CHURCH FATHERS (67) – Anastasius Sinaita

– Anastasios

As we might guess from the sobriquet that was given to him, Sinaita, this seventh-century monk and writer lived in the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. We don’t know much about his life, but we know he was a strenuous defender of orthodoxy against the mistakes of the monophysites [who taught that Jesus had only one nature].

Even if we don’t know much about him but his importance, he is still well recognized. We can see this, in our modern times, from a website dedicated to him (www.anastasiosofsinai.org) by some scholars of his thought. Here is a passage from C. Kuehn’s Anastasius of Sinai: Biblical Scholar: “His written works were widely distributed and reveal many facets of this prolific and versatile author. He was best known as the creator of the Hodegos (Latin: Viae Dux, “Leader of the Way”), which was a collection of his own assorted writings assembled by him to support the Chalcedonian creed and to oppose various heresies. He was also known through his one hundred and three Erotapokriseis (Latin: Quaestiones et Responsiones, “Questions & Answers”), which circulated in various florilegia and anthologies. These reveal Anastasios to have been interested not only in theological issues, but also in the daily life and spiritual wellbeing of the surrounding lay community. In fact, the Questions have a tone of urgency and are especially important today because Muslim invaders had only recently occupied the Sinai Peninsula. (The fortified monastery itself, built under the reign of Justinian and originally dedicated to the Theotokos, remained intact and independent throughout the Muslim occupation, but became increasingly isolated from Constantinople.) The Hodegos and Erotapokriseis also show that Anastasios was a frequent traveler, including trips to Alexandria and Babylon (present-day Cairo). Several homilies have survived, as well as short anecdotes (Narrationes) about pious people he had met or heard about. An extensive commentary on the beginning chapters of Genesis (Hexaemeron) has also been attributed to him. Anastasios died after the year 700.”

Clement A. Kuehn, a classics scholar who has devoted several studies to Anastasius, inform us also about the Hexaemeron attributed to him: “The Hexaemeron, attributed to Anastasios of Sinai (ob. post 700), is one of the most extensive spiritual allegories from the Byzantine era. Writing in response to a request for guidance by Theophilos, Anastasios offers in twelve books an anagogical exegesis (i.e., an inspirational commentary) of the first three chapters of Genesis. The Latin adjective hexaemeron (pronounced in English like hex aim´ er on ) comes from two Greek words,  ἕξ ἡμέραι, which mean “six days” and refer to the biblical account of creation. Thus the full name of the Anastasian commentary is In Hexaemeron, which means “About the Six-Day [Creation].” Anastasios, referring to the letters of Paul, warns against an exclusively literal reading of Scripture. He urges that one be open to the Spirit beyond the words: it is only then that one receives the complete meaning. The author insists that Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was writing not only about the creation of the visible and transient world, but also about the new creation through Christ. Thus Adam represents the Savior, and Eve represents the Church, His eternal bride. Anastasios has little patience for heresies, which he thinks rise largely from a too literal reading of Scripture. To support his typological reading, Anastasios refers to the early Fathers and exegetes, especially Clement of Alexandria, the two Gregorys from Cappadocia, Ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite, and even Origen. Anastasios condemns Origen, however, for ignoring the literal and seeing everything exclusively as symbolic.  Nothing in the surviving text makes it impossible that the author of the Hexaemeron was Anastasios of Sinai. Rather, in addition to mutual references between this work and others in his recognized canon, there are correspondences in style and in thematic material, such as: defenses of the Chalcedonian creed, arguments against heresies, discussions about the nature of Christ, a fondness for etymologies, an exceptionally erudite mind, and a fierce devotion to the spiritual well-being of the Church. The author often expresses affection for Egypt, while it was still a vital center of Christianity.  One reason for some scholars’ doubts about the Hexaemeron’s authenticity is the absence of any surviving manuscript copied before the end of the fifteenth century.

Having said all of that and considering the legitimate doubts about the paternity of works that were written in a time that is so remote, we need in every case to consider Anastasius as a figure that deserve better recognition and study. 

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