Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Prudentius et Herodotus in Chytraeo

This is a brief addendum to yesterday’s post on David Chytraeus’ comments on Exodus 1. I post it because it demonstrates the kind of humanism and concern for the artes that used to be present among theologians.

The fourth locus treated in chapter 1, Chytraeus says, is the principle “We must obey God rather than men,” and he illustrates it not only with a passage from Prudentius’ Epiphany hymn in his Cathemerinon (I have an abiding interest in Prudentius, and so I could not miss the opportunity to note the quotation), but also with a remark from Herodotus. What is the moral of this story for those of us in the vacuous age of hashtagging, youtubing, and memegenerating?1 Read more, and read more widely.

Text and Translation

IIII. Exemplum Regulae ab Apostolis traditae in Act. 5. Oportet Deo magis obedire quam hominibus. Recte igitur fecerunt Obstetrices, quod, ut Herodoti verbis utar, τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πρεσβύτερα ἐποιεῦντο ἢ τὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν, hoc est, Mandatum Dei antiquius duxerunt, quam mandatum hominis, nec obediverunt Regi praecipienti, ut facerent contra mandatum Dei.

Pueri hoc in loco Prudentii versus ex hymno Ephiphaniae meminerint.

      Mens obstetricis sedulae

Pie in Tyrannum contumax,

Ad spem potentis gloriae

Furata servat parvulum.

     Quem mox Sacerdotem sibi

Assumsit orbis conditor,

Per quem notatam saxeis 

Legem tabellis traderet.

  1. The example of the rule handed on by the apostles in Acts 5. “We must obey God rather than men.” Therefore, the midwives acted correctly, because, to use the words of Herodotus, τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πρεσβύτερα ἐποιεῦντο ἢ τὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν–that is, “They considered the commandment of God to be more ancient than the commandment of man”;2 nor did they obey the king who was commanding, in order that they might not transgress the commandment of God.

On this topic, schoolchildren should recall the verses of Prudentius from his hymn for Epiphany.

But the attentive midwife,

her spirit loyal, defying the tyrant,

steals away and saves the little one,

to be the hope of future glory.

In due time the world’s creator

chose him to be his priest,

and through him to transmit

the law engraved on the stone tablets.3

  1. I confess a special fondness for the last item mentioned.
  2. Herodotus, Histories 5.63.
  3. Prudentius, Cathemerinon 12.149-56, tr. Gerard O’Daly.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.