Socrates of Constantinople

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Socrates of Constantinople, also known as Socrates Scholasticus[1], not to be confused with the Greek philosopher Socrates, was a Greek Christian church historian, a contemporary of Sozomen and Theodoret, who used his work; he was born at Constantinople c. 380: the date of his death is unknown. Even in ancient times nothing seems to have been known of his life except what can be gathered from notices in his Historia Ecclesiastica ("Church History"), which departed from its ostensible model, Eusebius of Caesarea, in emphasizing the place of the emperor in church affairs and in giving secular as well as church history.

Socrates' teachers, noted in his prefaces, were the grammarians Helladius and Ammonius, who came to Constantinople from Alexandria, where they had been pagan priests. A revolt, accompanied by an attack on the pagan temples, had forced them to flee. This attack, in which the Serapeum was vandalized and its library destroyed, is dated about 391.

That Socrates of Constantinople later profited by the teaching of the sophist Troilus is not proven. No certainty exists as to Socrates' precise vocation, though it may be inferred from his work that he was a layman.

In later years he traveled and visited, among other places, Paphlagonia and Cyprus (Historia Ecclesiastica 1.12.8, 2.33.30).

Contents

The Historia Ecclesiastica

The history covers the years 305-439, and experts believe it was finished in 439 or soon thereafter, and certainly during the lifetime of Emperor Theodosius II, i.e., before 450. The purpose of the history is to continue the work of Eusebius of Caesarea (1.1). It relates in simple Greek language what the Church experienced from the days of Constantine to the writer's time. Ecclesiastical dissensions occupy the foreground, for when the Church is at peace, there is nothing for the church historian to relate (7.48.7). In the preface to Book 5, Socrates defends dealing with Arianism and with political events in addition to writing about the church.

Socrates' account is in many respects well- balanced. His membership of the minority Novatian church possibly enables him to take up a relatively detached approach to developments in the Great Church. He is critical for example of St. John Chrysostom. He is careful not to use hyperbolic titles when referring to prominent personalities in Church and State.

Socrates asserts that he owed the impulse to write his work to a certain Theodorus, who is alluded to in the proemium to the second book as "a holy man of God" and seems therefore to have been a monk or one of the higher clergy. The contemporary historians Sozomen and Theodoret were combined with Socrates in a sixth-century compilation, which has obscured their differences until recently, when their individual portrayals of the series of Christian emperors were distinguished one from another and contrasted by Hartmut Leppin, Von Constantin dem Großen zu Theodosius II (Göttingen 1996).

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