Edessa, School of

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The current of theological thought and teaching characteristic of the early Church in Syria and Mesopotamia. With the conversion of the royal house to Christianity (c. 202), edessa became a center of Oriental Christian culture and theological activity. Mention is made of the disciples of bardesanes and lucian of antioch, who had studied exegesis with Macarius of Edessa (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 21.184), and Eusebius of Emesa attended lectures on Scripture there (Patrologia Graeca 67:1045).

In 363 the Emperor Jovian ceded Nisibis to the Persians and ephrem the syrian transferred his school of theology from Nisibis to Edessa and directed it there for ten years. Among his earlier disciples, supposedly, were the alleged heretics Paulona and Arvad, and Zenobius, parts of whose writings have been preserved. Ephrem was a competent scholar and controversialist whose literary style and poetry were quickly recognized as classics of Syrian culture and proved a stimulus to the production of exegetical and doctrinal works among his followers. On the death of Ephrem (373), Qiyôrê took charge of the school and gave courses in exegesis. In the beginning he followed Ephrem's methods; later, however, he used the commentaries of theodore of mopsuestia. Among his disciples were Barsauma of Nisibis and Mana of Rêwardašir. Two others, Kûmî and Proba, translated the works of Theodore into Syrian, and the school adopted the Antiochene theology. This caused considerable difficulty with Bishop rabbula of Edessa (412435), who was a partisan of cyril of alexandria.

Ibas of Edessa (435457), an instructor at the school, succeeded Rabbula. His famous Letter to Maris in which he criticized the Alexandrian Christology became an issue at the Council of chalcedon (451) and was condemned as one of the three chapters under justinian i (553). Many of the students who were formed in theology during the 5th century at Edessa became bishops in Persia; they included Simeon of Beit Aršam, Marûn 'Eloyoto, Acacius the Aramean, Abšuto of Nineveh, John of Beit Garmay, Paul bar Qaqay of Karka, Abraham the Mede, and Narses the Leper. These men contributed to the eventual acceptance of nestorianism in the Persian Church. The Acts of the Synods of Tyre and Berytus and of the Robber Synod of Ephesus (449), as well as of the Council of Chalcedon, reveal the difficulties experienced by Ibas.

Narses of Edessa became head of the school in 437 but was expelled from Edessa (451) as a Nestorian and founded a new school at Nisibis on the invitation of Bishop Bar Sauma. In 489 Bishop Cyrus II (470498) closed the school of Edessa at the order of the Emperor Zeno. On the site of the destroyed school a church was erected in honor of Mary, the Mother of God.

Little is known of the organization of the school at Edessa. Details concerning its teaching and students in the Testament of St. Ephrem have been challenged as interpolations. Its successor, the school of Nisibis, proved to be a stronghold of Nestorian teaching.

Bibliography: Testament de s. Ephrem, ed. r. duval, Journal Asiatique 18 (1901) 234319. r. nelz, Die theologischen Schulen der morgenländischen Kirchen (Bonn 1916). a. baum-stark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (Bonn 1922) 34, 66, 100107. e. r. hayes, L'École d'Édesse (Paris 1930). h. rahner, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, (Freiburg, 195766) 3:658659. a. van roey, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques (Paris 1912) 14:143032.

[f. x. murphy]