R. A. Markus, Saeculum I — History: Sacred and Secular

Robert A. Markus died of cancer in 2010, at the age of 86. Together with Peter Brown (who cites Markus often in his own works, and contributed the Epilogue to Markus’ Festschrift), Markus was responsible for fleshing-out the territory of the study of Late Antiquity — generously speaking, between Imperial Rome in the third century A.D. and Charlemagne.

Of Romanian Jewish parents (who left Romania in 1939, settling eventually in England), yet later a convert to Catholicism, Markus studied medieval philosophy at Manchester University together with figures like Alasdair MacIntyre, had a stint as a Dominican, and then settled down to marry. He taught at Liverpool, then at Nottingham, taking early (though quite active) retirement.

Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine, Revised Edition (New York: Cambridge, 2007) was his first significant book (a helpful list of Markus’ publications can be found here). Originally published in 1970, it was eventually revised for a second edition. Markus’ thesis in Saeculum is only slightly slippery: whether we claim (with Thomas M. Parker) that its center is found in “Augustine’s conception of the relation between sacred and secular history”, or in “Augustine’s secularization of political institutions” and his “views on the nature and purpose of human society” (John Dillon), we still come very close to the heart of the book. (The subtitle “History and Society” should suggest as much, since the pair is related, but not totally unified.) In a manner, these senses may be reconciled in Gerard A. Reed’s review, where the book’s heart is to be found in “Augustine consider[ing] [that] Christian society [is] eschatological rather than terrestrial, rejecting any socio-political notions which denied the non-temporal, trans-historical dimensions of his City of God”, though, despite this eschatological acknowledgement, the crux of the book is in the way that Augustine secularized conceptions of history, society (including the “state”), and the Church, by evaluating them all through this-worldly terms and/or ends. The chapters that follow flesh this out. Continue reading

Summaries: Peter Brown on Christianization


The first post introduced the historian Peter Brown and offered a summary of a lecture he gave at St. Vladimir’s Seminary on two fourth century figures, the Roman Emperor Constantine I and the bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. In it, Brown asked what the horizons of possibility were for the two men regarding Christianization. In the course of answering this, he noted:
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Dating Conventions

There is a restaurant down the street from where I live, in the next town over, called “Zaftigs”. On the sign for this restaurant, so small beneath the “a” that one might not see it, there is noted the year in which it was established: “5757”.


Sorry, Sci-Fi fans: Zaftigs was not established 3,741 years in the future.

This is not a joke. Zaftigs is in Brookline, which boasts a large Jewish population (there are three synagogues within a minute’s drive of it; it will thus come as no surprise that “Zaftig” is apparently Yiddish for “juicy”). “5757” is a dating convention using the Jewish calendar, which takes its beginnings not from an event within history, but from the alleged date for the creation of the world (“A.M.” or “Anno Mundi” is the Latin name for this calendar, meaning “Year of the World”). “5757” could be either 1996 or 1997 on the American public calendar, because the Jewish calendar does not begin on January 1st — even we in the English-speaking world only settled on January 1st relatively recently, transitioning the year’s beginning from the more traditional March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation (of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary).

So what is our public calendar? Continue reading