Introduction to Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Mesopotamian Scholasticism: A History of the Christian Theological School in the Syrian Orient

Posted by on Feb 6, 2021 in Articles, Library | Comments Off on Introduction to Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Mesopotamian Scholasticism: A History of the Christian Theological School in the Syrian Orient

Introduction to Junillus’s Instituta Regularia

Mesopotamian Scholasticism: A History of the Christian

Theological School in the Syrian Orient

See also the Latin text and English translation of the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis.

In order to understand the Christian learning environment that produced Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis (c.542 C.E.), one must return to the ancient Hellenistic school. Although early Christianity encountered difficulties with the Greeks’ love of Homer and the Pantheon, the Church Fathers maintained a pedagogic, linguistic, and even philosophical connection to the classical school of antiquity. Indeed, the Syriac theological schools in Edessa and Nisibis, where Paul, the original author of the Greek text transformed by Junillus into the Latin Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis, both learned and taught, were the inheritors of the classical Greek educational system formulated by Plato and deduced by Aristotle. This dependence on the ancient Greek school curriculum, conjoined with the Christian scholarship emerging from Antioch, provided the foundation for the eventual structure of the Christian school in Mesopotamia. With the advent of “evangelism,” man, who had been trained in the classical arts of oratory and philosophy, could now open himself to grace, faith, baptism, and Christianity.

The schools of Edessa and Nisibis were natural outgrowths of this Christian dependence upon Greek educational standards. Their faculties and students, already acquainted with the hermeneutics of Aristotle, now were presented with a unique Greek-Syriac-Christian confection, in which the ultimate educational goal was the glorification of God’s word through His beloved son, Jesus Christ.

Christianity and Classical Education

The term “Christian education” (paideia en Christo) was first used by St. Clement of Rome in 96 C.E. The earliest Christian doctrinal teaching was offered by didaskaloi, “teachers,” who instructed catechumens. The catechumen system achieved its final form in Rome in 180 C.E., where a student followed a carefully monitored program of study for three years. Eventually the didaskaloi lost their specialized role to the priest and, finally, the bishop.

Often misinterpreted as a religion more interested in salvation than study, Christianity, like Judaism, was a religion of the Book, based on the written revelation (the Old Testament) and the writings of the New Testament, which were added later and recognized as canonical. Indeed, the earlier Greek word for “canon” — graphe — is the equivalent of the Hebrew katuv, signifying the importance of the written word to both traditions. Further, like Judaism, the “tradition” (paradosis in Greek; masorah in Hebrew) in Christian literature was constantly growing and expanding. After the study of canon law – the disciplinary rules and regulations – an early Christian scholar was exposed to the spiritual literature of the day, that is, apologetics, polemics, and dogmatic theology of the Church.

In Egypt, in Syria, in Mesopotamia, Christianity brought new life into the languages of Egyptian and Aramaic, and concomitantly influenced the development of education and literature in Coptic and Syriac. Yet throughout antiquity, Christians rarely established their own theological schools, a fact which underscores not only the special nature of the theological schools of Edessa and Nisibis but also the significance of Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis as a primary source of these Christian institutions of Late Antiquity. It is imperative, then, to first investigate the formulators of the doctrinal movements and the “schools” that antedated Edessa and Nisibis, as the composition of these Syrian theological institutions was a synthesis of the philosophies, creeds, and exegetical principles that emerged in such loci as Antioch, Alexandria, and Mopsuestia.

The School of Antioch

Although there is no record of a formal school such as apparently existed at Alexandria, the “school” of Antioch represented a group of theologians that shared similar doctrinal characteristics. The scholars and teachers that were associated with the exegetical principles and Christology emerging from Antioch influenced profoundly the curricula and theological perspectives of the schools of Edessa and Nisibis.

There were two distinct periods in the history of the school of Antioch. The first period, beginning in the late third century and continuing to the early fourth century, was marked by the contributions of Lucian, who conducted an important didascalion about 270 C.E. Lucian’s scholarly achievement was an edition of the Septuagint revised on the basis of the Hebrew Bible, a text that was accepted as authoritative both in Antioch and Constantinople. It seems likely that Lucian’s work gave the theology of Antioch its Scriptural orientation toward historical and literal exegesis. In addition, Lucian, by defending his disciple Arius, became embroiled in a controversy over the divine and human natures of Christ. Henceforth, the great defenders of the humanity of Jesus were inextricably associated with the Antiochene school.

This problem of Christology began to dominate the learning environments of the late fourth century. Diodore of Tarsus, who developed a dualistic Christology that characterized the school of Antioch, was a predominant figure. His disciples — John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, and Theodoret of Cyr — subscribed to his doctrines. Theodore of Mopsuestia became the official exegete (mepasqana) of the Persian Church; Nestorius became the center of the controversy between the Monophysites and Dyophysites. These two scholars’ contributions to both Mesopotamian Christianity and the doctrinal teachings promulgated in Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis shall be examined in fuller relief below.

With respect to the subject of biblical exposition, the conflict between the school of Alexandria and the school of Antioch was clearly drawn. The Alexandrians adhered to the allegorical interpretation of Scripture; the Antiochenes were devoted to literal exegesis. The subject of Christology, however, elicited emotional and religious responses and distinctions that were to transcend these academic environs and affect the political and religious life and practice of Christianity in the Syrian Orient for centuries to come. Diodore of Tarsus helped initiate this controversy in the last decades of the fourth century by speaking of Christ as simultaneously representing the “Son of God” and the “Son of Mary.” Mary was viewed by this Antiochene scholar as the mother of a man, rather than a mother of God. The Word of God and the Son of Mary were both Sons of God; the one by nature, the other by grace. These formulations served as the basis for the doctrinal creeds and exegetical writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, whose expository writings served as the foundation and inspiration for the schools of Edessa and Nisibis, and particularly for Paul, the sixth century author of the manual of Scriptural exegesis, later to be known through the hand of Junillus as the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis.

Theodore of Mopsuestia

Theodore, born in Antioch (c.350), was a disciple of Diodore of Tarsus. Ordained a priest of the Church of Antioch in 381, he became, in 392, bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia. His life and writings are connected with Nestorius, who in 428, the year of Theodore’s death, rose to the office of bishop of Constantinople. Much of Theodore’s literary and theological reputation was bestowed upon him posthumously. After the condemnation of Nestorius by the Council of Ephesus (431), charges of heterodoxy were raised against Theodore’s teaching by several prominent bishops, and most particularly by Cyril of Alexander, who wrote Contra Diodorum et Theodorum, effectively cementing the association between these two Antiochene scholars. But Theodore’s popularity depended upon the prevailing Church attitudes of the day. At the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Fathers accepted the epistle of Ibas of Edessa that praised Theodore as a “herald of truth and doctor of the Church” (ActConc Oec 2.1:392). During Ibas’s episcopate, many of Theodore’s works were translated into Syriac, thus elevating his position in the Nestorian Church, which ultimately conferred upon the prolific commentator the title mepasqana, “the interpreter.” Yet in 553, the Fathers assembled at the Second Council of Constantinople condemned his writings, and Theodore was anathematized as heretical. This decision was upheld until 1932, when the publication of a Syriac text of Theodore’s Cathechetical Homilies re-opened the controversy. Theodore is viewed from two perspectives: some see his work and teachings as orthodox; others connect his writings to the errant doctrines of Nestorianism.

Nearly all of Theodore’s many commentaries are left to us in fragments; the only complete work in Greek is his Commentary on the Twelve Minor Prophets (PG 66: 123-632). There are Syriac versions of his Catechetical Homilies and his Controversy with the Macedonians. There is extant a Latin version of his Commentary on the Minor Epistles of St. Paul.

As noted above, the inspiration for Theodore’s principles of exegesis may be derived from the school of Antioch, which insisted on the literal and historical sense of the text, as opposed to the allegorical approach advocated by the school of Alexandria. Theodore’s typology is patent in his commentary on the book of Psalms, in which he subscribes to the following principles: David is the author of all the Psalms; each Psalm refers to a historical situation, to be determined in the light of the argument of the Psalm as a whole; this situation can be either in the life of David or future to him; in the latter case, David foresees the future event and speaks words appropriate to it. Of the 80 Psalms whose commentary has endured, Theodore places 50 in the history of Israel from the time of Solomon to that of the Maccabees, while assigning only 3 to Christ. His Commentary on the Minor Prophets demonstrates a similar concern by the author to promulgate the actual historical situation envisioned by each Prophet.

Theodore, in his theological considerations, insists on the human soul of Christ and on the significance of His free moral activity in the work of redemption. He replaces the phrase “Word and flesh” with the formula “Word and assumed man.” Consonant with the Dyophysite position expressed by Diodore and later espoused by Nestorius and the bishops of the schools of Edessa and Nisibis, Theodore also asserts that the two natures of Jesus constitute “one Son” and “one Lord” because they are united in one person.


Nestorius, born in Euphratesian Syria 31 years after Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.381), was destined to have his name permanently linked with the great mepasqana because of his Dyophysite pronouncements and the adoption by the faculties of Edessa and Nisibis of his and Theodore’s polemics and commentaries. Together, Theodore and Nestorius served as the wellsprings of the two Mesopotamian schools that carried the banner of Nestorianism.

Nestorius used his position as bishop of Constantinople (428) to preach against the title Theotokos, “Mother of God,” that was given to the Virgin Mary. He claimed a more authentic title should be the Mother of Christ. This doctrine was challenged by Cyril of Alexandria and, later, Pope Celestine, who anathematized Nestorius and condemned him as a heretic at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Although much of Nestorius’s sermons and teachings were ordered to be burned, the doctrine of Nestorianism survived and served as the basis for Dyophysite teachings in the fifth and sixth centuries, particularly at Nisibis, which had inherited the mantle of Syrian scholarship from Edessa. Fragments of Nestorius’s letters and sermons have been preserved in the Acts of the Council of Ephesus, citations in the works of St. Cyril of Alexandria (Nestorius’s creedal adversary), and through the interpolated Syriac text, The Bazaar of Heracleides, an apology, written near the end of his life (c. 436).

The Christological thought of Nestorius is dominated by Cappadocian theology and is influenced by Stoic philosophy. Although Nestorius never spoke of the human Jesus and the divine Jesus as “two sons,” he did not consider him simply as a man. However, differing from Cyril of Alexandria, who posited one sole nature (mia physis) in Christ, Nestorius defined a nature in the sense of ousia, “substance,” and distinguished precisely between the human nature and the divine nature, applying in his Christology the distinction between nature (ousia) and person (hypostasis). Nestorius refused to attribute to the divine nature the human acts and sufferings of Jesus. This last statement underlines the ultimate difference between Nestorius and Cyril. Nestorius distinguished between the logos (the “divine nature”) and Christ (the Son, the Lord), which he saw as a result of the union of the divine nature and the human nature. After the Council of Ephesus, a strong Nestorian party developed in eastern Syria that found its strength and intellectual support in the School of Edessa. After the theological peace achieved in the agreement of 433 between Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch, a number of dissenting bishops affiliated themselves with the Syrian Church of Persia, which officially adopted Nestorianism at the Synod of Seleucia in 486. The Nestorians were expelled from Edessa in 489 by the Emperor Zeno and emigrated to Persia. It was thus that the Nestorian Church broke away from the faith of the Church of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.

The Nestorian spirit was redoubtable. Secured in the Persian Church, it continued to flourish in the seventh century despite persecution from the Sassanids, and after the invasions of the Turks and Mongols. Nowhere is its intellectual vibrancy and spirit more apparent than in its theological school, Nisibis, the successor to Edessa. It is here where our narrative leads, and the explication of the environment that produced Paul’s Dyophysite text and Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis begins.

The School of Edessa

Edessa occupies a singular place in Christendom. Presently called Urfa, a modern Turkish city of some 80,000 inhabitants, it was once associated with Jesus and early missionary activities of the Church. Pilgrims came to Edessa (the Syrians called the city “Orhay”) from Mesopotamia, Persia, and the Far East. Traditions about the city reached the countries of Western Europe; its monasteries and caves housed saints, scholars, and poets. Edessa is generally regarded as the birthplace of Syriac literature and philosophy.

A favorable geographical location enabled Edessa to achieve early prominence. A north-south road from Armenia bisected Edessa, continuing through Harran and the cities of Syria. An east-west road linked Edessa to Nisibis and points beyond in the Far East with the fords of the Euphrates in the west. Caravans of traders carried spices, gems, and muslin from India, and silk from China on these ancient highways.

First conquered by the Greeks, and ruled by the Seleucids from 302 until 130 B.C.E., Edessa fell into the hands of the Parthians and, finally, the Romans in 49 C.E. Although Edessa was proclaimed a colonia in 214 C.E., the thought and culture of Orhay, like the culture of the entire oikoumene, remained Greek. The coins of Edessa bore legends in Greek. The wealthy families of the city sent their sons to study in Antioch, Beirut, Alexandria, and Athens. The greatest Edessan philosopher, Bardaisan, was predominantly influenced by Greek thought.

There was great religious ferment in the Syrian orient in the second and third centuries. A Jewish community flourished in both Edessa and Nisibis, and the latter city served as a storehouse for Jewish contributions to the Jerusalem Temple. Jews lived side by side with the pagan community, and even shared a common burial ground. In addition, the Church was contending with the heresies of Marcionism and Gnosticism during this period. A cult center dedicated to the worship of astral deities sprang up in Palmyra as well as in Harran, and in nearby Hieropolis a Temple was supported by monies from Babylonia and Assyria. Edessa’s residents were similarly engaged in planet worship. Christianity made subtle inroads into this eclectic world of religious thought and practice, and ultimately emerged triumphant. A Christian church was established at the beginning of the third century; by the fourth century Edessa was acknowledged as the first kingdom to adopt Christianity as its official religion.

Edessa attracted both scholars and controversy. Beginning with St. Ephraim, Father of the Syrian church at Edessa in the fourth century and author of innumerable hymns, biblical commentaries, and political tracts, as well as a participant in the defense of Nisibis against Persian attack in 350, scholars at Edessa were constantly engaged in deflecting the heresies of Marcion and Mani. However, St. Ephraim’s successor, Rabbula, who became Bishop of Edessa in 411/412, had difficulty sustaining theological unity; at that time, Christianity was divided by the arguments over the natures of Jesus, leading to the creation of the Monophysite and Dyophysite factions.

The Dyophysite party (“two-natures of Jesus”), led by Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodoret, and their disciples, had achieved prominence in Church and scholarly circles of Mesopotamia. Guided by Nestorius, these scholars struggled against the Monophysite party (“single-nature of Jesus”), led by Cyril of Alexandria and his disciples. Although the scholarly tradition of Edessa was founded, in large part, on the theological commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia, who advanced the Dyophysite tradition, Bishop Rabbula turned away from his colleagues and the renowned Theodore, replacing the works of Antiochene theologians with Cyril’s Monophysite texts.

This controversy and capitulation by Bishop Rabbula prefigured the dissolution of the School of Edessa. Despite a resurgence of Dyophysite leadership under Rabbula’s successor, Hiba, who was credited with the translation of the texts of Diodorus and Theodore of Mopsuestia from Greek into Syriac, the weight of official opposition by both the Church and the Persian empire was oppressive. Bishop Cyrus, who ascended to office in 471, persuaded Emperor Zeno to act decisively against the Nestorian heresy. This heresy, as explained above, emanated from Nestorius’s assertion that Mary should be viewed not as the Theotokos, the “Mother of God,” but as the Mother of Jesus’ human nature only. Although the distinction was semantic, it elicited religious and political reactions that directly affected the destiny of the Dyophysite school of Edessa, which, in 489, was summarily closed. The Edessan scholars, however, migrated to nearby Nisibis, where they would transfer their academic and theological concerns to Edessa’s successor, the School of Nisibis.

The first recorded director of the School of Edessa was Qiiore, who in the early part of the fifth century exhibited not only ascetic and scholarly qualifications, but also administrative ability. Occupying the Chair of Exegesis (mepasqana in Syriac), he replaced the texts of St. Ephraim with those of Theodore of Mopsuestia. This was a seminal decision. By selecting Theodore’s writings as his preeminent textual source, Qiiore embarked upon a course of study that was to intermingle the deductive principles of Aristotle with Theodore’s Dyophysite creed.

Under Hiba, the Syrians busied themselves with the translations of Theodore’s theological works, but they were similarly engaged in translations of the Greek peripatetic philosophers, of Greek works on history, geography, and astronomy. Proba achieved distinction in his translation of Greek philosophical works. The Hermeneutics and Analyticon of Aristotle have survived in manuscript form; part of the Isagoge of Porphyry is extant. Subsequently, the theological studies at Edessa and Nisibis were grounded in the logic of Aristotle. Proba’s commentaries on Aristotle and Porphyry marked the beginning of a philosophical literary activity which would ultimately establish Aristotle’s Organon as the methodological foundation for East Syrian thought. The deductive principles of Aristotle were utilized specifically in the teaching of Scripture. Later, this influence upon the School of Nisibis is patently revealed in the Latin text below, which is a translation, from the Greek, of Paul’s sixth century manual of scriptural and theological exegesis — a manuscript that is Aristotelian in structure and Mopsuestian in content.

Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis (c.542) reveals the Syrians’ absorption with and dependence upon Greek, particularly Aristotelian, principles of logic. Nevertheless, the main occupation of these monks and their students was the preservation and copying of religious texts and manuscripts, among which the Bible was pre-eminent. While it is difficult to ascertain if Tatian’s Diatessaron was composed at Edessa or Adiabene, whence he came, there is little doubt of the close scholarly ties between these two communities of Late Antiquity. It is possible that the Separate Gospels and various books of the Peshitta and other Syriac versions of the Bible were composed at Edessa. Philoxenus of Mabbog, who studied at Edessa, effected a new translation of the Greek Bible into Syriac around 508. A Syriac version of the entire Old Testament, and reputedly the New Testament, was produced by the Nestorian scholar, and Edessan-trained, Maraba I, in the middle of the sixth century.

The Greek texts translated into Syriac and the dissemination of Syriac texts to foreign communities did not necessarily have their nascence in Edessa, but they all traversed that city’s intellectual crossroads, ingested first by the faculty and then by the students of the School. The importance and intellectual centrality of the School of Edessa is proved by the documentation preserved by its successor, the School of Nisibis. The model for Nisibis was Edessa — in its academic structure, its curriculum, its faculty, and its students. While Nisibis became the great school of the Syrian Orient, its intellectual foundations lay in the School of Christian Edessa, Nisibis’s western neighbor, “the blessed city.”

The School of Nisibis

The chronicler of the day, Barhadbeshabba, described the transfer of students and faculty from Edessa to Nisibis: “Edessa darkened and Nisibis brightened.” Edessan expulsion and relocation of this anathematized community of Nestorian scholars and disciples in Nisibis reinvigorated the intellectual and academic environments of the Syrian Orient.

Administratively, the School of Nisibis replicated the School of Edessa. The director of the school was called rabban, who concomitantly occupied the “chair of exegesis” (mepasqana). Chosen by the teachers of Nisibis, the rabban primarily supervised the faculty and course of study. In other areas of school administration he relied upon his chief administrative aide, the rabbaita, who had the equivalent responsibilities of our modern “dean.” He was responsible for the entire school administration — from carrying out academic policy to ensuring the school’s proper daily operation. He was at once manager, steward, and chief academic officer.

The first faculty chair listed beneath the mepasqana is that of the maqreiana. The Syriac root of this word means “to read.” One may posit from this meaning a group of teachers who guided the students from elementary instruction in reading to every kind of advanced study in textual, lexical, liturgical, and grammatical areas. Paul, who created the isagogic manual later translated and adapted by Junillus, occupied the position of maqreiana at the School of Nisibis.

Other faculty positions included: mehageiana, a teacher entrusted with elementary instruction; sapera, a “scribe,” who taught the discipline of writing and copying manuscripts; baduqa, a term which means “to search,” “to scrutinize,” — thus a teacher of philosophy, that is, the philosophy of the Greeks translated into Syriac.

The reputation of the School of Nisibis rested on its chair of biblical exegesis, headed by its first director and mepasqana, Narsai, who began his tenure in 489. As the School of Edessa served as the model for the School of Nisibis, so too were the Antiochene traditions of biblical exegesis, based on the works of Theodore of Mopsuestia, handed down by Narsai to his beloved students. Theodore resembled Judah HaNasi, the great compiler of the Jewish Oral Law (the Mishnah) at the end of the second century. Theodore collected and organized earlier theological and exegetical scholarship; he brought forth a synthesis in his writings that was unsurpassed by any of the succeeding generations of Christian theologians. The School of Nisibis adopted Theodore’s exegetical method, which rejected the allegorical approach in favor of pure grammatical, historical, and typological analysis. Indeed, Paul’s manual exemplifies Theodore’s typological approach. The Nestorian community’s opposition to the allegorical world of Alexandrian exegesis is reflected in Theodore’s comment: “They, indeed, turn everything backwards, since they wish to make no distinction in the divine Scripture between what the text says and a dream in the night.”

The School of Nisibis was a serious environment of academic instruction and rigorous biblical exegesis. Study hours were arduous; students spent the entire day copying manuscripts, reading, hearing lectures, and learning liturgical recitation. These academic sessions took place during the period of the “great mautba” (“session”) that met from November through July.

Abraham De-Bet Rabban and his Faculty

In 510, after Narsai and Elisa bar Quabaie had governed the School of Nisibis, Abraham De-Bet Rabban assumed the directorship and office of mepasqana. Abraham seems to have been a nephew or close family friend of the great Rabba, “the Great.” Originally called Narsai himself, when his father brought him to the “great” Narsai to live, he became “Abraham.” Living in the same monastery cell with the poetic master, Abraham learned mimetically to respect and practice the patterns of discipline, good works, scholarship, and asceticism personified by Mar Narsai.

Abraham was interested in scholarship, but he was even more interested in scholarly clarification. Therefore, during the first quarter of the sixth century, he undertook the labor of elucidating the commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia, which presented great difficulties, even in Syriac translation, to his fledgling scholars. This pedagogic activity affected the entire curricular development at the School of Nisibis. During this period, Jausep Huzaia contributed a system of accents and translated the grammar of Dionysios Thrax in order that his students might better grasp the intricacies of the different “forms” of Syriac. Mar Aba, a peripatetic scholar, was the most accomplished teacher and scholar of biblical exegesis, and published commentaries on both Old and New Testament books. He introduced the genre of jurisprudence into Syriac literature; he is credited with the translation of the Old Testament from Greek into Syriac; he translated the liturgical works of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius.

The Contribution of Paul

Most of these works have not survived the convolutions of the centuries. Yet, one faculty member’s work remains that underscores both Abraham De-Bet Rabban’s goals of textual explication and the scholarly traditions of the Schools of Edessa/Nisibis. Paul was a maqreiana, who served under Abraham De-Bet Rabban in the first half of the sixth century. His contribution to the biblical studies program at the School of Nisibis consisted of an introductory guide to the School’s studies in biblical and theological exegesis.

Paul’s treatise was composed in Greek. Although the original manuscript has disappeared, a Latin recension was compiled by Junillus, who lived in Constantinople, serving as quaestor sacri palatii under Justinian I from 541-549. Junillus discloses his meeting with Paul in the preface to Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis. There, addressing bishop Primasius, a fellow African, he explains that he has

seen a certain man, Paul by name, a Persian by birth, who was thoroughly taught by a school of the Syrians in the city of Nisibis, where divine law is taught by public teachers in an orderly and regular fashion…. I [Junillus] had read certain rules with which that man was accustomed to imbue the minds of his students, who were instructed in the superficial aspect of divine Scriptures, before he revealed the depths of exposition, in order that in time they might get to know the intention and order of the very causes which are found in divine law, that each detail might be taught not sporadically and chaotically, but in a regular fashion.

Paul’s text is divided into two books, and presented in a catechetical manner. Junillus has taken the liberty of reformulating Paulos’s tract into a dialogue of questions and answers between teacher, who in the manuscript is preceded by a delta, and student, who is preceded by a mu.

Aristotle’s principles of deductive logic, as explicated in the Organon, delimit every subject undertaken by Paul. This practice was consonant with the tradition of the Syrian theologians. Aristotle’s logic was employed by the Church fathers as a weapon against heresy — particularly against the Monophysites, the dreaded doctrinal enemies of the School of Nisibis. The Categories, Aristotle’s chapters of logical and philosophical definitions, were directed as an exegetical instrument in purely theological works against the heresy of the Severians.

Paul’s manuscript provides a rare and complete view of the Syrians’ attempt to authenticate the Dyophysite creed and preserve it from the attacks of the Monophysites. We have already demonstrated that the philosophy of Aristotle was ensconced in the school of Antioch and later transferred to the School of Edessa as a propaedeutic to the study of theology. The Nestorian scholars at Nisibis, the School of Edessa’s successor, naturally continued this traditional adherence to Aristotle’s scholastic approach. Thus, all this Aristotelian paraphernalia was utilized to explain and validate not a philosophy, but a specific kind of Syrian theological scholasticism.

Where did the budding student exegetes, after assimilating Paulos’s theological manual, continue their scholastic development? Were there further courses at the School of Nisibis which offered a less “creed-oriented” theology? Did any of the questions in the manual which bordered on the philosophical lead to further inquiry within the School’s walls? There is scant indication that any of these questions may be positively answered. Indeed, it must be remembered that “theological study” at Nisibis did not involve abstract questions. Questions about the Trinity, about God, about the governance of the universe were thoughtfully considered, but definitively answered by faculty members such as Paul. There was little room for deeper religious and spiritual conjecture; there was instead a preponderant emphasis upon Scriptural exegesis, philology, copying of manuscripts, and liturgy — matters which formed the core of the School of Nisibis’s life and curriculum.

The Literary Productivity of the School of Nisibis

The School of Nisibis produced exceptional scholars and equally exceptional scholarship. Beginning with the poetic renderings of Narsai, the literary efflorescence of the first half of the sixth century encompasses the historical studies of Abraham, Isai and Johanan of Bet Rabban, the liturgico-historical ones by Thomas of Edessa and Qiiore, the polemical writings by Paul and Thomas of Edessa, the apologetic work of Johanan of Bet Rabban, and treatises in jurisprudence by Mar Aba.

The exegetical studies under Abraham’s Directorship brought the School of Nisibis its deservedly rich scholarly reputation. Jausep Huazia created a diacritical sign system and a list of homonyms that were used in the liturgical rendering of the biblical texts. Nearly three centuries later, a codex, attributed to Mar Babai in 899, elucidating the difficult words and clauses in the biblical texts with critical notes and explanatory annotations, speaks of nine accents, and credits the origin of these signs to Jausep Huzaia. Thus inspired by the manifold contributions of his faculty and guided by the Dyophysite commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia as well as his own talents as the School’s administrator and mepasqana, Abraham presided over a school tradition that was unmatched in the contemporary Mesopotamian cultural world. This renaissance in teaching, learning, and literary productivity was unable to be maintained by later generations of the School, which were weakened by political upheavals and the dispersion of the faculty to other centers of study.

The reach of the School of Nisibis was extensive. The accomplishments in the fields of biblical and exegetical studies were conveyed beyond the Empire of the Sasanides to the West. The scholar Cassiodorus, Roman writer, statesman, and monk (c.490-583), paid homage to Nisibis in his ecclesiastical writings; his Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum, written between 543 and 555, was intended to furnish the monastic community with the means of interpreting Holy Writ, and his plan of study revealed his acquaintance with Junillus’s Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis.