Severus of Antioch (d. 538) [Syr. Orth.]

Patr. of Antioch, theologian, and prolific Greek author. Severus is generally recognized as the most important Greek theologian of the 6th cent., and he remains, along with Philoxenos, the main authority on christology for the Syr. Orth. tradition. He originated from Sozopolis in Pisidia and came from a pagan family (the claim in the Life by John bar Aphtonia that his grandfather was a bp. is unfounded). He studied first in Alexandria and then at the Law school in Beirut. During his time in Beirut he was converted to Christianity and was baptised in the shrine of St. Leontius in Tripoli (488). He then adopted a monastic life near Gaza, but from 508–11 he was in Constantinople, in support of the anti-Chalcedonian cause. When Flavian was deposed from the patriarchal see of Antioch in 512, Severus was elected as his successor. After the death of the emperor Anastasius (518), and with the new pro-Chalcedonian ecclesiastical policy of Justin I, he escaped to Egypt where he spent the rest of his life, apart from a brief visit to Constantinople in 536, summoned by Justinian. Back in Egypt, he died two years later (8 Feb. 538). On his return to Egypt in 536 the emperor had his writings (in Greek) condemned, with the result that most of them survive only in Syriac translations. The most important of these are the 125 ‘Cathedral’ Homilies, preached during his time on the patriarchal throne: these come down (not quite complete) in two forms, the earlier perhaps translated by Pawlos of Kallinikos, and the later one as a careful revision, made by Yaʿqub of Edessa over a century later. Only Homily 77 survives in the Greek original, thanks to its re-attribution to Gregory of Nyssa or to Hesychius of Jerusalem.

Most of his other works are theological treatises refuting either Chalcedonian polemic (thus the Against the Grammarian [= John of Caesarea], the Discourses addressed to Nephalius, and the Philalethes), or the more extreme anti-Chalcedonians (thus the Correspondence with Sergios). There is also an extensive polemical work against Julian of Halicarnassus, with whose views on incorruptibility of the flesh of Christ he disagreed. Severus was also a tireless letter writer, but only a very small proportion of his vast correspondence survives in Syriac translation. A collection of hymns (maʿnyoto), often misleadingly referred to as the Oktoechos, includes several by him. Quite a number of excerpts on exegetical matters are preserved in Greek in certain of the Catenae collections.

A number of biographies of Severus survive; of these the two most important are those by John, abbot of the monastery of Beth Aphtonia (John bar Aphtonia), and Zacharias Rhetor (his fellow student at Beirut). The latter (covering only up to 512) is a response to a pamphlet that had been put out claiming that Severus had taken part as a student in pagan rites.

See Fig. 110.

    Primary Sources

    • CPG 7022–7081.
    • Homilies: ed. M. Brière, F. Graffin, and others: 1–17 (PO 38.2); 18–25 (PO 37.1); 26–31 (PO 26.4); 32–9 (PO 36.3); 40–5 (PO 36.1); 46–51 (PO 35.3), 52–7 (PO 4.1), 58–69 (PO 8.2); 70–6 (PO 12.1); 77 (PO 16.5; both versions and Greek); 78–83 (PO 20.2); 84–90 (PO 23.1); 91–8 (PO 25.1); 99–103 (PO 22.2); 104–12 (PO 25.4); 113–9 (PO 26.3); 120–25 (PO 29.1; with general introduction).
    • Theological works: ‘Against the Grammarian’, ed. J. Lebon, (CSCO 93–4, 101–2, 111–12; 1929–38); ‘To Nephalius and to Sergius’, ed. J. Lebon (CSCO 119–20; 1949); ‘Philalethes’, ed. R. Hespel (CSCO 133–4; 1952); ‘Against Julian’, ed. R. Hespel (CSCO 244–5, 295–6, 301–2, 318–9; 1964–71).
    • Letters: E. W.  Brooks, Sixth Book of Select Letters (2 vols.; 1902–1904); further letters, ed. Brooks in PO 12 and 14 (1919–1920).
    • Hymns: ed. Brooks, PO 6–7 (1911).
    • Catena fragments: F. Petit, with L. Van Rompay, La chaîne grecque sur l’Exode, vol. 1. Fragments de Sévère d’Antioche (TEG 9; 1999); and Sévère d’Antioche. Fragments grecs tirés des chaînes sur les derniers livres de l’Octateuque et sur les Règnes (TEG 14; 2006).
    • Biographies: by Zacharias and by John of Beth Aphthonia, ed. M. A.  Kugener in PO 2 (1907), with FT ; ET of that by Zacharias by L. Ambjörn (2008). Biography by Giwargi, bp. of the Arabs, ed. K. E.  McVey, in CSCO 530–1 (1993). A further life, by Athanasius, survives in Arabic (ed. Y. N. Yousef, PO 49.4; 2004).

    Secondary Sources

    • P.  Allen and C. T. R. Hayward, Severus of Antioch (2004). (for the wider background, with selection in translation)
    • F. Alpi, La route royale. Sévère d’Antioche et les Églises d’Orient (512–518) (2 vols., 2009).
    • R.  Draguet, Julien d’Halicarnasse et sa controverse avec Sévère d’Antioche sur l’incorruptibilité du corps du Christ (1924).
    • F. Graffin, in DSpir , vol. 14 (1990), 748–51.
    • A.  Grillmeier, Jesus der Christus im Glauben der Kirche, vol. 2/2 (1989), 20–185. (= Engl. ed., 21–173).
    • J. Lebon, Le monophysisme sévérien (1909).
    • I. R.  Torrance, Christology after Chalcedon. Severus of Antioch and Sergius the Monophysite (1988).
    • L.  Van Rompay, ‘Severus, Patriarch of Antioch (512–538), in the Greek, Syriac and Coptic traditions’, JCSSS 8 (2008), 3–22.

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock, “Severus of Antioch,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock, “Severus of Antioch,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Severus of Antioch.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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