Discovery of a Treatise about the Ecclesiastical Administration Ascribed to Michael the Syrian: A Unique Document in the Literary Genre of Canon Law : Arthur Vööbus

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American Society of Church History

Discovery of a Treatise about the Ecclesiastical Administration Ascribed to Michael the Syrian: A Unique Document in the Literary Genre of Canon Law
Author(s): Arthur Vööbus
Source: Church History, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar., 1978), pp. 23-26

Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History

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Discoveryof a Treatiseaboutthe EcclesiasticalAdministrationAscribed

toMichaeltheSyrian:A UniqueDocument in theLiteraryGenreof CanonLaw


Manuscript research is an endeavor filled with suspense; often made more difficult by physical labor and severe weather, the scholar’s re- search may prove fruitless, or it may yield an unknown text which reveals again the gaps in scholars’ knowledge of ancient Christian tests.’

The text under discussion here, a treatise on ecclesiastical administra- tion ascribed to Michael the Syrian (1126-1199), is such a manuscript. It was found in a codex preserved for us in the collection of manuscripts

which_belonged to the famous Monastery of Mar Hananya2 or Deir Za’faran3 in the mountains of Tur ‘Abdin.4 Since this monastery has survived all the storms of suffering and destruction, its treasure house

could preserve many priceless5 and unique6 manuscripts which could not be preserved in other places.7 Among them is a unicum, Ms. Dam. Patr. 8/11.8 Furthermore, it is highly unusual that one single manuscript

1. See A. Voobus, “In Pursuit of Syriac Manuscripts,”Journal ofNearEasternStudies37 (in

2. About a new source for the history of the Monastery of Mar Hananya, see A. Voobus,

“Eine wichtige Urkunde iiber die Geschichte des Mar Hananja-Klosters: Die von Johannan von Marde gegebenen Klosterregaln,” OriensChristianus53 (1969): 246ff.

3. About the history of this monastery, see A. Voobus, SyrischeKanonessammlungen:Ein Beitrag zur Quellenkunde. I: WestsyrischeOriginalurkunden 1,B (Louvain, 1970), CSCO

Subsidia 35, pp. 379ff.
4. About particular efforts in Tur ‘Abdin, see A. Voobus, The Hexapla and the Syro-

Hexapla: VeryImportantDiscoveriesfor SeptuagintResearch (Stockholm, 1971), pp. 67ff. The Pentateuch in the Version of the Syro-Hexapla: A Facsimile Edition of A Midyat Manuscriptby A. Voobus (Louvain, 1976), CSCO Subsidia 45, Introduction.

5. Cf. A. Voobus, Cataloguesof Manuscriptsof Unknown Collectionsin the Syrian Orient 3: SyriacManuscriptsfromtheTreasureoftheMonasteryofMarHananyaorDeirZafaran (in press).

6. Cf. A. Voobus, HandschriftlicheUberlieferungder Memre-DichtungdesJa’qobvon Serug. I: Sammlungen:DieHandschriften(Louvain, 1973), CSCO Subsidia 39, pp. 127ff.; 152ff.; 2: Sammlungen:DerBestand (Louvain, 1973), CSCO Subsidia 40, pp. 40ff.; 176ff.

7. Cf. A. Voobus, New ImportantManuscriptDiscoveriesfor theHistoryof SyriacLiterature(in press).

8. The manuscript is now located in the library of the patriarchate of the Syrian Or- thodox Church in Damascus.

Mr. Voobusis visiting professorin the Departmentof Near EasternLanguages and Civilizations at the Universityof Chicago and professoremeritusin New Testamentat theLutheranSchoolof Theologyin Chicago.


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contains so many entirely unknown documents.9 Fortunately, the codex

is furnished with a colophon,10 according to which the manuscript was completed on the 5th of ‘Iyar 1515 of the Seleucid Era, i.e. on May 5,

1204 A.D.11 The original part of the manuscript has preserved the docu- ment under discussion. Systematic search has unearthed another

manuscript, namely Ms. Mardin Orth. 32312 which included this text.l3

However, it has no independent value, since this manuscript written by a late hand must be a copy of the above mentioned unique codex.

This document is extraordinary in several respects. First, it represents

an uncommon genre. The work is devoted to the subject of cybernetics.

The particular issue in canon law which has been submitted to an inquiry

is the problem of jurisdiction of the metropolitan in a situation where,

because of various complications, a counter-metropolitan has been set up. Thus in the entire history of ancient Christian literature this source

is singular because it is a systematic treatment of a question taken from canon law. As such, its importance is demonstrated in a tangible way by the fact that this unique document has been included in the Synodicon,14 a collection of legislative documents and other related materials, eccle- siastical and civil, set up for the West Syrian Church.

Second, the document deserves special notice for its method and the procedure which is carried out in its execution: the subject matter is substantiated by evidence drawn from historical and other literary sources in such a way that the treatise rests heavily on documentation. Even a variety of genres of documents has been employed for the com- position, and a brief review of them will be instructive. Ecclesiastical legislation is demonstrated by the acts of the ecumenical councils of Constantinople and those of Chalcedon.15 Of the annalistic sources the histories of Socrates16and that of John of Ephesus17 have been copiously employed. The epistolary sources furnished evidence through the let-

10. Fol.194b.
11. The copyist was Daniel bar Jausep bar Sargis of Bartelli.
12. Cf. A. Voobus, Cataloguesof Manuscriptsof UnknownCollectionsin theSyrianOrient3. 13. Fol.110b- 122b.

14. The Synodiconin the WestSyrian Tradition2, ed. A. Voobus (Louvain, 1976), CSCO Scr. Syri 163, pp. 167ff.; Translation2 (Louvain, 1976), SCSO Scr. Syri 164, pp. 173ff.

15. Die syrischenKanonesderSynodenvonNicaea bisChalcedonnebsteinigenzugehorigenDoku- menten,herausgegebenvon F. Schulthess (Berlin, 1908), Abhandlungen der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften in G6ttingen NF 10,2; The Synodiconin the WestSyrianTradition, 1, ed. A. Voobus (Louvain, 1975), CSCO Scr. Syri 161, pp. 85ff.; Translation, 1 (Louvain,

1975), CSCO Scr. Syri 162, pp. 101ff.
16. SocratisScholasticiHistoriaecclesiastica,ed. J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 67. The Syriac

version of the work of Socrates preserved in Ms. Vat. Syr. 145 II is not complete.
17. lohannis Ephesini Historiae Ecclesiasticaepars tertia, ed. E. W. Brooks (Louvain, 1935),

CSCO Scr. Syri III, 3.

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ters of Severus of Antioch18 and Philoxenos of Mabbug.9l Patristic sources are represented by Gregory Nazianzen20 and the homiletical literature of John Chrysostom.21 Since the sources of Greek provenance have been drawn from their ancient translations made from Greek into Syriac, and since in our document they also have been quoted exten- sively, these sections are valuable for the history of the transmission of the text of these sources and for textual criticism. Thirdly this text has also employed some sources for its documentation which have not survived elsewhere, the most important of which is a letter by Philoxenos of Mabbug.22

The question of authorship is beset with problems. In the upper margin of the folio page which introduces this document, there appears

the following statement written by a hand which is similar in character to the handwriting in the original text: “From the discourse of Mar Mika’el Raba.”23According to this statement the document is ascribed to Pa- triarch Michael,24 the greatest of all those who have occupied the pa- triarchial see of Antioch. However, nothing has been known as to that this renowned prelate, famous also in the field of literature,25 composed such a work in the genre of canon law; furthermore, that this claim comes from a gloss does not instill confidence in the ascription. In addi- tion, the text of the original manuscript introduces the document as a

document of anonymous origin.
The next question concerns the date of the document. Of course, the

terminus ad quem is the year 1204 A.D., the date given in the colophon. However, it seems that the intrinsic evidence allows us to put the date back for several centuries. A clue is furnished by the following state- ment: “And also Dionysios, the patriarch of Antioch, he who has fallen asleep, and this one of our day, accepted many bishops in selection and permitted them to serve.”26 Ms. Mardin Orth. 32327contains a marginal

18. TheSixthBookoftheSelectLettersofSeverus,PatriarchofAntioch,intheSyriacVersionof

AthanasiusofNisibis,ed.byE.W.Brooks(London, 1902-1904). 19. “The letter about the ecclesiastical affairs,” fol. 187b, 190a.

  1. Oratio6, Primadepace, ed. J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 35.
  2. Commentariusad Colosseos,ed. J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca 62.
  3. No such letter of Philoxenos with this title is known. About the corpus of his letters, seeA. de Halleux, Philoxene de Mabbog, sa vie, ses ecrits, sa theologie (Louvain, 1963),Universitas Catholica Lovaniensis Dissertationes ad Gradum Magistri III, 8, pp. 187ff.
  4. Fol. 185a.
  5. Michael Syrus occupied the patriarchal throne from 1166 until 1199.
  6. About a discovery of an unknown work by Michael, see A. Vo6bus, “Die Entdeckungdes Panegyrikus des Patriarchen Mlka’el iiber Johannan von Marde,” Oriens Chris- tianus 55 (1971): 120ff.; Id., “Discovery of an Unknown Work by Michael the Great: The memraon MarBarsauma,”RivistadegliStudiOrientali(inpress).
  7. Fol. 190a.
  8. Fol. 122a.This content downloaded from on Thu, 20 Aug 2015 21:01:55 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


note that Abiram, who is mentioned as one of such bishops, was con-

secrated in 846 A.D. for the bishopric of Kephartuta. If, indeed, this datum rests on a reliable tradition, then the constellation created by all these data is such that the only way left is to see in the Dionysios “of our day” the Dionysios who came from the Monastery of Bet Batin in Har- ran and was consecrated on Nisan 23, 1208 of the Seleucid Era, i.e. on April 23, 897 A.D.28 According to another annalistic source, the consec- ration of this prelate took place a year earlier.29 Since this patriarch died in Nisan 18, 1220 of the Seleucid Era, i.e. April 18, 909 A.D., our docu- ment must have been composed under this Dionysios before this date.

It is always cause for great rejoicing to be able to add a new unearthed source to the treasure chamber of the literary legacy of the ancient church. It is particularly gratifying when it is a document which can enrich our knowledge in such a way as does the record which has come into our possession.

28. Chroniquede Michelle Syrien,patriarchejacobited’Antioche(1166-1199) 4 ed. J. B. Chabot (Paris, 1899- 1910), pp. 757f.

29. GregoriiBarhebraeiChroniconecclesiasticum2, ed. J. B. Abbeloos et T. J. Lamy (Louvain, 1872- 1877), col. 391, 393.

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