The Edessene Bishop Author of “The Cause of all Causes” – BIOGRAPHIES OF SYRIAN SCHOLARS AND WRITERS – Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum – Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

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The Edessene Bishop
Author of “The Cause of all Causes”

This bishop was a distinguished man of learning and a writer of good and masterful style. His name, however, is not known, because he does not mention it in the introduction to his famous work entitled The Causes of all Causes. But he mentions that he was a native of Edessa and had spent about thirty years as a bishop. He also states that he had suffered affliction caused by his people, which forced him to forsake his diocese. After returning to it for a while he finally left if for good, due to the intensified opposition he faced by those disobedient to him. After taking to a life of prayer and worship in a mountain with pious ascetic companions, he thought of inviting all people to love one another because they had the same belief. As a result he wrote a book in Syriac called, The Cause of All Causes, or A Universal Book for All the Nations Under Heaven, in which he teaches the people how to come to the knowledge of truth and exhorts the readers to translate it into other languages and carry it to all peoples, in order for them to obtain eternal salvation and inherit the Garden of Eden. To his superiors he apologized that, “God himself, not the author, wanted this book to be written.”
Judging by the majestic style and the magnificent subject which he discussed, we believe that the author lived in the second half of the tenth century and by no means before it. It is also incorrect to consider his era as late as the eleventh or the twelfth century, as has been thought by some Orientalists. We also read in the collection of the homilies for the whole year in London,185 copied by the monk Saliba, who finished its transcription the twenty-eighth day of June, 1015, that the person who had him transcribe this book was Athanasius, bishop of Hisn Petrous (more correctly Hisn Patrice) ibn Akhi whose name only God knows. To be sure, the name of this bishop was not mentioned by the table containing the names of the bishops compiled by Michael the Great. Therefore, he was one of those few bishops whose names were lost or he was Athanasius, metropolitan of “Kodfi and Kharshana,” the thirty-third of the bishops serving under Patriarch John VIII bar Abdun, for the town of Hisn Patrice (Batriq) was not mentioned among the Syrian dioceses. Also, it seems that he was the nephew of the Edessene bishop, the author of this book who stated in the introduction that, “God knows his name.” The book is divided into nine discourses, in sixty-six chapters, but all of its copies do not include more than the second chapter of the seventh discourse. However, Church scholars have completely overlooked this book because of the extreme views of its author which do not convince when put to the test.

The author relies on rational proofs rather than on traditional authorities, except for the Bible, for he had to have a basis for his argument. He discussed the existence of God, his oneness, his persons and then qualities, the incarnation of the Word of God and God as the cause of all causes, whose care comprehends all. He also discusses whether God is comprehensible or not. Other questions he took up were the following: Why did He create beings? Is there another world; What is man, his nature and how could he know God? Are the books of the Pentateuch true, and how even the light, the heavens, the firmament, the celestial sphere created? He also talks about the sun, moon, stars, earth, air, clouds, thunder, rain and the difference of the seasons, the kinds of birds, the ether, minerals, water, hot water springs, trees, plants, animals and cattle and how we should give consideration to all of them. Furthermore, he treats the means through which the mind of men ascends, and whether there is a limit for knowing the truth. He also discussed the Kingdom of Heaven, Hell, the descent of people and why their features, voices and forms are different, and why cities were built and religions diversified. Finally, he discussed the priesthood and the way leaders rule the people.
Chabot claims that, “The author attempted to unify religion in the world, and thus avoided the discussion of the Trinity and the Incarnation.”186 The correct thing is that he discussed the Sacrament of the Trinity in chapter six of the first treatise. He also spoke openly of the Incarnation. Chabot goes on to say that, “He had sympathy towards the mystic philosophy which prevailed among the Arabs.”187 The correct thing, however, is that he had the knowledge of the progress of Arab sciences in the Middle Ages. The second part of this book is considered an encyclopedia of the sciences which were taught in Syria at that time, adding to the same authentic knowledge of his own. There is a significant copy of this book in our library, consisting of four hundred four pages, most of which was written by one clear hand in the thirteenth century. The rest is in a more recent hand.188 This book was published by Kaiser and was translated into German and published by Siegfried between 1889-1893. It was translated into Arabic around 1730 by the monk-priest Abd al-Nur of Amid, who erroneously ascribed it to Jacob of Edessa.