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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a sect of eastern Christians who follow the Syrian rite, and are subject to the pope: their principal habitation being on Mount Libanus, or between the Ansarians to the north and the Druses to the south. Mosheim informs us, that the Monothelites, condemned and exploded by the council of Constantinople, found a place of refuge among the Mardaites, signifying in Syriac rebels, a people who took possession of Lebanon, A.D. 676, which became the asylum of vagabonds, slaves, and all sorts of rabble; and about the conclusion of the seventh century they were called Maronites, after Maro, their first bishop; a name which they still retain. None, he says, of the ancient writers, give any certain account of the first person who instructed these mountaineers in the doctrine of the Monothelites; it is probable, however, from several circumstances, that it was John Maro, whose name they have adopted; and that this ecclesiastic received the name of Maro from his having lived in the character of a monk, in the famous convent of St. Maro, upon the borders of the Orontes, before his settlement among the Mardaites of Mount Libanus. One thing is certain, from the testimony of Tyrius, and other unexceptionable witnesses, as also from the most authentic records, namely, that the Maronites retained the opinions of the Monothelites until the twelfth century, when, abandoning and renouncing the doctrine of one will in Christ, they were readmitted into the communion of the Roman church. The most learned of the modern Maronites have left no method unemployed to defend their church against this accusation; they have laboured to prove, by a variety of testimonies, that their ancestors always persevered in the Catholic faith, and in their attachment to the Roman pontiff, without ever adopting the doctrine of the Monophysites or Monothelites. But all their efforts are insufficient to prove the truth of these assertions, and the testimonies they allege will appear absolutely fictitious and destitute of authority.

The nation may be considered as divided into two classes, the common people and the shaiks, by whom must be understood the most eminent of the inhabitants, who, from the antiquity of their families, and the opulence of their fortunes, are superior to the ordinary class. They all live dispersed in the mountains, in villages, hamlets, and even detached houses; which is never the case in the plains. The whole nation consists of cultivators. Every man improves the little domain he possesses, or farms, with his own hands. Even the shaiks live in the same manner, and are only distinguished from the rest by a bad peliss, a horse, and a few slight advantages in food and lodging; they all live frugally, without many enjoyments, but also with few wants, as they are little acquainted with the inventions of luxury. In general, the nation is poor, but no one wants necessaries; and if beggars are sometimes seen, they come rather from the sea coast than the country itself. Property is as sacred among them as in Europe; nor do we see there those robberies and extortions so frequent with the Turks. Travellers may journey there, either by night or by day, with a security unknown in any other part of the empire, and the stranger is received with hospitality, as among the Arabs: it must be owned, however, that the Maronites are less generous, and rather inclined to the vice of parsimony. Conformably to the doctrines of Christianity, they have only one wife, whom they frequently espouse without having seen, and always without having been much in her company. Contrary to the precepts of that same religion, however, they have admitted, or retained, the Arab custom of retaliation, and the nearest relation of a murdered person is bound to avenge him. From a habit founded on distrust, and the political state of the country, every one, whether shaik or peasant, walks continually armed with a musket and poinards. This is, perhaps, an inconvenience; but this advantage results from it, that they have no novices in the use of arms among them, when it is necessary to employ them against the Turks. As the country maintains no regular troops, every man is obliged to join the army in time of war; and if this militia were well conducted, it would be superior to many European armies. From accounts taken in late years, the number of men fit to bear arms, amounts to thirty-five thousand.

In religious matters the Maronites are dependent on Rome. Though they acknowledge the supremacy of the pope, their clergy continue, as heretofore, to elect a head, with the title of batrak, or patriarch of Antioch. Their priests marry, as in the first ages of the church; but their wives must be maidens, and not widows; nor can they marry a second time. They celebrate mass in Syriac, of which the greatest part of them comprehend not a word. The Gospel, alone, is read aloud in Arabic, that it may be understood by the people. The communion is administered in both kinds. In the small country of the Maronites there are reckoned upward of two hundred convents for men and women. These religious are of the order of St. Anthony, whose rules they observe with an exactness which reminds us of earlier times. The court of Rome, in affiliating the Maronites, has granted them a hospitium at Rome, to which they may send several of their youth to receive a gratuitous education. It should seem that this institution might introduce among them the ideas and arts of Europe; but the pupils of this school, limited to an education purely monastic, bring home nothing but the Italian language, which is of no use, and a stock of theological learning, from which as little advantage can be derived; they accordingly soon assimilate with the rest. Nor has a greater change been operated by the three or four missionaries maintained by the French capuchins at Gazir, Tripoli, and Bairout. Their labours consist in preaching in their church, in instructing children in the catechism, Thomas a Kempis, and the Psalms, and in teaching them to read and write. Formerly, the Jesuits had two missionaries at their house at Antoura, and the Lazarites have now succeeded them in their mission. The most valuable advantage that has resulted from these labours is, that the art of writing has become more common among the Maronites, and rendered them, in this country, what the Copts are in Egypt, that is, they are in possession of all the posts of writers, intendants, and kaiyas among the Turks, and especially of those among their allies and neighbours, the Druses.

Mosheim observes, that the subjection of the Maronites to the spiritual jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff was agreed to with this express condition, that neither the popes nor their emissaries should pretend to change or abolish any thing that related to the ancient rites, moral precepts, or religious opinions of this people; so that, in reality, there is nothing to be found among the Maronites that savours of popery, if we except their attachment to the Roman pontiff. It is also certain that there are Maronites in Syria, who still behold the church of Rome with the greatest aversion and abhorrence; nay, what is still more remarkable, great numbers of that nation residing in Italy, even under the eye of the pontiff, opposed his authority during the seventeenth century, and threw the court of Rome into great perplexity. One body of these non-conforming Maronites retired into the valleys of Piedmont, where they joined the Waldenses; another, above six hundred in number, with a bishop, and several ecclesiastics at their head, flew into Corsica, and implored the protection of the republic of Genoa, against the violence of the inquisitors.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Maronites'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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