Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Isaacus Antiochenus, priest of Antioch in Syria
Isaacus (31) Antiochenus, born at Amid (Diarbekir) in Mesopotamia, called "the Great" and "the Elder," a priest of Antioch in Syria, said to have visited Rome. His teacher was Zenobius the disciple of St. Ephraim, not (as Cave) Ephraim himself. The Chronicle of Edessa speaks of him as an archimandrite, without specifying his monastery, which was at Gabala in Phoenicia. He died c. 460. He is sometimes confused with Isaacus of Nineveh. Bar-hebraeus (Hist. Dynast. p. 91) unjustly brands him as a heretic and a renegade. He was author of numerous works in Syriac, of which the chief were polemics against the Nestorians and Eutychians, and of a long elegy on the overthrow of Antioch by the earthquake of 459. He also wrote a poem on the Ludi Seculares, held by Honorius in his sixth consulship (a.d. 404), and another on the sack of Rome by Alaric (a.d. 410). Jacobus of Edessa reckons him among the best writers of Syriac. His poems are extant in MSS. in the Vatican and other European libraries. Many of them are wrongly ascribed to St. Ephraim, and included amongst his works in the Roman edition. In
discourse No. 7 Isaacus speaks of relic-worship and holy days. Besides Sunday, many Christians observed Friday, the day of the Passion. No. 9 attacks prevalent errors on the Incarnation. Here Isaacus seems to fall into the opposite heresies, failing to distinguish Nature from Person; but elsewhere he uses language unmistakably orthodox. Assemani thinks his words have been tampered with by Jacobite copyists. No. 24, Christ suffered as man, not as God. No. 50 touches on future retribution: "The fault is temporal, the punishment eternal." This aims at those Syrian monks who had adopted the opinion of Origen on this subject. No. 59 is a hymn asserting, against the Cathari or Novatianists, that fallen man recovers innocence not only by baptism, but also by penitence. No. 62 is a hymn of supplication, lamenting the disasters of the age, e.g. the inroads of Huns and Arabs, famine, plague, and earthquake. Johannes Maro quotes two discourses not found in the Vatican MSS. The first, on Ezekiel's chariot, clearly asserts two natures and one person in Christ: "duo aspectus, una persona; duae naturae, unus salvator." Similarly, the second, on the Incarnation. Bickell printed both, so far as he found them extant (S. Isaac. Op. i. 50, 52).
The library of the British Museum possesses about 80 of the discourses, hymns, prayers, etc., of St. Isaacus in MSS., ranging from the 6th to the 12th cent. Dr. Bickell, in the preface to his edition of the works of Isaac, gives a list of 178 entire poems, and of 13 others imperfect at the beginning or end (179–191); three prose writings dealing with the ascetic life (192–194); five sermons in Arabic, on the Incarnation, etc. (195–199); and a sermon in Greek, on the Transfiguration, usually assigned to St. Ephraim (200).
See S. Isaaci Antiocheni opera omnia ex omnibus quotquot exstant codd. MSS. cum varia lectione Syr. Arab. primus ed. G. Bickell, vol. i. 1873, ii. 1877; Gennadius, Vir. Illustr. 66; Assem. Bibl. Orient. i. 207–234; Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 434; Ceillier, x. 578; Wright's Cat. Syr. MSS. Brit. Mus. General Index, p. 1289.
The poems of Isaac are important for the right understanding of the doctrines of the Nestorians, Eutychians, Novatianists, Pelagians, and other sects; besides being authorities for the events, manners, and customs of the writer's age.