User:Roger Pearse/Galen on the Christians

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De pulsuum differentiis II, 4

Multo certe praestaret aliquam apponere si non firmam demonstrationem, at rationem sufficientem sermoni de octo qualitatibus,

. . . in order that one should not at the very beginning, as if one had come into the school of Moses and Christ, hear talk of undemonstrated laws, and that where it is least appropriate.” -- English translation: Walzer, Galen, 14.

Kuhn, vol. 8, p.579. Book 2, chapter 4.

De pulsuum differentiis III, 3

One might more easily teach novelties to the followers of Moses and Christ than to the physicians and philosophers who cling fast to their schools.

Kuhn vol. 8, p.657. Book 3, chapter 3. But the Latin says: Potius enim alii Moysis et Christi sectatores decedant de sua disciplina quam qui sectis sunt addicti et consecrati medici et philosophi.

decedant de sua disciplina renders "metadidaskein"; didaskw is teach, meta = away.

Arabic extract from Galen's lost summary of Plato's Republic

Kellhoffer writes: The passage is from Galen’s (lost) summary of Plato’s Republic. Richard Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians (London: Oxford University Press, 1949) 16, dates this work by Galen to c. 180 C.E. English translation of the Arabic: Walzer, Galen, 15; cf. Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (New York: Random House, 2003) 8–9.

Most people are unable to follow any demonstrative argument consecutively; hence they need parables, . . . just as now we see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables [and miracles], and yet sometimes acting in the same way [as those who philosophize]. For their contempt of death [and of its sequel] is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation. For they include not only men but also women who refrain from cohabiting all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a level not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.


... in einer seiner verloren gegangenen Schriften (die Stelle in syrischer Uebersetzung in Bar-Hebraei Chron. syr., ed. Bruns et Kirsch, p. 55, aus Gal. comm. in Phaedonem Platonis, ausfuhrlicher arabisch in Abulfedae historia anteislamica, ed. Fleischer, p. 109 aus Gal. de sententiis politiae Platonicae citiert): Hominum plerique . . . . [the Latin of Fleischer is quoted to the words] ut nihil cedant vere philosophantibus.

Norden gives Harnack's reference to Gieseler correctly, and adds the information, obtained from the Arabist G. Jacob, that Abulfeda's source is Ibn al-Athir...

Kalbfleisch quotes at length, in a translation made for him by Philippi, Ibn abi Usaibi`a's version of Hunain b. Ishaq's story concerning the finding and translation of a portion of this Synopsis; but neither he nor Steinschneider quotes in full Ibn abi Usaibia's rendition of Galen's words on the Christians, to which both refer, as occurring in this Arabic writer's Kitab `ujun al-anba fi tabaqat al-`atibba),d . A. Muller( Konigsberg,1884), 1, 76.

...two Mohammedan authorities have been added for the statement, one a century, the other two-thirds of a century, earlier than Abulfeda. The version of neither has been subjected to careful scrutiny. The Christian version of Bar-Hebraeus has been quite forgotten, since Gieseler put it aside as being less explicit.

Beginning a little before the place at which the beginning is usually made, it may be well to state that after mentioning as the only event worthy of note is Marcus Aurelius' reign Bardaisan's treatise on dualism, Abulfeda proceeds to say that Marcus died in the year 481 of the Seleucid era. Thereupon Commodus reigned in his stead, according to the Canon, for a period of thirteen years, and he brought his own life to an untimely end by hanging himself, which event took place at the close of the year 494 of the Seleucid era.

Abulfeda (1273-1331),:

According to the Kamil [of Ibn Athir] Galen lived in the days of this Commodus, having been born before the death of Ptolemy [literally: "and Galen lived to the time of Ptolemy"]. In his [i.e. Galen's] time the religion of the Christians had become manifest, and Galen mentions them [i.e. the Christians] in his book Remarks on the Book of Plato on the Republic, where he says: "The mass of the people are not able to follow the thread of an apodictic discourse, wherefore they need allusive (enigmatic) sayings, so that they may enjoy instruction thereby (by allusive sayings he means the tales concerning rewards and punishments in the world to come). Of this sort we now see the people who are called Christians deriving their faith from such allusive sayings. Yet on their part deeds have been produced equal to the deeds of those who are in truth philosophers. For example, that they are free from the fear of death is a fact which we all have observed; likewise their abstinence from the unlawful practice of sexual intercourse. And, indeed, there are some among them, men, and women, also, who during the whole of their natural life refrain altogether from such intercourse. And some of them have attained to such a degree of severe self-control and to such earnestness in their desire for righteousness, that they do not fall short of those who are in truth philosophers. Thus far the words of Galen. -- Sprengling p.96

Abulfeda quoted the passage from the Kamil of Ibn Athir (1160-1234; the Kamil stops at 1231)

In the edition of Ibn Athir by Tornberg (Leyden: Brill, 1867), Vol. I, Galen is mentioned just twice: the first time, in the confused series of Roman emperors on p. 229 a half-line is devoted to a notice of his death; the second time, on p. 233 two lines and two words are dedicated to him. This last note follows a statement concerning Marcus Aurelius' reign, which is practically identical with that of Abulfeda. Thereupon Ibn Athir proceeds:

Then Commodus reigned twelve years. And in his days lived Galen, who was born before the death of Ptolemy [literally: who lived to the time of Ptolemy] the Claudian. In his time the Christian religion had become manifest and he mentions them in his book Remarks on the Book of Plato on the Republic.

It is manifest (i) that Abulfeda has amplified his account of Commodus and Galen from other sources, and (2) that the actual statement of Galen is missing in Ibn Athir.

The third Moslem author who is known to have quoted Galen's statement on the Christians is Ibn 'Abi Usaibi`a (1203-70), whose great book, a biographical history of noted physicians, was published by August Muller (Konigsberg, 1884).

His scattered notes and his lengthy statement on Galen were published in careful resume by Steinschneider, Virchow's Archiv, loc. cit., and Centralblatt fur Bibliothekswesen, Beihefte, II (1890-91),2.

The whole of Usaibi`a's treatise on Galen covers 30 pages full of fine oriental print.

`Ubaid Allah b. Gabra'il b. Bohtishu(ca. 1058). It does not seem to be taken from this author's larger works, but from a risala, or essay, written in answer to an inquiry concerning Galen's dates (72, 11-13).

Everything to 77, 14, including quotes, is from Ubaid, as is made clear by the intro: "this is a transcript of it" and the last words "and this is the end of what `Ubaid Allah b. Gabra'il wrote concerning the affairs of Galen."

And what testifies to the fact that the Messiah lived before Galen by a considerable stretch of time is what Galen mentions in his interpretation (tafslr) of the book of Plato on the Republic. This is a transcript of his statement. Galen says: "Of this sort we see the people who are called Christians. Only from allusive sayings and miracles is their faith. Yet on their part the deeds of the philosophizers have been produced also. For example, that they are free from the fear of death and of what they may meet thereafter, is a fact which we may observe every day; likewise their abstinence from sexual intercourse. And, indeed, there are some among them, not men only, but women also, who during their natural life refrain from such intercourse. And some of them have attained to such a degree of severe selfcontrol in eating and drinking, and to such earnestness in their desire for righteousness that they do not fall short of those who are in truth philosophers.

... al-Qifti, an older contemporary of Usabia. Al-Qifti, who lived 1172-1248, wrote his great History of the Learned between the years 1230 and 1236. We have an abbreviated version by Zauzani. This book, of which a magnificent edition was brought out by Julius Lippert (aided by notes and other work left by August Muller) (Leipzig, 1903), contains, like Usaibia, many scattered notes and a special paragraph on Galen.

Bar-Hebraeus' Chronicon Syriacum. (from the rather faulty edition by Bruns and Kirsch (Leipzig, 1789)). (Syr. 57, 19-58, 20):

And he says in his commentary on Plato's book Phaedon: We see these people, called Christians, who base their faith on allusive sayings and miracles, and they do not fall short of those who are in truth philosophers; for they love chastity and are assiduous in fasting and careful not to eat. And among them there are some, who during their whole lifetime abstain from sexual intercourse. ... And when he was told about the miracles and healings which Christ our Lord had accomplished, he said: I do not doubt that they were accomplished by divine power. And he inquired whether any of his disciples were still living, and beingt old that there were some in Jerusalem he rose to go to Jerusalem. But when he reached Sicily, he died there eighty-eight years old.

The Arabic of this chronicle, Historia Dynastiarum, which the writer has only in Pococke's edition, Oxford, 1663, differs considerably from the Syriac. The statement on the Christians differs slightly from the Syriac: Galen's book is called a commentary, Plato's book is "the book of Plato on ethics" named Phadon and the passage is quoted as follows:

Behold, these people, who are named Christians; you [the Arabic may have read we] see how they have built their belief on allusive sayings and miracles,and they are not beneath the true philosophers in their deeds, loving continence (or chastity) and abiding in fasting and prayer, and shunning wickedness; and among them are some, who are not defiled with women.

Agapius: "It is clear at a glance that we have here before us the immediate source of Bar-Hebraeus' Arabic."

(But Agapius contains no such passage about Galen!)

"the Greek under the Arabic and Syriac of the Christians is not the Greek of Galen. Galen never said that the Christians of his day "observed" or "were constant in fasting and prayer," nor that they "were not defiled with women." But the Greek underlying Abulfeda's version is Galen's Greek. In the inability of the masses to follow an apodictic discourse, in the those who are in truth philosophers, etc., Galen's idiom fairly urges itself upon the reader."

Galen's works, ed. Kuhn, I, XLII, n. w, and see above under Usaibi`a. Those now extant are in the Peri\ diafora=j sfugmw~n. In refuting a dogmatic statement of Archigenes on eight qualities of the pulses, Galen says (ed. Kuhn, VIII, 579, 11. 13-17):... and (op. cit., 11. 656-57)

Walzer, Galen, 58


Even if Christians do not merit recognition as “true philosophers,” their “contempt of death,” sexual continence and moderation “in matters of food and drink” strike Galen as entirely commendable.

An Arabic quote

The following reference survives in Arabic quotation and was written before 192.

If I had in mind people who taught their pupils in the same way as the followers of Moses and Christ teach theirs--for they order them to accept everything on faith--I should not have given you a definition.


  • M. Sprengling, Galen on the Christians, The American Journal of Theology, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Jan., 1917), pp. 94-109.