St. Severus of Antioch (d. 538) / (History of Syriac Literature and Sciences) by Patriarch Ignatius Aphram Barsoum Translated By Dr. Matti Moosa

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Severus was a great church dignitary, the luminary of scholars, an outstanding authority and the unique erudite of his generation. He was also a great theologian, a profound and prolific writer and an eloquent orator who had a great control of the pulpit.
To him flocked eminent jurists and men of good conscience seeking solution to problems and interpretation of complex matters. What a man he was, a man who built up and upheld the edifice of religion, and supported and explained the authority of the Orthodox faith. He was pure in heart, soul and character, a possessor of the keys of wisdom and decisions.156

Severus was born at Sozopolis in the province of Pisidia around the year 459 A.D. His grandfather (on his father’s side) was one of the bishops who attended the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.). At Alexandria, he studied grammar and rhetoric in both Greek and Latin, and jurisprudence and philosophy at the school of Roman jurisprudence in Beirut. He was baptized at the church of Tripoli in 488.157 Later he chose the way of asceticism and became monk in the Monastery of St. Romanus in the city of Mayoma in Palestine and was ordained a priest by Bishop Epiphanius. Then, he built a monastery and remained there for twenty-four years, worshipping God and practicing the virtues of asceticism and studying the Holy Bible and the writings of theologians. He began to write to support Orthodox doctrine and his fame spread.
In 508, he journeyed with two hundred monks to Constantinople to defend the doctrine and remained there about three years until 511. A year and a few more months later, Flavian II, patriarch of Antioch, was deposed, and Severus was elected by the Holy Spirit to succeed him to the Apostolic See. He was consecrated a patriarch in Antioch on the 6th of November, 512, after which he opened the treasures of his knowledge in preaching and explaining the realities of faith and morals. During his leadership as a patriarch he never deviated from the path of his asceticism and abstinence. So, he removed luxurious living from the patriarchal palace, while devoting his energy to reform and the dispensation of church affairs by visiting the neighboring dioceses and monasteries in person or by letter. When Justin I, the Chalcedonian, succeeded Anastas in 518, he banished a group of our Orthodox bishops, antagonizing Severus who left for Egypt on the 25th of September and remained there for twenty-four years. In Egypt, Severus administered the church through his deputies or his letters. With indefatigable energy, he wrote book after book against heresies and deceivers, answered letters and gave personal opinions on legal matters. When he faced a difficult problem, he searched for light in the Holy Bible or turned to the resolutions of councils for assistance. In 535, he went to Constantinople in answer to the invitation of Justinian I, in pursuit of unity. At the capital, he won Anthimus, patriarch of Constantinople, to his side, but the gap between the two parties remained wide. Then he returned to Egypt where he died at the city of Sakha on the 8th of February, 538. He was crowned by the Church as the Great Doctor of the Catholic Church. The Church also commemorates him on the day of his death. His life was written by four eloquent writers who are Zachariah Rhetor, John, abbot of the Monastery of Bar Aphtonya, Athanasius I, patriarch of Antioch, and an anonymous author.
The writings of Severus cover polemics, rituals, commentaries, homilies, and letters. They enjoy the highest respect. All of these writings are in Greek and have been translated into Syriac by Syrian scholars.

Of the first, the polemical are:

1-2) Two treatises in refutation of Niphalius, the Alexandrian monk;158 3) the book of Philalethes which he wrote in defense of the writing of Cyril of Alexandria and other writers, in which he showed that the opponents of Orthodoxy falsified the opinions of the Doctors of the Church in three hundred thirty places in the writings of these Doctors; 4) a defense of the correctness of his book Philalethes;159 5) a book in three volumes against the Malkite Bishop John Grammaticus of Caesaria, which he started writing at Antioch and finished in Egypt;160 6-7) two books in refutation of Julian the Phantasiast, bishop of Halicarnassus;161 8) a treatise against Sergius Grammaticus the Eutychian;162 9) a treatise against the Malkite priest John of Scythopolis; 10) a treatise against Philixismus in two parts;163 11) a treatise against the Manicheans;164 12) a treatise against the covenant of Lamphytius, containing the heresy of the worshippers;165 13) a treatise against Alexander, part of which was published by Brooks at the end of volume four of the letters of Severus;166 14) a letter to the patricians Paul and Aphiun against the heresy of Eutyches and also a dialogue for Anstas.
Of the second (ritual writings) there is a magnificent book containing the maniths, splendid anthems or hymns which he composed. The maniths begin with a verse from the Holy Bible and continue with an elegant style which inspires awe and the love of God. These maniths number two hundred and ninety-five and are as follows:
twenty homilies; fourteen hymns on the Nativity of Our Lord and on martyrs; thirteen hymns on the Epiphany, on the miracles of Our Lord and for Holy Sunday; nine hymns on Lent and on the baptized; eight hymns on the dead; seven hymns on the Palm festival, Pentecost, pestilences and compline; six hymns on the Mother of God and on earthquakes; five hymns on the Passion of Our Lord, the Resurrection and the Forty martyrs; four hymns for the funerals of the clergy and monks and for children. There are also three hymns on each one of the following: Judas, the Passion of Our Lord, the Holy Cross, John the Baptist, chanting after the reading of the Gospel, the death of rain and the Persian War. In addition, there are two hymns to be recited before the reading of the gospel on Sunday night and the other days of the week, on the entrance into the Baptistery, the children of Bethlehem (Massacre of the Innocent), on the martyrs Stephen, Romanus, Babylas, Sergius and Bacchus, the Maccabees, Drasis and on the saints Basil, Gregory, Ignatius and Chrysostom, on the Church, on the invasion of the Huns, on condemning lewd spectacles and dancing, on eulogizing his scribe Peter and on the funeral for children. Also, he wrote one hymn on each of the Chrisms, the wife of Pilate, the Good Thief, Mid-Pentecost, the Twelve Apostles, the Apostle Paul, the Evangelists Mark and John, the Evangelist John, the Apostle Thomas, the prophets, Zachariah the prophet, Job, and the martyrs Leontius, Sergius, Mina, Simon the Stylite, Anba Antonius, the Coptic martyrs, the Persian martyrs Juventinus, Longinus and Maximus (who became martyrs under Julian the Apostate).167 One hymn each was also devoted to the Himyarite martyrs, the martyrs Thecla, Euphimea and Pellagia and all of the bishops as well as Ignatius, Peter of Alexandria, Gregory Thanmaturgus, Athanasius the Great, Basil, Gregory and Parphyry of Antioch, Cyril of Alexandria, the Emperor Theodosius the Less, the Caesars (emperors) Constantine, Honorius, Gratian and Theodasim the Great and the one hundred and fifty Church Fathers. Besides these, there is one hymn apiece on the graves of strangers, on Easter Sunday, chanted before the reception of the Holy Communion, on Ascension and Pentecost, on martyrs, a hymn to be chanted during the reception of the Communion, on the Nativity of Our Lord, on the baptized, on the Ascension, on the Virgin Mary, on the martyrs and on the commemoration of the bishops, on Sundays after the celebration of the Eucharist and before the bishops leave for the diocesan home. Finally, he wrote a hymn each for after the Epiphany; on giving thanks after the falling of rain; on the Brumalia; concerning the monks when he (Severus) returned from visiting the monasteries; on the ninetieth Psalm; on the funerals of priests, nuns, chaste widows and on the dead; and on a woman who was converted from the Arian heresy. Brooks, relying on two British Museum MSS., translated and published these hymns in 1909.168
Severus also drew up a liturgy beginning with “O God, Creator of all things, especially man;” an order for the Benediction of the chalice, i.e., the pre-blessed Eucharist; an order for Baptism and the Benediction of water at the Epiphany, together with some supplications.

Of the third type of his writings, namely commentaries, are a commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke,169 a commentary on the apocalypse of Ezekiel,170 as well as Biblical topics and verses which may be found in his homilies and letters referred to by Bar Salibi in his commentary on the Gospels and by Bar Hebraeus in his book The Storehouse of Secrets.
Of the fourth type (his homilies) are one hundred and twenty-five homilies called “Homiliae Cathedrales,” preserved in three large volumes at the Vatican and at the British Museum.171 Three homilies are at the library of the Zafaran monastery and at our (patriarchate) library. Fifty-one of these homilies were translated into French and published in three volumes.172 The following are the most famous of these homilies:
Six homilies on the Nativity of Our Lord; five homilies on the Epiphany; four homilies on Lent; four homilies on Basil and Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzen); three homilies on the Incarnation, delivered at Cyrus; two homilies on the preparation for entering into the Baptistery (one of which covers 22 pages), and on the Ascension, Repentance, and the New Year; the Mother of God; on answering questions propounded to him; on the Synodical letter addressed to Timothy III of Alexandria and on the martyr Drosis. He composed one homily on each of the following subjects: on John the Baptist, on the Palm festival, on the Saturday following Pentecost, on Golden Friday, on the wedding at Cana of Galilee, on the man who was born blind, on the children of Bethlehem (Massacre of the Innocent), on the Wednesday of the Passion Week, on the Encaenia of the cross, on the commemoration of the dead, on the poor and on strangers, and on the fact there is no disagreement between the Evangelists regarding the Resurrection of Christ. Also we find one homily apiece on Athanasius of Alexandria, the Confessor; on Antonius, the founder of monasticism in Egypt; on the Maccabees; on the protomartyr Thecla; on the martyrs Leontius, Domitius, Sergius, Bacchus, and Julian (who was martyred under Diocletian), Tarachus, Probus, Andronicus, Procopius, Phocas, Barlaha and Thallelaeus; on the commemoration of the Saints in the week following Easter, and on the anniversary of his (Severus’) consecration. There is also one homily on each of the following: on his arrival at Qinnesrin and his reception by the townspeople, a valedictory homily delivered upon his intention to visit the villages and monasteries; an admonitory homily, addressed to those who, after prayers, resort to the theatre; on the calamities reported to have befallen the city of Alexandria and on the number of sinners. He also wrote homilies expounding Biblical verses, such as that based on the saying of the Lord to the Scribes and Pharisees, “But ye say whosoever shall say to his father or to his mother; ‘it is a gift;’173 a homily on “And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever;”174 a homily on “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven;”175 a homily on “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho;” a homily on the period which Our Lord remained in the grave; a homily on the Lord’s saying, “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemers wherewith soever they shall blaspheme;”177 a homily on the verse, “Blessed are the poor in spirit;178 a homily on the Lord’s saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?”;179 a homily on the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy, “And exercise theyself rather unto godliness;”180 a homily on the Lord’s saying to Mary Magdalene, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father;”181 and homilies on expounding Orthodox doctrines, one of which is on the Trisagion.

Of the fifth type of his writings are his innumerable letters, estimated at three thousand and eight hundred, a number no other church father is known to have written. These letters were collected in olden times in thirty-two volumes, of which four were written before his elevation to the patriarchate, ten during his patriarchate (512-518) and nine during his exile (518-538). Of these, only two large volumes survived, one of which is entitled The Sixth Book of the Selected Letters of Mar Severus of Antioch, translated by the priest Athanasius of Nisibin in 669 A.D. Between 1904 and 1915 Brooks translated into English and published 230 letters in four volumes, some of which have been abridged from the original.182 All of these letters are splendid and full of abundant theological, legal, historical and administrative information, which reflect the light of that great and noble soul. These letters number two hundred thirty, most of which are of medium length. One of these letters covers sixty-one pages; a second one covers thirty pages; a third covers twenty-nine; the fourth twenty-six; the fifth fourteen; and the sixth ten pages. The first two volumes contain one hundred twenty-three letters; the third and the fourth, one hundred seven letters compiled from twenty-six old copies (of which twenty are in the British Museum and the rest are in Paris, Rome and Berlin), which date back to the period between the sixth and the thirteenth centuries.183 Of some of these letters only a few lines survived. Following is a list of these letters:
Letters 1, 205 and 206 were addressed to Constantine, bishop of Laodicia; Letters 2, 3, 4, 19, 23, 26, 41, and 211 addressed to Solon, bishop of Selencia in Isauria; Letter 5 to Peter, bishop of Apamea; Letters 6 and 82 to Bishop Nicias; letter 7 to Castor, bishop of Perge; letter 8 to the dux Timostratus; letter 9 to Stephen, bishop of Tripolis; letter 10 to Bishop Eucharius; letter 11 to the abbot of the convent of Basus; letter 12 to the priests Cosmas, Poleuctus and Zeno; Letters 13, 18 and 136 to Eutrechius, bishop of Ayn Zarba; Letters 14, 15, 16 and 151 to Antonius, bishop of Aleppo; Letters 17 and 123 to the chamberlain Misael (Michael); letter 20 to the bishops of the province of Ayn Zarba in the name of a Synod; letter 21 to the chief chamberlain; Letters 22, 42 and 112 to the Fathers; Letters 24 and 84 to the presbyter Theoticnus the Archiater; Letters 25, 33, 74, 85 and 87 to Dionysius, metropolitan of Tarsus; Letter 27 to Musonius and Alexander, Vindices of Ayn Zarba; Letter 28 to Philoxene, bishop of Doliche; Letters 29 and 199 to the monks of the convent of Mar Isaac in Gabul; Letters 30 and 39 to the clergy and magistracy of Apamea; letter 31 to the bishops of Phoenicia; letter 32 to John, bishop of Alexandria the Less;184 letter 34 to the bishops of the diocese of Apamea; letter 35 to the priest Eustathius; letter 36 to Eusebius the deacon of Apamea; Letters 37 and 38 to Simon, bishop of Qinnesrin; letter 40 to General Hypatius; letter 43 to Simon, abbot of the convent of St. Simon; letter 44 to Eutychianus, magistrate of Apamea; letter 45 to Conon, “the chaser of thieves” (the chief officer of the police), letter 46 to the clergy of Antaracus; Letters 47 and 108 to Cassianus, bishop of Busra; letter 48 to Philoxenus, bishop of Mabug; Letters 49, 50, 52, 65, 91, 92, 149 and 150 to the presbyters and abbots John and John – the last two letters were addressed to them as well as to the abbot Theodore; Letters 51 and 171 to the priest Philip; letter 53 to the Syrian bishops residing at Alexandria;185 letter 55 to Theodore, abbot of the monastery of Romanus; letter 56 to Bishop Proclus; Letters 57 and 58 to Bishop Didynus; letter 59 to Julian, abbot of the convent of Mar Basus; letter 60 to Photius and Andrew, priests and abbots of the convents of Caria;186 Letters 63 and 69 to the deacon Mishael; letter 64 to the patricians; letter 66 to the Orthodox laity of Hims (Emesa); letter 148 to the clergy of Hims and the magistracy; letter 67 to the Comes Anstasius, the son of Sergius; letter 68 to Ammanius and Epagathus; Letters 70, 80, 121, 172, 175, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219, and 230 to the patrician lady Caesaria;187 letter 71 to Zachariah of Pelusium; Letters 72 and 195 to Ammonius, presbyter of Alexandria; Letters 73 and 169 to Dioscorus, patriarch of Alexandria; letter 75 to Cosmas, abbot of the Monastery of Mar Cyrus; letter 76 to the Comes John of Antaradus; letter 77 to the abbot John of Kanuphtis; Letters 78 and 88 to the Orthodox laity of Antioch; Letters 79 and 111 to the lector and notary Andrew; letter 81 to John the magistrate; letter 83 to the convent in Tagae; letter 86, a noble letter in 30 pages, against those who claim that it is necessary to baptize or anoint afresh those who have renounced the doctrine of the two natures in Christ and re-adhered to the doctrine of one nature in Christ; Letters 89 and 100 to Simon, abbot of the Monastery of Talada; letter 90 to Simon, abbot of the Monasntery of Isaac; letter 93 to Bishops Proclus and Eusebius; letter 94 to Bishops John, Philoxenus and Thomas who lived on the mountain of Mardin; Letters 95 and 203 to Sergius, bishop of Cyrus and Marion, bishop of Sura; Letters 96, 133 and 135 to Bishop Eleiasinus; Letters 97, 208, and 209 to the lector Aschelaus of Tyre; letter 98 to the deaconess and abbess Valeriana; letter 101 to Nonnus, bishop of Seleucia; letter 102 to Victor, bishop of Philadelphia; letter 103 to Stephen, bishop of Apamea; letter 104 to the wife of Calliopius the patrician; letter 105 to the youthful monk Eustathius; letter 106 to Isidora; letter 107 to the lector Stephen; letters 109 and 197 to the advocate Aurelius; letters 110 and 196 to the advocate John of Busra in answer to two legal questions; letter 113 to Theodore, bishop of Olbe; letter 114 to the Countess Thecla; letter 115 to Alypius; letter 116 to a lady which he wrote on behalf of an abbot for the solution of a legal question;188 letter 117 to Theodore the magistrate; letter 118 to Conon the Silentiery; letter 119 to Theodore, a Byzantine monk; letters 120 and 161 to the monks of the Monastery of Mar Basus; Letters 122 and 191 to Georgia, the daughter of the governess Anstastia; letters 124, 125, 126 and 181 to the Comes Eucomonius; letters 127 and 224 to Simius the librarian; letter 128 to the advocate Eusebius; letters 129, 130, 131, and 132 to Marun, the lector of Ayn Zarba; letters 137 and 139, a protest to Thomas his secretary; letter 131 to the wandering monks; letters 142, 144, 180 and 210 to the Comes Isidor; letter 146 to the presbyters and abbots Jonathan, Samuel and John the Stylite and the rest of the Orthodox laity in the churches of al-Anbar and Hirat al-Numan; letter 147 to John the Byzantine on the meaning of the three immersions at Baptism and on the Chrism; letter 152, 189 and 190 to the priest Victor; letter 153 to the advocate and physician Sergius; letter 154 to the Orthodox brethren at Tyre; letter 155 to the priest and abbot Neon; letter 165 to the priest and abbot Elisha; letter 157, a universal letter to the monks of the East; letter 158 to Isaac the advocate; letter 159 to the monk Carisius; letter 159 to the priests Peter, Ammonius, Olympidorus concerning the naming of Peter, bishop Alexandria;189 letter 160 to the presbyters of Alexandria; letter 162 to Musonius, bishop of Milua in Isauria; letter 163 to the advocate Theophane; letter 164 to Urbane Grammaticus; letter 165 to Sytorichus, bishop of Caesaria in Cappadocia; letters 166, 167 and 168 to the advocate Eupraxius; letter 170 to Eumnituis the chamberlain; letter 171 to the priest monk Philip; letter 176 to Zenobius; letter 177 to the priest Andrew; letter 178 to John, abbot of the Monastery of Mar Hanania; letter 179 to the nunneries; letters 182, 183 and 184 to the chamberlain Euphraxius; letter 185 to Phocan and Euphraxius the chamberlain; letters 186, 187 and 188 to the deaconess Anastasia on the question of the true Faith; letter 188 to the Comes Dorotheus; letter 191 to the Patricia Georgia and her daughter; letter 192 to Bishop Philoxenus; letter 194 to the general Probus; letter 198 to John; letters 200 and 201 to the Comes Sergius the chief physician; letter 202 to the priest Leontius; letter 204 to the advocate Ammonius of Busra; letter 207 to Proclas; letters 220 and 221 to Thomas, bishop of Marash (Germanicia); letter 222 to Theotecnus; letter 223 to the deaconess and abbess Jannia; letter 225 to Euraneus; letter 226 to Zachariah; letter 227 to Metraeus and letter 228 to Heraclenea. In addition to these are a letter which he wrote to some citizens of Antioch upon his departure for Egypt because of the persecution of the 25th of September, 518;190 two Synodical letters to John II of Alexandria191 and Theodosius of Alexandria in 513;192 two letters to Anthimus of Constantinople and to Theodosius;193 three letters to Julian, bishop of Halicarnassus;194 three letters to Sergius Grammaticus; a letter to the Emperor Justinian;195 a letter to the priests and monks upon his departure from the capital;196 a letter on the state of souls and spirits before and after the Resurrection and in the last Judgment, beginning thus, “Our beloved in the Lord, you may know that the souls and spirits;197 a letter to the monk Peter who claimed the corruptibility of the soul;198 and four letters mentioned by the ascetic monk Sergius of the Monastery of Micaea – one to the advocate Theophane, one to the Orthodox laity of Tyre concerning Epiphianus, their bishop, one to the magistrate of Tyre and one to Marina, Bishop of Beirut.199
Having learnt about the works of this great dignitary and his comprehension of the principles and branches of sciences which testify that he was not only unique in his generation, but also unequaled among the patriarchs of Antioch who preceded or succeeded him, let the judicious reader fairly judge his (Severus’) prejudiced opponents who underestimated his excellence and even forced Justinian to burn his writings and severely punish those who copied or possessed them. As a result, his Greek writings were lost, but their Syriac translations survived, thanks to the effort of our scholars. Whenever published, these writings brought forth a new evidence of the excellence of their author and the cogency of his decisive proofs. Also, they turned the attention of the scholars from the traditional disparagement of him to admiration and respect. Gustav Bardi stated in summary the following: “In his activity and far-reaching endeavor, Severus resembles Athanasius the ‘Apostolic Father’ in many aspects. He was opposed by many intellectual writers of all parties, but he refuted them. It has been his writings which have been published to this date (1928) have proved that he was one of the men who possessed the highest abilities and true determination in an age marred by a great deal of degeneration and abasement.”200

47- St. Severus of Antioch (d. 538)