Two Extracts from Proclus of Constantinople in a Coptic Fragment in Louvre

(Thank you, David Tibet, for the useful suggestions, especially regarding the Coptic text!)

Proclus of Constantinople was held in high regard in Coptic Egypt. His fame was largely due to the fact that Proclus allied himself, from the beginning, with Cyril of Alexandria in the controversy with Nestorius.

(This icon of Proclus is taken from here)

Besides the four genuine homilies that have been reported to date in Coptic (CPG 5800, 5812, 5822, 5832), we have also a number of other spurious texts attributed to his name. In this post I would like to introduce an interesting fragment in the Sahidic dialect, which contains two Christological extracts from the works of Proclus. The fragment has not been identified until now in any publication. As we shall see, it raises several problems that I have been unable yet to solve. I hope to discuss this at greater length in an article which is in preparation.


The collection of Coptic manuscripts in the Louvre Museum holds, under the call number “R 116,” a detached fragment from a parchment codex (paginated 33-34). The paleographic features suggest that the manuscript was produced in the 10th century in the scriptorium of Touton, located in the Fayyum oasis. As I said above, this fragment has neither been published, nor identified, before.

However, a key to the identification of the text is supplied by its Christological tone. The fragment discusses the relationship between the human nature and the divine nature of Christ, a topic which caused problems during the Nestorian controversy. Indeed, the entirety of the recto and the first half of the verso’s first column contain an excerpt from Proclus of Constantinople’s Homily on the Virgin (CPG 5800), a polemical sermon directed against the teachings of Nestorius. The extract from the homily about Mary is followed by another fragment from Proclus, this time from his third homily, in which the patriarch of Constantinople discusses the Incarnation of the Lord (CPG 5802). Both quotations are so much altered that they are often hard to recognize. For example, at one point where the Greek original reads “a union of two natures,” the Coptic version mentions “a single nature, not two.”

What is more, I find it absolutely strange that the two Proclian quotations are not separated by any marker in the manuscript. They are combined in such a way that they seem to form a continuous textual unit.

(In the following lines, the references to Proclus’ homilies are given according to the most recent edition, and English translation, by Nicholas Constas,[1] the former Harvard professor who became a monk in the Simonopetra Monastery, Mount Athos.)

Tentative translation from Coptic

First Extract = Constas, Proclus of Constantinople, 138,55-140,65

“3. […] (If it is) shameful unto you that God inhabited the womb of a virgin, it is also shameful unto the angels to serve unto man. 4. He who is impassible by his nature endured many sufferings on account of his compassion for us. For our Lord Jesus did not become man through accretion (procope), but through his compassion for us, in the way we worship it and in our confessing God who bore holy flesh for us from the Virgin. This which he himself had made became for him mother. He who is motherless according to his essence, he who is fatherless according to his dispensation (oikonomia). For how is he ‘fatherless’ and ‘motherless,’ according to the saying of Paul? If he is a man like us, then he is not motherless for he has a mother. If he is God, then he is not fatherless, for he has his Father in heaven. But now, he is one and the same and not two, motherless because he is the Creator, but he is also fatherless, as he became man.”

Second Extract = Constas, Proclus of Constantinople, 200,39-43

“5. […] He was conceived without intercourse, he took form (morphe) without pain. He to whom shape was not given at all had incarnated. For it is a birth and a beginning of the one who had no beginning. On the one hand it was the beginning of his humanity, on the other hand the divinity had neither beginning nor ending. He who was formless took form and there was no increasing in the Trinity so as to become Tetrad, which means that 3 did not become 4. A single union, a single bringing in (?) of a single nature, not two, a birth of a single Son, a unity of the flesh without any destruction, for he is not changing […]”

A few words are required regarding the two texts of Proclus from which the citations were extracted. The first quotation comes from a homily abundantly attested in virtually all languages of the Christian East, Coptic included. It is thus not surprising that Proclus’ Homily on the Virgin is one of the most beautiful and popular Marian texts, being used in the Byzantine liturgy.

On the other hand, things are exactly at the opposite as regards Proclus’ Homily on the Incarnation, from which the Louvre fragment quotes a passage. The only manuscript witnesses mentioned by Constas are two Greek codices, namely Vaticanus graecus 1633 (9th-10th century) and Vaticanus Barberinus 497 (17th century), but the latter is only a late copy of the former. These scanty testimonies are completed by a couple of extracts from the same homily, which occur in two different Greek florilegia.

One of them is included in a Patristic anti-Chalcedonian florilegium, which is preserved in a Greek manuscript in Vatican (Vaticanus graecus 1431). The text was published a long time ago by Eduard Schwartz.[2] I find it very interesting that this quotation coincides, grosso modo, with the one which I have previously identified in the Louvre fragment! Unfortunately, I have been unable to check whether the other extract also occurs in the anti-Chalcedonian collection, as the only edition of the Greek text is unavailable in the libraries to which I have access. So if one of you out there has Eduard Schwartz’s Codex Vaticanus gr. 1431. Eine antichalkedonische Sammlung aud der Zeit Kaiser Zenos (Munich 1927), please contact me.

Returning now to the fragment in Louvre, one could ask what kind of text this is. Was the leaf detached from a Christological anthology? Or perhaps it simply comes from the work of another author in which Proclus is extensively quoted? Either way, I find it very strange that the two extracts are not separated in the manuscript but they rather give the impression that they were intended to form a whole.

All these questions would probably be answered easily if someone would find other fragments from the same manuscript. So far, I have not been able to discover other related fragments, even if the hand that has copied the Louvre leaf looks familiar to me. But who knows: saepe dat una dies, quod non evenit in anno.

[1] N. Constas, Proclus of Constantinople and the Cult of the Virgin in Late Antiquity: Homilies 1-5, Texts and Translations (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, 11; Leiden – Boston: E.J. Brill, 2003).

[2] E. Schwartz, Codex Vaticanus gr. 1431. Eine antichalkedonische Sammlung aud der Zeit Kaiser Zenos (Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften philosophisch-philologische und historische Klasse, 32.6; Munich, 1927).


About Alin Suciu

I am a researcher at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I write mostly on Coptic literature, Patristics, and apocryphal texts.
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7 Responses to Two Extracts from Proclus of Constantinople in a Coptic Fragment in Louvre

  1. Yavor Miltenov says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have this edition, but according to this book
    excerpts from both of the homilies occur in Vat. gr. 1431 (despite the fact that in Pinakes only the first one is mentioned,
    From the other hand, according to the book above, the passage from homily 3 has inc. τοκος παραδοξος and des. το εξ εμου (if I understood it right, because I only took a look). It seems this is not your extract, or…?

    Of course, only Schwarz edition could solve the mystery… Or may be Marx’s “Procliana”?

    Good luck
    Yavor Miltenov

  2. Alin Suciu says:

    Thank you for the comment, Yavor. It seems that the incipit τοκος παραδοξος doesn’t correspond exactly to the Coptic text, but the translation is so corrupted, that actually it would not be surprising if the Coptic translator rendered the “inconceivable birth” by “birth without intercourse.”
    Another possibility is that the Coptic translator worked on a different version of the text. As we basically have only one manuscript of the third homily by Proclus, we cannot know other possible variae lectiones.
    Regarding the final part of the quotation, this is lost in the lacuna.

    I don’t really believe that the Coptic fragment comes from the same anti-Chalcedonian florilegium, but it may belong to a similar one. Actually, it is interesting that the same extract appears, grosso modo, in another Greek florilegium, but also in Justinian’s letter against the Monophysites. It seems that it must have been a popular passage.

    • Yavor Miltenov says:

      In fact according to PINAKES there is another copy of Hom. 3, namely in Monê Metamorphôseôs at Meteora codex 516.
      But the most strange thing is maybe that there are codices, containing a very large text of Hom. 1 – could it be that among such copies could be found a conflation like in your case..?


      • Alin Suciu says:

        This is very interesting since Jules Leroy, Homilétique de Proclus de Constantinople (Vatican 1967) does not list the Monê Metamorphôseôs manuscript. As far as I know, nobody approached the manuscript tradition of Proclus’ homilies after Leroy. I am wondering what is the source of this information.

  3. Roger Pearse says:

    Marvellous to have this, and the translations too! Thank you!

  4. After two years, this comment may be passe’, but in reply to Alin Suciu’s request on the whereabouts of Schwartz’s ‘Codex vaticanus graecus 1431…’, I just made a photocopy of the whole publication (152 pp) through the self-service copy centre at the University La Sapienza (Rome). The monograph is located in the departmental library of the Dept. of Scienze dell’Antichita’, Archaeology Section.

    The extract from Homily 3 of Proclus,lines 39-44 in Constas’ edition,is on p. 38. Comparing the Greek text published by Schwartz and the English translation (Second Extract in this post), some remarks: (1) the Coptic text seems to have an added gloss, “which means that 3 did not become 4”. Those words are not in the Greek; they may have been added by the Coptic editor as an explanation of the concept that the Trinity did not become Tetrad; (2) “A single union, a single” are not in the Greek text; not surprisingly, because they express the monophysite persuasion, which certainly was not that of Proclus. Adjustments made to texts to suit various theological persuasions are quite frequent, so no sensation, I should say; (3) “bringing in (?) of a single nature”. That is puzzling indeed. I suspect that the Greek for “bringing in” was the word synodos (meeting, hence ‘synod’, Latin congredi). And this is the puzzling part, because synodos appears in the fragment of the Monophysite florilegium in MS 1431 and also in the MS 1633, both of Southern Italian provenance, but not in the third known manuscript (the one in Paris cited by Constas, I do not have the shelf-mark at hand), which reads enosis instead of synodos. Could synodos (= bringing in) also be a Monophysitic adjustment? why the question mark after “bringing in”? Best, Luciana Cuppo.

    • Alin Suciu says:

      Dear Luciana,

      Thank you very much for your insightful comments. Could you, please, send me a copy of Schwartz on my yahoo account? You can find the address in the CV section of the blog.

      Concerning your third remark, the word behind ‘bringing in’ is, indeed, ‘synodos’. I put a question mark there because I was not really happy with this rendering (the translation is tentative). The fact that these are not additions of the Coptic translator but rather readings which can be found elsewhere, make me believe that the other variae lectiones must also find support somewhere.

      All best

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