Severus of Antioch
He almost at once openly united himself with the Acephali, repudiating his own baptism and his baptizer, and even the Christian church itself as infected with Nestorianism (Labbe, u.s.). Upon embracing Non-Chalcedonian doctrines, he entered a monastery apparently belonging to that sect between Gaza and its port Majuma. Here he met Peter the Iberian, who had been ordained bishop of Gaza by Theodosius, the Non-Chalcedonian monk, during his usurpation of the patriarch of Jerusalem. About this time Severus apparently joined a Non-Chalcedonian brotherhood near Eleutheropolis under the archimandrite Mamas. At this time Severus rejected the Henoticon of Zeno, dismissing it as "the annulling edict," and "the disuniting edict" (Labbe, v. 121), and anathematized Pope ]]Peter III of Alexandria|Peter Mongus]], the Non-Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria, for accepting it. We next hear of him in an Egyptian monastery, whose abbot Nephalius having been formerly a Non-Chalcedonian, now embraced the Council of Chalcedon. In the resulting disagreement, Nephalius with his monks expelled Severus and his partisans
Severus is said to have stirred up a fierce religious war among the population of Alexandria, resulting in bloodshed and conflagrations (Labbe, v. 121). To escape punishment for this violence, he fled to Constantinople, supported by a band of two hundred Non-Chalcedonian monks. Anastasius I, who succeeded Zeno as emperor in 491, was a professed Non-Chalcedonian, and received Severus with honor. His presence initiated a period of fighting in Constantinople between rival bands of monks, Chalcedonian and Non, which ended in AD 511 with the humiliation of Anastasius, the temporary triumph of the patriarch Macedonius II, and the reversal of the Non-Chalcedonian cause (Theophanes, p. 132). That same year Severus was eagerly dispatched by Anastasius to occupy the vacant patriarch of Antioch (Labbe, iv. 1414; Theod. Lect. ii. 31, pp. 563, 567; Theophanes p. 134), and the very day of his enthronement solemnly pronounced in his church an anathema on Chalcedon, and accepted the Henoticon he had previously repudiated. He had the name of Peter Mongus inscribed in the diptychs; entered into communion with the Non-Chalcedonian prelates, Timotheus of Constantinople and John Niciota of Alexandria; and received into communion Peter of Iberia and other leading members of the Acephali (Evagr. H. E. iii. 33; Labbe, iv. 1414, v. 121, 762; Theod. Lect. l.c.). Non-Chalcedonianism seemed now triumphant throughout the Christian world. Proud of his patriarchal dignity and strong in the emperor's protection, Severus despatched letters to his brother-prelates, announcing his elevation and demanding communion. In these he anathematized Chalcedon and all who maintained the two natures. While many rejected them altogether, Non-Chalcedonianism was everywhere in the ascendant in the East, and Severus was deservedly regarded as its chief champion (Severus of Ashmunain apud Neale, Patr. Alex. ii. 27). Synodal letters were exchanged between John Niciota and Severus, which are the earliest examples of communication between the Oriental Orthodox sees of Alexandria and Antioch that have continued to the present day.
The triumph of Severus was, however, short. His possession of the patriarchate of Antioch did not survive his imperial patron. Anastasius was succeeded in 518 by Justin I, who embraced the beliefs of Chalcedon. The Non-Chalcedonian prelates were everywhere replaced by Chalcedonian successors, Severus being one of the first to fall. Irenaeus, the count of the East, was commissioned to arrest him but Severus departed before his approach, setting sail one night in September 518 for Alexandria (Liberat. Brev. l.c.; Theophanes, p. 141; Evagr. H. E. iv. 4). Paul I was ordained in his place. Severus and his doctrines were anathematized in various councils, while at Alexandria he was gladly welcomed by the patriarch Timotheos III and his other fellow doctrinarists, being generally hailed as the champion of the orthodox faith against the corruptions of Nestorianism. His learning and persuasion established his authority as "os omnium doctorum," and the day of his entrance into Egypt was long celebrated as a Coptic/Jacobite festival (Neale, u.s. p. 30). Alexandria soon became a refuge of Non-Chalcedonians of every shade of opinion, becoming too numerous for the emperor to molest. But within this group fierce controversies sprang up on various subtle questions of Christology, one of which involved Severus and his fellow-exile Julian of Halicarnassus as to the corruptibility of Christ's human body before His resurrection. Julian and his followers were styled Aphthartodocetae and "Phantasiastae," Severus and his adherents "Phthartolatrae" or "Corrupticolae," and "Ktistolatrae." The controversy was a heated and protracted one and while no settlement was arrived at, the later Oriental Orthodox claim the victory for Severus (Renaudot, p. 129).
After some years in Egypt spent in continual literary and polemical activity, Severus was unexpectedly summoned to Constantinople by Justin's successor Justinian I, whose consort Theodora favored Severus' cause. The emperor was weary of the turmoil caused by the prolonged theological discussions; Severus, he was told, was the master of the Non-Chalcedonian party, and only through his influence could unity only be regained. At this period, AD 535. Anthimus had been recently appointed to the Patriarch of Constantinople by Theodora's influence. He was a Non-Chalcedonian, who later joined heartily with Severus and his associates, Peter of Apamea and Zoaras, in their endeavours to get Non-Chalcedonianism recognized as the imperial faith. This introduction of Non-Chalcedonians threw the city into great disorder, and large numbers embraced their beliefs (Labbe, v. 124). Eventually, at the instance of Pope Agapetus I, who happened to be present in Constantinople on political business, the Non-Chalcedonians Anthimus and Timotheus were deposed. Patriarch Mennas, who succeeded Anthimus, summoned a synod in May and June 536 to deal with the Chalcedon question. Severus and his two companions were cast out "as wolves", and once again anathematized (Labbe, v. 253-255). The sentence was ratified by Justinian. The writings of Severus were proscribed; any one possessing them who failed to commit them to the flames was to lose his right hand (Evagr. H. E. iv. 11; Novell. Justinian. No. 42; Matt. Blastar. p. 59). Severus returned to Egypt, which he seems never again to have left. The date of his death is said variously to be 538, 539, or 542. According to John of Ephesus, he died in the Egyptian desert.
Writing and theology
He was a very copious writer, but we possess little more than fragments. An account of them, so far as they can be identified, is given by William Cave and Fabricius. A very large number exist only in Syriac, for which consult the catalogue of the Syriac manuscripts in the British Museum by Prof. Wright.
Severus was successful in his great aim of uniting the Non-Chalcedonians into one compact body with a definitely formulated creed. For notwithstanding the numerous subdivisions of the Non-Chalcedonians, he was, in Dorner's words, "strictly speaking, the scientific leader of the most compact portion of the party," and regarded as such by the Non-Chalcedonians and their opponents. He was the chief object of attack in the long and fierce contest with the Chalcedonians, by whom he is always designated as the author and ringleader of Non-Chalcedonianism. Hoping to embrace as many as possible of varying theological color, he followed the traditional formulas of the church as closely as he could, while affixing his own sense upon them.
- In 1904 the Sixth Book of the Select Letters of Severus, in the Syriac version of Athanasius of Nisibis, were edited by G. E. W. Brooks (London). For a full statement of his opinions see the major work of Dorner, and the article "Monophysiten" in Herzog's Encyclopedia.
- This article uses text from A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies by Henry Wace.
- Pauline Allen and Robert Hayward, Severus of Antioch, Routlege, 2004.
- Frédéric Alpi, several recent articles in French devoted to the episcopate of Severus.
- Evagrius Scholasticus, H. E. 3.33.
- Evagrius 3.33; see also 3.22.
- Gillman, Ian and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia before 1500 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), on p. 31 states he died in 538.
- Historia Literaria, vol. i.pp. 499 ff.
- Bibl. Graec. lib. v. c. 36, vol. x. pp. 614 ff., ed. Harless
- Dorner, Pers. of Christ, div. ii. vol. i. p. 136, Clark's trans.