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Severus Of Antioch (C. 465-538) - Coptic Wiki


The most famous of Monophysite leaders. Evagrius (Historia ecclesiastica, 3.33) said that he was born and brought up in Sozopolis in Pisidia. It is also known that he studied law and was trained in grammar and rhetoric at Beirut. Much of what is known of his career comes down through the distorted views of his theological opponents.

Upon completion of his legal training, Severus became a Monophysite and went to live in a monastery. The first community where he lived was situated between Maiuma and Gaza. He then became acquainted with Peter the Iberian, who had been ordained bishop of Gaza by Theodosius, the fiery Monophysite monk. Soon he joined a Eutychian monastery near Eleutheropolis under the archimandrite Mamas, and he continued to further his spiritual development in monophysitism.

He strongly rejected the HENOTICON of Zeno and called it by various negative epithets such as diaireticon (disuniting edict). At the same time, he anathematized PETER MONGUS, the Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria, for having accepted it.

Later Severus lived in a monastery in Egypt under the direction of the abbot Nephalius. Nephalius had fallen away from the Monophysite view, and Severus made an unsuccessful attempt to reconvince him. This action resulted in his being expelled from the monastery. Then Severus stirred up mobs in Alexandria, which led to violence and bloodshed there.

At the beginning of the reign of the emperor Anastasius (491), the patriarch of Antioch had been Palladius. He accepted the Henoticon in the company of other bishops in northern Syria and attempted to put it into effect. At this time the mood of Antioch was turning toward monophysitism under the influence of PHILOXENUS OF MABBUG (Hierapolis), who was becoming the spokesman for the extreme Monophysite viewpoint.

At the time of the accession of Severus to the patriarchate of Antioch, the feelings between the parties were becoming very bitter. Anastasius must have been familiar with conditions in the city in regard to the relations between the parties, since he had been living in Antioch at the time of Peter the Fuller (488).

The religious troubles between the factions in Syria abated somewhat when war broke out between the Persian empire and Rome in 502. The energies of Philoxenus were then diverted to the difficulties of his own people (Le Bon, 1909).

After the war ended, Anastasius attempted to deal with the religious question. From 505, the actual date of the cessation of hostilities, it is possible to see a trend in his religious activities. He began to take covert action to assist the Monophysite party.

Anastasius had always been favorably disposed toward the Monophysites. The attempt now to strengthen the party may have represented an effort to fight the Nestorians, who were obtaining support from the Persian government. Following the episode of violence at Alexandria, Severus went to Constantinople, accompanied by 200 monks, to try and win imperial favor. He was successful in this to the extent that the emperor would have liked to make him patriarch there, but the orthodox party was too strong.

Severus remained in Constantinople from 508 to 511, a period during which Syrian monks, particularly those who lived around Antioch, revolted. The emperor charged Severus with a new formula that would be satisfactory. Severus then took up the dispute with John of Claudiopolis, bishop of Isauria, who tried in vain to win him over to the opinion of Flavian. Severus wrote a unitarian formula, and the bishops of Isauria rallied behind it.

The events of the patriarchate of Severus are difficult to date with precision, because of the state of the sources. But it is known that on 16 November 512, Severus was consecrated patriarch of Antioch in the presence of twelve bishops. According to the Synodicon, Anastasius made him swear that he would never speak or act against the Council of CHALCEDON. Yet Severus, on the very day he became bishop, pronounced an anathema upon and accepted the Henoticon, which he had previously repudiated. Confident of the emperor’s protection, Severus dispatched his synodal letters to the other prelates and demanded their communion. In these missives, he anathematized Chalcedon and all who held to in the two natures.

Severus had a zealous supporter in Peter of Apamea. Severus was charged with abetting Peter in setting up an ambush of some pilgrims on the way to the Monastery of Saint Simeon. A contingent of Jewish mercenaries were said to have attacked the pilgrims and slain 250 people, leaving them unburied by the side of the road. They were also charged with having burned the monasteries in which the fleeing pilgrims had taken refuge and slaughtered the monks who protected them. The monasteries of Palestine remained steadfast with the orthodox faith.

In his era, Severus was regarded as the champion of monophysitism, which was in the ascendancy during his patriarchate. His triumph was to be a short one.

His strong position could not be maintained without the support of the emperor Anastasius. The successor of Anastasius, the orthodox JUSTIN I, came to the throne in 518. As soon as Justin became emperor, Monophysite were deposed in favor of orthodox. Irenaeus, the Comes Orientis, was ordered to arrest Severus and to cut out his tongue as a punishment for his blasphemies. Severus, however, managed to evade this edict. He escaped from Antioch and in September 518 boarded a boat bound for Alexandria. Paul was ordained in his stead.

Severus was enthusiastically received in Alexandria by both the people of Alexandria and its bishop, III. He was a recognized leader in the battle against Nestorianism. Alexandria soon became a refuge for Monophysites.

A dispute arose between Severus and JULIAN OF HALICARNASSUS as to the corruptibility of the Lord’s human body before his Resurrection. Julian maintained that not only was Christ’s body not subject to corruption, but it was free from the temporary character of ordinary human bodies. There was no settlement in this controversy. Severus was summoned to Constantinople and then condemned at a synod in 536. The sentence was later ratified by JUSTINIAN.

Severus wrote a great number of works, but only a few of them are extant. fragments survive. Much of his Syriac is extant, such as a letter in which he refutes 244 chapters culled by a opponent from the work of CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. He also wrote treatises against Julian of Halicarnassus, four letters against the extreme Monophysite Sergius, and a great number of hymns in Syriac.


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  • Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of the Monophysite Movement. Cambridge, 1972. See especially for the early life.
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