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Syriac Christology and St Isaac of Nineveh


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#21 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 05:41 PM

I wonder whether there was a greater concentration of Chalcedonians in Eastern Syria, and whether Arabization was greater in these areas, since there are still villages where even the Muslims have retained this old dialect of Aramaic.


I wonder if the Chalcedonians would have been increasingly in the western areas over time.

If I remember correctly when the Crusaders arrived in these areas in the 11th century many of the Christians from Syria down through Lebanon and the Holy Land were still Chalcedonian & Byzantine in mentality with their own Patriarchs still in Antioch & Jerusalem (this last is often forgotten in the accounts of the Crusaders who had to interact with the Christian populations they encountered along their way to Jerusalem. At first they respected the fact that these were separate Patriachates but then they replaced them with Latin patriarchs directly subordinate to the Pope). I don't remember though the languages these local Christians spoke who were found in all the major cities & villages along the way to Jerusalem. Just on a guess- Greek in the cities, Aramaic in the villages.

In any case I was able to find this interesting comment about St Issac in the Introduction the Holy Transfiguration version of his homilies:

After noting that St Isaac originally came from the area now known as Qatar when he was made bishop of Nineveh, the Intro comments about why he may have retired as bishop:

It is certain that the citizens of Nineveh were displeased to have a foreigner as their bishop. ...The appointment of Saint Isaac, who came from the distant, uncivilized region of Qatar...must have been regarded by the Ninevites with the utmost displeasure. At that time Nineveh and its environs, being near the Jacobite stronghold, the monastery of Mar Matta, was a centre of Monophysite activity. Continuous and vehement doctrinal dispute plagued the city, and the loyal sons of the Persian Church [who were Nestorians] must have expected Saint Isaac to champion their cause... We know, however, from the saint's writings the dislike he had for disputation... such actions, could have been misinterpreted, especially by narrow-minded persons. If, as bishop, Saint Isaac remained as silent on christological issues as he does in his Homilies, many suspicions would have arisen. There is no indication, for instance, that he accepted the christological formula which confesses two hypostases in Christ. If he did not state himself clearly about this, the extremists in his flock would have charged him with crypto-Monophysitism.



In Christ- Fr Raphael

#22 Peter Farrington

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 05:53 PM

Dear Father

I am not sure that the quote is accurate in that +Hilarion, iirc, says that other texts from St Isaac are Nestorian in tone and do contain Christological matter.

I think it is also +Hilarion who says that the Greek translators who made use of St Isaac were selective in the texts they used and therefore wittingly or unwittingly promoted his sancitity by their exclusion of texts that would have counted against him.

Peter

#23 John Charmley

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 08:20 PM

Dear Father

I am not sure that the quote is accurate in that +Hilarion, iirc, says that other texts from St Isaac are Nestorian in tone and do contain Christological matter.

I think it is also +Hilarion who says that the Greek translators who made use of St Isaac were selective in the texts they used and therefore wittingly or unwittingly promoted his sancitity by their exclusion of texts that would have counted against him.

Peter


Dear Peter/Father Raphael,

The first part of St. Isaac's homilies (the 82 homilies) were in wide circulation in the Near East in the 8th and 9th centuries, in Syriac. It was probably during the latter part of this period that they were translated into Greek in the Orthodox monastery of St. Saba in Palestine. The translators included 4 texts which are not by him, but by John of Dalyatha, and, even more remarkably, one by Philoxenus of Mabbug, whom Peter knows well.

It was not until 1770 that the Greek text was published, edited by the monk Nikiphoros Theotokis, but according to Brock (and who knows better?) this was from a bad translation, on which most subsequent translations were based. It was not until 1909 that the Syriac original of the First Part was published.

The second part had a more troubled existence and was not translated from Syriac and is known to us now through a text sold by the Rev. Yaroo Neesan to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It has never been translated into Greek, although parts of it have circulated in Arabic translations.

There is a more recently discovered Third part which turned up is mss. form in Tehran and which has been translated into Italian and French, but not English.

What is becoming clear from the translations of parts two and three is that there are passages which would be described as Nestorian, and there are similar passages in the Syriac texts of the First Part, which we must assume were missed out by his Greek translators for reasons too obvious to need stressing.

None of this makes the teachings which have been circulated any less Orthodox, but it does suggest that we are not yet in possession of a full assessment of St. Isaac's thought.

I shall confine this post to St. Isaac, but in a subsequent one address Fr. Raphael's comments about the spread of the Chalcedonians in this region.

In Christ,


John

#24 Peter Farrington

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 08:23 PM

Dear John

Thanks for that very interesting and informative post.

Where should I go to read more, both from a serious scholarly view about St Isaac and from the point of view of his own work?

Best wishes

Peter

#25 John Charmley

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 08:41 PM

I wonder if the Chalcedonians would have been increasingly in the western areas over time.

If I remember correctly when the Crusaders arrived in these areas in the 11th century many of the Christians from Syria down through Lebanon and the Holy Land were still Chalcedonian & Byzantine in mentality with their own Patriarchs still in Antioch & Jerusalem (this last is often forgotten in the accounts of the Crusaders who had to interact with the Christian populations they encountered along their way to Jerusalem. At first they respected the fact that these were separate Patriachates but then they replaced them with Latin patriarchs directly subordinate to the Pope). I don't remember though the languages these local Christians spoke who were found in all the major cities & villages along the way to Jerusalem. Just on a guess- Greek in the cities, Aramaic in the villages.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Dear Father Raphael,

Historians will always take any excuse to bring history into things, and accordingly, here goes!

After Chalcedon, Antioch, first under Peter the Fuller, then under Severus, aided by Philoxenus of Mabbug, continued to reject the findings of the Council, whilst rejecting Eutyches - and Dioscorus. With the death of Severus in 542 A.D. there was, in effect, a double succession to the see which has continued to this day. Severus was deposed, and after him, Melkite forces ruled in Antioch, and a Chalcedonian bishops was consecrated; but the non-Chalcedonians also consecrated a bishop of Antioch after the death of Severus.

The leading figure in the survival and later prosperity of the non-Chalcedonians was the remarkable figure of James Bardaeus whose activities and importance have often led to the Syrian Church being called the Jacobite Church.

The Muslim conquest of the region in the 7th century saw a brief period of prosperity for the Jacobites, who were preferred to the Melkites by the Arabs for obvious reasons. After about 750A.D., however, both parties suffered cruel persecutions.

Father Raphael does well to remind us that the Crusaders encountered the Chalcedonian (mainly confined to the big cities and the coast) and non-Chalcedonian (some big cities, especially Antioch, and the interior) patriarchs, but of course regarded them all as heretical and schismatic; not an edifying period in Christian history, I fear, although for those who like their Faith clear and precise, with heretics getting their just desserts, I guess it would look different!

So there has been a 'double succession' ever since. Syriac has never quite died out, and there has been a 20th century revival. The so-called Jacobite Church has played a critical role in its survival.

For those interested in such matters, there is a charming 19th century book called Six Months in a Syrian Monastery which has been republished by the excellent Gorgias Press, which whilst dated in its history, provides a vivid picture of the region in the century before last.

In Christ,

John

#26 John Charmley

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 08:55 PM

Dear John

Thanks for that very interesting and informative post.

Where should I go to read more, both from a serious scholarly view about St Isaac and from the point of view of his own work?

Best wishes

Peter


Dear Peter,

Works are not that numerous. You already know +Hilarion's excellent study, which is one of the best available.

In addition, Brock has a splendid introduction to Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life(Cistercian Studies Series, 101), which can be had from the USA via Amazon.

Brock's short introduction to The wisdom of St. Isaac of Nineveh (Gorgias Press) is also worth taking on board.

The texts of +Hilarion's lectures can be had on line at
http://www.isaacthes...om/studies.html

Another Orthodox study which I have found useful is:
Abba Isaac the Syrian: An Approach to His World
by Vasilleios
which I think you can find on Amazon UK - for about £200!
(I would need to be very ascetical about my book buying for a very long time to buy that! I read mine via University inter-library loan!).

I am sure others will have suggestions, but these are my sources.

In Christ,

John

#27 Peter Farrington

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 09:01 PM

Hi John

I have found

Abba Isaac the Syrian: An Approach to His World

at www.orthbooks.co.uk for £6.95

Do you want me to buy you a copy and sell it to you for £100?

Peter

#28 John Charmley

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Posted 31 October 2006 - 09:08 PM

Hi John

I have found

Abba Isaac the Syrian: An Approach to His World

at www.orthbooks.co.uk for £6.95

Do you want me to buy you a copy and sell it to you for £100?

Peter


Dear Peter

Seems a good offer to me, although not as good as buying one myself from the same source as you cite - so many thanks for that!

As a warning to me against taking my history from Anglican and EO sources, I find that the sources for saying that Severus condemned Dioscorus fail to mention that, as with Chalcedon, it was not for doctrinal reasons. Tricky stuff this history - as my students keep reminding me!

In Christ,

John

#29 Kusanagi

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 01:17 PM

I asked a metropolitan concerning the sainthood of Isaac the Syrian and he posted me an article about the history of the Assyrian Orthodox church at his time and that when there was a problem with the schisms the Assyrian church was not involved as they were secluded and kept themselves to themselves so they were not affected by the heresy that was going on at tha tparticular time so any teachings he and other saints may have would be kept pure as handed down to them from other Holy Fathers before they went into seclusion.

#30 Kosta

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Posted 23 January 2014 - 11:41 AM


I would assume the introcuction of Arabic was a response to Hellinisation (which was probably the cause of the loss of Syriac), although I read somewhere that the Byzantine liturgical tradition was derived from Antioch, so I suppose it is still "their own" liturgies.

I've also heard that the rite used by the Syriac Church (correct me if I'm wrong) represents that of Western Syria.

I wonder whether there was a greater concentration of Chalcedonians in Eastern Syria, and whether Arabization was greater in these areas, since there are still villages where even the Muslims have retained this old dialect of Aramaic.

 

This is a real old thread but i have to correct the fallacy of a few posts concerning the topic mentioned above. The imperial church of Antioch was always greek speaking while the natives outside the major cities spoke aramaic. The chalcedonian schism was a divide along ethnic lines.  When Islam moved in it replaced the greek language. The only place arabization failed was on the island of Cyprus.  When the byzantines recaptured the area in around the 10th century, the muslims inhabitants converted back to Christianity, obviously that being chalcedonian Eastern Orthodoxy.



#31 Kosta

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Posted 31 January 2014 - 04:53 AM

Hello Patrick,


Hevagrius of Pontus is not Syriac, neither he is a saint, his writhings were found to contain some heresy (namely, he beleived in Origen's version of apokatastasis), so he was pronounced among heretics on one of the Ecumenical Councils. However, his writings are still valued in the Orthodox Church, some of them had even been included in Philokalia. He was also very respected in Syriac Nestorian Church, and many of his writings survived only in Syriac translation.

Now, the case of St. Isaac of Nineveh is still a mystery and challenge for us. He is among the most respected spiritual writers and saints in the Orthodox Church. However, according to historical data, he belonged to the Nestorian Syriac Church, and he even was a bishop there for a short period of time. We don't have any historical evidence whether at the end of his days he belonged to Nestorian or Orthodox Syriac Church. In his writings (at least volume 1) he does not say anything expilcitly and definitely on the matter of Christology, so we can not say surely wether he was Nestorian or not. However, the Syriac original of Volume 1 has plenty of references to Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore, both are well-known Nestorian writers accused of heresy at Chalcedon. Those references were removed from the text when this volume was translated into Greek in 10-th sentury by Orthodox monks, however they can be wiewed as an evidence that St. Isaac belonged to the Nestorian Church. As far as concern recently discovered volume 2 of his writings, there are a few chapters that contain some Nestorian views, however it is still questionabe whether all chapters of volume 2 belong to St. Isaac. Some people think that the case of St. Isaac challenges our wievs on the possibility of salvation and theosis outside the canonical boundaries of the Orthodox Church.

In Christ,
Evgeny

 

 

This is true, when St Isaac quoted nestorian leaning writers, the translators simply substituted them with Orthodox saints. St Isaac mentions  'the interpretor', who was Theodore of Mopuestia but obviously his name was left out. Theres a book i came across which actually clears all of this up. Its not as mysterious as we think. The relations between the Assyrians and church of Jerusalem was actually quite cozy, so cozy that jerusalem even sent a request to head of the assyrian church in the 7th century asking for a collection plate to repair some ruins!  

 

If anyones interested get the book, The Sabaite Heritage In the Orthodox Church from the 5th Century to the Present". Theres a review of this book and what interests us for this thread is the contacts the Assyrian monks had with Jerusalem and the Mar Saba Monastery. If you scroll to page 202 it has a fascinating understanding of this and how St Isaac's writing came to us(of course certain pages are omittedso you can buy the book):

 

The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the ... - Google Books


Edited by Kosta, 31 January 2014 - 05:01 AM.





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