Socrates
Socrates
Fourth-century Church historian
Greek philosopher (469-399 B.C.)

Catholic Encyclopedia. . 2006.

Socrates
     Socrates
     Catholic_Encyclopedia Socrates
    A historian of the Early Church, b. at Constantinople towards the end of the fourth century. Nothing is known of his parentage and his early years with the exception of a few details found in his own works. He tells us himself (Hist. eccl., V, xxiv) that he studied under the grammarians Helladius and Ammonius, and from the title of scholasticus which is given to him it has been concluded that he belonged to the legal profession. The greater part of his life was spent in Constantinople, for which reason, as he admits, the affairs of that city occupy such a large part in his works. From the manner in which he speaks of other cities and from his references as an eyewitness to events which happened outside Constantinople, he is credited with having visited other countries in the East. Though a layman he was excellently qualified to recount the history of ecclesiastical affairs. Love of history, especially the history of his own time, and a warm admiration for Eusebius of Cæsarea impelled him to undertake the task in which he was sustained by the urgent solicitation of a certain Theodorus to whom his work is dedicated. His purpose was to continue the work of Eusebius down to his own time; but in order to round out his narrative and to supplement and revise some statements of Eusebius, he began at the year 306, when Constantine was declared emperor. His work ends with the seventeenth consulate of Theodosius the Younger, 439. The division of his history into seven books was based on the imperial succession in the Eastern Empire. The first book embraces events in the reign of Constantine (306-37): the second those in the reign of Constantius (337-60): the third includes the reigns of Julian and Jovian (360-4): the fourth deals with the reign of Valens (364-78): the fifth with that of Theodosius the Great (379-95): the sixth with that of Arcadius (393-408): the seventh with the first thirty-one years of the reign of Theodosius the Younger (408-39).
    The general character of the work of Socrates can be judged from his attitude on doctrinal questions. Living as he did in an age of bitter polemics, he strove to avoid the animosities and hatred engendered by theological differences. He was in entire accord with the Catholic party in opposing the Arians ( see Arianism ), Eunomians, Macedonians, and other heretics. The moderate tone, however, which he used in speaking of the Novatians, and the favourable references which he makes to them, have led some authors into the belief that he belonged to this sect, but it is now generally admitted that the expressions which he used were based on his desire for impartiality and his wish to give even his enemies credit for whatever good he could find in them. His attitude towards the Church was one of unvarying respect and submission. He honoured clerics because of their sacred calling, and entertained the profoundest veneration for monks and the monastic spirit. His ardent advocacy and defence of Christianity did not, nevertheless, prevent him from using the writings of pagan authors, nor from urging Christians to study them. Though he entitled his work Ekklesiastike historia, Socrates did not confine himself merely to recounting events in the history of the Church. He paid attention to the military history of the period, because he considered it necessary to relate these facts, but principally "in order that the minds of the readers might not become satiated with the repetition of the contentious disputes of bishops, and their insidious designs against one another; but more especially that it might be made apparent that, whenever the affairs of the State were disturbed, those of the Church, as if by some vital sympathy, became disordered also" (Introd. to Book V). Though thus recognizing the intimate relation of civil and ecclesiastical affairs, Socrates had no well-defined theory of Church and State.
    Socrates had a restricted idea of the scope and function of history. To his mind the task of the historian consisted in recording the troubles of mankind, for as long as peace continues, those who desire to write histories will find no materials for their purpose (VII, xlviii). As an example of historical composition the work of Socrates ranks very high. The simplicity of style which he cultivated and for which he was reproached by Photius, is entirely in keeping with his method and spirit. Not the least among his merits is the sedulousness he exhibited in the collection of evidence. He had a truly scientific instinct for primary sources, and the number of authors he has drawn on proves the extent of his reading and the thoroughness of his investigations. In addition to using the works of such men as Athanasius, Evagrius, Palladius, Nestorius, he drew freely on public and official documents, conciliar Acts, encyclical letters, etc. As might be expected when writing of events so close to his own time, he had to depend frequently on the reports of eyewitnesses, but even then he used their evidence with prudence and caution. Notwithstanding his industry and impartiality, however, his work is not without serious defects. Though restricting himself so largely to the affairs of the Eastern Church, he is guilty of many serious omissions in regard to other parts of Christendom. Thus, when he speaks of the Church in the West, he is frequently guilty of mistakes and omissions. Nothing for instance is said in his history about St. Augustine. In questions of chronology, too, he is frequently at fault, but he is by no means a persistent sinner in this respect. The objection most frequently made in respect to Socrates as a historian is that he was too credulous and that he lent too ready an ear to stories of Miracles and portents. This, however, is a fault of the time rather than of the man, and was shared by pagan as well as Christian authors. His most notable characteristic, however, is his obvious effort to be thoroughly impartial, as far as impartiality was consistent with conviction. He held the scales equitably, and even when he differed widely from men on matters of doctrine, he did not allow his dissent from their views to find expression in denunciation or abuse. His "Church History" was published by Stephen (Paris, 1544) and by Valesius (Paris, 1668, reprinted at Oxford by Parker, 1844, and in P. G., LXVII). A good translation is given in the Post-Nicene Fathers, II (New York, 1890), with an excellent memoir on Socrates by Zenos.
    ST=C4UDLIN, Geschichte und Literatur der Kirchengeschichte (Hanover, 1827); GEPPERT, Die Quellen des Kirchenhistorikers Socrates Scholasticus (Leipzig, 1898); MILLIGAN in Dict. Christ. Biog., s. v. Socrates (2).
    PATRICK S. HEALY
    Transcribed by Kenneth M. Caldwell Dedicated to the memory of Don McGonigle
    
     Socrates
     Catholic_Encyclopedia Socrates
    Greek philosopher and educational reformer of the fifth century B.C.; born at Athens, 469 B.C.; died there, 399 B.C. After having received the usual Athenian education in music (which included literature), geometry, and gymnastics, he practised for a time the craft of sculptor, working, we are told, in his father's workshop. Admonished, as he tells us, by a divine call, he gave up his occupation in order to devote himself to the moral and intellectual reform of his fellow citizens. He believed himself destined to become "a sort of gadfly" to the Athenian State. He devoted himself to this mission with extraordinary zeal and singleness of purpose. He never left the City of Athens except on two occasions, one of which was the campaign of Potidea and Delium, and the other a public religious festival. In his work as reformer he encountered, indeed he may be said to have provoked, the opposition of the Sophists and their influential friends. He was the most unconventional of teachers and the least tactful. He delighted in assuming all sorts of rough and even vulgar mannerisms, and purposely shocked the more refined sensibilities of his fellow citizens. The opposition to him culminated in formal accusations of impiety and subversion of the existing moral traditions. He met these accusations in a spirit of defiance and, instead of defending himself, provoked his opponents by a speech in presence of his judges in which he affirmed his innocence of all wrongdoing, and refused to retract or apologize for anything that he had said or done. He was condemned to drink the hemlock and, when the time came, met his fate with a calmness and dignity which have earned for him a high place among those who suffered unjustly for conscience sake. He was a man of great moral earnestness, and exemplified in his own life some of the noblest moral virtues. At the same time he did not rise above the moral level of his contemporaries in every respect, and Christian apologists have no difficulty in refuting the contention that he was the equal of the Christian saints. His frequent references to a "divine voice" that inspired him at critical moments in his career are, perhaps, best explained by saying that they are simply his peculiar way of speaking about the promptings of his own conscience. They do not necessarily imply a pathological condition of his mind, nor a superstitous belief in the existence of a "familiar demon".
    Socrates was, above all things, a reformer. He was alarmed at the condition of affairs in Athens, a condition which he was, perhaps, right in ascribing to the Sophists. They taught that there is no objective standard of the true and false, that that is true which seems to be true, and that that is false which seems to be false. Socrates considered that this theoretical scepticism led inevitably to moral anarchy. If that is true which seems to be true, then that is good, he said, which seems to be good. Up to this time morality was taught not by principles scientifically determined, but by instances, proverbs, and apothegms. He undertook, therefore, first to determine the conditions of universally valid knowledge, and, secondly, to found on universally valid moral principles a science of human conduct. Self-knowledge is the starting point, because, he believed, the greatest source of the prevalent confusion was the failure to realize how little we know about anything, in the true sense of the word know. The statesman, the orator, the poet, think they know much about courage; for they talk about it as being noble, and praiseworthy, and beautiful, etc. But they are really ignorant of it until they know what it is, in other words, until they know its definition. The definite meaning, therefore, to be attached to the maxim "know thyself" is "Realize the extent of thine own ignorance".
    Consequently, the Socratic method of teaching included two stages, the negative and the positive. In the negative stage, Socrates, approaching his intended pupil in an attitude of assumed ignorance, would begin to ask a question, apparently for his own information. He would follow this by other questions, until his interlocutor would at last be obliged to confess ignorance of the subject discussed. Because of the pretended deference which Socrates payed to the superior intelligence of his pupil, this stage of the method was called "Socratic Irony". In the positive stage of the method, once the pupil had acknowledged his ignorance, Socrates would proceed to another series of questions, each of which would bring out some phase or aspect of the subject, so that when. at the end, the answers were all summed up in a general statement, that statement expressed the concept of the subject, or the definition. Knowledge through concepts, or knowledge by definition, is the aim, therefore, of the Socratic method. The entire process was called "Hueristic", because it was a method of finding,and opposed to "Eristic", which is the method of strife, or contention. Knowledge through concepts is certain, Socrates taught, and offers a firm foundation for the structure not only of theoretical knowledge, but also of moral principles, and the science of human conduct, Socrates went so far as to maintain that all right conduct depends on clear knowledge, that not only does a definition of a virtue aid us in acquiring that virtue, but that the definition of the virtue is the virtue. A man who can define justice is just, and, in general, theoretical insight into the principles of conduct is identical with moral excellence in conduct; knowledge is virtue. Contrariwise, ignorance is vice, and no one can knowingly do wrong. These principles are, of couse only partly true. Their formulation, however, at this time was of tremendous importance, because it marks the beginning of an attempt to build up on general principles a science of human conduct.
    Socrates devoted little attention to questions of physics and cosmogony. Indeed, he did not conceal his contempt for these questions when comparing them with questions affecting man, his nature and his destiny. He was, however, interested in the question of the existence of God and formulated an argument from design which was afterwards known as the "Teleological Argument" for the existence of God. "Whatever exists for a useful purpose must be the work of an intelligence" is the major premise of Socrates' argument, and may be said to be the major premise, explicit or implicit, of every teleological argument formulated since his time. Socrates was profoundly convinced of the immortality of the soul, although in his address to his judges he argues against fear of death in such a way as apparently to offer two alternatives: "Either death ends all things, or it is the beginning of a happy life." His real conviction was that the soul survives the body, unless, indeed, we are misled by our authorities, Plato and Xenophon. In the absence of primary sources — Socrates, apparently, never wrote anything — we are obliged to rely on these writers and on a few references of Aristotle for our knowledge of what Socrates taught. Plato's portrayal of Socrates is idealistic; when, however, we correct it by reference to Xenophon's more practical view of Socrates' teaching, the result cannot be far from historic truth.
    WILLIAM TURNERTranscribed by Michael Murphy and Patrick Swain

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. — New York: Robert Appleton Company. . 1910.


Catholic encyclopedia.

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