Mar Philoxenus of Mabug (d. 523) BIOGRAPHIES OF SYRIAN SCHOLARS AND WRITERS – Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum – Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

Posted by on Sep 4, 2015 in Articles, Library | Comments Off on Mar Philoxenus of Mabug (d. 523) BIOGRAPHIES OF SYRIAN SCHOLARS AND WRITERS – Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum – Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

Mar Philoxenus of Mabug   (d. 523)

Philoxenus was a master of eloquence and a distinguished philologist. An outstanding person in intelligence, knowledge and deeds, he was also abstinent and God-fearing. His style was stately, lucid. He masterfully portrayed good manners and sublime Christian virtues, producing a book on the perfect life which contains much and is written in an infinitely beautiful style.
Philoxenus thoroughly studied the origin of religion. Read his book on The Trinity and the Incarnation, and you will find this master well-versed in theological matters and fathoming their depths. Read his letters and you will know what an ambitious soul and magnanimous heart he had. He was an indefatigable contestant whose challengers, always defeated, retaliated by dispraising him. Moreover, he was patient in enduring ordeals and hardships for the cause of the Orthodox faith until he won the crown preserved for those who struggle for the faith and the wreath of confessors.
Philoxenus was born at Tahl in Beth Garmai (in Iraq) shortly before the middle of the fifth century. His Syriac name, Akhsnaya (Stranger) was changed upon his ordination as a bishop, into the Greek name Philoxenus (Lover of Strangers). While young, his parents took him to Tur Abdin, where he entered the monastery of Qartamin with his brother Addai to study Syriac and Greek literatures and the science of religion. Later, he transferred to the School of Edessa and finished his philosophical and theological studies. But it was at the great Monastery of Talada in the province of Antioch that he finished his studies of Greek and Syriac. Then he became a monk and was ordained a priest. In 485, he was ordained by Patriarch of Antioch, Peter II, a chorepiscopus and then bishop of Mabug. Philoxenus made utmost efforts to defend the true belief of the Orthodox Church. He participated in the doctrinal disputes of his time and ardently opposed the Nestorians and the Chalcedonians, who were angered by his intensive defense. This situation caused their extremists to antagonize him, while some of them even vilified him with slanderous remarks, showing that they were full of spite, foolish talk and erroneous views. But he refuted all of them.86
In 499, he went to Constantinople to complain to the emperor against Flavian II of Antioch who was wavering in his faith, but the Persian Wars with the Byzantines prevented the investigation of the case. When peace was established, he revisited the capital and was able to have Flavian deposed and Severus of Antioch installed in his place in 512. However, Justin, who succeeded Anstas, exiled the Orthodox bishops in the Fall of 518. Philoxenus was then banished to Philippopolis in Thrace and later to Gangara in Paphlagonia. At Gangara, he was jailed in a house with its openings blocked and a fire burning inside. He died suffocating from smoke, as a martyr for his faith, on December 10, 523, in the eighth decade of his life after he had been a bishop for thirty-eight years. He is commemorated by the Church.
The writings of this most learned church dignitary include commentaries on theological, polemical, literary, ascetic and ritualistic subjects. They also contain letters and discourses.

It is stated in his lengthy biography that he wrote an elaborate commentary on both Testaments, which was quoted by Bar Salibi. An old British Museum MS., transcribed at Mabug in 511 during the author’s lifetime, contains portions of the commentary on the gospels according to St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. John.87 Other copies, however, contain selections from the gospels, a commentary on the parable of the ten talents, and a discourse on faith, a commentary on the words of Peter, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God.”88 In his commentary on the gospel of St. Matthew, Philoxenus cited as testimony, part five of the book of Paradise by John of Dara, and the book of the Creation of Angels by Moses bar Kipha. Also, he has a discourse based on the words which the Apostle Paul quoted from the books of philosophers and an anonymous writing as well.
In theology he has two works, the first of which comprises three discourses on the Trinity and the Incarnation. It was translated into Latin and published by Vaschalde in 1908. The second is on “the Incarnation and Suffering of one Person of the Trinity,” in which he cited the Greek writings of some church scholars before they were translated into Syriac. This translation testifies to his knowledge of Greek, contrary to the opinion of some Orientalists. He also wrote ten discourses, two of which were translated into Latin and published in 1920. There are two old copies of these two works written on vellum.89 Furthermore, he wrote four Confessions of Faith, one of which begins thus, “We believe in the Trinity of one eternal nature,”90 ten chapters against the decision of the Council of Chalcedon,91 seven chapters against those who advocate the necessity of condemning only the invalid part of the teachings of heretics while not condemning them completely or their writings in their entirety.92 He also wrote a discourse on the unity of the two natures of Christ, and one on the man who violates excommunication by the priests of his own will. A third discourse, in two pages, is entitled “If a man is asked how he believes, he should answer thus,” and a fourth discourse is on the unity of the body of Christ.
The polemical writings. Philoxenus93 biographer states that he wrote six treatises against the Nestorians and thirteen more against the Chalcedonians. Of the first, only two treatises remain, the first in twenty chapters and the second in five chapters: a disputation with one of the Nestorian writers and a discourse declaring the Nestorians’ teaching as well as that of the Eutychians as false. Of the second there remain two treatises, one in twelve chapters and the other in ten chapters, and another discourse in seven chapters being against both the Nestorians and the Eutychians. He also wrote a treatise containing his belief and a refutation of heresies, and another treatise in which he distinguished between the heresies of Mani, Marcian, Eutyches, Deodorus and Nestorius. In addition, he wrote three chapters in refutation of heresies. Seven of these treatises in forty-one pages were published by Budge.94 He has also a treatise against Habib al-Attar (druggist).
His valuable book on the perfect Christian life in thirteen treatises, covering five hundred pages in one volume is considered the best of his writings. He wrote it shortly after becoming a bishop and adorned it with the eloquence and precious counsels. In this work he discussed the method of becoming a disciple of Christ. Its contents include the following: faith, simplicity, humility, (voluntary) poverty, asceticism, worship of God, and resistance of some vices, such as gluttony, lusts of the body and debauchery. This book was translated into English and published by Budge in two elegant volumes in 1894.95
He also wrote discourses on monastic regulations, the fear of God, on humility, on repentance, on prayer, on how to remedy the whims of the soul, on virginity, on tonsure, on a discussion with the brethren monks, on tranquility of worship, on the monastery, organization and on aphorism.96

As to rites, he wrote two liturgies, the first in twenty pages beginning thus: “O Lord God Almighty, who is beyond perception and the Compassionate whom the minds cannot comprehend.” The second begins: “O Lord God Almighty and Holy, whose peace is beyond the comprehension of all minds.” Furthermore, a third liturgy is ascribed to him.97 He has also drawn an extremely short order for the Baptism of dying infants,98 a manith (hymn) on the Nativity of Our Lord and supplicatory prayers among which are a prayer to be recited on rising from bed and another one beginning, “O Lord thou are a true God and Lord,” a supplication to be recited privately by the person. He also wrote a prayer for the seven canonical hours, and prayers for the morning, the third hour and vespers as well as two prayers to be recited before and after the reception of Communion and a prayer on contrition.99
Philoxenus wrote splendid and elaborate letters containing many profitable lessons in theology, history and asceticism. According to his biographer, these letters fall into twenty-two parts. However, only twenty-one of these letters survive in European libraries. To these we added other letters which we found in the libraries of the East. These letters are:

1) A thirty-six page letter to Patricius, the ascetic, of Edessa on the keeping of the commandments of God and resisting the whims of the soul;100 2) a letter to the Emperor Zeno on the Incarnation of God, the Word and His becoming a man (in which he declared the excommunication of Nestorius and Eutyches);101 3) a letter to the Christians of Arzun on the Mystery of the Incarnation; 4) a letter to a monk who had recently renounced the world;102 5) a letter to Ibrahim and Orestes the presbyters of Edessa concerning Stephen Bar Sudayli the heretic ascetic;103 6-7) two letters to the monks of the Monastery of Gugel (the Mountain of Bagugel in Tur Abdin) on the Passion of the Lord Christ. (The first, covering ten pages, begins thus: “Christ has manifested the light of Salvation;” the second, covering thirty-five pages, begins thus: “To the noble monasteries,” in which he praised the monks’ replies and told them that they were well-received by the Emperor Anstas);104 8) a letter to the monks on heretics; 9) a fifty-four page letter to one of his friends (who was an ascetic in the wilderness) on the beginning of man’s asceticism in this world, his obedience in the monastery,105 his residence in a cell and his practice of tranquility. In this letter, he divided the ways of asceticism into four stages;106 10) a letter entitled “To the Monasteries of Amid,”107 addressed to these monks on zeal for faith; 11-12) two letters to the monks of Talada, the first of which he wrote in his exile. In the second he refuted the allegations of his opponents as well as the opponents of truth, praising Accacius the presbyter and abbot of the Monastery of Talada for his good fight;108 13) a letter to the monks of the Monastery of Senun in Edessa concerning the Incarnation of the only Word of God, in which he included an account of Nestorius. He wrote this letter during his exile at Philippopolis;109 14) an elaborate letter in thirty-three large-size pages which he wrote at Philippopolis addressed to the monks and abbots of the East, in which he described his calamity as well as the courses the church followed in bygone time to establish peace;110 15-16) two letters to Simon, the abbot of the great Monastery of Talada, the first of church policy, and the second in fourteen pages written at Philippopolis against those who falsely claim that the Church lost the gift of the Holy Spirit after the Council of Chalcedon. This letter (in fourteen pages) begins thus, “I have a desire and plea;”111 17) an exhortatory letter to a convert from Judaism who attained the highest degree of perfection;112 18) a letter to Marun the lector of Ayn Zarba;113 19) letters to the inhabitants of Arzun and the faithful in Persia; 20) a letter to John, metropolitan of Amid, reminding him of their friendship when they were students at the monastery of Qartamin;114 21) a letter to a disciple of his;115 22) a letter on the beginning of asceticism in the world;116 23) a letter to a lawyer who practiced asceticism and was tempted by Satan;117 24) a letter to the Himyarite Christians during the adversity inflicted upon them by Masruq the Jewish king because of their Christianity; 25) a letter to Count Thales, who asked him about the theory of the Tree of Life. This letter was much quoted by John of Dara in part five of the book of Paradise118 and also by Moses bar Kipha; 26) a letter of thanks which he wrote at Gangara to the monk Bar Niqina, the doer of miracles, of the Monastery of Mar Hanania. This letter was mentioned by the historian Zachariah;119 27) a letter to Abu Hafar (or Afar),120 the military governor of Hirat al-Naman, on the history of heresies, particularly Nestorianism, beginning from Sabelius and up to Nestorius and Eutyches. I found portions of this letter in three British Museum MSS.,121 and another portion at our patriarchate library in Hims. To this letter has been connected an account of the Christian Turks written by an anonymous author who has quoted the narrative of Lazarus, the Armenian Bishop of Herat and of two Armenians, a priest and a merchant who had come to Antioch and related this news;122 28) a letter to those ascetics who confined themselves to worship;123 29) a letter in reply to John II of Alexandria.124
7) His homilies. His biography mentions that he composed homilies in five volumes for principal feasts and on the acts of Our Lord. According to Bar Hebraeus, “he also wrote homilies for festivals and other diverse homilies,”125 most of which were lost. However, those homilies known to us are: two homilies on the Annunciation of the Virgin and on the Nativity of Our Lord; a homily on the Son of Life, which was cited by Moses bar Kipha in his treatise on the Soul; a homily on a person who asked him whether the Holy Spirit departs from a man when he sins, and returns to him when he repents;127 a homily on the death of a brother128 and a paraenetic discourse.129

40- Mar Philoxenus of Mabug (d. 523)