'The truth is bitter' : Socrates Scholasticus and the writing of a history of the Christian Roman empire
Gardiner, Luke Charles Alfred
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Classics
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Gardiner, L. C. A. (2013). 'The truth is bitter' : Socrates Scholasticus and the writing of a history of the Christian Roman empire (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11792
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This thesis examines the social and intellectual history of the later Roman Empire as evaluated by one of the most astute observers of the period, the church historian Socrates Scholasticus. Around 440, as the western Empire crumbled, Socrates composed his monumental Church Hist01y, spanning the turbulent period 305-439. Although he wrote in the relative security of the new imperial metropolis, Constantinople, during the reign of the pious emperor Theodosius II, I argue that Socrates was neither complacent nor, in any straightforward manner, confident in the upward trajectory of human history or the progress of Christian religion. This thesis presents, then, a new reading of Socrates, not as an optimist, but as a sophisticated realist. Faced with the bitter intellectual, theological, and organisational disputes that afflicted Christian communities during this period - so often the unfo1iunate products of well-meaning attempts by Christians to correct the errors they perceived in one another - Socrates explored a range of potential solutions to restore unity. Although discovering no panacea, I argue that Socrates found more modest means of returning civility to the everyday life of these communities in intellectual humility, in religious tolerance, and - in a move almost unparalleled in contemporary Christian thought - in humour. Socrates was also concerned with the state, and the disequilibrating effects on lateantique society of imperial overreach. He was, I argue, therefore attuned to the intricate relationships and rituals that defined the possibilities of imperial power. Deeply aware that good governance required continual tradeoffs and complex bargaining, Socrates accordingly believed that any assessment of emperors required a commensurately nuanced analytical framework, rather than the simplistic language and idealism of panegyric. Reflecting on a century of strife and division.following the 'definitive' triumph of Constantine, Socrates was all too aware that Eusebius of Caesarea's vision of a Roman Empire fundamentally transformed by Christianity - and hencefo1ih at lasting peace and harmonious in religious uniformity - had been an illusion. Rather, for Socrates, even in a Christian Roman Empire, institutions and individuals remained inherently imperfect and fallible.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11792
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