Philostorgius’ Ecclesiastical History: An ‘Alternative Ideology’ -- By: Alanna M. Nobbs

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 42:2 (NA 1991)
Article: Philostorgius’ Ecclesiastical History: An ‘Alternative Ideology’
Author: Alanna M. Nobbs


Philostorgius’ Ecclesiastical History:
An ‘Alternative Ideology’

Alanna M. Nobbs

The genre of ecclesiastical history, started by Eusebius, flourished particularly in the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Its leading practitioners after Eusebius are held to be Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, all writing (more or less) from an ‘orthodox’ standpoint, and all three fortunate so far as their reputation has been concerned because their ecclesiastical histories have come down intact, or almost so. While modern scholars by no means accept all their assertions and conclusions, theirs is the overall view of Church history which has prevailed.

Yet a tantalising glimpse of an ‘alternative ideology’,1 which might have prevailed had the Athanasian party not triumphed over the Arians, has been preserved tenuously in the fragments of the historian Philostorgius, who wrote probably shortly before Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret and from an Eunomian, or neo-Arian standpoint. When he wrote, probably in the early 430s, the genre of ecclesiastical history was still developing,2 and Eusebius, branded even in his own day and certainly afterwards as an Arian sympathiser was the model for Philostorgius, a model which he adapted, as will be shown, to give his History its individual stamp.

In order to understand the nature of Philostorgius’ work, and how he contributed his own slant to the development of

ecclesiastical history, it is necessary to look closely at his life and background, especially as it is generally unfamiliar to those who do not have access to the detailed account in the German edition of Bidez/Winkelmann. In view of this unfamiliarity, and of the frequent neglect of Philostorgius even in some of the otherwise standard treatments of ecclesiastical history,3 it is necessary to give a résumé of what we know of about him.

I. His Life And Times

He is known from references in his work, as preserved by Photius. He tells us exactly where he came from and what his family background was (HE ix.9), information modern scholars would dearly like to have about other later antique historians such as Ammianus. He came from Borissus in Cappadocia, a region which in the fourth century gave rise to a number of leading Christian figures such as Basil, the two Gregories, Ulfila and Theophilus. Philostorgius further recounts that his grandfather, Anysius, was a priest of ‘orthodox’ homoousian views who had four sons and a daug...

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