The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 14 (Abbreviated)

It’s been a while since I translated any of the Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (= Sa`id Ibn Bitrik).  But I rather fancy doing some this evening.

I should add that I am working, not from the Arabic, but from the difficult-to-obtain Italian translation of Bartolomeo Pirone, and using Google Translate to do a lot of the hard work!  This is a bit rubbish in a way; but it is worthwhile because nobody ever looks at Eutychius, nobody has access to Pirone, and even an English translation of this kind should prompt interest in this neglected text.

Unfortunately this chapter of the Annals is not historical, but theological.  I am not qualified to translate this, as I don’t understand it.  So I have translated just the opening portion and the last few sentences.

When we last looked, Nestorius had just been condemned by the council of Ephesus in 433 AD.  Note that the text has clearly been edited by someone later than Eutychius, as it quotes him.

1.  Exiled, Nestorius fled to Egypt and he settled in the upper part of the country in a place called Ikhmīm, where he remained for seven years.  Then he died, and he was buried in a village called Saqlān, where there occurred, especially in the place where he was buried, a heat wave so intense that no one could walk and travel in the area.  The teaching of Nestorius was later forgotten, but it was revived long afterwards by Barsawmā, Metropolitan of Nisibis, at the time of Justinian, the king of Rum, and Qabād, son of Firuz, king of the Persians, and spread in the East, and especially among the inhabitants of Persia.  It was for this reason that the Nestorians became numerous in the East, in Iraq, in Mosul, al-Furat and Mesopotamia.  They were called Nestorians after Nestorius.  After Nestorius, Maximus was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for three years and died.  Even before he was buried, Proclus was made patriarch of Constantinople.  Proclus prayed over the body of Maximus and had him buried.  He held the office after him, for thirteen years and died.

2.  Sa`id Ibn Batrīq, the physician, said: “It seemed appropriate to respond to the Nestorians in this part of my book and to show the falsity and absurdity of their doctrine, because it is all a mistake, and in these days they have even misrepresented the original doctrine of Nestorius, asserting that he said that Christ is two Substances and two Persons, perfect God in his Person and in his Substance, and perfect man in his Person and in his Substance, and that Mary created the Christ in what is regarding his humanity, and not in respect of His divinity, as the Father, as they say, has begotten a God and not man, while Maria begot a man and not a God.”  He answers them: “If things are as you say, then Christ should be two Christs and two Sons, or one Christ a real God and a real Son of God, and one Christ a real man and one Son a real man.  Because it must have been necessary for Mary to have, or not to have, generated the Christ.  But if He was generated, He was generated either spiritually or bodily.  Now if He was generated regarding the body, [He] must be different from the one that generated the Father, and then you would need two Christs.  If He was generated spiritually, Christ will then be one Son, one Person and one Christ.  Proof of this is the example of an iron plate, which is put in the fire, and from which results a single sword, burning, cracking, sparkling and shining.  It cannot be said that it is the part of the iron to burn and shine, because the iron without the fire does not burn, nor is the glowing part that cuts from the fire because the fire in itself can only light up and burn.  In the light of this example it is so true what we Melkites say, namely that Christ is one Person, both perfect God and perfect man, and so is refuted the assertions of the Nestorians, that Christ is two.

3.  He also asks them: “Tell us about the humanity of He who to whom the divinity is united and who was called Christ: did he continue to be Christ from the moment in which He was conceived in the womb of Mary, his mother, until she bore him, while she nursed him, while He became a young man, was crucified and buried? Or maybe until he reached the age of thirty he was like one of us men, and only then was united to humanity and became Christ?”  If they answer that He was not Christ while he was in the womb of his mother Mary, and that Mary gave birth only to a man, who, until the age of thirty was like one of us and that only later the divinity was joined to humanity and became Christ, they prove in this the reliability of their doctrine, but accuse of falsity the gospel, Paul and all the books of the church and all that arises out of the Christian faith.  We respond that the divinity was united to humanity at conception and that He was Christ then, in birth and breast-feeding until he was crucified and killed, and we claim that the Virgin Mary gave birth to one God, one Christ and only one Person.

Hmm.  It looks as if this entire chapter of the Annals is theological rather than historical.  I haven’t much enthusiasm for controversies that I don’t understand.  Section 21 finishes with the following words:

To men of understanding and discernment, it is clear that Christ is One , in the union of a single Person to the Eternal Word, and that He has two natures:the divine, that has always been, and the human that he has created for himself; and the absurdity of what is professed by the Nestorians and Jacobites is also clear.  Were it not for the reluctance that we felt from the fact that this would have made our book too long, and run the risk of moving away from the goal that we have set ourself, I would have explained and proven more than I have done. But those who wish to learn these things in abridged form and clearly set forth, should read my book entitled “Book of the Dispute between the Heretic and the Christian.”  In this book, in fact, I have demonstrated the validity of the Christian doctrine, namely that of the Melkites, refuting the assertions of its opponents.

Pirone adds that this book referred to is probably the “Kitāb al-gadal bayna’l-mukhālif wa’n-nasrām”, attributed commonly to Eutychius and published under the title of “Kitāb al-Burhān” (The Book of Demonstration) in CSCO, vol. 209, tome 22, Louvain 1961.  Reservations about the authenticity of the work are expressed by “Breydy, op. cit., pp. 77-82 and cap. VI.”

18 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 14 (Abbreviated)

  1. The ‘afterlife’ of Nestorius in Egypt is very interesting. The poor guy died there in exile, having been condemned for a heresy which he almost certainly did not profess, and his memory was at the mercy of highly unsympathetic Chalcedonians and Jacobites thereafter. There are several stories about the baneful meteorological conditions generated around his tomb in Egypt by his angry ghost. If my memory serves me correctly, the Nestorian patriarch Timothy I (780-823) wanted to exhume his body and bring it back to Iraq, where it could be honourably reinterred and looked after by the dominant Nestorian Church, but his intermediaries were told that nobody knew where Nestorius had been buried. Since Eutychius gives us precise information in the passage you have just translated, this seems a bit of a stretch. No doubt the Jacobite clergy of Egypt guessed what Timothy was up to, and gave bland and unhelpful answers in response to his enquiries.

  2. That’s very interesting – thank you. Where did you see that statement about Timothy I?

    It is remarkable how often spite appears in church history as the motivation for clerical actions.

  3. I knew you would ask me that! I’ve just checked the sources I have immediately to hand, and the story is not in the Nestorian chroniclers Mari and Sliba, nor in the ‘Ecclesiastical Chronicle’ of Bar Hebraeus (English translation coming to a good bookshop near you very shortly). I have a feeling that it might be in the ‘Chronicon Syriacum’ of Bar Hebraeus, or possibly in Thomas of Marga’s ‘Book of Governors’. I’ll have a look when I get back home this evening.

  4. The Jacobite historian Michael the Syrian (Chronicle, ii. 78), who provides a long list of testimonia on the iniquity of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, gives the following account of the death of Nestorius:

    While Nestorius was in exile in Thebais, a certain functionary [kometianos] was sent to distribute a donative to the soldiers. He went to see Nestorius, and told him that his presence was required at a synod, and that a magistrate would be arriving shortly to fetch him. Nestorius became angry and said: ‘Was I wrong, then, to say that Jesus was not God, nor Mary Mother of God?’ Immediately his tongue came loose and leapt a good distance from his mouth. He devoured it, and died. According to the testimony of Theodore, who was afterwards bishop of this place, the very earth refused to receive his corpse, but vomited it out three times. The people of the district were forced to wrap it up and place it in a basket and hang it from the wall. The blessed Timothy affirms this in the ecclesiastical history which he composed.

    Most of this is rubbish, of course, but it might be worth trying to identify Theodore and Timothy. Timothy was presumably a Chalcedonian or Jacobite bishop, not Timothy the Nestorian patriarch.

  5. Worp (Bishops in Byzantine Egypt) mentions the bishop Theodore of Antinoe, the metropolitan diocese of the province of Thebais Prima, who flourished around the time of the Council of Chalcedon, and was therefore a later contemporary of Nestorius. This seems to be the chap referred to by Michael the Syrian.

  6. Found it! The story occurs on page 123 of the ‘Chronicon Syriacum’ of Bar Hebraeus, his secular counterpart to the ‘Chronicon Ecclesiasticum’, available in English in the translation made by Wallis Budge a century ago. Timothy’s intermediary was Gabriel bar Bokhtisho, one of the immensely wealthy Nestorian physicians at the court of the caliph Harun al-Rashid:

    A certain man of the Nestorians who went to Egypt said concerning this Gabriel: ‘The Jacobites make a mock of Nestorius in Egypt, and they heave stones on his grave, and say that rain never falls on it, and [124] that it is burnt up by wrath.’ This Nestorian took a letter from the caliph to the governor of Egypt asking him to send to him the bones of Nestorius in a coffin to Baghdad, as he wished to bury them in the church of Kokhe. One of the Nestorian monks, wishing to remove disgrace from the people of his district, and show that it was not the grave of Nestorius which was mocked at and stoned by the Jacobites, said: ‘This is a mistake. The bones of Nestorius are not there, and, moreover, no man knows his grave.’ So Gabriel the doctor delayed in bringing his bones from Egypt.

    It seems that Timothy’s plans were frustrated not by the Jacobites, but by an oversensitive Nestorian monk living in Egypt.

  7. Dear Roger Pearse,
    In my PhD dissertation I made an analysis of Eutychius theological thought in his Annals, unfortunately it is not published yet, and i wrote it in Italian also!

  8. the title is:
    La Cristologia delle grandi confessioni cristiane dell’Oriente nel Xo e XIo secolo: Studio comparativo delle polemiche del melchita Saʻīd ʼIbn Baṭrīq e le risposte del copto Sawīrus ʼIbn al-Muqaffaʻ e del nestoriano Elia di Nisibi

    I difended it at the PONTIFICIUM INSTITUTUM ORIENTALE, Rome, at 12/June 2014 .. If you are interested i can send you a link where u can read it online …

  9. Dear Roger & David, neither of you seems to know my ‘Rejoice for Me, O Desert; Fresh Light on the Remains of Nestorius in Egypt,’Studia Patristica Vol. LXVIII, Vol. 16: From the Fifth Century Onwards (Greek Writers). Peeters, 2013, 41-49. I can send PDF if you want it. Best wishes, Ken

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