11 May 2015

Be very, very careful about Patristic quotes…

… particularly if you don’t know whether or not they’re authentic.

The blog Byzantine, TX and the Acton Institute PowerBlog both posted, back in 2009 and 2010, respectively, a quote from S. John Chrysostom against public forms of charity, which sounds like it could have come out of a nineteenth-century Whiggish evangelical sermon or a Tea Party pamphlet. The quote’s authenticity was brought into question once by Richard Barrett at his blog Leitourgeia kai Qurbana, and also by Fr. John Sanidopolous at the excellent Mystagogy blog. Thus far, no one seems to have been able to trace a proper provenance for the quote back beyond a popular compilation of unsourced quotes by an Anglican vicar in Cambridge, Robert van de Weyer. But the quote still comes up quite regularly, particularly with links back to the Acton blog or Byzantine, TX on Google searches for S. John Chrysostom.

And the responses by these bloggers on having been corrected in a brotherly spirit have been somewhat… disappointing. The Acton blog has, to date, not even bothered to post so much as a caveat, and the poster basically told his commenters to do their own research. To his credit, the blogger at Byzantine, TX posted an edit saying the quote had been called into question, but he also complained multiple times that so much fuss shouldn’t be made over an ‘old post’, and several of the commenters to his blog basically took the position that ‘I don’t care whether or not S. John Chrysostom said it; it’s still right’. But, as Richard Barrett pointed out, obviously it does matter whether or not S. John Chrysostom said it, because it lends a heavy weight of Patristic authority to a point of view that looks like it might not, in fact, deserve it.

Again, as far as I can tell from what I have read so far in the Orthodox blogosphere, no one who has greater access to S. John’s work than I have has yet been able to find a direct attribution to one of his homilies or his other works, or even been able to tell where Robert van de Weyer found it. So, I must concur with the honourable Romulan Senator Vreenak on this.

1 comment:

  1. There seem to be quite a lot of collections of patristic quotes, which are used as sourcebooks for people writing on vartious topics, and makes them look very learned. But when you think about it they haven't read anything else by the Fathers, other than those quotes. It's not quite plagiarism, but not much better.