Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Severus of Antioch on Scripture

Severus is a 6th century patriarch of Antioch, but one who seems to have viewed the Council of Chalcedon as embracing Nestorianism. Thus, he would not typically be considered a church father by the Eastern Orthodox or Romans, although the Syriac Orthodox Church would presumably consider him to be one of their fathers.

I think you'll find that, whatever the merits or demerits of his Christology may have been, his view of Scripture was similar to that of the fifth century fathers that preceded him (link to discussion of fifth century fathers).

Severus of Antioch (465-538)(patriarch of Antioch from 512–518 - Non-Chalcedonian):
How therefore is it anything but ridiculous and impious for us to say that the Trinity was united in hypostasis to the race of mankind, when the holy Scriptures say more plainly than a trumpet, «The Word became flesh and dwelt in us», that is that one of the three hypostases who was rationally and hypostatically united to soul-possessing flesh?
E. W. Brooks (editor and translator), Severus of Antioch: A collection of letters from numerous Syriac manuscripts, Letter 2 (Second Letter to Oecumenius) (1915), p. 20.

Severus of Antioch (465-538)(patriarch of Antioch from 512–518 - Non-Chalcedonian):
To those who are not wise in their mind or are otherwise without intelligence, and are lacking in true instruction, the holy Scripture gives the proper rule and place, in order that their emptiness of mind and lack of instruction may be turned to wisdom: for indeed it commands those who are such both to learn and to ask, or to be silent altogether; for the holy book of Proverbs somewhere said: «To the fool who asketh wisdom shall be reckoned: but, when a man maketh himself silent, he is thought to be wise». But the man who keeps this rule it raises and advances, and incites to learn things that are of use and profit, and it says, «Give thine heart to wisdom, and prepare thine ears for words of understanding».
E. W. Brooks (editor and translator), Severus of Antioch: A collection of letters from numerous Syriac manuscripts, Letter 25 (to the Emesenes) (1915), pp. 50-51.

Severus of Antioch (465-538)(patriarch of Antioch from 512–518 - Non-Chalcedonian):
But, if we in some place hear Scripture say 'the Lord's eyes', we understand God's activity, which is signified through the term 'eyes'. And, when again we hear of ears, we understand the propensity and inclination that he has toward us, and that he has the attribute of mercifulness, and that he brings our service to completion; for Scripture speaks to our weakness in human and condescending fashion. And, because it is said that God has wings also, yet we do not understand that he has wings, but that his sheltering power is signified through these; for, since we are Christians, we must understand the divine Scriptures spiritually, not according to the letter.
E. W. Brooks (editor and translator), Severus of Antioch: A collection of letters from numerous Syriac manuscripts, Letter 28 (1915), pp. 87-88.

2 comments:

natamllc said...

I am not a scholar so I just don't know the depths of Severus of Antioch and his understanding of natural and spiritual knowledge.

Severus of Antioch:

And, because it is said that God has wings also, yet we do not understand that he has wings, but that his sheltering power is signified through these; for, since we are Christians, we must understand the divine Scriptures spiritually, not according to the letter.

Isn't that sentence in some ways lacking in the sense that we cannot know good from evil by letter/knowledge?

I mean, when I read Scripture, especially verses such as the following citations, I find my eyes are opened and I learn from His Law, the letter, that it is holy, righteous and good:

Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.


Rom 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
Rom 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet."


Peter makes a similar distinction in his epistle, 2 Peter chapter one when he uses different Greek words for the English word knowledge. Obviously the Greek translation is a bit clearer than the English translations are.

In one sense Peter writes that we need to learn with spiritual knowledge. He then goes on and exhorts us to increase continually in the sciences. Without the letter/knowledge we would not comprehend the world but with a simplistic experience.

Turretinfan said...

Good point, NatAmLLC!

It seems that for a time the concern was that some people would latch on to the worlds themselves and try to separate the words from their meanings - i.e. the meaning provided by the context or usage in the text. Such an approach is, of course, wrong.

Eventually, however, that does seem to have resulted in an attitude of disregard for the text - which is sad and contrary to Scripture.

I don't think Severus intended for us to disregard the text, but his comments could easily be taken that way!

Thanks for making the point that needed to be made!