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Symeon the New Theologian, Monk of the Studion


Byzantine monk distinguished for his spiritual writings; b. Galatia (Paphlagonia), 949; d. March 12, 102. As a boy Symeon joined his uncle in the court circles of Constantinople to complete his education and achieve high office. Under the influence of a Studite monk, Symeon the Pious, however, he decided to become a monk. After a farewell visit to his ancestral home in Paphlagonia, he resigned his office and in 977 entered the monastery of Studion in Constantinople. His allegiance to his spiritual father, Symeon, resulted in a conflict with the abbot, who had him expelled, and he joined the monastery of St. Mamas in southwest Constantinople near the gate of Xerocercos. He became a priest in 980 and head of St. Mamas when its abbot, Anthony, died. His vigorous discipline and penetrating though constructive criticism aroused opposition from some of his monks; and he was attacked by Stephen, the patriarch's syncellus, allegedly for his cult of his spiritual father, Symeon, who had died in 987, though rivalry between secular and monastic elements in the capital may have played a part. Symeon resigned his office as abbot in 1005 and was exiled by the patriarch in 1009. He retreated to the monastery of St. Marina, which he had restored, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, near Chrysopolis (Scutari), and attracted a large following, serving as confessor to the patrician families of the capital. Great indignation was felt at his exile, and evidently pressure was brought to bear upon the patriarch, who lifted the ban and offered Symeon an archbishopric. This Symeon refused, and though reconciliation was effected, he continued to live in St. Marina.

A wise abbot and a great spiritual leader, Symeon wrote extensively on cenobitic and eremitic monasticism reflecting his experience of both these ways of life. As his fame spread, he was called the Younger or the New Theologian, perhaps to distinguish him from the two earlier theologians, St. John the Evangelist and St. gregory of nazianzus. Symeon's works have been translated in part into modern Greek, Latin, and Russian; but it is only recently that the tangled MSS tradition has begun to be unraveled and that a definitive edition of some of his sermons has been put in process of publication. His writings consist mainly of sermons, a series of short rules called capita, or chapters, and letters; and the Hymns of the Divine Loves describe his spiritual experiences. A collection of his sermons contains the catecheses, or moral instructions, evidently preached to his monks at St. Mamas. Rich in personal touches as well as in vigorous criticism of current monastic conduct, these sermons appear to have been circulated in several editions during Symeon's lifetime. After his death, his disciple nicetas stethatos, who wrote his life, also made a further edition of the catecheses. He seems to have been responsible for revising these sermons, incorporating material from Symeon's notes, but cutting out personal touches and passages open to misinterpretation to produce a version suitable for the general public as distinct from a particular monastic house.

Symeon's writings reveal a lifelong quest for knowledge of God and describe his own experiences as a foretaste of a personal union with the divine Being. For him the vision of the divine Light was something more than the presence of the eternal Light; it was a meeting with Christ Himself who spoke to him through the Holy Spirit. Symeon longed passionately for his monks to share this supreme experience, and he urged them to be aware that such miracles were as possible for them as they were for the Apostles in the days of the Incarnate Christ.

Feast: March 12 (Orthodox Church)

Bibliography: symeon the new theologian Catéchèse, ed. b. krivochÉine, tr. j. paramelle, 3 v. (Sources Chrétiennes 96, 104; 196364), v.3; Patrologia Graeca v.120, Lat. tr. only of sermons and Hymns of the Divine Loves, Gr. and Lat. of capita; Chapitres, critical ed. by j. darrouzÈs (Sources Chrétiennes 51;1957); Hymnen, Ger. tr. by k. kirchhoff (2nd ed. Munich 1951). Modern Gr. tr. of selected writings tr. by d. zagoraios (Venice 1790; 2nd ed. 1886). h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959). nicetas stethatos, Vie de Syméon le Nouveau, ed. i. hausherr, Fr. tr. by g. horn (Orientalia Christiana 12; 1928). j. m. hussey, Church and Learning in the Byzantine Empire, 8671185 (Oxford 1937). b. krivochÉine, "The Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian," Orientalia Christiana periodica 20 (1954) 289328.

[j. m. hussey]

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