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E00021: Theophylact Simocatta in his History recounts the death in 595 of the ascetic Patriarch of Constantinople *John the Faster (Nesteutes, S00021). The emperor Maurice collects his poor personal belongings and reveres them. Written in Greek at Constantinople in the early 7th century.

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posted on 31.08.2014, 00:00 by Bryan
Theophylact Simocatta, History 7.6.1-5

(1.) Πρὸ τεττάρων τοίνυν τούτων ἐνιαυτῶν (πρὸς γὰρ τὰ πρεσβύτερα τῆς ἱστορίας αὖθις γινόμεθα) Ἰωάννης ὁ τὴν ἐς Βυζάντιον ἐκκλησίαν ἰθύνων τὸν τῇδε βίον ἀπέλιπεν, ὃς διὰ τὸ καταφιλοσοφῆσαι λίαν τῶν ἡδονῶν τυραννῆσαί τε τῶν παθῶν αὐτοκράτορά τε τῆς κοιλίας γενέσθαι Νηστευτὴς ὑπὸ τῶν Βυζαντίων κατωνομάζετο. (2.) λέγεται δὲ καὶ ὑπὸ Μαυρικίου τοῦ αὐτοκράτορος ἱκανὰ δανεισάμενον τάλαντα γραμματεῖον ἐκθέσθαι τήν τε οἰκείαν περιουσίαν ἐν ταῖς ὁμολογίαις τοῦ δανείσματος ὑποθέσθαι. (3.) ἐπεὶ δὲ μετῆρεν ὁ ἱερεὺς τῶν τῇδε, ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ Μαυρίκιος τὴν τοῦ ἱεράρχου οὐσίαν διερευνησάμενος εὑρίσκει τὸν ἄνδρα ἀχρηματίαν φιλοσοφήσαντα, καὶ λίαν ἀγασθεὶς τὴν ἐς ἄκρον τοῦ ἱερέως δικαιοσύνην διέρρηξε προῖκα τὸ <πρὸ> μικροῦ συνταγὲν γραμματεῖον. (4.) μηδὲν γὰρ τῷ ἱερεῖ ἕτερόν φασι τὸν βασιλέα εὑρεῖν ἢ σκίμποδα ξύλινον καὶ σισύραν ἐξ ἐρίου ἐς τὰ μάλιστα εὐτελῆ φαινόλην τε ἀκαλλῆ· δυσείμων γὰρ ἦν ὁ ἀνὴρ λιτότητι βίου καταλαμπόμενος. ταῦτα δήπου, ταῦτα ἀντὶ πολλῶν ἂν χρημάτων καὶ λίθων Ἰνδικῶν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ Μαυρίκιος τιμησάμενος εἰς τὰ βασίλεια μετηγάγετο. (5.) ταῖς ἐαριναῖς τοιγαροῦν τῶν Χριστιανῶν νηστείαις ἐναβρυνόμενος, χαίρειν φράσας ταῖς χρυσαῖς καὶ λιθοκολλήτοις κλίναις τοῖς τε νήμασι τῶν Σηρώων, ἐπὶ τοῦ ἱερέως ξυλίνην στιβάδα ὁ βασιλεὺς κατεπαννυχίζετο, θείας τινὸς ἐντεῦθεν ὥσπερ οἰόμενος μεταλήψεσθαι χάριτος.

'(1.) Now four years earlier (for we now come back to older events of history), John, the helmsman of the church at Byzantium, departed this life. Because he had completely out-thought pleasures, mastered his own passions and become emperor of his own stomach, he was called ‘the Faster’ [Nesteutes] by the Byzantines. (2.) It is also reported that, having borrowed a large sum of money from the emperor Maurice, he had signed a contract and pledged his personal property as surety for the terms of the loan. (3.) After the priest had departed this world, the emperor Maurice investigated the chief priest’s possessions and discovered that the man had practised indigence. And, as he was overjoyed at the priest’s extreme righteousness, he willingly tore up the contract which had been arranged shortly before. (4.) For they say that the emperor discovered that the priest possessed nothing other than a wooden pallet, a woollen blanket of the cheapest quality and an unsightly cloak. The man was namely ill-clad, though resplendent in frugality of life. These things then, these the emperor Maurice valued more than he would have great wealth and Indian stones, and he conveyed them to the palace. (5.) Accordingly, while exulting in the vernal fasts of the Christians [i.e. the Lenten fast], the emperor dismissed the golden and gem-studded couches and silken cloths, and passed the night on the priest’s wooden bedstead, believing that he would thereby somehow partake of some divine grace.'

Text: de Boor and Wirth 1972. Translation: Whitby and Whitby 1986, modified.

History

Evidence ID

E00021

Saint Name

John the Faster (Nesteutes), Patriarch of Constantinople, ob. 595 : S00021

Saint Name in Source

Ἰωάννης

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

620

Evidence not after

640

Activity not before

595

Activity not after

595

Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Constantinople

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

Theophylact Simocatta

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes Contact relic - cloth

Source

Theophylact Simocatta wrote his History in Constantinople probably in the late 620s. The period covered by his work is the reign of Maurice (582-602), and the main subjects of the historical narrative are the wars of the East Roman Empire with Persia, and with the Avars and the Slavs in the Balkans. Several digressions of hagiographical, chronographical and geographical interest are inserted in the narrative. Using various earlier sources, Simocatta produces a positive account of Maurice, portraying him as a good emperor overthrown by a tyrant (Phocas). In fact, Maurice was very unpopular in his own times, but cleansing his memory was important to legitimise the rule of Heraclius (610-641), who presented his own coup against Phocas as avenging the murder of Maurice. A supporter and successful official of Heraclius’ regime, Simocatta apparently served this particular political agenda. Further reading: Whitby and Whitby 1986, xiii-xxx (introduction); Whitby 1988; Frendo 1988; Olajos 1988.

Discussion

The account of the death of John the Faster forms a short digression in Simocatta’s account of the third campaign led by the general Priscus in the Balkans in 595. Although John died in the year of the campaign, the author mistakenly dates his death four years earlier. Composing his history out of secondary sources and describing events of a period he had not lived through, Simocatta is often prone to such errors. His source for this note may have been a lost life of John the Faster by Photinus (E###), an unknown Constantinopolitan Chronicle, or the so-called Hagiography of Maurice (E00050). Emphasising Maurice’s devotion to the memory of the ascetic patriarch, who was probably already venerated as a saint, was important for Simocatta’s effort to cleanse the emperor’s memory. Simocatta aims to refute rumours about Maurice being impious or a pagan, and plays down his disagreements with the patriarch, mentioned by other sources (especially John of Nikiu). The author praises the patriarch’s saintly virtues, and at the same time hints at the emperor’s piety and ascetic habits (he fasts and sleeps on John’s poor bed). Furthermore, the same story provides an opportunity for Simocatta to talk of Maurice’s generosity (he writes off of the debt of the church), appreciation of poverty and indifference for wealth - all useful for an author aiming to correct Maurice's memory as an avaricious and parsimonious monarch. Maurice’s use of the poor personal belongings of John is described as personal devotion for relics of the holy man. Simocatta’s phrase that Maurice believed 'that he would thereby somehow partake of some divine grace' is a clear and explicit way of describing the motives of revering and venerating contact relics and personal belongings of saints. The fact that Maurice used them particularly while fasting may reveal a pious effort to imitate the saintly ascetic, and the hope to receive the saint's assistance in his own fast. Finally, Simocatta's references to John the Faster may be related to his close relationship with the Patriarchate of Constantinople under Patriarch Sergius I. His references to the latest saintly bishop of Constantinople (cf. the account of the execution of Paulinos in 1.1.14-21, E00017) may be meant to strengthen the prestige of the patriarchate in a period of tensions with the other patriarchal sees. Further reading: Whitby 1988, 18-19; Whitby and Whitby 1986, 186; Frendo 1988, 155-156; Olajos 1988, 87, 117.

Bibliography

Edition: de Boor, C., and Wirth, P., Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae (Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana; Leipzig: Teubner, 1972). Translation: Whitby, M., and Whitby, M., The History of Theophylact Simocatta: An English Translation with Introduction and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). Further reading: Frendo, J.D.C., “History and Panegyric in the Age of Heraclius: The Literary Background of the Composition of the Histories of Theophylact Simocatta,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 42 (1988), 143-156. Olajos, T., Les Sources de Théophylacte Simocatta Historien (Leiden: Brill, 1988). Whitby, M., The Emperor Maurice and his Historian: Theophylact Simocatta on Persian and Balkan Warfare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

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