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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Jacobus, Bishop of Nisibis


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Jacobus (4) or James, bp. of Nisibis in Mesopotamia, called "the Moses of Mesopotamia," born at Nisibis or Antiochia Mygdoniae towards the end of 3rd cent. He is said to have been nearly related to Gregory the Illuminator, the apostle of Armenia. At an early age he devoted himself to the life of a solitary, and the celebrity he acquired by his self-imposed austerities caused Theodoret to assign him the first place in his Religiosa Historia or Vitae Patrum —where he is entitled ὁ μέγας . During this period he went to Persia for intercourse with the Christians of that country and to confirm their faith under the persecutions of Sapor II. Gennadius (de Script. Eccl. c. 1) reports that James was a confessor in the Maximinian persecution. On the vacancy of the see of his native city he was compelled by the popular demand to become bishop. His episcopate, according to Theodoret, was signalized by fresh miracles.

In 325 he was summoned to the council of Nicaea (Labbe, Concil. ii. 52, 76). A leading part is ascribed to him by Theodoret in its debates (Theod. u.s. p. 1114). He is commended by Athanasius, together with Hosius, Alexander, Eustathius, and others ( adv. Arian. t. i. p. 252). According to some Eastern accounts, James was one whom the emperor Constantine marked out for peculiar honour (Stanley, Eastern Church , p. 203). His name occurs among those who signed the decrees of the council of Antioch, in Encaeniis , A.D. 341, of more than doubtful orthodoxy (Labbe, Concil. ii. 559), but no mention of his being present at this council occurs elsewhere (Tillem. Mém. eccl. t. vi. note 27, les Arensi; Hefele, Councils, ii. 58, Eng. tr.). That the awfully sudden death of Arius at Constantinople, on the eve of his anticipated triumph, A.D. 336, was due to the prayers of James of Nisibis, and that on this emergency he had exhorted the faithful to devote a whole week to uninterrupted fasting and public supplication in the churches, rests only on the authority of one passage, in the Religiosa Historia of Theodoret, the spuriousness of which is acknowledged by all sound critics. The gross blunders of making the death of the heresiarch contemporaneous with the council of Nicaea, and of confounding Alexander of Alexandria with Alexander of Constantinople, prove it an ignorant forgery. In the account of the death of Arius obtained by Theodoret from Athanasius (Theod. H. E. i. 14; Soz. H. E. ii. 20) no mention is made of James, nor in that given by Athanasius in his letter to the bishops. As bp. of Nisibis James was the spiritual father of Ephrem Syrus, who was baptized by him and remained by his side as long as he lived. Milles, bp. of Susa, visiting Nisibis to attend a synod for settling the differences between the bps. of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, c. 341, found James busily erecting his cathedral, towards which, on his return, Milles sent a large quantity of silk from Adiabene (Assemani, Bibl. Or. tom. i. p. 186). On the attempt, three times renewed, of Sapor II. to make himself master of Nisibis, A.D. 338, 346, 350, James maintained the faith of the inhabitants in the divine protection, kindled their enthusiasm by his words and example, and with great military genius and administrative skill thwarted the measures of the besiegers. For the tale of the final siege of 350, which lasted three months, and of the bishop's successful efforts to save his city, see Gibbon, c. xviii. vol. ii. pp. 385 ff. or De Broglie, L’Eglise et l’Empire , t. iii. pp. 180–195. See also Theod. u.s. p. 1118; H. E. ii. 26; Theophan. p. 32. Nisibis was quickly relieved by Sapor being called away to defend his kingdom against an inroad of the Massagetae. James cannot have long survived this deliverance. He was honourably interred within the city, that his hallowed remains might continue to defend it. When in 363 Nisibis yielded to Persia, the Christians carried the sacred talisman with them. (Theod. u.s. p. 1119; Soz. H. E. v. 3; Gennad. u.s. c. 1.)

Gennadius speaks of James as a copious writer, and gives the titles of 26 of his treatises. Eighteen were found by Assemani in the Armenian convent of St. Anthony at Venice, together with a request for some of his works from a Gregory and James's reply. Their titles—de Fide, de Dilectione, de Jejunio, de Oratione, de Bello, de Devotis, de Poenitentia, de Resurrectione , etc.—correspond generally with those given by Gennadius, but the order is different. In the same collection Assemani found the long letter of James to the bishops of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, on the Assyrian schism. It is in 31 sections, lamenting the divisions of the church and the pride and arrogance which caused them, and exhorting them to seek peace and concord. These were all published with a Latin translation, and a learned preface establishing their authenticity, and notes by Nicolas Maria Antonelli in 1756; also in the collection of the Armenian Fathers, pub. at Venice in 1765, and again at Constantinople in 1824. The Latin translation is found in the Patres Apostolici of Caillau, t. 25, pp. 254–543. The liturgy bearing the name of James of Nisibis, said to have been formerly in use among the Syrians (Abr. Ecchell. Not. in Catal. Ebed-Jesu , p. 134; Bona, Liturg. i. 9) is certainly not his, but should be ascribed to James of Sarug (Renaudot, Lit. Or. t. ii. p. 4). James of Nisibis is commemorated in Wright's Syrian Martyrology, and in the Roman martyrology, July 315. Assemani Bibl. Or . t. i. pp. 17 sqq., 186, 557, 652; Tillem. Mém. eccl. t. vii.; Ceillier, Ant. eccl. t. iv. pp. 478 sqq.; Fabricius, Bibl. Graec. t. ix. p. 289; Cave, Hist. Lit. t. i. p. 189.

[E.V.]


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Jacobus, Bishop of Nisibis'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hwd/j/jacobus-bishop-of-nisibis.html. 1911.

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Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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