A sixth-seventh-century bishop of Asyut.
A summary of Constantine’s life has come down complete in a unique manuscript of the Sahidic recension of the Arabic SYNAXARION of the Copts, deposited at Luxor. There also exists for the first part and identical with the above document an isolated leaf (National Library, Paris, Arabic 4895). His feast day is 11 Amshir.
This text reports that Constantine received the monastic habit from the hands of his brother Anba Moses, otherwise unknown, in a monastery that unfortunately is not named. Ten young men embraced the monastic life on that day. Among them, in addition to Constantine, was Rufus, the future bishop of Shutb (Hypselis/Shotep), and Anba Yusab (Joseph), who subsequently became bishop of Isfaht (Apollinopolis Parva/Sbeht). Anba Yusab is not otherwise known, but RUFUS OF SHOTEP is the author of commentaries on the Gospels, part of which is extant, and of sermons preserved in an Arabic version. His name is also cited in the second encomium of Constantine on Saint Claudius of Antioch (PO 35, p. 614).
The Synaxarion continues that Constantine memorized the New Testament, except for the Apocalypse, and the Psalms and the Prophets. Constantine was consecrated as bishop by the patriarch DAMIAN between 578 and 605. Damian also made him his vicar for Upper Egypt, and declared, “I shall consecrate as bishop only him who has with him a writing from your hand.” This function of patriarchal vicar is attested by other texts for other bishops. There was one for Lower Egypt and another for the Sa‘id. It seems to have been exercised above all in the confirmation of the election of new bishops, as suggested by the passage of the Synaxarion relating to Constantine. He was no longer a patriarchal vicar from the time of his elevation to the episcopate.
That Constantine was bishop in the period of Patriarch Damian is also confirmed by the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, which relates, “There were in [Patriarch Damian’s] time bishops admirable for their purity and their merit. Among them, John, Bishop of Parallos [Burullus] and John his disciple, Constantine the bishop, John the Blessed, the recluse, and many others.” In an encomium for the feast of Saint John of Heraclea (4 Ba’unah), preserved in Arabic under the name of Constantine, the author also indicates at the beginning that he received episcopal consecration at the hands of the patriarch Damian.
The notice in the Synaxarion mentions in one phrase the literary activity of the saint: “He composed sermons in great number, lives of martyrs and of saints.” His pastoral acts are mentioned as well: “He strove with all his might to extirpate the roots of the Arians who were in the neighborhood of his town and in the mountains which surround it.” By the term “Arians” must be understood the Melitians. The schism was born at Asyut (Lycopolis) and Athanasius himself assimilated them to the Arians. For the rest, Constantine in his second encomium on Saint Claudius reproached them with a doctrine close to ARIANISM and further on added this personal detail, which the Synaxarion seems indeed to echo: “I recall what has happened since I was seated upon the [episcopal] throne, despite my unworthiness.
I have suffered much from the plants which Melitius planted, and I have not been able to uproot them” (PO 35, p. 626). As for the word “mountains” in the Synaxarion, it should no doubt be interpreted as “monasteries,” for the Coptic term toou has the two senses, and it is not unusual in the Synaxarion for the word jabal (Arabic, mountain) to indicate a convent. Besides, from Greek papyri and Coptic documents, as from the History of the Patriarchs, it is known that the Melitian schism persisted to the eighth century, in particular in the monasteries. This short life also indicates that the bishop of Asyut had to contend with various forms of magic practiced in his diocese, such as astrology, sorcery, and the reading of horoscopes.
Another passage in the Sahidic recension of the Synaxarion relates, with reference to Saint Elias of Qusiyyah (Kos/Kussai), that at the time of the destruction of the town, probably during the Persian occupation (619-629), Constantine transferred the body of Saint Elias to Asyut, which would indicate that he was still alive at that period. Finally the notice in the Synaxarion states that Constantine died “when he was [still] robust and his eyesight sound,” which without doubt shows that he was not an aged man. The author then writes that he was buried “in his monastery where he lived, instead of his episcopal residence, called al-Hanadah, in the mountain of Asyut.” This place is known from Coptic and Arabic texts, where it is called “convent of Apa Shenute of al Hanadah in Asyut.” It appears that it was at Rifah, southwest of Asyut.
Constantine thus lived at the end of the sixth century and the beginning of the seventh. He played an important role in the Coptic church, particularly as vicar of Patriarch Damian for Upper Egypt. He took action, perhaps decisively, to bring back to the fold the inhabitants and monks of his diocese who remained in the schism begun by his predecessor on the throne of Asyut, Melitius, in the fourth century.
- Bell, H. I., and W. E. Crum. Jews and Christians in Egypt. London, 1924.
- Coquin, R.-G. “Saint Constantin, évêque d’Asyut.” Studia Orientalia Christiana Collectanea 16 (1981):151-70.
- Crum, W. E. “Some Further Meletian Documents.” Journal of Egyptian Archeology 13 (1927):19-26.
- Garitte, G. “Constantin, évêque d’Assiout.” In Coptic Studies in Honor of W. E. Crum, Bulletin of the Byzantine Institute 2 (1950):287-304. Republished in Scripta disiecta 1941-1977, Vol. 1, pp. 119-36. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1980.. “Constantin, évêque d’Assiout.” In Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, Vol. 13, col. 623.
The Coptic tradition has provided us with seven works in Arabic attributed to Constantine of Asyut. To date, four of these are unknown in any other language.
- The Arabic text of the first panegyric (encomium) of Saint Claudius the Martyr is unpublished. However, it has been translated into French by E. Amélineau (1885), on the basis of the only known manuscript of this work, in Paris (Arabe 4793 [Egypt, seventeenth century], fols. 18a-48b; for details, see CLAUDIUS OF ANTIOCH).
- The Arabic text of the second panegyric (encomium) of Saint Claudius the Martyr is unpublished. At least two manuscripts contain it: one at Paris (Arabe 4776 [Egypt, 1886], fol. 101a-159a) and the other at Florence (Laurentiana, Oriental 204 [Egypt, 1508], fols. 69a-139b).
- The beginning of the panegyric (encomium) of Saint George is found in Sahidic Coptic in Paris (Coptic 129/16th [twelfth century], fols. 88b-93b). Garitte published this text with a Latin translation, without referring to the Arabic version (1954, pp. 271-77).
The Arabic text is known from a single manuscript, still unpublished (Coptic Museum, Cairo, History 472 [Egypt, seventeenth century], copied by Nasrallah ibn Farajallah al-T ukhi; Graf no. 715/2nd; Simaykah no. 106). Folios 73a-134b contain five discourses on the miracles of Saint George, composed by Theophilus of Alexandria, Acacius of Lydda, SEVERUS of Antioch, Basil of Caesarea, and Constantine of Asyut .This last discourse most probably contains the complete homily; unfortunately, the Graf and Simaykah catalogs provide no incipit, and thus the identity of the texts remains uncertain. If the Coptic and Arabic texts prove to be different, this would provide a new work to add to the list of Constantine’s works in Arabic.
- The first panegyric (encomium) of the martyr John of Heraclea has survived only in Arabic. Six manuscripts of it are known, varying considerably from each other. The first three of these were given by Garitte (1950, pp. 126-27; 2nd ed., 1980, pp. 294-95). It is intended for 4 Ba’unah.
The superscription of the London manuscript, given in its entirety and translated into French by Garitte (1950, pp. 127-28; 2nd ed., 1980, pp. 295-96) is of interest. It informs us that the body of John of Heraclea then rested in the town of Hamyur, now the village of Umm al-Qusur to the north of Manfalut, in the region of Asyut. More important, it tells us that Constantine was consecrated bishop at Alexandria itself by the patriarch DAMIAN, that he pronounced this discourse on a Sunday, 4 Ba’unah, and that he arrived on the eve of the feast and spent the night in the martyrium. These details confirm the authenticity of the panegyric, despite the fact that it survives only in Arabic.
There are six manuscripts known of this text:
British Library, London, Or. 5648 (twelfth to fifteenth century; fols. 38b ff.; cf. Ellis and Edwards, 1912, p. 71; Crum, 1905, p. 363b, n. 1). The long superscription of 160 words is reproduced by Garitte, but no one gives the incipit.
Paris Arabe 4893 (Egypt, nineteenth century, fols. 2a-43a). The Arabic incipit (text in Troupeau 1972-1974, Vol. 2, p. 65), may be translated as “The sun of justice has shone forth for us, and healing is beneath his wings and in his intercession. So now hear, o people who love Christ. It came to pass, when our Father Damianos the Archbishop of Alexandria sent for me, me the wretched Constantine, and consecrated me a bishop, without my being worthy of it, for the see of the city of Assiut. . . .” Coptic Museum, Cairo, Liturgy 85 (Graf no. 88; Simaykah 1, no. 208), copied by Marquriyus ibn Ishaq the deacon, on 18 Dhu al- Hijjah A.H. 1130/A.M. 1435/12 November A.D. 1718, fols. 26a-35b or 183a-206b of the Coptic original. The incipit (Arabic text in Graf, 1934, p. 34) reads “The sun of justice has shone forth for us, and healing is beneath his wings. My beloved ones . . . when Anba Damianos, the Archbishop of Alexandria, sent for me, me the wretched Constantine, and consecrated me a bishop, without my being worthy of it, for the see of the city of Assiut. . . .” Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 24 (Graf no. 445; Simaykah 2, no. 632 [Egypt, 1691-1693], fols. 224b-248a). The catalogs give no incipit.
Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, History 80 (not in Graf; Simaykah 2, no. 621), 2nd piece, copied by the priest Yusuf, on 7 Ba’unah 1345/1 June 1649; the catalog gives no incipit.
Saint Anthony, History 107, fols. 170v-210v.
- The second discourse in honor of the martyr John of Heraclea is entitled “On the Finding of His Body and the Dedication of His Church on 4 Kiyahk [/30 November].” It survives in a single manuscript (Coptic Museum, Cairo, History 475; Graf no. 718; Simaykah 1, no. 102 [Egypt, fourteenth century], fol. 39b, then a lacuna of eight sheets, then 48a-49b).
The incipit (Arabic text in Graf, p. 275) reads: “Be attentive, o holy Fathers and brothers . . . , to my poor speech, me your spiritual father, wretched and poor.” It should be noted that this maymar is read on 4 Kiyahk, and not on 4 Ba’unah, like the foregoing text.
The Coptic text is unknown, and the Arabic text is unpublished. This work is not listed by Garitte.
- The homily On the Fallen Soul and Its Exit from This World is known from a sole Arabic manuscript (Coptic Patriarchate, Cairo, Theology 245 [seventeenth century], fols. 54a-68b; Graf no. 544; Simaykah no. 354). Neither of the two catalogs provides the incipit. The Arabic text is unpublished, and the Coptic text is unknown.
- The text, panegyric (encomium) of Saint Isidorus of Antioch (or of Chios), as yet unpublished and practically unknown, is preserved in a single manuscript (Saint Anthony, History 123, fols. 3b-48a). It is intended for 19 Bashans.
The Arabic tradition lacks the two panegyrics of Saint Athanasius found in Coptic records. The one-page extract from a homily on Lent and the feast of Easter, read on the Monday before Easter at sext (published by Burmester), is probably found in the Arabic lectionaries for Holy Week, although it is not mentioned in scholarly literature.
The Arabic tradition provides the complete text of the panegyric of Saint George, the beginning of which survives in Coptic. The Arabic also contains two panegyrics in honor of the martyr John of Heraclea, the first of which has everything in favor of its authenticity, as yet unknown in Coptic. Also a homily exists on the fallen soul and its exit from this world, the Coptic version of which has not been found. Almost all the information concerning Constantine of Asyut is transmitted exclusively by the Arabic tradition of the Copts. For various reasons (not excluding prejudice), none of these Arabic texts has been published to date.
- Amelineau, E. C. “Martyre d’apa Claudios d’Antioche.” Etudes archéologique linguistiques et historiques. Leiden, 1885.
- Crum, W. E. A Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the British Museum. London, 1905.
- Ellis, A. G., and E. Edwards. A Descriptive List of the Arabic Manuscripts Acquired by the Trustees of the British Museum Since 1894. London, 1912.
- Garitte, G. “Constantin, éveque d’Assiout.” In Coptic Studies in Honor of Walter Ewing Crum. Bulletin of the Byzantine Institute 2, pp. 287-304. Boston, 1950. Reedited in G. Garitte, Scripta disiecta 1941-1977 1, pp. 119-136. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1980.
- . “Le Panégyrique de S. Georges attribué à Constantin d’Assiout.” Le Muséon (1954):271-77.
- Graf, G. Catalogue de manuscrits arabes chrétiens conservés au Caire. Vatican City, 1934.
- Troupeau, G. Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, Vol. 2. Paris, 1972- 1974.
KHALIL SAMIR, S. J.