« Merlinus Mesrobes Methodius »

Mesrobes

Mesrobes, one of the most celebrated patriarchs and historians of Armenia, born in 354 at the town of Hasecasus, now Mush (Tozer's Turkish Armenia, p. 286) and educated under Nerses Magnus, the fourth patriarch of Armenia from St. Gregory the Illuminator, to whom also Mesrobes acted as secretary, an office which he likewise filled in the court of king Varaztad till dethroned by the Romans a.d. 386 (Langlois, Fragm. Hist. Graec. t. v. pt. ii. pp. 297–300). He then took holy orders and sought a solitary life. He became coadjutor to the patriarch Sahag in 390, when he devoted himself to the extirpation of the remains of idolatry still existing in Armenia. Under him a great revival of Armenian literature took place. >From the introduction of Christianity Syriac had become the dominant language, a knowledge of it being deemed a necessary qualification for holy orders (cf. Agathang. Hist. Tiribat.; Zenob. Hist. Daron. in Langlois, l.c. pp. 179, 335, Disc. Prelim. p. xiv.; Goriun, Hist. de S. Mesrop; Vartan, Hist. d’Arménie, p. 51, Venice, 1862). Mesrobes devoted himself to revive the ancient Armenian culture, some fragments of which can yet be traced in Moses Chorenensis. He was an accomplished Greek, Persian, and Syriac scholar, but wished to revive a national literature. His first step was to restore, if not to invent, an alphabet for the Armenian tongue instead of depending on the Syriac character. He induced the patriarch Sahag, alias Isaac, to convoke a national council at the city of Vagharschabad to consider the question, at which the king Vram-Schapouh assisted. Learning that a Syrian bishop, one Daniel, possessed an ancient Armenian alphabet, Mesrobes sent a priest named Abel to him, who brought it back. It is supposed to have consisted of 22 or 27 letters. With this as a basis and with the help of various persons who possessed some traditionary knowledge of ancient Armenian, as Plato chief librarian at Edessa and two learned rhetoricians, Epiphanius and Rufinus, he composed the alphabet which the Armenians adopted in 406, the seven vowels having been made known, it was said, by direct revelation from heaven (cf. Langl. l.c. Disc. prélim. p. xv.; Moses Choren. Hist. Armén. lib. iii. cc. 52, 53, and for minute details of the whole question, Karékin, Hist. de la litt. Armén. pp. 8 seq. Venice, 1865; Jour. Asiat. 1867, t. i, p. 200). Mesrobes attracted great numbers to his schools and sent the ablest pupils to study at Edessa, Athens, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and even Rome, whence they brought back the most authentic copies of the Scriptures, the Fathers, Acts of the councils, and the profane writers. These young scholars endeavoured to adapt the Armenian tongue to the rules of Greek grammar, translating into Armenian the grammar of Dionysius the Thracian, an ed. of which with a French trans. was pub. at Paris in 1830. This Hellenizing movement among them in cent. 5 was analogous to similar ones in cents. 6, 7, 8, among the Persians and Monophysites, and in cent. 9 among the Arabs, movements to which we owe the preservation of some of the most precious monuments of antiquity, as Tatian's long-lost Diatessaron, pub. at Venice out of the Armenian in 1875, cf. Qtly. Rev. Apr. 1881, art. on the "Speaker's Commentary on N.T." (cf. Renan, Hist. des lang. sémit. p. 297). Among the disciples of Mesrobes were all the leading writers of Armenia, including Leontius presb. and mart., Moses Taronensis, Kioud of Arabeza, afterwards patriarch, Mamprus lector, Jonathan, Khatchig, Joseph of Baghin, Eznig, Knith bp. of Terchan, Jeremiah, Johannes of Egegheats, Moses Chorenensis, Lazarus of Barb, Gorium biographer of Mesrobes, Elisaeus (Langl. l.c.; Neumann's pref. to Hist. of Vartan in Public. of Orient. Trans. Fund, London, 1830). The Armenian church through their labours possessed a vernacular edition of the Bible in 410. Mesrobes also invented an alphabet for Georgia similar to the Armenian but containing 28 letters. Both alphabets had the letters arranged after the Greek order. The Armenians attribute to him the settlement of their liturgy. Sahag died Sept. 9, 440, and was succeeded as bishop by Mesrobes, until he died on Feb. 19, 441. The Life of Mesrobes by Goriun, pub. by the Mekhitarite Fathers at Venice in 1833, was trans. into German and pub. by Dr. B. Welte (Tübingen, 1841). See Moses Choren. Hist. Armén. lib. iii. cc. xlvii. lii.–liv. lvii. lviii. lx. lxi. lxvi. lxvii. for copious details of his life, and an art. by Petermann s.v. in Herzog's Real Encyklop.

[G.T.S.]

« Merlinus Mesrobes Methodius »
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