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A.A.Vaschalde, Three Letters of Philoxenus (1902). pp. 81-92.  Part 2. Introduction




35. The three letters which are published here are extant in Syr. Mss. 135, 136, and 138 of the Vatican library. The Letter to Zeno is extant only in Ms. 135 (fol. 17r-19v); the first Letter to the Monks of Bêth-Gaugal exists only in this same Ms. (fol. 19v-23v); the Letter to the Monks is found in Ms. 135 (fol. 15v-17r), in Ms. 136 (fol. 29v-35r), in Ms. 138 (fol. 120r-123r), and in Syr. Ms. Add. 12164 of the British Museum (fol. 126a-130a). The following is a brief description of these different Manuscripts.

Ms. 135 (according to the old catalogue Codex Syr. XI of Assemani) consists of 102 vellum leaves, 26 by 18 ctm., and is written in the Estrangelo character. Folios 1-12 have one column each; the others have two. The columns are ordinarily of 37 lines. The Ms. is not all of the same hand. It bears no date; Guidi assigns it to the seventh or eighth century (1). |82 

Ms. 136 (Codex Nitriensis XXVII of the old catalogue) belongs to the sixth century. It consists of 130 vellum leaves, 25 by 16 ctm., and has two columns to a page. It is written in the Estrangelo character.

Ms. 138 (Codex Nitriensis XXVI of tho old catalogue) contains 136 vellum leaves, 31 by 25 ctm., and has three columns to a page. It is written in the Estrangelo character and bears the date 581.

Syr. Ms. Add. 12164 of the British Museum, written in a beautiful Edessene hand of the sixth century, consists of 141 vellum leaves about 31 by 25 centimeters. Each page is divided into three columns of from 37 to 44 lines (Cf. Wright, Cat. Syr. Mss., p. 527). |83 

[Note from p.127: 1 The present text which is that of ms. 138 is called A. In the notes B = ms. 135 and C = ms. 136. ]





The Letter to the Monks. 

36. The Syriac text of this letter is given as it stands in Ms. 138, together with the variant readings from Mss. 135 and 136. These three Mss. are referred to in the notes as A, B, C, respectively. In Add. 12164 of the B. M., the text of the Letter to the Monks presents but few unimportant variant readings which have been omitted in this edition.

Title. Assemani (2) takes this letter for a second letter to the Monks of Teleda. As Guidi remarks (3), however, there is no indication of the fact in the above Mss., and it is not known to whom it was sent. Assemani himself, in another place (4), calls it simply «The Letter to the Monks». The four Mss. which contain it give each a different title, without any reference to the Monks of Teleda. The title in Ms. 138 is:


In Ms, 136, the title is: 


Ms. 135 gives it as a letter to the monks on the subject of faith: |84 



The Ms. Add. 121.64 gives simply: 


It seems probable that this letter was not directed to any particular monastery, but was meant for circulation among the monks of many convents, as we may infer from the opening sentence: «To the holy, pure, and faithful convents, healthy members of the body of the truth of Christ God Who is over all; zealous supporters of orthodoxy, ye who heal the breaches of error which false doctrines have made in the body of faith; (to) ye all whom I have seen in body and in spirit, holy monasteries. It is good and fitting for the truth to be declared openly, because truth is like unto light in the type of its manifestation which is for all». This would justify the name Letter to the Monks by which it is known in the Mss.

Date. Assemani, regarding this letter as a second letter to the Monks of Teleda, naturally places the date of its composition during the exile of Philoxenus (519-523), and he bases his opinion on the following passage: «I heard that, after I had gone from you, they circulated false reports about me, calling me a deceiver and corruptor» (5). This, however, merely shows that all the monks of these monasteries did not share the views of Philoxenus; as a matter of fact, this very letter made him another enemy against whom he wrote his famous treatise «How One Person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate and suffered for us» (6).

This letter was evidently written after the year 477, because it contains the Trisagion with the addition «Thou Who wast crucified for us» made at that time by Peter the Fuller, patriarch of Antioch; and it may have been written many years after that for Philoxenus speaks of the Trisagion as being sung |85 generally in the churches: «But by His nature He is immortal because He is God, as the whole Church of God cries out in the Trisagion: «Thou art Holy, God; Thou art Holy, Strong One; Thou art Holy, Immortal One; (Thou) Who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us» (7).

An approximate date may perhaps be found in the passage in which Philoxenus advises the monks not to confine themselves to the duties of their ascetic calling, but to go out and fight for the truth openly: a I exhort you also to be open defenders and preachers of the truth. Be not afraid of man; do not desist from fighting zealously for the truth, saying: 'We are solicitous for the quiet of our ascetic life'. Ascetic life is beautiful (indeed), and the works of justice are worthy of praise. (But) these (works) are members whose head is truth, and if the head is cut off, the members perish. Let no man say: «I keep my faith to myself»; for thou dost not preserve it in thyself if, seeing it perish in others, thou remainest negligent» (8). We know that Philoxenus often sought the help of Monophysite monks in his struggles against his enemies. According to Evagrius (9), he instigated the monks of Cynegica and those of Syria Prima against Flavian II, when his efforts to deprive the latter of the see of Antioch, had failed at the council of Sidon. The present letter may be one of the many that he wrote to enlist the help of the monks who agreed with him. For these different reasons, it seems probable that it was written some time during his fourteen years' struggle with Flavian of Antioch (499-513).

Analysis. As the titles in Ms. 135 and Add. 12164 indicate, and as Philoxenus tells us himself (10), this letter deals with, the question of faith, not of faith in general as in the Discourses; |86 but of faith relative to the Incarnation. It is divided into three parts: a prologue, a refutation of the Gnostic, Nestorian, and Eutychian theories on the Incarnation, and an epilogue.

After praising the monks for their zeal in the cause of religion, Philoxenus tells them that faith must be preached openly, for truth has been revealed to enlighten every man. It must be announced not only to friends, but also to enemies. If we seek it with ardor and experience how sweet and agreeable it is, nothing can separate us from it.

Philoxenus then goes on to explain what truth is, and he defends his own doctrine on the Incarnation.

a) By becoming man, the Word of God suffered no change.

b) He did not assume the person of a man in whom He dwelt as in a temple.

c) The body which He took did not come down from heaven; nor was it a mere appearance (fantasi/a).

d) The Word was not incarnate without the rational soul, and He assumed our humanity in and of the Virgin, so that He, Whose generation from the Father is eternal, had a real and temporal generation from the Virgin.

e) We must not, like the Nestorians, divide Christ into two persons or two natures, attributing sufferings to the one and glory to the other; but we must refer both glory and humiliation to the Only Son of God, Who is from two, that is, from the divinity and from the humanity.

f) The Word of God Who became incarnate for our salvation died for us, and the death which He died was suffered by Him and not by a man distinct from Himself, for he who admits a human person along with the Son of God in the mystery of the Incarnation, introduces a fourth person into the Trinity.

In the epilogue, Philoxenus advises the monks not to be satisfied with the duties of contemplative life, but to fight courageously for the faith that is in them: he asks for their prayers, |87 and he anathematizes Nestorius and Eutyches and all those who agree with them.


The First(11) Letter to the Monks of Bëth-Gaugal.

37. This letter is extant only in the Syr. Ms. 135 of the Vatican (fol. 19v-23v). The title, according to the catalogue, is:


Date. The first letter to the Monks of Bëth-Gaugal (12) was evidently written before 491, for Zeno is mentioned as being in actual possession of the throne: «Moreover, the faithful and just Emperor Zeno and the archbishop of the capital return you thanks for the anaphoras which you have sent» (13).

There is another indication, however, which determines approximately the date of composition of this letter. After praising the monks for their zeal on behalf of the faith, Philoxenus adds: «And the same Christ-loving (Emperor) has openly declared that he gained the victory over his enemies with (the help of) your prayers, and he is ready to give us ample reward for the work which we have undertaken for the peace of the churches, and to drive away from them the enemies of the Cross» (14). |88 

The enemies referred to here are not only Basiliscus, the usurper (476-477), but especially Leontius and Illus, whose rebellion lasted nearly three years (15), and who were not defeated till the early part of the year 485 (16). By the enemies of the Cross, Philoxenus understands, as usual, the Nestorian bishops, and also all those who accepted the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon and refused to sign the Henoticon. We know from Theophanes that in 485 many Catholic bishops were banished from their sees by Zeno and Acacius, under pretext of having assisted the rebels (Leontius and Illus), but in reality for refusing to sign the Henoticon and to communicate with the Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria (17).

This wholesale deposition of bishops had not taken place when the letter was written, for Philoxenus says that Zeno is ready to drive away from the churches the enemies of the Cross. The patriarch of Antioch, Calandion, who was one of the first victims of this persecution, must have been deprived of his see about the middle of the year 485, for a council was held in Rome on the fifth of October of that year over the question of his deposition (18). Hence it seems very probable that this letter was written some time between the fall of Leontius and Illus, and the deposition of Calandion, perhaps in the spring of 485.

Analysis. This letter, like the preceding, consists of three parts: a prologue, a defence of his own doctrine, and an epilogue.

Philoxenus writes to confirm the glad tidings already proclaimed in the churches (probably the promulgation of the Henoticon and the overthrow of the rebels). He praises the holiness of the monks, the purity of their life, and the rigor of |89 their rule. They serve Christ for Christ's sake, and not for temporal gifts.

After stating his own doctrine, Philoxenus defends it against Nestorius and Eutyches.

a) The Son of God became man and remained as He is, God.

b) He did not receive any glory from the body that He took, but by His Incarnation He gave glory to our nature.

c) He was incarnate of the Virgin without change.

d) Both the divine and the human acts are to be referred to one Christ, and not to two persons or to two natures.

e) Christ suffered by His will, and the death of the Cross was undergone not by a man in whom the Word dwelt, but by the Word Himself Who became man and Who, in His death, did not lose the life of His nature.

f) Then follow a number of sentences which remind one of the canons or anathemas of a council. In them Philoxenus sets forth at length his views on the person of Christ and rejects the Nestorian opinions. Many of these sentences contain some plays on words which give additional force to the expression. Thus (p. 111) we read: «He who attributes number (menyänä) to the one Christ, and counts in Him two persons or distinguishes two sons, such a one is not a member of Christ, and has not been numbered (la'ethmeni) among the host of the chosen ones of God». And, in the next sentence, Philoxenus says: «He who does not confess that He, Whom John called "the Word", is the very Same of Whom Matthew wrote (kethabh) "Son of David and Son of Abraham", such a one has not been written (la 'ethkethebh) in (the book) of the adoption of the Heavenly Father».

In the epilogue, Philoxenus exhorts the monks to fight against godless doctrines, and he bitterly denounces his enemies. |90 


The Letter to Zeno.

38. The Letter to Emperor Zeno on the Incarnation of the Son of God is extant only in the Vatican Syr. Ms. 135 (fol. 17r-19 v). The title is:


According to Assemani (19), Philoxenus wrote this letter shortly after his consecration as bishop of Mabbôgh, when he accepted the Henoticon. But this was not the only event that called forth this interesting document. From the last sentence of the letter it would appear that the faith of Philoxenus had been attacked, or that representations had been made to the Emperor for appointing to an important metropolitan see a man who had caused much trouble in Antioch, and whose name was «synonymous with turmoil and strife» (20). It was then that Zeno demanded of him an exposition of his doctrine, so that Philoxenus gives us in the present letter his own profession of faith in the Incarnation, written in obedience to the Emperor's orders and in answer to his opponents: «I have written these few lines, O pious Emperor, and have sent them to Your Christianity, because you have ordered it, to confound the heretics who question my faith in Christ, and also to edify those who think as I do, and who, made bold by divine love, try to defend me» (21).

What were the exact charges brought against Philoxenus by his enemies is not certain. From the contents of the letter |91 it seems probable that he had been accused of Eutychianism or Apollinarism, for he lays emphasis on the fact that he is writing about the embodiment (methgassemänüthä) and the humanifying (methbarnesänuthä) of the Son of God. Although these two words are often loosely translated by «Incarnation», they are not at all synonymous, and the difference of meaning between them ought to be borne in mind, especially when studying the christological controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries. The Apollinarists, adopting the trichotomy of Plato, taught that the Word of God assumed in the Incarnation the human flesh (sa&rc), and the animal soul (yuxh&), but not the rational soul (noij); in other words, they admitted the sa&rkwsij (methgassemänüthä), but rejected the e0nanqrw&phsij (methbarnesänüthä) (22). It is probably to clear himself of some like charge that Philoxenus makes use of those two words here. And it is also worthy of notice that the word «ethbarnas» (he was made man), which does not occur in the preceding letters, is found no less than three times in this one, and in places where Philoxenus generally employs the more common term «hewä barnäsä» (he became man).

Analysis. a) The Word of God, the consubstantial Son of the Father, was incarnate in and of the Virgin.

b) His humanity was real, otherwise He could not have redeemed us.

c) His becoming man, like His essence, was without change, for change belongs only to things created.

d) He did not create in the Virgin a man whom He afterwards assumed, but He is true God and true man.

e) Of the Son of God Philoxenus confesses two generations but not two natures, for he argues that, if we admit two natures, we must necessarily admit two persons and two sons. |92 

f) Christ died on the Cross without losing the life of His essence, and by His death He destroyed the power of death over all the children of men.

g) Finally, Philoxenus anathematizes Nestorius for admitting in one and the same Christ a distinction of persons and of natures, attributing the miracles to God and the sufferings to a man in whom God dwelt; he also says anathema to Eutyches for doing away with the Incarnation of the Word of God by denying the reality of the body which He assumed.

[Footnotes renumbered and placed at the end]

1.  (1) From a private communication dated Rome. January 17, 1902.

2.  (1) B. O., II, p. 37.

3.  (2) Z. D. M. G., vol. 35, p. 143, note 1.

4.  (3) B. O., II, p. 38.

5.  (1) P. 104.

6.  (2) WRIGHT, op. cit.. p. 528.

7.  (1) P. 101.

8.  (2) P. 104.

9.  (3) MIGNE, P. G., vol. 86 bis, p. 2660.

10.  (4) P. 96.

11.  (1) Following Assemani (B. O., II, p. 35), we have called this letter «the first Letter to the Monks of Bëth-Gaugal». The other letter to these monks is found in Ms. 136, which is the Codex Nitriensis XXVII of Assemani (B. O., I, p. 569).

12.  (2) According to Sozomen, our only authority on this matter, Gaugal is a mountain near Biarbekir. It is perhaps identical with the Karadja-Dagh, a little to the southwest of Biarbekir. 

13.  (3) P. 115.

14.  (4) P. 115.

15.  (1) BROOKS, The Chronological Canon of James of Edessa, in the Z. D. M. G., vol. 53, p. 317; also TILLEMONT, Histoire des Empereurs, vol. VI, p. 516.

16.  (2) Cf. TILLEMONT, ibid.

17.  (3) MIGNE, P. G., vol. 108, p. 325.

18.  (4) TILLEMONT, Memoires. vol. XVI. p. 366.

19.  (1) B. O., II, p. 34.

20.  (2) BUDGE, op. cit., vol. II. p. x.

21.  (3) P. 120.

22.  (1) Cf. PETAVIUS, Dogmata Theologica, De Incar., lib. II, cap. 1

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