Thomas of Edessa
Thomas of Edessa lived in the early 6th century. He was a pupil at the Nestorian theological school at Nisibis of Mar Aba, subsequently Patriarch. He travelled to Constantinople, as he tells us himself, in order to acquire Greek learning. Thomas' death is mentioned by Cosmas Indicopleustes (II.2) as a recent event in 544 AD. Two works have survived.
A single manuscript (Ms. Seert 82, known as S) from Seert, written in the 16th century and destroyed in the sack of the Chaldaean Patriarchate in Baghdad in 1915 contains a set of 13 Expositions of the Feasts of the Economy by various authors, including Thomas of Edessa and his pupil and successor Cyrus of Edessa. A copy of this (=A) was made by the hieromonk Samuel Jamil in 1885; from this derive the other 7 copies thought to exist today. It is possible that A was destroyed in the troubles following the US occupation of Iraq, when the Chaldaean Cathedral was bombed, but this is not certainly known.
Thomas of Edessa wrote explanations of why the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany are celebrated (Nos 1 and 3 in the collection). Cyrus indicates that Thomas was commissioned to write on all 8 feasts but died before he could complete the task; Cyrus then wrote the other 6, and further texts have been added since.
The work on Christmas was edited and translated into Latin from a handwritten copy of a copy by S.J.Carr; the work on Epiphany has never been edited, but is to be found in the same manuscript copies listed by Macomber for Cyrus of Edessa.
According to Thomas (De Nat. I, p.5 line 7 of the text; p.14 of the translation), the two explanations were delivered orally by the future patriarch Mar Aba I (540-552). Thomas probably composed them between 538-543.
Portions of De Nativitate
THOMAS OF EDESSA, ON THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD CHRIST
In the power (virtus) of our Lord Jesus Christ, we begin to write a volume of disputations by Mar Thomas of Edessa, master of the religion of God, and Mar Kaiura his helper in the work.
The first [disputation] by Mar Thomas: on the carnal Nativity of our Lord Christ.
1. To the one who asked him to order that the disputation should be written down. 2. Which are the headings of the reasons [causae]? 3. Investigation of the reason why we celebrate this feast. 4. What blessings are given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ? 5. For what reason were these blessings themselves not revealed until now? 6. The work was in mediation of something, through which we were able to receive these blessings from God. 7. For what reasons did God bring forth nothing else at this time for his revelation, except a man from among us? 8. That our Lord Christ was not simply a man. 9. For what reason was our human Lord not brought forth (sumere) from earth, but from a virgin without knowledge of man? 10. For what reason did God ordain that our human Lord should be conceived in the spring time? 11. Exhortation to an upright life.
CAPUT PRIMUM. Ad illum qui rogavit ut eam [disputationem] scripto mandaret.
Tuum quod unacum fratribus claris coenobii nostri mihi dedisti utile consilium, tuumque iucundum mandatum, O electe Dei, Mar Moyses Lector, diversas cogitationes in me excitarunt, et in varias considerationes me deiecerunt.
(O chosen of God, Mar Moses, Lector; you have given useful advice to me, ..., and your agreeable command, they have stirred up diverse cogitations in me, and led me into various considerations.)
Mihi enim mandastis ut scriptis etiam traderem illam quippe causam Nativitatis gloriosae Domini et Salvatoris nostri Christi, quam dixi post Magistrum nostrum sanctum, Mar Aba Interpretem; quod quidem tremo facere, ne.......; .......facile reputer ab iis qui cum causa et sine causa reprehendere amant; item, mandato non obtemperare timeo, no praecepti violator consiliique transgressor a viris habear qui nihil dicunt nisi intuitu religionis Dei vivi.
Sed dum in his similibusque cogitationibus morabar, adiudicavi conveniens mihi esse, voluntati vestrae satisfacere, aliis quidem relinquens loqui prout velint, ne, dum timeo verba invida quae nullam apud Deum faciunt iniuriam, vobis per voluntatem bonam atque vitam perfectam Christo placentibus, murmurandi in me causam praeberem, eo quod mandato vestro non obtemperaverim.
Rogans itaque auxilium precum vestrarum Christo acceptabilium, ecce incumbo ad voluntatem vestram explendam.
Hoc prae omnibus peto a vobis, et ab illis qui quocumque modo in haec scripta inciderint, ne ullo modo de me falso opinemini, quod nempe accesserim dicere aut scribere, sperans me infirmum posse in hoc tractatu omnia quae sunt magistri nostri sic tradere prout ipse ea dixit.
Imo hanc solam fiduciam habeo in meis sermonibus ---- et hoc ab intima procedit persuasione ---- quod omnia mea ita relate ad magistri nostri dicta se habent, ut quis ab his ad illa ducatur tanquam ab imagine ad prototypum suum, et tanquam ab umbra ad corpus quo iacta est.
Quemadmodum insuper in loco quo sese extendunt radii solis, lucerna parva non est apta ad lucem dandam, sic etiam haec mea deperibunt, cum illa magistri nostri manifestant suarum cogitationum splendores.
Faciam igitur divisionem in capita quibus tota disputatio ad maiorem utilitatem disponitur; et deinde incipiam illa dicere quae postulat ordo singularum rerum in ipsa disputatione.
Sciunt enim sapientia et intellectus vestrum, quod illos, qui ambulaturi sunt per viam quotcumque milliarium quam probe non noscunt, multum adiuvat accipere signa et indicia quae sunt in via, et post hoc ambulare incipient; sic eis evenit, si animum attentum teneant, facile a signo ad signum et ab indicio ad indicium usque ad finem viae sine errore ambulare.
Because, if this is so, it is manifest that it is much more necessary for those who want this oration to place so many of the ideas in their memory to first learn why there are separate chapters in this treatise.
So if this happens, when they are gathered to discuss the oration, even if the written version is not ready to hand, from whence they could recall the whole oration to memory, nevertheless since they previously learned the number and title of every chapter, they will be able to consider the oration easily, even if they omit something of those bits which are in the middle of the chapters.
Chapter 10. Why God ordained that he would be conceived in the spring time.
That God indeed ordained that he should be conceived in the spring, this was because at this time also God made the whole creation: for the sameness of the season taught, that it was the same [one] who created [everything] from the beginning and who now renewed [everything] through this [man] who was conceived and then, in this time was born according to an order of nature which God established then from the beginning.
So we speak from the congruity and similarity of the divine works.
For just as the day at this time, the length of light, wanes and diminishes down to nine hours, but night, the empire of shadows, becomes longer and extends to fifteen hours; and then the day begins, the kingdom of light, to take (hours) from night, the empire of shadows; again (just as) there are no fruits of the cereal crops (?) or the trees today among us, --- for the cereal crops [scarcely] begin to be visible, and all of the trees are losing their leaves --- in a similar way both are seen among men * * * * * * * * * the advent of our Lord, Christ; for this scattered abroad the light of the knowledge of truth from our souls. The shadows of the error of worshipping idols cling onto our thoughts, while we were deprived and naked also from all the fruits of the works of justice.
Moreover our Lord and our Redeemer, Christ, came; and when he saw that we had gone astray in our reason, then he expelled from our the shadows of the worship of idols, and led us into perfect knowledge of the Holy Trinity, Father and Son and holy Spirit; he also gave to us the grace of the Spirit, through whom we were able to be born and to make the fruit of justice, acceptable to God the Creator. (?)
But also the pagans, worshippers of the elements, celebrate a great feast today every year and everywhere, for this purpose, of course, because the sun begins to overcome, and his power to increase itself more. (?)
But it was necessary for them to consider that, if it is appropriate [to celebrate] with rejoicing and celebration that day began to consume [time] from night, by the same logic the same celebrations would be appropriate when later night, the kingdom of shadows, begins to consume [time] from day, the empire of the sun.
For just as while night is prolonged, unless again it were to grow shorter, the normal life (ratio vitae = rule of the life = normal life) of men would perish; similarly also the day when it begins to become longer, unless it again were to grow shorter, there would be no permanence in this world, because without summer and winter, heat and cold, our normal life here could not subsist, because * * * * is impossible without the ascent and descent of the sun, the elongation and dimunition of the night and day, that that season could exist.
So it is useful to us when the sun overcomes, and likewise to us when it in fact wanes.
It would therefore be necessary for the mistaken pagans to celebrate a holiday for both changes or neither; because equal profit comes from both, this is from God, who ordained these things thus.
Chapter 11. Exhortation to upright life.
Therefore the feast that they themselves were celebrating, as I said, of the sun of course who begins at this time to overcome the rule of the shadows, and will wane again.
But holy church celebrates the feast of the nativity of Christ, the sun of justice, who has begun to overcome error and Satan, and will never wane; of whom, instead, extends itself until all things visible and invisible are bound under his rule.
To whom every knee in heaven, earth and of those beneath the earth shall be bent. Just as, [therefore,] our holidays are greater and more powerful than those of the pagans and all religions, ---- for true knowledge is found only among us, ---- so in our manners, which are founded in the worship of God, it is necessary to be more honest and more pure than the rest of men, while we are equally solicitous about both: of the reading of the bible and of their interpretation, and indeed of the doctrine about the holiday and the cause of it; [but] also of the excellent and acceptable life in our Lord Christ.
Let us take care of our companions and our brothers more than ourselves, if we are altogether disciples of the Apostles who were themselves imitators of the Lord.
But see all of them were solicitous for our utility, and also used to labour day and night, in summer and in winter, on sea and land, by all ways and means, that we might be brought to the knowledge of our Lord Christ, and that we might find the good which is prepared in heaven for those who believe rightly and live rightly.
They struggled with every evil, and dying handed themselves over for us, because our life in Christ was dearer to them than their own life in this world.
What do I say, in this world?
When one of them chose to separate himself from future blessings (bonis) for the benefit of all his brothers, that they might be partakers of the blessings of Christ; for he says: "I will pray that I myself may be anathema to Christ on behalf of my brothers and my relatives according to the flesh, who are the children of Israel."
If therefore blessed Paul requested that he himself should be condemned and almost damned for the benefit of the community, how can we not be ashamed and blush, and not fall into great fear and trembling, that we call ourselves disciples of those, when we do not imitate their life and their perfect wishes?
Let us be made like the Apostles [and] doctors in all things, in as much as is possible, so that we may be with them partakers of the heavenly blessings.
For as long as we ponder on their doctrine and confess their faith, if we do not have their morals, we will not arrive at the place where they themselves walk; but we shall be like the blind men whom the rays of the sun strike, but however do not delight in their radiance, because there is lacking in them the organs necessary for that action.
For in fact the upright life is the manifestation of a true faith and confirmation of a perfect discipleship, without * * * * * * * * * * nor our doctrine will be made credible to those who are outside the church, nor we, who are inside, will appear to hand over these, awed by the religion of God. (?)
Let us be solicitous, therefore, in [our] behaviour and in love towards each other; and [let us be careful] lest we be the cause of evil to ourselves, and a scandal to all who see us; but let us prepare ourselves for good works, that we may become worthy [to hear] that good word which says: "Come, blessed of the Father, to me, take possession of the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world," with all the just of Christ; to whom be praise, and upon us his mercy forever. Amen.
The disputation on the Nativity is complete, made by Mar Thomas, doctor of Edessa. This speech may be that which he wrote On sin. Amen.