Writing about Mar Isaac over the last few days reminded me of another little-known (in the West) writer whose words I quoted back in August - Jacob bar Hebraeus (1226-1286):
When I had given much thought and pondered on the matter, I became convinced that these quarrels of Christians among themselves are not a matter of factual substance, but rather one of words and terms. For they all confess Christ Our Lord to be perfect God and perfect human, without any commingling, mixing, or confusion of the natures. This bipinnate ‘likeness’ ( Phil. 2:6-7) is termed by one party a ‘nature’, by another ‘a hypostasis’ and by yet another a ‘person’. Thus I saw all the Christian communities, with their different Christological positions, as possessing a single common ground that is without any difference. Accordingly I totally eradicated any hatred from the depths of my heart, and I completely renounced disputing with anyone over confessional matters
Gregory Bar-Hebraeus, Bar Ebroyo or Abulfaragus, (1226 – 1286) was a maphrian or catholicos of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century, and (in Dr. W. Wright’s words) one of the most learned and versatile men that Syria ever produced. As one might expect from his name - Bar ‘Ebraya (Bar Hebreeus), “Son of the Hebrew” – he was the son of Jewish convert to Christianity in the city of Edessa. His main claim on us is that he preserved a large quantity of theological writings which have since been lost.
Older books call him a ‘Monophysite’, because he belonged to a Church which had not accepted Chalcedon, but as the church to which he belonged had not been invited to that Council and had no accurate account of its proceedings, that seems a little harsh. As the quotation here shows, he was not impressed by the divisions within Christianity and he saw clearly that despite the bitterness of the language used, Christians had more in common than divided them; unfortunately they did not see this.
It was perhaps easier for the son of a convert living in Muslim territory to see what others were blind to. The divisions which had followed Chalcedon played a notable part in allowing the rise of Islam. Indeed, there are historians who argue not only that the divisions allowed Islam to defeat the divided Christians, but that it was, itself, in origin, an heretical form of Christianity. Whatever the truth of the last, of the accuracy of the first verdict there can be no doubt.
The divisions over Chalcedon meant that first Egypt, then most of Syria were lost to the control of the Eastern Empire, and the divisions between Christians allowed the Muslims to conquer these territories far more easily than would otherwise have been the case; indeed, the non-Chalecedonians, who had been heavily persecuted by the Imperial forces, at first thought Islam would offer them some relief – as it did – initially.
We see, these many centuries on, the consequences. Now Christianity is almost extinguished in the lands where it first existed. Are we, in our time, any wiser? Indeed, with the example of those times before us, are we even as wise? Our enemies lie all around us – is it wise to treat each other as enemies when Satan has provided them so liberally?