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The Origin of Monasticism in Mesopotamia

  • Arthur Vööbus (a1)

A student of the history of Oriental Christianity is particularly fascinated by the role Syrian monasticism has played, not only in the religious, ecclesiastical, spiritual, literary, and cultural life of the Christian Syrians, but also far outside the confines of the territory of Aramean Christianity. To be sure, Syrian monasticism has been exaggeratedly ascetic. But paradoxically, the same psyche which has passionately longed for mortification and relentless chastisement has showed a remarkable flexibility. It has released energies to direct them towards various tasks which serve the Christian community, proving its sympathetic and even warm participation in the multifarious responsibilities of human life. Its missionary activities, zeal and enthusiasm to reach faraway countries are well-known. Its achievements, particularly in Eastern Asia, are admirable. What the bilingual monument of Si-nganfu has immortalized is only one luminary among other achievements which probably have not been carved in stone so explicitly. Other aspects are no less important. In one study I have already sketched the profile of Syrian monasticism in the light of philanthropic activities in Mesopotamia and Persia. I have also had the opportunity to show its share in the history of education and schools, learning and literary life, and even in the history of the New Testament text. The traces which have been left behind are not traces in sand, but have been carved in human hearts. These traces are still visible to anyone who studies the history, literature and mythology of the nations in Middle and Eastern Asia. These are only the most important aspects amongst others, which depict peculiar features in the physiognomy of Syrian monasticism.

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1 La stèle chrètienne de Si-nganfü, éd. par Harvet, H., in Variétés sinologiques VII, XII, XX (Shanghai, 18951902).

2 Einiges über die karitative Tätigkeit des syrischen Mönchtums. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Liebestätigkeit im Orient, , in Contributions of the Baltic University, LI. Pinneberg, 1947.

3 Studies in the history of the Gospel text in Syriac, in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Subsidia III. Louvain, 1951.

4 Acta martyrum et sanctorum, ed. P. Bedjan (Paris, 1892) III, 376 ff.

5 Labourt, I., Le christianisme dans l' Empire perse sous la dynastie Sassanide 224–632 (Paris, 1904) 314.

6 Historia religiosa, Migne, , Patrologia graeca, LXXXII, 3, col. 1294 ff.

7 Patrum Nicaenorum nomina, ed. H. Gelzer, H. Hilgenfeld et O. Cuntz (Leipzig, 1898) 20 f., 64, 84, 102, 150.

8 Bibliotheca orientalis, ed. J. S. Assemani (Roma, 1719) I, 395.

9 Sources syriaques, éd. par A. Mingana (Leipzig, 1907) I, 45 f.

10 Sachau, E., von Arbela, Die Chronik, in Abhandlungen derPreussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil-hist. Klasse (Berlin, 1915) 15.

11 Opus chronologicum, ed. Brooks, E. W., in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Script. Syri, Ser. II, 7 (Paris, 1910) 98.

12 Peeters, P., “La légende de saint Jacques de Nisibe,” Analecta Bollandiana, XXXVIII (Bruxelles, 1920) 291.

13 Carmina Nisibena, ed. G. Bickell (Leipzig, 1866) 20 f.

14 See Ephraem Syria Hymni et sermones, ed. T. J. Lamy (Mechlin, 18821901) III, 873; also Theodoret, , Hist. eccles. Migne, Patrologia graeca, LXXXII. 3. col. 1189.

15 Quod postquam auditum est, et longe latcque percrebuit, certatim ad eum de Syria et Aegypto confluebant: ita ut multi crederent in Christum, et se monachos profiterentur. Necdum enim tune monasteria erant in Palaestina nec quisquam monachum ante sanctum Hilarionem in Syria noverat. Ille fundator et eruditor hujus conversationis et studii in hae provincia fuit. Migne, , Patrologia latina, XXIII, col. 34 f.

16 Migne, , Patrologia graeca, XXXVII, col. 1455.

17 Migne, , Patrologia graeca, LXXXII, 3, cal. 1293 f.

18 Peeters, op. cit., 291 ff.

19 Burkitt, F. C., S. Ephraim's Quotations from the Gospel (Cambridge, 1901).

20 See my study “A letter of Ephraem to the Mountaineers,” in Contributions of the Baltic University (Pinneberg, 1947) XXV.

21 op. cit. 120.

22 Untersuchungen über die Authentizität einiger asketischer Texte, überliefert unter dem Namen “Ephraem Syrus,” in Contributions of the Baltic University (Pinneherg, 1947) LVI, 4 ff.

23 Monumenta syriaca, ed. P. Zingerle (Oeniponti, 1869) I, 5; cf. 7, 8.

24 ibid. 7.

25 ibid. 5.

26 ibid. 5, 7.

27 ibid. 8.

28 ibid. 12.

29 Sancti, P.Ephraemi Syri Sermones duo, ed. Zingerle, P. (Brixen, 1868) 5, 6, 8, 10.

30 ibid. 22, v. 594 f.

31 ibid. 22, v. 596 ff.

32 ibid. 20 f., v. 568 ff.

33 Ephraem, S.Syri hymni et sermomes, ed. Lamy, IV, 153.

34 Homiliae, S.Isaaci Syri Antiocheni, ed. Bedjan, P. (Paris, 1903) I, 40.

35 See also my remarks in “La première traduction arménienne des Evangi1es,” Recherches de Science religieuse, XXXVII (Paris, 1950) 581 ff.

36 Patmowthiwn Hayoch (Venetik, 1832) 121.

37 cČarkh (Venetik, 1860) 30 ff.

38 ibid. 33.

39 The body is a “creature of Hades,” “dark house,” A Manichaean Psalm Book, ed. by C. R. C. Allberry (Stuttgart, 1938) 99, 152.

40 “Und aus der Unreinheit der Dämonen und aus dem Schmutz der Dämoninnen bildete sie (die Az) diesen Körper und sie selbst trat in ihn ein,” Ein manichäischer kosmogonischer Hymnus, übers. Henning, von H.. Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Phil-hist. Klasse (Göttingen, 1932) 217.

41 Ein manichäisches Bet-und Beichtbuch, Henning, von W., Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1937) 42.

42 “La vie géorgienne de Saint Porphyre de Gaza,” éd. par. P. Peeters, in Analecta Bollandiana, LIX (Bruxelles, 1941) 198.

43 Kephalaia, ed. C. Schmidt (Stuttgart, 1935) I, 15.

44 Manichäische Homilien, ed. H. J. Polotsky (Stuttgart, 1934) 76.

45 “Adda verwandte viel Mühe auf jene Gegenden, er gründete viele Klöster, er erwählte zahreiche Erwählte und Hörer,” Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesiseh-Turkestan, von F. C. Andreas, herausgegebea Henning, von W.. Sitzungsberichte der Preuss. Akademie der Wissensehaften. (Berlin, 1933) 301 f.

46 Opera omnia syriace, ed. P. Mobarrek (Roma, 1740) II, 490, 548.

47 ibid. 490 C, 548 B.

48 See Henning, W., “Neue Materialien zur Geschichte des Manichäismus,” in Zeitschrift der Deutsehen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, XC, (Leipzig, 1936) 16.

49 Kephalaia 15.

50 Foucher, A.L'art gréco-bouddhique du Gandhâra (Paris, 19051918) I–lI.

51 Kephalaia 15.

52 Opera omnia syriace, ed Mobarrek, II, 444.

53 Bang, W., “Der manichäisehe Erzähler,” in Le Muséon, XXXIV (Louvain, 1921) 1 ff.

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Church History
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