preserve it carefully, in order that it might be
  transmitted uninjured to posterity …

       Apparently, none of the 5th century texts of church history written in Greek were in England by 1100.  There were manuscripts of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica as translated by Rufinus available but the text by Eusebius did not relate any story about the finding of the Cross.[12]

       It was a fourth version of early Christian church history compiled by an Italian statesman and monk called Cassiodorus who was the author of the Historia Tripartita.   Cassiodorus was a Greek speaking Italian from the coastal Calabrian region who had retired to the monastic community, Vivarium, in the second half of the sixth century after being an administrator under the Ostrogoths in Italy and also in Byzantium.  He composed the history using the three fifth century texts mentioned above (Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomenus, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus).  One of Cassiodorus’ colleagues at Vivarium, Epiphanius, translated the text into Latin. 

       None of the Greek ecclesiastical histories were known in England.  The only English owned copy of Historia Tripartita is a fragment at the Winchester Cathedral Library with shelf-number 25.[13]  It was made in north-eastern France about 925-950.  Even though the evidence for the availability of the Latin Historia Tripartita is scant for England, ninth and tenth century and later copies including some early print editions of the Historia Tripartita texts were quite widely available on the continent in monasteries and later libraries now located in France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.  One hundred thirty-seven manuscript copies of the text survived to the 20th century, an indication of the text’s popularity and influence.  Some of the French abbeys having copies include Corbie Abbey and the Abbey St. Riquier, both in Sommes, Picardy; and Abbey of Saint-Wandrille in Seine-Maritime, Normandy, one copy was owned by Benedictine Abbey Saint-Père-en-Vallée in Chartres, Saint-Gatien at Tours, Saint-Auben at Angers, and others all had copies of Historia Trpartita.[14]  Several of these abbeys had ties to English houses.[15]  Rosamond McKitterick suggested in her book, History and Memory in the Carolingian World, that this pattern of distribution was not haphazard but rather a deliberate plan during the Carolingian Reformation to improve learning at the abbeys, correctio and emandatio[16] So Cassiodorus’ Historia Tripartita was how the story of the finding of the True Cross reached from the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire to western Europe.

Two pages of Cassiodorus' Historia Tripartita that tell of Helen's finding of the Tree Cross from Book II. Manuscript now in the Vatican Library,Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 824.
Epiphanius Scholasticus & Flavius Magnus . Manuscript made in Germany about 1100.
Historia ecclesiastica tripartita

Continued to the next blog. 


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