Dionysius Jacob bar Salibi, metropolitan of Amid (d. 1171) – BIOGRAPHIES OF SYRIAN SCHOLARS AND WRITERS – Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum – Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Library | Comments Off on Dionysius Jacob bar Salibi, metropolitan of Amid (d. 1171) – BIOGRAPHIES OF SYRIAN SCHOLARS AND WRITERS – Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum – Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa

Dionysius Jacob bar Salibi, metropolitan of Amid
(d. 1171)

A unique and distinguished Syrian dignitary, the pride of Melitene and a staunch defender of Christianity as well as of those who have been converted to Orthodoxy. A very learned man and writer, Bar Salibi excelled in his commentary on the Holy Scriptures, based on the ideas of former commentators but adorned with his own conclusions. Indeed, his commentary is the best and most popular of his writings. It is sufficient proof of his keen mind, industry, amazing fortitude and profound scholarship. He continued to work with zeal and patience despite hardships and the ill-will of envious men.263 He was kind in speech, upright, God-fearing and respectful of church canons. He was a true Syrian who loved his own people and defended them with his tongue and writing, until he went to his reward, leaving behind him a magnificent legacy. Michael the Great and Bar Hebraeus had this to say about him, “Bar Salibi was a master and logician. He was the star of his time. He wrote many books and commentaries, all of which are well-written. The Church was overwhelmed with sadness over his loss.” The former described him as a champion like Jacob of Edessa, while the latter made his commentaries mandatory for study by the clergy.264 His prose writings show him to be powerful in explaining things in detail. In his polemics he is expansive to a boring degree. His style is natural and clear. But we received nothing of his poetry so that we might relish its taste.
Bar Salibi was born in Melitene where he also studied the sciences of language, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy and theology under the masters in that city. He was ordained a deacon and remained a time studying religious sciences until he was counted as one of the eminent theologians. When the patriarch and the Holy Council saw his refutation of the book of John Metropolitan of Mardin in which he maitained that the will of God had nothing to do with the calamities which afflicted Edessa, they found it the best refutation ever written about this subject and one which is in conformity with church belief. As a result, Patriarch Athanasius VII rewarded him by ordaining him a priest and then a metropolitan for the diocese of Marash in October, 1148, giving him the name Dionysius. This is evident from a marginal note by one of his contemporaries who commented on his book Disputations in 1197.265 This is also confirmed by Bar Salibi himself, who stated in his book A Commentary on Logic that he finished the Prior Apodictics in October 1460, of the Greek calendar, which is equivalent to the formerly mentioned year when he was a bishop.266 The sequence of events also proves that he was ordained in 1148. The year 1154 which Orientalists fixed for his ordination, based on the chronicles of Michael the Great and Bar Hebraeus is erroneous. In 1155 the diocese of Manbij was annexed to his own diocese and in the following year an Armenian band treacherously attacked Marash, robbed and expelled the people including Bar Salibi, showing no respect for his position. He was able to free himself and walk to the Kasliyud Monastery.267 However, it is most likely that he remained in Melitene writing until 1167, when he was transferred to Amid. He showed a great ability in running the diocese aided by his secretary, the deacon Ibrahim who also studied under him. He renovated the church of Amid268 and departed this life at the end of November 1171. He was buried in the great church of Amid and was succeeded by his secretary.

Following is a list of his writings:

1. A commentary on the Books of the Old Testament. This is a literal as well as a mystical commentary. It is a very detailed and unique commentary consisting of several volumes. More than once he alluded to it in his middle commentary.269 It is likely that copyists made no effort to transcribe it because of its massive size, and, therefore, it was lost.
2. The middle commentary on the Old Testament. This commentary is extremely voluminous consisting of four volumes. It covers the commentary on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve minor prophets and the Wisdom of the son of Sirach. The commentary on the Book of Susanna is contained in one copy only.270
Each book has two commentaries, literal and spiritual. Some of them are based on the Pshitto version and others on the Septuagint. To the Psalms he added yet a third symbolic commentary and prefaced it with thirty-two chapters by Bar Kifa with the effect that this commentary alone totalled one hundred twenty-seven. His sources were the commentaries of St. Ephraim, Athanasius, Basilius, Gregory the theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Cyril, Hysichius of Jerusalem, Jacob of Saruj, Philexinus of Mabug, Severus, Daniel, Andrew of Jerusalem, Jacob of Edessa, Moses bar Kifa and the deacon Zura of
Nisibin. He made use of these sources in his commentary on the first Books of the Scripture until the Psalms.
There are six copies of this noble book. Four of these are in the library of Zafaran transcribed between 1189-1594, all of which are deficient except the last one.271 Another copy is in our bishopric library in Mosul, transcribed in the first or the third decade of the fifteenth century. It contains the chapters of Bar Kifa and a good tractate in five pages of the hymn of Hippolytus the Roman about Susanna. It is written in beautiful handwriting and consists of 1220 large-size pages. Another copy is in Paris272 and there are seven more recently transcribed copies, one of which is in our library.273 We have translated into Arabic twenty-nine chapters of the commentary on Isaiah and added unto it comments from Bar Hebraeus’s Storehouse of Secrets and published it.274

3. A commentary on all of the New Testament, that is, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and Revelation. His sources were the writings of St. Ephraim, St. Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Philoxenus of Mabug, Severus of Antioch, Jacob of Edessa, Iyawannis of Dara and Bar Kifa. Occasionally he mentioned Hippolytus, Africanus, Eusebius of Ceasarea, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Epiphanius, Antiochus Bishop of Acre, Theodotus Bishop of Ancyra, Mar Isaac, George Bishop of the Arabs, David bar Paul, Jacob Bishop of Ana and Lazarus bar Moses. The commentary on the Gospels has seven copies, the oldest of which is in our library. It is a very old copy of small size and slightly imperfect at the beginning and at the end. It is written in a pleasing handwriting and contains many marginal notes, comments, revisions and additions, all in the original handwriting. It is likely that this copy is the original draft of the author. The remaining copies are in Paris,275 Dublin,276 London,277 Sadad,278 and Jerusalem.279 ?????????????? and Chabot translated into Latin and published half of the commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Acts, the Epistles and Revelation. The monk Abd al-Nur of Amid translated the commentary on the Gospels into Arabic in 1755 but his translation is of mediocre quality.
4. A commentary on the book attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite. It is a medium-sized volume consisting of four hundred seventy pages. We found a unique and ancient copy of this book in Aleppo, completed about the thirteenth century.
5. A commentary on the Hundred Aphorisms by Eugreius of Pontus which he wrote in 1165.281
6. A commentary of the book of Literature by Basilius of Caesarea.
7. A commentary on the writings of Gregory of Nyssa.
8. A commentary on the writings of Cyril of Alexandria.
9. A commentary on the writings of Gregory the Theologian.
10. A commentary on the writings of Severus of Antioch.
11. A commentary on the book of the patriarch Peter of Callinicus. These six books are lost.
12. The book of Theology. He mentioned this book in his introductions to his Disputations and Commentary on the Gospels and called it The Compendium. It deals with the Trinity, the mystery of the Incarnation, the Tree of Life, celestial beings like angels and devils, the rational soul, priesthood, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, the elements, springs and rivers, tangible paradise, human bodies and resurrection and judgment, all in twenty chapters. He writes of faith, the Cross, the mysteries of the Church and the Chrism in fifty-three chapters; Baptism in nine chapters; the Eucharist in fifteen chapters; and ecclesiastical habits, procession and pictures. In our library there is an old copy of this very sizable book, transcribed about 1207, with forty pages missing from it. Parts of it are included within the Mosul copy. Michael the Great referred to it.283

13. The book of Disputations containing thirty chapters against the Muslims and parts of the Quran in Syriac,284 nine chapters against the Jews, two treatises in eighty chapters against the Chalcedonian Greeks (in another copy they are hundred and three chapters), two treatises in thirty-eight chapters against the Nestorians, and nine chapters against the Armenians. He began writing it in Marash, worked over it in Melitene and completed it in Amid. He intended it as the second volume of his book of theology, although he included disputations against the Greeks and the Armenians in the chapter on the divine incarnation.
This book has four copies: 1) our own copy which has already been mentioned, consisting of 726 large-size pages. 2) A copy in Mosul transcribed in the fourteenth century consisting of 900 pages of which 220 pages are missing, largely from the beginning and a few at the end. It begins with the resurrection, judgement, faith, the Cross, the Chrism and Baptism. 3) The Zafaran copy285 transcribed in 1502 consisting of 938 pages. In 1197 an anonymous scribe wrote an interesting introduction to it and classified it into chapters. 4) The Birmingham286 copy which is copied from the Mosul version in 1873. A portion of it exists in the Vatican library.287 However, there is some difference in the number of chapters between the second and the third copies.
14. A book similar to the book of the Six Days.
15. A commentary on the Liturgy which he wrote in Amid in response to the request to Ignatius IV of Melitene, metropolitan of Jerusalem. There are two copies of this book; one is written in detail and covers eighty-two large pages.289 It was published by Labour in 1903.
16. A book on divine providence in which he refuted the writing of the Metropolitan of Mardin. Michael the Great reproduced two tractats of it in his Chronicle.290
17. The book of Letters which he mentioned in his Disputations, whihc he wrote, as he says, against the opponents. Few letters of it in three pages were found in Mosul.291

18. A commentary on Logic which he wrote in 1148. It contains a commentary on the Isagoge in three chapters, followed by a commentary on the Categories after he abridged the lengthy commentary of expositors, a commentary on Interpretation in five chapters, a commentary on the Analytica Priora which he added many chapters about the difficult parts and a commentary on the Analytica Posteriora. Bar Salibi states that George Bishop of the Arabs considered the Analytica Priora and the Analetica Posteriora as the first book of the Apodictics, because the themes of the two treatises are intertwined. He did not comment on the second treatise of the Apodictics because of the weak sight of its transcribers and expositors in the two languages as he had discovered. Also scholars were not in need of it because its meaning has been known to the students of philosophy. He added, “If we found a sound exposition of it we will then summarize it.” Bar Salibi went on to write a commentary on eight books of Aristotle beginning with Physics until the Theology which has been compiled by Nikolaus the Orator. This book has a unique copy written in fine handwriting consisting of 770 pages. The commentary on Animals followed by a treatise on geometry.292
19. Ten chapters in reply against the deacon Yeshu who preferred the Byzantine ritual. It is a cogent and well-written treatise demonstrating the author’s profound knowledge in Church rituals. It was published by Mingana, according to an old copy in the Didascalia.
20. A refutation of the heresy of the Phantasiats which had a trace among the Armenians. Also a polemical argument with the Armenian Catholicos Kiwark III, in which he tried to refute the letter of John bar Shushan, patriarch of Antioch. The treatise of Kiwark reached our author through Basil Abbot of the Monastery of Mar Barsoum when he was attending the Council in 1169. This refutation consists of seventy-two pages and half of it is missing.293 It is the same refutation translated by Metropolitan Bar Andrew into Syriac.
21. A treatise he wrote at Mabug in nine chapters in reply to Narsis IV Shinurhali the Armenian Catholicos of the Byzantine Citadel, refuting the Catholicos’s claims. Another copy mentions that Narsis was a bishop and a brother of the Catholicos. Yet another copy mentions that he wrote this letter in Marash and addressed it to the Catholicos.294
22. A compendium history he wrote in response to the request of some people. It contains the church events beginning with the biography of Basilius bar Shumanna,
metropolitan of Edessa. The world events begin with the death of John II Comnenus and the rise of Manuel I Comenus to power in 1144 until the end of his life. Michael the Great quoted profusely from it.295 But the original is lost.
23. A short chronicle of the lives of Church fathers and martyrs.296
24. A compendium of Apostolic canons and the canons of the councils which he presented to the Patriarch Michael.297
25. Two treatises on sins, vows, oblations and atonement. They contain forty-five canons; according to another copy, seventy-four canons. He wrote these treatises in response to the request of Habakuk, abbot of the Phisqin Monastery and the monk Simon298 while he was at a certain monastery in the Karkar country. They also contain a service prayer to be recited over the penitents.299

26. A large collection containing church hymns.300
27. A homily he delivered at the installation ceremony of Patriarch Michael at the Monastery of Mar Hananya. It begins thus: “Beloved, today is the day of delight and joy.” This homily entered the book of ordinations. It was published by Chabot.301 He also composed a homily on the Chrism and a tract which he appended to Bar Kifa’s homily on the monks’ assumption of the habit.302
28. Two odes in the dodecasyllabic meter on the two invasions and calamities of Edessa in 1144. They were mentioned by Michael the Great;303 three odes on the destruction of Marash in 1156;304 two odes in the heptasyllabic and the dodecasyllabic meters on the anecdote of a young woman from Talafar who openly proclaimed her conversion to Christianity amidst brandished swords and threats. They also tell how this courageous young woman saved her life and that of the Maphrian Ignatius Lazarus and then became a nun in 1159.305 These seven odes are lost. He also composed two odes on the Passion of our Lord in body306 and those who did not take Holy Communion in forty days.307
29. Two liturgies. The first one begins with: “Grant us Lord at this time love and harmony.” The second begins with: “Lord, who thou art true and ultimate love grant us.308 He also wrote two prayers for the kiss of peace for the two Masses of Maundy Thursday and the Sabbath of the Annunciation; a beautiful liturgy in description of the Holy Eucharist and a profound tract to be recited during the administration of the bread of the Eucharist, which has become a constitution for the Mass.
30. Six husoyos he wrote in 1159 for the sanctification of the church, the third hour of the Christmas festival, the festival of Mar Barsoum, the Wednesday of the commemoration of King Abgar and the commemoration of the
Forty Martyrs. These husoyos have entered Church services.
31. A commentary on the Apostles’ Creed.309
Michael the Great had composed a tract or an ode on the works and achievements of this eminent Doctor of the Church,310 whose loss we regret.

209. Dionysius Jacob bar Salibi,
metropolitan of Amid (d. 1171)