Dionysius bar Salibi

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Dionysius bar Salibi (d. 1171) was a West Syriac writer. He was probably born in Melitene (Malatya), which was a meeting point for Greek and Syriac culture in the late 12th century. His baptismal name was Jacob. He became bishop of Mar'ash (Germanicia) with the episcopal name of Dionysius in 1148. When Michael the Great became patriarch, Dionysius was transferred to become metropolitan of Amid.

He was known to his contemporaries as 'the eloquent doctor, the star of his generation and a philoponus (=lover of work) like Jacob of Edessa'. He was one of the most learned and voluminous Syrian Orthodox writers of the 12th century.

He was the first Syrian Orthodox writer to compose a commentary on the entire bible. His sources include a great variety of earlier writers, both Greek (in Syriac translation) and Syriac, and includes Nestorian writers. Much of the material on the Old Testament is arranged in two sections; factual or material, and spiritual.


The following works are extant.

  • Commentary on the Old Testament (mostly unpublished) See Moss, Catalogue....
  • Commentary on the New Testament. A Latin translation in the CSCO series of some of this exists; on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and also on Acts, Catholic epistles, and Revelation. An unpublished Latin translation of all four gospels exists in the Bodleian.
  • Commentary on the Liturgical Offices. A Latin translation exists in CSCO 14.
  • Commentary on the Baptismal liturgy. Unpublished.
  • Three anaphoras
  • Polemical works against the Moslems (unpublished), Jews, Armenians (English translation), Melkites (English translation) and Nestorians (unpublished).
  • Commentary on the Centuries of Evagrius.
  • Commentary on the Isagogue of Porphyry, and on the Logical works (Organon) of Aristotle. This was completed in 1148, and is unpublished.
  • Penitential canons. A Latin translation by Denzinger exists.

Lost works known to us include a chronicle, a treatise on Providence, a compendium of theology, commentaries on the works of various Greek fathers, letters and poems.

Commentary on the Gospels

An English translation of some of this exists by Joseph Tarzi, but no longer seems to be online. It is here. The following portion is from Dionysius' introduction:

§ 33 The Gospel was written by four evangelists because the good tidings were to be carried to the four corners of the world. In addition, the number "four" is in harmony with the four elements, the four rivers, the four spirits seen by Daniel, the four horses, the four chariots seen by Zakaria, the four candlesticks, the four carpenters and the chariot seen by Ezekiel that had four animals, which symbolize the four evangelists. The lion signifies courage and preparedness for crushing deception. The eagle tells that the devils are delivered up into the apostles' hands even as animals fall into the claws of eagles, and they (The evangelists) see the invisible things just as the eagles see and gaze from afar. As for the ox, it teaches that the evangelists bring the world into bondage by their teaching, and the man tells that they were human beings. The wings denote the loftiness of the Gospel, and the man’s hand carrying the animals represent the aid of Christ extended to the evangelists. The two wheels, one inside the other, symbolize the two Testaments. The eyes tell of the perfect knowledge that the apostles planted in the world. The man on the Chariot indicates the Word, Who was to become incarnate.
§ 34 Two of the apostles, and two of the preachers, Mark, Peter’s disciple, and Luke, Paul's disciple, wrote the Gospel. The four Gospels were not written by four apostles for they were not doing things in pride. In addition, the preachers would have felt belittled and said to themselves "we are not partners with the apostles in preaching and writing."
Some people say that the person who compiled the four Gospels into one book and set them in order was Eusebius of Caesarea. When Eusebius saw that Amonius of Alexandria compiled the Diatessaron, that is the harmony of the four Gospels, changing the sequence of the verses, and so too did Tatian the Greek heretic, he gathered the four Gospels together and wrote each one separately into one book. Others say that John the Evangelist arranged them into one book; when the three Gospels reached him he added to them his own.
§ 35 After Paul was chosen, and the Apostles had to go to other regions to preach, the three evangelists began to write the Gospel. Matthew wrote before the apostles dispersed. Mark and Luke, however, wrote after the apostles dispersed. When the writings reached the faithful in Ephesus, they asked John that he, too, should write on all that is required and necessary.
§ 36 When persecution was unleashed on the apostles, Stephen was stoned to death, and James was killed, the apostles dispersed and began preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. When the Hebrews, who had accepted the faith, saw this, they came to Matthew and asked him to put what he had told them verbally in writing in the form of a book, and he did so. Three evangelists did the same thing. They wrote about what our Lord had done in one year, from the imprisonment of John until ascension, in addition to the Nativity, Baptism, Temptation and other events, without which it was not possible for their narratives to have a beginning. John, however, wrote on the Divinity and the works of our Lord during the first two years, since He began preaching until John was thrown in prison. The objective of their writings was to focus on the coming of our Lord in flesh and the good things He brought forth to us.
§ 37 Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew in the land of Palestine, and Mark wrote his in Rome in Latin, that is, Frankish. However, St. Ivanius says that Mark wrote in Egypt. Luke wrote in Greek in Alexandria. John wrote in Ephesus. Thus the Gospel was written in three languages, for in these very languages the inscription on the Cross of our Lord was written, that is, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Hebrew was used for the sake of the Jews, Greek for Pilate, and Latin for Herod. Thus, the languages that were used for His condemnation were also used for preaching His Gospel.
§ 38 Luke wrote chronologically placing everything in its order, exactly as worked by our Lord. John did the same, even thought he left out many things in between, for they were mentioned by his colleagues. Matthew, however, did not do so. He, rather, followed the order of teaching in such a way that words followed each other, placing the ordinances enjoined by our Lord under one chapter. The other evangelists placed them in a scattered manner. Mark followed Matthew's example in his writing. Because many people did not understand the purpose of diversifying the way every evangelist presented the written Gospel, they thought that the Gospels contradicted each other.
§ 39 Because the beginning of the Gospel is the baptism of Christ, as we pointed out earlier, Mark started his Gospel with it. Matthew, however, started by telling about the genealogical succession to demonstrate to the Hebrews that Christ came according to the prophesies. As for Luke, he turned to the birth of John that he might rebuke those who approached the Gospel of Christ with no reverence. John started with theology to show that even though his colleagues wrote that Christ was human, for He was Incarnate, He is God, He was with God, and only afterwards he took flesh and became man without undergoing any change. They were teaching this in the open on the roads and streets and saying loudly, "God appeared in flesh, suffered in flesh, died and rose." Their preaching was gaining power by the miracles they worked.
§ 40 John spoke on exalted matters, whereas his colleagues spoke on teachings of humbleness. Because Matthew was writing to the Jews, he focused on telling about Christ's birth and His way of life in flesh. Mark took interest in writing against Simon, who thought that the Son's dispensation was imaginary. For this reason, he confirmed the matters related to dispensation. It is said that Peter asked him to write on his behalf, for he thought if he himself were to write, the writings of his colleagues might have been despised because of his high rank. It was Peter, who ordered him to write accurately on his denial in order to show forth the mercifulness of God Who had pity on him. Paul, too, ordered Luke to write, and as he was a copy of his teacher, he wrote extensively to confirm Theophilus in faith.


Dionysius bar Salibi, "Commentarii in Evangelia", ed/tr. Jaroslav Sedlácek & Jean Baptiste Chabot & A. Vaschalde, CSCO 113-114 (?). Scriptores Syri t. 33, 40, 47, 49. Parisiis:Typographeo Reipublicae (1906). 2 vols. Syriac text, Latin tr. Commentary on the 4 gospels (Mat.Mar.Luk. only: portion on John never published because of death of Sedlacek).

Dionysius bar Salibi, "In Apocalypsim, Actus et Epistulas catholicas", tr. Jaroslav Sedlácek, CSCO vol. 53 (or 60?). Scriptores Syri. series 2, t. 101. Romae,Parisiis:Excudebat Karolus de Luigi : E Typographeo Reipublicae (1909). Syriac text, Latin translation. Commentary on Revelation, Acts, and the Catholic Epistles.

Dionysius bar Salibi, "Expositio liturgiae" tr. H. Labourt, CSCO 13-14. Scriptores Syri. Series 2, tom. 13. Paris:Typographeo Reipublicae (1903) Syriac text, Latin tr. Commentary on the liturgy.

Varghese, B: Dionysius bar Salibi: Commentary on the Eucharist (Moran Etho Series 10; Kottayam: SEERI). [English translation].

A. Mingana published an English translation of his works against Melkites and Armenians in 1927, and 1931.

Canons: H. Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium (1863) vol. 1, p. 493 f.


1. S. Brock, A brief outline of Syriac Literature (1997), p. 72-3.