Translation – Severus of Antioch in Coptic Literature


This text is a translation I have produced of an article by the scholar E. Porcher

from the French, published in the Revue de L’Orient Chretien in 1907. I believe this is the first translation into English.


Patrologia Orientale, edited by Mgr. Graffin and M. Nau, published two Lives of Severus in Syriac, with Syriac, Greek, Latin, and Arabic documents relating to Severus; the last volume published contains six homilies in Syriac. It has been announced that an Ethiopian Life will appear shortly. It seemed interesting to us to look for what remains of the history or works of the Patriarch of Antioch in Coptic literature. In the state of dispersion in which the Coptic manuscripts are today, it is essential to make known first of all what is contained in each of the great collections of Europe, in order to unite the scattered pages of the same manuscripts, and finally to give a definitive edition. Here is what has been found in the manuscripts in the manuscript collection of the National Library.

Volume 12.14 contains fragments of a Life of Severus in Coptic, analogous to the Ethiopian Life previously announced: these fragments have already been collected by Mr. Crum, who has published them in Patrologia Orientale.

In volume 131 we have found seven pieces of unequaled importance relative to Severus. We give at least the titles, which may be of historical interest, reserving for later publication those texts that are complete or almost complete.

1. Six leaves, numbered 68 to 73, of size 31 x 27.5, with two columns of 33 to 36 lines, contain the first homilie of Severus at Antioch, occupying 11 pages. The speech is itself preceded by the number a. It was the beginning of a manuscript which was to contain the works of Severus, homilies and letters.

The title is somewhat erased. Here is a translation:

This is the first discourse pronounced by Saint Severus when he was ordained Archbishop of the Church of the City of Antioch, and pronounced again two days later in the place of the Holy Martyr Romain, … at the request of many, who could not hear it because of the tumult and the clamor of the large crowd that had gathered on the day he was ordained on the 21st of the month of Khoiak – at the time of the sixth year of the cycle.

Most documents published by Patrologia Orientale place the ordination of Severus on November 8th. Elijah of Nisibus fixes it at 16. If the feast of St. Romain was two days later, it was the 18th of November. This is the date given by the Acts of the Martyrs. It seems that it should correspond to the month of Hathor and not to that of Khoiak.

In this first homily, we find a glorification of the See of Antioch, a panegyric of St. Romain, an exposition of dogma and morality. He seems to respond to the eulogy of John of Beith-Aphthonia (Pat. Or., T. He, p. 242), 242), ignoring the hyperbole due to the country, the era and the party spirit.

2. Following the previous speech, on the back of page 73, the same scribe gives us, the beginning of a second piece. Its title is:

Letter from the Holy Patriarch and Archbishop of Antioch Abba Severus, which he wrote to Soterichos, bishop of Cappadocia, about the evils that Macedonius, the blasphemous bishop of Constantinople, did to the Orthodox who were in the imperial city at that time. There was no way that the great Severus, even with the great ones of the palace who were orthodox, wielded the word of the true faith against this impiety. He wrote it when he was in the imperial city, being still a monk and not yet established on the throne of the city of Antioch.

He asks the recipient not to remember what he has written before to him, and he will go on to tell him what happened.

“While the crowd of Christians were gathered in the great church of the imperial city, sending up to God the hymn of the Trisagion, according to the excellent custom which reigns among you and in all the orthodox places, (invoking?) …”

This letter is mentioned in the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, n° 3 of the fragment published in patrologia Orientale, t. II, p. 378. On Macedonius, c. Ibid., P. 362 and 382.

3. We find the same handwriting on the sheet number 75, of the same dimensions 30.5 x 27, in two columns of 36 lines on the front and 35 on the back. The same ornaments, colored perhaps with more parsimony. The two loops of phi are colored in red on the right and in green on the left. Above the title, which would show that in the original collection, this piece was separated from the first two by three others. Its title is:

Item: another letter from the Holy Patriarch and Archbishop of Antioch Abba Severus, which he wrote to the Church of Antioch, that is to say to the pious clerics, and to the faithful people.

He was exiled. He did not abandon them; he has withdrawn according to the precept: When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. This text (Matt x, 23) is the same as that of the manuscripts of the Borgia Museum published by Balestri. The scriptural quotations are numerous: among others a verse from Isaiah xviii, 4; here the text is less good than that of Ciasca “Sacrorum bibliorum fragmenta Copto-Sahidica”; some words are inverted at the expense of meaning, one word is repeated. Another abridged quotation from St. Paul (Rom viii, 38-39) was also found partly in a torn fragment of the Coptic manuscript 128 page 40, of the National Library; it is closer to it than to the text of Balestri, which, incidentally, is interrupted in this verse.

4. The leaf 74 is not of the same hand. Dimensions 32.5 X 27. Two columns of 32 lines, 35 on the back. An indentation removed the pagination.

Item: another homily by the Patriarch and Archbishop of Antioch, Abba Severus, which he pronounced at the feast called Epiphany, which is the 11th of Tobe. In the peace of God. Amen.

He begins by telling them that he has often spoken to them about this feast. It is mainly concerned with baptism and the River Jordan.

5. The sheet 67, measuring 27 x 24, contains a tight text without columns, 19 lines on the front, 48 on the back, with about 50 letters per line. In the title:

Homily by the Holy Patriarch and Archbishop of Antioch, Abba Severus, pronounced on St. Mary, ever virgin, and mother of God, on the day of her holy commemoration.

The publication of this speech may be of some interest. The text is unfinished and stops in the middle of a word before the end of the second page. The writing is much more loose in the last lines, as if the copyist had been taken by sleep.

6. On page 66, with the pagination, torn down at both angles, we find, down the second column, between ornamented lines.

It is an speech about Pascha, unfortunately very incomplete.

7. The end of volume 131 contains II sheets in the same handwriting, numbers 76-86, with a minimal size of 17 x 13, the text occupying 13 X 10. There are usually 15 lines of a broad handwriting inclined to the right.

Some pages contain the end of the Song of Songs. On page 78 R, a speech of Severus entitled:

The third homily pronounced by the holy patriarch and archbishop of Antioch Abba Severus, when the faithful of the city of Kyros wanted him to stay with them, so that they would continue to hear his teaching.

We have only one fragment; it ends on page pah, whose characters are almost erased. The following sheet is pagination cia.

The interest of this series therefore lies less in what it contains from Severus of Antioch than in adjacent fragments, especially at the end of the Song of Songs.

In short, we have found here the remains of five manuscripts, the first of which is particularly important, for it seems to have been devoted entirely to the writings of Severus.

E. Porcher

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