Sunday, 10 February 2019


In the 7th-8th centuries, within the East Syriac church, a remarkable flourishing of literature on the inner life occurred. Written in Syriac, an Eastern form of Aramaic, this literature developed at the time of the rise of Islam, within a form of Christianity which was regarded as heretical by the Western and Eastern Orthodox churches. All of the authors who produced this literature led a solitary life, and were all influenced by John the Solitary, a 5th century Syriac writer who was profoundly marked by the thought of Paul of Tarsus. This paper examines the role of Pauline thought in the edited and unedited corpus of Isaac of Nineveh (7th century), the best-known of these authors. Some of Isaac’s essential ideas, such as the importance of the experience of one’s ‘weakness’ (2Cor 12:1-10) in relation to the ‘Power of God’ (i.e. the Holy Spirit) and his view of the relationship between ‘the law’ (that he interprets as ascetic observances) and Grace (Romans; Galatians), are deeply reminiscent of Paul’s reflections. Also, Isaac’s understanding of faith (Romans; Galatians), kenosis (Phil 2:7), and ‘becoming crucified’ (Gal 2:20) echoes that of Paul. The paper will also attempt to examine the reasons for Isaac’s choice of Paul, showing that this is rooted in the nature of Paul’s writings, which focus on the relationship between the individual and God and demonstrate an understanding of the inner life as a transformative process that makes possible its ascetic reworking.

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