« Isaacus I, catholicos of Greater Armenia, Saint Isaacus Ninivita, anchorite and bishop Isaacus, Donatist Martyr »

Isaacus Ninivita, anchorite and bishop

Isaacus (14) Ninivita, anchorite and bishop towards the end of the 6th cent. An anonymous Life prefixed to his works states that he was by birth a Syrian, and, with his brother who became abbat, entered the great monastery of St. Matthew at Nineveh. Afterwards he retired to a lonely cell, where he long remained. Isaac's fame as an anchorite became so great that he was raised to the bishopric of Nineveh, which, however, he resigned on the very day of his consecration, owing to an incident which convinced him that his office was superfluous in a place where the gospel was little esteemed. Feeling also that episcopal functions interfered with the ascetic life, he finally retired to the desert of Scete or Scetis, where he died. Lambecius (Comment. lib. v. pp. 74 sqq.), Cave (Hist. Lit. i. 519) and others confuse him with another Isaacus Syrus.

Works.—Ebedjesu (Cat. p. 63) writes that "he composed seven tomes on spiritual guidance, and on divine mysteries, judgments, and government." A considerable number, though not all, of these discourses are extant in Syriac, Arabic, and Greek MSS. in the Vatican and other libraries. Fifty-three of his homilies were rendered from Greek into Latin, c. 1407, by a monk who freely abridged and altered the order of his original. In this form they appear in the various Bibliothecae Patrum, as a continuous treatise entitled de Contemptu Mundi, uniformly but wrongly attributed to Isaacus Antiochenus.

He is much quoted by the old Syrian writers. His style teems with metaphor; his matter is often interesting, both theologically and historically. He treats mainly of the ascetic life, its rules and spiritual experiences. Watching, fasting, silence, and solitude are means to self-mastery. There are three grades of anchorites—novices, proficients, and the perfect. The worth of actions is gauged by the degree of the love of God which inspires them. By the thoughts which stir within, a man may learn to what grade of holiness he has risen. There are three methods by which every rational soul can approach unto God—viz. love, fear, divine training. He who has gotten love feeds on Christ at all times, and becomes immortal (John vi. 52). Sermons 8, 47, 48 (B. M. cod. 694) treat of the alternations of light and darkness, the deep dejection and sudden ecstasy to which anchorites were subject. For the former Isaacus prescribes holy reading and prayer—"infer tibi violentiam ad orandum, et praestolare auxilium, et veniet tibi te ignorante." Serm. 23 is directed against those who asked, If God be good, why did He create sin, Gehenna, Death, and Satan? Elsewhere Isaacus says that there is a natural faculty whereby we discern good from evil, to lose which is to sink lower than one's natural state; and this faculty precedes faith, and leads us thereto. There is also a faculty of spiritual knowledge which is the offspring of faith. He explains the "many mansions" of heaven as meaning the different capacities of the souls abiding there—a difference not of place but of grace.

Zingerle (Mon. Syr. i. 97 sqq.) has published Serm. 31, On the natural offspring of the virtues, and Serm. 43, On the various grades of knowledge and faith. Other titles are, On the differences of revelations and operations in holy men; In how many ways the perception of things incorporeal is received by the nature of man (B. M. cod. 694, 14 and 24); That it is wrong without necessity to desire or expect any sign manifested through us or to us (do. 695, 46).

A short tract, de Cogitationibus (περὶ λογισμῶν), attributed to this Isaacus, is given in Migne, vol. lxxxvi., along with the de Contemptu Mundi. A book, de Causa Causarum or Liber Generalis ad Omnes Gentes, treating of God and the creation and government of the universe, has been assigned to this Isaacus; it really belongs to Jacobus Edessenus (fl. 710), see Pohlmann, Zeitschr. d. Morgenland. Gesellsch. (1861), p. 648.

Cf. Wright's Cat. Syr. MSS. in Brit. Mus. vol. ii. pp. 569–581; de Contemptu Mundi in Migne, Patr. Curs. Gk. lxxxvi. pp. 811–885; Assem. Bibl. Orient. i. 444–463, iii. 104, etc.; Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 519; Fabric. Biblioth. Graec. xi. 114–122 Harl.; Casimir Oudin, Comment. de Scriptor. Eccl. i. coll. 1400–1405; Ceillier, xii. 100.

[C.J.B.]

« Isaacus I, catholicos of Greater Armenia, Saint Isaacus Ninivita, anchorite and bishop Isaacus, Donatist Martyr »





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