The Medieval Review 10.11.01

Petri, Sara. La Disputatio Contra Acephalos di Rustico. Studi Sulla Tardoantichit, 5. Pisa: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2010. Pp. 155. . 36 EUR ISBN 978-88-6227-207-0.

Reviewed by:

Richard Price
Heythrop College

Deacon Rusticus is one of the most interesting figures in the history of the Three Chapters Controversy and of the editing of conciliar acts. We know the essentials of his career, though little more--his attendance on Pope Vigilius in Constantinople from 547, his at least temporary suspension by Vigilius in 550, his exiling to Egypt by Justinian after the ecumenical council of 553, and his return to Constantinople in 564 (shortly before Justinian's death), where he revised and expanded the Latin version of the acts of the Third and Fourth Ecumenical Councils, to produce his mammoth Synodicon. He joins Facundus of Hermiane, Liberatus and other western churchmen in his courageous (though in my view ill-judged) opposition to the ecclesiastical policy of Justinian and the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

His life and work have received little attention. It is therefore welcome and unexpected that two Italian books devoted to him have appeared in rapid succession--Roberto Spataro's Il diacono Rustico e il suo contributo nel dibattito teologico postcalcedonese (Rome, 2007) and now this further study by Sara Petri. Both books begin with a general discussion of Rusticus's work and career. Spataro usefully provides a translation of the key documents and references, but his attempts to fill in the gaps in the record descend at times to pious fiction, and it is disconcerting that he quotes modern treatments (from Baronius to Lorenzo Perrone) in extenso, as if they were comparable to primary sources. Petri's treatment of this material is altogether more scholarly; her analysis of the rather limited data is exhaustive, and she succeeds in telling a coherent tale without recourse to mere speculation.

Easily the most important of Rusticus's writings is the Synodicon. It is therefore disappointing that both these books leave it on one side. Petri omits its altogether, while Spataro devotes to it only a few pages (including, however, a good selection from those of Rusticus's annotations that illustrate his passionate commitment to a pure Chalcedonian Christology and his continued disapproval of the condemnation of the Three Chapters). At least, this leaves some future research student with virgin territory to explore of rare fascination and importance. What were the manuscripts Rusticus found in the Acoemete library in Constantinople where he worked? What were the principles of his revision of the older Latin translations of the acts? What can be learnt from his annotations as regards his scholarly methods and his controversial purposes? What attracted to him to the pro-Nestorian Tragoedia of Irenaeus, from which he translated numerous documents?

Instead, both these books are mainly devoted to an analysis of Rusticus's other extant work, the Disputatio contra Acephalos, a fictional dialogue between "Haereticus," speaking for Egyptian miaphysitism, and "Rusticus," speaking as a champion of the faith of Chalcedon and the faith of Ephesus I, as Chalcedon had interpreted it. The survival of this work is a mystery, since it was entirely unknown in late antiquity and the middle ages; we do not even have a manuscript of it. We are entirely dependent on a printing of 1528 (reprinted with little change in Migne, PL 67), based on a lost manuscript of exceptionally poor quality. Eduard Schwartz in one of his prefaces to the Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum described the text as "so damaged by corruptions and lacunae that the greater part of Rusticus's disputation is scarcely intelligible." This damning sentence discouraged attention to the work until recently, but it is greatly exaggerated. Corruptions and lacunae there certainly are, and the work ends strangely: a manifestly concluding passage is followed by a page of further discussion, which is generally taken as the opening of the second part of the work, either lost or never completed, but which I would myself explain as the mere dislocation of a passage that should have come earlier. It does not belong to a projected second part, explicitly mentioned by Rusticus, that would have treated the Three Chapters. But Rusticus's work remains no more (and no less!) demanding for the modern reader than many other sixth- century treatises.

The first reasonably thorough treatment of the work was by Manlio Simonetti in Augustinianum 21 (1981), 259-89. Simonetti showed that the version of miaphysitism it addresses was much more precise than that attacked by other western writers in this period: it was basically Severan (or Theodosian) miaphysitism, but under the influence of John Philoponus's tritheism, the assertion of three "natures" in the Trinity, which was not a bizarre heresy but simply the extension into Trinitarian theology of the miaphysite use of the term "nature" in Christology. Simonetti's exposition of Rusticus's argument, and of the degree of justice it displays in its presentation of the miaphysite position (which is emninently respectable by the low standards of ancient polemic), remains the reference point for modern study. But Spataro supplements it most usefully, above all by providing a translation of extensive passages, and by listing and analysing the work's biblical and patristic citations (with only a few accidental omissions). Spataro succeeds admirably in making this difficult work accessible to the modern student.

What new contribution is brought to the study of this work by Sara Petri? It was in origin a doctoral thesis, and shows the limitations typical of the genre, particularly in its timidity in moving outside the strict confines of the chosen topic. But within those confines it does many things extremely well. Petri treats the influence of Greek on Rusticus's Latin, contrasting it to the purer Latinity of Facundus of Hermiane (69-77). She corrects presumptions that Rusticus's presentation of miaphysitism was the fruit of his years in Egypt, showing that Latin modes of thought are to found in the speeches of "Haereticus" no less than in those of "Rusticus" (85-6). She offers an original analysis of Rusticus's use of Aristotelian logic to clarify the Christological debate, comparing him in detail to the similar use of logic in Boethius's theological treatises (125-45). She notes his replacement of Boethius's famous definition of "person" as "individual rational substance" by the notion of "existing in itself" or self- possession (109-14), which serves the needs of Christology much better.

In all, this study represents a considerable advance in the study of this in many ways problematic work, at a higher level of sophistication than the more elementary, though no less helpful, work of Spataro. But there remains plenty of scope for further study, particularly through a comparison of Rusticus's work with that of his contemporaries. How does his use of logic compare to that of Leontius of Byzantium (another proto-Chalcedonian)? How representative was his attempt to define which of the works of Cyril of Alexandria had quasi- canonical authority, and which could be shunted to the side? As was the case with other attempts to defend the Three Chapters, the stress he laid on the Letter to John of Antioch as evidence of Cyril's tolerance of Antiochene theology was undermined by his acceptance of the authority of the belligerent Twelve Chapters. This raises a general question about the viability of his vein of "strict" Chalcedonianism, for example in the way he goes beyond the Antiochene refusal to make the divine Word the subject of the individual human experiences, but still shies away from unambiguous theopaschite expressions. Those like Rusticus who insisted on the original teaching of Chalcedon were trying to freeze a phase in the development of Christology whose real merit lay in its openness to fresh development.