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Philoxenus, Ascetic Discourses (1894) pp.xviii-xxxi. The Life of Philoxenus




Akhsénâyâ, later named Philoxenus, was born in the third quarter of the Vth century at a village called Tahal1, which was situated in Beth Garmai, probably on the confines of Persia2; of his parents and their rank and condition we know nothing, but as he was baptized it may be assumed that they were Christians or, at any rate, that they had leanings towards Christianity. His brother Addai is mentioned together with him by Simon of Bêth Arshâm3, who says that they opposed Ibas 4 at Edessa. Making his way westwards Philoxenus came to Edessa, probably in his early manhood, where he studied 5 at the time when Ibas was engaged in translating the works of those who held |xviii the Nestorian doctrines into Syriac 6. Of the history of his life at this period we know nothing, but it seems to have been imprudent to send a young man of his ardent and religious temperament into a city which, though the chief seat of ecclesiastical learning in that part of the country, was at the same time a source of the religious polemics of the time, for there is little doubt that at a comparatively early age Philoxenus was already known as a willing and zealous teacher and disputant. Such a man was no doubt of great value to the Monophysite Church when the doctrines of Nestorius, which were gaining ground on all sides, were to be fought against, but his ability soon brought him into unenviable notoriety, and between the years 481 and 485 he was expelled from the diocese of Antioch by Calandio 7 the Patriarch as a preacher of the views of Cyril of Alexandria and an advocate of the Henoticon of Zeno. The views of Philoxenus were, however, identical with those of Peter the Fuller 8, by whom immediately after the banishment of Calandio in 485, he was ordained Bishop of Mabbôgh 9 or Hierapolis 10. In an anonymous life of Philoxenus from which Assemânî gives extracts in his Bibliotheca Orientalis (ii. p. 13), it is said that "Philoxenus, being abundantly learned in all the doctrine of the Syrians, |xix and having received the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, became Bishop of Mabbôgh in the year [of the Greeks] 800, in the time of Zeno, that is to say 488 years after the coming of our Lord."

The writer of this statement has made a mistake, for several circumstances show that Philoxenus was recalled from exile by Peter the Fuller in 485, and that he was ordained bishop in the same year, and it is said that his name was then changed from Akhsënâyâ to Philoxenus 11.

Soon after Philoxenus had become Bishop of Mabbôgh some Persian bishops visited his city, and in the new bishop they are said to have recognized a slave who had fled from his master, and a man who had never been baptized; this statement is made both by Theodore the Reader 12 and by Theophanes 13, and most writers upon the much-abused Philoxenus have gravely repeated |xx it 14. The narrative of the scandal goes on to say that the Persian bishops made representations as to the impropriety of a man with such antecedents being Bishop of Mabbôgh to Peter the Fuller, who answered that the service of ordination was sufficient to take the place of baptism 15, and he took no further steps in the matter. Whether Philoxenus was actually a slave, or only the son of a family who paid tribute to the Persian nobility or landed proprietors, is a matter of no consequence, but it can be proved from his own writings that he was baptized, and that he regarded baptism as a thing of no small importance. Thus in his treatise on the Incarnation of Christ he says: ---- "Now we will keep and preserve always the sign of belief and the seal of baptism and we will not destroy either by any manner of means," [Syriac] 16. And in his letter to Zeno he says: ---- "The only begotten Son was One of the Trinity, even as His words to His disciples testify, Go ye forth and convert all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, |xxi and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For I was baptized in the name of Him that died, and I confess that He in Whose name I was baptized died for me, and I believe that I have put on in baptism Him in Whose name and in Whose death I was baptized": [Syriac]. The report that Philoxenus was unbaptized is thus shown to be without foundation.

Of the period of the life of Philoxenus which immediately followed his ordination we know nothing, but we may be certain that he ceased not to preach and to teach the doctrines which were approved by Peter the Fuller, and it is possible that during the first thirteen years of his episcopate he wrote parts or all of many of the works which have made his name so famous among Monophysite writers. In the year of the Greeks 809 (A. D. 497-8) we learn from Joshua the Stylite that Philoxenus was present at Edessa during the celebration of some heathen festival. For seven clays before the appointed day arrived the people of Edessa went up to the theatre each evening in crowds; they were dressed in gorgeous apparel, and they burned incense, and danced through the whole of each night. In consequence of these things no man went to prayer, and the people became bolder and wickeder, for there was none in the city to rebuke them, and Joshua complains that, "although Xenaias, the Bishop of Mabbôgh, was in Edessa at the time, ---- of whom beyond all |xxii others it was thought that he had taken upon him to labour in teaching,----yet he did not speak with them on this subject more than one day." 17

In the year 498 Flavian II. ascended the episcopal throne of Antioch, and by suddenly declaring himself to be in favour of the decisions arrived at by the Council of Chalcedon----now hitherto he had denounced them----he made Philoxenus a bitter and implacable enemy who gave him no rest until he succeeded in effecting his deposition in 512. The first step taken by Philoxenus was to denounce Flavian II. for secretly holding Nestorian doctrines, and when Flavian anathematized Nestorius and all his works, Philoxenus turned his attention to Dioscorus and Theodore, Theo-doret, Ibas, Cyrus, Eleutherius, and John, some of whom held the views of Nestorius, but the others having been accused of favouring him secretly had anathematized him, and he next insisted that unless Flavian anathematized all these he would hold him to be a Nestorian, notwithstanding his denial and anathema of Nestorius. He also tried to make the friends of Dioscorus and Eutyches unite with him against Flavian, and being joined by Eleusinus, a bishop of Cappadocia Secunda, and by Nicias of Laodicea in Syria, he succeeded in making him anathematize in writing Dioscorus and all who held views similar to his; this document Philoxenus sent at once to the Emperor Anastasius, whom he had been able to imbue with a belief in the Nestorianising tendencies of Flavian. This took place A. D. 507, and as a result Philoxenus was summoned to Constantinople by the Emperor, and the |xxiii Church in that city was much disturbed at his arrival 18. In response to the wish of Anastasius Flavian modified his views, and with the help of some of his clergy, attempted to set them forth in a writing, which he sent to the Emperor. With this, however, Philoxenus was still dissatisfied, and he further insisted that Flavian should anathematize both the Council of Chalcedon and those who maintained two natures in our Lord's Person; but this Flavian declined to do, and was, in consequence, denounced afresh to the Emperor as a Nestorian. Shortly afterwards Flavian admitted publicly that although he approved of the Council of Chalcedon for deposing Nestorius and Eutyches, he did not consider its definitions of faith satisfactory. In answer to this statement Philoxenus, having persuaded the Bishops of Isauria to join him, drew up a creed in which they anathematized all who maintained two natures in our Lord's Person, and submitted it for signature to Flavian and to Macedonius of Constantinople; these prelates refused to sign the document and were in consequence excommunicated. In 512 a Council of eighty bishops met at Sidon by the Emperor's command to define the true faith ; the presidents were Philoxenus and Soterichus of Caesarea, both of whom yearned for the downfall of Flavian and of his friend and ally Elias, Bishop of |xxiv Jerusalem. The behaviour of the two parties was such that Anastasius dismissed the Council without recording his decision on the matters under dispute, and for a breathing space the opponents of Philoxenus had the advantage; but since it subsequently transpired that both Flavian and Elias had acted with duplicity the imperial protection was finally withdrawn from the former prelate and he was at once deposed and banished to Petra, and the famous Monophysite teacher Severus was appointed Patriarch of Antioch in his stead. Before this took place, however, the monks of the district of Cynegica in Syria, and those of the whole of Syria Prima had been stirred up or bribed by Philoxenus, and they rushed into the city of Antioch in a body, with great noise and tumult, and endeavoured to make Flavian anathematize the Council of Chalcedon and the document of Leo; but the people of the city rose in arms against them, and slew many of them, and cast their bodies into the Orontes 19. Evagrius' description of the behaviour of Philoxenus on this occasion does not place him in a favourable light, but though admitting that zeal for his opinions would, no doubt, lead him to overstep all bounds to secure their acceptance in the Church, it is probable that we must make some allowance for the hostility of those to whose lot it has fallen to describe his life 20.

Flavian being removed from his seat Philoxenus |xxv seems to have rested content and to have devoted himself to writing his works and letters, the main object of which was to promote the Monophysite doctrines, until the year 518, when the orthodox Emperor Justin ascended the throne ; soon after this event the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon were ratified by imperial command, and all the bishops who had been banished by Anastasius were restored to their sees. In the following year some fifty-four bishops who refused to accept the decrees of Chalcedon were banished, and among them were Severus of Antioch, Peter of Apamea, John of Telia and Philoxenus of Mabbôgh 21. The Edessene Chronicle 22 says: ---- "In the second year of the reign of Justin, that is the eight hundred and thirtieth year [of the Greeks,=A. D. 518-519] he expelled Severus from Antioch, and Akhsénâyâ from Mabbôgh, and all those who would not accept the four Synods" [Syriac].

From a letter which Philoxenus wrote 23 to the monks of the monastery of Senun near Edessa in 522 we learn that his first place of banishment was Philippopolis in Thrace; in the following year he was "sent into exile in Gangra [in Paphlagonia], and they shut him up in a room over the kitchen of a public inn, |xxvi and there he was suffocated by smoke": [Syriac] 24.

In a life of Philoxenus quoted by Assemânî the account of the manner in which he was murdered is more fully detailed, and the writer says: ---- "And having filled the Church with divine doctrines, and expounded the Scriptures, and laid open to disgrace the faith of the Nestorians by means of his writings against them, they cast him forth into exile in the city of Gangra, and they suffocated him with smoke. Now they shut him up in an upper chamber, and made smoke in the room below it, and they shut the doors: in this way was he crowned, and he was suffocated by them in the true faith":25 [Syriac]. Thus ended the life of this remarkable man. 

It is evident from the few facts known concerning the life of Philoxenus that he was "energetic and fiery" 26 in disposition, and a merciless and relentless opponent of all such as differed from him in their opinions on the natures of Christ; but the hatred of him as a man and the misrepresentation of his views which are found reflected in the writings of his biographers ---- who are generally his enemies ---- show that a final decision as to his behaviour and character cannot be arrived at |xxvii until the case is stated from the point of view of Philoxenus. Theophanes describes him as an unbaptized and runaway slave who pretended to be a cleric 27, and in another place he calls him the "impious Xenaias" 28; and both Theophanes and Cedrenus speak of him as the "servant of Satan" 29, and accuse him of holding the opinions of Manes 30. Evagrius, punning on the name Xenaias, says that he was "truly a stranger to God" 31; the just Tillemont accuses him of "corrupting the faith" 32; and Assemânî says that "he would have wasted the Church of God like a wild boar" 33. But if he made his opponents suffer he did not escape tribulation himself, and this we learn from a letter of his to the monks of the monastery of Sënûn wherein he says :----"What things I suffered from Flavian and Macedonius, who were archbishops in Antioch and Constantinople, and before them from Calandion, are known and spoken of in every place. But I keep silence concerning the things which were prepared to injure me in the time of the Persian war by the nobles through the care of him that is called Flavian the heretic, and also concerning the things which happened to me in Edessa, and in the country of the Apameans, and in that of the people of Antioch when I was in the monastery of Mar Bassus, and also |xxviii in Antioch itself. And when I went up to Constantinople on two occasions the like things were done unto me by the Nestorian heretics": [Syriac] 34. Before we pass from the subject of the accusation brought against him by his theological opponents, it must be mentioned that he was charged with being the author of the heresy of the breakers of the images of saints and angels, and it is asserted that as he would not venture to destroy those of Christ he hid them 35. Whatever may be the faults of Philoxenus all the known facts of his life, and the whole series of his writings from first to last testify to a tenacity of will, and a steadfastness of purpose, and a fixity of belief, and an energy in word and deed which were exceedingly rare in the troubled times in which he lived. And when we consider the multitudinous affairs in which he was engaged, and the unflinching strife which he urged against |xxix Flavian between the years 498 and 512, and the labour of his first journey to Constantinople in 507, it seems little short of marvellous that he should have been able to find time to make a new translation of the four Gbspels from Greek into Syriac; this work, however, he effected, and his translation appeared at Mabbôgh in the year 508  36.

When we turn from the accounts of Theophanes, Cedrenus, Theodore Lector and others to the doctors of his own creed, we find that Philoxenus was esteemed by them a very learned man, and that his works were held in veneration by the greatest authors of the Monophysite Church. If we examine some ten 37 MSS. in the British Museum only we see from the statements of the authors of the works contained in them that the authority of Philoxenus, on matters of doctrine, is considered equal to that of Severus of Antioch, Isaac of Antioch, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Ephraim the Syrian, etc., and Brit. Mus. MS. Rich, No. 7183, fol. 124, mentions the name of Philoxenus together with the names of Ephraim the Syrian, Jacob of Edessa, and Isaac [of Antioch] as writers from whose works it was necessary to cull Syriac words and expressions. The famous Dionysius bar-Salîbhî 38, whom Wright calls the star among the Jacobites of the Xllth century 39, |xxx and who was himself a famous writer, says in the title to one of his commentaries that he gives in his work the opinions of the "true and orthodox doctors and "holy fathers like Severus the Great, and Hippolytus "of Rome, and Epiphanius of Cyprus, and Philoxenus "of Mabbôgh, and Melitus, and Evagrius, and Moses "bar-Kêphâ, and Jacob of Edessa, and John of Con-"stantinople, and John of Dârâ, and Mar Ephraim" 40. But the final seal of approval is set upon the works of Philoxenus by Abu'l-Faraj Gregory, better known as Bar-Hebraeus, "one of the most learned and versatile "men that Syria ever produced" 41, who thus speaks: "And Peter [the Fuller] appointed Saint Philoxenus to "Mabbôgh, a most eloquent man, and a marvellous "teacher, who mightily routed those who maintained "two natures [in Christ]; and he set forth healthy "doctrines concerning the holy path of the monastic "life. And he composed some discourses on the holy "festivals, and works of admonition of all kinds" 42. The same writer mentions the Mabbôgh translation of the Bible, which Philoxenus finished in 508, and the |xxxi revision of parts thereof by Thomas of Harkel, and with this tacit admission of the value of perhaps the greatest of all his works by the greatest doctor of his Church we take leave of Philoxenus 43.

[Footnotes renumbered and placed at the end] 

1. 1 The position of this village is unknown; see Hoffmann, Auszüge, p. 277.

2. 2 [Syriac].  See Assemânî, B. O., ii. p. 10, col. 2. 

3. 3 A village near Ctesiphon or al-Madâïn, [Arabic]

4. 4 [Syriac] see Assemânî, B. 0., i. pp. 352, 353. 

5. 5 See B. O., i. p. 353.

6. 1 See Duval, Histoire politique, religieuse et littéraire d'Édesse, Paris, 1892, p. 174.

7. 2 He became Bishop of Antioch A. D. 481, and was banished in 485.

8. 3 Patriarch of Antioch A.D. 471-488.

9. 4 The Manbij, [Arabic] of Arabic writers; see Yakut, ed. Wüstenfeld, tom. iv. p. [Arabic], where derivations of the name are given, together with a history of the city.

10. 5 Bar-Hebraeus, Chron. Eccles, (ed. Abbeloos), i. col. 183.

11. 1 [Greek]. Theophanes. p. 207. For modern writers on this period of Church History see Neander (J. C. L.), Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion und Kirche, Hamburg 1825 ---- 1852, Bd. ii. pp. 1128, 1129, 1168, 1179, 1182; Gieseler, Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, Bonn, 1831, Bd. i. p. 384; and Alzog, Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte, Mainz, 1822, ed. Niebuhr, Bonn, 1839 p.207.

12. 2 See the fragments of his work in the edition of the H. E. of Evagrius, ed. Valesius, Paris, 1673, fol. p. 569; and Migne, Patrologia Gracca, tom. lxxxvi. col. 157ff.

13. 3 [Greek] Theophanes, ed. Niebuhr, p. 207.

14. 1 C'est le célèbre Xenaiä, qui estoit Perse de nation, et esclave de naissance. Ayant quitté son maistre et son pays, il s'en vint en Syrie, où se prétendant estre Clerc, quoiqu'il ne fust pas seulement battizé, il commença deslors à brouiller dans quelques villages, et à corrompre la foy de l'Eglise par ses innovations; de sorte que Calandion, Evesque d'Antioche fut obligé de la chasser du pays. Tillemont, Mémoires, Paris, 1712, tom. xvi. pp. 319, 705.

15. 2 [Greek]. Theodore the Reader. [Greek]. Theophanes.

16. 3 B.O. ii. p. 11.

17. 1 Wright, Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite, p. 21.

18. 1 [Greek]. Theophanes, ed. Niebuhr, p. 230. The removal of Philoxenus is also mentioned by Victor, Bishop of Tunis, who died about A.D. 567; see Migne, Pat.Lat., tom. lxviii. col. 911 ff.

19. 1 See Evagrius, H. E., iii. 31,32.

20. 2 Theodore Lector, Excerpta ex Ecclesiastica Historia (ed. Migne, Ser. Graec., tom. 86. coll. 165 ff.); Theophanes (ed. Niebuhr, pp. 207, 232, etc.) Cedrenus (ed. Niebuhr, pp. 620, 637); Tillemont (Mémoires, tom. xvi. p. 705 ff.); Assemânî (B.O., ii. pp. II, 12, 18); etc.

21. 1 [Greek]. Theophanes, p. 255.

22. 2 Ed. Rallier, Untersuchungen über die Edessenische Chronik, Leipzig, 1892, pp. 125, 154.

23. 3 See B. 0., ii. p. 20; and Wright, Syriac Literature, p. 832.

24. 1 Bar-Hebraeus, Chron. Eccles., I. col. 197.

25. 2 B. O., ii. p. 15. 

26. 3 Wright, Syriac Literature, p. 832, col. 2.

27. 1 [Greek]. Theophanes, p. 207.

28. 2 [Greek]. Theophanes, p. 232.

29. 3 [Greek]. Theophanes, p. 207; Cedrenus, p. 620. 

30. 4 [Greek]. Theophanes, p. 230, Cedrenus, p. 637.

31. 5 [Greek]. H, E., iii. 31.

32. 6 Mémoires, tom. xvi, p. 705.

33. 7 "ecclesiam Dei tanquam ferus aper devastaverit", B. O., ii. p.. 18; Wright, Syr. Lit., p. 832.

34. 1 See B. O., ii. p. 15.

35. 2 See Tillemont, Mémoires, tom. xvi, p. 705, where the authorities are given. The words of Theophanes (ed. Niebuhr, p. 207) are: ---- [Greek]

36. 1 See infra, p. xliv.

37. 2 Add. 14,681, fol. 116a; Add. 12,178, fol. 165a; Add. 14,629, fol. 17a, 19a; Add. 12,144, fol. 125a; Add. 14,529, fol. 16a; Add. 12,155, fol. 41a; Add. 12,155, fol. 78a, 12ob, 161b, 262a; Add. 14,532, fol. 8a, 53a, 178a; Add. 14,533, fol.70a, 92a, 168a, 184a; and Add. 12,154, fol. 49b.

38. 3 Bishop of Mar'ash and Mabbôgh, and afterwards of Amid; he died in 1171. 

39. 4 See Wright, Syr. Lit., p. 851.

40. 1 [Syriac] See Brit. Mus. MS. Rich, No. 7183, fol. 1.

41. 2 Wright, Syr. Lit., p. 853. 

42. 3 [Syriac] Bar-Hebraeus, Chron. Eccles., i. col. 183 (ed. Abbeloos).

43. 1 Bar-Hebraeus, Chron. Eccles., i. col. 268.

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