Severus of Antioch

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Monophysite theologian, patriarch of Antioch (512518), honored in the Coptic Church as a saint and martyr; b. Sozopolis in Pisidia, c. 465; d. Xoïs, Egypt, 538. Considered the founder of monophysitism as a theological system, Severus was of Greek parentage and studied rhetoric in Alexandria and law at Beirut. A companion of Zachary the Rhetor, he was baptized in 488 at Leontinum in Libya. He then devoted himself to a strict life of asceticism, first in a Monophysite monastery near Maiuma, Palestine, then as a solitary, finally founding his own monastery near Gaza. He was ordained by the exiled Bishop Epiphanius of Magydos in Pamphilia.

Originally opposed to the henoticon, Severus journeyed to Constantinople in 509 to complain of persecution by the converted Chalcedonian, Nephalius, agent of Patriarch elias of jerusalem, and became a confidant of the Emperor anastasius i, accepted the Henoticon, and wrote against the eutyches, the Messalians, and Chalcedonians. Rejected by the populace as successor to macedonius of Constantinople, he was consecrated patriarch of Antioch on Nov. 6, 512, by the metropolitans of Tarsus and Mabbugh (philoxenus) after a council at Laodicea had deposed the Catholic Patriarch Flavian. As a moderate Monophysite, he was repudiated by both the Catholics and the extreme Monophysites; however, by his oratory, writing, and asceticism he achieved a reputation for profound learning and holiness among the clergy and the people of both Syria and Egypt.

Upon the accession of justin i in 518, he fled to Egypt. There he organized resistance to the imperial policy and served as leader of the Monophysite movement. Secretly supported by Empress Theodora, he returned to Constantinople in 535 and entered into close relations with the Patriarch anthimus until the latter was deposed by Pope agapetus i in 536. Severus, when his writings were condemned by Justinian (in the Edict of Aug. 6,536), fled once more to Egypt.

His vast literary output, written in Greek, has been preserved only partially in ancient Syriac. His Philalethes (509 or 511) was a commentary on 244 chapters of St. cyril of alexandria's Christological doctrine, quoted against Severus by an anonymous Chalcedonian. He wrote a tract, the Contra impium grammaticum, against john the grammarian of caesarea (fl. a.d. 500), and the two Orationes ad Nephalium directed against the Catholic interpretation of patristic Christology. His four letters to Sergius were anti-Eutychian polemics. In his Antijulianistica, he composed four works against the teaching of julian of halicarnassus on the incorruptibility of Christ's body (Aphthartodocetism).

Of his sermons as patriarch of Antioch, 125 cathedral homilies have been preserved, as well as 4,000 of his letters in Syriac along with liturgical writings, hymns and an Octoechos, or collection of prayers, including the Marian oration Sub tuum praesidium. He is the first author to mention the writings of pseudo-dionysius. His biography was written by Zachary the Rhetor (early life to 512) and John of Beit-Aphthonia.

A polemicist in all his writings, Severus professed to follow incontestably the doctrine of St. Cyril, and he demonstrates an exceptional knowledge of Scripture and the writings of the early Fathers. His book against John the Grammarian contains an extremely rich florilegia of patristic texts (1,250 citations). Inconsistent in the use of the terms physis, hypostasis, and prosopon (nature, substance, and person), he admits the two natures in Christ: "When the hypostatic union which is perfected of the two [natures] is confessed, there is but one Christ without admixture; one person, one hypostasis, one nature, that of the Word Incarnate" (Ep. ad Sergium, in Lebon, 243). But if, on the contrary, in thought, one asserts that Christ is in two natures, one has not only two natures, but also two hypostases and two persons (Patrologia Graeca, 161v. [Paris 185766] 86:908). "There is but one sole complete being, one sole hypostasis composed of two [natures]" (Contra imp. gram. 2.6).

In the final analysis, the thought of Severus on the person of Christ and the communication of idioms is compatible with that of Pope leo i and the Council of Chalcedon, although Severus had rejected the Chalcedonian terminology as Nestorian while totally opposing the extreme Monophysitism of the Eutychians.

Bibliography: severus of antioch, Liber contra impium grammaticum, ed. j. lebon, 3 v. in 6 in Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium (Paris-Louvain 1903) 9394, 101102, 111112, Scriptores Syri ser. 4.46; 192938; Orationes ad Nephalium: Eiusdem, ad Sergii Grammatici epistulae mutuae, ed. j. lebon, 2 v. in ibid. 119120, Scriptores Syri ser. 4.7; 1949; Antifulianistica, ed. a. sanda (Beirut 1931). r. draguet, "Une Pastorale antijulianiste des environs de 530," Muséon 40 (1927): 7592. m. a. kugener, "Allocution prononcée par Sévère après son élévation le trône patriarcal d'Antioche," Oriens Christianus 2 (1902): 265282. b. altaner, Patrology (New York 1960) 610612. g. bardy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 14.2:19882000. r. hespel, ed., Le Florilège cyrillien réfuté par Sévère d'Antioche: Étude et édition critique (Bibliothèque du Muséon 37; Louvain 1955); ed. and tr., Sévère d'Antioche: Le Philalèthe in Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium (Paris-Louvain 1903) 133134, Scriptores Syri ser. 6869; 1952.

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