Saint Isaac the Syrian Resources

It was mentioned by Kristian Heal on the Hugoye Syriac Studies list today that the fathers at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I am writing this, have put together a website with a number of resources related to their two editions of the Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian.

Especially useful for those who have bought the new edition, or the HTM-sold photocopy of the homilies from the first edition, is that they have posted online the various appendices in the first edition that are not included in either of those. I mentioned the contents of the new edition in a fairly post below, which includes links to other posts on the writings of Saint Isaac.

And later on the Hugoye list was the extraordinary news shared by Marcel Pirard that he has published the first critical edition of the Greek text of the Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac. Here is the information:

Title: Abba Isaac the Syrian, Ascetic Homilies. Critical Edition of the Greek Version by Marcel Pirard.
ISBN: 978-960-87537-9-2
Editor: Monastery of Iviron, Mount-Athos
Distribution: Domos Books
Date of publication: 29 February 2012
Language: Greek + Syro-Hellenic footnotes
Pages : 888

More Popular Patristics Series titles

In some earlier posts (part one, part two, part three) I provided a list of the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents and the source of the texts translated for each volume. Several more volumes have since appeared, and are described here.

43. Works On the Spirit: Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind. Translated, with an Introduction and Annotations, by Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radd-Gallwitz, and Lewis Ayres.
Texts: 1.) Athanasius’ Letters to Serapion: PG 26.529-638, with reference to: Dietmar Wyrwa and Kyriakos Savvidis, eds. Athanasius Werke / 1. Die dogmatischen Schriften. 4. Lieferung. Epistulae I-IV ad Serapionem. Walter de Gruyter, 2010. 2.) Louis Doutreleau, ed. and trans. Didyme L’Aveugle: Traité du Saint-Esprit. Sources Chrétiennes 386. Éditions du Cerf, 1992.

44A. Saint Athanasius the Great of Alexandria: On the Incarnation. Greek Original and English Translation. Introduction by C. S. Lewis. Translation and Introduction by John Behr.
Text: A working text based on: Charles Kannengiesser. Athanase d’Alexandrie: Sur l’Incarnation du Verbe. Sources Chrétiennes 199, rev. ed. Éditions du Cerf, 2000.
[44B is an edition that includes only the introductory material and the English translation, omitting the Greek text.]

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Revised Second Edition

I have mentioned before the works of Saint Isaac the Syrian, with a special focus on those appearing in English, and in particular the first edition of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery publication of Dana Miller’s translation, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. The first edition was long out of print, with copies going for sometimes over a thousand US dollars on the used book circuit. Good news! Holy Transfiguraton Monastery has published a new edition of The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, available from the monastery’s online store or a visit in person to the monastery bookstore. I’d like to describe here the differences between the two editions.

First is the matter of size! The first edition was 10.5 inches high, 8.25 inches wide, and 2.5 inches thick. The cover was a beautfiful burgundy, gold-embossed leather over boards. The paper is Warren Old Style seventy pound paper, quite thick. The font is eleven point Century. My copy, which I obtained used, was, one might say, “well-loved.” Had the pages been of thinner stock, I expect many of them would have been torn or worn through. It was obviously much used, occasionally over breakfast, it would seem…. This first edition has the overall impression of something like a lectern Bible, a big, solid, large dictionary-sized tome, rather uncomfortably sized for easy personal reading.

The new edition is quite a bit smaller: 9.75 inches high, 6 1/8 inches wide, and only 1.75 inches thick. The cover is a green cloth, again gold-embossed. The paper is Mohawk Via Laid, a sixty pound paper. The font is Monotype Fournier, with the size unspecified, but slightly smaller than the eleven point Century of the first edition. The readability is not affected however. The paper is lighter than the first edition, and readability is actually thus slightly improved, despite the slightly smaller font. Importantly, the smaller font, thinner paper and the less generous margins make for a more manageable volume, more the size of a standard trade hardcover than an unwieldy dictionary.

Both editions, in their different ways, are exemplars of the consistently high quality of HTM publications, with fine paper, excellent binding, and two-color printing: rubrics throughout both volumes are actually in red.

Aside from the striking difference in size, more striking is the difference content. Here is an explanation of the contents of the present edition from the Translator’s Introduction (pages 104-105):

In the Introduction to the first edition, we wrote on page cii, ‘For many years we have desired to see and English translation of Saint Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies that might be employed by Orthodox monastics and laymenn.’ With this second edition we attempt to fulfill that desire.

In preparing the first edition we confronted a multitude of points — textual, historical, and theological — on which it was necessary to be satisfied, and we felt it to the reader’s benefit to document many of the answers that we found, either in footnotes, or in the Introduction, Appendices, or Epilogue. The result was a hefty tome well received in academic circles, to whom in format and approach it was geared more than to the monastic or layman seeking guidance in repentance, prayer, and the love of God. One pious friend told us that he trusts the monastery’s translations and felt no need for the constant distraction of footnotes discussing differences in the text; that they would be appropriate for someone studying Greek or Syriac, but not for a devotional book. And a devotional book is what we aim at now.

Thus, we have reduced the amount of footnotes by almost two-thirds. We tallied 1,231 footnotes to the homilies of the first edition. [note 121: Including the Introduction, Appendices, and Epilogue yields 1,628. Chialà’s 406-page work on St. Isaac, which is a straightforward scholarly study, has 1,598 footnotes. Compare with the 1,231 footnotes in our first edition, the three footnotes to the 97 pages of St. Isaac’s writings translated by Kadloubovsky and Palmer in Early Fathers from the Philokalia; for a book of 415 pages, they used 45 footnotes.] Of these, some 350 were simple scriptural references, leaving almost 900 footnotes of explanation. We have reduced the explanatory footnotes to under 300, and have placed the scriptural references in the margin. The great majority of footnotes eliminated were those that gave variant readings; footnotes that helped comprehension of the text were not only retained, but added to.

We have also elminated Appendices B and D [note 122: Appendix B contained A Selection from the Book of Grace by Symeon d-Taibutha and An Epistle to Abba Symeon of Caesarea; Appendix D, two homilies by Mar John the Solitary.] which contained texts not by Saint Isaac, and the Epilogue on the History of the Church of Persia; and we have added a Glossary, in Appendix C, of various terms used by Saint Isaac, in a special sense and requiring some explanation.

This edition differs from the first in two other points. First, we have translated from Bedjan’s Syriac printed text two short homilies not included in the first edition, which can be found in Appendix A as Homilies I and III. We have also added some passages that following the Greek were omitted, and expanded various passages that following the Greek were abbreviated, so that we are aware of no significant passage in the Syriac not represented here. Though this edition is shorter than the first overall, it contains more Abba Isaac.

Second, besides correcting a handful of outright mistranslations, we have revised the text here and there. Saint Isaac requires enough effort on the reader’s part as it is, and in places the translation itself made the going rougher than necessary. Wherever we found we could make the meaning easier to grasp without misrepresenting or simplifying the original, we did so. In some homilies onl a clause or two was changed; in others, stretches of text were reworked. In all cases we strove for greater clarity and stricter fidelity to the original. Usually the two went hand in hand, when bringing our translation closer to the original also made it easier to understand; in fact it was not infrequent that the Greek and Syriac agreed even in the details of syntax, and simply by following both more faithfully, the English became clearer. All the same, the hardy of heart who like a challenge will still find it here. Except in the case of obvious typographical errors, no revision or correction was made without consulting the originals.

From the above account, it will be seen that this is truly a new edition, one that is better tailored to the needs of devotional readers, while still maintaining an accuracy exemplary of scholarly integrity. A reader would benefit from both editions, of course, if such scholarly details as variant readings are needed. In such a case, however, I would myself expect a reader concerned with such detail to be working from the originals instead, rather than via translation.

This is a very welcome edition, well worth the wait. I know that it’s popular here amongst the students of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Several of us have walked over to the monastery to pick up copies from the bookstore. We’re all thankful for their continued work at publishing such consistently excellent publications of such superior material quality. I hope other readers will obtain copies and come to appreciate and benefit from the writings of Saint Isaac as well!

Wisdom from Saint Isaac the Syrian

Pursue the small consolation that is acquired in time from toil, that you may be accounted worthy of that great consolation which dispels the troubles of this life of sorrows for those who find it. Do not despise small things, lest you be deprived of great ones. Has no one ever seen an infant who, when he puts flesh in his mouth, sucks milk? By means of small things the door is opened to great ones. You dishonour God, O my brother, in that you desire Him to govern you without a definite order. For no man has been entrusted with great things without first having been tried in small ones.

From The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 25.

In context, Saint Isaac is discussing noetic prayer amongst monastics. There were those (like the heretical Messalians) who claimed to be able to enter a state of theoria at will, and that their prayer became such regularly, with no effort. Over the course of this and the previous two homilies, however, Saint Isaac destroys the foundations of such a supposition. Theoria is not something that is generated at will, a kind of “altered state of consciousness”, but is an uncreated grace of God, something on His terms, not ours.

But this brought to my mind how often people these days deceive themselves and one another that a life of prayer is an extremeley easy thing. How easy it is to read a few chapters of the Philokalia, do a couple laps around the prayer rope, and then be impatiently waiting for theoria! What is even worse are those who are completely outside the tradition, smorgasbording their way through ancient Christian texts and practices (Eastern ones in particular are now so en mode!) and who think that this or that ancient text or practice, ripped out of its context, is justificatioin for a personally concocted supremely smug “spirituality” that is so terrifically annoying, yet so abundantly common these days.

The Christian way is threefold: purification, illumination, and glorification. One leads to the other. Without purification, without turning one’s body and mind away from those things which separate us from God, one will not experience the illumination of the soul that comes from the Holy Spirit. And without illumination of the soul, one is not experiencing theosis, the eternal approach toward the perfection of God, which is our transformation and glorification. Purification > Illumination > Glorification. We cannot skip a step. Nor may we adjust any of these steps for a perceived need to appease the world’s perceptions and expectations. The truly Christian life is something that is anti-world. And without that first step, to resolutely turn our minds away from an earthly goal and toward a heavenly one, we are not on that path at all.

Saint Isaac is quite thought-provoking!

Popular Patristics series texts

In two earlier posts (part one, and part two) I provided a list of the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents and the source of the texts translated for each volume. Several more volumes have since appeared, and are described here.

39. Harp of Glory: Enzira Sebhat—An Alphabetical Hymn of Praise for the Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Introduction and Translation: Fr John McGuckin
Text: Latin version of M. Van Oudenrijn OP. Corpus Scriptorum Christianiorum Orientalium, volume 40. Louvain, 1961.

40. Divine Eros: Hymns of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
Introduction and Translation: Daniel K. Griggs
Works: All fifty-eight hymns
Text: Sources Chrétiennes, volumes 156, 174, and 196

41. On the Two Ways—Life or Death, Light or Darkness: Foundational Texts in the Tradition
Introduction and Translation: Alistair Stewart(-Sykes); Translation of Life of Shenoute: Posy Clayton
Works [and Texts]: Qumran Community Rule 3.13-4.26 [Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Brill, 1997]; Didache [SC 248]; Doctrina Apostolorum [SC 248]; Epistle of Barnabas [SC 172]; Epitome of the Apostolic Commands [Alistair Stewart-Sykes, The Apostolic Church Order. Sydney: St Paul’s, 2006]; Apostolic Church Order [Alistair Stewart-Sykes, The Apostolic Church Order. Sydney: St Paul’s, 2006]; Life of Shenoute [Ed. E. Amélineau, Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Égypte chrétienne aux IVe at Ve siècles. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1888]; Syntagma doctrinae [Ed. P. Battifol, in Syntagma doctrinae, Studia Patristica 2. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1890]; Fides patrum [Ed. P. Battifol, Didascalia CCCXVIII patrum. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1887]; Rule of Saint Benedict chapter 4 [ed. Montecassino, 1959]; Pseudo-Boniface, homily 15 [H. van de Sandt and D. Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Van Gorcum 2002]; The Second Catechesis of the Manner of Catechizing Converts: Concerning the ten commandments of the law [H. van de Sandt and D. Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Van Gorcum 2002]

42. St Basil the Great: On the Holy Spirit
Introduction and Translation: Stephen Hildebrand
Text: Bernard Sesboüé. Sur le Saint-Esprit (SC 17 bis)

You are an unfinished book

Life in the world is like a manuscript of writings that is still in rough draft. When a man wishes or desires to do so, he can add something or subtract from it, and make changes in the writings. But the life in the world to come is like documents written on clean scrolls and sealed with the royal seal, where no addition or deletion is possible. Therefore, so long as we are found in the midst of change, let us pay heed to ourselves; and while we have power over the manuscript of our life, which we have written by our own hand, let us strive earnestly to add to it by leading a good manner of life, and let us erase from it the failings of our former life.

St Isaac the Syrian, from Homily Sixty-Two

The Commandment of Love

Love was at the heart of the desert fathers’ world. Whatever diverse motives may have first drawn them to the desert, whatever particular struggles occupied them during their sojourn there, the end of all their longings was ultimately expressed as love. The language, the attitudes, and the actions of the desert fathers were filled with this longing, with the desire to be touched and transformed by love. Nearly every significant act in the Sayings either moved toward or grew out of the commandment of love. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the biblical commandment to love, more than any other, defined and gave shape to the world in which the desert fathers lived. The memories of that world, preserved by later generations of monks, suggest that love was seen as the hallmark of early monastic life. A brother once asked an old man why in these [latter] days the monastic life did not bear the kind of fruit it had born in earlier days. The elder answered him simply and directly: “In those days there was charity.” The desire to remember the days when life in the desert was characterized by love accounts for the many stories preserved in the Sayings which portray the desert fathers’ struggle to love.

Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert (Oxford, 1993)

The Sayings referred to in the remarkable excerpt above are, of course, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (the alphabetical collection), often referred to by their traditional Latin title, Apophthegmata Patrum. [There is a widely available English translation by Sr Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (Cistercian Press, 1984); I began a translation here, as well, which I will recommence soon.] Burton-Christie provides a thorough introduction to the Sayings through a very sympathetic reading. I’d recommend it for anyone wanting a quick overview of the intructional ethics of the desert fathers. This introduction in the end is larger than the work itself, which is not too surprising, though it has only barely skimmed the depth of the riches of the Sayings. Can you tell I’m impressed? My only quibble is with the subtitle “Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism”. It smacks of an editorial hand, for one thing. For another, Scripture does not play so primary a role in Burton-Christie’s book on the Sayings. What he does show is how well-internalized Scripture was amongst the desert fathers, to the degree that their lives and instruction were permeated by not only Scriptural phrases and imagery, but by what we might recognize as the underlying ethic of much of Scripture as understood in the first centuries of the Church. The majority of the book therefore focuses on the phenomenon of the “word” given by a desert father in response to a request for such. To anyone who has read the Sayings attentively, none of Burton-Christie’s book will be new. But such a person will (like myself) recognize the value of his book as a sympathetic introduction to the Sayings for a thoughtful and well-read reader who is interested in the Sayings but uninformed concerning the expression of monasticism in Egypt of that day. This will be an excellent introduction in that sense.

Ending of Second Oration Against the Jews

Roger Pearse has posted and released to public domain a translation of the until recently missing ending of the Second Oration Against the Jews by St John Chrysostom. The full text of this second oration is known to exist in only one manuscript belonging to the Leimonos Monastery on the island of Lesvos in Greece. The discovery of the full text of the sermon is described by the intrepid explorer who found it, Wendy Pradels, here.

Please see Roger’s page of the footnoted and annotated English translation of the ending of Oration Two.

An English translation of the Second Oration (without the above “lost” section) is available at the Medieval Sourcebook, though it appears to lack the incomplete ending that, if memory serves, manifests itself in a sentence fragment. English translations of the other Orations Against the Jews are available on the same page.

Many thanks to Roger!

Of a kind

Through the advice of the serpent which he advised to Eve, Adam went out from Paradise. Its punishment was hard and grievous. God took from it its food and gave to it the dust. It was thrown on the earth and moved on its belly. He made it without feet, because by them it had injured and rushed against Adam. It eats dust all its days until eternity, because it deceived Eve with food. He set it as an enemy and gave its head to be trampled underfoot. For like the serpent which caused Adam to err, misleading, troublesome, evil, bullying, treacherous and unrighteous people have arisen among us who build injustice and destroy righteousness.

They plant wickedness and root out grace.

They let the weeds grow and destroy the wheat.

They revile the just and bless the unrighteous.

They love the haughty and hate the humble.

They praise the treacherous and hold them to be true.

They despise and hold the truthful to be false.

They vow iniquity and fulfil dishonesty.

They conceive and bring forth words of destruction.

They pervert their tongues and speak emptiness.

They are empty of goodness but puffed up with treachery.

There are no fruits in them to eat because they are infected with the poison of the serpent.

St Aphrahat. Demonstration Fourteen: On Exhortation, 12.
Translation by Kuriakose Valavanolickal.

Popular Patristics Series, cont’d

This post follows on another in which I listed the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents of each volume and the texts translated where indicated. Two volumes have since been added to the series.

37. Mark the Monk — Counsels on the Spiritual Life [volumes one and two combined in one volume]
Volume 1: Translation, Notes, Introductions by Tim Vivian; foreword: Rowan Williams
Volume 2: Translation, Notes, Introductions by Tim Vivian and Augustine Casiday
Works: [Vol. 1:] A Letter to Nicholas; Nicholas’ Response to Mark; On the Spiritual Law; Concerning Those Who Imagine That They Are Justified by Works; On Repentance; Concerning Fasting; The Mind’s Advice to its Own Soul; [Vol. 2:] On Melchizedek; A Monastic Superior’s Disputation with an Attorney and Discussion with His Fellow Monks; On the Incarnation: A Doctrinal Treatise Addressed to Those Who Say That the Holy Flesh Was Not United with the Word but Rather Partially Clothed It, Like a Coat. Because of This, They Say, the Person Wearing the Garment Was Different from the Garment Being Worn; Concerning Holy Baptism; Appendix: Jerome the Greek, “Works Useful to Every Christian”
Texts: Georges de Durand, Marc le Moine. Traités I. SC 445, and Marc le Moine. Traités II. SC 455.

38. St Basil the Great — On Social Justice
Translation, Introduction, Commentary: C. Paul Schroeder; foreword: Gregory P. Yova
Works: To the Rich, I Will Tear Down My Barns, In Time of Famine and Drought, Against Those Who Lend at Interest; Appendix: The Pseudo-Basilian Homily On Mercy and Justice
Texts: Yves Courtonne, ed. and trans. Saint Basile: Homélies sur la richesse: edition critique et exégetique (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1935); PG 31.