The Originof the MonophysiteChurch in Syria and Mesopotamia ARTHUR VOOBUS

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The Originof the MonophysiteChurch

in Syria and Mesopotamia


The earliest extant sources of Syrian Christianity reveal a powerful spirit

of self-consciousness for independence. This desire is imprinted on every page

of the historical records. That which stands at the very forefront of Tatian’s

thought’ is profoundly instructive for our purposes: it is his dislike, nay more

his hatred, fore everything bearing a Greek or Roman label. This spirit shows

itself in whatever direction we look. Syrian gnosis is the least hellenized of all.

The pattern of Christian life carries its own attributes of sovereignty in every

respect. Autonomy is the hallmark of the early Syrian conception of the church.

Theological thought travels along quite independent lines in accord with that genius-even in the works of Aphrahat2 written decades after the Council of


Later history of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia is comprehensible only if we take into account those factors which excited the stimuli for the de- velopment which ended with the nationalization of the church of the Syrians. The main elements concern the ethnic, cultural, religio-sociological and social areas


this does not exhaust all the factors involved.

Ethnically we are confronted by a phenomenon stimulated by strong im- pulses to forge a route of its own. This passion is an essential ingredient in

the Syrian psyche. It is an order of rapture which can be perceived in literary sources as well as in the frescoes of early Syrian provenance in which pictures

of the screaming and over plus-dimensional figures of the Syrian deities are on view.3 The flames of fury nearly scorch the parchment in the polemical writ- ings of Ephrem, Ishaq, Rabbula and others. The fervor of fanaticism4 leaps out of the hagiographical sources, and the searing lava of mortification of every con- ceivable kind virtually scalds the works in which such accounts are recorded.

In the cultural field we meet a constellation which can only evoke our ad-

miration. The destiny of the idiom of Edessa, the metropolis of Mesopotamia, after it was adopted as the vehicle for the Christian community, is little short of

amazing. Astounding is the elan of the Syriac language. As the idiom for the

literary life, it had the power to absorb all other dialects; even a language like

that of Palmyra-widely used in the third century-could not retain its identity in the face of this tongue. A steady and ambitious growth towards the stature of a literary language of the world marks this idiom.5

Allied with this was the surge of sources to enrich the literary life. Like

1. See A. Viibus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient: A Contributionto the His- tory of Culturein the Near East, I (Louvain, 1958), CSCOSubsidia, 14, pp. 31ff.

2. See A. Voibus, “Methodologisches zum Studium der Anweisungen Aphrahats,” Oriens Christianus,46 (1962), pp. 25ff.

3. See A. Vodbus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, II (Louvain, 1960), CSCO Subsidia, 17, pp. 314f.

4. Ibid., pp. 256ff, 292ff.
5. It is with awe and pride that the Syrians at the high-water mark of this advance became

convinced that God himself spoke Syriac.

Mr. Viobus is professor of church history in the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.


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an artesianwell, they began to flow and that abundantly.It is astoundinghow eagerly the Syrians grasped hold of these works. They began to translate al- most everythingthey could lay hold of with a zeal that is probablywithout parallel. Originalcreationswere stimulatedsoon to join in the streamof works which fed and enrichedthe intellectualculture.8 In turn, the national self-con- sciousnesswas excited by these new and positive stimuli.

The emergenceof the loci of higherstudiescertainlygave addedimpetusto these endeavors. Once the torch of learningwas ignited in Edessa, it impressed itself upon the intellectualand culturalclimatethroughoutthe Syrian Orient. A recentworkon the Schoolof Nisibis7describesthe impactof this achievement in suchareasas schooling,highereducation,literarylife, scholarlyendeavorsand missionwork. Centersof highereducationemergedin Edessa,Homs, Qenneshre, Tell Ade, Pesiltha, Mar Zakkaiand elsewhere. This networkdelineatesa most importantmilestonein the progressiveadvancein the intellectualarena. It is impossibleto underestimatethe impactof this developmentupon the Syrian self- consciousness.

We must also touch upon the religio-sociologicalarea. This concernsthe

spectaculargrowth of monasticismin Syria and Mesopotamiaduring the fourth and fifth centuries. The rapidityof this advancespilling over from monasteries

to caves and clefts in the mountains is truly surprising.8 Special significance must accordingly be attached to this phenomenon in the history of Syrian spirituality. The attendant consequences were far-reaching. In the light of the immense veneration of the ascetics and monks by the religious masses, it is not difficult to understand why the care of souls gradually fell into the hands of the monks.

Indeed other sectors of the pastoral office also came under their control. The role which monasticism actually played in the religion of the Syrians is thus prop- erly highlighted. It begins to dawn upon us that monasticism exercised extra-

ordinary functions in that society.9
In view of such first-rate factors it suffices only to glance momentarily at

the social conditions of the time as revealed by our sources. Abuse on the part of the administration was reckless. The peasantry particularly suffered very hard. Economic conditions, poor at best, were aggravated the more by additional hard- ships. The garrisons located in the communities and travelling functionaries caused endless bitterness with their exorbitant demands and chicanery in re- gard to food, lodging and so on. Abuse practiced freely by local administration caused deep resentment and affront not soon to be forgotten.

It is only when we take these factors into consideration that we begin to

perceive the forces operative in the Syrian Orient embracing Monophysitism. These are the reasons why within a short time Monophysitism?1was no longer

merely a protest against the Chalcedonians but became a developed doctrine, a movement with its own content and a separate church which did not hope for

anything from the Byzantine emperors nor from the Byzantine church.
If we are to understand the position of Christianity in Syria and Mesopo- tamia during the fateful period under the Emperor Justinian, we must take a look, however briefly, at the events leading up to and contemporaneous with

6. See A. Viobus, History of Syriac Literature, I (in press).
7. A. Viobus, History of the School of Nisibis (Louvain, 1965), CSCOSubsidia, 26.
8. See Voibus, History of Asceticism……. I, pp. 209ff; II, pp. 70ff.
9. See A. Viobus, Syrische Kanonessammlungen: Ein Beitrag zur Quellenkunde. I:

WestsyrischeOriginalurkunden,1,A (Louvain, 1970), CSCO,35, pp. 165ff. 10. See J. Lebon, Le monophysismesevtrien (Louvain, 1909).

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that era. In other words, it is necessaryto include a few words in the area of pre-history.

In the time of EmperorJustin (518-527), a synod was convenedin July, 518 A.D., whichrenderedthe fatefuldecisionto condemnthe PatriarchSeverus.1

Other synod meetingsheld in Jerusalemand Tyros quicklyfollowedechoingthe same decision.l2 The dark clouds on the horizon convergedto rain destruction

upon the Monophysites.Severusl3was deposedand the patriarchalseat given to Paul. Save for hasty escape14to Egypt, Severuswouldhave lost his life.

Heavier blows awaited. During the followingyear, a large wave of persecu- tion swept through the patriarchate.Diocese after diocese was robbed of its

bishop.65The bishops were deportedor imprisoned. A few years later, either 52116or 525,17the tide of persecutionwelled up again to engulf the monks; they were driven from their monasteries. Many priests were so overwhelmed by the ferocityof these attacksthat they lost their courageand switchedto the Chalce-

The whole life of the communitieswas upset. The acute shortageof clergy

becamea life and deathissue for virtuallyevery Monophysitecommunity.’8Johan-

nan of Ephesus paints a very sad picture of this tragic situation,basing his re- port on that of a man who himself had been ordainedby the same Johannan. The terrifiedbishopshung on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, they were afraid to ordain;19on the other, the congregationsbombardedthem with requestsand pleas for clergy. At conclavesof the bishops,one and all refused to ordainfor fear of repercussioni,f not also of reprisal. At this juncture,Johan- nan of Tella20volunteeredto take the risk, providedhis colleaguesand the parti- arch gave him the mandateto “ordainall expelled men”.2l

The superhumanefforts of this man who had been captivatedby anchorite ideals and who now plunged into an ocean of limitless activity have been ex-

11. Acta conoiliorumoecumenicorum,ed. E. Schwartz (Berolini et Lipsiae, 1914ff.), 3, pp. 76f.

12. Ibid., 3, pp. 77ff.
13. About the discovery of a new source on Severus, see A. V5Obus, “D6couverte d’un

memra de Giwargi, 6v0que des arabes, sur S6vbre d’Antioche,” Le Musdon, 84 (1971), pp. 433ff. About the discovery of another new source on Severus, see A. Viibus, “Ein

Panegyrikus von Severus von Antiochein von Qyriaqos,” Jahrbuch fur Liturgiewis-

senschaft, 42 (in press).
14. About the discovery of a new important source, namely an unknown letter of Severus,

see A. Voobus, “Doeouverte d’une lettre de 86evre d’Antioche,” Revue des 6tudes byzantines, 31 (in press). Among his letters this new document is of extraordinary character since it is autobiographicaland gives a detailed account of his escape.

  1. More than forty bishops were expelled from their sees (Chronicon anonymum ad A.D. 846 pertinens, ed. E. W. Brooks (Louvain, 1904), CSCOSyr. 5, pp. 225ff.
  2. Incerti auctoris chroniconanonymumPseudo-Dionysianumvulgo dictum, ed. J. B. Cha- bot (Louvain, 1933), CSCO,Syr. 53, p. 27.
  3. Zacharias Rhetor, Ristoria ecclesiastica, ed. E. W. Brooks (Parisiis, 1924), CSCO, Syr. 39, p. 82.
  4. Candidatesfrom the Syrian Orient even went as far as Constantinopleto obtain ordi- nation; “and he would return perhaps after a year of days without gaining any satis- faction from his labor, as I saw happen to many” (John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, ed. E. W. Brooks, 2. Patrologia Orientalis, 18 (Paris, 1924), p. 522).
  5. That they consecrated some of them secretly was of very little help in view of the situation (ibid., pp. 515f.).
  6. Regarding him see also the discovery of an unknown biography of Jaqob of Serug. A. Viibus, Handschriftliche Vberlieferung der MlmrJ-Dichtung des Jacqob von Serig: Sammlungen, 1 (Louvain, 1972), CSCO Subsidia 39, pp.5ff. He was banned in 521(Eliya, Vita Johannis episcopi Tellae, ed. E. W. Brooks (Parisiis, 1907), CSCO,Syr. 7, pp. 80ff). After this he resided for some time in the Monastery of Mar Zakkai near Callinicus.
  7. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, pp. 516ff.This content downloaded from on Thu, 20 Aug 2015 21:02:54 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


tolled in a monumentby Johannanof Ephesusand also by his disciple,Eliya.22 Johannanof Tella must have been a man of extraordinarystaminato brave the immense task before him. It took him on a marathonrun from the Persian frontiersto Armenia,Cappadociaand Phoenicia,23encouraging,instructing,ex- amining candidatesand performingmass ordinations. Such heroic effort soon

beganto bearfruit. Depressedcommunitiesfelt a quickeningspirit; growingnum- bers of turncoatssoughthim out in orderto be pardonedand receivedonce more into the fold.24Candidatesfor ordinationcameto him “likea floodthat is produced in a river by thick clouds”25whereverhe appeared-in monasteries,on the road, even in the desert. His labors were risky but the communitiesand villages were providedwith deaconsand priests. The recordshe is reportedto have kept are said to have containedthousandsof namesof ordainedpersons.26In addition, the epic efforts of this shepherdinstilled courage, hardeneddeterminationand fannedthe flamesof the spiritof resistance.His exampleno doubtprovedin- valuablein establishingthe essentialpremisesfor the upbuildingof life under

the most severe of conditions.
The hurricaneforce of the persecutionssought to eradicateMonophysitism

forever. But it failed to win the day; it broughtopposite,latent powers to the fore. The Syrian Orient successfullywithstoodthis first mercilesstest-an ex- periencethat gave it the muscle and iron to face the excruciatingtrials yet to come.

In 527 the imperialthrone fell to Justinian (527-65) who thus came to the helmof the shipof state. This shifteasedthe furor,andmonksquietlybeganto return to their monasteries.2?The communitieshad been severely tried and tested and, thoughpressurewas still applied,the enthronementof Justinianmust have encompassedall these vexed ones with a surgingemotionof relief. Johan- nanof Tellanowprosecutedhis workmoreopenlyandboldly,carryingout mass ordinations.28A graphicview of the situationin the year 529 is affordedus by

one who himself experiencedexaminationin a nightly gatheringtogether with a contingentof monksat the handsof Johannanof Tella.29The vigor with which

he fulfilledthis programbroughtdown upon him the wrath of the authorities and left him in a very precariousposition.80

Nonetheless,much more could be attemptedduring this period; increasing attentionwas given to the upbuildingof life. The breachbetweenthe church bodies widenedto includeareas beyondthose of doctrinealone. The foundation was laid for an indigenouscanonlaw which was designedto regulateecclesiastical practice in piety, worship, liturgy and church order. The Monophysitetradi- tion began to take on definite form. Most valuable glimpses are allowed us when we examine the canons issued by Johannanof Tella. Search for new manu- script sourcesin the churchesand monasteriesin the Orient has led to the oldest

22. Vita Johannis episoopi Tellae, pp. Iff.
23. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, p. 519.
24. Ibid., pp. 519f.
25. Ibid., p. 518.
26. The Orientallightheartednessin dealing with numbersis shownby the figure givemi-

170,0001 (ibid., p. 522).
27. Mika’,l, Chronique,ed. J. B. Chabot (Paris, 1910), 4, p. 270.
28. Eliya, Vita Johannis episcopi Tellae, pp. 23ff.
29. This company of about seventy monks came from the monasteries of Amid and its sur-

roundings(JohnofEphesumL,ivesoftheEasternSaints,2,p.521). 30. Ibid., p. 520.

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and most valuable evidence of these documents.81 They aim at complete separa- tion of the Monophysite believers and affirm the readiness to suffer unto death for the sake of their creed.82 The position and lot of the clergy is also dealt with, especially in respect to its qualifications and further training-certainly a not un- natural consequence of the mass ordinations.83 They cast a singular light upon another facet of his endeavors: the institution of the deaconesses and its role in the organism of church life. Newly discovered sources exhibit the attention given by him to the nurture and strengthening of organized monasticism.84 These years saw not only the growth in the number of Monophysites but also con- solidation in the life of the church, due in great part to this tireless man. An atmosphere was created in which, for the first time, not only two separate churches consisting of the clergy and the communities but also two traditions faced one another.

During the summer of 531 the Emporor Justinian issued an order permitting the exiled monks to return.35 Near the end of the year, a half-dozen bishops, also in exile, were given a royal invitation to present themselves at Constan-

tinople.36 They were understandaby enough nonplused at the turn of events.87 What is more, in Constantinople these shepherds were allowed to submit a con-

fession88to the emperor.”

The disposition of the Empress Theodora toward the Monophysites was as positive as it was gracious. She turned the Hormisda Palace over to oriental

ascetics-to that company of men whose panoply of peculiar custom seemed so strange-to do with as they would.40 The palace was converted into a huge monastic camp. A more conspicuous platform for the anti-Chalcedonian forces could hardly have been provided. It was this locus which provided the setting for a theological conference41with representatives of both parties in attendance.42 The exact date is not known but it must have taken place either in 53243 or 532/33.44 The Monophysites were allowed to disseminate their propaganda45in complete freedom.46 The appointment of the new patriarch Anthimus47 was a

31. A. V56bus, Syrische Kanonessammlungen:Ein Beitrag sur Qtueenkcunde,I, 1,A, pp. 156ff; 1,B (Louvain, 1971), pp. 263ff.

32. CanonI, op. cit., 1,A, p. 158.
33. It was necessary to curb the wild and the exotic in ecclesiastical practice and to specify

the qualificationt of monks to make them eligible for the priesthood (see Canon XI).

See Syriac and Arabic Documents,ed. A. Vibus (Stockholm, 1960), p. 58. 34.SeeV56bus,SyrischeKanonessammlungenI,,1,A,pp.156ff;1,B,p.267.

  1. Zacharias Rhetor, Historia ecclesiastica, II, 6,2, p. 82.
  2. They were able to stay there for more than a year.
  3. At first they did not go; they wrote to the emperorand received a new invitation.
  4. This documentis preservedin ZachariasRhetor,Historia ecclesiastica,9.15, pp. 115ff.
  5. Inter alia it rejects Eutyches on the one hand and the council of Chalcedon on theother.

40. Even cells were created in this place to satisfy the needs of the reclusi (see John of

Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, pp. 676ff).
41. Innocentius de Maronia, Epistola de ooUationecum Severianis habita, Aeta conciliorum

oecumenicorum,4.2, pp. 169ff.
42. Both parties were represented by a six-man delegation. The Monophysites were repre-

sented by Sargis of Cyrrhos, Thomas of Germanicia, Philoxenos of Doliche, Peter of Theodosiopolis,Johannan of Tella and Nonnos of Circesion.

  1. See E. Stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire (Paris-Bruxelles-Amsterdam,1949), 2, pp. 378 ff.
  2. See Schwartz, Acta conciliorumoecumenicorum,4.2, p. xxvi.
  3. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 17, pp. 18ff. See Acta conciliorumoecum-enicorum,3, pp. 139, 148, 181.

46. In 553 they utilized the panic caused by an earthquakein order to stage a mass demon-

stration against the Ohaledonians (see Chroniconpaschale, ed. L. Dindorf (Bonnae,

1832), p. 629).
47. Consecratedin June 535.

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bold move, rather astonishing under the circumstances. On top of all this, the Patriarch Severus was invited to come to Constantinople. He was received and showered with great honor48and allowed to promote his cause.49

Did the Monophysites succumb to new hope in view of the emperor’s new role-despite his known vacillation in ecclesiastical policy? Did they become so complacent about their activities that they dropped their guard?

Certainly Justianian’s move drew Johannan of Tella away from his activities; he too had been invited to Constantinople.50 But it is highly improbable that the leaders, who had been tested and tried, cherished any illusions about the new imperial policy. The reasons are obvious. The clergy and monks in Constanti- nople remained adamantly opposed to the new trend in the emperor’s policy. The formation of an assault detachment of monks, their agitation,5l maneuvers and intrigues62were well-known facts. Further, the web of intrigue had drawn Syria63 into the controversy as the documents themselves prove.4 Let it not go unnoticed that the mastermind of the intrigue, namely the pope, was in contact with circles in Syria. The symptoms of a tour de force to come were perceptible. Severus, who in 534 went to Constantinople and remained there for a year, told his friends with resignation: “Do not err, under this emperor the peace of the church is impossible”.55 Predictions of Johannan of Tella may also be men- tioned here. In 529 when Johannan of Ephesus along with a large contingent of monks received ordination from Johannan of Tella, the latter’s admonition was indelibly pressed upon the memory of those participating in the act of consecra- tion: “Pray and cease not, for a time is coming when men to give a hand of ordination to believers shall be wanting and shall not be found”.56 The outlook was bleak.

Indeed, that which men like Severus and Johannan of Tella anticipated prob- ably came about more quickly than expected. The intrigues intensified to a fever- ish pitch when Pope Agapetus personally took matters into his expert hands. Arriving in Constantinople in 536, he assumed the role of prosecutor, interven- ing in ecclesiastical matters at will. Justinian complied with the wishes of Aga- petus in every respect,57indeed to such a point that the throne itself suffered humiliation.8 The pope’s campaign was executed at lightning speed. Anthimus,

48. In the year 535.

  1. He was able to promotethe cause of Monophysitismfor one year. He also influenced thenewly appointed patriarch, Anthimus.
  2. He was invited to Constantinopleto participate in the conference.
  3. The man who organized the band of monks and who directed the agitation on a largescale was perhaps Menas whose merits earned the patriarchal seat. This has been sug-gested by E. Schwartz.

52. Monks in Constantinople, used as an assault detachment, sent a delegation to Rome

(Acta conciliorumoecumenicorum,3, p. 141).

  1. Particularly Palestine and Syria II.
  2. ZachariasRhetor, Historia ecclesiastica, 9.19, pp. 135ff.
  3. Ibid., 9.19, pp. 136ff.
  4. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, p. 521. See also a letter writtenabout 530 in R. Draquet, “Une pastorale anti-julianiste des environs de l’ann6e 530,” Le Museon, 40 (1927), pp. 83ff. This addition rests on Ms. Br. Mus. Add. 14,663, which unfortunately has preserved only the first part of the document. A tireless search for new manuscript sources has revealed the only complete text preserved in Ms. Mardin Orth. 350. See A. V5obus, Syriac Manuscripts from the Treasury of the Monastery of Mdr Haaanya, or Deir Za’f ardn (Stockholm) (in press).

57, Whether Justinian indeed did all this because he saw in the pope a help against Theo- dora (see E. Schwartz,Zur KirchenpolitikJustinians (Miinchen,1940), pp. 44f.) cannot be discussed here.

58. According to the official account of the Roman curia (Gesta pontificorumnBomanorum, ed. T. Mommsen(Berolini, 1874), p. 142), the orthodoxpope conqueredthe tyrannical heretic Justinian. This is a distortion; there was no resistance at all.

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patriarchof Constantinople,was deposed. Menas was appointedhis successor, consecratedby the pope.59The submissionof a confession,Chalcedonianin

theology,was required;6oa synod was convened;61Monophysiteleaderswere ana- thematized;62and Severus thrown into prison.63The imperialdecree followed;64 the Monophysiteswere banishedfrom the capital; the works of Severus were consignedto destruction;68 and cruel punishmentwas establishedfor everyone who copied Monophysitewritings.66

A new vector in the zigzag course of Justinian’secclesiasticalpolicy had

occurred. In consequence,the persecutionwhich swept up the patriarchateof Antioch far exceeded the previous one in cruelty and severity. In the main,

Patriarch Ephrem67himself carried it out, covering the territory68during the winter of 536/7.69 He was accompaniedby a detachmentof soldiers70in order to ensurethe submissionof the Monophysitesand to breaktheir spirit.71

This persecutionwas carriedout with savage fury which fed on inhuman

cruelty and was coupledwith the power of arrest, imprisonmentand expulsion.72 Manybrokeunderthepressure.73Yetforallofthat,thepersecutionfailedto

accomplishthe objectives. The undauntedand the indomitable-particularlythe monks-deprived of house and home, again became wanderers. Even nature

itself, an extraordinarilycold winter, seemed to support the patriarchin his

work of destruction.74Most of the shepherds,if not all, fell victim. Two years

of returnedfrom was able to ordain later,Johannan Tella,having Constantinople,

only in Persia75-nowhereelse! The hunt for him was on in the mountainsof

Shiggar.76This courageousfigure was finally captured,imprisonedand killed.77 Monophysitismhad entered upon its most critical phase.

That the consequenceswere of the utmost gravity to the sufferersis clear. A processof strangulationwas in effect. Overnightthe problemof the clergy became extremely important. The situation suddenly experienced an utterly criticaltremor,presentingas it did the end of all that had been built up at such

enormous cost and effort. The moment had arrived, the moment which had

  1. The consecrationby the pope on March 13, 536, was itself an unheard-of event.
  2. Epistolae imperatorun, pontificum, aliorum, ed. 0. Gunther (Vindobonae, 1895-98),CSEL, 35, pp. 338ff.
  3. May 2 to June 4, 536.
  4. Acta conciliorumoecumenicorum,3, pp. 26ff.
  5. This was regardless of the assurance of guarantee given to him. However, Theodorasalvaged him from the worst and helped his escape.
  6. August 6, 536, which sanctioned the decrees of the synod.
  7. Novella XLII of August 6, 536.
  8. For this crime his hand had to be chopped off.
  9. Concerningthis man, see J. Lebon, “Ephrem d’Amid, patriarche d’Antioche,” Mel-anges Ch. Moeller (Louvain, 1914), 1, pp. 197ff.; G. Downey, “Ephraemius, Patriarch ofAntioch,” ChurchHistory, 7 (1938), pp. 365ff.
  10. Namely Aleppo, Qenneshrin,Mabbug, Serug, Edessa, Shura, Callinicus and the rest ofthe frontier area, Reshaina, Amid and Tella.

69. Zacharias Rhetor, Historia ecclesiastica, 10.1, p. 175.

70. Ibid., 10.1, pp. 174ff.
71. See a moving account of the horrors and endless vexations of the monasteries of Amid

in John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, pp. 607ff.
72. Some were burned alive (tbid., p. 524). About Presbyter Qura of Amid, Zacharias

Rhetor, Historia ecclesiastica, 10.3, p. 173.
73. Ibid., 10.1, pp. 174f.
74. The extraordinarily cold winter multiplied the agony of the calamities, and many died

(ibid., 10.1, pp. 174f.).
75. Eliya, Vita Johannis episcopi Tellae, pp. 58ff.
76. He was detected by some functionaries with the aid of a “strangulator of the robbers”

(Johannes Malalas, Chronographia,ed. L. Dindorf (Bonnae, 1831), p. 382).
77. He was dragged off to Antiocll where he spent the remainder of his life in imprison-

ment and died on February 6, 538.

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haunted the leaders-the flock in the Syrian Orient was without any shepherds. Philoxenos of Mabbug, Thomas of Marash, Thomas of Damascus, Thomas of Dara, Petros of Reshaina, Johannan of Tella and others were dead. Patriarch Anthimus, Patriarch Theodosius of Alexandria, Peter of Apamea and Johannan of Hephaistou were kept in confinement at a fortress. On top of all, the Patriarch Severus breathed his last in the year 538.

The situation was desperate beyond belief. Johannan of Hephaistou, a Syrian,78 decided to do something about it. By a ruse,79 he managed to slip out of interment at Constantinople. He made secret trips to accomplish his work, to confirm and strengthen the beseiged communities and to provide the flock with shepherds. Various clandestine journeys took him to Asia Minor, as far as Tarsus, Cilicia, Cyprus and Rhodes. The third such journey probably took place in 541. He also used literary means to strengthen his mission.80

Naturally, assistance to the congregations in the oriental communities was very limited despite such extraordinary efforts. It is certain that some from these communities travelled great distances at enormous risk in order to re- ceive ordination. For the oriental provinces, the only opportunity available was to be found in Persia. But in that territory, only one bishop, Qyros, was left.81 He carried out ordinations during the period 537/8-544/5 at which time, regret- tably, the frontier was closed because of the war.82

Just when darkness and despair were at their deepest, there occurred an

event which was entirely unpredictable-the genesis of the Monophysite church is rich in such dramatic moments! Harith bar Gabala, King of the Arabs, sud-

denly appeared in Constantinople in 542/3. He was determined to create a closely knit Monophysite realm in his kingdom and demanded two or three bishops for Syria from Theodora. She complied. This was salvation from the very brink of the chasm. It must rank as one of the most decisive events in the history of the period when Patriarch Theodosius intoned the ceremony of episcopal con- secration of two monks who were in Constantinople at that time: Theodorus of Arabia and Jaqob Burdana.88 The first became bishop of the Arabs whose set- tlements consisted of tents.84 Immense territory came under his jurisdiction: the entire desert, Arabia and Palestine up to Jerusalem86-an area which had been a place of refuge to the hunted. The second bishop, Jaqob, became bishop of Edessa, but his territory included all areas beyond the diocese of Theodorus. The advent of these two bishops meant not reprieve but rescue. They were aware of the tremendous burden laid upon them and their mission. As it turned out, a new leaf in the book of Monophysite history had been turned.

Bishop Jaqob, a monk garbed in a patchwork garment, was a thoroughly

78. About him see Voobus, Syrische KanonessamnmlungenI, 1,A, p. 178ff.
79. Underthe pretext of illness Johannanobtainedpermissionfrom Theodorato live separately in a villa. From this base he slipped out on his secret mission tours (John of Ephesus,

Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, pp. 530ff.).
80. From Cyprus he sent a letter with the canons to the Syrian abbots in the Orient (see

Voobus, Syrische Kanonessammiungen,I, 1,A, pp. 175ff.).

  1. Mika’el, Chronique,4, p. 309.
  2. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, p. 522.
  3. Op. cit. 3, pp. 153f., p. 228. About the discovery of new manuscript sources on JaqobBurdana, see A. Viobus, “Neue handschriftliche Funde iiber die Biographie des Ja’qobBurdcAna'”,Ostlirchliche Studien, 22 (1973).

84. Hirtha of the Arabs, op. cit., 2, p. 693. 85. Op. oit., 3, p. 154.

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educated man,86 having mastered Greek and Arabic in addition to Syriac. He undertook the enormous task of leadership within his immense87 jurisdictional domain88and gave it all he had. A moving, vivid account of his heroic endeavors to encourage, comfort, strengthen and nurture the life of the communities under his care is given by Johannan of Ephesus.89 Constantly harassed by pursuers, he moved from village to village; “he would complete all the work of his ministry in one night and perhaps one day, and would pass the next night 30 or 40 miles or more farther on.”90 The number of ordinations he performed in this neces- sarily clandestine fashion is reported in fantastic figures.91 Unfortunately, docu- mentation for the study of this period is studded with lacunae. The picture Johannan gives us is not adequate; his colorful and moving panegyric does not include substantial data so essential for the historian. Some information can be culled from the tradition and habits which lived on in ecclesiastical practice, as seen in the canonical literature produced by Jaqob of Edessa in particular.

Newly discovered documents have unearthed unknown important material which increases our knowledge.92 These documents show us how difficult it was even at a later time to wean the monks from the practice of blessing the myron and from exercising priestly functions. They reflect with all desirable clarity the role which the contingent of monks once had played, that is, during the most critical period under discussion. Among the resolutions, one tells us something of the trav- elling priest on the way to serve the scattered flock-a real conversatio viatorum; it describes in striking fashion how a deacon, while on the way, can serve as an altar for the celebration of the eucharist. What a portrait of ecclesiastical life under emergency conditions, of the cultic life geared to meet the demands of being on the move in secrecy and in haste!

Back to Jaqob-it is a miracle that this man who was pursued, who had a

price on his head, was never caught by church agents working for the orthodox

cause. Two phases can be distinguished in Jaqob’s activities93 in building up his church. The records we have can only be interpreted properly to mean that Jaqob initially wished to confine himself to the accomplishment of the most urgent and vital tasks. To create a Monophysite hierarchy at the very beginning was to attempt too much. But the time for this was to come. When it did, Jaqob took the initiative.94 The first step was to select two monks for metropolitan duty in Asia Minor.95

As to the exact date of this event, the sources offer no record. It is very difficult to fix the time Jaqob forged ahead in this new direction. One source,

86. He was from Tella and was educated in the Monastery of Phesiltha (op. cit., 2, p. 690). 87. His territory extended from the Persian border to Consta.ntinople(ibid., p. 693).
88. Op. cit., 3, p. 154.
89. Op. cit., 2, p. 623.

90. Ibid., p. 623.
91. John of Ephesus believes that 100,000 is not too high a figure for the number of his

ordinations (ibid., pp. 696f).
92. The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition, ed. A. V56bus, CSCO (in press).
93. The time granted for his work was quite lengthy. He died on July 30, 578. About the

bishops he consecrated, see E. Honigmann, ‘veques et ‘veches tnonophysites d’Asie

antgrieureen VIe siecle (Louvain, 1951), CSCOSubsidia, 2, pp. 178ff.
94. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 2, p. 697.
95. Eugenios of Isauria and Conon of Cilicia. The first became the metropolitan of Tarsus

(ibid., p. 697; see op. cit., 2, pp. 155f.).

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namelythe chronicleof Ps. Dionysios with its obviouslyerroneouschronology,96 has for some time been a source of confusionto scholars.97Assumptionsabout an early date for the consecrationof the patriarchby Jaqob98have simply mud- dled matters so much the more. The ground is more secure when we take a different fact into consideration. Constantinus,the metropolitanof Laodicea, uponthe deathof the PatriarchSeverus,was investedwith the dignityof deputy.99 It is knownthat he died in 553.100This fact becomesimportantas soon as we realize that his death left Jaqob free to act.101Confirmationseems likely from anotherangle-from the list of the bishopsand archbishopsconsecratedby Jaqob. This list begins with Dimat, the successorof Constantinusin Laodicea.102His consecrationmusthavetakenplacesoonafter553. Theimpressiongivenisthat this prelatewas the first to be consecratedby Jaqob.

If so, then more than a decade passed before Jaqob began to expand the hierarchy.The list just mentionedthen providesus with furtherinformationon the frameworkof the first organization. In respect to the Syrian territoriesof the patriarchateof Antioch,103two metropolitanswere appointedfor Syria (Lao- dicea and Seleucia) and one for Mesopotamia(Amid). Of the three bishops consecratedfor this area, one was assigned to Syria (Qenneshre), one to Osr- hoene(Harran)andoneforEuphratesia(Shura). InconsecratingthePatriarch

Sargis, Jaqob completedthe highest degree in the Monophysitehierarchicalad- der.104He had to repeatthis act very soon.105

This list takes us to 566. At that time, the hierarchicalnetwork was well providedin respectto Syria I, with the patriarchalseat, two metropolitansand one bishopfor Qenneshre.The furtherdevelopmentand completionof the struc- ture of the Monophysitehierarchybelongto a later epoch,even to the epochfol- lowing upon the Islamic conquest.

96. A large numberof consecratedbishopsappearsin connectionwith the time of the great pest, Pseudo-Dionysios (itistoria ecclesiastia, p. 110). It has been wrongly assumed that this section is simply a copy of the work of John of Ephesus.

97. About this question, see A. van Roev, “Les dbhuts de l^’glise jacobite,” in A. Grill- meier-H Bacht, )as Konzil von ChaFledon,2 (Wilrzburg, 1953).

98. The consecrationof Sargis as patriarch of Antioch has been placed in 538 (A. ?anda in Johannes Philoponus, Opuseula nonoph?lsitica(Beryti Phoenicnm, 1930), p. 6); about 547-50 according to A. Jilicher, “Zur Geschichte der Monophvsitenkirehe.” Znit, 19 (1925), p. 37. But this event actually took place later, about 557 (see E. W. Brooks, “The Patriarch Paul of Antioch and the Alexandrian Schism of 575,” in

BvlsantinischeZeitschrift, 30 (1930), p. 469).
99. About this document and the newlv unearthed manuscript sources, see Voobus, Syrische

Yanone.snammlunfoenI,,1,A, pp. 167ff.
100. Mika’l, Chronique,4, p. 812.
101. See also TTonigmannt,Oeques et t,)chis monophysites,pp. 171f.
102. John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints, 3, pn. 156ff.
103. Jaqob consecratedbishops and archbishopsalso in Egypt, Asia Minor and the island of

104. When he consecratedhis former fellow brother of the Monastery of Phesiltha is not

clear. In any case this must have taken place about 558: shortly before that time

Johannes Philoponos dedicated his work to him (Johannes Philoponos, Opuscula mono-

physitica, pp. 81ff.).
105. Sargis died about three years later. It was Theodosius, the former patriarch of Alex-

andria, who after a sedisvacance of three years wrote to Jaqob and asked to consecrate Paul to the vacant seat of Antioch (Documenta ad ortiines monophysitarumillustrandas, ed. J.B. Chabot (Parisiis, 1908), CS08 Syr. 18, pp. 89f).

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