The Spread of Coptic Monasticism to the Orient and the Occident
The outstanding contribution of the Egyptian Church to world Christianity was the monastic movement, which received its impetus from men like Saints Antony, Paul of Thebes, Macarius, and others. Saint Antony's name became known and associated with a new way of life leading to salvation. His disciple Saint Macarius, who stayed with Saint Antony at least twice, established Antonian monasticism in the Desert of Scetis, where several thousand monks imitated and even surpassed the rigor and austerity of their founder. Saint Amon, the father of Nitrian monasticism, had been inspired by Saint Antony just as Saint Isaac and Saint Pelusian had upheld the Antonian tradition at Mount Clysma.
Two types of Christian asceticism arose in response to the words of Jesus, who said, "If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19:21). The anchorite or hermit withdrew to the inner desert, "wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb 11:38); extreme examples of such hermits were Sts. Onuphrius and Timothy. The coenobites practised their ascetic virtues within a community of like-minded men and followed certain rules and regulations. These were enforced by an abbot. A well-known abbot of the Scetis was St. John the Hegumen.
Saint Hilarión, the originator of Palestinian monasticism, derived his ascetic enthusiasm from the Great Hermit, as Saint Antony was called. Born in 291 in the vicinity of Gaza, Saint Hilarión made a pilgrimage to the South Qalala mountain range for the purpose of learning the angelic life from Saint Antony. After staying two months with him, he could no longer endure the crowds that came to visit the hermit. On his return to his native land, Saint Hilarión lived in a tiny cell near Gaza, which he made his abode for fifty years. Within a few years of his death, laurae and monasteries were to be found in all parts of Palestine.
Johannes Cassianus (360-435) of Dobrudsha visited the east with his friend Germanus. At Bethlehem he entered a monastery, but his desire to visit the Egyptian hermits of the Desert of Scetis inspired him to leave Palestine. For seven years he lived with the Egyptian desert fathers. Afterward he went to Constantinople, where he became a pupil of Saint John Chrysostom.
At Marseille, Cassianus founded a monastery where the Egyptian rule was followed. Nearby, Saint Honoratus founded in 400 the Monastery of Lerinum (Lerins), where the Egyptian system was followed until the introduction of the Benedictine rule in the sixth century.
One of the leaders of Christian monasticism in Mesopotamia was Saint Eugenius, an Egyptian pearl diver who had worked at Clysma. Following his call to the ascetic life, he entered a monastery. Then he chose a number of Egyptian monks to go with him to Mesopotamia to build a monastery near Nisibis. He died around 363.
Soon after Saint Antony's death, people from all over the Levant came to Egypt to see and study the monasticism of which they had heard so much. Saint Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia (Salamis) in Cyprus, visited Egypt, and after his return to Palestine, he became hegumen of a monastery that he founded near Eleutheropolis in Judea. Saint Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea and founder of many monastic institutions in Asia Minor, derived his knowledge of monasticism from the monks and hermits he visited in Syria and Egypt.
Like Christianity, monasticism was introduced into Ethiopia from Egypt. In 480, Saint Aragawi, who is said to have received his habit from Saint Pachomius, founded the celebrated monastery at Debra Damo. With him came eight other monks from the Monastery of Saint Antony; together they are known in the Ethiopian Church as the 'Nine Saints.'
In 385, Saint Jerome traveled to Palestine in the company of two Roman women, Saint Paula and her daughter Eustochium. From the Holy Land, Saint Jerome and his companions continued their journey to Egypt, where they visited the monasteries of the Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun). After their return to Palestine they settled at Bethlehem, where Saint Paula founded four monasteries, three for nuns and one for monks. It was the latter monastery over which Saint Jerome presided and where he was engaged in most of his literary work.
The part played by early Egyptian monasticism in the conversion of England is a matter that has yet to be determined. Writes Stanley Lane-Poole:
It is more than probable that we are indebted to the remote hermits for the first preaching of the Gospel in England, where, till the coming of Saint Augustine, the Egyptian monastic rule prevailed. But more important is the belief that Irish Christianity, the great civilizing agent of the early Middle Ages among the northern nations, was the child of the Egyptian Church.
The Irish Stowe Missal, which is the oldest missal of the Irish Church, refers to the Egyptian anchorites of the fourth century. The text is in four columns and consists mostly of single words; the second column of folio 32, verso, reads: "Pauli, Antoni, et ceterorum patrum heremi sciti." This clearly shows that the ascetic examples of the Egyptian hermits were well known throughout northern Europe.
There is no question that the Church of Egypt and the Church of Ireland had rather intimate relations with each other. The Irish monk and geographer Dicuil referred to Egypt in his 825 text, De mensura orbis terrae. Seven Coptic monks were buried at Disert Ulidh in Ulster, and we find their names invoked in the litany attributed to Saint Oengus.
Both Saint Antony and Celtic and Irish monks are often portrayed with little bells in Celtic art. Portable clochettes, whether of iron or bronze, have played an important role in the Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland, and Gaul. It seems likely that, with the increase of Saint Antony's popularity in the western world, religious art bestowed upon him the same insignia with which the Irish monks were represented.
Even in Switzerland, the city seal of Uznach shows Saint Antony in prayer, with a staff and clochettes, while the city seal of Saint Antoni/Freiburg has the Coptic tau cross with two clochettes.
Furthermore, in the ninth-century Vita Bonifatii attributed to Radbodo, bishop of Utrecht, we discover a significant reference to the very illustrious company of anchorites and monks in Egypt.
The Catechetical School and Theological Controversies
After the infant Christ visited the land of the pharoahs, Saint Luke informs us that Egyptians were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the faithful.
These Egyptians returned to their homeland, where they established
Christian congregations. The Christians of Egypt are convinced that Saint Mark the Evangelist visited Alexandria, where he preached the gospel, founded the See of Alexandria, and received the crown of martyrdom.
The apostolic foundation of the Coptic Church is both glorious and tragic: glorious in the number of its illustrious leaders such as Saint Athanasius, Saint Cyril, Saint Antony, and Saint Pachomius, to mention but a few, and tragic in the vast number of its followers who suffered martyrdom in the various persecutions for their adherence to the Christian faith. These are commemorated to this day by the Coptic calendar, in which the years are dated from anno martyrum, the 'year of the martyrs' (a.m.), which recalls the great persecution of the Christians that began in Egypt in 303. The era of the martyrs actually commenced on August 29, 284, the year in which Diocletian became emperor. Following the Diocletian persecution in Egypt from 303 to 305, Egyptian Christianity emerged victorious and dynamic, so much so that its theology and Christology were to leave a lasting impression on the whole church.
The outstanding contribution of Alexandrian Christianity to world Christianity was the Didascalia, the famous catechetical school where Christian scholars labored to prove that reason and revelation, philosophy and theology were not only compatible but also essential for each other's comprehension. The first great scholar who served as head of the Didascalia was Pantaenus. Authorities say that Pantaenus most probably came to Alexandria around the year 180, when he was appointed head of the school of catechumens, and remained there until he died, shortly before 200.
Upon the death of Pantaenus, Clement became the head of the catechetical school. When the severe persecutions by Septimius Severus compelled him to leave Egypt, he sought refuge in Cappadocia. Clement asserted that the ancient Greeks recognized the spirituality of the Divine, which was further illuminated through the message of the Hebrew prophets.
The most important theologian and prolific author was Origen, who at an early age joined the catechetical school, where he listened to the lectures of Pantaenus and Clement. Intensely ascetic by nature, he observed the most rigorous vigils. Four oboli (meager coins) a day earned by copying manuscripts sufficed for his bodily sustenance. A rash decision led him to apply to himself the evangelical injunction of Matthew 19:12 (". . . and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake"). From 204
until 230, Origen worked in Alexandria. In 230, after having settled in Caesarea, Origen established a flourishing school, and some of his pupils, such as Gregory Thaumaturgus, later bishop of Neocaesarea, rose to important positions in the hierarchy.
Among his exegetical and theological writings is the Hexapla, in which he placed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament side by side with the various Greek versions. His principal apologetic work is his book Against Celsus, a second century pagan philosopher. This work, written in Caesarea, has been completely preserved.
Origen was succeeded as head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria by Heracles, his former pupil. Heracles' successor was another famous pupil of Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, later surnamed the Great. In 231, he was head of the school, and in 248 he became bishop of Alexandria.
Dionysius was succeeded by Theognostus, who administered the school from 265 to 282 and wrote the Hypotyposes. Little is known about him beyond the testimony of Photius. He was followed by Prierus, Achillas, and Peter of Alexandria before he was elected patriarch around 300.
During the fourth and fifth centuries, theological and christological controversies dominated the course of the history of the Egyptian Church. The significance of the Arian controversy, particularly within Egypt, is seen in two Egyptians: Meletius, the Arian bishop of Lycopolis, and Saint Athanasius, who emerged from the Arian controversy not merely as the Orthodox patriarch of the Church of Alexandria, but also as the universally accepted and revered doctor of the Catholic Church.
The Chalcedonian controversy, with Cyril I and Dioscorus I as the two principal personalities on the miaphysitic side, eventually led to the tragic schism that alienated the Church of Egypt from both the Byzantine and Roman Catholic Churches.
Egyptian national sentiment—a non-theological factor—may well have been an important issue in the unfortunate division over the subject of the body of Christ. The post-Chalcedonian developments only led to further schisms, particularly because of the struggle for supremacy between Dyophysites and Miaphysites in Alexandria, and the emperor Zeno's attempt to settle the theological estrangement by omitting the word 'nature' from the text of his Henoticon ("Instrument of Union"). At any rate, by the fifth century, the church was divided into Dyophysites, Miaphysites, Arians, and Nestorians.
By the beginning of the sixth century, several further divisions emerged among the non-Chalcedonians, and thus weakened even further the witness of the Coptic, or Egyptian Church. Moreover, the Miaphysite leadership passed to the Syrian Church, which determined the theological thinking of the Non-Chalcedonians for centuries to come.
The Canon of the Holy Scriptures The religious and moral norms of the Copts are largely determined by three different forms of authority: the legal authority, the traditional authority, and the charismatic authority. The legal authority includes the canon of holy scripture, the writings of the church fathers, and the canons of the church. These sources were and still are the most imporant criteria for the religious and moral life of the Coptic Church. The traditional authorities are considered to be the statements and attitudes of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, as well as certain ways of thinking and patterns of behavior adopted from pre-Christian times and subsequently adapted and transformed so as to correspond with the Christian ethos. The charismatic authority normally depends on the extraordinary qualities of a person, whether a gifted anchorite or a patriarch, whose legitimacy rests on supernatural gifts, which are demonstrated through miracles or other extraordinary deeds. In reality, however, we discover a constant overlapping and intermingling of these three authorities, and it is important that theologians and sociologists are aware of the interaction of these authoritative criteria, which determine so much of the personal and the social life of the Copts.
Egypt's role in the formation of the canon of the Scriptures was of the utmost importance, owing to the natural advantages of its position and the conspicuous eminence of its great teachers during the third century, particularly Clement of Alexandria and Origen. The testimony of the Alexandrian Church to the New Testament canon is generally uniform. In addition to the acknowledged books, the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse were received there as divine scripture, even by those who doubted their immediate apostolic origin. The two shorter Epistles of Saint John were well known and commonly received, but no one except Origen, so far as can be discovered, was acquainted with the Second Episde of Peter.
The first reference to the complete canon, however, is found in the Thirty-ninth Festal Letter of Saint Athanasius (fourth century), where the books are listed in the following order:
Old Testament: the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four Kings, two Chronicles, Esdras (I and II), Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, twelve Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamenta tions, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
New Testament-. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, seven Catholic Epistles (James; I and II Peter; I, II, and III John; Jude), fourteen Pauline Episdes (Romans, I and II Corinthians, Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy, Titus, Philemon), and the Apocalypse.
For profitable reading, Saint Athanasius listed the following Old and New Testament books: the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Shepherd of Hermes.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the question of the canon was discussed again in the Coptic Church, and by order of Cyril V, the 112th patriarch, the following books were removed from the canon: Tobit, Judith, the Complement of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, the Epistle of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Complement of Daniel (Susanna and the three youths in the fire), and the Books of Maccabees. No changes, however, were made regarding the New Testament canon. In 1928, Habib Girgis published his Catechism for Youth, which lists the following Old Testament books as canonical: the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and the four major and twelve minor Prophets.
A translation of the Scriptures into Arabic became imperative with the decline of the Coptic language. Contemporaneous with the beginning of the use of bilingual (Bohairic and Arabic) liturgical books in the tenth century, there were bilingual texts of the various books of the Scriptures. According to al-Mas'udi (d.957), Hunayn ibn Ishaq, the Nestorian philosopher, translated the whole Septuagint into Arabic. By the thirteenth century, the Copts had several translations of certain books of the Scriptures in Arabic, although an Arabic text of the complete canon translated by the Copts was not finished until the second part of the eleventh century. The Arabic version of the psalter used by the Copts was based on the eleventh-century translation by the Antiochene deacon Abu al-Fath 'Abd Allah ibn Fadl. With regard to the Arabic texts of the Prophets, the Coptic Church used the tenth-century Egyptian Melkite recension of al-'Alam, which includes all the Prophets and is based on the Septuagint. As with the Old Testament, we discover that neither was the complete canon of the New Testament translated much before the sixteenth century. The tenth-century Arabic text of the Gospels, known as the Egyptian or the Alexandrian
Vulgate, was based on a Bohairic text. In addition to this translation, there existed in the Coptic Church a second translation of the Gospels by al-As'ad Abu al-Farag Hibat Allah made in the thirteenth century, which was a linguistic improvement on the previous text. The Arabic text of the epistular literature was also based on a Bohairic text. Noteworthy in this context is an Arabic collection of the Pauline epistles from the thirteenth century, which was the work of al-Wagih Yuhanna al-Qalyubi, a contemporary of the 'Assalides. With respect to the Apocalypse, we must remember that in the Coptic Church this book seldom appeared in connection with the New Testament. It constituted an independent part, and was used and commented on as such.
The first printed Arabic Bibles were the Arabic versions of the Paris and London Polyglots. The Arabic Old Testament of the Paris Polyglot followed closely Paris arab.l, which was secured by Francis Savary de Brèves in Cairo in 1606; the Arabic New Testament generally followed the Arabic edition of the Gospels printed by Giovanni Battista Rainmundi in Rome in 1590, which in turn was based on Vatican copt. 9. The London Polyglot appeared almost two decades later, and the text of the Arabic version is almost a transcript of the Paris Polyglot, with some additions in the Prophetic literature. The Congregatio de Propaganda Fide published a Biblia Sacra Arabica in three volumes in 1671, which was followed by the Smith-Van Dyck version of 1865. In 1876 and 1878, the Jesuit version, al-Kitab al-muqaddas, was published in Beirut. The Smith-Van Dyck and the Jesuit version are both used by the Copts. The former is more widely distributed, and, therefore, more widely read in Egypt. Moreover, whereas the Jesuit Version is admired by the learned, the Smith-Van Dyck Version is more easily understandable to the lay reader.
In addition to the canon of the Scriptures, the Coptic Church, like all other churches of apostolic origin, relies on the writings of the church fathers as authorities in matters of faith and morals. Generally speaking, the writings of all church fathers prior to the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, as well as those of non-Chalcedonian fathers, are considered authoritative. At the same time, it must be added that there is no consensus of opinion on the writings of those fathers, who are accepted or rejected by various authorities. The following list represents those writings that are accepted by most Coptic theologians.
The Coptic Church: History, Traditions, Theology, Structure 43 The Pre-Chalcedonian Fathers
In the sixth chapter of his fourteenth-century work The Lamp of Darkness, Abu al-Barakat makes a list of the canonical books of the Scriptures that includes the two epistles attributed to Clement (c.96), a disciple of Peter and a pope of Rome. In his Book on the Councils, Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa', bishop of al-Ashmunain, quoted the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans by Saint Ignatius of Antioch (98-117). The two epistles of Saint Polycarp (69-155) are accepted, although they are not well known. The same is true of the First Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the Dialogue with Trypho, and the Second Apology addressed to the Roman Senate by Saint Justin Martyr (100-165). Justin was the first Christian theologian to reconcile the claims of faith and reason, since he held that traces of truth were to be found even in the pagan philosophers. Irenaeus of Lyons (130-200) is listed among the fathers of the Coptic Church, although his Adversus omnes haereses, a detailed attack on Gnosticism, is not well known among the Copts. The writings of the Athenian Clement of Alexandria (150-215), head of the Catecheti'chal School of Alexandria from 190 to 202, are accepted and known among the Copts, especially the Paedagogus and the Stromata.
As for the person and the writings of Origen (185-254), there exists no consensus among the Copts. On the one hand, Origen was placed with the sanction of Demetrius of Alexandria at the head of the Catechetichal School of Alexandria, where he labored from 204 to 230. On the other hand, Demetrius later convened a synod at which it was resolved to banish Origen from Alexandria. A second synod, composed entirely of bishops, determined that Origen must be deprived of his rank as presbyter. Today, the Coptic Theological Seminary in Cairo considers Origen one of the great teachers of the church.
Tertullian of Carthage (166-220), the first Christian theologian to write in Latin, is accepted by some Coptic theologians, yet rejected by others on account of his montanistic tenets (Montanus, d.179, claimed to be the Paraclete mentioned in the New Testament and proclaimed the imminent end of the world). The writings of Hippolytus of Rome (d.230), and those attributed to him, are well known in the Coptic Church. The canons attributed to him are accepted as canon law, and quotations from him appear in the thirteenth-century Commentary on the Apocalypse by Ibn Katib Qaysar. The Expositio fidei by Gregory of Neocaesarea, known as Thaumaturgus (c.213-70) is mentioned by Abu al-Barakat. Ephraem Syrus (306-73), known as the Prophet of the Syrians, wrote a large number of homilies and hagiological and eschatological discourses, which have been translated into Arabic and circulated among the Copts.
The epistle of Dionysius of Alexandria (d.264), the penitential canons of Peter of Alexandria (d.310), and the writings of Alexander of Alexandria (d.328) are all known and accepted by the Copts.
The writings of Cyprian of Carthage (200-58) are also accepted. They include such works as De habitu virginum ('In praise of virginity'), De lapsis, which deals with the conditions for reconciling the lapsed, and De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, a treatise on the nature of the true unity in the church. Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, known as al-Rasuli, (328-73) is one of the principal authorities of the Coptic Church. Abu al-Barakat knows his Commentary on the Psalms; his Vita Antonii and the Apophthegmata are well known to the Coptic monks; and the 107 canons attributed to Saint Athanasius are accepted as canon law. Saint Theophilus of Alexandria (384—412) is another important theologian of the Coptic Church, whose Homilies are well known.
Although mentioned by Abu al-Barakat, the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea (260-340), founder of a theological school there, are not so well known. The ascetic writings, epistles, and homilies of Basil the Great of Caesarea (330-79), as well as the two series of canons attributed to him, are accepted and known. The same pertains to. the Arabic collection of Thirty Discourses and the homilies by Gregory of Nyssa (d.390). Cyril of Jerusalem (315-86) wrote eighteen exhortations and several homilies for the church, all of which are accepted. John Chrysostom, or Yuhanna Fam al-Dahab, (354-407) is one of the principal church fathers, and his discourses and homilies are known among the Copts. Epiphanius of Cyprus (d.403) wrote the Ancoratus (al-Marsa), which is accepted, but hardly known.
Cyril of Alexandria (376-444), the great champion of Orthodoxy, taught the personal, or hypostatic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ. Cyril's antagonism to the Antiochene School is shown in his opposition to John Chrysostom. His Thesaurus de sancta et consub-stantiali Trinitate is a treatise in dialogue form on the Trinity. Other writings include his Dialogue with Nestorius and his Twelve Anathematisms.
Whereas the Alexandrian theologians composed their writings in Greek, Shenute (d.466) was the first and most prominent Coptic writer and theologian; he is best known for his homilies. His vita was written by his disciple Besa (Wisa). Finally, the discourse attributed to Dioscorus (444-54) is hardly known among the Copts.
The Coptic Church: History, Traditions, Theology, Structure 45 The Post- Ch alee do nian Fathers
By the beginning of the sixth century, several internal divisions had emerged within the Coptic Church, and the theological leadership of the non-Chalcedonian, or Miaphysite Churches moved from Alexandria to Antioch, which determined the theological thinking of the non-Chalcedonians for the following centuries.
The most important theologian of the sixth century was Severus of Antioch (512-38), whose dogmatic and liturgical discourses, homilies, and epistles, mentioned by Abu al-Barakat, are known among the Copts. Less known are the sixth-century polemic writings by John Philoponus.
Also from the sixth century are the homilies of James of Sarug, published by Michael Athanasius in Cairo in 1905, and the Commentary on the Psalter by Daniel of Salah, published by Yusuf Manqariyus and Habib Girgis in Cairo in 1902.
Among the writings of the post-Chalcedonian Coptic fathers are the homilies of Theodosius I of Alexandria (536-67) and the homilies and apologetic works of John, bishop of Burullus (sixth century). Benjamin I (623-62) wrote several Easter epistles and a collection of replies to some forty biblical and liturgical questions. The Questions of Theodore, also dealing with theological issues, were answered by John III (680-89).
Other important statements of the non-Chalcedonian faith are the Synodica, confessional writings, that the Antiochene patriarchs exchanged with the Alexandrian patriarchs at their enthronement.
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