GEORGE, BISHOP OF THE ARABIANS: One of the most important writers of the Syrian Church; was born about 640 in the Juma, the district of the lower Afrin valley, belonging to the Life. diocese of Antioch, and died in 724. As a youth he attached himself to his famous countryman Jacob of Edema (q.v.), whose Hexaemeron he completed after Jacob's Death. In Nov., 686, in conformity with the dying wish of the Patriarch Athanasius II. of Balad, he was consecrated bishop by the Jacobite Maphrian Sergius Zakunaja, archbishop of Hartamin near Mardin. His jurisdiction was not a local one, but included the Arab tribes on the eastern border of the northern half of the Arabian desert. Doctrinally he was attached to the Jacobite church of Syria, as is shown by his dogmatic and controversial writings.

He had an extensive knowledge of both Chris tian and classical literature. Besides the Bible, he knew the principal church his Mental torians, Eumbius, Socrates, and Theo-

Equipment. doret. In Basil's works he was specially at home, and was well acquainted with Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen, as well as with the Monophysite authorities to whom the Jacobites appealed, especially the patriarch Severus of Antioch; he knew both Cyril of Alexandria and Sabellius and Julian of Halicarnamus, and was very familiar with the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius. He was not less well-read in the older Syriac literature, Bardesanes, Aphraates, and Ephraem. Even of works still further removed, like those of Josephus and the Clementines, he displays more than a superficial knowledge. His extensive correspondence, of which the letters from 714 to 718 still exist, shows that he was the intellectual leader of his countrymen.

The greater part of his works is still extant, and shows his many-sidedness, not only covering the most various theological branches, but including a valuable translation of a part of Prose the Organon of Aristotle, with the full-

Works. est commentary on that author existing in Syriac. With this Aristotelian work may be classed, as to both plan and pur pose, a collection of scholia on the homilies of Gregory Nazianzen (preserved in a tenth or eleventh century manuscript in the British Museum), though neither the translation of the homilies nor the writing of the scholia was done by George, who only compiled them.

Of his poetical works, the Chronicon, written in twelve-syllable verse, was formerly preserved in a single manuscript in the Vatican, which has now totally disappeared. This dealt in

Poetical twenty-four chapters with the epacta, Works. with rules for finding the movable feasts, with the cycles of the sun and moon, with the months and weeks, and other things pertaining to the ecclesiastical reckoning. The table for finding the time of the new moon which originally formed part of this has been preserved separately in two copies, one in the Vatican and one in the British Museum. The author's com petence in these astronomical questions is shown


by two letters to John, a priest in the monastery of Litharb (Al-Atharib, near Aleppo), in which he takes a standpoint far in advance of the astrological superstitions of his age. Of the three poems still extant, one (British Museum and Bodleian) treats of the monastic life, and gives eloquent expression to the mystical enthusiasm of the Monophysite tradition in his portrayal of the blessedness of the monk's condition. The others have reference to the consecration of the sacred chrism, which, after the symbolist manner of the Pseudo-Dionysius, is mystically connected with the Anointed One; in both a large part is played by the Old Testament and its ceremonies, as types of the more perfect dispensation and its mysteries and festivals. The longer poem (Vatican, Paris) closely follows the ritual of the consecration of the oil; the shorter (Brit. Mus.) covers the same ground more concisely. In connection with these may be mentioned a prose explanation of the sacraments (Brit. Mus.), which treats only of baptism, the Eucharist, and the blessing of the chrism, George apparently recognizing (like the Pseudo-Dionysius, whom he follows) none but these as sacraments. The above-mentioned conclusion to the Hexaemeron of Jacob of Edessa takes it up at the resurrection, and deals with the Last Judgment and the recompense of good and evil deeds. Like Origen and other Greek fathers, especially Gregory of Nyasa and the theologians of the school of Antioch, as well as the Monophysite Stephen bar Sudaili, George teaches the doctrine of the final restoration of all things.

For the study, however, of George's doctrinal position, his letters (contained in a manuscript of the eighth or early ninth century,

Letters. Brit. Mus.) are of the greatest im portance; they show what scientific questions chiefly occupied the clergy and monks of his time, what dogmatic questions were most frequently discussed, and how ecclesiastical legis lation was carried out in the daily life of the Church. An idea of their contents may best be given by taking them according to their subjects without regard to their chronological order. Under the head of church history may be placed the first three chapters of the longest of all, addressed to the presbyter Joshua the Recluse under date of July, 714. These chapters deal with the life and times of the "Persian sage," i.e.. Aphraa&s, and discuss the theory that the end of the world will come after six thousand years, the doctrine of the sleep of the soul after death and its awakening, and the question why Noah did not warn his contemporaries of the flood-a question which was not, indeed, treated in the homilies of Aphraates, but had occurred to Joshua while reading them. In the fifth chapter George gives the life and teaching of Gregory the Illuminator, the apostle of the Armenians, finally discussing the question whether Gregory was justi fied in forbidding his Armenian converts to mix water with the wine of the Lord's Supper, as was the Syrian custom. In this chapter especially notable are the keen critical insight and the strict historical judgment, cleverly avoiding the miracu lous, with which he handles the material before him. A second division of the letters is composed of those of an exegetical nature. Asselnani is wrong in attributing to George the composition of a commentary on the Bible and especially on Matthew: what he did, after the fashion of his time, was to discuss particular questions which interested him or were put to him by others. With these points of Biblical exegesis may be classed the expositions of passages in Greek and Syriac writers, such as Gregory Nazianzen, Ephraem Syrus, and Jacob of Edessa. A third class, those of doctrinal interest, are partly didactic and partly polemical. Of the former nature are the eighth chapter of the long letter to Joshua, in which he holds fast (like the other Greek and Syrian theologians) to the freedom of the will, and a letter to the John already mentioned, on the part which the priest plays in the forgiveness of sins, which George reduces to very moderate proportions. The polemical letters are principally concerned with Christological questions, and are particularly interesting as showing that Monophysite opposition was then directed not against the Nestoriane but against the adherents of the Council of Chalcedon--a fact which would be hard to explain historically if knowledge did not exist of the difference in belief already existing between Cyril of Alexandria and Severus, George's main authority. A fourth division deals with questions of church law and ritual, and includes the fourth and seventh chapters of the letter to Joshua, as well as another to him of 718, in which he answers three questions relative to the proper celebration of the Eucharist. Finally, a fifth division of ascetical bearing may be made of the ninth chapter of the letter to Joshua, in which he deals with nocturnal temptation and the means to be employed in combating it.

The value of the works of George lies in the manner in which they increase the knowledge of the history of the Syrian Church and

Impor- literature, giving a picture which is taste. all the richer for the many-sidedness of his activity, and all the more in structive for his standing precisely midway between the authors who open and close Syriac literature, Ephraem (d. 373) and Gregory bar Hebraeus (d. 1286). Although he far surpasses the imperfect be ginnings of strictly Syrian learning in Aphraates, the practically edifying character of his poetical work especially reminds of the attitude of primitive Christianity, which was preserved longer in Syria than elsewhere. But when we look at the height reached by his scientific thought, trained not only by Aristotle's logic but by Aristotle's knowledge of nature and of the world, we recognize at once the mighty influence which Greek learning had upon the mind of the Church, even in the far East. George not only made his own all that Greek litera ture and philosophy could give him, but he stands out above the other scholars of his race by his thoughtful use of this abundant material, by his ex cellent judgment and keen insight, and by the freedom and wide range of his outlook.

(Victor Ryssel .)

Bibliography: Parts of his works have been published as follows: his letter to the presbyter Joshua is in P. de Lsgarde, Arwkcta 3yriaca, p. 108, feipeic, 1888; the first


three chapters of this letter are also in W. Wright's edition of the Homilies of Aphraates, pp. 19-37, London, 1869, and in the work of J. Forget, De vita et ecriptia Aphraatis, pp. 1-56, Louvain, 1882; his great poem on the consecration of the oil and that on the life of the monks were edited by V. Ryasel in the AM of the Reale accademia dei Lincei, vol. ix., part 1, 1892. On his life consult: J. S. Aesemani, Bibliolheoa orientalis, vol. i., chap. xvi., Rome, 1719; E. Renan, De philosophia peripatelim, pp. 32 sqq., Paris, 1852; J. G. E. Hoffmann, De herme neuticia apudSyros, pp. 148-151, Leipsic, 1869; V. Ryssel, Bin Brief Georg's . . . mit einer Rinloitung über sein Leben und seine Schriften, Gotha, 1883; idem, Georg's des Araberbischofs Gedidte and Briefs . . . *beraefat and erluutert, Leipsic, 1891; W. Wright, Short Hist. of Syriac Literature, pp. 156-159, London, 1894.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 08/11/06. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely