Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Severus, patriarch of Antioch
Severus (27), Monophysite patriarch of Antioch a.d. 512–519, a native of Sozopolis in Pisidia, by birth and education a heathen, baptized in the martyry of Leontius at Tripolis (Evagr. H. E. iii. 33; Labbe, v. 40, 120).
He almost at once openly united himself with the Acephali, repudiating his own baptism and his baptizer, and even the Catholic church itself as infected with Nestorianism (Labbe, u.s.). On embracing Monophysite doctrines he entered a monastery apparently belonging to that sect between Gaza and its port Majuma. Here he met Peter the Iberian, a zealous Eutychian, who had been ordained bp. of Gaza by Theodosius, the Monophysite monk, during his usurpation of the see of Jerusalem (Evagr. l.c.). About this time Severus apparently joined a Eutychian brotherhood near Eleutheropolis under the archimandrite Mamas, who further confirmed him in his extreme Monophysitism (Liberat. Brev. c. xix.; Labbe, v. 762; Evagr. l.c.). Severus rejected the Henoticon of Zeno, applying to it contumelious epithets, such as κενωτικόν, "the annulling edict," and διαιρετικόν, "the disuniting edict " (Labbe, v. 121), and anathematized Peter Mongus, the Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria, for accepting it. We next hear of him in an Egyptian monastery, of which one Nephalius was abbat, who, having been formerly a Monophysite, had embraced the faith of Chalcedon. Nephalius with his monks expelled Severus and his partizans (Evagr. l.c., Cf. iii. 22). Severus is charged with having stirred up a fierce religious war among the excitable population of Alexandria, resulting in bloodshed and conflagrations (Labbe, v. 121). To escape the punishment of his turbulence he fled to Constantinople, supported by a band of 200 Monophysite monks (ib. iv. 1419). Anastasius, who had succeeded the emperor Zeno, the author of the Henoticon, in 491, was a declared favourer of the Eutychians, and by him Severus was received with honour. His advent was an unhappy one for the peace of Constantinople, where a sanguinary tumult was stirred up by rival bands of monks, orthodox and Monophysite, chanting in their respective churches the opposing forms of the "Trisagion." This tumult resulted, a.d. 511, in the humiliation of Anastasius the temporary triumph of the patriarch Macedonius, and the depression of the Monophysite cause (Theophan, p. 132). Severus was eagerly dispatched by Anastasius to occupy the vacant throne of Antioch a.d. 511. He was ordained, or, in the words of his adversaries, "received the shadow of ordination" (Labbe, v. 40), and enthroned on the same day in his patriarchal city (ib. iv. 1414; Theod. Lect. ii. 31, pp. 563, 567; Theophan. p. 134), and that very day solemnly pronounced in his church an anathema on Chalcedon, and accepted the Henoticon he had previously repudiated. He caused the name of Peter Mongus to be inscribed in the diptychs; declared himself in communion with the Eutychian prelates, Timotheus of Constantinople and John Niciota of Alexandria; and received into communion Peter of Iberia and other leading members of the Acephali (Evagr. H. E. iii. 33; Labbe, iv. 1414, v. 121, 762; Theod. Lect. l.c.). Eutychianism seemed now triumphant throughout the Christian world. Proud of his patriarchal dignity and strong in the emperor's protection, Severus despatched letters to his brother-prelates, announcing his elevation and demanding communion. In these he anathematized Chalcedon and all who maintained the two natures. They met with a very varied reception. Many rejected them altogether, nevertheless Monophysitism was everywhere in the ascendant in the East, and Severus was deservedly regarded as its chief champion (Severus of Ashmunain apud Neale, Patr. Alex. ii. 27). Synodal letters were interchanged between John Niciota and Severus; the earliest examples of that intercommunication between the Jacobite sees of Alexandria and Antioch, which has been kept up to the present day (Neale, l.c.). The triumph of Severus was, however, short. His sanguinary tyranny over the patriarchate of Antioch did not survive his imperial patron. Anastasius was succeeded in 518 by Justin, who at once declared for the orthodox faith. The Monophysite prelates were everywhere replaced by orthodox successors. Severus was one of the first to fall. Irenaeus, the count of the East, was commissioned to arrest him. Severus, however, escaped, and in Sept. 518 sailed by night for Alexandria (Liberat. Brev. l.c.; Theophan. 141 ; Evagr. H. E. iv. 4). Paul was ordained in his room. Severus and his doctrines were anathematized in various councils. At Alexandria his reception by his fellow-religionists was enthusiastic. He was gladly welcomed by the patriarch Timotheus, and generally hailed as the champion of the orthodox faith against the corruptions of Nestorianism. His learning and argumentative power established his authority as "os omnium doctorum," and the day of his entrance into Egypt was long celebrated as a Jacobite festival (Neale, u.s. p. 30). Alexandria speedily became the resort of Monophysites of every shade of opinion, who formed too powerful a body for the emperor to molest. But fierce controversies sprang up among themselves on various subtle questions connected with Christ's nature and His human body. A vehement dispute arose between Severus and his fellow-exile Julian of Halicarnassus as to the corruptibility of our Lord's human body before His resurrection. Julian and his followers were styled "Aphthartodocetae" and "Phantasiastae," Severus and his adherents "Phthartolatrae" or "Corrupticolae," and "Ktistolatrae." The controversy was a warm and protracted one and no settlement was arrived at. The Jacobites, however, claim the victory for Severus (Renaudot, p. 129). After some
years in Egypt spent in continual literary and polemical activity, Severus was unexpectedly summoned to Constantinople by Justin's successor Justinian, whose consort Theodora warmly favoured the Eutychian party. The emperor was utterly weary of the turmoil caused by the prolonged theological discussions. Severus, he was told, was the master of the Monophysite party. Unity could only be regained by his influence. At this period, a.d. 535. Anthimus had been recently appointed to the see of Constantinople by Theodora's influence. He was a concealed Eutychian, who on his accession threw off the orthodox mask and joined heartily with Severus and his associates, Peter of Apamea and Zoaras, in their endeavours to get Monophysitism recognized as the orthodox faith. This introduction of turbulent Monophysites threw the city into great disorder, and large numbers embraced their pernicious heresy (Labbe, v. 124). For the further progress of this audacious attempt to establish Monophysitism in the imperial city see JUSTINIANUS; AGAPETUS. Eventually, at the instance of pope Agapetus, who happened to visit Constantinople on political business at this time, the Monophysites Anthimus and Timotheus were deposed, and Severus again subjected to an anathema. The orthodox Mennas, succeeding Anthimus (Liberat. Breviar. c. xxi.; Labbe, v. 774), summoned a synod in May and June 536 to deal with the Monophysite question. Severus and his two companions were cast out "as wolves" from the true fold, and anathematized (Labbe, v. 253–255). The sentence was ratified by Justinian (ib. 265). The writings of Severus were proscribed; any one possessing them who failed to commit them to the flames was to lose his right hand (Evagr. H. E. iv. 11; Novell. Justinian. No. 42; Matt. Blastar. p. 59). Severus returned to Egypt, which he seems never again to have left. The date of his death is fixed variously in 538, 539, and 542. According to John of Ephesus, he died in the Egyptian desert (ed. Payne Smith, i. 78).
He was a very copious writer, but we possess little more than fragments. An account of them, so far as they can be identified, is given by Cave (Hist. Lit. vol. i. pp. 499 ff.) and Fabricius (Bibl. Graec. lib. v. c. 36, vol. x. pp. 614 ff., ed. Harless). A very large number exist only in Syriac, for which consult the catalogue of the Syriac MSS. in the Brit. Mus. by Prof. Wright.
Severus was successful in his great aim of uniting the Monophysites into one compact body with a definitely formulated creed. For notwithstanding the numerous subdivisions of the Monophysites, he was, in Dorner's words, "strictly speaking, the scientific leader of the most compact portion of the party," and regarded as such by the Monophysites and their opponents. He was the chief object of attack in the long and fierce contest with the orthodox, by whom he is always designated as the author and ringleader of the heresy. His opinions, however, were far from consistent, and his opponents apparently had much difficulty in arriving at a clear and definite view of them, and constantly asserted that he contradicted himself. This was partly forced upon him by the conciliatory position he aimed at. Hoping to embrace as many as possible of varying theological colour, he followed the traditional formulas of the church as closely as he could, while affixing his own sense upon them (Dorner, Pers. of Christ, div. ii. vol. i. p. 136, Clark's trans.). In 1904 the Sixth Book of the Select Letters of Severus, in the Syriac version of Athanasius of Nisibis, were ed. by G. E. W. Brooks (Lond.). For a full statement of his opinions see the great work of Dorner, and art. "Monophysiten" in Herzog's Encyc.