Friday, 24 May 2019
Vittorio Berti: Holy monks and Dead Bodies in East Syriac literature of Northern Iraq
In Late Antique Syriac Christianity two major teachings competed for explain the fundamental structure of the human nature. The more common doctrine, meanly spread among scholastic circles, consisted in a dichotomist model stating the entelechial relation of soul and body, according to a mixture between the Aristotelian leanings of the Antiochian tradition and the theoretical speculations on the syriac belief about the sleep of the soul after death. An alternative perspective, notably prevalent in the monastic milieu, sustained a tripartite model: the man as a composed of body, soul and intellect, as taught by the ascetic spirituality of Evagrius of Pontus, and its platonizing penchant. The two systems were often dialoguing in the tradition, shaping original synthesis on the representation of the death, speculation on the location of the souls, their relation with God, their memory of the past and their knowledge of the present. According to this perspective, it is revealing the way East Syrian writers treated some hagiographic episodes concerning the interaction between monastic holiness and the death’s sphere. This paper would present and analyse in particular a story concerning the necromantic power of Rabban Hormizd, preserved in his Life, and an episode of the disappearance of the corpse of a holy monk-bishop preserved in the Book of Governors by Thomas of Marga. Whereas in the first episode, theology and hagiography seem to find a shared discourse, the second shows the prevalence of a miraculous solution defending monastic autonomy face the official worship of mortal remains.