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The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers

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OTHER LATE WRITERS.

The most important works of the fourth and fifth centuries had been in some way connected with the Arian and Nestorian controversies, and often owed as much to the greatness of their themes as to the abilities of the writers. The corresponding themes of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries were the monophysite controversy, which culminated in Justinian's edict condemning the three chapters of Theodore, Theodoret, and Ibas, and in the fifth general council (A. D. 553); the monothelite controversy, which was provoked by the attempt of the Emperor Heraclius to conciliate the now schismatic monophysites, and culminated in the sixth general council (A. D. 680), which declared in favor of "two wills and two natural modes of working united without schism and without confusion, as well as without change"; and the iconoclastic controversy which gave rise to the seventh and last general council (A. D. 787), which is recognized by the Eastern and Western Churches.

The sixth century produced no single writer of prominence, since the most of the monophysite questions had all been extracted in the previous age, and the dry bones were now handled chiefly as a matter of politics. Following are the names of the noteworthy writers: Severus, a leader of the monophysites, who first cited Dionysius the Areopagite; Andrew of Caesarea and Procopius Gaza, writers of commentaries; Maxentius, author of several controversial works in favor of monophysitism; Ephraem of Antioch, all of whose works are lost; Leontius, a favorer of Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who wrote a book concerning the sects; the Emperor Justinian, who by courtesy is placed among ecclesiastical writers because of his edict of the Three Chapters; Cosmas Indicopleustes, who visited India and who wrote a work on Christian topography, of some value as showing the extensive organization of the Church at that time at the far East; Anastasius Sinaita, author of certain controversial works; John Climacus, a monk, author of the "Climax," or "Scale," a work in thirty chapters, each of which, as a step in the scale, treats of some point of Christian conduct; John Scholasticus, who made a collection of canons; Eustratius, who wrote on the post-mortem condition of souls; and Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, who wrote on Church government.

 

In the seventh century one author rises into prominence, the monk Maximus, who had been secretary of state to the Emperor Heraclius. He was the chief defender of the orthodox doctrine of the two wills as against the monothelites, both at the East and in the West, whither he traveled in the interests of the faith. He wrote much on theological and on practical subjects. Neander, in commenting somewhat at length upon his theological opinions, says that he is led thereto by "the solid inward worth and importance of this individual." Among Maximus's works are several collections of maxims viz., four hundred spiritual maxims entitled "Of Charity," two hundred theological and economical maxims, and two hundred and forty-three moral maxims. His strictly theological works concern chiefly the controversy upon the single or double will of Christ.

Other writers were John Philponus, a grammarian of Alexandria, who wrote on the creation, and urged that the world was not eternal; Antiochus, abbot of the monastery of St. Sabas at the time when Chosroes captured Jerusalem, and author of a "Pandect of Divine Scripture," or compendium of the Christian religion; Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, a writer against the monothelites; and Andrew, Archbishop of Crete, nineteen of whose discourses are now extant. In the eighth century no prose writer is worthy of mention here except John of Damascus.

The classical poets of this period, besides the Damascenes, were Paul Silentiarius and George Pisides, both court poets. The former, in the sixth century, wrote a descriptive poem on the church of St. Sophia at Constantinople; the latter, in the seventh century, was author of several poems, the most ambitious of which was on the "Six Days' Work."

 

The GREEK HYMNOLOGISTS.

With the eighth century began a new epoch of Greek Christian poetry that, namely, in which it elaborated the divine office of the Greek Church. The hymns composed for this purpose were not poetry at all in the old classical sense, but rather metrical prose more resembling the Hebrew psalms than classical odes or our modern hymns. There had been some contributions to this ecclesiastical hymnology previous to this time, as by Anatolius in the fifth century, but the period of chief production, and which has some claim to originality and freshness, was that of the iconoclastic controversy. As already stated, John of Damascus ranks first among these ecclesiastical poets. Other names which come within our period are Andrew Cretensis; Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople; Cosmas of Jerusalem, and Stephen the Sabaite. Next in rank to John was Cosmas, his foster-brother. Retiring together to the monastery of St. Sabas, the two vied with each other in thus hymning the divine praise as they did in devotion to ascetic duties. Cosmas was afterward made bishop of Maiuma, near Gaza. A stanza from Ode 9 of his "Canon for Christmas Day" has been rendered by Dr. Neale as follows:

 

[Ode of Cosmas]

O wondrous mystery, full of passing grace!

The grot becometh Heaven; the Virgin's breast

The bright Cherubic Throne; the stall, that place

Where He who fills all space vouchsafes to rest;

Christ our God, to whom we raise

Hymns of thankfulness and praise!

Stephen the Sabaite was a nephew of John, and was only ten years old when taken by him to the monastery where he passed his life. Of the few hymns which he left, the following, under the sympathetic touch of Dr. Neale, its translator, has taken its place as one of the most beautiful hymns of modern times. No happier leave could be taken of the Greek fathers than in these lines which show that under the rough garb of a monk, who had fallen upon sad days when the Cross was bowing before the Crescent, there beat the same loving, loyal heart with which the disciple of to-day bows before his Lord:

 

[Hymn of Stephen]

Art thou weary, art thou languid,

Art thou sore distressed?

"Come to me," saith One, "and, coming,

Be at rest!"

Hath he marks to lead me to him,

If he be my guide?

"In his feet and hands are wound-prints,

And his side."

Is there diadem as Monarch,

That his brow adorns?

"Yea, a crown in very surety,

But of thorns."

If I find him, if I follow,

What his guerdon here?

"Many a sorrow, many a labor,

Many a tear."

If I still hold closely to him,

What hath he at last?

"Sorrow vanquished, labor ended,

Jordan past."

If I ask him to receive me,

Will he say me nay?

"Not till earth, and not till heaven,

Pass away!"

Finding, following, keeping, struggling,

Is he sure to bless?

"Angels, martyrs, prophets, virgins,

Answer, 'Yes!'"

 

THE END

 

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