THE study of Cassiodorus' public life has focused our attention on the centers of power in Ostrogothic Italy. With his retirement and departure from Ravenna the scene begins to change; the horizon of his experience first expands as we study his years in Constantinople, then contracts rapidly around the monastic foundations at Squillace. This chapter examines the years in the eastern capital.
If Cassiodorus had never been out of Italy before his retirement, he had lived his whole life in a land that had imperceptibly become a backwater. No longer did all roads run to Rome; even Theoderic, the ruler of Italy for a third of a century, only made the journey across the Apennines down to Rome once in all that time.
Constantinople was an altogether different case, for the land and sea routes of the Mediterranean had brought the New Rome to center stage. Rome had always been a republican city bearing imperial pageantry a bit uneasily; Constantinople was a city of, by, and for the emperors. Physically the imperial palace was the center of the city, with private connections to the forums of public life--the great circus and the great church. Particularly in Justinian's day, if not again thereafter, the view from Constantinople extended to the farthest horizons in all directions, to the frontiers with Persia, to Egypt, Africa, Spain, and Italy, as well as up through the Black Sea to the western edges of the great steppes. If in Italy men were preoccupied with finding new ways to settle the politics of their corner of the Mediterranean world while a few aristocrats dreamed of past glory, in Constantinople visions of the past were alive and real with a still glorious future. Moderns are harsh with Justinian for having failed to cut back on imperial pretensions at a time when such prudence could well have made permanent the Roman claims around the orbis terrarum; but it was not a lack of vision that kept Justinian from bringing the barbarian kingdoms into a peaceful and mutually profitable association with the empire, but rather too many visions, and too grandiose ones. Justinian may very well be forgiven for believing that with just a little extra military vigor the empire that had maintained so much of itself with such indifferent leadership for so long could once and for all settle things according to the old plan.
But what a contrast Constantinople must have meant for Cassiodorus! Not long since honored himself with the highest rank his country could offer him, in Constantinople he became a cipher, no doubt astonished and a little abashed in the face of the pomp and splendor of Byzantine ceremony and city life. It is perhaps the greatest pity of all for students of Cassiodorus that we do not know more about this period in his life, the contacts that he made in Constantinople, the intellectual currents in which he wet his feet, the ones in which he swam, and the particular influences that shaped his actions when it came time to leave.
But first we must consider the length of his stay in the capital. In the last chapter we saw evidence from an Italian perspective to indicate that he arrived in Constantinople in about 540 and stayed until 554. Now further evidence is available from an eastern perspective.
There are first of all two pieces of direct evidence from the last years of Cassiodorus' stay; their coincidence in date (and that of a third piece of evidence now known to have been erroneously dated so late) was the strongest explicit evidence for assuming that Cassiodorus' stay in the capital was brief and late. First, Jordanes, who probably composed his own works in Constantinople, obtained a copy of Cassiodorus' Gothic History from Cassiodorus' own steward, obviously at Constantinople, in 550 or 551, when composing his Getica (Get., praef. 2). Second, Cassiodorus is named in a letter of Pope Vigilius, dating also from 550, which excommunicates two of the pope's followers, Rusticus and Sebastianus, for their obstinate opposition to the ban on the Three Chapters, in which condemnation Vigiiius had acquiesced in 548.[]
The third apparent contact in Constantinople of which evidence survives was with Justinian's quaestor, Junillus (or Junilius Africanus, as some style him). It was until recently believed that Junillus' little pamphlet, the Instituta regularia divinae legis, was written in 550-551. Cassiodorus later recommended this book as one of the most important basic handbooks for the interpretation of scripture (Inst. 1.10.1). But more importantly, the pamphlet represented the Nisibean style of interpretation, which Junillus had learned at Constantinople from Paul the Persian, who had lectured at Nisibis; and the enterprise of Nisibis is mentioned on the first page of Cassiodorus' Institutiones one of the examples of organized Christian scholarship and teaching that inspired Cassiodorus' own venture. It thus seems likely that Cassiodorus had personal contact with the author of this work; if it was written in 550-551, moreover, that would further confirm the late date for Cassiodorus' presence. However, there is now conclusive evidence to believe that Junillus died in 548 or 549 and that his treatise was composed in 542.[] Nisibean ideas would probably have been unhealthy to publish after 543 or 544 in the middle of the Three Chapters controversy.
But Cassiodorus' own position in that controversy, the principal theological amusement of the capital through the 540's and early 550's, was always an ambiguous one.[] When writing his Institutiones back in Squillace and away from the court's power, he had no hesitation in recommending Junillus' little book and in mentioning the Nisibis school favorably; but we have already seen that at Vigilius' urging, sometime in 549 or 550, he was active in attempting to reconcile two rebellious westerners to accepting the ban on the authors in question. In his own Expositio Psalmorum, written through this same period and revised somewhat at Squillace, he made use of the Defensio trium capitulorum of Facundus of Hermiane, published in February 548 before Vigilius' decision to approve the emperor's condemnation. Most scholars have assumed that the citation of Facundus must date the conclusion of the work to the period between Facundus' publication and Vigilius' condemnation, especially since the whole commentary is dedicated to a pater apostolicus who can only be Vigilius.[] Given Cassiodorus' ambiguous attitude, however, no such razor-sharp dating is possible; the potential significance of this citation of Facundus will concern us when we come to discuss the Christology expressed in the Psalm commentary.
We must also remark the association of Cassiodorus' name in Vigilius' letter with that of Cethegus. Cethegus was the recipient of the original version of the document that was condensed to make the Ordo generis Cassiodororurn; he had been a leading figure in the Roman senate since his consulship in 504; and he made his own way to Constantinople sometime in the 540's. The contrast that Vigilius makes between the two men, citing Cethegus as a gloriosus vir and patricius, while Cassiodorus is called a religiosus vir and filius noster, is the clearest definition we have of Cassiodorus' position in Constantinople. For he could with ease have been called gloriosus, and he was certainly entitled to the rank of patricius; but these honorific name-tags are something that Cassiodorus begins to shed after his retirement. That he is called a religiosus vir seems to indicate that the "conversion" that seemed to begin about the time of the composition of the De anima had continued to such an extent that the religiosity of his life became at this time a defining characteristic, sufficient to distinguish him from his friend Cethegus. Furthermore, the mention at the very beginning of the Expositio Psalmorum that his interest in the Psalter began to be serious while he was still at Ravenna would confirm the presumption that it was at Constantinople that he composed his great commentary (just as it would be in the same city a few decades later that Gregory would undertake his Moralia in Job). On the other hand, the term religiosus vir is not narrowly limiting in its denotation; there is no mention of Cassiodorus being either monk or priest, nor of his living in any organized religious community under a rule. In fact, the indications are just the opposite.
First, we recall that Jordanes mentioned that Cassiodorus had a steward from whom he had obtained a copy of one of the works that Cassiodorus published during his career as a statesman. Cassiodorus was thus still in charge of some sort of household in order to employ a steward; moreover, he still had and cherished a copy of his Gothic History. Since the work itself has now perished, since it is never mentioned during Cassiodorus' Squillace period, and since other original works known to have been produced during the Squillace period have of course survived, it seems reasonable to assume that Cassiodorus himself grew careless of it at some point, presumably in connection with a loss of interest in public affairs. That he still kept a copy in Constantinople implies that he was not yet completely and formally immersed in a life of religion.
The date for Cassiodorus' departure from Constantinople is every bit as uncertain as the other dates of his stay, but it can be approximated. We last know for certain of Cassiodorus in Constantinople in 551, the time of Jordanes' publication; at this time Italy was in flames with the last throes of the Gothic war. Narses was sent to mop up the situation, and he destroyed Totila in 552 and Teias in 553. In August 554, Justinian issued the Pragmatic Sanction reorganizing the government of Italy under Byzantine control.[] The Pragmatic Sanction seems to have been a signal for the general return to Italy of refugees, partly because it ratified the pacification of that country. Moreover, the struggle over the Three Chapters had come to an effective conclusion when, in late 553 or early 554, Vigilius bowed to the Council of Constantinople in condemning the three authors disputed once and for all without cavil. The controversy was not in fact concluded with this official decree, but the formalities were for the moment settled. With military and theological peace throughout Italy and the empire for the first time in two decades, then, it is logical to assume that Cassiodorus found his way home with the others.
If this reconstruction is correct, then Cassiodorus' longest book was written while he sojourned in Constantinople. The Expositio Psalmorum is the only formal commentary on the entire Psalter surviving from the patristic era. Because, however, it tells us more about the Psalms than about Gothic or monastic history, it has been the least fully studied of all Cassiodorus' works.[]
There is in fact still room for much further study of patristic and medieval exegesis. The great work of Henri de Lubac has revolutionized our understanding of the theory of interpretation, but we still need demanding critical study of the practice of hermeneutic.[] We still do not possess a cumulative understanding of the rhetoric of this exegesis sufficient to enable us to evaluate and compare different commentaries on the basis of the presuppositions that controlled them. There is still something of the puzzled novice in all of our treatments of medieval exegetical writings, due simply to the lack of adequately broad common scholarly experience in giving to works of exegesis the kind of sympathetic attention that Lubac's work has made possible. Thus when we approach Cassiodorus' Expositio Psalmorun, we are attempting to do things that the human race has forgotten how to do; we must attempt to teach ourselves to read all over again, to look to this bulky book to tell us things that we are unaccustomed to hearing in ways that we are not used to following. As is the case so often in the analysis of forgotten modes of intellectual activity, we must suspend every instinctive adverse judgment in order to pursue the unique form of human thought that lies behind the (to us) discordant surface features.
This study will approach the Psalm commentary from three different directions. First, we will be concerned with the sources on which Cassiodorus drew, especially Augustine's sermons on the Psalms, but also the many other works cited fragmentarily that give us clues to the circumstances of composition. Second, we will study the exegetical technique with which Cassiodorus worked, following the gymnastics of his mind in coming to grips with an individual text and producing the commentary on it. Third, we will look at the content of the exegesis, that is, at the subject matter discussed in connection with the Psalm texts.
The circumstances and purpose of the composition of the Expositio are the first topics of the work's preface. The opening sentence states that Cassiodorus avidly sought the honey of the Psalter after the amarissimae actiones of his public life, while still in Ravenna. This new study of the Psalter was hindered, however, by the obscurity of the text, which he found veiled in parables (Ex. Ps., praef. 6-7).
The solution to this difficulty Cassiodorus found in the sermons of Augustine, the Enarrationes in Psalmos: "Then I took refuge in the delightful work of our most eloquent father Augustine, in which I found such a densely packed flood of sage remarks that I could scarcely remember what I saw expounded there so abundantly" (Ex. Ps., praef. 10-13). The Enarrationes of Augustine was a collection of his sermons delivered on various occasions, selected and ordered so that they covered the entire Psalter. There is some irregularity of coverage, some duplication of explanations; moreover, when the compilation was made, Augustine discovered that he did not have a sermon on the extraordinarily long Psalm 118, so a separate treatise was composed for the purpose.[] The most important feature of Augustine's work is just its homiletic quality; rather than a systematic commentary on each verse, Augustine's work was an interpretation of the text for an audience listening to the oral presentation. Moreover, Augustine's collection was simply enormous beyond all convenience.
Mindful of all these things and of his own inadequacies, Cassiodorus was inspired to take up the pen himself, to "draw this ocean sprung from the Psalms themselves, with God's help, into shallow streams," the better to serve the student (Ex. Ps., praef. 15-19). It is unlikely that Cassiodorus could have written this work at Squillace in possession of his library there, for he did not have a full set of Augustine's Enarrationes.[] Since, however, the explicit quotations in Cassiodorus' commentary from Augustine's original are taken from remarks on Psalms in every decade of the Psalter, it is clear that the commentary must have been compiled at some place where Cassiodorus had regular access to the full Augustine, and therefore not at Squillace.
Cassiodorus was, however, more humble than precise in asserting that his work only summarized Augustine's; while he admitted adding certain things of his own, he deliberately left the impression that his work's virtues were all borrowed from Augustine. In fact, the relationship between the two works is not as close as Cassiodorus pretended, nor as distant as modern scholars believe. The scarcity of citations and allusions indicated by the index to the only modern edition of Cassiodorus' commentary (discerning only seventy-six such allusions in the entire work) is in fact radically misleading. Proof for such an assertion can be given economically by presenting a sample case; let us take Psalm 81.
There is no explicit mention or quotation of Augustine in Cassiodorus' treatment of this Psalm; no allusion was detected in the modern edition. Nevertheless, the entire exposition of this Psalm seems clearly based on Augustine's original treatment. Augustine's approach to the Psalm, on a straight verseby-verse basis, beginning with the titulus, is obscured by Cassiodorus' more formal pattern. To begin with, Augustine asserts that the name Asaph in the titulus was placed there as a figure of the Synagoga (Enarr. in Psal. 81.1). Cassiodorus believed firmly, but Augustine did not always accept, that every Psalm was actually written by David, and that other names in the tituli are only there for our edification. In this case, Augustine and Cassiodorus agree; for Cassiodorus states that "these names are placed in the tituli for us to interpret; in this case Asaph represents Synagoga" (Ex. Ps. 81.2-4). In treating the first line of the Psalm, Augustine explains the term Synagoga: it represents for him congregatio, while Ecclesia stands for convocatio--the former is proper of beasts, the latter of men. Cassiodorus: "Synagoga is basically translated congregatio, an assembly but not specifically one of human beings; Ecclesia is a genuine convocatio" (Ex. Ps. 81.11-13).
At an early stage of Cassiodorus' exposition of the first verse, he quotes scripture: "One stands in your midst whom you know not" (John 1.26). Augustine's own explanation of the first verse runs on at some length, but toward the end, he too quotes the same line of John. Nor is this the only such case; apropos of verse 4, both authors quote the line, "They are mute hounds, they cannot bark" (Isaiah 56.10). In treating verse 5, both recall the passage, "For if they had known Him, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2.8), and both cite a passage of Matthew for that same verse. Such coincidences of citation are too close to be accidental; they constitute the strongest proof that Cassiodorus had the text of Augustine's Enarrationes under his hand when composing his own. This is important, since Cassiodorus, his own man, could easily have differed from Augustine on individual points of interpretation, while at the same time making use of the earlier author. Thus where a particular proof text seemed apposite, he could quote it as Augustine had; for him to have found such a pattern of parallel proof texts for one short Psalm independently of Augustine is beyond belief It would not be worth denying that Cassiodorus brought his own fundamentally sound intellectual and religious training to bear on the commentary he wrote; but at the same time, it could be demonstrated more clearly than has been done before that he did indeed rely on Augustine's work as a guide for the entire length of his endeavor.[]
But Cassiodorus also had other resources than Augustine to bring to bear on the subject. The first and most obvious was the remainder of the text of scripture itself; for all the parallelism between Augustine's and Cassiodorus' use of individual passages, Cassiodorus used many of his own choice as well.[] In fact, in the course of the Expositio, Cassiodorus quoted or alluded to passages from nearly every book of the Bible. The most obvious implication of this wide-ranging use of scripture is the familiarity that Cassiodorus must have possessed to make this kind of rapid and easy allusion. To the period culminating in the composition of this commentary, we must attribute a certain amount of time spent studying the scriptures directly and intensively, in a way that made these parallels recall themselves to Cassiodorus' mind as he needed them.[]
Cassiodorus' other principal patristic source besides Augustine was Jerome, especially the treatise on Hebrew names; but letters, treatises on the Psalms, and scattered other commentaries of Jerome wcrc apparently used as well. Other patristic figures like Hilary of Poitiers, Prosper of Aquitaine, Cyprian, his old friend Dionysius Exiguus, his contemporary and acquaintance Primasius of Hadrumctum, even Pelagius, Leo the Great, and the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon are more and less demonstrably present.
Since Cassiodorus was interested in secular aries and disciplinae as they appear in the Psalms, and since he was forever mentioning the technical terms for this and that rhetorical figure, a certain number of secular authors appear as well, often (to be sure) at second hand. Vcrgil is quoted half a dozen times, and Cicero about as often; their presence is not surprising, but that of Macrobius, quoted by name three times, is at least tantalizing. In truth, however, the number of other authors cited is not great, nor are the quotations weighty;[] nevertheless, the presence of the diverse batch of authors who can be found here, and the diversity of works cited for the more frequently named, evinces wide learning at least, and possibly access to a good library at the time of composition.
The most interesting citations in the work are the ones that give us just a hint of the circumstances surrounding its composition. There are three authors quoted whose works would not have been widely disseminated in the west at this time, even in translation: Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom. There are only brief citations from their works, but nevertheless it is clear that Cassiodorus had direct access to them. We do not see all the same works quoted later on in works from the period at Squillace (although Cassiodorus will be active in getting Chrysostom's homilies on Hebrews translated). Athanasius is quoted, both times from his letter to Marcellinus on the virtues of the Psalms, in the last chapter but one of the Preface to the whole work and in the last commentary on the last Psalm.[] Cyril of Alexandria's letters are quoted twice, once from the Latin version of Marius Mercator, and once in a Latin version not identifiable with any surviving text (Ex. Ps. 21.70-72, 16.311-315). Finally, Chrysostom is quoted four times, but always in versions identifiable with translations in other Latin authors (i.e., Cassian, Leo the Great, and an anonymous manuscript version surviving from the seventh/eighth centuries). Two things need to be said about this evidence. First, it proves nothing, since even if equivalent versions do not survive from some quotations, they could easily have existed at the time of Cassiodorus' writing, and he could have had access to them anywhere in the Mediterranean world. Second, however, despite the obvious focus on Augustine and Jerome, and despite the probability that Cassiodorus was associating mainly with other Latins in Constantinople, nevertheless the use of these Greek authors gives a hint of the atmosphere in which the work was composed. The possibility that they establish is further augmented by the dedication to Vigilius (who must have been in Constantinople when the work was completed) and the citation of Facundus of Hermiane. There can be no doubt that Cassiodorus spent some time at Constantinople; what remains to be certified is whether he spent the entire decade of the 540's there, composing the Expositio there, or whether he worked on it in Italy (presumably at Squillace) and brought it along, nine-tenths finished, to complete and hand to Vigilius at Constantinople. The combination of circumstantial evidence from the last chapter and this one add up to a strong probability in favor of the hypothesis of a longer stay, but certainty is still out of reach. Cassiodorus' Christological preoccupations in this commentary will offer a little more help later on in this chapter, but they are still not conclusive.
In this welter of unproved possibilities, there is one thread that leads to a fairly firm conclusion. However one reads the evidence, two facts come out in parallel to one another: that Cassiodorus did spend time in Constantinople in his middle years, and that his works do not show a strong influence of Greek thought. This is strong evidence for arguing that Cassiodorus did not in fact possess particularly useful facility with the Greek language. This impression can be confirmed by the effusive praise that he had in later years for those who could handle both Greek and Latin fluently (e.g., Inst. 1.23.2); moreover, in spite of the extensive program of translations from the Greek that he instituted at the Vivarium, there is no evidence that he ever worked as a translator himself. Quite to the contrary, we are repeatedly told the names of the actual translators who did the work; Cassiodorus' desire to see important texts brought over from Greek into Latin may very well be connected with his own inadequacy.
The Expositio Psalmorum depended for much of its interpretative doctrine on Augustine, but it was in fact a completely original work, almost unique in its formal approach to the text and certainly unique in the goals it sought to achieve in the study of scripture. As we examine the individuality of this work, we will begin to be able to grasp its general purposes a little more clearly; those purposes will shed some light on Cassiodorus' own actions at this period.
Cassiodorus' commentary certainly cannot be attacked by the common modern canard that medieval exegesis is disorderly, rambling on eternally on trivial texts; a quite contrary impression is derived merely from inspecting a page or two of the work. For every Psalm there is a clear layout of the material in an introductory paragraph on the titulus (the short attribution of the Psalm to an author or, as Cassiodorus would have it, cantor, with other brief identifying remarks), a section entitled divisio psalmi setting out the Psalm's different sections according to content, then a verse-by-verse exposition of the text, and finally a paragraph of conclusio, summarizing the important points of the exegesis and frequently discoursing on the symbolism of the Psalm's ordinal number. This external regularity is not merely superficial, but is an indication of the underlying principles of Cassiodorian exegesis.
In this vein, one important feature of the Expositio Psalmorum is the long preface, with an introductory section, then seventeen chapters of methodological and technical remarks, and a concluding list of the "chapters" into which the entire Psalter can be divided. From the point of view of the modern reader, this division of Psalms by allegorical subject matter is the heart of the most alien feature of the entire work. In fact, the principle behind the practice is a simple and obvious one. In the first chapter of the preface, "De prophetia," Cassiodorus defines prophecy as "a divine pronouncement predicting the outcome of events through the words and deeds of men with unshakable accuracy" (Ex. Ps., praef. 1.1-2). By this definition, David, the author of every Psalm, was himself a great prophet, "filled with the breath of heaven" (Ex. Ps., praef 1.20). Therefore, "we see clearly that every Psalm is spoken prophetically through the Holy Spirit" (Ex. Ps., praef.. 1.24-25). Every Psalm can thus be interpreted allegorically to refer to the truths of the Christian faith. The reality of the allegorical nature of the Psalms in Cassiodorus' mind leads directly to his classification of the Psalms by subject matter. By observation, Cassiodorus determined the major subjects under which his interpretations of the Psalms could be summarized; he gives a list of them at the end of the preface, where they total, oddly enough, to just twelve:
After enumerating these headings, Cassiodorus then failed to give coherent lists of the individual Psalms that come under each category. Instead, therefore, of an index at the beginning by which we could be instructed to flip to, say, the seven penitential Psalms, our information regarding the assignment of the Psalms to given chapter headings must be garnercd from scattered remarks throughout the commentary.
There is, however, good and adequate reason for this reticence about publishing complete lists of which Psalms come under which headings. First, the list of the twelve subjects is somewhat arbitrarily chosen in order to fill up the favored number twelve; the eighth category duplicates in not altogether obvious ways the first and second, while the eleventh covers part of the same ground as the second as well. Not every Psalm, moreover, fits one and only one category exactly; some useful categories are not exactly subjects (e.g., largely formal categories like prayers of David or penitential Psalms--and Psalm 101, for example, fits both these categories), while other subcategories develop as part of broader ones (e.g., poems prophesying the first coming of Christ as a subcategory of those prophesying the first and second comings; or poems treating the passion and resurrection brevius, and those treating these subjects latius). Finally, there are the so-called alphabetic Psalms (with stanzas identified by the letters in the Hebrew alphabet), seven in number, but overlapping at least three other categories (Alleluia, laudes, and the carnal life of Christ). There is special allegorical significance assigned to the alphabetic Psalms in addition to their formal virtue; for there are four such Psalms styled "imperfect" (having fewer stanzas than there are letters in the whole Hebrew alphabet) that Cassiodorus takes to represent the church on earth, which is almost, but not quite, perfect. The three "perfect" alphabetic Psalms, having just as many stanzas as the alphabet has letters, describe the acts and lives of individuals who have in fact achieved the perfection toward which the church is striving.
Revealingly, it is the explicit, formal sort of category that comes nearest to puzzling Cassiodorus. Speaking of the twenty Alleluia Psalms (which we have seen overlap other categories as well), he says that their "even number perhaps represents the glory of Old and New Testaments, so that the power of the Creator should be praised always and everywhere. At least we have found no better reason why Alleluia is placed on just these Psalms" (Ex. Ps. 104.38-42). In contrast to that, the alphabetic Psalms found an exact interpretation: "the imperfect alphabet Psalms represent Ecclesia, which still flourishes here and has not yet been purified by the weeding out of the unjust; the perfect alphabet Psalms signify the heavenly Jerusalem, where the assembly of the perfect will be completed with the addition of saintly men" (Ex. Ps. 144.39-42).
For Psalms categorized strictly by subject matter, Cassiodorus' typical treatment can be seen in the conclusio for Psalm 108, the fifth of the Psalms to treat the passion of Christ at length (Psalms 21, 34, 54, and 68 are the others). These Psalms, he says, have four things in common: they are all spoken in the person of Christ, they describe the events of the passion (allegorically), they agree in detail with the Gospel (after they have been allegorized), and they end with exultant hope for the faithful (they look forward to the resurrection). In addition to these Psalms, there are as many as six (Cassiodorus' list is not complete or coherent) that deal more briefly with the same subject (Ex. Ps. 108.491-511).
One obvious formal category does not appeal to Cassiodorus as such: Psalms joined together by identity of text. For example, Psalm 13 has virtually the same text as Psalm 52 except for an interpolation; but Cassiodorus' interpretation resolutely casts the former as referring to the first coming of Christ and the rebuking of the Jewish people, while the latter is taken as referring to the second coming and the rebuking of sinners in the world. Similarly, Psalm 107 is a cento of sections from two earlier Psalms (56.8-12 and 59.6-14), but it bears a different titulus from either of the others and hence a different Cassiodorian interpretation. It cannot, however, be ascertained which came first: the allegorizations of the Psalms or the subject headings under which they were grouped.
The other principal division of the entire collection of the Psalms is a less functional one, introduced more for contemplation of the division itself than for any assistance it affords in understanding individual Psalms. For Cassiodorus breaks the entire commentary in two parts, making the first seventy Psalms a figure of the Old Testament and the last eighty of the New. He attributes this division to partes nostri (Ex. Ps. 70.494). He abandons this division for practical purposes, however, since by his own testimony and that of the manuscript tradition itself the commentary was in practice bound in three volumes, with fifty Psalms in each. But the figurative significance of the division by Testaments is insisted upon, and a brief new preface comes before Psalm 71. The principle remains clear, however, that the entire Psalter is to be referred to the content of the New Testament in particular by way of prophecy; thus this book of scripture, the first taken up by "tyros beginning the study of Holy Scripture" (Ex. Ps., praef.. 16.42), becomes a compendium of the central doctrines of the Christian faith.[]
Not only does this method provide a way to teach the truths of the faith, but it also fills the entire Psalter with abiding meaning for the student who learns its content in this way to begin with.
The highly formal, organized way in which Cassiodorus goes about the practice of his exegesis, as we have already indicated, is compatible with the didactic purpose of the whole work. Each Psalm is treated in the same way, with an interpretation divided into four clearly visible parts: titulus, divisio, expositio, conclusio.
The attention Cassiodorus gives to the tituli, the short identifying remarks given at the beginning of each (but not quite every) Psalm is an important part of his exegetical practice, termed by Schlieben the prosopographical approach.[] Cassiodorus insists repeatedly that David and only David can be taken as the author of all 150 Psalms. Once he has assumed that the other names that appear in the tituli are not those of their authors, he is entitled to make use of these names, with their historical and etymological associations, to enlighten and organize his own exposition. To return to Psalm 81, for example, we recall that there the titulus is given as "Psalmus Asaph." Cassiodorus followed Augustine in interpreting Asaph's name as representing the synagogue (as opposed to the church). What is characteristic in Cassiodorus' approach in this Psalm is that he is dependent for the idea on prior tradition but independent in the importance he attributes to the matter. He reaches down into Augustine's discussion of the first verse, which mentions the ideas of the synagogue, to drag the etymologies of synagoga and ecclesia up into his treatment of the titulus alone, where Augustine dismissed the titulus in a single sentence (as he did with virtually every Psalm).
Significant names, however, are not the only subject that attracts Cassiodorus' interest in the treatments of tituli.[] Every single word that appears in the rubric is grist for Cassiodorus' interpretative mill; in fact, much of the explanatory material contained in the preface to the entire collection is intended to resolve some of these difficulties once and for all so that Cassiodorus can then refer back to them as they come up, rather than treat them over again time after time. For example, a separate chapter (the third in the preface) is set aside for the common inscription "In finem" found at the beginning of many Psalms in the Latin versions. Augustine's practice was to pass over this phrase briefly, usually citing Paul: "for the end [finis] of the Law is Christ, unto justice for every believer" (Rom. 10.4).[] Cassiodorus finds it more efficient to remove this discussion to a separate chapter of the preface, wherein he makes more explicit the ideas contained in these and other throwaway lines of Augustine. First he states that we can speak of a finis in two ways, the end of something in the ordinary sense (as of money when it has been spent) and "the perfect and everlasting goal [finis] we are seeking (Ex. Ps., praef, 3.9-10). This end and fullness of the Law, he goes on, is Christ the Lord, and then he quotes the passage from Paul himself: Christ is the true end of all things that men seek. "When we reach Him we shall seek nothing further, but enjoy perfect gladness abiding in this consummation of happiness [in ipso beatitudinis fine]; the love of this happiness grows as our understanding is illuminated by the Lord. So as often as you find 'in finem' in the tituli of the Psalms, then turn your mind to the Lord and Savior, who is an end without end [finis sine fine] and the complete perfection of all good things" (Ex. Ps., praef. 3.12-18).
The last word on the tituli also requires a separate chapter of the preface, "De unita inscriptione titulorum," which tells us that the tituli "hang before the portals of the Psalms like sacred veils through which, if you peer through the delicate fabric, you can easily make out the inner secrets of the Psalms. Who could think all this variety of names superfluous where we know it is shameful to believe the Holy Scriptures contain anything useless?" (Ex. Ps., praef 10.20-25). Thus these mysterious words, so laboriously explained at such length, are in fact keys to the spiritual understanding of scripture, providing the hints that we need to perfectly understand the superficially simpler content of the Psalms themselves.
Cassiodorus presents a summary outline of his treatment of the Psalms in the fourteenth chapter of his preface. First, he promises, the tituli will be explained. Second, each Psalm is to be divided up into sections, "lest any unnoticed change of subjects or speakers should trouble our understanding" (Ex. Ps., praef 14.5-7). Third, Cassiodorus will attempt to unfold the "meaning of the Psalm, partly according to the spiritual interpretations, partly according to the historical content, partly according to the mystical sense, analyzing the subtleties of things and words as far as possible" (Ex. Ps., praef 14.7-11). Fourth, he will attempt to elaborate the virtus of the Psalm, its inspiratio divina, "by which the divine meaning is opened up for us, drawing us back from immorality and persuading us to live uprightly by the words of the psalmist David" (Ex. Ps., praef 14.14-16). Fifth, he will discuss the ordering of the numbering of the Psalms, i.e., interpret the numbers according to mystical principles; he confesses that this will cause some difficulty, since not every Psalm admits such treatment. Finally, "in the conclusiones we will briefly summarize the whole Psalm or perhaps say a few words against despicable heresies" (Ex. Ps., praef.. 14.23-25).
The notion of the explicit divisio Furnished for every Psalm (except Psalm 116, which has only two verses) is a Cassiodorian innovation resulting from his passion for formal order and the imposition of a visible logical skeleton on the work from outside.[] Cassiodorus alludes to his own innovation in the conclusion to his treatment of Psalm 106:"I see this Psalm was divided in sections by the most learned pater Augustine, who says he believed he was thus expounding it to his audience in an unprecedented way. We imitate him as best we can, dividing all the Psalms in this way, showing in our comments that a practice authorized by so great a pater offers considerable assistance in understanding the Psalms" (Ex. Ps. 106.518-524). In fact, however, this appeal to Augustine's authority is strained. First, the very generality of Cassiodorus' practice is directly at variance with Augustine's more easygoing interpretations. But second, in the case of this very Psalm, Cassiodorus' own divisions differ from Augustine's. Augustine's treatment is nowhere near as enslaved to external form as is that of Cassiodorus.
The function of the divisio for the commentary on each Psalm is central to the sense of the exposition. The divisio begins with a summary of the Psalm's nature, which establishes the persona of the speaker of the entire Psalm, whether one individual or several (e.g., Ex. Ps. 81.17-19). In complex cases, the several voices may be those of the prophet himself, the Lord, or unfaithful men; moreover, the prophet himself may be addressing first the Lord in prayer, then his enemies in rebuke, then his fellow believers in thanksgiving for support, then the Lord again. In any event, the purpose is to represent before the student's eyes a precise understanding of who, according to a spiritual understanding of the Psalm, is speaking to whom at every point through the Psalm.
Having established the identity of the speaker, the exegete divides the content of his address into sections. Cassiodorus does not give specific verse numbers for division of the Psalms into sections; his concern rather is to lay out a general picture of the interpretation he is going to give, the framework onto which the individual verses will be stretched and shrunk to fit. The actual divisions in the text will not be noticed until they come up in the course of the detailed exposition (but they are never left unspecified). The principles behind the division of the Psalms are more exegetical than formal, but one strictly technical point intervenes. Many Psalms are marked by diapsalmata, which Cassiodorus rightly recognizes as having been originally indicators of pauses in the performance of the Psalm.[] Whenever these are available to him, he will make use of them to identify a point of division; in practice, this is usually successful, since they were originally inserted to indicate some break in the train of thought and direction of the Psalm, which is precisely what Cassiodorus wants to use them for.
The most significant departure from Augustinian practice in Cassiodorus, when all the trivial differences of interpretation are counted up, is reserved for the conclusio. The conclusiones to Cassiodorian interpretations are important sources, to be discussed below, for Cassiodorus' own views as distinct from Augustine's, since these passages are entirely original with Cassiodorus in every case. In Psalm 81, for example, a strongly Christ-centered Psalm from the exegete's point of view, the appeal of Cassiodorus' conclusio is to the Jews to come and open their ears to the true good news. But, more than that, Cassiodorus directs his words to those "who are boiling over with the pestilential breath of Nestorius and Eutychius" (Ex. Ps. 81,153).[] "The error of believing in two natures divided according to two personae in Christ is very like that of believing in only one mixed nature, howbeit only in a single person" (Ex. Ps. 81.157-159).[] After quoting a verse of Sedulius' Carmen pasohale to the Nestorians thus refuted, he turns to the Eutychians, comparing them subtly to doubting Thomas. "Why do you fly," he asks them, "from confessing what our patres agreed upon by a revelation of the Holy Spirit? If you will not believe in two natures unconfused, unchangeable, undivided, and inseparable, say 'two substances' or 'two form' .... Beware of shrinking from the healing poultice only to prepare eternal ruin for yourselves" (Ex. Ps. 81.175- 182).
We have already seen in Chapter 4, and we will see again in more detail in Chapter 6, that one of Cassiodorus' chief concerns when writing as a Christian intellectual was the relationship between Christian and secular learning. This concern expressed itself in a remarkable way throughout the Expositio Psalmorum and must become one of our chief objects of study. Next to Cassiodorus' strictly exegetical principles and practices, the attitude he held towards the secular disciplines is the most obvious feature of his exegesis and one in which his contribution is unique and substantial. It is important, however, not to allow mere idiosyncracy to become in and of itself a criterion of significance; despite his fascination with the secular sciences, Cassiodorus in this work is still primarily a Christian theologian cxpounding scripture, and it is to his principles in that field that we must look first. In the preface to the Expositio, Cassiodorus promised to interpret the sense of the Psalms, "partly according to their spiritual interpretation, partly according to their historical content, partly according to the mystical sense" (Ex. Ps,, praef. 14.3). This statement, covering three of the four senses of scripture traditionally listed, gives a false impression of the multiplication of distinctions.[] Although, for example, the mystical sense of scripture is usually that which deals with eschatology, while the spiritual sense is more generally that which seeks the first allegorical meaning behind the literal one, the terms are by no means mutually exclusive and can even be redundant.[]
In fact, in Cassiodorus, redundant is what they are. Moreover, the expression of interest in the historical sense here is little more than perfunctory. For the Expositio Psalmorum is as resolutely and monolithically allegorical a commentary as ever was written. As can be judged by the list of "chapters" into which Cassiodorus divided the Psalms according to their content-- the content imposed upon them by the allegorist--the entire Psalter is made an instrument for expressing and seeing expressed the truths of Christian revelation. Scant attention is paid to the historical background, even of the most obviously literal Psalms. Psalm 17, to take the most literal case, is a verbatim repetition of a passage (a prayer of thanksgiving by David) at II Samuel 22.1-51; Cassiodorus merely furnishes the crossreference, without attempting to place the piece in any of its historical context. He notes the "in finem" of the titulus and thus the reference to Christ; the use of the term canticum is meant, he goes on, to call our mind from the story of David to the celestial kingdom, with clear parallels to the resurrection of Christ. The division of the Psalm into section leaves only one short section for the prophet to give his thanks (the first four verses); the next three sections are placed in the personae of the church and the Lord Himself, and any possible reference to David is obliterated. In the conclusio, Cassiodorus' chief concern is to excuse the unusual variety of persons represented as speaking in this Psalm; the most important thing, he argues, is to notice that the Lord Himself did not disdain to mix his words with those of the prophet and the church, a figure for the generosity with which he undertook "to assume the abasement of incarnation" (Ex. Ps. 17.740- 741).[]
One Psalm in which Cassiodorus does make a serious professed attempt to observe the "literal" sense is a curious exception testing the rule. Psalm 103, a hymn of praise to God the creator, seems to Cassiodorus to be making explicit certain things implied in the Genesis account of creation. "Thus we have explained this Psalm ad litteram where appropriate; but where it could increase our knowledge of the faith we have interpreted allegorically [spiritali intellectu] as the ancients did" (Ex. Ps. 103.11-13).[] Moreover, he tells us, Augustine has treated this Psalm fully and ought to be followed. When it comes time, however, to interpret the verses of the Psalm, the criterion for judging whether a given passage is to be taken literally or allegorically is fidelity to and compatibility with the Genesis account. Thus the verse "Qui tegis aquis superiora eius, Qui ponis nubem ascensum tuum, Qui ambulas super pennas ventorum" (Ps. 103.3) is to be taken ad litteram, "since the Lord climbs to heaven after the resurrection with the apostles looking on" (Ex. Ps. 103.104-106), and Cassiodorus quotes the relevant passage of Acts. But a later verse poses problems: "Qui fundasti terrain super stabilitatem suam, non inclinabitur in saeculum saeculi" (Ps. 103.5). "It seems this verse cannot be taken ad litteram; for where we read that earth will be transformed [cf.. Apoc. 21.1], how can it be that it will 'not be shaken through all ages'? But we recognize in this immutable terra the stability of the church" (Ex. Ps. 103.146-150). Similarly the sixth verse is not to be taken ad litteram (though Cassiodorus knows there are some who would like to do so).
That for Cassiodorus the literal sense of scripture includes what might more properly be termed allegorical readings is thus obvious in a number of cases. For example, commenting on the phrase "in mari viae tuae" (Ps. 76.20), Cassiodorus has already asserted that this section of the Psalm recounts the miracles of the Lord. That in itself is an allegorical interpretation, but within that framework his interpretation of this specific verse divides again into literal and allegorical. "If you take this literally, 'through the sea was His way' when He walked on the water and called Peter to come to Him. But 'through the sea was His way' is better understood of the thoughts of men, which roll and toss like a treacherous sea, but where Christ finds a way nonetheless, when He subjects them to Himself with great mercy" (Ex. Ps. 76.396-403). A consistent view of this exegesis would hold that the reference to Christ's walking on the water was the allegorical interpretation, and the reference to the thoughts of men and Christ's action in them the moral signification. Cassiodorus is not, however, sophisticated enough in the practice of these subtleties of exegesis to make the distinction between literal and allegorical at this point. There is nothing surprising in this: even the subtlest of the analysts of the exegetical levels did not always in practice preserve exactly the distinction between the several levels, and they could commonly think of their interpretations on the simplest level of literal versus spiritual senses; Augustine's highly influential handbook De doctrina christiana confines itself to a twofold distinction of senses.
We have seen enough now to begin to understand the workings of Cassiodorus' mind in coming towards spiritual interpretations of the Psalms. Beginning with the assumption that Christ is at the center of so many of the Psalms (for fifty-one of the first eighty Psalms begin with the tag "in finem," and thirty-five of the last seventy are either "gradual" Psalms or Alleluias, all of which are given specifically Christological references in the preface), Cassiodorus did not feel that he was unjustified in interpreting the Psalter as a handbook of Christian doctrine. Obviously, Psalms originally referring to events in the life of David could be reinterpreted for application to Christ very easily according to standard ideas about typology; moreover, many Psalms of a more general nature (prayers to God, praises of God, etc.) could be read in a specifically Christian sense very easily indeed. Once that stage had been reached in the understanding of the Psalms as units, the interpretation of individual verses was no tremendously difficult task. Where the interpretation flowed naturally from the sense assigned to the Psalm as a whole, well and good; where it did not, the law of spiritual interpretation could be invoked and difficulties would evanesce.
It would be wrong, however, to see in Cassiodorus' practice, or that of any of the patres, a deliberate obscurantism, exploiting the notion of spiritual interpretation to wash away difficulties without facing up to them. The entire problem with Psalm 103.5 is of Cassiodorus' own creation, for example, since it was his own decision to interpret the Psalm as a gloss on Genesis. If the whole Psalm were taken either more or less allegorically to begin with, the problem need never have arisen. Furthermore, it is wrong to assume that the interpretation retailed by a given patristic commentator of a given passage of scripture is intended always and without exception to be the one and only acceptable reading of the passage. The purpose of expounding the Psalter, for example, is not to establish what Christian doctrine is so much as to teach it and--even more important--to make the Psalter come to life with contemplation of things seen through, rather than in, the words on the page. To read the Psalms, for example, as a document of Jewish liturgical piety, or even simply as inspiring religious poetry, still confining oneself to the simplest sense of the text at hand, inevitably becomes a tedious procedure if often repeated. The central position of the Psalter in the life of the medieval church, and in monastic culture especially, indicates that, quite to the contrary, it never did become a boring round of repeated platitudes. For insofar as a medieval reader of the Psalter had already embedded in his mind remarks of the sort that Cassiodorus makes about every Psalm, and insofar as the Psalms themselves had been transformed from ordinary verse into magnifying glasses through which all sorts of wondrous things became more visible than before from a new light, the words of the Psalms became living teachers of infinite resource. The decision, then, to overlook minor verbal inconsistencies that come up in the course of, and often only as a result of, the allegorical practice, is not an effort to cover up difficulties in the definition of the truths of Christianity and their support in scripture, but rather only a convenience for the reader, a device for augmenting the reader's ability to make profitable use of the scriptures as a support for contemplation and liturgy.
What sets Cassiodorus' commentary apart from other allegorical interpretations of the Psalms, however, is not any strictly theological feature, but rather a pedagogic one. Cassiodorus is visibly interested not only in the spiritual benefits to be derived from an enlightened reading of the Psalms, but also in the didactic benefits. He has made of the Psalter a textbook in the liberal arts. The reason for this is quite simple: to enable readers to draw from the scripture a knowledge of these things, in order to enable them to go back to the same and other scriptural texts better capable of making their own analysis. This exaltation of the Psalter as textbook is based on a fundamental theory about the nature of the liberal arts that, though it goes back to Clement of Alexandria, is never so fully worked out and so consistently presented as in Cassiodorus.[]
For Cassiodorus believed that the arts of secular learning, the trivium and quadrivium, had themselves a scriptural origin. His interpretation of Psalm 18.5 ("Their voice resounds through all the earth, and their words to the ends of the earth") is that the teachings of the Bible were known to all men throughout the world. The genesis of the secular arts and sciences he explains this way: "First we must recognize that the omnipotence of the Lord has so enriched its eloquence with many artes and disciplinae that it both shines marvelously in the eyes of those who study it and plants well-watered seeds of other disciplines. Thus we find in Holy Scripture the things which teachers of secular literature [magistri saecularium litterarum] have transplanted to their own books. Orators speak, for example, of the 'concessive deprecative' mode of speaking, when a defendant does not defend what he has done but begs that he be forgiven; before earthly judges this is a feeble tactic, but before the judgment seat of God it is invincibly strong, since faithful confession alone can vindicate what no argument could defend" (Ex. Ps. 6.94-107).[]
It is precisely this "fidelis confessio" that, Cassiodorus argues, is illustrated by Psalm 6.2, the passage being expounded at this point. Briefly put, this idea, which contains all that Cassiodorus thought on the relation of secular and sacred learning, is that the secular magistri plagiarized their material from the sacred scripture, where the seeds of their discipline had been hidden by God. The Cassiodorian scheme for expounding scripture is to bypass the secular doctores entirely, plucking out the seeds himself and presenting them directly to the student in the commentary on the sacred text. Before and after Cassiodorus, Christian authors found themselves frequently in positions where they felt they had to explain away somehow their use of the pagan-tainted liberal arts in the study of scripture. Jerome's Ciceronianus dream, Augustine's metaphor of the Egyptian gold, and Gregory's oftmisinterpreted refusal to be bound by the rules of Donatus, are all efforts at establishing some kind of harmony between sacred and secular intellectual life.[] One recalls as a closer forerunner of Cassiodorus the efforts of Apollinaris of Laodicea and his son in the fourth century, when Julian forbade Christians to teach the pagan classics; their rewriting of the scriptures into a Homeric epic, Euripidean tragedies, Menandrian comedies, Pindaric odes, and Platonic dialogues was an effort to make of the scriptures precisely the thing Cassiodorus said they already were. Moreover, Cassiodorus' notion of the hiddenness of the artes in scripture more than accounted for the apparently superficial barbarity (i.e., nonconformity to secular rules) of biblical eloquence.
The practice of this exegetical theory in Cassiodorus is persistent and intentionally overwhelming. Rare is the verse of the Psalter that is not noted to contain some obscure form of syllogism, some recondite rhetorical figure, or some one of the seemingly endless species definitionis that Cassiodorus is adept at identifying. Moreover, Cassiodorus provided marginal notations to enable the student to pursue these rhetorical rules throughout the work. In all important carly manuscripts of the commcntary there is prefixed a list of standardized marginal notes that then reappear throughout thc work, singling out rhetorical figures, etymologics, etymologies of Hebrew names, neccssary dogmas, and (most common) idiomata, that is, uniqucly scriptural figures of speech.[] Thus the intcrpretation of Psalm 16.8 ("Guard me as the pupil of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings") presents the following information: (1) "By the figure icon, in Latin called imaginatio, he compares himself to the pupil of the eye of the Lord." (2) "Pupilla is derived from the notion of smallness, as pusilla." (3) (After the final clause:) "Here is introduced the figure which is called parabole in Greek, comparatio in Latin, since it joins unlike things in a sort of connection" (Ex. Ps. 16.157-169). Certainly it is unusual for a single verse to offer two schemata and one etymology for Cassiodorus' pleasure, but his treatment of them here is characteristic.[] Note especially the bilingual designation of thc figures identified; this affectation is maintained in virtually every case where they are mentioned.
The special idioms of scripture are those things therein that seem to go against the rules of secular rhetoric or that are merely unusual in common parlance and unusually frequent in scripture;[] a few lines beyond the examples quoted in the last paragraph, we find "He uses nunc to put the present tense where you would expect the future, a common practice with the prophets" (Ex. Ps. 16.198-199) marked with the marginal note PP. In the very next paragraph the mark reappears next to: "We refer the word leo now to the devil, now to Christ. This mannerism is to be considered one of the propria sanctae scripturae--here obviously it refers to the devil" (Ex. Ps. 16.208-211-- cf. Inst. 1.15.4). This, too, is a response to the older criticisms of scripture's inattention to the proprieties of grammar and style; where, for example, the Old Testament frequently uses the plural of sanguis, as in the phrase viri sanguinunm (e.g., Ps. 54.24), Cassiodorus had to explain that this is correct and not to be tampered with, precisely because it is the practice of scripture.
Obviously, all of this material transforming an allegorical commentary into a commentary cum textbook is uniquely Cassiodorian, departing completely from the homiletic form of Augustine's Enarrationes. Where Augustine would pursue at length possible alternate figurative meanings of a given line, Cassiodorus would cut short after the first to tell you what the Greek and Latin terms are for this figure as he interprets it. On the one hand, this is not the most orderly way to give instruction in figures of speech; but on the other, the Psalter is the most familiar text of scripture, and to the extent that it can be made the mnemonic peg for dozens and dozens of these definitions it becomes a recurring reminder of the substance of the education in the liberal arts that Cassiodorus had in mind. The Augustinian element of Cassiodorian exegesis is chiefly the allegorical interpretation; the Cassiodorian element is chiefly the regularization of form and the addition of the didactic material about the artes.
Because Cassiodorus' theory eliminated any fundamental conflict between sacred and secular literatures, he could use secular sources without any of the self-conscious histrionics of other Christian authors. But it is not possible to go, as Schlieben does, from this lack of polemic against "worldly men" to a general concept of "Cassiodorus' Christian humanism."[] Implicit in Cassiodorus' theory, far from any approval of an enthusiasm for the secular classics in themselves, is a far more thoroughgoing disdain for classical literature; rather than acknowledge that the Bible is less rhetorically eloquent than secular texts, Cassiodorus insisted that the Bible, as source of all rules of eloquence, is absolutely superior on literary as well as theological grounds to anything the secular authors have to offer. Moreover, the secular authors whom he did make frequent use of, both in the Psalm commentary and in later works, were not the great literary classics at all, but rather textbooks and handbooks of the rules that, by his theory, secular magistri had deduced from scripture. In establishing this notion, Cassiodorus was so far from embracing the classics that he could abandon them altogether as merely redundant to what is already present in scripture. At all times for Cassiodorus, the secular sciences only serve to lead men back into scripture.
After the exposition proper of each Psalm, in which the Augustinian and Cassiodorian elements are fused to produce an exegetical and pedagogical interpretation, each short treatise is capped with a paragraph (sometimes running a page or more) of conclusio. In the preface, Cassiodorus indicated that this would be the place to demonstrate the Psalm's virtus, its inspiratio divina, and to give an account of the Psalm's number, where possible. The first of these purposes is always achieved.
The typical conclusio is little more than a summary of the exegetical doctrine propounded in the body of the exposition. It is not so schematic as the divisio, but it frequently repeats much of the same material. In the course of the whole commentary, however, there is a noticeable development in the nature of these final paragraphs. The first examples are the most schematic; see, for example, the conclusio of the commentary on Psalm 7, which repeats the sections of the Psalm ("prima parte... secunda parte... tertia parte") in praising its eloquence. This resume is followed by a brief prayerful apostrophe to God, ending "Who indeed could avoid suffering from the justice of God without the prior assistance of his mercy?" (Ex. Ps. 7.362-378). Then the paragraph concludes with two sentences on the significance of the number seven.
By contrast, the later conclusiones, while not always ignoring the same threefold pattern (summary, prayer, number), show a definite trend toward the emphasis of the prayerful content at the expense of the other elements.[] In part this is a function of the lessening significance of number symbolism when the numbers become unwieldy, and in part it reflects a recognition of the superfluity of an explicit rehash of the Psalm's contents. Nevertheless, the importance of the prayerful content is growing apace of its own accord.[] By Psalm, 139, for example, the whole paragraph is a unity, starting from the Psalm's virtus (expressed in exclamations more and more breathless as we near the end of the Psalter) and turning rapidly into direct prayer: "How salutary, how sweet are these words of the holy mother! She has prayed that we might avoid the temptations of the devil by which she knows us to have been violently beset. To the ones so freed she promises that they will see the face of God, that we might fear no toils and sadness, we to whom such a boon is promised. Grant, Lord, that you might show by the splendor of your mercy how desirable you are to your servants. The sins we have ourselves righteously rebuked will not obstruct us. We confess our sins, that we might placate you; for you are the only judge who grants forgiveness to the confessed offender; and since nothing escapes your knowledge, you still require us to acknowledge publicly what you know far more surely" (Ex. Ps. 139.226-236). The function of this kind of conclusion is not simply intepretative or didactic, as is the case with the expositions proper. Instead, such sentiments, so vividly worded, have the function of calling the reader back from a too-studious approach to the Psalm merely as a document of doctrine and the rhetorical arts. The conclusio serves to make vivid again the profoundly spiritual nature of the experience towards which the study of the Psalm is meant to lead. Having taken the Psalm out of its context, examined it from every side, and presented it to the student with all its rivets undone and seams unzipped, the commentator is here putting the whole thing back together again, synthesizing his own analytical labors into the text of the word of God, always for the purpose of intensifying the devotional experience that the Psalm's student is meant to undergo.
To modern sensitivities, Cassiodorus' speculations in so many of these conclusiones about the significance of numbers strike a discordant note. We find such ideas superstitious and are prone to treat them as amusing primitive aberrations. Nevertheless, they do perform a useful function. Note first that Cassiodorus does not intrude discussion of them at the very beginning of each exposition, where they might function (as the tituli do) as arbiters of the exposition to follow, sources for the particular line of interpretation to be taken. Instead, by saving them for the very end of the whole discussion of the Psalm, after even prayerful summation, Cassiodorus manages to use these discussions to serve the broader purpose of putting the interpretation of a given Psalm in a wider context of Christian thought and experience, summoned up at random by the chance associations of the numbers. Thus the interpretation of Psalm 12 deals chiefly with man's search for God through faith; the conclusio presents a seemingly random assortment of associations of the number: "The number twelve reminds us of the twelve apostles who, in perfect obedience to His commands, loved the Lord above all things and loved their neighbors as themselves in caritas, so that it is fitting that this Psalm has granted such wisdom to us as is known to be dedicated to the number twelve and thus to the apostles. We know also that the Hebrew people were divided into twelve tribes; the Lord promised twelve thrones at the Last Judgment to the apostles; and the year itself is divided into twelve months. But the diligent reader can find many more such things for himself, by which he will recognize that this number is replete with many mysteria" (Ex. Ps. 12.130-140). In this randomness, it seems more than merely coincidental that one sees summarized the whole life of the people of God, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, through the mundane revolution of the year to the Last Judgment at the end of all things. This is the truest full context in which the search for God in faith takes place, and it is to this context that the remarks on the number twelve draw the reader.
The use of number symbolism, moreover, is not absolutely central to Cassiodorus' commentary, however much he enjoyed such considerations. The first eighteen Psalms are all concluded with discussions of their particular numbers; but when Cassiodorus got to Psalm 19, the system broke down: "The significance of this particular number escapes us, but perhaps it can be interpreted as the sum of its parts" (Ex. Ps. 19.160-162). Instead of telling us about the number 19, Cassiodorus was forced to recall the significance of twelve (the apostles) and seven (the first week of creation), thus making the Psalm a summary of Old and New Testament truths over again. This kind of analysis by subdivision is clearly not as direct and successful as the simpler kind and leads to a greater repetitiousness. Thus Cassiodorus began to retract from giving a numerical analysis of every Psalm; Psalm 29, for example, has its number go unnoticed, while Psalm 30 (Joseph's years in Egypt, Christ's age at baptism) is more pliable. On occasion, Cassiodorus will return to the subdivision technique, as in Psalm 112, which is made a reprise of earlier considerations on the number 12, slightly expanded, designed especially to make the Psalm into an image of eternal beatitude. In general, however, the use of such symbolism declines, revived only for the more obvious numbers. Thus the technique is not a central one to Cassiodorus' style of interpretation, but merely a useful device for calling in echoes of the doctrine and faith into which individual interpretations are fitted.
We have thus completed a survey of the mechanics of Cassiodorus' exegesis in the Expositio Psalmorun. Despite the importance of such considerations and the considerable influence that such form has on content, it is both possible and necessary to dissociate from the running stream of exegesis at least some of the more significant of the discernible theological preoccupations that guided the writer's pen. We have been analyzing the work hitherto on a deductive basis, from externals to their implications. Now our attention reverses its path, working inferentially back from scattered hints in the text to broader ideas that can be concluded to lie behind the words on the page.
We have already seen hints of the predominant theological issue that concerned Cassiodorus: Christology. Schlieben noted this, only to remark that the Christology expressed was thoroughly orthodox according to the Chalcedonian definition;[] but Schlieben was assuming that the commentary was written in Italy only for local consumption, and that its dedication to Pope Vigilius at Constantinople was merely an accident of fate, as Cassiodorus happened to be in the east at that time. Such a bland explanation of Cassiodorus' Christology does not, however, adequately lay bare the facts of the case.
For merely to say that Christology is a central concern for Cassiodorus and that his Christology is orthodox Chalcedonian does not begin to do justice to the frequency and the fervor with which the doctrines of Chalcedon are set forth. As early as the second Psalm is interpreted as teaching the doctrine of the two natures of Christ united in one person, concluding that "this doctrine Pope Leo together with the holy Chalcedonian synod decreed and ordained, that whoever wishes to be a catholic [quicumque se vult esse catholicum] should preach one Christ, a perfect union in and of two natures" (Ex. Ps. 2.399-403).[] The comments on Psalm 8 again already speak of the two natures of Christ and refer the reader, in the conclusio, to another seven comments that treat the subject at length (Psalms 2, 20, 71, 81, 107, 109, 138). But these Psalms are not the only ones that excite Christological reflections; such remarks are everywhere, becoming a refrain every few pages. The formula appears, for example, in response to the phrase "non erit in te deus recens" (Ps. 80.10): "Wherefore our patres have preferred, by a marvelous and holy device, to believe and preach two natures united and perfect, abiding in one Lord Christ; so that the diseased and fetid belchings of the heretics might be shut up like a pestiferous mouth by their saving remedy" (Ex. Ps. 80.209-213).[] It is not in connection with one of the substantial treatments of the subject that Cassiodorus is moved to quote for us the Latin translation of the decree of Chalcedon; the quotation occurs in the abnormally long explanation of the titulus of Psalm 58, arising out of general considerations upon the phrase "in finem." The Nestorian heresy is mentioned expressly in an introduction to the long quotation of the essential features of the Chalcedonian decree, including the statement of the homoousios doctrine, the legitimacy of the term Theotokos for Mary, and the four famous Chalcedonian adjectives, rendered here as "sine confusione, sine conversione, sine divisione et sine separatione" (Ex. Ps. 58.41-42).[] To this full statement of the orthodox doctrine, Cassiodorus adds: "A holy faith, inviolable truth, a preaching eagerly to be embraced, which the catholic church professes throughout the whole world through the grace of the Holy Spirit" (Ex. Ps. 58.48-50).
Other heresies than the Nestorian are rebuked in these Christological remarks, chiefly the Eutychian (i.e., Monophysite), but also including the Arian and even Sabellian. To revert to the example of Psalm 81, the conclusio there, which is unusually long for so short a subject text, attacks Nestorians and Eutychians for almost forty lines, based loosely on the Psalm's first verse ("Deus stetit in synagoga deorum"). This is, of course, one of the Psalms identified as an extended treatment of the subject; such discussion in the conclusiones of the commentaries on these Psalms is the rule. As already shown, these longer disputations form only the tip of the Christological iceberg; one simply does not hear of Christ in the Expositio, it often seems, without having "duae naturae" and "una persona" thrown in immediately, lest we should risk forgetting orthodox doctrine (e.g., Ex. Ps. 109.331-334).
It is worth examining further, therefore, the circumstances of the composition of the Expositio Psalmorum, to determine just what sort of role this fixation on the Chalcedonian definitions played in Cassiodorus' thought. If we are right in concluding that the Expositio was written in Constantinople through the 540's, we can begin by examining the theological conditions that prevailed there in the years when Justinian was at his best. The Council of Chalcedon was already gone from living memory after the lapse of a century.[] Eutychius as well, the great rebel against the Chalcedonian doctrine, had long since passed from the stage, leaving his name for a sect. In the first years of the sixth century, under the leadership of such figures as Severus of Antioch (and with the support of the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius, who seems to have lived in this milieu), the first institutionalizing of the Monophysite movement occurred. This quickly became a more serious problem than ever for the Constantinopolitan emperors, who were committed externally to maintaining the Chalcedonian definition (the Henotikon had not succeeded in extricating them from that, especially after Justin ended the Acacian schism and reconciled east and west again for a time), but who were watching more and more of their own subjects in the east abandon the complex formulas of the council.
In this developing crisis, we witness the playing out of the drama of the Three Chapters controversy. The decree originally issued by Justinian in 543 declared anathema on writings of three figures of the last century, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas of Edessa, all of whom were at least of the Antiochene school if not in fact forthrightly Nestorian. The purpose of the edict was to attempt to win support from the right wing of the church, the Eutychians, by seeming to condemn writers of the left. There was, however, a backlash, particularly among westerners, whose terminology on matters of Christology differed slightly but crucially, by a fluke of language and history, from the eastern. One can generalize that the edict condemning the three allegedly Nestorian writers was more or less accepted in the east and rejected in the west. Justinian, however, felt that he needed the approval of the pope for his theological adventure, an approval that proved difficult, but not impossible, to obtain. It was to pressure Pope Vigilius into accepting the Three Chapters decree that the pope was summoned to Constantinople in the mid-540's. Justinian, who always got what he wanted, however high the price, kept Vigilius at court, variously humiliating and exploiting him, until 554, when he sent him off to Italy after the Pragmatic Sanction; Vigilius died en route. The crucial break had come, however, in April 548, when after much procrastination, Vigilius agreed to accept the decree in principle. We have already seen how some scholars have tried to date Cassiodorus' Expositio to some brief period between the publication of Facundus of Hermiane's defense of the writers in question and Vigilius' capitulation to Justinian (i.e., between February and April of 548).
Now let us consider Cassiodorus' theological position. On every page, all up and down the commentary that he wrote at Constantinople in the 540's, there is implicit and explicit in Cassiodorus the exact wording of the Chalcedonian Christology. But this is precisely the sort of thing that was in Justinian's interest not to remind people of any too loudly. Particularly the notion about one person in two natures as well as of two natures, which Cassiodorus never fails to mention, was a sticking point at a time when the establishment at Constantinople was attempting to anathematize writers who were, at most, marginally Nestorian in their theology (and who might have been expected to emphasize the duality at the expense of the personal unity). The emphasis of Constantinopolitan theology at this time, for many reasons, was on the una persona. The possibility therefore arises that, whatever its other purposes were, the Expositio Psalmorurn was written at least in part as a tract in favor of the traditional definition (and in favor of the historical fact that the writers condemned by the Three Chapters decree had died in the peace of the church, uncondemned by that very council of Chalcedon as well) and against the revisionist tendencies of Justinian. Looked at in this way, there is nothing at all surprising about the quotation from Facundus of Hermiane, and the dedication to Vigilius makes all the more sense for bringing the work to the attention of one westerner on whose opinion much depended.
Whether the commentary was completed before Vigilius' decision of April 548 is not an altogether closed question. The only indication we have that Cassiodorus ever accepted the decree for himself, even as a pro forma matter, is the letter of Vigilius excommunicating two diehard opponents of the decree and mentioning Cassiodorus as someone who had been an envoy between Vigilius and the opponents. Although this seems to indicate that Cassiodorus was publicly seen to conform with the decree, it also demonstrates that he was someone whom Vigilius thought would have influence with opponents of the decree. Cassiodorus, at least, was not excommunicated, even if he was still talking to people who were.
Beyond the immediate situation in Constantinople, however, we must look to the later life of Cassiodorus to give us a clue here. After Vigilius' death, the anathema against the three authors did not receive wide or immediate acceptance in Italy. As late as the end of the sixth century, the Irishman Columbanus came to settle at Bobbio, only to find himself in the midst of a controversy still raging among the orthodox. The Lombards, particularly, found the writings of the Three Chapters authors a useful bridge between Arianism and Catholicism, for making Christ seem more human; Columbanus wrote in 613 to Pope Boniface IV that the Lombard king Agilulf, still an Arian, had been reported saying that if the Catholics could make up their mind just what was the orthodox doctrine, he would be happy to believe it.[] In Cassiodorus' own case, two arguments, one ex silentio, need consideration.
First, he never discusses the decree of the Three Chapters, nor does he include the Council of Constantinople of 553 in his list of accepted synods (Inst. 1.11). If he wrote the Expositio Psalmorum when and where he seems to have done, it would be remarkable indeed to have said so much about Christology without mentioning the Three Chapters, unless the purpose was specifically to ignore the embarrassing decree. More positively, however, there is the indisputable fact that when Cassiodorus came to compile a Latin ecclesiastical history to serve as a continuation of Rufinus' translation of Eusebius, one of the three authors whose works he admitted for inclusion of excerpts in the new Historia ecclesiastica tripartita was Theodoret of Cyrrhus, one of the targets of the Three Chapters edict.
It is not therefore likely that Cassiodorus ever enthusiastically embraced the edict against Theodore, Ibas, and Theodoret. It is apparent that, on the other hand, he made his peace with the authorities, at least while he was at Constantinople and m the vicinity of great powers, civil and ecclesiastical. Moreover, he did so at a time when others were making a stand on grounds of conscience and fidelity to the earlier councils. The outcome of this inquiry, finally, demonstrates conclusively that we cannot date the Expositio Psalmorum at all precisely by reference to this dispute. If it were published before the decree of Vigilius in April 548, one might indeed have expected to see some explicit appeal to the pope; if published after that time, one might vcry well expect not to see any explicit discussion of the issue (for that would be dangerous), but instead a continuous barrage of arguments in favor of the full version of the Chalcedonian definition in an attempt to get Vigilius to repudiate his earlier capitulation. Moreover, the work, obviously composed over a long period, would reflect throughout the atmosphere of Constantinople in the 540's and Cassiodorus' position therein. Thus, the only conclusion we can come to about dating for this work is that it seems to have been begun sometime in the early 540's (and recall the statement at the very beginning of the Expositio that puts Cassiodorus' study of the Psalter back to his last days at Ravenna) and completed sometime after Facundus' treatise was published, and very possibly after Vigilius' first decree. Since we have tentatively argued that Cassiodorus remained in Constantinople until about 554, plenty ofœ time remained for him to complete and publish the work during that interlude. Finally, this pattern of Christological preoccupation adds measurably to the probability of our hypothesis for a long stay in Constantinople by Cassiodorus.
If one purpose of the work, however, was to establish the position of orthodox Christology, we have already postponed almost too long a discussion of what seems to have been the dominant purpose of the entire work, namely the introduction of the Psalter to a specifically monastic audience. From early in the church's history, the Psalter had been the specifically monastic book of the Bible, and the recital of the Psalter was an important part of the monastic liturgy, usually meant to be done in full at least once each week. At the same time, the Psalter was the first book to which Christian youths were introduced when they were taught (usually under a monastic aegis) to read. Jerome specifically named the Psalter as the first book that one should read when taking up the study of scripture (followed by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, then the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, and then back to the Old Testament for the Prophets, ctc.).[] By the time of Benedict, the practice of reciting the entire Psalter once around in the course of a week could be codified into a regular routine (Reg. Ben. 18). It is not too much to argue that in the early church the Psalter was a specifically monastic book in more ways than one.
All this is represented in Cassiodorus; indeed, the strongest rcason for scholars to believe that the commentary was written whcn Cassiodorus was already in his monastery was precisely the monasticity of thc whole enterprise (though that does not account for the explicit statemcnt of the origin of Cassiodorus' intercst while he was still at Ravcnna).[] The particular role of thc Psalms in the monastic life is luminously summarized in Cassiodorus' remarkable quotation from Athanasius' letter to Marcellinus on the Psalms: "Whoever recites the words of a Psalm chants them as if they were his own, and each reciter sings them through as though they had been written by him and not someone else and not as if they referred to someone else; but speaking as if about himself, so the reciter utters these words and utters these sentiments to God as written in the Psalm but as coming directly from himself" (Ex. Ps., praef. 16.31-37--cf. PG 27.24A).[] This is thc entire purpose of Cassiodorus' commentary, the desire to make thc Psalter come to life in thc student's hands in such a way that he has it for his own possession forever after. For such a student-monk, thc duty of the liturgical office thus becomes less and less a formal routine and more and more a personal encounter with God in a way that allows the suppliant to pray with words that are at once those of God's prophets and of the suppliant himself giving those words back to God.
There are specific references throughout thc commentary, but only few and scattered ones, directly to the community at Squillace. This is not in itself proof that the work was originally composed at Squillace, or even that it was meant for that monastery. By contrast, we have seen that the indications are that the Vivarium's library did not contain the whole of Augustine's commentary, when the whole of Cassiodorus' work reeks of direct contact with the Augustinian model. There is every possibility that the work of Cassiodorus was carried out with some monastic intention in mind; since, moreover, it does not seem likely that he was already mured up in a monastic establishment in Constantinople, the connection to the enterprise back at Squillace seems more than possible. But again, such possibility must be carefully circumscribed, and one must not assume that this means that Cassiodorus had actually visited the community at Squillace, if it already existed, at any recent time prior to the composition of the Expositio Psalmorum. But this is a matter that will occupy us further in the next chapter.
We can, for the moment, do little better to conclude this study of the Expositio than to look at the way Cassiodorus ended the work himself. The conclusio of the commentary on Psalm 150 became the conclusion of the whole work by the device of expanding the comments on the Psalm's number to refer to the significance of the whole number of. Psalms. The theory about the Psalter representing all of scripture (seventy Psalms for the Old Testament, eighty for the New) is repeated, and this one book is called a "caeleste armarium scripturarum divinarum" (Ex. Ps. 150.179), containing within its scope all of Genesis, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the message of the Apostles. Other aspects of the commentary are recalled, with an emphasis on the technical features that Cassiodorus has been at the most pains to explain for beginners, e.g., the nature of the tituli, the reason for inserting letters of the Hebrew alphabet at the head of stanzas in some Psalms, and the reason for the name unifines being applied (only by Cassiodorus among the church fathers) to Psalms all of whose verses have the same ending. With prayers for the readers' benevolence, then, Cassiodorus concludes: "But now we must convert our hearts to the Lord to whom all thought and deed should tend" (Ex. Ps. 150.246-248).[] Then follows the last oratio.
The achievement of Cassiodorus in writing the Expositio Psalmorum has received mixed reviews over the years. The work's editor, Adriaen, spoke of the work's "overall arrangement of the material, redolent of enormous erudition rather than true wisdom.''[] Schlieben enthusiastically called it "a synthesis of unprecedented intensity.''[] Both views are extreme. The purpose that Cassiodorus set out to achieve was a limited one: to make of Augustine's treatise a textbook of sacred and secular learning and an introduction to the spiritual life and liturgy of monasticism. Once again, his protestations of mediocrity must be taken into account as sincere indications of a modesty of ambition. He was not seeking to scale new theological heights, to bring to bear hitherto unknown lore to make the work in some way completely his own overpowering contribution to the history of interpretation. If his limited aspirations are understood and accepted as legitimate, as I think they should be, we can better understand the diligent, methodical, and self-effacing activity that preoccupied Cassiodorus during his years at Constantinople.
Whatever the work's faults, it was a success in medieval terms, which is to say that it found acceptance across the centuries as a useful introduction to the Psalter for generations of monks entering upon the Psalm-centered life of medieval monastic communities. We have seen throughout this chapter that the details of Cassiodorus' method were carefully and often quite subtly thought through to make the work precisely useful on just this narrow basis. Read hastily, analytically, and skeptically, as moderns are wont to do, the work leaves much to be desired. But we have not read it on Cassiodorus' own terms until we have used it for its original purpose. That would require, in the end, a monastic dedication to the study of the Psalter on the part of the modern scholar; each Psalm would have to be recited at least once a week all through the period of study. In turn, each Psalm studied separately would have to be read slowly and prayerfully, then gone through with the text in one hand (or preferably committed to memory) and the commentary in the other; the process of study would have to continue until virtually everything in the commentary has been absorbed by the student and mnemonically keyed to the individual verses of scripture, so that when the verses are recited again the whole phalanx of Cassiodorian erudition springs up in support of the content of the sacred text. It is in fact unlikely that any modern scholar outside a monastery would ever undertake such a devoted study of this work; but merely to reconstruct the possibility of such a study in the imagination affords a better idea of what the work was and what it meant to its intended audience. In that context it was neither pedantic nor brilliant, but only a shrewd, self-effacing propaedeutic to the most central text in the reader's life.
Go on to Chapter 6 or return to Table of Contents.