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The Sentences of Sextus

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Estimated Range of Dating: 180-230 A.D.

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Information on the Sentences of Sextus

Paul-Hubert Poirier writes, "The collection is ascribed to a certain Sextus. The earliest mention of this ascription is made by the Alexandrian Christian writer Origen (d. 254), who refers to the Sentences on five occasions. In his Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew (15.3), he introduces sentences 13 and 273 as written by Sextus. On another occasion (Commentary on Ezekiel 1.11), he attributes sentence 352, without naming Sextus, to a 'wise and faithful man.' Hence, it would appear that Origen not only knew of the attribution of the Sentences to Sextus, but that he was convinced that Sextus was a 'faithful' man - that is, a Christian. Nevertheless, it seems that the real identity of the author of the aphorisms was no clearer for ancient readers than it is for us today. Indeed, at least since the fourth century, the given author of the Sentences of Sextus was believed to be the Roman Pope Sixtus II (d. 258). Rufinus and the Syriac version of the Sentences echo this identification. Although not impossible, authorship by the Roman bishop remains highly improbable. It was ironically criticized by Jerome and is generally rejected by modern scholarship." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 705)

R. Kany writes, "The Sententiae Sexti, a Greek collection of ethical and ascetical maxims, are among the few examples of early Christian proverbial wisdom and occupy an important place in the history of asceticism and spiritual direction. Many of the maxims remind us of the intellectual world of Clement of Alexandria and The Teachings of Silvanus (NHC 7, 4). Several give expression to an encratism and rigorism suggestive of Alexandria in the 2nd c. In the so-called Pythagorean Sentences (sent. Pythag.), the Sentences of Clitarchus (sent. Clitarch.), and citations in Porphyry's Ad Marcellam there are variants of a pagan collection of maxims colored by Neo-Pythagoreanism and Stoicism, which the Christian adapter ('Sextus') made the basis of his collection. Origen already refers to the Sextou gnomai (comm. in Mt. 15.3), mentions the popularity of the work among Christians (Cels. 8.30), and calls the author 'wise and a believer' (hom. 1.11 in Ezech.). In the 4th century the Sentences were regarded as the work of Roman bishop and martyr Sixtus II. Complete or partial translations into Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian, Coptic, Latin, and Syriac have come down. Rufinus's version (ca. 399) circulated in Latin monasticism and was much read as late as the Middle Ages. Pelagius referred to some of the Sentences, especially no. 36 (Latin) on the divinely given freedom that makes likeness to God possible for those who live without sin. In response to the Pelagians Jerome claims that the Sentences were the work of a pagan philosopher, and as a result they were excluded as apocryphal by the Decretum Gelasianum (5.4.11). But Chadwick sees no convincing reason for distrusting the pre-Jerome tradition and thinks it conceivable that ca. 180-210, while still a young man, Sixtus II could have partly composed the Sententiae Sexti himself and partly collected them from other sources and revised them." (Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, p. 534)

Poirier writes, "The Sentences of Sextus must have been composed or compiled at the beginning of the third century CE by an unknown author familiar with Greek philosophy; it was soon ascribed to a certain Sextus, later identified with Pope Sixtus II. Its exact provenance cannot be determined with certainty, but the philosophical milieu it presupposes and the fact that it was known to Origen suggest Alexandria as a likely place of composition. Of course, the Coptic translation is of (Upper) Egyptian provenance, and it is to be dated no later than the second quarter of the fourth century." (The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, p. 707)

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Kirby, Peter. "The Sentences of Sextus." Early Christian Writings. <>.