Early Syrian Asceticism
Author(s): S. P. Brock

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Author(s): S. P. Brock

Early Syrian Asceticism
Author(s): S. P. Brock
Source: Numen, Vol. 20, Fasc. 1 (Apr., 1973), pp. 1-19 Published by: Brill
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Numen, Vol. XX, Fasc. i
S. P. BROCK Cambridge, England
I begin with two quotations:
“Incomprehensible! he is the son of respectable upper middle class pa with a good education, and excellent prospects for a steady comfortab yet he has left home and gone off to join a lot of dirty vagrants.”
“Sell all your belongings. Anyone of you who does not abandon al possessions cannot be my disciple. If anyone comes to me and does not his father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children, even h self, he cannot be a disciple of mine; and he who does not carry his c and come after me cannot be a disciple of mine. You do not belong to
The first, slightly adapted, quotation are the words, not, as one might
think, of dismayed parents of a twentieth-century teenager who has
deserted his parental home and way of life, and exchanged it for that
of a hippy commune; rather, they represent the sort of thing that
parents in Antioch in the 380 s were saying when their sons left home
and ran off to the desert to join the monks there 2). It was in answer
to complaints such as these that John Chrysostom, then still a deacon,
wrote, sometime between 383 and 386, his treatise “Against the detractors of the monastic life”.
The second quotation, or set of quotations, are of course from the New Testament 3), and they represent the chief sayings of Jesus on the subject of discipleship-sayings which served as the starting point, and justification, for the way of life of the early ascetics.
In all ages, those who enjoy comfortable and secure positions in life have found it difficult, if not impossible, to understand why someone, in whose power it was to benefit from the same type of life, should instead choose to throw it all up, in exchange for an alternative that
I) Paper read at a colloquium on ‘Asceticism in the Early Byzantine World’, held at the University of Birmingham, England, I9th-2oth March, 1971.
2) P.G. xlvii, col. 321 (middle).
3) Luke xii 33; xiv 33, 26; John xv 19. I quote from the Old Syriac version.
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2 S. P. Brock
appears to them at best Now there are of cour motivation,betweenth
society and their moder in Syria-in particular i is especially hard for t im perfect parallel, such effort to understand w
Movements can often b some aspect of contem
modern aspirants to an by disgust at the mate live in, so that of the extent at least, the pro quality of Christian lif shall see, the ascetic is the early church the m
the persecutions, wh replaced by that of th regarded in terms of a much of the terminol “contest”, “athlete” an the case of the ascetic by a spiritual, that is t
sees the ascetics of the f it helps one to realise carrying on the norm when to be a Christian
It is important to un
“Teach your body the mar
Viibus, Literary Critical holm,1958),pp.105-6.A early writers as a training toMartyrdom (G.C.S.,O Doctrina Ascetica Origeni nasius, Life of Antony, ? MonkandtheMartyr”,St rillo, in Traditio xii (1956
5) Cf. L. Bouyer, La vie
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Early Syrian asceticism 3
earliest church that the ascetics of the fourth centu when this is in mind can one appreciate properly character of Syrian ascetism. Now if one looks at som which purport to deal with the fourth century Syria in fact given the impression that Egypt was the ult inspiration for the ideal of the ascetic-very ofte synonymous with monastic-life. Thus, for example, large number of Syriac sources monasticism was intr and Mesopotamia by disciples of Pachomius, notab Awgen. A closer scrutiny, however, throws up the that Mar Awgen is never mentioned in any source, that can be dated earlier than about the ninth centur comes apparent that later Syrian monks were prepare genuinely native heritage under the influence of the that Egyptian monasticism gained, through work Paradise (well known in Syriac).
In point of fact, the fourth and fifth century ascet are so well described by Theodoret in his Historia Rel to a remarkable native ascetic tradition that went back t nings of Christianity. Let us take a look at some of th of this ascetic tradition. My first example is taken that has traditionally been associated with Antioch, t Luke. From a very early date the Beatitudes were rega a paradigm of Christian conduct, and if one compare
in which the first beatitude has been handed down in Matthew and
Luke 7), one at once notices a very significant difference of emphasis: Matthew has “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, while in Luke the poverty is made external: “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven”. A similar shift in emphasis can be seen in the second of Luke’s series: here the cor- responding words in Matthew read: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled”. In Luke, however,
6) Cf. S. Jargy, “Les origines du monachisme en Syrie et en Mesopotamie”,
Proche Orient Chretien ii (1952), pp. 110-25; A. Vi6bus, “The Origins of Monasticism in Mesopotamia”, Church History xx (1951), pp. 27-37, and in his History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, I (C.S.C.O., Subsidia 14; 1958), pp. 145-6, 217 ff.; J. M. Fiey, in Analecta Bollandiana lxxx (1962), pp. 52-81.
7) Matthew v 3; Luke vi 20.
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4 S. P. Brock
the hunger is no longer meta now, for you shall be filled”. be added that it is an interest given to ascetics by early Syriac
Already in the Gospels we can the realization that riches can mightterm the’liberal’answe warning sufficient, while th viously implied in Luke’s par dem and actual renunciation o that they might prove a hind
The Gospel sayings stress fo
a follower of Christ should abode; he should break with h cross.Twoimportantareas teaching to be involved are, h foodandmaritallife.Onneit to be found in the Gospels, a can see that these were urgen munities.Onthematteroffo be modified only out of consi
weaker members of the commu thought very differently on th about foods were common in traditions,thosefamiliarwith
imposethem on,theGospe incidentally,wereverynume not believe that in the Lord’s materialistic as to pray for t pronoun ‘our’ to ‘thy’: “Give case concerns the diet of John
8) On the popularity of the Beat
see G. Quispel, in Aspects du Jud 9)CompareingeneralH.vonCam
Church (London, 1968), pp. 90-122 Io) Cf. V65bus, History of Asce
von Edessa (C.S.C.O., Subsidia 34;
nites dans les textes historiques d pp. 183-8.
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Early Syrian asceticism 5
that Tatian’s harmony of the Four Gospels, the Diat a number of modifications which he made so as to record with his own encratite views. Now one pass troubled the ascetically minded was that found in th on the subject of John’s food in the desert. John’s li say, regarded by the early church as the ideal which imitate, but the statement that he partook of meat of locusts-evidently caused considerable scandal in c we know of numerous attempts that were made to this apparent lapse. The majority of these explanatio a considerable vogue among Syriac writers eager to prowess 11) made John into a vegetarian, explaining Greek either as a plant name, or as a corruption of fruits’. Tatian, however, who was one of the first to ta adopted a different solution, and it is fairly certain saron John’s diet was described as consisting of ‘mil in other words, John, in his ascetic life, actually an commonly regarded as that of heaven-in the Chris need only recall that the newly baptised, who had th of heaven, were given milk and honey, as symbols of life that they had just entered 13). John’s anticipatio of heaven, as implied in the Diatessaron, is particula the light of the Syriac understanding of Luke xx 3 which reference will very shortly be made.
The other subject on which the Gospels gave no exp that of marriage. I say ‘explicit’ advisedly, for the early church thought otherwise. One passage in particular their attention, and once again it is interesting to s that Luke, alone of the Synoptics, provides 14). The is Luke xx 35-6, with parallels in Matthew xx 30o a
II) See “The Baptist’s diet in Syriac sources”, Oriens Ch pp. I113-24.
12) For details see “The Baptist’s diet…’, pp. 115-6. Other examples of encratite alterations made by Tatian in the Gospel text of the Diatessaron are given by V66bus, History of Ascetiscism…, I, p. 40 f.
13) It might be noted that, according to Hippolytus (Elenchus, V. 8.30), the Naasenes made milk and honey the symbol of the food of the perfect.
14) The importance of this passage has rightly been stressed by P. Nagel, Die Motivierung der Askese in der alten Kirche und der Ursprung des Minch- turms, T.U. xcv (1966), pp. 34 ff.
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6 S. P. Brock
Jesus is answering the S course of Jesus’ reply in the resurrection men an in heaven”. In Luke, on th “Those who have been ju and of the resurrection f subject to death any long because they share in th already anticipate the ma implications are even cle sage: “Those who have b kingdom)andthatresur
can they die, for they being) the sons of the re
Given a passage like this in the early Syriac-speak very popular parable of
thenoi, virgins. And it is i and the Syriac equivalent
It is indeed well known th very common in many e that one area where they tamia.Inthesecondcent
condemnation by Tatia
15) There is an interesting theQumrancommunity:by with the angels in the serv II, 8: “The holy angels are pr 19-23 (on this passage see es 1962), pp. 126-7).
16)My translation differso gelion da-Mepharreshe.On AngelikosBios(Miinster,1 found; here I cite only two beck,EphraemiSancti…Op angel of flesh” (cp. also p. I (ed. Overbeck, op. cit.), p. 38 life of angels are made parti
17)E.g.K.Miiller,”DieFor Vortriige und Aufsdtze (193
18) Cf. in general V66bus,
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Early Syrian asceticism 7
large number of works by writers of similar geographi such as the two pseudo-Clementine epistles de Virgini only in Syriac translation.
In some communities in the East views like these were held with
such seriousness that celibacy was regarded as an essential condition for baptism. This seems to have obtained well into the third century as the normal practice in practically the whole area of the Syriac-speaking churches, although it hardly survived, except marginally, as late as the fourth century, as Burkitt claimed in his influential little book, Early Eastern Christianity 19).
In the early Syriac-speaking churches the term for the members of
this baptised community of ‘virgins’, male and female, was “sons/
daughters of the Qeyamd”. I leave the term untranslated for the mo- ment, for its precise meaning is still very much disputed. Perhaps the most widely held view is that advocated by Vo6bus 20) among others:
qeyama is the equivalent of the Hebrew berith, that is ‘covenant’, ‘pact’, and so the benai qeyaman, ‘sons of the covenant’, are “a group of persons who keep the vow or covenant”, where the vow/covenant in question is presumably to be understood as the baptismal vow. By way of an aside it might be mentioned that Vo6ibus 21) and others have then gone on, tentatively, to suggest some historical link between the terminology of early Syriac-speaking Christianity and that of the Jewish Qumran community for whose members the concept of the berith was of particular importance. While this suggestion is indeed intriguing, it would seem that, whatever one thinks of this particular explanation of the Syriac qeydma, the evidence that has so far been
19) See A. V66bus, Celibacy, a Requirement for Admission to Baptism in the Early Syrian Church (Stockholm, 195i).
20) V66bus, History of Asceticism…, I, pp. 97 ff; cf. also Church History xxx (1961), pp. 19-27. A survey of the different theories is also given by S. Jargy, “Les ‘fils et filles du pacte’ dans la litterature monastique syriaque”, Orientalia
Christiana Periodica xvii (1951), pp. 304-20.
21) V66bus, op. cit., pp. Ioo ff. In the Qumran texts the phrase most frequently
found is bd-j ha-berith, ‘those who enter the covenant’, while bent ha-berith, ‘sons of the covenant’, in fact does not occur at all, the nearest equivalent being
bent beritho, ‘sons of his covenant’. Elsewhere in Hellenistic Jewish literature the phrase ‘sons of the covenant’ is to be found in the Psalms of Solomon xvii 15, and Jubilees xv 26. In the latter, as sometimes in Rabbinic literature, the term is used in close connection with the idea of circumcision-a rite in Christianity replaced by baptism; in the light of this it is probably best to accept ‘covenant’ as the meaning of qeydma.
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8 S. P. Brock
adduced for any direct tenuous as to be really here, but reference sho very attractive, sugges
qeydma.Thishasrecen Die Motivierung der As Manchtums22).Accordi
‘covenant’, ‘stance’, or adduced, but ‘resurrecti anticipate the resurrectio to the isangeloi 23) of L drawnearlieron.Thise puts it 24), unfortunate
plain it as the absolut
(i.e. construct + absolut Syriac.
One of the best mirrors in which to view the ascetic ideals of the
early Christian communities is to be found in the apocryphal acts of the apostles, and what is probably the most fascinating of these docu- ments, the Acts of Thomas, is very much the product of early Syriac- speaking Christianity. These Acts belong to the earliest group of the apocryphal acts of the apostles, and go back to the second century. The fact that the work was also popular among the Marcionites and Mani- chaeans 25) guarantees its ascetic character: a very strict view is taken, for example, on the subject of marriage 26). The basis of its teaching consists in the contrast between the corruptible body (not, however, in
22) pp. 41 ff.
23) Thus Theodoret, Historia Religiosa (P.G. lxxxii), ? 4, calls the ascetic way
of life &yyCkXtx’) xotMaretx, while Ephrem (ed. Zingerle, Monumenta Syriaca, I, p. 6 lines 127-8) says ascetics are “like the angels in heaven, although they them- selves live on earth”. Cp. also p. 6 note 16.
24) The same objection does not apply to Adam’s interpretation of the term
(,,Grundbegriffe des M6nchtums in sprachlicher Sicht”, Z.K.G. lxv (I953/4), pp. 224-8), which served as a starting point for Nagel.
25) Cf. A. F. J. Klijn, The Acts of Thomas (Leiden, 1962), pp. 2o-I.
26) Likewise significantly water, not wine, is used for the eucharist (? 121); according to Epiphanius (Panarion xlii.3.3) this was also Marcionite practice.
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Early Syrian asceticism 9
itself evil) and the soul, alone capable of incorru pertains to the body is to be rejected, on the ground being corruptible, are liable to hinder the soul in at incorruptibility. The ascetic life thus becomes an es road to salvation. One striking feature of the Acts frequency with which the terms ‘stranger’ and ‘for the Christian in this world, and this will be found common theme throughout Syriac-speaking Christi will be based on Old Testament passages such as referring to the exile of the Israelites as in ‘a fore applied to the life of Christians in this world), or N like Hebrews xi 13, where the great Old Testament models of faith, are described as having “confessed t than strangers and passing travellers on earth”. Th which reference will be made again later on.
So far we have been dealing with tendencies Christian communities of the general Syro-Mesopo only very rarely for this period do we know the n ascetics. For their heirs in the fourth century and better off: in Syriac we have a large number of import by the great fourth century writers, Aphrahat and whose 23 surviving Demonstrations were written be represents Syriac-speaking Christianity in its pure
uncontaminated by Greek influence. His slightly young Ephrem, is one of the most profilic of Syriac write allusive, and apparently very verbose, style, has not reputation among modern scholars-at least in this once enjoyed in antiquity, although in fact he is a all a poet, who, provided one takes the trouble to and sympathetically, amply rewards the effort exp we owe, not only a considerable number of poetica subjects, but also some hymn cycles on two individ Saba, whose death is independently recorded in
Chronicle under the year 678 of the Seleucid era, – his almost exact contemporary, Abraham Quidunaya
who prosaically wants to discover the details of the
27) Ed. Lamy, op. cit. [p. 2 note 41, III, cols 749-836 (on (on Julian); cp. also V66bus, History of Asceticism…, II,
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IO S. P. Brock
ascetics would find a perusal of E
unrewarding and frustrating tas
the case of Julian Saba, to turn to
Theodoret’s Historia Religiosa, wr
is a document of very great inte
neglected by modern scholarship
Greek text, and most regrettabl
ascetics, and the first twenty ch
dead by 437/449 when Theodoret w
(ch. 2) Julian Sabas. The rem ainin
concern hermits who were still
hermits and recluses who form t
in the desert around Theodoret’s North East of Antioch.
Some individual ascetics are extremely well documented, and here I am thinking in particular of the most famous of all Syrian ascetics, St. Simeon Stylites, to whom we shall be returning later.
A work of major importance for the history of asceticism in the early Syriac speaking church is Aphrahat’s sixth Demonstration 29), written in 337. Aphrahat’s views on the ascetic life can be neatly summed up in two short quotations:
“We should be aliens from this world, just as Christ did not belong to this world” (col. 241 16f).
“Whoever would resemble the angels, must alienate himself from men” (col. 248 25).
This stress on alienation 30)-separation from the world-in fact provides a clue to an understanding of the preoccupation of the early Syriac-speaking church with the ideal of virginity. In Aphrahat’s ter- minology ‘virginity’ is almost synonymous with ‘holiness’, though the two terms, which basically have the same idea of continence, are in fact
28) P.G. lxxxii, cols. 1283-1496.
29) Ed. (with Latin translation) in Patrologia Syriaca I, cols. 239-312 (English translation in Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, ser. II, vol. 13).
30) Compare the popular ideal of the Christian as e’voq, ‘stranger’ (see, for example, Klijn, Acts of Thomas, p. 166). Isaac of Antioch (ed. Bedjan, I p. 4216)
holds up the apostles as models of vagrancy.
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Early Syrian asceticism I
used for two different categories of pers ascetics who have never married, while qad who are married, but who have then agreed complete continence. At first sight it is a litt for ‘holy’ should have taken on this special be remembered that in the Semitic languag connotation of separateness, and so the someone apart from his surroundings, som self to, and is untouched by, the world he liv is not difficult to see how the term ‘virgin
an ideal in the literal sense, but also as a te symbolic way in connection with someone uncontaminated by the exterior world as a is no great jump from this sort of attitude to dualistic one, and it will be recalled how systems, such as those of the Marcionites a the Syro-Mesopotamian area.
As was pointed out before, Aphrahat repr completely untouched by western influe ‘monks’, but the term he uses does not me of the word with which we are familiar: hi either individually or in small groups. Ephr
a pure form of Syriac Christianity, at least is concerned 31). During the last ten odd y 363-73, which he spent in Edessa, he proba representatives of Egyptian monasticism, a attributed to Ephrem which actually refer seem to be genuine 32). The picture one get from Ephrem’s genuine works is a remarka
in the desert or in the mountains like a wil by any of the appurtenances of civilisatio
31) Cf. E. Beck, “Ascetisme et monachisme ch Syrien iii (1958), pp. 273-98; ,,Zur Terminologie tums”, Studia Anselmiana xxxviii (1956), pp. 254-
32) Cf. V66bus, Literary Critical and Historical S pp. 96 ff.
33) Cf. V66bus, History of Asceticism…, II, p. 26 f.; Literary Critical and Historical Studies…, pp. 94-II; “Monachisme primitif dans les ecrits d’tphrem le Syrien”, L’Orient Syrien iv (1959), pp. 299-306.
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12 S. P. Brock
work of Satan. He lives elements and extremes of heat and cold; he eats roots and wild
fruits 34), his clothing-that is, if he had any at all, and many had not 35)-consisted of straw or leaves tied together; his hair was so shaggy 36), and his nails so long that he resembled a bird of prey more than a human being. This type of life-which, incidentally, was not confined to Christian ascetics in this area 37)-was in fact a return to the status of primeval man 38), or, in Christian terms, to the life of Adam in Paradise before the Fall: the ascetic was thus entirely free to be in perpetual conversation with God, while he was in complete peace and harmony with his sole companions, the wild animals.
The general impressions that one gets from Ephrem of the life of these extreme, and highly individualistic, ascetics of the Syrian deserts are readily confirmed on turning to the straight-forward accounts of their lives in Theodoret’s Historia Religiosa. And one thing that imme- diately strikes the reader of this work are the extravagancies in which these Syrian ascetics indulged. Like the ascetics described in general terms by Ephrem, the subjects of Theodoret’s short biographies completely reject anything to do with civilized life-fire, clothing, any sort of dwelling 39). But from Theodoret we also learn details of the artificial mortifications they imposed on themselves, not content with those imposed upon them by their wild surroundings. We find them chaining themselves to rocks (the use of chains is particularly common in Syria), or yoking their necks to heavy weights, or having themselves bricked up in caves or cells, or imprisoned in cages. From sources other
34) E.g. an unpublished text quoted by V6ibus, Literary Critical and Historical Studies …, p. 82, note 9: “They graze like wild animals off plants in the mountains”.
35) See especially P. Zingerle, Monumenta Syriaca I, p. 5, line 88.
36) E.g. Lamy, op. cit. [p. 2, note 4] IV, col. 153/4: “Your hair has grown
long like an eagle’s” (based on Daniel iv 33). Later, when ascetics came under ecclesiastical control, rules were promulgated forbidding them to grow their hair long; cf. V66bus, Syriac and Arabic Documents Regarding Legislation Relative
to Syrian Asceticism (Stockholm, I960), p. 28 (no. 5).
37) E.g. Lucian, Mennipos (Teubner edn., I, p. 195). Cf. also L. Bieler, Theios
Aner (repr. Darmstadt, 1967), pp. 61 ff. Some pagan testimonia on asceticism are collected by H. Koch, Quellen zur Geschichte der Askese und des Minchtums in der alten Kirche (Tiibingen, 1933), texts 1-19.
38) Cf. J. Haussleiter, Der Vegetarismus in der Antike (Berlin, 1935), p. 67.
39) In general see A. M. J. Festugiere, Antioche paienne et chretienne (Paris, 1959), ch. ix, ‘Traits caracteristiques de l’anchoretisme syrien’.
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Early Syrian asceticism 13
than Theodoret we even hear of ascetics who threw themselves into the
fire 40), or into the mouths of wild beasts, presumably thus seeking to reproduce the fates of the martyrs before them.
These extravagancies are in complete contrast to the situation in Egypt, where it is the exception to find the use of such things as chains. Whereas Egypt’s forte was cenobitic monasticism, in Syria it was the solitary virtuoso who dominated the scene, and it is to the most famous of these, Saint Simeon Stylites, that we shall now turn.
Besides being the best known of the Syrian ascetics, Simeon also happens to be one of the best documented 41). Theodoret’s section (? 26) on him was written while the saint was still alive, and it con- stitutes an excellent eyewitness account of the man 42). In Syriac we have an important life of the saint, written soon after his death, and the product of his monastery at Telneshin 43). Another, Greek, life also survives, attributed to a certain Anthony 44), but the value of this
has been seriously disputed, notably by the great Bollandist, Paul Pee- ters 45). In point of fact, however, the Anthony life probably does have
an independent value of its own, and some incidents recorded in it appear in a far less legendary form than they do in the Syriac life 46).
Simeon must have been born about 389, of Christian parents, and he was baptised as a child. His father’s occupation is not known, but he was a man of some property at any rate, for he owned flocks, which Simeon tended in his youth. Simeon himself seems to have had no formal education, and he remained illiterate all his life; his native
40) Cf. Ephraemi Syri Sermones Duo (ed. P. Zingerle; Brixen, I868), p. 20.
41) Well summarised in Festugiere, op. cit., pp. 347 ff., and in V66bus, History of Asceticism…, II, pp. 208 ff.; the basic study is still that of H. Lietzmann, Das Leben des heiligen Symeon Stylites (Texte und Untersuchungen xxxii, 4; 1908).
42) Critical edition of the Greek text in Lietzmann, op. cit., pp. 1-18; French translation in Festugiere, op cit., pp. 388 ff.
43) Two recensions are available in print (an English translation of the text edited by Bedjan was made by F. Lent, in Journal of the American Oriental
Society xxxv (1915/7), pp. 103-98, and a German one by Hilgenfeld, in Lietzmann, op. cit.; French summary in Festugiere, op. cit., pp. 357 ff.
44) Ed. Lietzmann, op. cit., pp. 20-78; French summary in Festugiere op. cit., pp. 370 ff.
45) ,,St. Symeon Stylite et ses premiers biographes”, Analecta Bollandiana lxi
(1943), Pp. 29-71 – Le trdfonds oriental de l’hagiographie byzantine (Brussels, 1950), pp. 92-136.
46) There are also lives in Coptic (ed. Chaine, 1948) and in Georgian (ed. Garitte, 1957).
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14 S. P. Brock
languagewasSyriac.Hemust converted to the religious life, a according to Theodoret, on his Probably about 403 47) he ente villageofTellcAda,some35m for nearly ten years, but his ext to hide them, became known monks.Perhapsabout412hef and removed himself to the v severalmilestothenorth,wher seven odd years of his life.
One of the almost inevitable con ce and mortification such as Si time there would be a continuou had come to have their sick he subject under the sun, to lay the to touch the holy man, and if hairs from his shirt, or the su
ascetics calmly accepted these cro
tion, and in this connection T
section (? I9) on another asceti good example of the complete
Salamanes left his own village life”, and for this purpose he bouring village, across the riv neither window nor door. He r
was conveyed to him by means o bishop, learning of his reputation
the priesthood. To enter the sa had to pull down part of the wal impervious to what was happen bishop failed to get a single wo native but to leave and repair entry.Lateron,themenofS another village should boast th
47) The details of the chronology flicting evidence of the sources.
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Early Syrian asceticism 15
really belong to them, made a raid one night, pulled do transported the ascetic to the other side of the river, lage, where they built him a new hut the next mornin the meanwhile showing not the slightest concern at wh A few days later the rival villagers made a return raid the saint. At this point Theodoret breaks off, and admirin on the saint’s success in showing himself dead to the w
Unlike Salamanes Simeon had made no vow of silence to have had an ever increasing number of visitors, an the Syriac life are full of instances of miraculous heali him on their behalf. As his fame spread the crowds be and just as, in the Gospels, Jesus had retired to a boa throng of the crowds, Simeon too found a simple answ problem: it was to mount a column. At first it was of but with the passing of the years the column was grad it reached a height of forty cubits, and on this last colum final thirty years of his life.
The novelty of this way of life clearly led to a good d from certain quarters, and we are told that when some Eg first heard of Simeon’s exploits they excommunicate later on a good relationship was restored 47a). Also it is both Theodoret and the author of the Syriac panegyric fe to provide an apologia for Simeon’s stylite life. The t in fact curiously similar, and it would seem that they the arguments brought forward in Simeon’s defence b his monastery at Telanissos. The arguments themselves consist of a parade of biblical precedents for similar extra on the part of the Old Testament prophets.
But admirers easily outnumbered critics, and visitors cam
from far and wide-not just people from the confines
Empire, writes Theodoret (? I ), but Ishmailites, Persia Iberians, Homerites from the east, and from the farthest west,
Spaniards, Britons and Celts. Although Simeon spent most of the day
and night in prayer (spectators used to count the number of prostrations
he made to while away the time), he regularly spared the latter half of the afternoon, from about 3 pm until sunset, to attend to his visitors.
47a) Evagrius, H.E. i, 13.
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16 S. P. Brock
These ranged from simple that one of the most impo was to serve as arbitrators had withdrawn 48). But no his name too was used as a
Curiously, however, we attitude over the Council o to his death; one can hard sought at some time or oth shrewdly left his replies a
Although he spent his life to the elem ents, Sim eon’s bo numberofyears,and,indee
of stylites in general 51). S was probably undramatic 5 realize that his accustomed only then did one of them
dead. His body was trans m ilitary escort, to prevent recently devastated by a se less safe than he was in lif relics, and the various part number of different place
W hat had started out as a the crowds eventually en
48) See in general P. Brown,
society”, forthcom ing in Jou of Asceticism . ..[ I, pp. 377 ff
49) Both sides claimed his support: Evagrius (H.E. ii, io) quotes a letter attributed to Simeon that supports the council, while in Syriac there are several anti-Chalcedonian letters claiming his authorship (edited, with English translation, by C. C. Torrey, Journal of the American Oriental Society xx (1899), pp. 253-76; German translation in Lietzmann, op. cit., p. 188-92).
50) In the sixth century the Chalcedonians made great efforts to win over certain in stylites to their cause-without success, according to John of Ephesus, Lives of Eastern Saints (Patrologia Orientalis xvii, p. 98).
51) Les saints stylites (Brussels, 1923), p. cxliv.
52) The following is based on the account in the life of Antony.
53) For modern Greek claims, for example, see 0. Meinardus, “A study of the
relics of Saints of the Greek Orthodox Church”, Oriens Christianus liv (1970), pp. 247-8.
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Early Syrian asceticism 17
monastic life 53a). Stylites sprang up all over the plac rules were even drawn up for them 54). Some of thes Simeon the younger in the sixth century, who took u Mons Admirabilis, between Antioch and the sea, are wel others, such as Joshua the Stylite, accredited with an im chronicle covering the years 494-506, or John the Styli dent of the seventh century writer and polymath, Jaco to-day little more than mere names. Delehaye, in his Stylites, had no difficulty in finding instances of medieva was even able to adduce a couple of nineteenth century
The magnificent church and monastery that sprung of Simeon’s pillar still survive, remarkably well prese no doubt buildings such as these that another Syriac w Antioch, had in mind when he complained 56):
“They (sc. the monks) have deserted the (spiritual) heigh plumbed the depths with their many grandiose building activ
Isaac, who perhaps belongs to the late fifth, or early s represents the yearning that many felt for the traditional type of Syrian asceticism, once the more organised cen cism had become established in Syria. To Isaac the ag commercial activities of the large new monasteries that wh up in his day represented a denial of the true ideals of which in his eyes should be completely cut off from al world. ‘The sun blushed, he writes 57), to see monks w into merchants”. The old ideals were indeed continued, d
53a) It is most unlikely that Simeon’s stylite life had any conn practice of the pagan priests at Hierapolis/Mabbug, as describ Dea Syra.
54) Thus some of Jacob of Edessa’s Canons are specifically ai
Voobus, Documents…, p. 95 (no. 2), 96 (no. 9). Simeon himself
with some ‘rules’, cf. V6ibus, Syrische Kanonssammlungen (C 35; 1970), PP. 138 ff.
55) Cf. J. Lassus, Sanctuaires chretiens de Syrie (Paris, 1947) especially G. Tchalenko, Villages antiques de la Syrie du Nord pp. 223-76. For the later history of the monastery see J. Nasral de Saint-Simeion l’Alepin”, Parole de l’Orient I (1970), pp. 327
56) Ed. Bedjan, I, p. 299.
57) Ed. Bedjan, I, p. 41 6. The same attitude is nicely illustrated in the gentle rebuke a nameless ascetic administered to John of Ephesus (Lives of the Eastern Saints, Patrologia Orientalis xvii, pp. 257-8).
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18 S. P. Brock
on the part of the ecclessia their control, but usually Audians and Messalians, r
Reading the various sour struck by the man’s simplic while foreign to us who a familiar in the context of him with some of the fam such as St. Serafim of Sar society from which he ha eventually serves that sam The ascetic, like the m art successor to the biblical pro tion that the monks of T
consisted simply in add prophets.
The Syriac panegyric calls Simeon the ‘head of the mourners’ (abilj, the term is derived from the Beatitudes), and this may help us to under- stand something of the motivation that lies behind the extraordinary lives of men such as Simeon. Theirs was a life of mourning, not just for their own sins, but also for those of mankind in general. Asceticism has in fact thus become an ‘instrumentum satisfactionis’ 59): it is a means of regaining paradise. But this is of course only one aspect of the matter, and the ‘mourning’ also consists in mourning for, and participating in, the sufferings of Christ. Thus, in the writings of Aphrahat the ‘imitation of Christ’ consists primarily in a participation in his sufferings 60), and the same idea is very prominent in Ephrem’s ascetic works: to ‘take up the cross’ means sharing in Christ’s suffering and passion by means of mortification and ascetic practice. “If you truly belong to Christ, writes Ephrem 61), you must clothe yourself in his passion”. This emphasis on the suffering that a true Christian must bear is already found in one of Tatian’s additions, in his Diatessaron, to the traditional Gospel text: at Matthew xix 21 (and parallels), to the
58) Cf. V66bus, History of Asceticism …, II, pp. 123 ff.
59) Nagel, op. cit., p. 62. Cf. H. Musurillo in Traditio xii (1956), pp. 23-4.
60o) E.g. Demonstration vi, (Patrologia Syriaca I), col. 241 22: “Let us share in (Christ’s) suffering, for thus we shall live (i.e. be saved) at his resurrection”.
61) Lamy, op. cit., IV, col. I7I. On this theme in Ephrem see in general V66- bus, Literary Critical and Historical Studies…, pp. Io4-5.
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Early Syrian asceticism 19
words “if you would be perfect, go and sell what you p
caracteristically added “and take your cross and come
This concept of the cross of suffering to be borne by
follower of Christ is clearly a fundamental one in the S
and it is only through a realisation of this that one can
stand something of the motivation behind these extraor of the ascetic life.
Theodoret ended his life of Simeon by saying that all he had done
was to provide ‘a mere drop’, which, however, he hoped might give
some indication of the ‘rain’ as it actually was. In drawing to a close
I should like to borrow his words, pointing out that numerous facets
of this intriguing subject have necessarily had to be passed over in
silence, and that what has been described does no more than give a few of the main outlines.
62) Cf. V66bus, Studies in the History of the Gospel Text in Syriac (C.S.C.O.,
Subsidia; I95I), p. 200. In a similar vein Ephrem expands Matthew x 39 (and parallels): “Everyone who seeks to find his soul shall lose it here in afflictions” (Zingerle, Monumenta Syriaca I, p. 7, lines 181-2).
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