Revista Studii Teologice


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Structuri de învățământ religios în Edessa. „Școala perșilor”

Structures of the religious education in Edessa: “the school of the Persians”

Autor(i): Andrei MACAR

The city of Edessa, located in the northern part of Mesopotamia, starts to be mentioned in sources from the end of the 4th century BC. At that time, Seleucos I Nicator ordered the extension and fortification of and old city located on the Silk Road, which came to be called Edessa, a prestigious name, because it had been borne by the first capital of the Macedonian Kingdom. After the disappearance of the Seleu-cid Empire, Edessa obtained its autonomy from the Parthians in 312 BC, and be-came the capital of the province Osrhoene. This status was maintained until 214 BC, when Edessa became a Roman province, and started to act as a buffer state between the Roman and the Sassanid Empires. At that moment, the city was a mosaic of peoples, cultures, and languages, Hellenistic, Arab and Partho-Iranian elements being added to the existing Aramaic substratum, composed of autochthonous culture, lan-guage and religion. We should also mention the Judaist influences from the city, because the Jewish people influenced also the cultural and economic life of Edessa.
From the religious point of view, Edessa gathered Paganism, Judaism and Christianity. The city became famous all over the world thanks to the Legend of King Abgar and Jesus. This well-known writing (translated into Greek, Latin, Armenian, Copt, Ethiopian, Georgian and Slavonic) show the apostolic origin of the Edessian Christianity, but the academic world does not acknowledge the historical truth of these events. The legend would have been written at the beginning of the 3rd century by the representatives of the Orthodox Christianity from Edessa, for combating some concurrent thinking schools, and for the legitimacy and prestige of their own Church, by showing the apostolicity of the Church through the connection of their bishops to the Apostles Thomas and Addai.
As a consequence, we cannot say anything about the beginnings of Christiani-ty in Edessa based on this legend. More than that, other references to the Christian life from here are totally missing. The first sure information about the Christian presence in the city is in the Chronic of Edessa, which mentions that, after some flood from 201, a Christian Church was affected too. Apart from this, we also have an inscription of the bishop Abercius, dating from the beginning of the 3rd century, and which mentions that he traversed the North of Mesopotamia, by passing through Nisibis (therefore, through Edessa also), and that he found Christians everywhere on his way. Based on this source, the scholars consider that at least from the beginning of the 2nd century, the Christianity penetrated the area of Edessa. Furthermore, the Edessian Christian tableau was not, in the beginning, at all homogenous. It was full of gnostico-manichean groups of such characters as Marcion, Valentin, Bardesanes or Mani, and the Orthodox Christian became the majority of the city starting with the second half of the 4th century.
In 363, Emperor Jovian concedes the city Nisibis to the Persians, and thus Edessa becomes the greatest Roman fortress from Northern Mesopotamia, being permanently exposed to the Persian danger. At this moment, St. Ephraim the Syrian, coming from Nisibis, finds refuge in Edessa, and starts to fight insistently against the heretical groups from the city, and organizes some education forms for the Christians from here. Some authors consider that he would have been the founder of the fa-mous School of Persians from Edessa, a fact which is not supported by the available sources, as we have already shown. Form of education and teachers had existed in the city even in the pre-Christian period, but they were meant especially for the aristocracy and the merchants who would reside in Edessa, and it is possible that different groups of study had been organized in the 3rd and 4th century and in the interior of some Christian groups. The existing fourth century Edessian school was seen by many scholars as a real study institution, where Biblical, theological and philosophical texts were studied very rigorous, and which was known as the School of Edessa. Many translations from the Syrian into Greek were made, both from the theological culture (the work of Theodor of Mopsuestia), and from the philosophical one (works by Aristotle and commentaries on them). But this description is not en-tirely exact and shows the lack of a critical approach to the existing sources. The one who brought into attention this fact for the first time was the American researcher Adam H. Becker, in his Ph.D. thesis on the forms of Christian education of Syro-Oriental tradition (defended in 2004 at Princeton University, revised and published in 2006). He classifies and presents the sources chronologically, according to their provenience: Syro-Jacobite (Miaphisite), Constatinopolitane and Syro-Oriental (Di-ophisite – “Nestorian”). Among these, the most reliable information is given by the Syro-Oriental writings, because the Miaphisite sources present tendentiously the School of Persians, while the Constantinopolitane (Calcedonian) show a low interest towards them.
A. Becker shows that, according to our sources, we cannot say that St. Ephra-im the Syrian would be at the origin of the School, nor that writings of Greek philos-ophers would have been translated here. More than that, the sources show that this School was not the only studying place of the Christians from Edessa, and that the School developed inside the community of the Persian Christians from the city. Simi-lar studying places were held by the Armenian and Syrian in Edessa, and the organ-ization on ethnical criteria should not surprise us, given the ethnical diversity from the North-Mesopotamian metropolis. We think that it was a normal fact that the intellectuals Armenian, Persian or Syrian merchants who were coming to Edessa, to look first for the Christian communities were they could find their brothers speakers of the same language. Therefore, the name School of Edessa, used often in the sec-ondary literature for the study group of the Persian Christians, is imprecise. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that we cannot see the School of Persians as an institution of education similar to a modern school. This way of seeing the things is based on the fact that the word school from modern languages is related with the Greek term σχολή, with the different form schola in Latin and eskolē in Syriac, all used in the sources for the School of Persians.
The School of Persians was in the beginning just a small studying group of the Persian Christian, strongly related to the Liturgical life of the community, through which the instruction of the future members of the clergy was wanted. This group extended in the 5th century and had an intern organization in three stages. The first stage, called mhagyānā, was held by the one who was teaching reading and vocaliza-tion of texts, using the psalms as working texts. The second stage was called maqryānā and was held by the teacher of grammar and writing, while the leader of the school was a mephašqānā, the exegete. A. Becker considers that the development was stimulated by certain similar evolutions in the monastic environment, an argu-ment in this favour being the loan of the word rabban by the theologian and poet Narsai, which had referred originally to the leader of a monastery, for referring to the leader of the School of Persians. If, at the end of the 4th century, the writings of St. Ephraim the Syrian had the greatest importance at the School, starting with the developing of the School in the 5th century, more and more Theodor de Mopsuestia’s writings started to be appreciated. This preference is connected to the closeness of Edessa to the Antiochian theology in the context of the Christological disputes be-tween the Alexandrians represented by Saint Cyril and the Diophisite Antiochians. It is interesting to mention that not all who went to the School of Persians were repre-sentatives of Antiochian Diophisitism. Alumni as Philoxen of Mabbug and Jacob of Sarug are considered the greatest representative theologians of the Syro-Jacobite Church (miaphisite) in the Late Antiquity, though their theological education had been acquired at the School of Persians.
These examples show that despite the School was close to the Antiochian the-ology, it did not imposed a certain way of thinking to its students but educated them in the spirit of liberty of thinking and theological expression. Also, in the 5th century were the first Theodor of Mopsuestia’s writings translated into Syrian, and especially to these writings we have access today to the thinking of the great Antiochian exe-gete, because the greatest part of his writings was lost or destroyed during the Chris-tological controversies from the 5-6th century. An example that illustrates this is the bishop Rabbula of Edessa (412-435), who fought so vigorously against the Antiochian theology that would have fired publicly the writings of Theodor. Because in the sec-ond half of the 5th century the diophisite nature of the christology perpetuated by the School of Persians started to became widely known, more voices accused the School’s sympathizers of nestorianism. The accusations were brought by the miaphisites, which became more numerous in Syria and Northern Mesopotamia, and, through the Heno-ticon promulgated by the emperor Zenon in 482, thay had won the emperor’s trust too. Taking advantage of this situation, bishop Qiyore (Cyrus) talked to the emperor and showed him the danger represented by the School of the Persians. This was not exclusively religious, but also political, because, given the connection of the School with the Christians form the Persian Empire who embraced the diophisite Christolo-gy, an immixture of the rival power into the Roman territory was suggested. As a consequence, in 489, emperor Zenon gives a decree which closed forever the School of the Persians. This was followed by an exodus of the members of the School, which crossed the East border of the Roman Empire, and settled in the city of Nisibis, were they perpetuated undisturbed the Antiochian theological tradition.

Pagini: 129-158