Classics Theses

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This collection is made up of doctoral and master theses by research, which have been received in accordance with university regulations.

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  • Publication
    Zeno of Verona Time and Cosmology in Late Antique Christianity
    (University College Dublin. School of Classics, 2023)
    In the 4th century, Milan and Aquileia were powerful civil and religious centres in northern Italy. Each had an Imperial residence, and each was a metropolitan see. They had influential bishops, notably Ambrose in Milan and Chromatius in Aquileia. Verona lies roughly halfway between the two. As a diocese, it was at first part of the see of Milan and was transferred to Aquileia before the end of the century.1 Emperor Gallienus spent some time there, but that was in the previous century. The sermons of Zeno bishop of Verona have survived and that is why he is still remembered. He did not feature in the Church histories of Jerome and others, nor did he attend any of the Councils of Bishops. Scholarship on Zeno has focused on his 93 sermons, in particular on topics such as the biblical references, patristic influences, language and rhetoric, and the sermon on the Zodiac. The research agenda has largely ignored the rationale behind the sermons, and the bishop’s intellectual and philosophical mindset. In this thesis, I have analysed the sermons and their context within a developing liturgy, moving beyond the exegetic and homiletic functions of the sermon. My research analyses three distinct meanings of time – cyclical, linear, and eternity - and how Zeno described and used them in his sermons. Cyclical time, according to the bishop, reflects the nature of the universe, as created and maintained by God. It was comprehensible to the Christian converts in Verona through the cycles of growth and cultivation in its agricultural hinterland, famous for olives, viticulture, and cereal crops. This makes it an ideal metaphor for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Zeno reinforced this narrative by explaining the life of Christ in the Gospels, endorsed by prophecies from the Old Testament. He underlined his message by citing examples from nature of birth, death, and regeneration. In Chapter 1, I will show that while cyclical time may have been an idée fixe for Zeno, he used it effectively for the purposes of his Christian mission. The zodiac represents the cycle of the Sun’s movement through the constellations in a year. Then as now there was widespread belief that one’s fate was determined by the sign or “house” of the zodiac in which the Sun was at the time of one’s birth. This was at variance with the Christian doctrine of free will. Zeno’s sermon is the first instance in text of a Christian interpretation of the zodiac. In Chapter 2, this thesis argues that he combines repudiation with accommodation in confronting this pagan tradition. Further, I argue that Zeno offered a Christian reinterpretation of the zodiac, based on baptism rather than on births; his idea gave rise in later centuries to name-days, still celebrated in several countries today. In Chapter 3, the concept of linear time is identified in the sermons. Zeno referred to the epochs of time, just as the new Christian historiography tabulated events from the Bible and from other civilisations in separate columns. The epochs are constructed by the Almighty, yet they allow for human free will and moral responsibility, and for natural events. Within the epoch of biblical time, Zeno uses the contingency and direction of time to mark out the righteous from the damned. Only the righteous can, with God’s help, see into the future or alter the flow of time, while the damned have no agency in an afterlife of eternal suffering. The causation and the unidirectional progress of linear time distinguish it from the predictable rhythms of cyclical time. This thesis identifies the defining characteristics of linear time, according to the bishop, and shows how he used these as part of a clear religious agenda. For Christians, deep time was set out in the Bible, starting with the Creation and ending at Armageddon. Constructions on passages from Scripture were used to determine the current age of the world and its allotted time span, giving a terminal date in the not-too-distant future. There is also the reward of eternal bliss promised to the faithful followers of Christ. In the final chapter, I will show how the framework of Christian teaching, in the form of Zeno’s sermons, embraced both concepts of time, biblical and eternal. Zeno’s imperative was not limited to scriptural exegesis, for he was concerned with the Arian controversy and the threat it posed to the Church’s message of eternal salvation. He argued consistently that God and his son Christ were co-eternal. From his sermons there unfolds, in dialogue with scripture and with his own intuition and originality, the concept of infinite time as almost equivalent to timelessness. The qualification, I argue, is because Zeno said that the faithful in heaven would be active and would grow in knowledge and fulfilment. Finally, Zeno brought ineffable eternity itself within the ambit of human imagination. In his sermons, he inverted the standard frame of describing time within eternity and invited his congregation to think of the eternal within the natural cycles of the day and the year. His religious philosophy on eternity is both elegant and rigorous. This thesis affirms that Zeno’s work on time and eternity merits evaluation along with that of Plotinus, Augustine, and Boethius, and prefigures the philosophy of Schiller, the poetry of Blake and Wordsworth, the mathematics of Cantor, and the religious philosophy of Barth.