Severus of Antioch

Saint Severus the Great
Born 465
Sozopolis, Byzantine Empire
Died 8 February 538
Sakha, Byzantine Empire
Venerated in Oriental Orthodoxy
Feast 8 February

St. Severus the Great of Antioch (Syriac: ܣܘܪܘܣ ܕܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ), was a Greek monk and theologian.[1] He was the last Monophysite Patriarch of Antioch and is honoured as a saint in the Syriac Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy in general.


Severus was born to a family of Greek origin in the town of Sozopolis in the Roman province of Pisidia.[2][3][4] In Alexandria, he studied grammar and rhetoric in Latin and Greek. Severus later studied law and philosophy at the famous law school in Berytus. Severus was baptised in 488 in the Church of the Martyr Leontius in Tripolis.[5]

He almost at once openly united himself with the Acephali, repudiating his own baptism and his baptiser, as well as the Christian church itself, believing it to be infected with Nestorianism.[6] Upon embracing Monophysite doctrines, Severus became a monk at the monastery of Saint Romanus between Gaza and the port of Maiuma. Here he met Peter the Iberian, the bishop of Maiuma. Severus was later ordained as a priest before joining a Monophysite brotherhood near Eleutheropolis under the archimandrite Mamas.

At this time Severus rejected the Henotikon of Emperor Zeno, dismissing it as "the annulling edict", and "the disuniting edict",[7] and condemned Peter Mongus, the Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria, for accepting it. We next hear of him in an Egyptian monastery, whose abbot Nephalius having been formerly a Monophysite, now embraced the Council of Chalcedon. In the resulting disagreement, Nephalius expelled Severus and his supporters.[5]

In 508, Severus is said to have stirred up a fierce religious war among the population of Alexandria, resulting in bloodshed and conflagrations.[7] To escape punishment for this violence, he fled to Constantinople, supported by two hundred Monophysite monks. Anastasius, who succeeded Zeno as emperor in 491, was a professed Monophysite, and received Severus with honor. His presence initiated a period of fighting in Constantinople between rival bands of monks, Chalcedonians and Monophysites, which ended in AD 511 with the humiliation of Anastasius, the temporary triumph of the patriarch Macedonius II, and the reversal of the Monophysite cause.[8]

That same year Severus was eagerly dispatched by Anastasius to occupy the vacant patriarch of Antioch,[9] and the very day of his enthronement solemnly pronounced in his church an anathema on Chalcedon, and accepted the Henotikon he had previously repudiated. He had the name of Peter Mongus inscribed in the diptychs; entered into communion with the Monophysite prelates, Timotheus of Constantinople and John Niciota of Alexandria; and received into communion Peter of Iberia and other leading members of the Acephali.[5][10]

Monophysitism seemed now triumphant throughout the East. Proud of his patriarchal dignity and strong in the emperor's protection, Severus despatched letters to his brother-prelates, announcing his elevation and demanding communion. In these he anathematized Chalcedon and all who maintained the two natures. While many rejected them altogether, Monophysitism was everywhere in the ascendant in the East, and Severus was deservedly regarded as its chief champion.[11] Synodal letters were exchanged between John Niciota and Severus, which are the earliest examples of communication between the Oriental Orthodox sees of Alexandria and Antioch that have continued to the present day.

The triumph of Severus was, however, short. His possession of the patriarchate of Antioch did not survive his imperial patron. Anastasius was succeeded in 518 by Justin I, who embraced the beliefs of Chalcedon. The Monophysite prelates were everywhere replaced by Chalcedonian successors, Severus being one of the first to fall. Irenaeus, the count of the East, was commissioned to arrest him but Severus departed before his approach, setting sail at night on the 25th of September 518 for Alexandria,[12] where he would stay for twenty years.[13] Paul I was ordained in his place.

Severus and his doctrines were anathematized in various councils, while at Alexandria he was gladly welcomed by the patriarch Timotheos III and his other fellow Monophysites, being generally hailed as the champion of what they perceived to be orthodox faith against the Nestorian corruptions. His learning and persuasion established his authority as "os omnium doctorum", and the day of his entrance into Egypt was long celebrated as a Coptic/Jacobite festival.[14]

Alexandria soon became a refuge of Monophysites of every shade of opinion, becoming too numerous for the emperor to molest. But within this group fierce controversies sprang up on various subtle questions of Christology, one of which involved Severus and his fellow-exile Julian of Halicarnassus as to the corruptibility of Christ's human body before His resurrection. Julian and his followers were styled Aphthartodocetae and "Phantasiastae", Severus and his adherents "Phthartolatrae" or "Corrupticolae", and "Ktistolatrae." The controversy was a heated and protracted one and while no settlement was arrived at, the later Oriental Orthodox claim the victory for Severus.[15]

After some years in Egypt spent in continual literary and polemical activity, Severus was unexpectedly summoned to Constantinople by Justin's successor Justinian I, whose consort Theodora favored Severus' cause. The emperor was weary of the turmoil caused by the prolonged theological discussions; Severus, he was told, was the master of the Monophysite party, and only through his influence could unity only be regained. At this time AD 535 Anthimus had been recently appointed to the Patriarch of Constantinople by Theodora's influence. He was a Monophysite, who later joined heartily with Severus and his associates, Peter of Apamea and Zoaras, in their endeavours to get Monophysitism recognized as the imperial faith. This introduction of Monophysites threw the city into great disorder, and large numbers embraced their beliefs.[16]

Eventually, at the instance of Pope Agapetus I, who happened to be present in Constantinople on political business, Anthimus and Timotheus were deposed. Patriarch Mennas, who succeeded Anthimus, summoned a synod in May and June 536 to deal with the Chalcedon question. Severus and his two companions were cast out "as wolves", and once again anathematized.[17] The sentence was ratified by Justinian. The writings of Severus were proscribed; any one possessing them who failed to commit them to the flames was to lose his right hand.[18] Severus returned to Egypt, which he seems never again to have left. The date of his death is said variously to be 538, 539 or 542.[19] Severus died, according to John of Ephesus, in the Egyptian desert, or, according to other sources, in the city of Sakha on 8 February 538, before his body was moved to a monastery north of Alexandria and buried there.[13]

Writing and theology

He was a very copious writer, he spoke and wrote in the Greek language[20][21] but of the original Greek we possess little more than fragments. An account of them, so far as they can be identified, is given by William Cave[22] and Fabricius.[23] A very large number of his writings exist only in Syriac translation.

Severus was successful in his great aim of uniting the Monophysites into one compact body with a definitely formulated creed. For notwithstanding the numerous subdivisions of Monophysitism, he was, in Dorner's words, "strictly speaking, the scientific leader of the most compact portion of the party", and regarded as such by the Monophysites and their opponents. He was the chief object of attack in the long and fierce contest with the Chalcedonians, by whom he is always designated as the author and ringleader of Monophysitism. Hoping to embrace as many as possible of varying theological color, he followed the traditional formulas of the church as closely as he could, while affixing his own sense upon them.[24]



  1. "Severus Of Antioch". Retrieved 26 July 2015. Severus Of Antioch (born c. 465, Sozopolis, Pisidia, Asia Minor [near modern Konya, Turkey]—died 538, Xois, Egypt), Greek monk-theologian and patriarch of Antioch who was a leader of the monophysites. Severus inspired this sect’s ascendancy during the reigns of the Byzantine emperors Anastasius I (491–518) and Justinian I (527–565). His later ecclesiastical condemnation and exile hastened the sect’s eventual decline, particularly in Syria and Egypt.
  2. Böll, Verena (2004). Studia Aethiopica. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 115. ISBN 9783447048910. Severus himself was of Greek descent, hailing from Sozopolis in Pisidia in Asia Minor. He came from a well-to-do Christian family (his grandfather was the bishop of Soziopolis), though later Monophysite propaganda asserted that his parents were pagans.
  3. Catholic University of America, Catholic University of America (2003). New Catholic Encyclopedia: Seq-The. Thomson/Gale. p. 43. ISBN 9780787640040. Severus was of Greek parentage and studied rhetoric in Alexandria and law at Beirut.
  4. Shahîd, Irfan (1995). Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. p. 693. ISBN 9780884022145. The other was Severus, a Greek from Sozopolis in Pisidia, ascetic, dedicated, and administratively energetic.
  5. 1 2 3 Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 3.33.
  6. Labbe, u.s.
  7. 1 2 Labbe, v. 121
  8. Theophanes, p. 132.
  9. Labbe, iv. 1414; Theod. Lect. ii. 31, p. 563, 567; Theophanes p. 134
  10. Labbe, iv. 1414, v. 121, 762; Theod. Lect. l.c.
  11. Severus of Ashmunain apud Neale, Patr. Alex. ii. 27
  12. Liberatus of Carthage, Breviarum, l.c.; Theophanes, p. 141; Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 4.4.
  13. 1 2
  14. Neale, u.s. p. 30.
  15. Eusèbe Renaudot, p. 129.
  16. Labbe, v. 124
  17. Labbe, v. 253-255.
  18. Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 4.11; Novell. Justinian. No. 42; Matt. Blastar. p. 59.
  19. Ian Gillman and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia before 1500 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), on p. 31 states he died in 538.
  20. Spinks, Bryan D. (2013). Do this in Remembrance of Me: The Eucharist from the Early Church to the Present Day. SCM Press. p. 159. ISBN 9780334043768. Severus was Greek-speaking and did not write in Syriac.
  21. Young, Frances Margaret (2006). Papers Presented at the Fourteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies Held in Oxford 2003: Other Greek writers; John of Damascus and beyond; The West to Hilary. Peeters Publishers. p. 5. ISBN 9789042918856. Severus, a native Greek-speaker from Pisidia
  22. Historia Literaria, vol. i.pp. 499 ff.
  23. Fabricius, Johann Albert,Bibl. Graec. lib. v. c. 36, vol. x. pp. 614 ff., ed. Harless
  24. Dorner, Pers. of Christ, div. ii. vol. i. p. 136, Clark's trans.
Titles of Early Christianity
Preceded by
Flavian II
Patriarch of Antioch
Succeeded by
Paul the Jew
Preceded by
office created
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch
Succeeded by
Sergius of Tella
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