JACOB BARADAEUS (c. 500-578)
The apostle of Monophysite Christianity in the church of Antioch (see MONOPHYSITISM). Through his efforts to preserve the Antiochene church from persecution he is known as the founder of the Syrian Orthodox church, or Jacobite church, which regards him as a saint.
Jacob Baradaeus was born in the village of Gamawa north of Tella (Constantina), in the upper reaches of the Euphrates. He took holy orders at the Monastery of Phasiltha (the Quarry) on Mount Izala and received his religious education at the nearby college of Nisibis, where he resided for about fifteen years. Jacob was a rigorous ascetic who chose to live in dire poverty and dressed himself in a mule’s saddle, from which he earned the title Baradaeus (Arabic al-Barad‘i, “saddle man”). He was consecrated bishop of Edessa in 542. Afterward, he went to Constantinople with a monk named Sergius, whom he later consecrated as the patriarch of Antioch, possibly in 543.
At the time of Jacob’s emergence into prominence, the Monophysite churches, especially in Antioch, were being persecuted by the armies of the Byzantine emperor JUSTINIAN, who aimed at ecclesiastical as well as a political unity. Under his heavy hand, the church of Antioch was near collapse, and its salvation was largely due to the efforts of Jacob. He seems to have been clandestinely supported by Justinian’s empress, THEODORA, who was said to have been the daughter of a Syrian priest and who had concealed leanings toward the church of her birthplace. Jacob’s untiring and continuous travels through Syria dodging his imperial pursuers, fortifying his flock, and confirming them in the Monophysite profession saved the church, which ultimately bore his name as the Jacobite church. He tried to keep it in line with its sister church of Alexandria.
Jacob’s life as a great saint in an ancient church was wrapped in apocryphal tales of his vast and indefatigable travels, mainly on foot, in Syria, Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Isauria, Pamphylia, Lycaonia, Lycia, Phrygia, Cairo, Asia, and the “islands of the sea” (Cyprus, Rhodes, Chios, and Mytilene [Lesbos]). These were in addition to the capital cities of Constantinople and Alexandria, as well as the whole of Mesopotamia, Arabia, Persia, Sinai, and Egypt—all instrumental in the survival of Monophysite Antiochene Christianity. These great travels are reminiscent of the apostolic journeys of Saint Paul in the defense of the faith. Probably no cleric in history ordained as many bishops and patriarchs as Jacob, though he himself never aspired to attain the patriarchal dignity. According to the authors of his apocryphal biographies, he consecrated 120,000 priests. These same accounts mention among this enormous number eighty-seven or eighty-nine bishops, though the confirmed records mention only twenty-seven—which is still considerable. These included two patriarchs of Antioch: Sergius and PAUL THE BLACK, an Egyptian by birth.
In Arabia, Jacob once took refuge from his imperial persecutors at the court of the Ghassanid Christian king al-Harith ibn Jabalah and his successor, al-Mundhir. In Persia, he is said to have visited the court of Chosroes I (known in Arabic as Kisra Anu-Sharwan) at Seleucia in 559 to gain tolerance for the Jacobite Christians. While on this mission, he consecrated a bishop of Beth Arabaye named Ahudemmah, and raised him to the dignity of metropolitan of the East, thereby laying the foundation of the maphrianate of Persia. The new metropolitan was active in the preaching of Christianity and succeeded in converting a number of Chosroes’ family, thereby incurring the wrath of that emperor, who eventually martyred the bishop. Nevertheless, both the Jacobite and the Nestorian churches were tolerated in Persia, where they survived side by side until the coming of the Arabs.
Jacob’s later years are enveloped in obscurity. One of his last efforts is known to have been his visit to Alexandria with a delegation of Syrian bishops in an attempt to cement the union between the Jacobite and the Coptic churches. However, he and three other members of his delegation mysteriously died toward the end of July 578 at the Monastery of Saint Romanos on Mount Casion, near the eastern frontier of Egypt. On this occasion, the Coptic patriarch DAMIAN sent a warm letter of condolence to the clergy of the East. Jacob’s remains were transferred for burial at his former monastery of Phasiltha. Thanks to his mighty efforts, the Jacobite church had an assured survival with closer relations to Alexandria.
- Atiya, A. S. A History of Eastern Christianity. London, 1967.
- Chebot, J. B., ed. and trans. Chronique de Michel le Syrien, patriarche jacobite d’Antioche 1166-99, 3 vols. Paris, 1899-1903.
- Honigmann, H. Evêques et évêchés monophysites d’Asie antérieure au VIe siècle. CSCO 127, Subsidia, Vol. 2. Louvain, 1951.
- Kleyn, H. G. Iacobus Baradeus—de Stichter der Syrische monophysitische Kerk. Leiden, 1882.
- Rustum, A. The Church of the City of God, Great Antioch, 3 vols. Beirut, 1966.