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designation, calling themselves Sûryee or Syrians, are the remnant • of a once great and influential people, who, in their prosperous days,
were numerous through all the vast regions from Palestine to China, and who planted the Gospel even in the heart of northern China itself. Their Patriarchs dwelt in Ctesiphon and Selucia, but removed to Bagdad, the capital of the Saracen empire, about the year 732, and finally settled at Mosul in 1559. Sometimes, as under the policy of Ghengis Khan, they occupied high positions in camp and court. Again, under the rule of the bloody Timurlane, they were slaughtered till only a scattered flock remained, except in the inaccessible mountain fastnesses; but for nearly fifteen hundred years, , whether in peace or in persecution, in prosperity or adversity, they have held fast their faith, and continue to do so to this day.
Their origin is well known. Nestorius, born and educated in Syria, a presbyter at Antioch, was made Bishop of Constantinople, A. D. 428. Three years after, he was arraigned and excommunicated by the third general Council at Ephesus, because he would not call the Virgin Mary “the mother of God;” and also, as they said, because he invested Christ with “two persons,” as well as “two natures,' charge which he persistently denied. Condemned unheard, cut off from the church, and deposed from his office, he was banished to Arabia Petra. Four years later he was transported to one of the oases of Lybia, and finally died in upper Egypt. Of course his excommunication created much sympathy. His countrymen in the East espoused his cause, particularly the Syrians in Edessa, Mesopotamia, the seat of a great theological school; and the body which thus sympathized with him, became strong, powerful, and influential, until under the long continued oppressions of Mohammedan rulers, they have been accounted as sheep for the slaughter, and are so reduced that there is but a remnant left.
About 1825 the celebrated English traveler, Joseph Wolff visited Urúmiah. The Syrian clergy mourned the scarcity of their sacred books, especially the Scriptures, and said, “ We have heard that the English can write a thousand copies in one day, will they not write several thousand copies and send them to us.” A copy of their Gospels was given to Wolff by Mar Yohanan, one of their bishops, and from this afterwards the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1827 printed a considerable edition with type specially prepared for it. This was doubtless the first printing done in the Nestorian square character.
In 1830 Eli Smith and H. G. O. Dwight were deputed by the
American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, to make a missionary tour through Armenia and Persia. They passed an inter- • esting week among the Nestorians of Urúmiah and vicinity, and learned many important facts concerning that remarkable people. Under oppression they have become poor, and have had little opportunity for advancement. They have but few books; the library of the Patriarch, which was regarded as exceptionally large, contained only sixty volumes, part of which were duplicates. They had no printed books among them, and their alphabet had probably never been in type; but there were manuscript copies of the Psalter, the Gospels, and Epistles, in separate volumes, some of them hundreds of years old. Two churches possessed the Pentateuch, but no entire copy of the Bible was heard of. In the village of Koosy, they heard of a venerable sacred book, written, according to the date inserted by the writer, three hundred years before the Mohammedan era, which would be about A. D. 322. They visited the house of the priest where it was kept, and the by-standers reverently uncovered their heads as he opened the box which contained the Sacred Volume, and carefully removed one by one ten silk bags and handkerchiefs which covered it, disclosing at last a neat and well-preserved copy of the Peshitto Syriac New Testament, written upon parchment, in small Estrangelo characters. A subsequent examination showed that this New Testament MSS. was not perhaps more than 700 years old,—though it may have been copied from a MS. bearing the earlier date. No offer to purchase this manuscript would be listened to by them for a moment; and of their other books, as they had only single copies for their own use, none could be bought; but since that time many manuscripts of the Peshitto New Testament have come from this people to America through the American Mission. They may be found in Boston, New York, and in private Libraries, and date about the end of the twelfth century.
Among these isolated believers, so long separated from other Christians, later explorers were able to find the Peshitto Syriac version of the whole Bible, with the exception of the epistle of Jude, second and third John, second Peter, Revelation, the account of the woman taken in adultery, John viii. 3—11, and the passage in 1 John, v. 7.
A mission was speedily established among those churches ; Syriac Bibles were supplied, The New Testament in ancient and modern Syriac in parallel columns has been printed for their use, and editions of the Syriac Bible have been prepared for this people, who have so long and so faithfully preserved the living Word of God. Beset by
hordes of enemies, conquered, slaughtered, outraged and wronged ; subjected to the unspeakable methods of oriental tyranny; deprived of education, demoralized by contact with surrounding barbarism,yet notwithstanding all, they have held fast the faithful word; and to them has been fulfilled in some degree that ancient promise, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
V. THE MELKITES. When in the fifth century the opinions of Eutyches and Nestorius regarding our Saviour came to be widely discussed, and the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon had uttered their decisions regarding them; the Emperor Marcian who died A. D. 457 supporting the decision of the Calcedonian Council; a widespread division occurred among the churches, the majority in some cases taking one side of the controversy, in other cases the other.
In Egypt the prevailing sentiment accorded with the Monophysite opinion, but a small portion of the Coptic church conformed to the orthodox Greek faith, accepting the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, and thus allying themselves with the royal party. The Maronites were long known in the Levant as Mardaites, or Rebels, while this orthodox party were reproached as Melkites, “Royalists,” or
Imperialists,” from “melek,” a king. Being a feeble community they have been greatly detested by the Copts of the national church, and when the Arabs invaded Egypt, the Copts being inclined to espouse the cause of the conquerors; both Copts and Arabs naturally treated the Greek Royalists with great severity. Nevertheless this persecuted and despised people have maintained their existence, and though few, and with little intluence, are under a Patriarch of Alexandria and four bishops; and they bave through all these ages, for fourteen hundred years, retained the same Peshitto Syriac version of the Scriptures which was accepted by the ancient Syrian churches, and has come down to us through so many separate channels.
But there was yet another most important though unexplored source of information concerning Syrian Translations and Literature.
VI. THE MONASTERIES OF THE NITRIAN DESERT.
About eighty miles north-west of Cairo lies Wady Natroón, or the Nitrian Valley, so called from certain salt lakes or ponds, some of which yield natron and others common salt. It is a gloomy, desolate, and barren region, some twenty-two miles long, and from two to five and a half miles wide. To this valley, known to the early Christians as the desert of Scete, about the middle of the second century, one Fronto retired with seventy brethren to live an ascetic life, “ far from the madding crowd,” and away from the temptations which assailed the dwellers of the outer world. Forgetful perhaps of the fact that when the Saviour was to be tempted of the devil, He was driven into the wilderness; and perhaps wearied of the persecutions that assailed the infant church; many Christians sought to find in solitude opportunities for the exercise of Christian virtues and a religious life. Here, at a later date, the celebrated Macarius instituted a monastic establishment. Ruffinus, in A. D. 372, visiting the region, mentioned fifty convents in the valley; and another writer fifteen years later, after spending twelve months there, reckoned that the valley contained five thousand devotees; and at the beginning of the seventh century there were said to be about three thousand five hundred. Some of these recluses were men of high station and great refinement, persons who had been associated with emperors and princes; who, though leaving the world and its mad ambitions, did not abandon the literary pursuits which made their lonely life tolerable. In some of their cells might have been found not only prayer-books and Bibles, but copies of the Iliad, the Organon of Aristotle, or the Elements of Euclid. Every convent had its library, and contributions of books from friends were gratefully received.
The Syrian convent of St. Mary Deipara was specially fortunate in receiving contributions of manuscripts from different sources. Moses of Nisibin, who entered the convent A. D. 907, was advanced to the position of Abbot, and went to Bagdad in 927 to procure from the Caliph a remission of the poll tax demanded from the monks. After attaining this end, he journeyed through Mesopotamia and Syria, and returned in 932 bringing two hundred and fifty volumes which he had gathered by purchase or gift in the course of his journey. The records indicate that the library of this convent was often neglected, and again examined and renovated; until in the fifteenth century the monastery was almost deserted, being tenanted at one time by a solitary monk, where seventy had formerly dwelt.
At different times travelers in Egypt reported in Europe that there existed in those convents large quantities of manuscripts. Elias Assemani, who went thither from Rome in 1707, found the libraгу
full of Arabic, Syriac, and Coptic manuscripts, of which he could only buy thirty-four volumes, and these he came near losing, as a squall upset his cargo in the Nile; he was, however, able to recover his manuscripts, and place them in the library of the Vatican. His famous cousin, Joseph Simon Assemani, went to Egypt in 1715, and found in this convent about two hundred Syriac manuscripts; only a few of which he was able to purchase privately from the Superior. In 1730 the Sieur Granger visited the monastery, was kindly received by the monks, but was not allowed to see their books. He told them that the price of their books would restore their decaying churches and mouldering cells: they answered that they had rather be buried in the ruins than part with their manuscripts.
In 1828 Lord Prudhoe visited the monastery. He made the monks some presents and was courteously treated. He found the books of the library in a little room under a trap door, where it seemed that the whole library had been thrown down for security and had remained in the dust for ages, perhaps since the beginning of the ninth century, when the Mohammedans invaded the valley, plundered the monasteries, burned the manuscripts, and enslaved many of the monks. He obtained a few manuscripts, which were given to Archdeacon Tattam, who was engaged in gathering materials for a Coptic dictionary. In March, 1837, Hon. R. Curzon, afterwards Lord de la Zouche, visited the monastery, and succeeded in so mollifying the ecclesiastics, that he was taken down into an old oil vault, where he discovered a narrow, low door. Pushing it open he entered into a cell roofed and vaulted with stone, which was filled two feet deep with loose leaves of Syriac manuscripts. He obtained a few of them. Mr. Tattam afterwards visited the monastery, and purchased some volumes of the Pentateuch and other manuscripts. Again in 1842 he succeeded in obtaining more. In 1814 Tischendorf gleaned some leaves from the floor of the library, and in 1845 M. Auguste Pacho, a native of Egypt, lived six months in the convent, and succeeded in purchasing the bulk of the remaining manuscripts, most of which are now in the British Museum, the printed catalogue of these later acquisitions by the late Prof. Wm. Wright, of Cambridge, filling three quarto volumes, in addition to about seventy-eight manuscripts which were in the Museum and were catalogued in 1838.
There are therefore about a thousand Syriac manuscripts in the British Museum, besides others in Rome, Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Boston, New York, etc. Among them are parts of the Syriac Bible in several versions, various apocryphal books, church service books, psalters, lectionaries; the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the writings of Eusebius, and a mass of Syrian literature which awaits the