John the Solitary

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There is a significant number of works on spirituality, variously attributed in the manuscripts to John the Solitary, John of Apamea, or (incorrectly) John of Lycopolis (or Thebes, died ca. 394). It seems likely that John the Solitary and John of Apamea are two names for the same person, who seems to have lived in the first half of the 5th century. He is not the same person as the John the Egyptian condemned by Philoxenus, or a John of Apamea condemned by a Syrian synod in 786-7.

John must have been educated in both Greek and Syriac, and may have had some training in medicine.


The works published so far under the name of John the Solitary all seem to be by the same author. They describe a three-fold pattern of the spiritual life, of the body, soul and spirit. This was very influential with later writers.

Several of his works are in the form of dialogues, imitating the form of philosophical dialogues such as that used for Bardaisan's Book of the Laws of the Countries.

Works so far published:

  • A dialogue on the soul and the passions [French tr.]
  • A Commentary on Qohelet (Ecclesiastes)
  • Three letters, the first addressed to Theodoulos and his circle, the others to Eutropius and Eusebius. [German tr.]
  • Six Dialogues with Thaumasios; Letters and treatises addressed to Thaumasios on the mystery of the economy of Christ. [German, French tr.]
  • Three discourses [German tr., English tr. of 1]; the first on perfection or stillness, the others on the mystery of baptism.
  • A letter to Hesychius on the monastic life [English tr.]
  • A discourse on prayer [English tr.]

But a considerable number of works are extant, unpublished, in manuscript.


  • Dialogue on the Soul, FT by I. Hausherr, OCA 120 (1939). ET by Mary Hansbury 'in preparation'.
  • Three letters, GT by L.G.Rignell (1941)
  • Six dialogues etc, GT by W.Strothmann (1972). FT by R. Lavenant, Sources Chretiennes 311 (1984)
  • Three discourses, GT (or summary) by L.G.Rignell (1960); ET of #1 by [D.Miller], Ascetic homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian (1984), pp.461-6.
  • Letter to Hesychius, ET by S.P.Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer (1987), pp.81-98.
  • On Prayer, ET by S.P.Brock, Journal of Theological Studies 30 (1979) 84-101, reprinted in Ascetic homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian (1984), pp.466-8.