More on the Pseudo-Nicaean canons

In a previous post I have shown the different versions of the pseudo-nicaean canons. I have missed to point out an interesting feature of their transmission, though. The Syriac text, which is the original version of the canons according to Braun and Vööbus, is significantly longer than the later Arabic and Ethiopic translations. For not only they differ in the number and content of the canons themselves, the Syriac canons are transmitted in a long letter, presumably by Maruta of Maipherkat to Isaac, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. This letter recounts the origins of the council of Nicaea along with the creed, with the names of the bishops as well as many excursuses. Maruta, if he is the authentic author of the text, also translates the Greek canons into Syriac to make them accessible to the Syriac speaking East. He not only translates the 20 Greek canons but also the pseudo-nicaean canons, which he seems to accept as authentic too.

The letter says that Isaac had requested to learn the Apostolic canons to regulate his Church. Maruta answers that these canons circulated before the Nicaean council: they are said to be partly written by James, partly by Luke – apostolic therefore. Maruta goes on to summarize these canons: They are nothing less than what we call the Canons of Addai! But Maruta explains that the Apostolic canons were outdated, not fit anymore to regulate a Church fighting heresies. That is why he sends Isaac the Nicaean canons – or what he deems appropriate for the Persian church.

Not much has been written on this interesting letter (interesting too as it is a direct testimony to the canons of Addai!). The acts of the Council of Isaac (410) certainly associate Maruta with a set of canons which he transmitted. Whether he is the author of the letter and/or of the pseudo-nicaean canons, I cannot tell for the moment. It seems to me that the letter is partly interpolated, with elements from later centuries. Clearly living literature. Hopefully I can write more soon.

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