The Life of Severus of Antioch – part 2

We continue from the Life of Severus of Antioch by Zacharias Rhetor.

The illustrious Severus is Pisidian in origin, and his home town is Sozopolis.  In fact it was this town that fell to him as his his home, after the first [birth], of which we have all  been banished following the transgression of Adam, and that the divine apostle invites us to do again.  Because here, he says, we have no continuing city, but we seek that one where we shall live one day, one where God is the architect and founder.  He was raised by distinguished parents, as those who knew them say.  They were descended from that Severus who was bishop of the town of Sozopolis at the period when the first council of Ephesus met against the impious Nestorius.  After the death of his father, who was one of the senate of the town, his widowed mother sent him with his two brothers, who were older than him, to Alexandria, to study grammar and rhetoric, both Greek and Latin.

The custom being established in his homeland, so it is said, not to come to holy baptism before middle age except when urgently necessary, it happened that Severus and his brothers were still only catechumens when they came to Alexandria, for the reason stated.  At that time I too was staying in the city for the same reason.  The three brothers went first to the sophist John, nicknamed Σημειογράφος (?), then to Sopater, who had a reputation for the art of rhetoric, as everybody spoke highly of him for this.  It happened that I was also frequenting the course of this master at that time, as well as Menas, of pious memory, whose orthodoxy, humility of life, great chastity, love of his fellow man, and sympathy for the poor were universally acknowledged.  He was in fact one of those who assiduously frequented the holy church, those whom the Alexandrians, following the custom of the country, were accustomed to call Philoponoi.

In the course of our studies, during our stay at Alexandria, we admired the subtlety of mind of the marvellous Severus, as well as his love of learning.  We were astonished to see how, in a short space of time, he learned to express himself with elegance, in applying himself assiduously to the study of the precepts of the ancient rhetors, and striving to imitate their brilliant and practised (?) style.  His mind was occupied with this, and not with that which usually attracts youth.  He devoted himself entirely to study, secluding himself in his zeal from every blameworthy spectacle.

Upset that such intelligence had yet to receive divine baptism, we counselled Severus to place opposite the discourses of the sophist Libanius, whom he admired as the equal of the ancient rhetors, those of Basil and Gregory, those illustrious bishops, and to compare them together.  We gave him this advice so that he  might come by way of rhetoric, which was dear to him, to their teaching and philosophy.  When Severus had come to know these writings, he was completely conquered by them.  He was immediately heard to eulogise the letters addressed by Basil to Libanius, and those which Libanius wrote in response, in which he admitted himself defeated by Basil and accorded the victory to the letters of the latter.  The result of this was that Severus plunged into reading the works and meditations of the illustrious Basil, and Menas my friend, who was admired by everyone for his fervour, declared in a prophecy, which events have confirmed (in fact Menas loved to do good), “This one (Severus) will shine among the bishops like St. John, to whom was given the helm of the holy Church of Constantinople.”  God, who alone knows the future, revealed these things about Severus, when he was still a young man, using here again the intermediary of a pious soul.


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