The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 1)

We move now to the second Caliph.  Heraclius is still Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Yezdigerd has managed to become the Sassanid Persian king of kings, after much bloodletting, and enjoys a shadowy authority. 

As the Islamic hordes prepare to overrun the world, the nominally Christian ruling class of the Roman empire is engaged in political infighting.  But politics is illegal in the empire, which is a despotism; so all politics must take place under pretext of wispy and fantastical “theological differences”.  The words sound “religious”; but the conflict is carried on by the terminology of Greek philosophy, and the issues are in fact political.  The “religion” merely serves to embitter things. 

Such are the perils of banning political disagreement, making “right thinking” obligatory, while changing every minute precisely what “right thinking” consists of.  Who says that ancient history has no relevance to today?!

The Italian calls Omar “Umar”.  I think Omar is probably more familiar to English readers.

CALIPHATE OF OMAR IBN AL-KHATTĀB (13-23 / 634-644)

1. On the third day after the death of Abu Bakr, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Heraclius, King of Rum, Omar ibn al-Khattab b. Nufayl b. Abd al-Aziz b. Riyah b. Addi b. Ka’ab was made Caliph.  His mother was Khathimah, daughter of Hisham b. al-Mughira b. Abd Allah b. Omar b. Makhzūm.

2. At the beginning of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Alexandria George.  He held the office four years.  When he learned that the Muslims had defeated the Rum, had occupied Palestine and were moving towards Egypt, he embarked on a ship and fled from Alexandria to Constantinople.  After him the seat of Alexandria remained without a Melkite Patriarch for ninety-seven years.  After his flight, there was made patriarch of Alexandria Cyrus.  He was a Maronite, of the same religion as Heraclius.  There was, in Alexandria, a monk named Sophronius.  Sophronius refused to accept the doctrine of the patriarch Cyrus.  Cyrus, in fact, claimed that Christ, our Lord, had two natures with one will, one operation and one person.  And this was the doctrine of Maron.  Sophronius went to the Patriarch Cyrus, and had a  dispute with him on the subject.  Sophronius said:  “If that’s what you think, that Christ has only one will and one operation, then he must have [also] only one nature, not two.  But this is what the Jacobites assert.  But we say that in Christ there are two wills and two operations, as well as two natures, because it is impossible that one will can have those two natures.  But if he has only one will then he has just a single nature.  But just as he has two natures so he has two wills.”  Cyrus replied: “The patriarch of Rome, Theodore, and the patriarch of Constantinople Sergius share the same doctrine as myself”.  Sophronius then went to Constantinople.  Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, gave him audience, and Sophronius told him what had passed between him and Cyrus the patriarch of Alexandria.  Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, was amazed.  Two days later Sergius received gifts from Cyrus.  Sergius then changed his mind and began to confute Sophronius, repeating the arguments of Cyrus, and affirming that Theodore (sic!), patriarch of Rome, considered his [1] point of view was wrong, and instead shared their doctrine stating: “The nature of Jesus is twofold.” Sophronius rejected this statement by saying: “No. Everything can be twofold, but not that which relates to the person”.  Then they said: “We will not say ‘two wills’, nor ‘one will’.”  So the doctrine of the church remained discordant for about forty six years.

3. Sophronius left Constantinople and went to Jerusalem. The monks and the inhabitants met with him.  Sophronius told his story, and made known his doctrine to them.  Jerusalem had no patriarch.  They then made Sophronius Patriarch of Jerusalem because of his Orthodox faith.  Sophronius then wrote a book about faith, which he sent all over and was well received by the people.  This was in the second year of the caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab.  In the fifth year of his caliphate, Macedonius was made patriarch of Antioch, in the city of Constantinople.  He was a Maronite.  He remained at Constantinople for six years and died.  He never set foot in Antioch or ever saw it.

  1. [1]Sophronius.

2 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 18c (part 1)

  1. Roger,
    Usually you are spot on with the things you say but you are way off with your comments about the theological disputes that were raging in the Byzantine Empire at the eve of Islam. Your remarks sound like something Edward Gibbon would have said.

    Eastern Christians took theology very seriously. Each side was passionate about ‘getting it right’ with the terminology about Christ. Actually, the participants thought their salvation was at stake if they got it wrong. The only politics involved the emperor supporting one side over the other.

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that politics weren’t allowed in the Byzantine Empire. There was a government bureaucracy and a class of civil servants and a senate. They were all jockeying for power and influence. Unlike the west, Byzantium’s elite were paid wages and were appointed for a fixed period of time. No feudalism there. The Emperor Phocas was meant to have been a tyrant and Heraclius’s rebellion was a result, which (if you notice) had no religious motivation.

    I must say I’m enjoying your translation of Eutychius. I look forward to what he says about the first Caliphs.

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