BMCR 2004.07.53

Macarios de Magnésie: Le Monogénès. Édition critique et traduction française. Tome I: Introduction générale; Tome II: Édition critique, traduction et commentaire

, , Le monogénès. Textes et traditions. Paris: Libr. philosophique J. Vrin, 2003. 2 volumes : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 2711616479 €80.00.

In 1867, Charles Blondel recovered an incomplete Greek manuscript of the Apocriticos or Monogénès by Macarios of Magnèsia. The text was edited in 1876, three years after Blondel’s premature death.1 However, the manuscript disappeared soon after: Blondel’s edition was the first, the last, and only evidence of Macarios’ answer to the pagan anti-Christian polemics which he opposes in his book and which have generally been ascribed to Porphyry.

Things have changed with Richard Goulet’s new edition, French translation and commentary. Of course, Goulet (hereafter G.) relies on Blondel’s edition, even though he sometimes parts company with him (to my mind, with good reasons) on some minor textual points. But he has managed to extract from our scarce evidence on Macarios everything that could be deduced from it — a quite useful job, given the significance of this work for the history of pagan and Christian polemics in the 4th Century and our previous doubts about, for example, Macarios’ own name and the exact title of the book. Surely, Macarios’ book is not an outstanding, not even praiseworthy, piece of work: it is often tedious, exceedingly rhetorical and besides the point in its answers to the pagan objections.2 Moreover, many uncertainties remain, but G. is always cautious in his judgments and conclusions:3 even though we do not know everything about Macarios and his Monogénès, we are, thanks to G., in a position to know or at least rationally believe almost everything that should be known or believed, here and now, about the Monogénès.

The Monogénès is made up of five books (some of them lost or incomplete) and recounts a public narrative debate between a pagan philosopher (who remains anonymous, at least in the excerpts of the book still extant) and a Christian author. This relation is addressed to a certain Theosthenus, who is not the pagan philosopher, but the dedicatee of the work. As G. aptly remarks (vol. I, p. 11, n. 3), the name “Theosthenus” is not attested elsewhere and could be Macarios’ invention: the idea would be that Christians, faced with such fearsome criticisms as those stated in the book, can and should leave it up to the “strength of God”. This suggestion seems to me very sensible because the need of God’s help is a topos which runs throughout the book (in the same vein, one should notice Macarios’ insistence on the pro-pagan bias of the large audience who attended the controversy: this a further difficulty for Macarios, and a further reason to need God’s help).

The debate is supposed to have lasted five days (each book recounts one day of debate). We do not know if these days were consecutive or not (there is slight evidence for each of these hypotheses). Such ignorance, however, doesn’t matter very much because Macarios probably relates a fictitious debate, not a real one. That doesn’t mean everything in the book is Macarios’ invention: the objections are clearly borrowed from a pagan source (Macarios doesn’t always understand their philosophical or historical point), but they have been reworked by Macarios. The numerous objections revolve around Jesus’ sayings 4, events described in the Bible (mainly the Gospels, but also the Old Testament and the Acts of the Apostles)5 and various theological issues.6 But this is not a book on theology: it is a book of Christian apologetics wherein there is some theology.

Book I is completely lost, except the table of contents and one brief fragment from Nicephorus of Constantinople. From Book V only two fragments from Turrianus survive and a marginal gloss in a Parisian manuscript by Magnus of Emesa. We are luckier with the other books. Book III is still extant, Book IV is almost completely extant, and we have a good part of Book II. Each book has the same structure: after a brief narrative prelude, the pagan opponent states some objections; Macarios replies (convincingly, to his mind, but the reader may often still feel hungry); the pagan returns to the attack with some new criticisms, also smashed by Macarios. There is sometimes a third set of objections and replies.

The first volume comprises a general introduction to the Monogénès (pp. 5-250), a bibliography (pp. 251-259), four appendices (“typologie sommaire des κεφάλαια du Monogénès“, p. 260; “rapprochements avec Celse, Porphyre, Julien et l’adversaire païen de Grégoire de Nysse”, pp. 261-291; “comparaison du texte des citations scripturaires communes”, pp. 292-303; “comparaison entre le vocabulaire de l’adversaire du Monogénès et celui de Porphyre”, p. 304) and two lexicons (an exhaustive Greek lexicon, pp. 305-379, and a small lexicon on the Latin excerpts, p. 380).

The general introduction (vol. I, pp. 9-250) follows a rigorous path. G. first sets out the main outlines of the Monogénès (pp. 11-13), and then provides an exhaustive description of the whole research on Macarios, both before and after Blondel’s edition (pp. 14-40). It runs from the Ancient sources (Nicephorus of Constantinople) to modern (Turrianus, Magnus Crusius, Michel le Quien, J.-B. Pitra) and more recent authors (among others, Zack, Crafer, and most notably Harnack). It appears that the pagan objections have generally been studied in isolation from Macarios’ answers, the most remarkable example being Harnack’s edition of Porphyry’s fragments against the Christians,7 which included the pagan objections taken from the Monogénès. Therefore, as G. notes, studies on Macarios’ Monogenes were henceforth linked to Porphyrian studies (p. 34), so far as they focused on the pagan objections and their Porphyrian “tinge”, while underevaluating Macarios’ own intervention in the writing and presentation of the objections, as well as other aspects of the Monogenes.

Next, G. examines the title of the book (pp. 41-47). He shows convincingly that the title is not Apokritikos, but Monogénès (logos). Two ideas stand behind this title and the ambiguity of λόγος : the uniqueness of the discourse itself (it is a defense inspired by God) and the uniqueness of the Son, who is the real interlocutor of the pagans in this debate. G. also studies the identity of Macarios. He gives good reasons to think Macarios was bishop of Magnesia in 403 (pp. 48-51)8 and shows that the author of the Monogénès is probably from Minor Asia (pp. 52-56), further evidence for the identification of Macarios with the Bishop of Magnesia. Therefore, the author of the Monogénès must be called Macarios of Magnesia and not, for example, Macarios Magnès or “Blessed Magnetos” (adding the article and reading τοῦ μακαρίου Μάγνητος). This identification is corroborated but not dogmatically stated by G., who remains very cautious during the whole discussion, in the next chapter, on the dating of the book (pp. 57-65): the Monogénès was arguably written during the reign of Valens (364-378).

After these prolegomena, G. examines the pagan objections (pp. 90-149), the part of the book that has attracted most attention. His painstaking analysis of the pagan source focuses on the framework of the objections (there are good, but qualified, criticisms of Harnack), on their style, the Biblical text they use, which sometimes differ from Macarios’ own Biblical text, their dating and the attitude of their author. G. cautiously concludes that the dating of the objections is probably the end of the 3rd Century (p. 103), but he also shows that Macarios has often altered the original pagan source (essentially on matters of style). Thus we do not have the words of the pagan source even though we may have something close to it. Therefore, any study on the Monogénès must answer, or at least take into account, two questions: who is the pagan source? How does Macarios depend on it?

These questions are examined in pp. 112-149. Various candidates are studied (see, for more details, the appendices): Celsus, the anonymous philosopher from Lactantius’ Divine Institutes, Hiéroclès of Bithynia (also attacked by Lactantius), Julian the Emperor and above all Porphyry. The section on Porphyry is one of the most stimulating parts of the book. With great rigour and erudition, G. draws parallels between the pagan objections in the Monogénès and other testimonies on Porphyry’s Against the Christians. His argumentation, which relies heavily on comparison of parallel passages, cannot be summarised here, but its conclusion is clear: there is no conclusive proof of the Porphyrian origin of the objections,9 but many clues tend to confirm this hypothesis. Therefore, if we do not want to postulate an unknown abbreviator as Macarios’ source, we should conclude that Porphyry stands behind the pagan objections. However, both hypothesis are compatible: Macarios didn’t know Porphyry first-hand, and he has probably reworked a (now lost) compilation of Porphyry’s arguments (this compilation could have been done either by a pagan or a Christian author).

The sequel of vol. I studies Macarios’ thought: its apologetics (pp. 150-163), the numerous rhetorical devices used in the book (pp. 164-176), its theology (pp. 177-231), and a brief chapter on the transmission of the text (pp. 232-250).

The chapter on theology deserves a close reading, for at least two reasons. First, G. shows how Macarios escapes the charge of Arianism (see Nicephorus of Constantinople, Epikrisis 12, 44 Featherstone) and stands between homoousianism and Nicean orthodoxy (pp. 181-188). More generally, G. aptly situates Macarios’ theology in its context (roughly, the Council of Constantinople, 381), even though his claims remain modest: “les rapprochements que nous avons suggérés entre le texte de Macarios et certaines doctrines de son époque ne visaient pas à situer avec précision notre auteur dans l’éventail des courants théologiques de son temps, mais à montrer que là était sa place et que l’histoire des doctrines de cette période se devait de tenir compte de cette figure négligée de la patristique” (p. 231). Second, there is an excellent discussion of Monogénès, Book III, 14 (pp. 212-220). In what is probably one of the most stimulating sections of his book (such sections remain, to my mind, a bit rare), Macarios examines the apparent contradiction between Mt 26, 11 (“the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me”) and Mt 28, 20 (“and surely I am always with you, to the very end of the age”). G. skilfully explains Macarios’ answer and its rhetorical and dialectical stratagems, distinguishes various levels on composition and argumentation, and identifies the source of an alternative answer attacked by Macarios (Diodorus of Tarsus).

Vol. II comprises a critical edition of the Monogéès, with a facing French translation (pp. 2-375). The translation is clear and reliable; many footnotes provide references to the passages of the Bible referred or alluded to. There is also an “exegetical appendix” (pp. 378-436) — not a “commentary”, as is written on the coversheet —, which provides some useful pieces of information on various points discussed in the text. An index locorum (pp. 437-441) and a table presenting the relations between objections and answers (pp. 443-444) close the book. I noted a very few misprints, none of them of importance. The book is very well produced, and the press must be praised for that.

In short, this work of great scholarship will be very useful for a small number of specialists (essentially on Porphyrian and Patristic studies10). I suspect that various reasons (G.’s impressive erudition, which sometimes may be found almost fussy, or the tediousness of Macarios’ book) will make it hard and unexciting reading outside a limited circle of specialists. But, for such scholars G.’s edition, translation and commentary is bound to remain an important reference work.


1. Cf. Paul Foucart, MAKARIOU MAGNHTOS, Ἀποκριτικὸς ἢ Μονογενής. Macarii Magnetis quae supersunt ex inedito codice edidit C. Blondel, Paris, 1876, viii-232 p.

2. With the notable exception of T. W. Crafer (“Macarius Magnesius, a neglected Apologist”, Journal of Theological Studies 8, 1906-1907, pp. 401-423; pp. 546-571), scholars have generally passed very harsh judgments on Macarios’ apologetics. G. is more balanced (see pp. 150-163), but acknowledges Macarios’ failures.

3. For example, sentences like “avec une grande prudence, on peut donc conclure …” (vol. I, p. 103) are not uncommon.

4. Two examples, taken at random from Book II and Book III, like the examples cited in the following note: why did Jesus say “Go away, for the girl is not dead but asleep” (Mt 9, 24) and why did he say “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26, 39).

5. How Lazarus was raised from the dead (Book II); why Paul circumcised Timothy (Ac 16, 3).

6. See for example Book IV, on the remission of sins or the incorruptibility of angels.

7. Cf. A. von Harnack, Porphyrius, Gegen die Christen 15 Bücher. Zeugnisse, Fragmente und Referate, in Abhandlungen der königlich preussisches Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1916.

8. The reference to a Macarios, bishop of Magnesia during the Synod of the Oak in AD 403, comes from Photius, Bib., cod. 59.

9.But this is no surprise, given the loss of Porphyry’s Against the Christians.

10. On this subject, see also a recent paper of Goulet, which is a welcome addition to the present work: “Hypothèses récentes sur le traité de Porphyre Contre les chrétiens“, in Michel Narcy and Eric Rebillard (eds), Héllenisme et christianisme, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2004, pp. 61-109.