The Armenian nation had a long history already by the time of Christ, often as an independent or buffer state between the Roman and Parthian (later Sassanid Persian) empires.
The first mentions of Christianity in Armenia date from the 3rd century AD. Eusebius of Caesarea (Church History VI.46.3) records Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, sent a treatise in the form of a letter, On Repentance, "to those in Armenia whose bishop was Meruzanes." He also records that in 311 the persecuting emperor Maximin Daia ended up at war with the Armenians who, although long-term Roman allies, had become fervently Christian and resisted his attempts to force them to sacrifice to idols.
Christianity seems to have come from Syriac and Persian sources initially. Fifth century tradition records that the apostle Thaddeus baptised the Royal family of Edessa, the home of Syriac, and then came to Armenia and baptised the princess Sandukht. Faustus of Byzantium calls the Armenian Catholicosate "the throne of Thaddeus." The oldest theological terms in Armenian come from Syriac, and the Diatessaron circulated in Armenia in the fifth century as it did in Syria. But after the fourth century, Armenian churches emphasised their links with the Greek-speaking world and Constantinople, and later historians tend to obscure the Syriac connection.
Christianity proper begins in Armenia with Gregory the Illuminator (ca. 240-332). He baptised King Tiridates and the Royal family in 314 AD. Gregory was quickly consecrated a bishop in Caesarea in Cappadocia, and became the first Catholicos of the Armenian church. He founded a see at Ashtishat in Taron, and his son Aristakes was present at the Council of Nicaea. From these roots the church spread among the nation as a whole.
The creation of an Armenian alphabet by Mesrob (d. 440), a former royal secretary, later a monk and missionary, made it possible for Armenian literature to begin. As Christianity spread and Armenian history began to be written, Armenians began to find their national identity in the national church. Attempts by the Sassanid Persians to reimpose Zoroastrianism in Persian Armenia proved futile.
Under the direction of the Patriarch Sahak the Great (390-439) and Mesrob a group of young clerics who had been trained chiefly at Constantinople and Edessa—they were later called the "holy translators"—translated the writings of eminent Greek and Syriac authors. Apart from an Armenian Liturgy, the Bible was the first work to be translated into the vernacular. Though we have no texts of a translation of the Bible made from the Syriac, important reasons favour the view that the Gospels were first read in a translation dependent on a Syriac text of Tatian's Diatessaron. In the course of the fifth century the whole Bible was gradually translated from the Greek. A native literature came into being at the same time.
J. KARST, Geschichte der armenischen Literatur. Leipzig, 1930.
H. LECLERCQ, Littérature Arménienne: DAL 9, 1576—1599.
Link: Catholic Encyclopedia article, vol. 1 (1912), by James F. DRISCOLL.
S. Weber, Die kath. Kirche i. Armenien, 1903. F. Tournebize, Hist. politique et relig. de l'Arménie, 1910. Further lit. v. Altaner § 3. S. Lyonnet, Le Parfait en arménien classique (Évangiles et Eznik), 1933; RSR 1935, 170/87 (Script. trans.). Muyldermans, Mu 1934, 265/92 (Armen. patrist. MSS in Venice). P. Essabalian, Le Diatessaron de Tatien et la première trad, des Évang. armen., W 1937. Akinian, HA 1935, 550/63 (Script. trans.). Lyonnet, RB 1938, 355/82 (Ie version des Evv.); Bi 1938, 121/50 (Vestiges d'un Diatess. armen.). N. Akinian, Unters. z. Gesch. der armen. Lit., 4 vols., W 1932/8 (Armen, with German summary). L. Petit, DTC l, 1888/1968 (Arménie). Akinian, AP 1949, 74/86 (Armen. bishops in 3th/4th cents.). Hausherr, DS l, 863/94. Klinge, RACh l, 678/89. S. Lyonnet, Les origines de la version armen. de la Bible et le Diatess., R 1950. Vööbus, RSR 1950, 581/6 (premiere traduction armen. de la Bible). H. Thoronian, Hist. de la littérature armen. des origines jusqu'à nos jours, P 1951. Inglisian in Grillmeier-Bacht II, 361/417 (Chalcedon and the Armen. Church). Toumanoff, Tr 10, 1954, 109/89 (Church hist. of Armenia and Georgia).
1. Of Mesrob's own writings apparently only the twenty-three orations and circular letters extant under the name of Gregory the Illuminator have been preserved. His life was written by his disciple Koriun.
S. Weber (BKV2 57) 1927. Karst, DTC 10, 789/92. Thorossian, Baz 1931, 446/73; 1932, 5/12, 148/56, 255/63; 1936, 100/8; 1939, 145/52 (Koriun). Akinian, HA 1935, 505/50 (Life of Mesrob). Cowakan, Sion 9, 1935, 181/7 (Koriun and the trans. of the Books of the Macc.). Richard, Mémorial L. Petit 1948, 396/8 (Letter of Sahak).
2. The historical expositions of Faustus of Byzantium (=Pcawstos Byzandacci) are fundamental for our knowledge of the most ancient history of Christian Armenia. His work, written in Greek c. 400, treats of the time from 344 to 387 and is extant in an Armenian translation which probably belongs to the fifth century. This work was continued by Lazarus of Pharpi (d. after 491) who gives an account of the years 388 to 458.
Leclercq, DAL 9, 1588/90 (Faustus). Peeters, AB 1921, 65/88. Faustus Germ. by M. Lauer, Cologne 1879. L. of P. French by S. Ghesarian in Langlois, Coll. des hist. anc. et mod. de l'Arménie 2, 1869, 253/368. Nahabedian, Baz 1930, 367/9, 406/8 (Laz.). Essabalian, HA 1935, 571/90; 1936, 22/39, 185/95, 338/49 (Laz.). Akinian, HA 1938, 9/56 (Faustus).
The history of Gregory the Illuminator and the conversion of Armenia was written under the probably fictitious name Agathangelus, perhaps towards the end of the fifth century. It contains many legendary additions besides historically valuable information.
Armen. Text: Tiflis 1914 and Venice 1930. Gr. trans.: P. de Lagarde, GAG 35, 1888, 3/164. A new unknown Gr. recension ed. G. Garitte, Documents p. l'étude du livre d'A. (ST 127) 1946; cf. Garitte, RHE 1941, 190/209; Mu 1943, 35/53; 1946, 413/20; 1948, 89/102. Peeters, AB 1942, 91/130 (Gregory Ill.). Mioni, Baz 1948 (Inni biz. inediti in on. di S. Gregorio d'Armen.). P. Peeters, Le tréfonds orient. de l'hagiographie byz., 1950, 78/82 (on Agathangelus). Garitte, Mu 1950, 231/47 (Arab. trans. of Agathang.). Mu 1952, 51/71 (Arab. Vita of Gr. Ill.); Narratio de rebus Armeniae (CSCO 132); cf. Honigmann, RHE 1953, 150/68.
The historical work and the other writings of Bishop Moses of Chorene (Chorenaçi; alleged to be fifth century) need not be mentioned here in detail, since they must be dated much later (c. 820).
N. Akinian, Leontius the Priest and M. Khorenatzi, W 1930 (Armenian) ; PWK Suppl. 6, 534/41. Hatsumi, Baz 1935, 55/66, 119/30 (for 5th cent.). H. Lewy, Byz 11, 1936, 81/96, 593/6. Adontz, ibid. 97/100. Mlaker, Wien. Z. f. Kunde d. Morgenl. 42, 259/94 (2nd half of 9th cent.). Manandjan, VizVrem l, 1948, 127/43 (written beginning of the 9th cent. at the earliest); cf. BZ 1950, 53.
Moses of Khoren, History of Armenia, Venice (1955). From its origins to 428.
3. Eznik of Kolb, one of the pupils and collaborators of Sahak and Mesrob wrote c. 430 four books Against the False Doctrines (against the pagans, Persians, Greek philosophers and Marcionites). The work is distinguished by a particularly elegant style.
Germ. by S. Weber (BKV2 57) 1927. L. Mariés, Le De Deo d'E. de K., 1925. Adontz, ROC 25, 1926, 309/57. Cuendet, REA 1929, 13/40 (E. et la Bible). Karamanlian, HA 1931 and 1932 (Arm. popular rel.). Akinian, HA 1935, 615/7 (Letter to Mastok); id., ib. 1937, 517/32; 1938, 238/58. Williams, JTS 1944, 65/73 (Marcion in Eznik).
Louis Mariès and
Paris (1959). (Details from TITUS. Armenian text online: http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/texte/etcs/arm/eznik/eznik.htm
Zaven Arzoumanian, Eznik of Kolb ; Cyril of Alexandria ; Constantine Porphyrogenitus, New York : Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, 1976 (46 p. ; 23 cm) series: Studies in Armenian historiography.
Eznik, Koghbats`i, Bishop of Bagrewand, (5th cent), Refutation of the sects : a retelling of Yeznik
Koghbatsi`s apology / translated and edited by Thomas Samuelian ; design and illustration by Siran Kaprielian,
Series: Armenian Church classics
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : St. Vartan Press, 1986; Physical desc.: 68 p. ; 21 cm; ISBN/ISSN: 0934728135. Note: Bibliography: p. 67-68
An English translation of the refutation of the Armenian Yeznik (or "Eznik"), who lived from 387-450 CE. Book IV is his "Refutation of the Heretic Marcion", which contains the later marcionite myth of creation. Contents: Book I - The Nature of God; Book II -Refutation of Zurvanism (an offshoot of Zoroastrianism); Book III - Refutation of the Greek Philosophers.
Eznik, Koghbatsi, Bishop of Bagrewand, 5th cent. -- Confutazione delle sette (Elc alandoc) / Eznik di Kolb ; introduzione, traduzione e note a cura di Alessandro Orengo. Pisa : ETS, 1996. (Series: Progetti linguistici ; 2)
Blanchard M.J. , Young R.D., A Treatise on God Written in Armenian by Eznik of Kolb (floruit c. 430-c. 450). An English Translation, with Introduction and Notes. Series : Eastern Christian Texts in Translation 2. XXIV-222 p. (1998), ISBN: 90-429-0013-X. 30 EURO. Blurb:
The conversion of Armenia is traditionally dated to 314 when Gregory the Illuminator (c. 240-332) baptized King Trdat (298-330) and the royal family. Not until the fifth century did there develop both a Christian literature for Armenians in the Armenian languages, and the beginnings of a literary tradition in several genres which provided a coherent argument against the old religion of Zoroastrianism and made for the creation of Armenia as a Christian nation.
Eznik of Kolb, later bishop of Bagrewand, studied in Edessa and in Constantinople among that first generation of Armenian Christians who made available in the newly established Armenian script translations of Greek and Syriac texts, including the Bible and other early Christian writings. Eznik composed a treatise of theology and apologetic in Armenian which has survived untitled in one manuscript. Modern editors and translators have titled this treatise On God or Against the Sects. Eznik addressed perceived threats to Christianity in Armenia from heretical and non-Christian movements, among them Valentinian Gnosticism and the schools of Greek philosophy, Marcionism, Manichaeism and Zoroastrian Zurvanism. Eznik’s sources include the Bible; ancient Greek, non-Christian literature; earlier Greek patristic treatises and other works; Syriac patristic texts; and Iranian works either written or oral, concerning the Zurvanite form of Zoroastrianism and Armenian paganism.
The central concern of the book is to contrast the monotheistic Christian God with the dualistic or polytheistic deities and religions of his opponents. Eznik’s book is unusual in several aspects. It is the first apologetic treatise composed in Armenian, and it also provides a summary of early Christian doctrine as Eznik understood it. It contains unique information on the fifth-century teachings of Zurvanism and Marcionism. It attests to an Armenian theology conversant with both Syriac and Greek sources. It also opens a window into pre-Christian Armenian mythology and folklore. The English translation is based on the critical edition of Louis Maries and Charles Mercier
Reviewed by Thomas J. Samuelian, An Essay on the English Translation of Yeznik by Blanchard and Young, St. Nersess Theological Review vol. 4, nos 1-2 (January/July 1999)
4. John Mandakuni, a member of an old noble family, belongs to the circle of "holy translators" and ascended the Patriarchal throne in his old age (d. after 480). Apart from liturgical prayers, twenty-five orations and encyclicals on moral and practical subjects are attributed to him and defended as genuine, though without convincing arguments.
German tr. by S. Weber (BKV2 58) 1927.
5. Three homilies on N.T. pericopes are extant under the name of Mambre Verzanogh who belonged to the same circle.
6. The question of the authenticity of the writings attributed to St. Elishe (Elisaeus) Vardapet (d. c. 480) has not yet been settled. The following have been preserved under his name: a cycle of homilies on the life of Christ and others, Words of Exhortation to the Hermits, further commentaries on Josue and Judges and an explanation of the Lord's Prayer. His authorship of the historical work on the Vardanian War (449-51) has recently been denied for convincing reasons ; it is attributed to an anonymous author of the seventh century.
German by S. Weber (BKV2 58) 1927. N. Akinian, Elis. V. and his History of the Armen. War, W 1932/6 (Armen.); cf. AB 1935, 151/4; cont. of study in HA 1932/6; against this Paitschikian, Baz 1931, 193/201. Nahabedian, Baz 1931, 73/5. Irazek, Baz 1931, 265/7.
Eliseus Vardapet, History of St Vardan and the Armenian War, Books I-IV. Erevan (1957)
1. Nerses Shnorhali (1100-1173) was an Armenian poet, historian, musician-composer, statesman. In 1166 he was ordained Armenian Catholicos. Nerses Shnorhali left a rich literary heritage: prose and poem (sharakan, hymns, riddles). He was the brightest representative of the Armenian music of the Cilician school. He composed spiritual and lay songs.
Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.
This page has been accessed by people since 16th September 2002.
Return to the Oriental Fathers Page Return to Roger Pearse's Pages