1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Socrates (historian)
SOCRATES, the name of a famous 5th-century church historian. In the course of the last twenty-five years (425-450) of the reign of Theodosius II. (the first thoroughly Byzantine emperor) at least six church histories were written in Greek within the limits of the Eastern Empire—those, namely, of Philostorgius the Arian, of Philip of Side, of Socrates, of Sozomen, of Theodoret and of Hesychius. Of these the first, no longer extant except in fragments, seems to have been the most important. Those of Philip and of Hesychius (the former an untrustworthy and dreary performance mentioned by Socrates [vii. 26, 27]) have also perished. The remaining three are now our main sources for church history from Constantine to Theodosius II. None of them has ventured upon a fresh treatment of the period dealt with by Eusebius; all three begin their narratives about the point where his closes. In the West the Church History of that author had already been continued by Rufinus and his Chronicle by Jerome, and the work of Rufinus was certainly known to the Byzantines. Nor did these write independently of each other, for Sozomen (q.v.) certainly had before him the work of Socrates, and Theodoret (q.v.) knew both of them. The three histories together became known in the West from the 6th century through the selection which Cassiodorus caused to be made from them, and it is to this selection (if we leave Rufinus and Jerome out of account) that the middle ages were mainly indebted for all they knew of the Arian controversies, and of the period generally between the Councils of Nice and Ephesus.
The Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ ἱστορία of Socrates, still extant in seven books, embracing the period from 306 to 439, was written in 439, or within a few years thereafter. He was born and brought up at Constantinople. The date of his birth is uncertain, but it cannot have been far from 380. Of the facts of his life we know practically nothing, except that he was not a cleric but a “scholasticus” or advocate. Of the occasion, plan and object of his work he has himself informed us in the prologues to his first, second, fifth and sixth books. It is dedicated to one Theodorus, who had urged him to write such a history. He had no thorough preparation for the task, and for the period down to the death of Constantius (361) was practically dependent on Rufinus. After his work was finished he became a student of Athanasius' writings and came to see how untrustworthy his guide had been. He accordingly rewrote his first two books (see H. E. ii. 1) certainly before 450 and probably before 444 (see Geppert p. 8), and it is only this revision that has reached us. The chief sources from which he drew were: (1) the Church History, the Life of Constantine and certain theological works of Eusebius; (2) the Church History of Rufinus; (3) certain works of Athanasius; (4) the no longer extant Συναγωγὴ τῶν συνοδικῶν of the Macedonian and semi-Arian Sabinus—a collection of acts of councils with commentaries, brought down to the reign of Theodosius I. (this was a main source); (5) the Constantinopolitan Chronicle; (6) possibly a collection of imperial biographies; (7) lists of bishops; (8) collections of letters by members of the Arian and orthodox parties. He also used writings of Gregory Thaumaturgus, Archelaus, Acacius, Didymus, George of Laodicea, Gregory Nazianzen, Timothy of Berytus (see Lietzmann, Apollinaris von Laodicea, p. 44), Nestorius, Eusebius Scholasticus, Philip of Side, Evagrius, Palladius, Eutropius, the emperor Julian and orations of Libanius and Themistius; and he was apparently acquainted with some of the works of Origen and with Pamphilus' Apologia pro Origene. (On his sources see Jeep, and especially Geppert.) Jeep alleges (pp. 149 sqq.), but without adequate proof, that he made use of Philostorgius. As regards profane history his materials were exceedingly defective. Thus, for example, he confesses that his reason for not giving an account of the wars of Constantine is his inability to ascertain anything certain about them (v. praef.). His reckonings by Olympiads are generally wrong, the error arising chiefly from carelessness. He is greatly indebted to oral tradition and to the testimony of eye-witnesses, especially of members of the Novatian community in Constantinople; some things also he has set down from personal knowledge. The contents of the closing books are for the most part derived from oral tradition, from the narratives of friends and countrymen, from what was still generally known and current in the capital about past events, and from the ephemeral literature of the day.
The theological position of Socrates, so far as he can be said to have had one, is at once disclosed in his unlimited admiration for Origen. All the enemies of the great Alexandrian he regards merely as empty and vain obscurantists; for the orthodoxy of his hero he appeals to Athanasius. Closely connected with his high regard for Origen are his appreciation of science generally and the moderation of his judgment on all dogmatic questions. According to him, Ἑλληνικὴ παιδεία is quite indispensable within the Church; many Greek philosophers were not far from the knowledge of God, as is proved by their triumphant arguments against atheists and gainsayers of divine providence. The apostles did not set themselves against the study of Greek literature and science; Paul had even made a thorough study of them himself. The Scriptures, it is true, contain all that appertains to faith and life, but give no clue to the art of confuting gainsayers. Greek science, therefore, must not be banished from the Church, and the tendency within the Church so to deal with it is wrong. This point of view was the common one of the majority of educated Christians at that period, and is not to be regarded as exceptionally liberal. The same holds true of the position of Socrates in regard to dogmatic questions. On the one hand, indeed, orthodoxy and heresy are symbolized to his mind by the wheat and the tares respectively; he clings to the naïve opinion of Catholicism, that contemporary orthodoxy has prevailed within the Church from the first; he recognizes the true faith only in the mystery of the Trinity; he judges heretics who have been already condemned as interlopers, as impudent innovators, actuated by bad and self-seeking motives; he apologizes for having so much as treated of Arianism at all in his history of the Church; he believes in the inspiration of the ecclesiastical councils as much as in that of the Scriptures themselves. But, on the other hand, he takes absolutely no interest in dogmatic subtleties and clerical disputes; he regards them as the source of great evils, and expresses his craving for peace: “one ought to adore the ineffable mystery in silence.” This attitude, which was that of most educated Byzantine laymen, has in particular cases made it possible for him to arrive at very free judgments. Even granting that some feeble remains of antique reserve may have contributed to this, and even although some of it is certainly to be set down to his disposition and temperament, still it was his religious passivity that here determined the character of Socrates and made him a typical example of the later Byzantine Christianity. If Socrates had lived about the year 325, he certainly would not have ranked himself on the side of Athanasius, but would have joined the party of mediation. But—the ὁμοούσιος has been laid down, and must be recognized as correctly expressing the mystery; only one ought to rest satisfied with that word and with the repudiation of Arianism. Anything more, every new distinction, is mischievous. The controversy in its details is a νυκτομαχία to him, full of misunderstandings. Sometimes he gives prominence, and correctly, to the fact that the disputants partially failed to understand one another, because they had separate interests at heart—those on the one side desiring above everything to guard against polytheism, those on the other being most afraid of Sabellianism. He did not fail, however, to recognize also that the controversies frequently had their root in mere emulation, slander and sophistry. Not unfrequently he passes very sharp judgments on whole groups of bishops. In the preface to his fifth book he excuses his trenching on the region of political history on the ground of his desire to spare his readers the disgust which perusal of the endless disputes of the bishops could not fail to excite, and in that to his sixth book he prides himself on never having flattered even the orthodox bishops. This attitude of his has given him a certain measure of impartiality. Constantius, and even Julian—not Valens, it is true—are estimated very fairly. The Arian Goths who died for their religion are recognized as genuine martyrs. His characterizations of Cyril and Nestorius, and his narrative and criticism of the beginnings of the Christological controversy, are models of candour and historical conscientiousness. In frequent instances, moreover, he acknowledges his own incompetency to give an opinion
and hands the question over to the clergy. For the clergy as a whole, in spite of his criticism of individuals, he has the very highest respect, as also for the monks, without himself making any inordinate religious professions. In a special excursus of considerable length he has paid a tribute of the highest order to monachism, and in his characterization of Theodosius II. also (where he has made use of the brightest colours) he does not fail to point out that in piety the emperor could almost compete with the monks. But, apart from these two chapters (iv. 23, vii. 22), it is but seldom that one could learn from the pages of Socrates that there was such a thing as monasticism in those days. To his mind the convent is not far removed from the church, and as a layman he is not at all inclined to accept the principles of monachism as applying to himself or to square his views of history in accordance with them. He has even gone so far as formally to express his sympathy with Paphnutius, the champion of the right of bishops to marry.
As a source for the period within which he wrote, the work of Socrates is of the greatest value, but as “history” it disappoints even the most modest expectations. Eusebius, after all, had some conception of what is meant by “church history,” but Socrates has none. “As long as there is peace there is no material for a history of the church”; but, on the other hand, neither do heresies by rights come into the story. What, then, is left for it? A collection of anecdotes and a series of episodes. In point of fact this is the view actually taken by Socrates. His utter want of care and consistency appears most clearly in his vacillation as to the relations between ecclesiastical and political history. At one time he brings in politics, at another he excuses himself from doing so. He has not failed to observe that Church and State act and react upon each other; but he has no notion how the relation ought to be conceived. Nevertheless, his whole narrative follows the thread of political—that is to say, of imperial—history. This indeed is characteristic of his Byzantine Christian point of view; church history becomes metamorphosed into a history of the emperors and of the state, because a special church history is at bottom impossible. But even so one hardly hears anything about state or court except great enterprises and anecdotes. Political insight is wholly wanting to Socrates; all the orthodox emperors blaze forth in a uniform light of dazzling splendour; even the miserable Arcadius is praised, and Theodosius II. figures as a saint whose exemplary piety turned the capital into a church. If in addition to all this we bear in mind that in his later books the historian's horizon is confined to the city and patriarchate of Constantinople, that he was exceedingly ill informed on all that related to Rome and the West, that in order to fill out his pages he has introduced narratives of the most unimportant description, that in not a few instances he has evinced his credulity (although when compared with the majority of his contemporaries he is still entitled to be called critical), it becomes sufficiently clear that his History, viewed as a whole and as a literary production, can at best take only a secondary place. One great excellence, however, cannot be denied him, his honest and sincere desire to be impartial. He tried also, as far as he could, to distinguish between the certain, the probable, the doubtful and the untrue. He made no pretence to be a searcher of hearts and frequently declines to analyse motives. He has made frank confession of his nescience, and in certain passages his critical judgment and sober sense and circumspection are quite striking. He writes a plain and unadorned style and shuns superfluous words. Occasionally even there are touches of humour and of trenchant satire—always the sign of an honest writer. In short, his learning and knowledge can be trusted little, but his goodwill and straightforwardness a great deal. Considering the circumstances under which he wrote, it can only be matter for congratulation that such a man should have become our informant and that his work has been preserved to us.
Finally, it looks as if Socrates was either himself originally a Novatianist who had afterwards joined the Catholic Church, or stood, through his ancestors or by education, in most intimate relations with the Novatianist Church. In his History he betrays great sympathy with that body, has gone with exactness into its history in Constantinople and Phrygia, and is indebted for much of the material of his work to Novatianist tradition and to his intercourse with prominent members of the sect. Both directly and indirectly he has declared that Novatianists and Catholics are brothers, that as such they ought to seek the closest relations with one another, and that the former ought to enjoy all the privileges of the latter. His efforts, however, had only this result, that he himself afterwards fell under suspicion of Novatianism.
Editions and Literature.—Socrates' History has been edited by Stephanus (Paris, 1544; Geneva, 1612), Valesius (Paris, 1659 sqq.), Reading (Cambridge, 1720), Hussey (Oxford, 1853, reissued by Bright, 1878). It is also to be found in volume lxvii. of Migne's Patrologia, and there is an Oxford school edition (1844) after Reading. The latest English translation, revised by Zenos, is published in the Nicene and post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. ii. There are Testimonia veterum in Valesius and more fully in Hussey; and Nolte's paper in Tübing. Quartalschr. (1859, p. 518 seq.), contains emendations in Hussey's text, and notes towards the history of the text and editions; see also Overbeck, in Theol. lit. Ztung. (1879), no. 20.
Special studies have been made by Baronius, Miraeus, Labbé, Valesius, Halloix, Scaliger, Ceillier, Cave, Dupin, Pagi, Ittig, Tillemont, Walch, Gibbon, Schroeckh, Lardner. See also Voss, De histor. graecis; Fabricius-Harless, Biblioth. gr., vol. vii.; Rössler, Bibliothek d. Kirchenväter; Holzhausen, De fontibus quibus Socr., Soz., ac Theod. in scribenda historia sacra usi sunt (Göttingen, 1825); Stäudlin, Gesch. u. Lit. d. K.-G. (Hanover, 1827); Baur, Epochen (1852); Harnack, “Socrates u. Sozomen” in Herzog-Hauck's Realencykl., 2nd ed.; Loeschke, “Sokrates,” ibid., 3rd. ed. Detached details are given also in works upon Constantine (Manso), Julian (Mücke, Rode, Neumann, Rendall), Damasus (Rade), Arianism (Gwatkin's Studies of Arianism, which gives a severe but trustworthy criticism of Rufinus and discusses the manner in which Socrates was related to him), the emperors after Julian (De Broglie, Richter, Clinton, the Weltgeschichte of Ranke, the Gesch. d. oströmischen Reiches unter den Kaisern Arcadius u. Theod. II. (1885) of Güldenpenning, and the Kaiser Theodosius d. Gr., Halle (1878) of Güldenpenning and Iffland, the last-named work discussing the relation of Socrates to Sozomen), the barbarian migrations (Wietersheim, Dahn), the Goths (Waltz, Bessel, Kauffmann and Scott's Ulfilas, 1885). Lastly, reference may be made to Sarrazin, De Theodoro Lectore, Theophanis fonte praecipuo (1881, treats of the relation between Socrates and Sozomen, and of the completeness of the former's work) Jeep, Quellenuntersuch. z. d. griech. Kirchenhistorikern (1884); Geppert, Die Quellen des Kirchenhistorikers Socrates Scholasticus (1898).