Chapter 02, MYSTERIUM
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Nestorian leanings. Edessa was situated near the border of the Persian empire and it is of interestto us and no more than logical that here work was started on translating the Greek classics intoAramaic. Then, in 529, two years after he became ruler, Justinian delivered a painful blow whenhe decreed to close all the academies in his realm, because he considered them, and in my viewrightly so, sources of heretical thinking.
4 – Nestorianism
The Platonic position holds that everything proceeds from imitation of the higher spheres.(2) This had to result in one nature; two natures in one person would be inappropriate for this philo-sophical system. Christ on earth would mean for the Platonic ‘idealist’ that in Christ the imitationhad - by way of exception - become perfect. To the ‘idealists’ the question focused on what kindof bond had facilitated this fit. Along the same line of thinking, Nestorius (†451), who became patriarch of Constantinople, stressed the distinction at the level of Christ’s human and divine na-tures, while allowing for some ‘conjunction’ at the level of Christ’s person. He repudiated theview, embraced by some of his followers, of a separation between the human and divine naturethat were linked by a merely accidental unity of mutual love.Eutyches († ca. 454), a leading monk of Constantinople, taught that the unity in Christ was suchthat only one nature (physis) remained in Christ after the incarnation, the human nature (by imita-tion) being swallowed up by the divinity. Eutyches was a Monophysite, a numerous group whowere influential in many parts of the Eastern Roman empire. In short, they were a power to bereckoned with. Here is what the illustrious chronicler of Justinian, Procopius of Cæsarea, has tosay on the subject, which shows that the quintessence of the discussion went beyond the grasp of the common educated man(3):
“I hold it a sort of mad folly to research into the nature of God. Even human nature cannot, I think, be precisely understood by man; still less so can the thingswhich appertain to the nature of God.”
(Wars V, 3:8) It was only after the Council of Constanti-nople in 553 that their position hardened into a schismatic movement, which would be persecutednot by appeasing compromise but rigorous suppression, as was the fashion at the time.
5 - Gundishapur, the new centre of heretical thought
The heretics did not bend and were too intelligent to head for their own destruction. The solutionwas simple. Four years after Justinian became the sole sovereign, Khosrau I, also known as Anu-shiravan (the blessed), ascended to the Sassanid throne of Persia, thus in the year 531. For thegreater glory of his empire and to annoy his foe he welcomed the various men of learning. Themonarch commissioned the refugees to Gundishapur to continue to translate their literature into both Aramaic and Pahlevi, the latter being an Iranian language. Anushiravan also turned towardsthe East and sent the famous physician Borzouyeh to India, to invite Indian and Chinese scholarsto Gundishapur (fortress of Shapur), situated some 400 km east of Baghdad where the Tigris deltaand the great Iranian mountains meet, on today’s maps known as Shahabad. Many other emissa-ries brought Greek scholars from Alexandria and sages from all over the territories of Asia Minor.Gundishapur was going to harbour the oldest known teaching hospital in history. It seems safe toassume that there was much debate as to the proper medical method to be followed with so manytraditions. If these questions were settled empirically, by hospital observation, trial calculation,etc. - of which we cannot be sure - then Gundishapur would have benefited from an early versionof the scientific method. At some later epoch a number of refugees felt unhappy and decided toreturn back to their homeland. For them, bending to the whims and wishes of Justinian appearedthe better alternative, but a sufficient number must have stayed to lend credibility to the academy.It was Anushiravan’s wish to have in Persia a Greek academy of the same stature as the great