November 16, 2007
The Chaldean Church of the East (1st – 4th) Century
PART THREE: 4th Centuries
By: Fr. Felix Shabi
The Chaldean Church of the East (1 – 4) Century
PART Three: 4th Century
By: Fr. Felix Shabi
|A) Church of Martyrs, B) Chaldean Authors and theologians|
- A) Church of Martyrs: Christianity in the Persian Empire under the rule ofParthians lived in peace through the first three centuries, even with the coming of the first Sassanide rulers! The problem started when Constantine of the West and Lucinus the co-Emperor of the East signed the famous decree “Edict of Milan” 313 A.D., proclaiming the religious freedom for Christians, later he declared Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire! Two years earlier at 311 in Edessa Lucinus made a persecution, deacon Habib was martyred by roman pagans!With the death of Constantine 337 A.D., Shapur II started thinking how to bring back his five occupied regions! He surrounded Edessa for 63 days but retreated after Constantine II toke over the power and defended the territory. This defeat was attributed to the prayers of Jacob of Nisibis and/or to St. Ephrem. For this reason king Shapur II became furious over Christians under his territory, especially those living in Babylonia (the rich land) while he was in immense need of money to continue his unfinished war! He started requesting double and triple taxes and accuses them of “being richer, and allies of Caesar!”
1- Catholicos and Martyr: A great man, leader of our Chaldean Church of the East, lived in those days of agony. SHAM’OON BAR SABBA’EE (Simon). He was the 2nd Catholicos after mar Papa. He struggled with Shapur II the Sassanide to remain faithful and to serve his people in truth and honesty! Jewish and the mazdains -as well- pushed the king to start his big anti-Christians persecution that lasted 40 years. Shapur captured the Catholicos SHAM’OON along with 103 companion, they where put in jail, put to investigations, accused of being traitors, and charged to death for it. Sozomen, historian (5th C) says “in the death of Simon’s two sisters, Jewish where the informers.” His two sisters were consecrated virgins, belonging to the society of “Sons and daughters of covenant”
2- More Control: after 10 continues days of persecution, thousands of Christians where killed; but after killing AZAD (one of the king’s ministers), the king asked for more rules and control to verify the cases one by one, and not to kill people by mistake, but through a legitimate trial. The number of our martyrs is unknown; names of martyrs mentioned in our saints’ book counts till 16,000, while another Chaldean author: Al Mas’uodi (10th C) says: they were around 200,000.00 Martyr!
3- Chaldean Hierarchy: Another two Catholicos were killed after mar Simon: Shahdosat 342+ and Barba’a-shmeen 346+ (the nephew of mar Simon) and no Catholicos name appears (for almost 40 years) until 383 A.D. with TOMARSA (or Tamuza)!
4- Persian Success: after the death of Constantine his 3 sons split the Empire. Nisibis was given back to Persians in the treaty of 363 A.D. the five regions were taken back too, and St. Ephrem left Nisibis to live in Edessa.
- B) Chaldean Authors in the first four centuries:
1- Tatian the Assyrian (110-180)- Diateseron: born from a pagan family in upper Mesopotamia, in Adiabene, around 110 A.D. (some scholars say he was from Karemlash near Arbil). He showed big love for philosophy and religious studies. He left to Greece, then to Rome, where he met St. Justin, and became a Christian under his influence. After the death of the Saint in 150 Tatian became the head of the school and successor of Justin. One of his famous students was St. Clement of Alexandria. Some of his teachings were found odd to the Church, and so he left Rome for the east until his death around 180A.D.
– The Diatesseron (the Gospel harmony): One Gospel combined of the four Gospels. While Tatian was in Rome he rendered in Greek his book the “Diateseron” around 150-170. His book spread immediately into the churches, especially the east with the Aramaic translation. But because of Tatian’s odd opinions and his erasing some words from the original Gospels, and ignoring some stories “about weddings, and wine ..etc.” Thus, Rabula, bishop of Edessa destroyed the Diateseron, and translated the four gospels into Aramaic through Hiba, the dean of his university.
2- Bardaisan of Edessa (154-222): sportsman, noble, poet, philosopher, and friend of the king, Born from Persian noble parents, escaped (from Arbela!) to live in Edessa by the Daysan River and named after it. At 163 he escaped again to Mabbug. Became Christian in his youth, ordained deacon, and maybe priest as well. When his friend of childhood Abgar 9th took the rule in Edessa, he went back to live there. Some historians say he converted the king to Christianity. “This man had a lot of ambition toward the glory of this world,” St. Ephrem says. He started defending Christianity against heretical teachings. Unfortunately soon later he fell into the heresy of Marcionism and Gnosticism. Like Marcion he considered the matter as evil and defiled. He died in Armenia 222 A.D.
3- St. Ephrem of Nisibis (306-373): the most famous theologian, monk, Bible exegete and author among all the Arameans. Declared Doctor of the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict 15th in 1920. He was placed on the throne of glory before his death and known as“Harp of the Holy Spirit.” Ephrem was born from a pagan father and a Christian mother. After the conversion of his father, both parents where murdered in the great persecution of Shapur II. He studied under St. Jacob of Nisibis, accepted baptism from him when he was 18 and was appointed by the bishop dean for the School of Nisibis. Both St. Ephrem and St. Jacob participated in the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea 325. After his death a monastery was built by his tomb. Later on, at 1144 when Zinki the Kurdish occupied Edessa, his remains where taken to Rome and other European cities. One of his beautiful pieces we sing every Sunday is the Hymn: “the Light that shone on the Just” “ܢܘܼܗܪܵܐ ܕܢܲܚ ܠܙܲܕܝ̈ܩܹܐ ”.