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St Isaac of Syria, vol. II


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#1 Eugene

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Posted 03 December 2004 - 09:45 PM

Dear friends,

Does anyone know about the Volume II of St. Isaak of Syria? I heard that this X-sentury manuscript was found in British library in 90-s with the name of St.Isaak of Syria on it, and then studied and translated by bishop Hillarion Alfeev (at that time PhD student in Patristics in Oxford). I red the translation in Russian and it left me totally puzzled. I doesn't look like St. Isaak at all to me. First of all, it's obviously not his hand, the St. Isaak style is very unique and very differnt from the style of this volume II. Second, the theology is weird, for example, the final chapters defend the old Origen's idea of apokastasis, and the style of those final chapters is particulary different from both original St. Isaak and from the rest of the vol. II chapters. So, I just can't convince myself that it is St. Isaak's writing. But if it is not, then how Bishop Hillarion, a prominent patrologist and theologian, could make such a mistake?

Dear Dr. Steenberg, could you please clarify this for me if you know anything about this book?


#2 Guest_Elisabeth

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Posted 06 December 2004 - 12:36 PM

> Dear Evgeny

Sebastian Brock in his book 'The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life' writes about the Part Two of Isaac of Nineveh (the Syrian) teachings that you ask about. He says his writings were a product of his old age and were collected together after his death. He writes,

'The complete Syriac text of the First Part was published in 1909 by the Lazarist Father Paul Bedjan.... Bedjan had temporary access to a single manuscript of the much rarer Second Part, and he printed a few excerpts which he had been able to copy; these were not included by Wensinck in his English translation. This manuscript has unfortunately subsequently disappeared, and only recently has another old and complete manuscript of this Second Part been discovered in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The Second Part turns out to contain some forty new texts, of which by far the longest is a set of four Centuries of 'Headings on Knowledge', described by the person who first collected together these works of Isaac as 'containing exalted spiritual meanings and perfect knowledge, abundant and wondrous meanings and great mysteries; appropriate for the joy and delight of the soul and for its growth in things spiritual'.'

I'm not a Syriac scholar and don't have any more information about how this Bodleian manuscript was verified, but I assume it was the one that Bishop Hillarion translated.

My love in Christ, Elisabeth


#3 Eugene

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Posted 06 December 2004 - 02:14 PM

Thank you for this info, Elizabeth. That is what I heard too - Dr. Brock discovered this manuscript and was an advocate of the St. Isaak authorship. Bishop Hillarion was a PhD student of Dr. Brock, translated this volume and wrote his thesis on it. No doubt, this is a valuable collection of Syriac texts, but I'm questioning the authorship of St. Isaak.


#4 Guest_Elisabeth

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Posted 07 December 2004 - 11:55 AM

I didn't know that Dr. Brock discovered the manuscript and was an advocate of the St. Isaak authorship. Yes, I'd like to know more too, and am glad you've started this thread. Let's hope that someone out there has further thought or a bit more information!


#5 Ken McRae

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 03:08 AM

For whatever it's worth, what I've managed to read so far of Brock's English translation, strikes me as bearing the "authentic" signature or impress of St. Isaac's spiritual genius. Btw, here's the "Eighth Day Books" catalogue review / promo :-

AP-17091

Isaac of Nineveh (the Syrian): 'The Second Part', Chapters IV-XLI

trans. by Sebastian Brock

The translation of this text from the Syriac fills in critical lacunae in the writings of St. Isaac the Syrian (d. ca. 700) available in English. St. Isaac’s writings come down to us in two recensions, an Eastern and a Western. The Western was translated from Syriac into Greek in the ninth century and into English only in 1984 (entitled Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian translated by Dana Miller), out of print for several years. The English translation of the Eastern Syriac recension (translated by A.J. Wensinck in 1923 as Mystic Treatises) is now virtually unfindable. A major portion of the Syriac text was lost until Sebastian Brock found it in a manuscript in the Bodleian in 1983 and published this translation in 1995. Through this complicated and tenuous path we now have access to writings of St. Isaac not found in the Ascetical Homilies on such themes as stillness, undistracted prayer, the relationship between ascetical effort and spiritual progress, between body, mind, and intellect (in their very specific senses), on humility and providence, and the chastising rather than retributive nature of Gehenna– Gehenna as penitentiary (in the literal sense) rather than prison. This last most attractive yet perilous and controversial– teaching should not detract us from the wisdom inherent in every phrase preceding it, including this on the Cross: "Satan and all his tyranny is in terror of the form of the Cross, when it is depicted by us against him. . . in the ministry that takes place with the Cross, sin has become like a spider's web on which a heavy object is hung and it no longer succeeds in standing up. And as for death, which had been so fearful for human nature, now even women and children can hold up their heads against it."

paper
207 pgs.

$79.95

>> http://www.eighthday...te=Htx/item.htx <<

(Message edited by theophilus on 04 January, 2005)

(Message edited by theophilus on 04 January, 2005)


#6 Eugene

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 04:32 AM

Thank you, Theophilus, this is exactly what I've read about the origin of this second volume. The only proof that this volume belongs to St. Isaak is that is has his name on the title of the manuscript and the book has two chapters from the original volume 1. There are some problems with volume 2 though:

- It has a lot of Nestorian theology plus a clear confession of the Origen's heresy of apokatastasis that contradict with the views of the volume 1, which are 100% Orthodox. So, either St. Issak changed his position during his life and became Nestorian (or vice versa - was Nestorian, but later became Orthodox, in which case the volume 2 should be rather called volume 1), or the volume 2 is simply not St. Isaak's writing.

- Stilistically volume 2 is drastically different from volume 1, especially those chapters with "This last most attractive yet perilous and controversial– teaching" on apokatastasis that are written in very rethoric/phylosophical style which so different from St. Isaak hand. Anyone familiar with St. Isaak unique spiritual and pradoxic style can not help noticing the stylictic differnces.

My version is that the volume 2 is a later compilation of Nestorian texts belonging to various authors, which was labeled with St. Isaak name in order to proove to the readers that St. Isaak was Nestorian. We know very well about a long-going dispute and struggle between Orthodox and Nestorians in the Persian Church which ended with the victory of Nestorians. And we also know how often in the Church history writings of original authors were labeled with the names of different people (take for example the writings of pseudo-Dionisius the Areopagite, and there are plenty of other examples). One can guess that the well-respected name of St. Isaak was often used in this dispute by both parties, and it would be too tempting to Nestorian party to create a pseudo-Isaak volume with Nestorian writings in order to proove that St. Isaak was on their side.

So, considering all being said, I think it is very unlikely that this volume 2 actually belongs to St. Isaak. Moreover, attributing this volume to St. Isaak simply dis-honours his blessed name and confuses modern readers with a deceptive mixture of the Othodox and Nestorian theologies.

However, I'm not a patrologist, and I would like to know the opinion of more knowleageble people.
Dr. Steenberg, hello Posted Image ?


#7 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 05:50 AM

Dear friends,

I'm curious to know (by a quotation, if possible) more about the alleged 'Origenist apokatastasis' doctrine as found in some or another passage from Book II of Isaac's writings, as mentioned above. Is it genuinely an 'Origenist' apokatastasis that is presented there? I've read swathes here and there from the second book and never encountered such a text -- but I've not read the whole content, so may easily have missed something.

Keep in mind that not all apokatastasis is 'Origenist' or counter-orthodox. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, taught a certain sort of apokatastasis which has never come under fire and with regard to which his Orthodoxy has never been questioned. Irenaeus of Lyons taught something similar as well (though not as directly as St Gregory).

The temptation to see any and all presentation of an apokatastasis as 'Origenist' is age-old and widespread. It is nonetheless incorrect.

INXC, Matthew

#8 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 03:16 PM

Matthew S wrote:

"Keep in mind that not all apokatastasis is 'Origenist' or counter-orthodox. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, taught a certain sort of apokatastasis which has never come under fire and with regard to which his Orthodoxy has never been questioned. Irenaeus of Lyons taught something similar as well (though not as directly as St Gregory)."


An Orthodox explanation of what St Gregory of Nyssa meant by apokatastsis (the restoration of all things) is found in Metropolitan Hierotheos' Life After Death- Section 8: The Restoration of all Things.

Sadly there was a time when it was very common to hear that St Gregory of Nyssa's views on the restoration of all things was 'origenist'. It was also openly taught in Orthodox seminaries that the reason that he was not included at the Feast of the Three Hierarchs (being replaced by St John Chrysostom) was due to his 'origenist' views & spirituality. Hopefully this has changed to accord more with St Gregory's actual views. He is definitely a great Church father of acute theological & spiritual insight.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#9 Eugene

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 04:31 PM

Dear Dr. Steenberg,

Yes, I'm aware of different presentations of the idea of apokatastasis. Even St. Maximus was saying about apokatastasis in a sense of resurrection and restoration of all things, although he didn't mean by that the salvation of all things. Salvation and restoration are different things alltogether. Even if the idea of total salvation is presented as a hope and possibility, it is acceptable ("It is not impossible that everyone could be saved" St. John the Ladder), but when it is presented as an unavoidable logical nesessity that annihilates the free will of souls, it becomes false. Even though God loves everyone and wants everyone to love Him, He can never force us to love Him, because love can only be free, so there is alvays a possibility that someone will reject His love.

Unfortunately I only have volume 2 of "pseudo-Isaak" in Russian, but the homilies on apokatastasis are presented in chapters 39-41 of this book. It is given in a form very close to Origen's presentation - in a form of scholastic reasoning leading to logic necessity of the total salvation of all souls including demons, based on the claim that because God loves everyone (which is absolutely true), He will eventually save everyone and the state of gehenna will be limited in time. If it turns out that St. Isaak was really the author of those chapters, than we have to accept it. But this would be a serious claim which has to be proven using all means of authorship identification used in modern patrology.

Another argument against the authorship of the St. Isaak is that in this volume 2 there are multiple references to the Theodore of Mopsuestia (who was anathemised on the V-th Ecumenical Counsel as a Nestorian). At the same time, no references to his name can be found in volume 1.

Considering drastic differences between volumes 1 and 2 in theology, style and references to other fathers, the only explanations I can have are:

- St. Isaak is not an author of volume 2. (In my previous message I gave some thoughts on possible reasons why this volume was labled with his name.)

- St. Isaak changed his views over his life, and volume 1 and 2 belong to different stages of his life, probably very distant in time. (We know that St. Isaak was a Bishop of Ninevia when the Persian Church was officially not in communion with the Orthodox Church because of widespread Nestorianism in the Persian Church at that time.) Even if this is the case, comparing a breathtaking spiritual depth of volume 1 writings with mediocricity of volume 2, I would think that volume 1 presents the writings of his later stage.

I think the authorship claim of the volume 2 requires a serious patrological study and analysis, and it should be done by experts, not uneducated people like me. Leaving this volume attributed to St. Isaak without a solid prof would be a mistake. If he is not the author of volume 2, his false authorship would be a dis-honor to his blessed name and a sourse of confusion to christian readers.

In Christ, Evgeny

#10 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 05:23 PM

One of the problems with the anathemitization of Origen, et al, a subject beaten to death on this site, is that by the same standard, you would really have to anathemitize virtually all of the pre-Nicene Church, virtually all of which was subordinationist in one sense or another.

Regarding universal salvation, I have always thought that the reaction to it is a power play. In another words, there is an unexpressed fear by people who see themselves as keepers of the truth, to wit: how are we ever going to force people to be good, if they believe that in some ultimate sense they are going to be saved anyway? The Origen answer is that God's love is so compelling that we are going to want what he has for us.


#11 Eugene

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 06:01 PM

Well, Owen, I understand the reasoning of Origen, but there is a "catch" in God's love - it is self-denying in it's nature, that's what makes it so different from human's love and so difficult to accept. In order to participate in His love (i.e. accept His Spirit of His love into ourselves in order to love Him with the same kind of love), we have to deny and stop loving ourselves. This is what makes it so difficult to participate in the love of God, and this is why not everyone may want it. Satan long time ago was fully participating in God's love, but at some point decided to love himself instead.

And even if the reason for universal salvation is undeniable compellingness of God's love, we can never claim its absolute necessity, because it still has to be an act of choice of the soul's free will.

Anyway, we slipped into off-topic. How about volume 2? Posted Image


#12 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 06:43 PM

Fr Raphael wrote, above:

Sadly there was a time when it was very common to hear that St Gregory of Nyssa's views on the restoration of all things was 'origenist'. It was also openly taught in Orthodox seminaries that the reason that he was not included at the Feast of the Three Hierarchs (being replaced by St John Chrysostom) was due to his 'origenist' views & spirituality. Hopefully this has changed to accord more with St Gregory's actual views. He is definitely a great Church father of acute theological & spiritual insight.


While I entirely agree with the substance of your remark here, it is probably worth noting that there is likely some truth to the reading of St Gregory of Nyssa's 'lack-of-a-place' in the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs -- not that he was 'Origenist', but that he was perceived as being so by a great many in antiquity. His deep affection for Gregory Thaumatourgos and Origen was widely known, and came under some suspicion later at the height of the so-called 'Origenist Controversy'. But there was never a direct challenge to his sanctity. And, as you say, the depth of the orthodoxy of his thought is ever more appreciated as more and more today read and begin to comprehend the true nature of his words. His teaching on an apokatastasis is a classic example of how something can sound as if a brother to a heresy, but in fact be nothing of the sort.

INXC, Matthew

#13 Eugene

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Posted 04 January 2005 - 09:06 PM

Just a short comment on apokatastasis issue - there is a wonderful paper that compares the views of St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximos the confessor on apokatastasis:

Brian E. Daley “Apokatastasis and “Honorable Silence” in the Eschatology of St. Maximus the Confessor”, in Felix Heinzer - Christoph Scönborn (ed.), Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confeseur (Fribourg, 2-5 september 1980), Éditions Universitaires, Fribourg Suisse 1982.

It's available in Russian on the internet:
http://www.myriobibl...aley_maxim.html


#14 Ken McRae

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Posted 05 January 2005 - 06:26 AM

001 - "Sadly there was a time when it was very common to hear that St Gregory of Nyssa's views on the restoration of all things was 'origenist'. It was also openly taught in Orthodox seminaries that the reason that he was not included at the Feast of the Three Hierarchs (being replaced by St John Chrysostom) was due to his 'origenist' views & spirituality. Hopefully this has changed to accord more with St Gregory's actual views." - Fr. Raphael

002 - "While I entirely agree with the substance of your remark here, it is probably worth noting that there is likely some truth to the reading of St Gregory of Nyssa's 'lack-of-a-place' in the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs -- not that he was 'Origenist', but that he was perceived as being so by a great many in antiquity. His deep affection for Gregory Thaumatourgos and Origen was widely known, and came under some suspicion later at the height of the so-called 'Origenist Controversy'. But there was never a direct challenge to his sanctity." - Matthew

Archimandrite Vasileios, in his little booklet, entitled "Abba Isaac the Syrian: An Approach to His World", gives the "clear" impression that, for him and others too, like Elder Ieronymos of Aegina ( + 1966 ), for example, Isaac (despite both his "neo"- Nestorianism and "uncanonical" status) is quite "incomparable", that is, in a class all of his own, that not even the four hierarchs or four theologians can touch. Now, seeing how the Divine Wisdom of the Church has judged St. Gregory Nyssa not fit to be honoured as one of her "Three Hierarchs", merely on the basis or suspicion of being an 'Origenist', it completely mystifies me how any Orthodox theologian or priest could hold such an exalted view of St. Isaac the Ninevite, in this light. Was it not St. Cyprian (of Carthage) who counciled his children in Christ to altogether avoid schismatics and their writings, no matter how Orthodox or dogmatically correct they might be? One wonders, though, if Cyprian adhered to that rule himself, when it came to the writings of his own "beloved" Tertullian.

In the Introduction to the SVS Press publication of St. Isaac, entitled "On Ascetical Life", we are told that little is known of Isaac's life; and that what we do know is derived entirely from two brief references: one in 'The Book of Chastity', by Isho'dnah of the early 9th century, and the second is taken from a 15th century manuscript in Mardin, and published in the 'Studia Syriaca' ( Lebanon: Charfet Seminary, 1904, p. 33 ) of Rahmani. He was elevated to the Episcopate by "the Nestorian Patriarch George", and ruled for 5 months as a "Nestorian" bishop, before withdrawing from public life in order to return to his former monastic habit. It's implied that it was Isaac's "higher education", displayed in his post as a teacher, that captured the eye of the Patriarch, and won him the Episcopal Throne. Thus, it seems both safe and logical to conclude from this that Isaac was, at the very least, a "formal" Nestorian, if not one experimentally; for it seems doubtful that the Nestorian Patriarch would've elevated him had he suspected him to be either a "Chalcedonian" or a "Monophysite".

As related in the SVS Press Intro., the Syrian Church in Isaac's day was divided into three opposing communions: Chalcedonians, West-Syrain Monophysites, and East-Syrian Nestorians. Now, it cannot possibly be argued, with any plausibility, IMO, that Isaac's Christology was "Chalcedonian". As far as we know, he was completely loyal to the Nestorian communion, right up to his last breath. If his Christology was Orthodox, as many Orthodox believers insist, then why did'nt he renounce the East-Syrian sect, and join the Syrian Chalcedonian Church? Why would he accept elevation to the Nestorian episcopacy? It is noted in this Intro that "the Christology of Nestorius is really not an issue in East Syrian theology, at least in its ascetical writers such as Isaac." And that "not even the Christology of Nestorius as refracted in Theodore of Mopsuestia is 'central or essential' to the theological synthesis of East Syrians, even though 'officially adopted by the Church of Persia'." According to this, then, Isaac was "officially" Nestorian, though his ascetical writings were not marred by this fact, since Christology is not "central or essential" to his experience and mystical theology. If we try to reason, though, that Isaac's heart and mystical experience of Christ were Chalcedonian in nature, then we're confronted with the painful dilemma concerning how this eminently illuminated soul was blind to this fact. How could he not discern the central fact of his own mystical experience? Had he accurately discerned his "life in Christ" to accord with Chalcedonian Truth, one would expect him to have broken all ties with the Nestorian heretics.

Isaac died in communion with the East-Syrian heretics, and therefore outside the Church, if we believe the Canons; and if outside, then seperated from Christ himself, which is a very sobering thought. The canonical law that applies to the Nestorian communion in general must apply to Isaac as well, or else the canons are superfluous at best, and ultimately mean nothing. What does St. Ignatius of Antioch say, that God-bearing father and holy martyr, but that "he who does anything without the knowledge," that is, blessing "of the bishop worships the devil." ( Letter to the Smyrnaeans 9:1 ) God have mercy on us all !! I know; the very thought of Isaac dying in seperation from Christ and his Church seems utterly impossible, and is almost too repugnant for the sensitive soul. It's a deep mystery, though, concerning just how far a soul can travel on the Royal Path and yet be lost in the end; or conversely, how far a soul can deviate from the Royal Path and still be saved. The Apostle Paul grants us a tiny glimpse into this profound mystery, in the words of 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3 ---

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."

According to these words, it's entirely possible for members of the Church to attain a profound knowledge of all mysteries, even die a martyr's death, and yet still be lost in the end. And though Isaac may have attained a profound love, yet the critical question remains: did he love the "Chalcedonian" Truth, that is, the
"Chalcedonian" Christ ?

Returning again, though, to the SVS Press Introduction, it proceeds to discuss the authors that exerted a formative influence on St. Isaac's theology. Among those named, some are Orthodox, like Sts. Athanasius and Basil, and the Pseudo-Dionysius, but as far as I can tell, all pre-Chalcedonian. No post-Chalcedonian Orthodox fathers are mentioned ( that I recognized ). Among the several Nestorian theologians named, one is singled out as profoundly influencing Isaac's cosmology: Theodore of Mopsuestia. In "The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life", a work translated and introduced by Sebastian Brock, Brock makes the following remark(s) on the Canon of St. Isaac's writings :-

"Isaac's extensive writings all seem to be the product of his old age; they thus date approximately to the last decade or so of the seventh century. One biographical account states that he wrote 'five volumes of instruction for monks'; if this is correct, then much will have been lost, for the works which have come down to us and which are definitely genuine are divided into two parts. These two parts were clearly put together after Isaac's death." ( p. 243 )

And again, Brock says :-

"Isaac is not a systematic writer and his spirituality draws on many different sources, notably Evagrius, John of Apamea ( whose threefold pattern of the spiritual life he sometimes employs ), the Macarian Homilies, the Apophthegmata and related literature of the Egyptian Fathers ( this had been made readily accessible by Ananisho in the mid-seventh century to monks of the Church of the East in a massive compilation known as the 'Paradise of the Fathers' ), Theodore of Mopsuestia ( to whom Isaac normally refers as 'the Exegete', par excellence ), Abba Isaiah, and Mark the Hermit." ( p. 244-245 )

In all actuality, though, Brock is down-playing Isaac's personal esteem and approval for Theodore of Mopsuestia ( in the above quote ). In the Second Part of Isaac's Canon, ( which the translator of the English edition of the 'Ascetical Homilies', published by HTM, also assures us is "definitely genuine" - see the Intro, p. Ixxxi ), Isaac repeatedly refers to him as "the Blessed Theodore". In the 39th Chapter, he describes him in the following manner :-

" ... turn to the writings of the Blessed Interpreter ( Theodore of Mopsuestia ), a man who had his sufficient fill of the gifts of grace, who was entrusted with the hidden mysteries of the Scriptures, ( enabling him ) to instruct on the path to truth the whole community of the Church; who, above all, has illumined us orientals with wisdom - nor is our mind's vision capable enough ( to bear ) the brilliancy of his compositions, inspired by the divine Spirit.

" ... we accept ( him ) like one of the apostles, and anyone who opposes his words, intoduces doubt into his interpretations, or shows hesitation at his words, ( such a person ) we hold to be alien to the community of the Church and someone who is erring from the truth." ( St. Isaac, The Second Part , p. 165-166 )

With regard to the reason for Isaac's departure from the episcopate after just 5 months, the SVS Press Introduction indicates that it was brought about by a controversy over his theological writings ( which could explain why half his writings have disappeared, according to Brock ). The Intro quotes from Isho'dnah's 'Book of Chastity':-

"He wrote three things which were not accepted by many. Daniel rose against him on account of what he had said ... I believe that jealousy awakened against him."

Next, it quotes from another 9th century text by "Ibn as-Salt, compiled in Arabic from the Syriac writings of Isaac," in which as-Salt indicates that the problem arose over Isaac's insistence on the "final salvation for all creation, including demons." ( On the Ascetical Life , p. 11-12 )


#15 Daniel Jeandet

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Posted 05 January 2005 - 02:55 PM

A universalist lost because of a technicality?


#16 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 05 January 2005 - 03:36 PM

From Romans 14:4 we read: "Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand." (This is from the Epistle read on the Sunday of Forgiveness or before Great Lent begins).

These words reveal a very important truth concerning Christ's Church. Christ's Truth as found within His Church is sovereign. His Truth is not bound by our logic but rather is more defined by His mercy.

Perhaps this is what makes St Isaac 'stand' within the Church when so much on the logical plane seems to speak against this. For we need to remember that one of St. Isaac's main emphases was how we in the image of God are called to mercy & not judgement.

In any case Christ does not do this to cause scandal to human logic. He simply does it in His love for mankind. And it is only as we grow ascetically in love that we begin to understand this.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#17 Eugene

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Posted 05 January 2005 - 05:49 PM

Dear Theophilus ,

It looks like there is a controversy around the name of St. Isaak that arouses, I think, mostly from the fact that too little is known about his life (most of what we know about his life are contradicting passages from different sources), and to the fact that the so-called second volume is falsely attributed to his name and makes wrong impression about his theological views. St. Isaak of Syria is one of the most respected spiritual writers and theologians in Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches. Elder Paisios of Mount Athos wrote that every monk should read St. Isaak (first volume, of course). In Russian Church he is one of the most respected among The Three Theologians, St. Maximos, St. John Chrysostone and St. Symeon the New Theologian. Russian patrologists, based on the known facts of his life and on the first volume of his works, consider him as a 100% Orthodox saint and theologian. If we don't know whether he renounced Chalcedonian and Nestorian heresy or not , that doesn't mean that he was Chalcedonian or Nestorian. Nothing in his first volume indicates that he had any Chalcedonian or Nestorian views, none of Chalcedaonian or Nestorian fathers are referenced in his first volume. All the quotes from SVS Press Introduction pointing to St. Isaak’s Nestorianism are from the second volume, and I could give you much more of those Nestorian quotes from volume 2. The first volume contains a sentence that clearly shows that he was against the Origen’s view on universal salvation (I have it in Russian, but I can translate it if anyone wants). In the first volume, the following names of Holy Fathers are referenced: St. Basil, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysosotom, St. Dionisius the Areopagite, St. Ehpraim the Syrian, St. Kyrill of Alexandria, St. Athanasios the Great. The second volume, however, references mostly the Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsia.

You wrote, Theophilus : “With regard to the reason for Isaac's departure from the episcopate after just 5 months, the SVS Press Introduction indicates that it was brought about by a controversy over his theological writings ( which could explain why half his writings have disappeared, according to Brock ).” This controversy could be caused because the Nestorian hierarchy simply didn’t like his Orthodox views. Considering that the affiliation of his name with the second volume goes back to 9-10 century, I wouldn’t buy the argument of Ibn as-Salt that “the problem arose over Isaac's insistence on the "final salvation for all creation, including demons." The point is that the Origen’s belief in universal salvation was also shared by Nestorians, so how would St. Isaak insistence on universal salvation be a problem for Nestorian hierarchy of the Persian Church?

Now, concerning the fact that St. Isaak lived in Persia at the time the Persian Church was not in communion with the Orthodox Church. This fact doesn’t automatically make all Christians living on the territory of excommunicated Church to be heretics and die outside the Body of Christ. There were many examples in the history of the Church when the communion between some parts of the Orthodox Church was broken for decades and even centuries (e.g. between Roman and Konstantinopol Churches at the times of anti-ikon heresy, or between Konstantinopol and Russian Churches at the time of union between Konstantinopol and Catholics). Does that mean that all orthodox believers living on the territory of ex-communicated Church died outside the body of Christ? How about 16 sentury Athonete or Russian saints living when Konstantinopol and Russian patriarchy was not in communion? How about the saints who defended Orthodoxy at the time of ani-ikon heresy but who lived under Konstantinopol?

Sadly enough, this controversy around St. Isaak is not simply a patrological issue, there is a lot of politics involved. Bishop Hillarion at the time of publishing and translating the “second volume” was a secretary of Moscow Patriarchy External Affairs and was a well-known adept of ecumenism. He wrote a book on St. Isaak, trying to prove that he was the author of the second volume and he shared some Nestorian views. The point he was making by publishing his book and publishing the second volume under the name of St. Isaak was to say to anti-ecumenist party: “See, even St. Isaak of Syria was Nestorian and Origenist”. While I myself prefer to stay away from ecumenism controversy, I think it’s very unfair to dis-honour the name of St. Isaak and attribute heretic writings to his name in order to use it as an argument in political disputes.

So if we assume that St. Isaak was not the author of the second volume, there is no evidence whatsoever that he shared any Monophysite, Chalcedonian or Nestorian views. St. Isaak is one of the canonized saints of the Orthodox Church, and if someone wants to question his Orthodoxy than it has to be based on solid proven facts, not on speculations or on attributing some heretic writings to his name. This is exactly why I raised this issue – if we want to defend a blessed name and memory of St. Isaak, then we have to seriously question the attribution of the volume 2 to his name.

When I red the volume 2 the first time, I didn’t know anything about the historical and patrological details around this manuscript, and I didn’t pay much attention first to the theology. My first impression was that the author of this book is simply not St. Isaak, it was absolutely obvious to me. It’s like if you love Dostoevsky and then someone gives you a “new-discovered” book named under Dostoevsky but in fact written by someone else, you immediately see the fraud. No one can write like Dostoevsky, and no one can write like St. Isaak. But it’s hard to use this “feeling” as an argument in a philological/patrological dispute. But even if all patrologists will tell me that they think the second volume belongs to St. Isaak (unless they will give me solid 100% proof), I will not believe them, because my heart knows that it’s not his writing.

In Christ,
Evgeny


#18 Ken McRae

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Posted 06 January 2005 - 12:44 AM

"A universalist lost because of a technicality?"


A "technicality"? Elaborate further, please.

#19 Ken McRae

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Posted 06 January 2005 - 01:22 AM

"Perhaps this is what makes St Isaac 'stand' within the Church when so much on the logical plane seems to speak against this." - Fr Raphael


Dear Father,

Blessed are the merciful, and indeed, Our Lord has clearly stated His preference for mercy before sacrifice; and thus it is better to err on the side of mercy. However, the Lord of Mercy, has spoken once and for all times, by His holy Council, thus wise :-

"The bishops unanimously cried: 'Whosoever does not anathematize Nestorius, let himself be anathema; the true faith anathematizes him; the holy council anathematizes him. Whosoever holds fellowship with Nestorius, let him be anathema. We all anathematize the letter and the doctrines of Nestorius. We all anathematize Nestorius and his followers ... etc."

"The same orthodox zeal turned also upon the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the long deceased teacher of Nestorius and father of his error. Bishop Rabulas of Edessa († 435) pronounced the anathema upon him and interdicted his writings."

The Third Ecumenical Council ( of Ephesus, A.D. 431. )

>> http://www.ccel.org/...ii.xii.xxii.htm <<

Humbly in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
Theo

#20 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 06 January 2005 - 02:06 AM

Dear Theophilus,

The Church has accepted St Isaac as a true saint for many centuries. It is one thing to have a Christian discussion about whether a particular aspect of some Holy Father's teaching is correct or not. It is perilous however to question their very sanctity using what are historical or other human arguments. As Evgeny explained in his example from the iconoclast period, the Church does not automatically condemn all as heretics who found themselves under the omophor of a heretical bishop. So I think we also should accept the centuries old witness of the Church about St Isaac.

More importantly however is the fact that we are surrounded by the saints who are a living cloud of witnesses. Just as we do not challenge the very integrity of a fellow Christian unless their behaviour passes beyond the bounds so it would be wrong to go so far in our questioning that we are challenging the sanctity of a saint. I suppose that at the end of the day when it comes to things within the Church we have a hard time understanding we need to give this time & prayer. Understanding is also an issue of faith & trust.

In Christ- Fr Raphael




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