The Response to Change: Analyzing the Writings and Instruction of Jacob of Edessa Adjusting to change is extremely difficult in our contemporary church culture. It is most challenging because it requires organizations to adjust their traditions to something that is new and unfamiliar. Progressive Christianity rarely makes connections with current contexts to that of early Christianity. How did they handle changing climates? My research paper seeks to analyze the responses of Jacob of Edessa to the increasing reign of Muslims between 684 and 708.
How were the Christians told to react to the changing climate of their ociety? How did they manage their interactions with the Muslims while the Muslims were rebelling and civil wars were taking place? Where did this teaching derive from? How can we learn from his example? Jacob Amidst Chaos It was tumultuous times in the Middle East during 684. In classic Arabic texts, the word fitna is used meaning civil war. The second fitna started in 680 as a result of the various rebellions that kept arising in different places (Adamec 2001). The second fitna was started by the sons of the leaders of the first civil war.
In fact, Al-Husayn the grandson of the Prophet rejected the urrent caliphate and traveled to the city Kufa to gather the support of the people for his own bid for the caliphate. While in route he was killed and immediately was turned into a Martyr figure by those who looked to his family (being that of the Prophet) to provide religious and political guidance. More specifically this group was the early Shi’ites (Adamec 2001). The death of Al- Husayn is still annually mourned in the Shi’ite tradition. The second Islamic civil war ended in 692.
This war resulted in issues with Islamic leadership and theological issues. Mostly important because of the lack of ability to create righteous Islamic governance (Adamec 2001). This led to the rule in some Islamic sects to only have their leader to be from the tribe of the Prophet, not meaning his specific family. Jacob of Edessa was a Bishop who had to lead Christians during this time. When Jacob served as bishop of Edessa for the first time, it is suggested that this was the greatest time of transition for he and his Christian colleagues because of the civil wars.
During this time, there was a need for the support of the Arab Muslims hich meant that Christians were initially courted (Ter 2008, pg 1). The ascension of one of the greatest Arab Muslim caliphs Abd-al-malik, led to more of an emphasis on Arabic as the recognized language as well as the adoption of Islamic coinage. On top of all of this, a poll tax was implemented specifically for the Christians (Irvin 2001). Jacobs standings on these issues are not explicitly found in his writings although, he does write some thoughts on how Christians should interact with the Muslims.
He also writes on how clergy should deal with Christian converts ho now want to return to the Church (Ter 2008). Jacob of Edessa: Life and Accomplishments It is said by Syrian orthodox historians that Jacob of Edessa was born in the province of Antioch, in the district of Gumyah (Ter 2008). His early training in the scriptures and doctrine was done by a very respected rural bishop named Cyriacus. Jacob later went on to study at Aphthonia, a monastery. At the monastery, it is speculated that Jacob’s teacher was the famous scholar Severus Sebokt.
It was at this stage in his life that he began to study Greek. This proved to be useful being that he went on to tudy the Greek psalter. He later went to study in Alexandria where he ended up completing his studies before returning to Syria. When back in Edessa he was consecrated as the Bishop sometime after 684 (Ter 2008). However, while bishop he faced some challenges with the local clergy. His zeal for the ecclesiastical law resulted in a fall out with the bishops for their lack of enforcement of the law. The bishops hoped for a compromise but his refusal is what caused his resignation.
However, Jacob did not go quietly. He ended up burning a copy of the canons outside the patriarchate which signified his rotest (Ter 2008). He retired to a convent where he wrote two sermons on admonition. One sermon was against higher clergy and the second about offenders of the law. He then transitioned to another convent where he was asked to utilize his earlier training in Greek to revive the study of Greek there (Ter 2008). At the convent in Eusebona, he stayed for eleven years until he was forced out by some monks who did not like the Greek teaching.
He then moved to the convent of Tell Adda where he stayed for nine years teaching seven of his students, engaged in the work of correcting the Old Testament. He then moved for a final time to serve as Bishop of Edessa again but only for four months due to his death. He died in 708 (Ter 2008). Jacob’s Writings It is known that Jacob has gained a reputation for being a critic on church regulations. This is evident in his writings. In most of Jacob’s writings contain recognition of Muslims. However, his letters provide the best surviving evidence of on the ground interactions between Christians and Muslims (Adamec 2001).
The letters are speculated to be written somewhere between the start of his career in Edessa and his death in 708 (Penn 2015). Jacob’s writings addressed issues that were later revised and used as a guide for living for the Christians who came after him. Most of Jacobs writings are in response to questions that were asked to him. Jacob’s Directives for the Ecclesia and Christian community When analyzing five of Jacobs letters in response to questions being asked there are some interesting similarities in all of them.
The first four example all seem to follow directives in line with Syriac church tradition. However, the last example Jacob seems to be following Christian tradition. In this first example, Jacob is being questioned by Addai about he Holy table: “Addai: what should be done with a holy table which Arabs have eaten meat on and left soiled with fat? Jacob: A table on which pagans have is no longer an altar. Rather, it should be well washed and scored and become a useful, ordinary item for the sanctuary or the vestry.
But if it is small and of little use, let it be broken in buried in the ground” (Penn 2015). In the second example, Addai asks a question about giving in during a time of famine. “Addai: during that time of famine and scarcity, because he did not have anything to eat and no one would hire him not even only for his bread a beacon oin those bearing arms, he even took up arms, in that entire year he lived with them. But as soon as that difficult time passed and there was at the today to work, he shaved his head, took hold of his former habit, and dwelled in peace.
What should be done with him? Is it right that he should minister and his former position, or does a Canon prohibit this? Jacob: The fact that as soon as the famine in did he immediately fluid from evil and ran to his former dignity showed that he did what he did unwillingly and out of necessity. This two witnesses to this, that although he joined evil he did not do evil. Thus, observing his repentance, whenever his bishop wants to, he is allowed to show him mercy and to permit him to return to his former ministry (Penn 2015).
This third example Addai desires to understand what should be done if a Priest or a monk kills a man when ordered by an Arab. “Addai: when our bishop of Mardin was attacked by those from outside the walls, those Arabs who ruled inside ordered everyone to go to the wall to fight. They did not exempt anyone from going, not even priest. Then, when the battle was raging, a priest or a bacon threw a stone from the wall and struck and illed one of the attackers attempting to scale the wall. I want to learn from the cannons what should be done about this.
I want to learn if he sinned, either he or the other priests and monks who though unwillingly pulled the war mangonel’s rope, through stones, and killed some attackers from outside the wall. I want to learn if it is right for them to serve in the priesthood or if it is right for them to be under the cannons sentence for only a little while? Jacob: that they unwillingly would lead by force shows them to be exempt from what was done. Therefore, this is under the Bishops authority. He should deal with them mercifully and permit their ministry when it seems appropriate to him.
But in the matter of a priest who threw a stone from the wall and killed while with his own eyes he looked and saw who was killed: after a certain time during which as repentance he is prohibited from ministry, it should be left to the priest own conscience whether it is right for him to serve. As for whether they also have sinned, it is not right for this fall under questions to me. Rather, this should be given to the righteous, impartial judgment of God, the knower, and perceiver of all (Penn 2015).
In the fourth example, we see that he is being questioned by someone different than Addai but Jacob’s response still seems to match the vain of previously asked questions. “John: is it necessary that the church’s doors because closed on the day when the Eucharist is offered? Jacob: this is necessary, especially because of the Hagarenes, so that they might not intermingle with believers, disturb them, and ridiculed the holy mysteries (Penn 2015). ” In this last example, John asks what should happen if a Christian were to convert then later decided to return back to Christianity.
John: if a Christian should become a Hagarene or a pagan and, after a while, he should regret this in return from his paganism, I want to learn whether it is right for him to be baptized or if by this he has been stripped of the grace of baptism. Jacob: we should not re-baptize a Christian who became a Hagarene or a pagan and then came back. But the chief priest should pray over him and a time of penitence be set over him. When he completes it he should share the Eucharist (Penn 2015). ” Here Jacob’s response takes a turn but falls in line with Syriac Christian tradition. Structures that Influenced Jacob’s
As stated before, Jacob was known as a stickler for church regulation. To understand why we must consider his alliance. Jacob of Edessa had a doctrinal allegiance to the Syriac Orthodox Church. This connection made him a Syriac Christian. Syriac Christianity, refers to Christians whose native tongue was Syriac and those who employed Syriac as their liturgical language. Syriac Christianity was not concentrated just in Antioch, the Roman capital of Syria. In fact, Syriac Christianity can be found as far as Eastern Mesopotamia (“History. “). Christianity was acknowledged in Edessa during the era of the Apostles.
This is stated in various documents, including Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius lays out the text of a communication between the city’s king, Abgar Ukomo, and our very own, Jesus Himself: “Abgar Ukomo, the toparch, to Jesus the righteous Savior who has appeared in the district of Jerusalem, greetings. I have overheard conversation concerning you and your cures, how they are accomplished by you without drugs and herbs … And when I heard of all these things concerning you I decided that it is one of two things, either that you are God and came down from Heaven to do these things, or are the Son of God for doing these things.
For this reason, I write to beg you to hasten to me and to heal the suffering which I have … (“Catholic Encyclopedia”)” Jesus is believed to respond to King Abgar, according to the same tradition, it was carried by Ananias and read: “Blessed are you who believed in me, not having seen me … Now concerning what you wrote to me, to come to you, I must first complete here all for which I was sent, and after thus completing it be taken up to Him who sent me; and when I have been taken up, I will send to you one of my disciples to heal your suffering and give life to you and those with you. Catholic Encyclopedia”)”
Being that this is a part of the Syriac Orthodox Church’s history, it helps validate the responses of Jacob of Edessa in his writings. It is also stated in the history that Syriac Churchmen have contributed to world civilization. As early as the fourth century, academies and institutions were built in monasteries throughout Syria and Mesopotamia (“History. “). Monks and academics were busy learning the sciences of the Greeks, remarking on and enhancing them.
It is no shock that when the Arabs, who dominated the Near East at the close of the seventh century, desired to obtain Greek knowledge, they looked to Syriac scholars and churchmen. Arab caliphs ordered Syriac intellectuals to explain the sciences of the Greeks to them. This interaction is confirmed by the before mentioned dialogue between Jacob and Priest Addai. The doctrine and the faith of the Syriac Orthodox Church is “in support of the Nicene Creed. It believes in the trinity, that is one God, subsisting in three distinct persons called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (“History. .
The three being of one substance, of one Godhead, have one will, one work, and one Lordship. The distinct feature of the first person is His Fatherhood, that of the second person His sonship, and that of the third person His procession. The Syriac Orthodox Church calls Mary, ‘bearer of God because she gave birth to Christ, God truly incarnate (“History. “)” The Syriac Orthodox Church believes “the passing of Christ was the departure of His soul from His body, but His deity did not at any time leave either His body or His soul.
It also believes that by His death for us, He conferred upon us salvation from everlasting death and reunion with His Heavenly Father (“History. “)”. Regarding the Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes the Church is the body of the actual believers in Christ, and that the head of the Church is our Lord God Jesus Christ. The chief Bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the patriarch of Antioch. With regards to sacraments, the Syriac Orthodox Church deems that the holy sacraments are physical signs chosen by the Lord Christ to proclaim heavenly grace, which was given for our sanctification.
The sacraments of the Church are: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, repentance, the priesthood, anointing of the sick, and marriage (“History. “). “Holy sacraments are presented by the Bishops and the priests. Only believers can partake in the sacraments. All accept four of the sacraments are crucial for salvation: baptism, confirmation, repentance and eucharist. Of the sacraments, baptism, confirmation and the priesthood may be established only once (“History. “). ” Jacobs interest in the Bible is compared to the approach of John bar Cursus, the Miaphysite bishop of Tella from 519-38.
John frequently uses quotations from scripture to legitimize his strictures on Christian lifestyle. In contrast, Jacob rarely refers to the Bible at all in relation to his declarations on ecclesiastical matters. It’s believed that this was to avoid a possible argument with Muslims who disputed the authority of the Christian Scriptures, while building a positive Christian identity that was distinctively different from Jews, Armenians, Chalcedonians, Nestorians, Arabs, and pagans in the changing circumstances of the era (Ter 2008). Integrating lessons from Jacob of Edessa