Severus of Antioch and His Search for the Unity of the Church: 1500 Years Commemoration of his Exile in 518 AD

Antioch
Submitted by Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry, ATLA Metadata Analyst 

On February 7-9, I attended the conference “Severus of Antioch and His Search for the Unity of the Church: 1500 Years Commemoration of his Exile in 518 AD.” The conference was organized by the Department of Syriac Studies at the University of Salzburg in connection to the commemoration of the 1500th anniversary of St. Severus’ exile to Egypt.

Severus of Antioch

Severus, patriarch of Antioch (512-538) was a great theologian, a profound and productive writer, and an expressive orator. He was born at Sozopolis in the province of Pisidia in what is nowadays Turkey around the year 459 AD. His grandfather was one of the bishops who attended the Council of Ephesus (431 AD). Severus studied grammar and rhetoric at Alexandria and law and philosophy at Beirut. He was baptized at the church of St. Leontius in Tripoli (north of Lebanon) in 488. Severus chose a life of asceticism and became a monk in the Monastery of St. Romanus near Gaza in Palestine and was ordained a priest by Bishop Epiphanius. Then, he built a monastery where he practiced asceticism and studied the Holy Bible and the writings of theologians. In his monastery, Severus began writing on theology and his fame spread.

Severus Defends the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria

In 508, Severus traveled with two hundred monks to Constantinople to defend the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria and remained there for about three years. In 512, Flavian II, the moderate Chalcedonian patriarch of Antioch, was deposed and Severus was elected patriarch in his place. He was consecrated a patriarch in Antioch on the November 6, 512. When Emperor Justin I (518-527), succeeded Emperor Anastas (491-518) in 518, he banished a group of anti-Chalcedonian bishops. Severus left for Egypt on the September 25, 518, and remained there for 24 years.

Severus in Exile

In Egypt, Severus administered the Church through his representatives and his letters. In 535, he went to Constantinople after being invited by Emperor Justinian I (527-565), in pursuit of the unity of the Church. At the capital, he won Anthimus, patriarch of Constantinople (535-536), to his side, but the gap between the Chalcedonians and anti-Chalcedonians remained wide. Severus returned to Egypt where he died on the February 8, 538. He was crowned by the anti-Chalcedonian Church as the Great Doctor of the Church. Severus wrote extensively in different subjects which cover theological polemics, rituals, commentaries on the Holy Bible, homilies, and letters. These writings were originally composed in Greek and were translated later into Syriac.1

Severus’s Role in Syriac Christianity

With the 1500th anniversary of Severus’ expulsion into exile in 518, the aim of the conference was to draw attention to the significant role Severus played in Syriac Christianity. The mission was to study his theological and historical texts, to point out some of the aspects of his indefatigable work for the reunification of the Church, and to reflect on the impact of his expulsion from Antioch on the history of Syriac Christianity.

Conference Brings Notable Scholars and Speakers

The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II attended the inaugural session of the conference and in his opening speech gave an overview of the life and writings of St. Severus of Antioch. Several speeches were delivered from other notable scholars in the field, including Mgr. Dr. Franz Lackner, Catholic Archbishop of Salzburg; His Eminence Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin, Patriarchal Vicar in Holland; and Martina Berthold, the Minister responsible for Education, Science, and Integration in Salzburg.

List of Scholars at the Conference

Antioch

Notable scholar Professor Sebastian Brock and Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry.

A group of scholars was invited from Europe, the United States, and Australia to shed light on different aspects of Severus’ life and theological thoughts:

  • Dietmar W. Winkler (Salzburg) on “Severus’ Life and Work in its Historical Context”
  • Iskandar Bcheiry (Chicago) on “An Unpublished Historical Biography of Severus of Antioch Written at the End of the 8th Century”
  • Sebastian P. Brock (Oxford) on “An Important Harvard Manuscript of Works by Severus”
  • Theresia Hainthaler (Frankfurt) on “An Orientation to Severus of Antioch’s Christology”
  • Frederic Nicolas Alpi (Paris) on “St Leontios, St Romanos, and St Euphemia: Three Holy Figures linked to Severus’ Patriarchate (512-518) and Daphne and Antiochian Topography”
  • Yonatan Moss (Jerusalem) on “Severus of Antioch and Women”
  • Youhanna N. Youssef (Melbourne) on “Severus in the Catena on the Gospel of Mark in the Coptic and Copto-Arabic Tradition”
  • Aho Shemunkasho (Salzburg) on “Severus of Antioch in the Treatises of John of Dara”
  • Hubert Kaufhold (Munich) on “Severus von Antiochien als Jurist und Kanonist”
  • Father Abdo Badwi (Kaslik) on “Painting Severus of Antioch as a Syriac”
  • Polycarpus Augin Aydin (Glane/Losser) on “The Importance of Commemorating Mor Severus in 2018”

See more photos from the conference.

Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry is a Metadata Analyst for ATLA. He is also a historical researcher in the field of Syriac Studies and Christian-Muslim relationship.

Footnotes

  1. Cf. Afram Barsoum, The Scattered Pearls: A history of Syriac Literature and Sciences. Trans., by Matti Moosa. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2003, pp. 92-96.

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