First Thoughts on Voting About God

So I decided to go ahead and start reading the book I got in the mail the other day, the pretty thin Voting About God in Early Church Councils. Today I read chapters 1 and 2.

It appears that at least one of the points of the book is to chat about, as I said before, the attitudes, actions, thinking and whatnot of the non-famous bishops in the early Christian councils. What was it like to be a bishop? Interesting question.

The first chapter had some interesting stats. For example, did you know that there were not a few but rather hundreds of early church councils? And do you have any idea how many bishops there were? He has some interesting bits on that. I knew there were more than the typical councils that we usually talk about, the "ecumenical councils". But I don’t generally think of them having that many...

The second chapter was on democracy, which in the context of an empire seems to make no sense at all. What he means by that is that, in secular circles, you can see various things that the demos can do to sway their representatives to do what they want, and that "absolute rulers" like emperors did not rule absolutely all of the time, and on down the hierarchy. His point in the chapter is to say that those same things will happen and will influence the bishops in their decisions, which he will get to in a later chapter. Interesting...

He talks about some interesting literature that I would really like to get my hands on, the Greek text of the various acta of these councils. He mentioned as a great resource a large set of publications by a G.D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova, et amplissima collectio which I would like to get my hands on. Fortunately, This place has them but the links don’t work. A note on the site said they were getting too much traffic. Sigh. It’s a good thing I found a way around the fact that they changed their links :). Unfortunately, both of the volumes I downloaded were scans of very low quality. Perhaps better can be found elsewhere.

The thing about them that piqued my interest was this statement about them by MacMullen:

Yet it is one of the rewards of reading the acta, that a great deal of common speech is on display, because of the stenographic quality of the text. Nowhere else in the written record of antiquity is there a match for this. All sorts of grammatical constructions, word choices, meanings of words, and departures from a careful, educated style turn up in both the Greek and Latin. The explanation is a reminder of how human beings speak, whatever their schooling, when they have not specially prepared their thoughts. Unselfconscious expression proceeds in short chunks and limited word-choice, even today among academics where it can be scientifically studied; similarly among the ancient bishops. (10)

That’s some Greek that I would like to see...

So far the book has been interesting. We’ll see how fun (or not) it gets.