( = of SYRIA c. 630-c. 700)


 St. Isaac of Syria, Modern Icon

ISAAC of NINEVEH (d. c.700), also ‘Isaac the Syrian’, monastic writer. Little is known of his life: he came originally from Qatar, where he became a monk; c.676, in the monastery of Beth ‘Abe (in Kurdistan) he was made Bp. of Nineveh by the Catholicos of the Church of the East, but shortly afterwards he retired from his see to live a life of solitude in Khuzistan, moving in old age to the monastery of Rabban Shabur. His writings, on ascetic subjects, belong to the end of his life; they were translated at an early date into Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Ethiopic. A selection of 25 homilies was translated into Latin in the 15th cent. The Greek version of the ‘First Part’ of his collected writings (82 homilies), the work of two monks of St Saba, Patrikios and Abramios, was first published by Nicephorus Theotokes (Leipzig, 1770) under the title Τοῦ ὁσίου πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἰσαὰκ … τὰ εὑρεθέντα ἀσκητικά (this edition includes some texts by two other Syriac authors, Philoxenus and John of Dalyatha, wrongly attributed to Isaac). Extracts are included in the Russian Philocalia. In modern times Isaac continues to exert an influence on both Athonite and Coptic monasticism. Feast day in the East, 28 Jan.

Isaac of Nineveh is to be distinguished from Isaac the Great  and from three other Syriac writers of the 5th/6th cent. who often go under the name of Isaac of Antioch, extracts of whose writings have been published by G. Bickell (2 vols., 1873–7) and P. Bedjan (1903).

The whole of the ‘First Part’ of Isaac’s collected works was ed. by P. Bedjan, De Perfectione Religiosa (Paris, 1909). Eng. tr. by A. J. Wensinck (Amsterdam, 1923). Eng. tr. of the Gk. version, with many refs. to the Syriac, by ‘The Holy Transfiguration Monastery’ [D. Miller], The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (1984). Lat. versions in J. P. Migne, PG 86 (1). 811–86 (‘De Contemptu Mundi’). Chapters 4–41 of the ‘Second Part’ are ed., with Eng. tr., by S. P. Brock (CSCO 554–5, Scriptores Syri, 224–5; 1995); Ital. tr. of the rest by P. Bettiolo (1985; 2nd edn., 1990). H. Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Cistercian Studies Series, 175; Kalamazoo, 2000). S. Chialà, Dall’ascesi eremitica alla misericordia infinita; Ricerche su Isacco di Ninive e la sua fortuna (2002). S. P. Brock, ‘Isaac the Syrian’, in C. G. Conticello (ed.), La théologie byzantine, 1 (forthcoming). E. Khalifé—Hachem in Dict. Sp. 7 (pt. 2; 1971), cols. 2041–54, s.v. (On the other Syriac Isaacs, R. Graffin, SJ, ibid., cols. 2010 f., s.v. ‘Isaac d’Amid et Isaac d’Antioche’.)

Adapted from the Oxford Dict. of the Chr. Church

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