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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Rabbulas, Bishop of Edessa

Rabbûlas, bp. of Edessa, 412–435. Chief authorities: (1) a panegyric in Syriac, compiled soon after his death by a contemporary cleric, himself a native of Edessa, extant in a MS. of 6th cent., of which Bickell has furnished a German trans. in Thalhofer's Ausgewählte Schriften der Kirchenväter (vol. x. pp. 56–68); (2) the later and less trustworthy biography of Alexander, the founder of the Acoemetae. According to the panegyrist, Rabbûlas was born in Kenneschrin, known by the Greeks as Chalcis in Osrhoene, of rich and noble parentage. His father was a heathen priest, his mother a Christian. He received a liberal education, and was well versed in pagan literature. From his father he inherited a considerable fortune, and was chosen prefect of his native city. He was still a heathen and for a long time resisted his mother's entreaties to become a Christian. He took, however, a Christian wife. Various instrumentalities contributed to his conversion. The panegyrist attributes it to his intercourse with Eusebius of Chalcis and Acacius of Beroea, and to two remarkable miracles witnessed by him. The biographer of Alexander ascribes it to Alexander's influence and teaching. Both accounts probably are substantially true. On his conversion he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was baptized in the Jordan, having previously renounced his property and manumitted his slaves. His wife, daughters, and all the females of his household embraced the religious life, and Rabbûlas retired to the monastery of St. Abraham at Chalcis. The see of Edessa being vacant in 412 by the death of Diogenes, Rabbûlas was appointed by a synod meeting at Antioch. Edessa was famous for its intellectual activity. Rabbûlas became the leading prelate of the Oriental church, regarded, according to the exaggerated language of the biographer of Alexander, as "the common master of Syria, Armenia, Persia, nay of the whole world." The panegyrist describes him as having steadily opposed the doctrines of Nestorius from the very first. The church of Edessa, with the East generally, followed the teaching of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, in which those doctrines were virtually contained, and IBAS, a presbyter of his church, who would have personal knowledge, says that Rabbûlas was no exception. By degrees, however, Rabbûlas veered round, and ended as the most uncompromising opponent of Theodore's teaching, using his utmost endeavours to bring about the suppression of his works. ( Ep. ad Marium , Labbe, iv. 666; Liberat. Breviar. c. 10, Labbe, v. 752.) His separation from Theodore's school of doctrine was strongly exhibited in the winter preceding the council of Ephesus, 430–431, in a letter to Andrew of Samosata, upbraiding him for having attacked Cyril, a fragment of which is printed by Overbeck among the Syriac documents in his ed. of Ephrem Syrus (Oxf. 1865). >From Andrew's reply and from Theodorus Lector (lib. ii. p. 565) we learn that Rabbûlas's fiery zeal for orthodoxy had led him to anathematize Andrew before his congregation at Edessa; and according to the panegyrist, Rabbûlas, when visiting Constantinople, preached in the presence of Nestorius and denounced his doctrine. After this it is surprising to find Rabbûlas at the council of Ephesus, joining the Orientals in their opposition to Cyril. His signature appears to the letter to the clergy and laity of Hierapolis (Baluz. col. 705) and to that addressed to the deputies of the Orientals to Constantinople ( ib. 725), in both of which the heretical nature of Cyril's teaching is asserted. From this vacillation Rabbûlas speedily recovered. A visit to Constantinople in the winter after the council, 431–432, enabled him to confer with Nestorius's successor, the wise and pious Maximian, and confirmed him in opposition to the Nestorian doctrine, which he returned to his diocese determined to eradicate. This was no easy task. The defenders of Nestorius claimed to be disciples of Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, whose names were revered throughout the East. To denounce Nestorianism and accept Cyril's anathemas was to repudiate the theologians whom they had been taught to venerate as infallible guides. Rabbûlas saw clearly that the evil must be attacked at his source in the works of Diodore and Theodore. He called to his aid the strong will and unscrupulous pen of Cyril. We have a letter from Rabbûlas to Cyril (Labbe, v. 469), denouncing Theodore as the author of the heresy of Nestorius, which denied that Mary was truly the mother of God. Cyril, in his reply, of which a fragment is preserved ( ib. ), lauded Rabbûlas for his zeal in expelling the blasphemy of Nestorius, and indicated Theodore, though guarding himself from mentioning so revered a name, as "the Cilician," from whose root this impiety proceeded. The suppression of these writings, so fatal to his own system of doctrine, became a chief object with Cyril. An extension of the imperial decree was obtained which included "the sacrilegious books" of Diodore and Theodore under the condemnation previously passed on the writings of Nestorius (ib. v. 471, cf. iii. 1209). The letter of Ibas to Maris describes the violent conduct of Rabbûlas, ὁ πάντα τολμῶν , in publicly anathematizing Theodore and seeking out his works for destruction (ib. iv. 663). Rabbûlas's violence is also described in a letter of Andrew of Samosata to his metropolitan, Alexander of Hierapolis, shortly after Easter, 432, complaining that Rabbûlas was dealing with a high hand in Edessa, openly anathematizing Theodore's teaching of one nature in Christ, and excommunicating all who refused to accept the Cyrillian dogmas or who read Theodore's books, which he was everywhere committing to the flames. A synod summoned at Antioch by the patriarch John despatched letters to the bishops of Osrhoene desiring them, if the reports were true, to suspend communion with Rabbûlas (Baluz. xliv. col. 749). Meanwhile Rabbûlas was corresponding with Cyril on the terms of reconciliation between himself and the East; and the two prelates were agreed that nothing short of complete submission on the part of the Orientals and the withdrawal of the condemnation of Cyril's anathemas would satisfy them. A letter of Cyril to Rabbûlas ( ib. cviii. col. 812) in 432 expresses the impossibility of his repudiating all he had written on the subject. The reconciliation was effected in the spring of 433. Andrew of Samosata, becoming convinced of Rabbûlas's orthodoxy by perusing his manifesto, at once left his diocese for Edessa to make reparation to his antagonist. Alexander's anger having been aroused, Andrew wrote to the oeconomi of Hierapolis to justify himself. He had not yet seen Rabbûlas, but he accepted communion with him and Cyril, and embraced the peace of the church ( ib. ci. cvi. coll. 807–810).

Rabbûlas, also, with Acacius of Melitene, wrote to warn the Armenian bishops of the Nestorian heresy in the writings of Diodore and Theodore. In their perplexity they summoned a synod, and dispatched two presbyters to Proclus (who in Apr. 434 had succeeded Maximian as patriarch of Constantinople), entreating him to indicate which was the orthodox teaching. Proclus replied in his celebrated "Tome" on the Incarnation, wherein he condemned Theodore's opinions without naming him, a precaution counteracted by the officiousness of the bearers of the document (Liberat. Breviar. c. 10, ap. Labbe, v. 752; Garnerii Praef. in Mar. Merc. p. lii. ed. Par. 1673). The fiery Rabbûlas did not long survive this letter. His death is placed Aug. 7, 435, after an episcopate of 23 years.

Nearly all his few surviving works were printed by Overbeck in the original Syriac text, in his ed. of Ephrem Syrus (Oxf. 1865), pp. 210–248, 362–378. They include the scanty remains of the 640 letters which, according to his biographer, he wrote to the emperor, bishops, prefects, and monks. See also Bickell's Ausgewählte Schriften , pp. 153–271.


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Rabbulas, Bishop of Edessa'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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