Scholars of Late Antiquity have long recognized that bishops played an influential role in the formation and execution of Roman law. Such was the case even in the Syrian realm, traditionally considered the exotic hinterland of the Roman Empire. Fifth- and sixth-century sources, such as the Syro-Roman Lawbook, early exemplars of canon legislation, and homilies and hagiographic narratives, point to a considerable preoccupation with matters of law and justice for Syrian clergy. This article examines a particularly well-attested slice of this data surrounding Rabbula, the fifth-century bishop of Edessa. Rabbula's background in imperial administration and his post-conversion pursuit of asceticism make him in many ways the prototypical late ancient bishop, combining monastic charisma with civic acumen. A collection of rules for clergy and ascetics attributed to him focuses closely upon priests' and bishops' function in the Roman legal system, their collaboration with Roman magistrates, and the ways in which clerical judicial processes reflected and sought to distinguish themselves from their magisterial analogues. Drawing upon the evidence of the Rules and roughly contemporaneous texts addressing legal practice in Edessa suggests that, Syria's reputation as sui generis notwithstanding, in their judicial capacity Syrian clergy bore striking resemblances to their Western counterparts.

If somebody hassles members of the clergy with a lawsuit on a Sunday, even if it is only on account of some minor matter, he will owe one denarius because he has hassled him, and if [he has hassled him] because of a great matter (lit.: much), double will be asked of him.1 

This provision appears in the so-called Syro-Roman Lawbook, a fifth-century compendium of Roman civil law, and is later reiterated in a number of Syrian Christian canon law collections.2 

The offense it identifies and punishment it threatens raise a number of practical considerations, including the question of how a priest who finds himself beset by legal claimants might go about enforcing such a penalty. While no record exists of fines being meted out to over-eager litigants, the law in question nevertheless reveals a profoundly practical anxiety: clergy, particularly bishops, might find themselves deluged with requests for legal assistance, even in the midst of performing their churchly duties.

Evidence from Late Antiquity suggests that such concerns were well-founded. Clerical accounts from the Greek- and Latin-speaking parts of the Roman Empire brim with complaints about the onslaught of disputants approaching their bishop for resolution and redress. Writing at the turn of the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo, for example, lamented the hours he spent each week addressing such requests. How much rather, Augustine writes, “I would … do some manual labor … than to endure the very confusing perplexities of the problems of others in regard to worldly concerns, which must be eliminated by our judgments or curtailed by actions.”3 

Aspects of these obligations were, no doubt, part of Christian leaders' responsibilities almost from the very beginning: already the apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians encourages his audience to let wise men in their own, Christian community resolve disputes, rather than taking them before Roman magistrates.4 Christians of later centuries evidently took Paul's exhortation sufficiently seriously to generate rules for intra-communal adjudication, typically at the hands of a bishop. The Didascalia apostolorum, a third-century “church order,” for example, instructs bishops to set aside Mondays for sitting in judgment over disputes between members of their communities, and contemplates the possibility of bishops' being approached by non-Christians for judgment as well.5 Under the Emperor Constantine, Christian judicial practices received the imperial seal of approval. The so-called episcopalis audientia, the “bishop's hearing” features prominently, if ambivalently, in Roman law from the fourth century onward, with provisions addressing the uncertainties surrounding bishops' (and, by extension, lower clergy's) role in the Roman legal system.6 By the Syro-Roman Lawbook's era, in other words, Christian clergy across the Empire had become central participants in the Roman legal system—or were at least perceived (and beleaguered) as such by their communities.7 

The role of bishops and other Christian leaders in, and in conversation with, Roman law has been the subject of extensive scholarship among Greek and Latin historians in recent decades. By contrast, these topics have received considerably less attention in the context of Syriac sources,8 in part perhaps because the specter of the “Holy Man,” the ascetic solitary, resolving communal conflict by positioning himself beyond human communion, continues to loom large in these narratives.9 This article aims to examine a different aspect of Syrian Christians' engagement with law and justice: that surrounding the urban bishop and the monastic and ecclesial institutions under his authority. To do so, I draw on a selection of texts and narratives surrounding an exemplary ecclesiastic: Rabbula, the influential fifth-century bishop of Edessa, modern-day Urfa. A couple of sources among Rabbula's considerable literary remains particularly commend themselves to this study: his vita, composed quite shortly after his death, as part of the Edessene community's struggle over Rabbula's heritage; and the “Commands and Admonitions of Mar Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa, for the Clergy and the Qeiama” (hereinafter: Rules10), a set of ecclesiastical regulations allegedly composed by Rabbula and emerging, in any case, from his historical surroundings.

Both sets of sources demonstrate a thoroughgoing preoccupation with law and legal culture. The vita accordingly seeks to position its protagonist as judicial authority over both spiritual and civic matters, in competition with ecclesiastical and Roman judges. In a similar vein, the Rules assume clergy's role as arbiters and advocates on behalf of their congregations; delineate both permissible and impermissible scenarios for these functions; and issue commands for clergy's comportment in the course of performing their judicial duties. In the process, the canons attend to the parameters of Roman law and practice, as well as to the potential these processes held for complementing or compromising ecclesiastical dignity and ascetic holiness. At times these considerations even coalesced, as in instances of a case's transfer from the clerical to the magisterial realm. The canons thus provide a glimpse into the practice—familiar from both Latin West and Greek East—of the episcopalis audientia in the Syrian realm, as well as into the complex web of other legal duties Edessene clergy might assume. As will become apparent, the emerging vision of the Syrian bishop at law is one that shares considerable commonalities with Western contemporaries.


Rabbula of Edessa is one of the best-attested figures from the early stages of Syriac Christian development.11 As bishop of one of the major Syrian metropoleis in the first half of the fifth century, his literary remains include, inter alia, a fragmentary homily,12 a selection of letters allegedly authored or received by Rabbula, and a canon collection, already mentioned above and discussed in greater detail later. Rabbula's life-story is, moreover, attested by an anonymous biography composed in the politically fraught decades after his tenure as bishop.13 Its proximity to Rabbula's lifetime suggests at least a modicum of historical reliability, even if its record is undoubtedly tinged with hagiographic flourishes.14 As such, it may tell readers as much about the kind of judicial persona Rabbula and his followers sought to cultivate, or about the era's judicial ideal, as about Rabbula's actual legal practice.

The vita in many regards presents its protagonist as a hybrid creature, part prototypical “holy man,” part savvy politician. Upon his conversion to Christianity, Rabbula thus divests himself of his considerable possessions and sets out into the desert to do battle with demons in imitation of Christ.15 His fame spreads, and while he is initially successful in concealing himself from the people who seek him out as “a man who left the world and loved the wasteland,” he is ultimately carried off to ordination in Edessa.16 Even as bishop of a metropolis, however, Rabbula's profile retains the impress of the ascetic superstar. His lifestyle remains abstemious, his sanctity causes even his own household to stand in awe of him, and he wields the power of heaven vis-à-vis Edessa's wealthy elites as the Roman authorities. By the same token, however, Rabbula brings to bear upon his episcopal leadership not only the charisms of the desert, but also his pre-Christian background. The son of an elite, religiously mixed family, Rabbula, according to his vita, prior to his conversion enjoyed an education in “Greek letters” before embarking upon a career in the Roman imperial administration.

The—no doubt not entirely unusual—conjunction of urban and eremitic, civic and ascetic in the vita presents Rabbula, in Han Drijver's assessment, as “at the one time a humble monk and a cruel and shrewd civil servant of the imperial administration.”17 Rabbula's hybridity is particularly apparent in the vita's depiction of his judicial persona. The latter is a central theme for Rabbula's hagiographer: one of his first descriptions of Rabbula is that of him “valiant in the arena of righteousness”18—a phrase reminiscent of the Pauline and deutero-Pauline depiction of the Christian life as a quasi-Olympic struggle, but also a foreshadowing of Rabbula's own, continued combat as a champion at law. Indeed, Rabbula's first act as a bishop is one of just judgment—judgment over his own soul. The son of a wealthy pagan father and a Christian mother, conversion came late for Rabbula, and involved, as for some of the more conspicuous Christians in Late Antiquity, a conversion not just to Christianity but to asceticism. The combination of Rabbula's reputation for self-denial and, perhaps even more prominently, his enthusiasm for divesting himself of all family property made him a viable candidate for the see of Edessa. And yet, here the vita depicts Rabbula as breaking with an almost uniform feature of late ancient hagiography: the refus de pouvoir, the rejection of the episcopacy that in so many other vitae shows a future bishop, much like future emperors, as truly worthy of the honor he is about to receive. Instead, Rabbula is said—twice!—to have judged his soul and found it … not wanting: “Nothing has compelled my intellect out of desire, nor does [desire for] property hold sway in my heart. I believe without hesitation that all is truly from God.”19 

This remarkable feat of self-judgment prefigures Rabbula's career as judicial arbiter for the people of Edessa, a capacity in which he showcases both his ascetic and his worldly pedigree. In the guise of the former, he, like other “Holy Men,” could speak candidly to conflicts between individuals as well as between communities.20 In the guise of the latter, Rabbula could enter effectively into dialogue with the Roman Empire's expansive legal apparatus. From the reign of Constantine onward, imperial legislation had recognized bishops' privileged function as arbiters for their communities; bishops thus addressed matters pertaining to the church and its clergy by rights, on the basis of the principle that only like could judge like,21 and addressed civil lawsuits by the consent of the parties involved, a scenario known to students of Late Antiquity as “episcopalis audientia.”22 

The latter role did not, strictly speaking, parallel that of the Roman iudex, the judge and magistrate. Within the legal system of the Roman Empire, however, iudices were far from the only actors. Instead, Romans in need of conflict resolution could (and frequently did) make use of the more informal channels of arbitration or mediation by agreed-upon authority figures. Indeed, one and the same person could assume different functions, depending on circumstances and petitioners' needs.23 Bishops' and clergy's roles held clear and obvious connections with each of these practices without conforming neatly to any of the models; ancient writings accordingly refer to bishops variously as iudices and arbitri, and clergy's own accounts of their activities make clear that they were prepared to be quite flexible in their approach in order to effect resolution. Those who engaged in such conflict resolution for their petitioners nevertheless did not hesitate to think of themselves as judges—a line of discourse that later imperial legislation sought to counteract—and did not shy away from writing about the judicial office as a quasi-sacred profession.24 

By the end of the fourth century and perhaps well before then, bishops acting in judicial or quasi-judicial capacities had thus entered a realm that, while closely connected to the practice's scriptural and ecclesiastical origins, was also increasingly hedged about by Roman law and the Roman legal apparatus. Rabbula's vita—despite its hagiographic gloss—captures well the dual nature of the episcopal judge. On the one hand, Rabbula is portrayed as brimming with biblical virtue: he is gifted with intelligence and wisdom equal to Solomon;25 his discernment permits him to trample the proud, while lifting up the poor and lowly.26 On the other hand, however, the vita aligns Rabbula with late ancient descriptions of Roman judges by depicting him as striking terror into the hearts of the people of Edessa. Indeed, so great is the fear Rabbula inspires that “[e]veryone hastened to transact his business with his neighbor with an honest accounting so as not to be reproved before Rabbula in a lawsuit.”27 

Portrayals of judges as terrifying proliferate in Late Antiquity. As Rabbula's contemporary, Theodoret, observed, “[i]nfants are scared of sorcerers, children of pedagogues and teachers, while grown men are especially thrown into a panic by judges, tribunals, heralds, beadles and those who execute the sentence”.28 Such a fearsome reputation could even become a boon for magistrates who needed to induce terror at least in order to preserve the public order.29 Rabbula's awe-inspiring presence, the vita claims, moreover obviated many of the otherwise essential features of a trial: instead of requiring the testimony of witnesses or the persuasion of torture (ubiquitous in the Roman judicial system), Rabbula's discernment penetrates all attempts at deception, such that “the mind[s] of those before him seeking a judgment were utterly disquieted by the spirit of the wisdom of God that was in him. When their argument became confused by their fear, in their mouth[s] they spoke the truth though unwillingly; and even the witness who was bringing the charge sought his own condemnation.”30 

Despite Rabbula's hybrid judicial persona, however, his practice, the vita suggests, was circumscribed by the practices of other, competing authorities. In Rabbula's era, a bishop's verdict, unlike that of a magistrate, was final. As with other forms of arbitration, the parties to such an action had consented to be bound by the bishop's pronouncement.31 Rabbula's vita nevertheless suggests that, in practice, clergy's decisions could be second-guessed by other authorities, even if it does so to emphasize Rabbula's prowess: “who was among the judges in the district who were alive in [Rabbula's] lifetime,” Rabbula's anonymous biographer asks, “thought to go against his word, and God did not seize him swiftly … with a terrible punishment so that he suffer because he had gone astray?”32 Rabbula's judgments, in other words, stand because he enjoys divine patronage, whose authority silences conflicting voices. In the absence of supernatural intervention, ordinary clergy, by contrast, might find themselves overruled.

From these isolated snapshots of Rabbula's judicial activities emerges a picture of the bishop as an (exceptionally effective) arbiter of justice for his community. Indeed, the vita limns Rabbula's life and labors with just such a narrative: having begun his episcopal career with a just judgment, Rabbula at the end of his life is commemorated accordingly. At his funeral, the vita reports, all of Edessa mourns Rabbula not only as a giver of good gifts but “as one who was concerned about justice.”33 Rabbula's justice here becomes not only the bishop's most salient characteristic, but the means for transcending boundaries between ascetics and lay persons, Jews and Christians, civic and ecclesiastical functionaries, implicating the entire city in the bishop's performance of righteousness.

Such an unwavering emphasis makes for a distinctive episcopal portrait, no doubt shaped by the battle over the bishop's legacy in the years following his death.34 Rabbula's literary legacy suggests, moreover, that the bishop sought to transmit both his investment in judicial practice and his skillful execution thereof to other members of the Syrian Christian elite. Already the vita accordingly celebrates the fact that under Rabbula's guidance, the monasteries surrounding Edessa were governed by Rabbula's “just canons”.35 A set of “admonitions” (ܙܘܗܪ̈ܐ) for monks attributed to Rabbula indeed survives, as do his Rules for priests and a group of ascetics apparently affiliated with local churches, known only as the Bnay qyāmā.36 The latter, perhaps unsurprisingly, provide the reader with tantalizing glimpses into the framework of clerical justice in Edessa.


Compared to the scarcity of manuscripts witnessing to Rabbula's vita, evidence for the canons is extensive: the earliest sources date back to the sixth century, suggesting that within a few decades after his death, Rabbula's name was associated with them.37 As already noted, the idea that Rabbula composed such writings is supported by his vita, although the excerpts presented by his hagiographer are not necessarily of a piece with the rules ascribed to him in the manuscript tradition. Whether their attribution indeed reflects historical reality has been a subject of scholarly dispute for some centuries now. Horn and Phenix, the editors of the Rabbula corpus' recent edition, while providing a survey of the arguments, declare “the problem of authorship of the canons … probably intractable.”38 For purposes of this essay, however, firm attribution of the canons to Rabbula's pen is secondary to a matter that has been established: unlike another, far later collection of canons similarly attributed to the bishop, the Rules emerge from Rabbula's geographic and temporal proximity—that is, from a fifth-century Syriac Christian milieu.39 

As might be expected, the Rules cover many of the ideological, liturgical, and particularly behavioral aspects of clerical existence. Clergy are instructed concerning the living arrangements proper to each group (Rules 2, 10, 22, 42), the rhythms of prayer (20, 27), and the need to “know the true faith of the holy church that the heretics may not lead them astray” (1).40 More so than the expected categories of sexual ethics or doctrinal purity, however, the Rules evince a preoccupation with law and civic affairs.41 The Christian “professionals” of the city are thus warned against entangling themselves unduly with worldly matters: they must not become anyone's guardian (ܐܦܛܪܘܦܐ)—a position of great fiscal and legal responsibility42—(26) or serve as surety for another person (41). In the same vein, no man currently involved in a law-suit could be designated for ordination (13): the claim which such a suit, even in the absence of a verdict, imposed upon a person was akin to the yoke of slavery, the Rules suggest, and as such did not leave a person sufficiently free to accept a clerical calling.

Clergy and ascetics of Edessa are, moreover, prohibited from offering certain kinds of legal assistance: priests in particular must not take on as advocates the lawsuits of their own relatives or of people who have a reputation for bribing judges (26). The specific nature of these prohibitions points towards a broader tolerance of clergy's serving as legal advocates for others, whose representation did not fall within such unseemly parameters. Indeed, bishops and monastics who assumed the role of judicial intercessors were not uncommon in Roman Syria. The late fourth-century canons ascribed to Maruta of Maipherqat, for instance, call for the appointment of a monk “who has the faculty of speech and with it frankness,” whose task was to visit and interview those who had been placed in the town's prisons, and to intercede on behalf of those worthy of release.43 Even where a priest's advocacy did not ipso facto raise the specter of impropriety, however, the Rules contain guidance for clergy's comportment. Priests in pursuit of legal resolution, accordingly, must not “keep turning up at the doorstep of a judge” (ܒܬܪܥܐ ܕܕܝܿܢܐ).44 An undue level of persistence in judicial affairs—even in the guise of continued intercession on behalf of another—could evidently compromise clerical detachment or at least popular perceptions thereof.

Yet while clergy evidently served as advocates in legal matters, their greatest popularity—and, the Rules suggest, greatest vulnerability—arose from their function as judges and arbiters. The Rules accordingly address procedural requirements for clergy sitting in judgment over the affairs of their fellow Edessenes. In theory at least, Christians' legal affairs were to be handled “in house”: Rule 36 thus echoes the Pauline dictum against taking community-internal grievances “before the unrighteous”—that is, before Roman magistrates (1 Cor 6.1). In the Eschaton, Paul avers, Christians would judge angels; deference to pagan, civic authorities was accordingly not only improper but a grave misunderstanding of their roles and capacities.45 In a similar vein, the Rules warn priests to “settle contentions,” and to avoid “going to the town”—and presumably the magistrate—for this purpose.

Not all clergy were qualified to sit in judgment: only those who “in the test, are known not to show favor” could be designated to hear cases (14). Once they had accepted a suit, however, clerical judges in Edessa apparently followed procedures that resembled those of a Roman magistrate. The Rules, for example, warn against taking bribes from those caught up in a lawsuit (5), and exhort their audience to avoid accepting a forged document that might lead them to “do [something] against justice” (35). The anxiety that a judge's failure to properly examine the deeds, sworn statements, or other documents, might lead to a false verdict, also elucidates the Rules' prohibitions against priests' scourging anyone—a decree, interestingly, that does not comport with Rabbula's own portrayal in the vita.46 At times, the Rules concede, clergy might indeed encounter situations compelling them to scourge. Under such circumstances, however, priests ought to use the whip “only to frighten”—or else to hand the matter off to the “judges of the world,” the Roman magistrates (35).

To understand the context of this set of instructions it is worth recalling that in Late Antiquity, the business of justice was also frequently the business of violence.47 The latter becomes apparent already at the outset of a trial before a Roman magistrate, during the evidence-gathering phase of a suit known as the quaestio.48 Human witnesses constituted one of the most significant resources for discerning disputed facts, yet their examination could prove challenging for both civic and ecclesial judges. Interrogations thus frequently required force to elicit the truth or ensure that the witness' report or party's assertion was, in fact, reliable. Indeed, the deployment of torture during this part of the trial was sufficiently pervasive in the minds of Roman legal experts that it came to designate the entire trial phase. In the words of the famous third-century jurist Ulpian, “[b]y the term ‘quaestio’ we must understand the use of torments and physical pain to establish the truth.”49 

Rabbula himself, if the vita is to be trusted, did not need to take recourse to such approaches; his superior discernment revealed the veracity of a witness' testimony more effectively than a whip ever could. Ordinary bishops and priests confronted with a lawsuit, by contrast, might be tempted to test the reliability of a claim by following Roman magistrates' example. Indeed, in the episcopal courts of their Western contemporaries, beatings and other forms of violence were a known, if not always an uncontroversial, part of judicial practice.50 In these instances, the Rules suggest, the ecclesial judge had to restrain himself, scourging only “to frighten,” or, if that proved ineffective, to hand over the potential victim (and, by extension, the lawsuit) to the magistrate.

The Rules thus reveal a set of internal tensions, a readily perceptible conflict between biblical ideal and practical exigencies. In first-century Corinth, the distinction between Christian and pagan, communal judgment and civic judgment might have been readily perceptible— although Paul's letters suggest that the conclusions Christians drew from them were far from unanimous. By the fifth century, however, the Roman Empire, including Syria, had been very largely Christianized: the “judges of the world” were thus, for the most part, Christians who, much like the Byzantine Emperor, looked to their bishop and his men for the performance of the sacraments.51 

The Rules' discussion of judicial interrogation and the limits set for clergy similarly point to a degree of quotidian interdependence between bishop and magistrate in this realm. The practice of ministry, especially its more “civic-spirited” manifestations, in an urban setting required compromises on the part of bishops and their subordinates, and evidently a measure of collaboration with the worldly authorities: better to hand over a suit to those who could extract necessary information than to expose ministers to the stain of torture and bloodshed. Both groups nevertheless shared many assumptions about the nature of justice and how it could be achieved. In the Roman Empire, this meant that at least some individuals were trustworthy only if their statements had been extracted by force.52 If not all of the means for achieving demonstrably just outcomes in a lawsuit were within the purview of clergy, for whom holiness was a fundamental consideration, deference to civil authorities could prove face-saving for all parties involved.

These sources, whether legal or hagiographical, provide glimpses into the world of fifth century Syrian Christians, their communities, power structures, and engagement with Roman authority. By the same token, however, Rabbula's justice, its theoretical underpinnings, practical manifestations, and rhetorical deployment, also anchor him and his surroundings in the broader narrative of episcopal identity and responsibility across the Roman Empire. A glimpse beyond the Syrian context reveals a set of shared discourses surrounding justice and judgment extending from Edessa to Milan, and from Rabbula to his Western contemporaries.


Perched on the eastern edge of the Empire, a constant point of negotiation between Rome and Persia until its Arab conquest in 638 C.E., the province of Syria continues to enjoy a touch of the exotic in the imagination of many modern-day scholars. “East of Antioch,” to borrow a phrase from Han Drijver's famous work on early Syriac Christianity, appears as the Wild West of the Roman Empire. Its ascetic movements, larger-than-life holy men, and violently executed theological controversies have all contributed to Syria's status as exceptional in late ancient Christian discourses. Rabbula, in many ways, is a case in point: his hagiographers portray him as a model of alimentary and material renunciation, his opponents as a violent and irascible tyrant.53 Between the two extremes, however, lies the picture of Rabbula as judge and judicial reformer reflected both in his vita and by his Rules for the clergy of Edessa. This facet of Rabbula's life and labors points to a somewhat less “exotic” profile for Syrian monks and clergy, and one that in many regards resembles those of other parts of the Roman Empire. The Rules and hagiographies, each with its own foci and limitations, showcase an urban clerus actively involved in judicial resolution for its constituents, working alongside and within the boundaries of the imperial legal apparatus, and grappling with both the opportunities and the challenges the latter's substantive and procedural assumptions presented.

In these regards, Rabbula's own profile as judge, judicial intercessor, and ecclesial administrator resembles those of his western episcopal colleagues. In these concluding paragraphs, I want to illustrate the continuities in approach, pedagogy, and presentation between Rabbula and one of his near-contemporaries from the Latin West, a Christian leader who, like Rabbula, enjoyed a reputation as ecclesiastical reformer, monastic patron, and skilled judge: Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan. The latter, despite a smattering of appearances in later Syriac sources, lacks all apparent ties to either Rabbula or his hagiographer.54 The correspondences between the two bishops' trajectories and emphases are nevertheless striking. Like Rabbula, Ambrose acceded to the see of a major metropolis on the heels of a career in the imperial administration.55 Both bishops evidently stood in a special relationship with their cities' ascetics, even capitalizing on a kind of ascetic charisma in their own ministries.56 By the same token, both Rabbula and Ambrose brought to bear their organizational talents upon the clergy under their care. Ambrose's version of the Rules is far more expansive and literary, adapting Cicero's De officiis to the formation of a new, Christian-clerical elite.57 Here, too, however, justice and its practical implications and applications for priests and other clerics stand at the center of the bishop's instructions.

Rabbula's and Ambrose's vision for the day-to-day practices of judicial administration share much in common while retaining distinctive traces of their respective environments. Ambrose's epistolary corpus, for example, attests to his successful resolution of high-profile disputes and service as counselor to elite clients.58 No equivalent set of texts exists for Rabbula, and readers might speculate whether the irascible bishop of Edessa would have been able to parlay his elite upbringing into political capital with similar success as his Milanese colleague. By contrast, the ordinary suits that stand at the center of Rabbula's vita recede into the background of Ambrose's self-presentation.

Such differences notwithstanding, however, the author of the Rules and Ambrose sound similar notes in their instructions to fellow clergy. Both bishops, for example, worried about the appearance of partiality among clerical judges active in the socially mixed context of late ancient cities. The Rules, as already noted, sought to admit only those priests as judges who had demonstrated their even-handedness; to do otherwise threatened to jeopardize the church's image in the community. In the same vein, a speech attributed to Rabbula by the vita has the bishop exhorting his fellow clergy that “we are standing in the very high glory of the priesthood [so that] all the people that are standing below us look to us for guidance.”59 Priests and clergy accordingly must “as befits the beauty of true righteousness … set the example in our own actions, witnesses to those watching that our promise is true.”60 Such righteousness had to manifest itself practically in the judicial processes clerics undertook as well; the Rules accordingly echo the vita's message by urging clergy to abstain from receiving bribes and be wary of forged documents.61 

Ambrose similarly recognizes the damaging potential of priestly partiality. De officiis thus champions the value of aequitas—treating everyone according to the same principles.62 Priests, accordingly, must not grant special treatment to better-heeled disputants when deciding a suit; the poor bear Christ's image just as much as, or indeed even more than, their rich accusers.63 In this vein, much as partiality might shame the church, just judgment could prove attractive to those who were still outside the Christian fold: sound advice and unbiased judgment, Ambrose averred, prepared for clergy a way into the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. Like Solomon, a just priest will attract to himself clients and onlookers from all over the world.64 To do or neglect justice in private and individual matters promised to impact the perception of the Church in public and corporal ones.

The parallels between Ambrose's and Rabbula's careers and focus on judicial formation, while striking, are not as singular as they appear. A similar case might be made for correlations between, for example, Rabbula and Basil of Caesarea, Rabbula and Augustine, or even Rabbula and Shenoute of Atripe. What conclusions might one draw from these intersecting episcopal profiles? Many of the apparent connections between bishops' lives and careers might be a matter of coincidence, of their and their biographers' indebtedness to genre-specific conventions, not to mention the suggestion that certain shared traits or activities simply reflect the nature of the shared office. Bishops, in other words, could be expected to care for the poor, seek to educate lower clergy, and be concerned about the Church's reputation in their communities.

Rabbula's and Ambrose's emphasis on justice and on preparing clergy for the task of comporting themselves as judges within the parameters set by Roman law nevertheless is more than a mere artifact of the episcopacy's “natural” shape; rather, we might speculate, it attests to their shared background among the Empire's provincial elites, including, in Rabbula's case, those of Syria, and, in Ambrose's, those of his native Gaul, as well as their participation in the surrounding judicial discourses. These shared presuppositions could trump differences in language, in regional provenance, and theological emphases; indeed, they were designed to do so.65 Rabbula's heirs proceeded to preserve the Roman legal tradition with equal vigor as their Western contemporaries, as the great canon-law compendia of later centuries attest; the long arm of Roman law extended itself into regions that had never been or had long ceased to be part of the Roman Empire, lending a kind of coherence to a tradition that remained, especially in the Syrian realm, deeply divided over matters of faith and doctrine.


R III Par. 119–1= Par 105.4, in Walter Selb and Hubert Kaufhold, Das syrisch-römische Rechtsbuch, 3 vol. Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Antike Rechtsgeschichte 9 (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2002), II: 232. The law is ascribed to “the Emperor Leon,” presumably Leo I, whose reign, from 457 to 474 C.E., unfolded just a couple of decades after Rabbula's tenure in Edessa. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the same law refer to the Emperor's similarly preventing other civic authorities, including judges, from exercising their powers on Sunday, in order to facilitate communal gathering for Sunday worship. For a discussion of the origin and aims of the Syro-Roman Lawbook, see, Mats Eskhult, “The Syro-Roman Lawbook and Local Legal Custom,” in Symposium syriacum VII: Uppsala University, Department of Asian and African Languages, 11–14 August 1996, ed. René Lavenant. Orientalia Christiana Analecta 256 (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 1998), 149–57; Walter Selb, “Die Aufnahme des Syrisch-römischen Rechtsbuches in den Kreis des nestorianischen Rechtsquellen,” in Festschrift für Erwin Seidl zum 70. Geburtstag, eds. Heinz Hübner et al. (Köln: P. Hanstein, 1975), 161–66; idem, “Probleme des Systems und des Systemvergleichs im Syrisch-römischen Rechtsbuch,” Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte: Romanistische Abteilung 79 (1962): 28–50.
These include, for example, the Nomocanon of Gabriel of Basra in the tenth century (Nomocanon 105; Selb and Kaufhold, Rechtsbuch, II.340; Hubert Kaufhold, Die Rechtssammlung des Gabriel von Basra und ihr Verhältnis zu den anderen juristischen Sammelwerken der Nestorianer [Berlin : J. Schweitzer, 1976]); and the Nomocanon of Barhebraeus in the thirteenth century (Nomocanon 105; Selb and Kaufhold, Rechtsbuch, II.388). For a full edition of the Syriac text, see Paul Bedjan, Nomocanon Gregorii Barhebraei [Paris-Leipzig, 1898]); and the Nomocanon of Abdīshō' bar Brīkhā in the 14th century (Nomocanon 105; Selb and Kaufhold, Rechtsbuch, II.352); ‘Abdīshō’ bar Brīkhā and István Perczel, The Nomocanon of Abdisho of Nisibis: a Facsimile Edition of MS 64 from the Collection of the Church of the East in Trissur [Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2009]). For a discussion of this and the subsequent sources, see Wilfriend Hartman and Kenneth Pennington, eds., The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012).
Augustine, De opere monachorum 29.37 (CSEL 41.529–596, 587); translation Saint Augustine, Treatises on Various Subjects, trans. Mary Sarah Muldowney, et al. The Fathers of the Church 16 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), 385.
1 Cor 6.1–8.
For a discussion of the Didascalia as a legal text, see Caroline Humfress, “Bishops and Lawcourts in Late Antiquity: How (Not) to Make Sense of the Legal Evidence,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 19.3 (2011): 375–400; Caroline Humfress, Orthodoxy and the Courts in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 153–155; Jill Harries, Law and Empire in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 192–195. The coherence and utility of “church orders” as a literary category has been called into question recently by Joseph Mueller (“The Ancient Church Order Literature: Genre or Tradition?,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 15 [2007]: 337–380).
The earliest of these, CTh 1.27.1 (318?), for example, provides that cases pending before a magistrate could be transferred to a bishop's “jurisdiction” if both parties were agreeable to such a move. For a survey of the laws pertaining to the episcopalis audientia and the Roman legal trends associated with them, see Harries, Law and Empire in Late Antiquity, 195–203.
The Syro-Roman Lawbook elsewhere ascribes legal and law-adjacent duties—or at least those that had parallels in the Roman Empire's civic structures—to bishops, priests, and, in rural communities, periodeutes as well. These include, for example, responsibilities for witnessing the testaments of village-dwellers without substantial assets of which to dispose, who could spare themselves and their heirs the costs normally associated with the process of depositing their wills in the city archives by gathering before the priests, deacons, and village elders, as well as depositing copies of the will with the local church (R III Par. 96 = Par. 88b in Selb and Kaufhold, Das syrisch-römische Rechtsbuch, II.118, 120); the overseeing of creditors' claims against orphans (R II, Par 154 = Par. 126.2 in Selb and Kaufhold, Das syrisch-römische Rechtsbuch, II.182); and the manumission of slaves (R II Par. 43 = Par. 114.2–3 in Selb and Kaufhold, Das syrisch-römische Rechtsbuch, II.166, 168).
John C. Lamoreaux's otherwise exhaustive article on the episcopalis audientia, for example, makes no mention of Rabbula or contemporaneous Syriac sources (“Episcopal Courts in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 3.2 [1995]: 143–67), while Claudia Rapp's fine discussion of bishop's judicial practices addresses the latter only in the guise of the judicial work done by “holy men”: (Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition [Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005], 242–52).
The classic exposition of this topos is Peter Brown's seminal article, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” The Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 80–101. In the intervening decades, this label has taken on the status of a terminus technicus (see, for example, its use in Rudolf Haensch, “Christlicher Euergetismus ob honorem? Die Einsetzung von Klerikern in ihre Ämter und die von diesen vorangetriebenen Bauprojekte,” in Episcopal Elections in Late Antiquity, eds. Johan Leemans, et al. [Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011], 167–181). Brown has on several occasions returned to reassessing his influential creation; see, for example, Peter Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity, 1971–1997,” JECS 6.3 (1998): 353–376.
In this designation, I follow Arthur Vööbus, Syriac and Arabic Documents Regarding Legislation Relative to Syrian Asceticism. Papers of the Estonian Theological Society in Exile 11 (Stockholm: Estonian Theological Society in Exile, 1960), 24–50.
The relative proliferation of ancient resources has not, however, generated a concomitant amount of modern scholarly attention. See, for example, Glen Bowersock's assessment that Rabbula's vita has “attracted remarkably little attention from historians of late antiquity” (“The Syriac Life of Rabbula and Syrian Hellenism,” in Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity, eds. Tomas Hägg, Philip Rousseau, and Christian Høgel [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000], 255–72, 255–6.
For a discussion of the homily's origins, contents, and attributability to Rabbula, see Georg Günter Blum, Rabbula von Edessa: Der Christ, der Bischof, der Theologe (Louvain: CSCO, 1965), 131–49.
In this essay, I draw on the Syriac rendition of the vita in Robert R. Phenix Jr. and Cornelia B. Horn, The Rabbula Corpus: Comprising the Life of Rabbula, His Correspondence, a Homily Delivered in Constantinople, Canons and Hymns (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2017), 2–83. After Rabbula's death, his theological and political rival, Ibas, had been recalled from exile and installed as Rabbula's successor in 436 C.E. As Han Drijvers has argued, the vita, as well as the closely related Life of the Man of God of Edessa served as propaganda pieces in support of Rabbula's faction among Edessa's Christians (“The Man of God of Edessa, Bishop Rabbula, and the Urban Poor: Church and Society in the Fifth Century,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4.2 [1996]: 235–48.
In contrast to Drijvers, Glen W. Bowersock has praised the Syriac vita as “remarkably free from the legendary accretions that mark the lines about Rabbula in the Greek biography of Alexander Akoimētos” (“The Syriac Life of Rabbula and Syrian Hellenism,” in Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity, eds. Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000], 255–72, 255). In Bowersock's assessment, the vita reflects its author's intimate knowledge of Rabbula's life and context, making it “a faithful record of this new world [of eastern Christianity] and, in particular, of its contours in central Syria” (“Syriac Life of Rabbula,” 272).
Overbeck 167.11–15.
Overbeck 168.8–11; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 23.
Drijvers, “Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa,” 151.
Overbeck 159.4.
Overbeck 171.26–27.
Symeon Stylites, perhaps the paradigmatic Syrian ascetic, is described by Theodoret as having the gift of arbitrating lawsuits bestowed upon him by the Prophet Elijah (Hans Lietzmann, Das Leben des heiligen Symeon Stylites [Leipzig: Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, 1908], 127–28). Indeed, as Rapp suggests, “[t]he bishop's role as arbiter is not all that dissimilar to the holy man's role as peacemaker” (Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity, 250).
This principle, known as priviliegium fori, is expressed, e.g., in the Emperor Valentinian's affirmation that “in a matter of the Faith or of any ecclesiastical ordinance, the judges ought to be qualified for it, both competent by office and qualified by profession,” recounted in Ambrose's Ep. 21.2 to Valentinian's son, Valentinian II. This aspect of episcopal judicial activity usually forms a less-regarded subset of the episcopalis audientia in scholarship. A notable exception to this rule is Antonio Banfi, Habent illi iudices suos. Studi sull' esclusività della giurisdizione ecclesiastica e sulle origini del privilegium fori in diritto romano e bizantino (Milano: Dott. A. Giuffrè Editore, 2005).
See CT 1.27.1 (318 C.E.); later elaborations of this initial dictum can be found in CI 1.4.7 (398 C.E.); CT 1.27.2 (= CI 1.4.8; 408 C.E.); as well as in the controversial Sirmondian Constitution 1, allegedly stemming from 333 C.E. The latter's authenticity has been, to this author's mind, conclusively disproved by, inter alia, Adrian J.B. Sirks' recent essay, “The Episcopalis Audientia in Late Antiquity,” Droit et cultures 65 (2013): 79–88. Accessed June 15, 2017, I am grateful to Prof. Hartmut Leppin for bringing this source to my attention.
For a discussion of the relative flexibility of judicial and quasi-judicial roles in Late Antiquity, see Jill Harries, Law and Empire, 174; for a similar topos in the context of episcopal judicial intervention, eadem, Law and Empire, 103.
Bishops certainly thought of themselves as acting as judges, as Giulio Vismara has pointed out (“Ancora sulla ‘episcopalis audientia’ Ambrogio arbitro o giudice?,” Studia et documenta historiae et iuris 53 [1987]: 53–73, 55–57; cf., however, Walter Selb, “Episcopalis audientia von der Zeit Konstantins bis zur Nov. XXXV Valentinians III,” Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte: Romanistische Abteilung 84 [1967]: 162–217). Moreover, the increasingly explicit attempts to describe episcopal judgment in terms of arbitration—particularly the allusion to CT 1.27.2 in Valentinian III's Novel 35, according to which “aliter eos iudices esse non patimur”—suggest that the conception of episcopal judges in popular conception at least kept encroaching upon the imperially established office in worrisome ways.
Overbeck 191.15.
See, for example, Vita S. Rabbulae 21 (Overbeck 175.7–9).
Overbeck 187.21–23.
Theodoret, Ep. 36, ed. Azéma 1955: 100–1.
For a somewhat later period, the reign of Justinian, Roger D. Scott accordingly adduces evidence that the Emperor's legislative measures were received with fear (phobos), but that phobos is routinely regarded as having a positive effect upon the city or people in question. They are said to be “calm,” or “secure,” and while more hostile sources use the same data to excoriate Justinian for his reign of terror, the semantic, affective, and political range of phobos evidently extended into positive realms as well (“Malalas, the Secret History, and Justinian's Propaganda,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 39 [1985]: 99–109, 105).
Overbeck 191.3–5; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 57.
Parties' right to pursue such an appeal was one of the distinguishing hallmarks of late ancient trials before a iudex vis-à-vis other forms of conflict resolution, and there is every indication that disgruntled litigants took fulsome advantage of it (CT 11.30.1). The legislative trend, however, in this regard moves the episcopalis audientia ever closer to the procedural schema of trial before the magistrate. The Justinianic Code's Novella 123.21 (546 C.E.) thus acknowledges a dissatisfied party's right to appeal a bishop's judgment to the imperial courts even in cases involving claims against an ecclesiastically affiliated party. All references to the Justinianic corpus are from Paul Krueger, Theodore Mommsen, and Rudolph Scholl, eds., Alan Watson, trans., Corpus iuris civilis, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1884–95; repr., Philadelphia, 1985).
Overbeck 188.6–8; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 53.
Overbeck 207.13; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 81.
See, Drijvers, “Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa,” passim.
Overbeck 168.18.
This ascetic office, as well as its female counterpart, the Bnāt qyāmā, has attracted considerable scholarly attention. For a concise discussion of these ascetic offices, for which no parallels outside the Syriac realm exist, see Robert Kitchen, “Bnay qyāmā, Bnāt qyāmā” in Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage, eds. Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron Michael Butts, George Anton Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 69–70. For more extensive introduction to the offices and their responsibilities, see, inter alia, Sidney H. Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria: The Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism,” in Asceticism: Papers Presented at the International Conference on The Ascetic Dimension in Religious Life and Culture, eds. Vincent L Wimbush and Richard Valantasis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 220–245; Arthur Vööbus, “The Institution of the Benai Qeiama in the Ancient Syrian Church,” Church History 30 (1961): 14–27; R. Robert Macina, “Les bnay et bnat qyama de l'église syriaque: Une piste philologique sérieuse,” Patrimoine syriaque 6: Le monachisme syriaque (1999), 13–49; Sidney H. Griffith, “‘Singles’ in God's Service: Thoughts on the ihidaye from the Works of Aphrahat and Ephraem the Syrian,” Harp 4 (1991): 145–59; Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “Revisiting the Daughters of the Covenant: Women's Choirs and Sacred Song in Ancient Syriac Christianity,” Hugoye 8.2 (2005).
For a list of the codices preserving the Rules, see Vööbus, Syriac and Arabic Documents, 26; for a survey and description of these manuscripts, see also J. Josephus Overbeck, S. Ephraemi Syri, Rabulae Episc. Edesseni, Balæei aliorumque opera selecta (Oxford, 1865), xiii-xx. For a systematic overview of the sources and development of canon law in Syriac and other Eastern traditions, see Hubert Kaufhold, “Sources of Canon Law in the Eastern Churches,” in The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500, eds. Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennigton (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 212–342.
Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, ccxxix.
See, e.g., Blum's assessment that “[f]ür die Echtheit der tatsächlich von Rabbula stammenden kirchenrechtlichen Sammlung sind aber in erster Linie inhaltliche Indizien maßgeblich die uns die gleiche Entwicklungsphase des Mönchtums vor Augen führen, wie sie auch aus der Vita ersichtlich ist” (Rabbula von Edessa, 89). Blum's judgment is due in part to the Rules' efforts to regulate an ascetic devotion still shot through with anchoretic and peripatetic strands. The presence of the bnay qyāmā is equally telling; Rabbula is one of only two major sources for their existence in Syriac churches, the other being the considerably earlier, fourth-century writer Aphrahat. In the decades after Rabbula, this group, as well as the feminine counterpart, the bnat qyomo, disappear from the tradition's literary and historical record.
All references to the Syriac are taken from Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 102–116. See also Vööbus, Syriac and Arabic Documents, 24–50. English translations are my own, in consultation with Phenix and Horn, Vööbus, and the translation offered in Peter Bruns, “Die Kanones des Rabbula (gest. 435) und ihr Beitrag zur Reform des kirchlichen Lebens in Edessa,” in Theologia et jus canonicum. Festgabe für Herbert Heinemann zur Vollendung seines 70. Lebensjahrs, ed. Heinrich J. F. Reinhardt (Essen: Ludgerus, 1995), 471–480.
As already Blum concedes, “[d]ie Glieder des geistlichen Standes, unter ihnen besonders die Periodeuten und Bischöfe, scheinen also eine bedeutende Rolle im Rechtsleben gespielt zu haben, was natürlich auch gewisse Gefahren mit sich brachte (Rabbula von Edessa, 51).”
A similar, if less uncompromising, requirement appears also in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon, which forbid clergy and monks from involving themselves in worldly affairs “unless [such a one] shall be called by the law to the guardianship [ἐπιτροπὴν] of minors” (Canon 3, in William Bright, ed., The Canons of the First Four General Counsels [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892], xl); Justinian, in Novel 123, further limits clergy's reach into matters of guardianship, banning bishops and monks from assuming these altogether (see also Timothy S. Miller, The Orphans of Byzantium: Child Welfare in the Christian Empire [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003], 136–40). The reasons for these strictures—as well as the need for their imposition—are easily intelligible from the perspective of late ancient guardianship. The offices of the epitropos or tutor sought to address problems resulting from fathers' pre-deceasing their minor children and reflect the Roman law's commitment to preserving such children's property until they had reached maturity. The role accordingly was fraught with responsibility, and the trope of the unworthy guardian despoiling his ward appears prominently in late ancient polemic. While tutores thus held full authority over the minor's property, once the child had reached the age of majority, the tutor had to provide an accounting for his fiscal activities on the minor's behalf, compensating for his negligence from his own estate. The weight of such a commitment, combined with the presumption of regular financial dealings on behalf of the ward, explain Rabbula's reservations about clergy's involvement in this dimension of Roman civic life. For an introduction to the Roman law of guardianship, see, e.g., Ville Vuolanto, “Child and Parent in Roman Law,” in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Law and Society, eds. Paul J. du Plessis, Clifford Ando, and Kaius Tuori (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 487–97; Peter Birks, The Roman Law of Obligation (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), esp. 250–62; Timothy S. Miller, The Orphans of Byzantium: Child Welfare in the Christian Empire (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), esp. 78–107; Richard P. Saller, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 181–203.
Canons of Maruta 47.1–9, in Arthur Vööbus, The Canons ascribed to Maruta of Maipherqat and Related Sources (CSCO 493; Leiden: Peeters, 1982), 75. See, also, Arthur Vööbus's assessment that “[a]ttorneys in monastic garb are a fairly popular feature of [Syriac] ascetic literature” (History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient: A Contribution to the History of Culture in the Near East, vol. II [CSCO 197; Louvain: Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1960], 375). Vööbus connects such instances with Theodosius II's 409 law charging bishops with the oversight of prisons (CT 9.3.7 = CI 1.4.10).
Phenix and Horn apply this phrase to the categories of individuals for whom priests must not serve as advocates (The Rabbula Corpus, 109); by contrast, I have rendered the clause here, with Bruns (“Kanones des Rabbula,” 477) as characterizing undesirable behavior for the priest-advocates themselves.
See, e.g., Gordon Fee's assessment that “[c]rucial to the whole argument is Paul's view of the church as an eschatological community, whose existence as God's future people absolutely determines its life in the present age” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 230).
Already Rabbula's vita describes him in martial terms. “[H]e deservedly whipped the proud among [the Edessene Christians] so that they might repent … [h]e contemned and frequently humiliated those who were walking contemptuously and exalting themselves above their neighbors by their riches, so that they might feel suffering” (Overbeck 175, 5–8; translation adapted from Stewards of the Poor, 78). Later accounts from sources less partial to Rabbula address the bishop's penchant for violence more directly. At the Synod of Constantinople, Rabbula was evidently accused of whipping his clergy, a charge he did not deny but for which he claimed divine precedent in Jesus' “cleansing” of the Temple (Mt 21:12–13), according to Barhadbeshabba ‘Arbaya (Cause de la fondation des écoles, PO IV.4.18 [1907], 380–381).
Such violent tendencies also appear as a dominant theme in discourses surrounding imperial law giving and law enforcement in Late Antiquity. These did not necessarily reflect a dramatic increase in brutality or corruption among the magisterial ranks, as Jill Harries has argued (Law and Empire, 84–5). See also Harries, “Violence, Victims, and the Legal Tradition in Late Antiquity,” in Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices, ed. Harold A. Drake (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 85–102; Leslie Dossey, “Judicial Violence and the Ecclesiastical Courts in Late Antique North Africa,” in Law, Society, and Authority in Late Antiquity, ed. Ralph Mathisen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 98–114; Ramsay MacMullen, “Judicial Savagery in the Roman Empire,” Chiron 16 (1986): 147–66.
For an introduction to this phase of the Roman criminal trial, see Jill Harries, Law and Empire, 122–34.
“‘Quaestionem’ intellegere debemus tormenta et corporis dolorem ad eruendam veritatem” (Dig.; Krueger, ). Book 48 (De quaestionibus) of the Justinianic Code thus addresses almost exclusively questions of who could be tortured under what circumstances and to what effect.
Lamoreaux discusses several instances from Augustine's correspondence that hint at the use of flogging in judicial or punitive settings, noting also that “[t]he ability of the bishops to apply such punishments in their courts would have been an ever present aspect of the bishop's relations with the people of his congregation” (“Episcopal Courts in Late Antiquity,” 164).
For a discussion of the spread of Christianity into the Syriac-speaking realm, see Amir Harrak, “Trade Routes and the Christianization of the Near East,” Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 2 (2002): 46–58.
Torture for slaves, for example, was common even in civil cases involving money, and free men and women from the lower echelons of Roman society throughout Late Antiquity were increasingly liable to face the whip or the rack, all in the service of the judge's ascertaining the facts of the case. Indeed, while a Diocletianic edict (CI 9.41.10) sought to “remind” judges that the questioning phase of even the gravest of criminal trials ought not to begin with the torture of the accused, the assumption underlying much of the late ancient judicial process was that only physical suffering resulted in an honest confession.
Hiba, Letter to Mari; Adhémar d'Alès, “La lettre d'Ibas à Marès le Persan,” Recherches de science religieuse 22 (1932): 5–25, 8.
Ambrose, unlike many other Western writers, actually enjoyed a presence in Syriac literature and theological discourse of later centuries, owing in part to his contributions to the Tome of Leo at the Council of Ephesus. Severus of Antioch, for example, cites Ambrose's Trinitarian writings. For a discussion of Severus's use of Ambrose, see Cesare Pasini, “Ambrogio nella teologia posteriore greca: Un'indagine nei secoli V e VI,” in Nec timeo mori: Atti del Congresso internazionale di studi ambrosiani nel XVI centenario della morte di sant'Ambrogio, eds. Luigi F. Pizzolato and Marco Rizzi (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1998), 365–471, esp. 397–400. Ambrose's name appears, somewhat puzzlingly, in later Syriac canon law as well, including, for example, as “Ambrose, bishop and martyr” (Nomocanon 14, 87a) and “Ambrose, bishop of Milan” (Nomocanon 3, Introduction) in ‘Abdīshō'bar Brīkhā's writings (Selb and Kaufhold, Rechtsbuch, 346, 348). While Ambrose's afterlife in Syriac canon legislation has yet to be examined in a systematic fashion, see Maria E. Doerfler, “Glimpses from the Margins: Re-telling Late Ancient History at the Edges of the Law,” in Rethinking ‘Authority’ in Late Antiquity: Authorship, Law, and Transmission in Jewish and Christian Tradition, eds. A.J. Berkovitz and Mark Letteney (New York: Routledge, 2018), 107–22.
Recent decades have yielded considerable scholarly interest in Ambrose's life, work, and literary oeuvre. See, for example, Ernst Dassman, Ambrosius von Mailand: Leben und Werk (Stuttgard: Kohlhammer, 2004); Hervé Savon, Ambroise de Milan (Paris: Desclée, 1997); Daniel H. Williams, Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Nicene-Arian Conflicts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Neil McLynn, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994); and F. Homes Dudden, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935).
Ambrose's vita accordingly depicts him as a following a strict ascetic regimen, as “a man of much fasting, of many vigils, and of deeds, also, chastising his body by daily denials… His zeal in prayer was great night and day, nor did he refuse the labor of writing books with his own hand, except when his body was afflicted with some infirmity” (Vita S. Ambrosii 38.27; in Michele Pellegrino, ed., Paolino: Vita di S. Ambrogio [Verba. Seniorum 1; Rome: Editrice Studium, 1961], 105). Both bishops, moreover, appear in their vitae as champion of the poor: Rabbula and Ambrose both are said to have performed the same dramatic gesture of melting down their churches' golden plate to gift the proceeds to the needy. For Ambrose's description of his melting of the church's gold plate to ransom prisoners, see De officiis ministrorum 2.28.136–143 (in Ambrose: De officiis: Edited with an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary by Ivor J. Davidson, vol. 1 [Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002], 343–48).
Among Ambrose's writings, De officiis has attracted by far the most scholarly interest, in large part due to its relationship with Cicero's eponymous work. Assessments of just how successfully or interestingly Ambrose adopts and adapts Cicero vary considerably, ranging from aforementioned dismissal of Ambrose's work as entirely derivative, to arguments for the bishop's careful, even subversive re-working of Cicero's argument. For a (now somewhat dated) survey of the basic positions on the text's aims and their major representatives, see Ivor J. Davidson, “Ambrose's De officiis and the Intellectual Climate of the Late Fourth Century,” Vigiliae Christianae 49 (1995): 313–333, 314–315.
See, for example, Ambrose's Ep. 2, directed to his episcopal colleague, Marcellus, and his high-born siblings, concerning their dispute over a piece of property (PL 16.1276–82); see also Harries, Law and Empire, 208–10.
Overbeck 173.11–13; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 31.
Overbeck 173.19–22; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 31.
See supra at 8–9.
De officiis 2.19.95 (PL 16.128).
Ambrose, De officiis 2.26.132 (PL 16.138).
Solomon, the prototypical just judge of the Hebrew Scriptures, serves as Rabbula's model as well. The vita makes that comparison explicit, claiming that “[f]or wisdom, understanding, and greatness of heart: as great an abundance of virtue was given to him by God as to Solomon” (Overbeck 191.14–15; Phenix and Horn, The Rabbula Corpus, 57).
For a discussion of the processes by which Roman law and jurists strove for homogenization of imperial rule and identity in the aftermath of the Constitutio antoniniana as well as in subsequent centuries, see Clifford Ando, Law, Language, and Empire in the Roman Tradition. Empire and After (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), esp. 19–36.