BULUS AL-BUSHI (Paul of Bush)

An regarded as one of the most significant personalities in the Coptic hierarchy during the Middle Ages. There is no precise information about his birth date or his secular life as a young man before he took the monastic vow. It is possible that he was born between 1170 and 1175. This conjecture is based on the fact that JOHN VI mentioned him as a possible successor in 1216, and it is known that no patriarch of the Coptic church could be nominated before the age of forty.

Though he was a native of the city of Bush north of in Middle Egypt, where the central office for the monasteries of Saint Antony and Saint Paul (DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS and DAYR ANBA BULA) in the was located, it is certain that he did not enroll in either of these monastic institutions. He probably joined the monastery of Anba Samu’il of Qalamun in the Fayyum province, which was within easy reach of Bush and where he resided with his friend Dawud ibn Laqlaq, the future Patriarch CYRIL III ibn Laqlaq.

Bulus became known for his sanctity and ascetic life, as well as his theological scholarship, which persuaded a group of his admirers to nominate him for the long vacated, see of Saint Mark. At the time, however, Dawud ibn Laqlaq aspired to occupy the same position at any cost. While recruiting a number of supporters, he made promises of substantial financial payments to the Muslim authorities on helping him attain the patriarchate. The only great supporter of Paul in the administration died while Dawud kept maneuvering for the sultan’s approval by all possible means, including the promise of paying 3,000 dinars for his election. In the circumstances, Paul decided to quit the pursuit of the papacy and retire to his quiet life in the monastery.

In this wise Dawud became the sole available candidate and was consequently consecrated as of Alexandria and seventy-fifth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark in the year 1235. The patriarchate at that date had been vacant for nearly twenty years, during which most of the had died, and their seats had to be filled. This proved to be the new patriarch’s opportunity to offer these episcopal seats to the highest bidders in order to collect as much money as possible by applying the shartuniyyah (simony— see CHEIROTONIA) to enable him to pay his own promised bribe to the Muslim administration.

Cyril III actually filled forty episcopal vacancies in simoniacal fashion, which irritated both the and the congregation. As a result, it was decided to elect two to watch over the patriarchal actions: one permanent and the other by rotation. Bulus was the permanent candidate who was trusted for his integrity, though it is doubtful whether he preferred this task to his intellectual productivity in the seclusion of his monastic life.

In fact Bulus al-Bushi is remembered more for his writings than for his position of vigilance in the patriarchate of Cyril III. Of his surviving written works, ten codices have been known to exist, mainly in in numerous repositories, and only a few have been published. Of these, his eight mimars (homilies) commemorating eight events or Coptic throughout the year form the best known and most widely published text. He wrote commentaries on the book of Revelation as well as on the Epistle to the Hebrews. He wrote a book on theological science and two on the subjects of confession and the Incarnation.

He probably composed a special treatise on the unity of the Godhead, the Trinity, and the of the Logos. He also compiled the sayings of the fathers on numerous theological dicta. Outside the theological field, he wrote a treatise on the age of man and on his provision, whether these are prearranged and fixed by providence or dependent on the will of free agents. He is known to have left the record of a disputation with Cyril ibn Laqlaq in the royal presence of Sultan al- Kamil (1218-1238). According to the of the Patriarchs, the Melchite patriarch Nicholas, as well as the ‘ulema (Muslim learned jurists), attended this disputation, the subject of which is unknown.

The last traceable and precise date in Bulus’s life was the year 1240, during which the synod that convened in the of Cairo under the surveillance of the Muslim administration decreed that Bulus should be the permanent watchdog at the patriarchate. It is not known how long he occupied that position, but we must assume that his death occurred some time after that year. According to the available sources, he must have remained a priest throughout his ecclesiastical career until the year 1240, when he was elevated to the episcopate of Misr (al-Fustat), known to be the most important of all the Egyptian bishoprics. His life ended in this capacity, though it is impossible to provide a precise date for his death.

  • Samir, K. Maqalah fi al-Tathlith wa-al-Tajassud wa-Sihhat al- Masihiyyah. Zouk Mikail, 1983.