Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/744

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670

ARABIA


670


ARABIA


Oriens Christianus, II, 1567, 1585, and 1597; Guidi, Zeitschrift f iir deutsche morgenlandisohe Gesellschaft , XLIII, 410; Kyssel, Georgs des Araberbischofs Gedichte und Briefe, 44; Duchesne, op. cit., 349-352; Cliabot, Synodicon Orientale (1902), 275; Labourt, Le Christianisme dans I'empire Perse sous la dynastie Sassanide (1904), 206-207, 158, and passim].

South-Arabian Christianity: Himyar, Yemen and Xajran. — .According to Eusebius, Rufinus, Niee- phorus, Theodoret, etc., followed by Baronius, Asse- mani, Tillemont, Lequien, Pagi, and others, the Apostle Bartholomew, while on his way to India (i. c. Ethiopia), preached the Gospel in Arabia Felix, or Yemen, which was then, especially after the ex- pedition of ^lius Gallus, a commercial country well known to the Romans, and in constant mercan- tile and political communication with Abyssinia. Eusebius informs us that in the second century Pantjenus, master of the school of Alexandria, in- structed the Indians (Ethiopians) in Christianity, and Jerome adds further that this missionary was sent to them by Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, in consequence of a request made by them for a Christian teacher. As the names India and Indians were applied by the Greek and Latin writers indis- criminately to Parthia, Persia, Media, Ethiopia, Libya, and Arabia, it may be reasonably inferred that the tradition in question is at the least vague and indefinite, although it is universally admitted that the India in question is Etliiopia, whence the Apostle may have easily crossed to Yemen; inasmuch as the Ethiopians and the Himyarites, or Yemenites, are both linguistically and etlmograph- ieally the same race.

According to Nicephorus, the field of Pantcenus's mission was among the Jews of Yemen, whom we know to have settled in various centres of southern Arabia after the ruin of the second Temple in order to es- cape the Roman persecution. Jerome adds, further- more, that Pantjenus found among them the Hebrew Gospel of St. Matthew which they had received from their first Apostle, St. Bartholomew. Rufinus, Theodoret, and Eusebius assert that during the reign of Constantine the Great (312-337) a Tyrian philos- opher named Meropius determined to visit the Himyarites in Arabia Felix. He was accompanied by two of his kinsmen (according to some, lus two sons) and other disciples. On their return they were captured as enemies and were either slain or made captives, for at that time the Himyarites were in a state of warfare. Two members of the party, however, named JDdesius and Frumentius respec- tively, were taken before the King of Himyar, who be- came favourably dispo.sed towards them, appointing the first his cup-bearer, the other custodian of his treasures. At the death of the king, the two Christian Tyrians determined to return to their country, but were prevented by the queen regent, who requested them to remain and he the guardians of her infant son till he reached the proper age. They obeyed, and Frumentius, taking advantage of his power 'wd position, caused a search to be made for the few Cliristians who, he had heard, were scattered in the Hiniyarite Kingdom. He treated them kindly and built for them churches and places of worship.

As soon as the young king ascended the throne, the two disciples returned to Tyre, where ^lesius was ordained priest. Frumentius went to Alexan- dria to inform the newly-elected bishop, Athanasius, of the condition of Christianity in Himyar, and begged him to send them a bishop and priests. Whereupon Frumentius himself was consecrated bishop and sent, together with several priests, to the Himyarites, where, with the aid and favour of the king, he in- creased the number of Christians and brought much proKperily to the Church. As Duchesne remarks ["Lea C'glises siSpar^es" (1905), 311], the elevation


of Frumentius must have taken place during the reign of Constantius, and either shortly before 340, or shortly after 346; for during the interval Athan- asius was absent from Alexandria, and, as the stay of the two Tyrians at the court of Hiray^r cannot have lasted less than fifteen years, it follows that Meropius's journey must have taken place between the years 320 and 325. The legentl of Meropius and Frumentius, however, seems to refer to the evangelization of Ethiopia rather than to that of Himyar, or, if to that of Himyar, its conversion must have been only of an indirect and transitorj' character. To the mission of Frumentius may also refer the tes- timony of two Arabic writers quoted by Ouseley, (Travels, I, 369-371; also Wright, Christianity in Arabia, .33), according to which the Arabs of Najran, in Yemen, were first converted by a Syrian Christian captured by some Arab robbers and taken to their country.

Another Christian mission to Himyar took place during the reign of Constantius (337-361), who, towards the year 356, chose Bishop Theophilus, the famous deacon of Nicomedia and a zealous Arian, to conduct an embassy to the court of Himyar. The eloquence of Theophilus so impressed the king that he became favourably disposed towards the Christians of his realm and built three churches for them, one at Dhafar (or Safar), another at Aden or at Sanaa, and the third at Hormuz, near the Persian Gulf. As the aim of the embassy was to ask the Iving of Himyar to grant freedom of worship to the Roman citizens in the Kingdom of Himyar, it follows that Cliristianity must have attained there a certain im- portance. According to Philostorgius, the king liimself became a Christian, but this is improbable. At any rate, whether Theophilus succeeded in con- verting more Himyarites to the Christian faith or whether, as Assemani seems to believe, lie simply per- verted the already existing Christian population to the Arian heresy cannot be determined. From the facts that the latest royal Hiniyarite inscription, couched in pagan terms, bears the date of 281, that local Jewish inscriptions date from 378, 448, 458, and 467, and that the first Christian inscription, discovered by Glaser and considered by Hommel the latest Sabean inscription (it opens with the words: "In the power of the All-Merciful, and His Messiah and the Holy Ghost"), dates only as late as 542-543 [Glaser, Skizze der Gescliichte Arabiens (1889), 12 sqq.], it does not follow that Christianity at the time of Theophilus had not attained any official position in Himyar, although it is undeniable that the two prevailing creeds were then Paganism and Judaism. Arab historians, such as Ibn KluiUikan, Y'aqut, Abulfeda, Il)ii-al-Athir, and especially the early biographers of Mohammed, unaniniou.>ily affirm that towards the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian Era Christianity flourished in Ilira, Himyar. and Najran, and among many tribes of the' North and South, Quda'ah, Bahrah, Tanukh, Taghlib. Tay. We are far, howe\'er, from accepting all these ecclesiastical testimonies concerning the origin and developiiient of Christianity in South Arabia as critically ascertained and conclusive. Fictitious elements and legendary traditions are undoubtedly ingredients of the original narratives, yet it cannot be doubted that a certain amount of truth is con- tained in them.

Positive traces of ecclesiastical organization in southern Arabia first appear in the time of the Em- peror.\nastasius (491-518). John Diacrinomenos (P. G., LXXXVI, 212) relates that during this emperor's reign the Himyarites, who had become followers of Judaism since the time of the Queen of Sheba, or Saba, were converted to Christianity, and received a bishop, Silvanus by name, who was that writer's own uncle, and at whose instance he wrote liis eccle-


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