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The debate of CHRISTIAN FAITH between patriarch Timothy I and Caliph Mahdi in 781 A.D.



Part 2


Translation. By Alphonse Mingana



Then the King said to me: "What is my word? It is something that vanishes and disappears."—And I replied to him: "As God does not resemble in His nature the Commander of the Faithful, so also the Word and the Spirit of God do not resemble those of the Commander of the Faithful. We men sometimes exist and sometimes do not exist because we have a beginning and an end, as we are created. This is the case also with our word and our spirit, which at one time exist, and at another cease to exist, and have a beginning and an end. God, however, who is higher and more exalted than all is not like us in this respect, but He exists divinely and eternally, and there was no time in which He was not, nor will there be a time in which He will not be. He has no beginning and no end, because He is not created. In the same way are His Word and His Spirit, who exist divinely and eternally, that is to say without beginning and without end, as God with God, without any separation."

Then our King said to me: "Are the Word and the Spirit not separable from God?"—And I replied: "No: never. As light and heat are not separable from the sun, so also (the Word) and the Spirit of God are not separable from Him. If one separates from the sun its light and its heat, it will immediately become neither light-giver nor heat-producer, and consequently it will cease to be sun, so also if one separates from God His Word and His Spirit, He will cease to be a rational and living God, because the one who has no reason is called irrational,12 and the one who has no spirit 13 is dead. If one, therefore, ventures to say about God that there was a time in which He had no Word and no Spirit, such a one would blaspheme against God, because his saying would be equivalent to asserting that there was a time in which God had no reason and no life. If such adjectives are considered as blasphemy and abomination when said of God, it follows that God begat the Word in a divine and eternal way, as a source of wisdom, and had the Spirit proceeding from Him eternally and without any beginning, as a source of life. God is indeed the eternal source of life and wisdom; as a source of wisdom He imparts by His Word wisdom to all the rational beings, and as a source of life He causes life to flow to all the living beings, celestial and terrestrial alike, because God is the creator of everything by means of His Word and His Spirit"

And our powerful King said to me: "Tell me from which books you can show me that the Word and the Spirit are eternally with God."—And I replied: "We can demonstrate this first from the Books of the Prophets, and afterwards from the Gospel. As to the prophets, David said first thus: 'By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all His hosts by the Spirit of His mouth.' 14 In another passage he glorifies the Word of God as if it were God, in the following terms: 'I shall glorify the Word of God.' 15 Further, in speaking of the resurrection of the dead he said of God, 'Thou sendest |24 forth Thy Spirit and they are created, and Thou renewest the face of the earth.' 16 The prophet David would not have glorified a created being, nor would he have called creator and renewer some one who was created and fashioned. In another passage he speaks of the Word of God as itself God, without a beginning and without an end, because he writes:17 'Thou art for ever, O Lord, and Thy Word standeth in Heaven;' he teaches here that as God is for ever in heaven, so also the Word of God is in heaven for ever and without an end, because he who is without an end is also without a beginning, and he who has no beginning has no end.

"Afterwards comes the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the Word of God in a way similar to that of David, in saying thus: 'The grass withereth and the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God standeth for ever.' 18 Other prophets also speak of this point in several passages. So far as the Gospel is concerned we gather the same conclusion from the following passage: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' 19 We are taught here two things: that the Word is eternal, and that the same Word is God by nature. All these the Gospel teaches about the Word, and it teaches us also the same thing concerning the Spirit in the very same chapter, 'In Him was life,' 20 i.e., in the same Word—God was 'life' which means "(in Him) was Spirit" or "He was it." In saying of the Word in the first passage that He "was," does not refer to any beginning, and so is the case with regard to the second passage referring to the Spirit. Indeed the Gospel in using this "was" is not speaking of His creation but of His eternity. If Spirit is life and life is eternally in God, the Spirit is consequently eternally in God. And Jesus Christ (Holy Ghost?) is the Spirit of God, and the life and light of men.

"In one passage Christ said to His Father, 'And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.' 21 He said here, 'with the glory which He had before the world was, and not which came to Him;' if He had said, 'With the glory which had come to me with Thee before the world was,' He would have taught us that He was a created and made being, but since He said 'with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was' He clearly taught us that while |25 all the world was created He alone was without a beginning, as the Word of God.

"In another passage while He was about to ascend to Heaven He said to His disciples, 'Go and teach all nations and baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' 22 Jesus Christ would not have allowed Himself to count created and made beings with the One who is uncreated and unmade, and temporal beings with the One who has no beginning and no end. As the wise men do not mix promiscuously with one another in one count sun, stone and horse, nor pearl, gold and brass, but say, for instance, in a separate way: three pearls, or three stars, as these are similar in nature and resemble one another in everything, so also would the case be with Jesus Christ, who would have never allowed himself to count with God His Word and His Spirit, if He did not know that they were equal to God in nature. How could He have made equal in honour and royal power the one who was not God in nature with the one who was, or the one who was temporal with the one who was eternal? It is not the servants who participate in royal honour but the children." 23

Then our King said to me: "What is the difference between the Son and the Spirit, and how is it that the Son is not the Spirit nor the Spirit the Son? Since you said that God is not composite there should not be any difference with God in the fact that He begets and makes proceed from Himself."—And I replied to our King as follows: "There is no difference, O King, between the persons in their relation to one another, except that the first is not begotten, and the second is begotten, and the third proceeds; and God consists in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and He begat the former and made the latter proceed from Him from eternity without any bodily cleavage and separation in the organs and places that are fit for generation and procession. God is not composite and has no body, and since the terms 'cleavage' and 'organs' imply a body—because all bodies are composite—it follows that 'cleavage' and 'organs' do not apply to God; indeed God being without body and not being composite, is thought of without any notion of 'cleavage' and 'separation.' |26 Reason comes out of the soul—because mind comes out of the soul— but it comes out of it without any suffering, without any cleavage, and without the instrumentality of organs. The very same sun begets light and makes heat come out of it, without any cleavage or bodily separation, and in a way that all the light is from all the sun and all the heat from all its spheric globe.

"All the reason and all the mind are from all the soul, the former by process of birth and the second by that of procession, as all the heat and all the mind are with the sun and with the soul respectively, and all the heat and all the reason are with the soul, with the sun, and with ourselves, while light does not become heat nor heat light. This very method applies to the Word and the Spirit: the former is begotten, and the latter proceeds from God and the Father, not through any material cleavage, and any suffering, nor from a special organ, but as from an uncircumscribed being: an uncircumscribed one in an uncircumscribed fashion, and one who is all in all without space and time, in a way that the Son is not the Spirit, nor the Spirit the Son, in qualifications and attributes.

"From the whole of an apple the whole of the scent and the whole of the taste are begotten and proceed in a way that the apple does not make the scent proceed from one part of it and beget the taste from another, but scent and taste come out of all the apple. While scent and taste are mixed with each other and with the apple, they are nevertheless separate in a way that taste is not scent and scent is not taste, and are not confused with each other, nor separated from each other, but are so to speak mixed together in a separate way, and separated from each other in a mixed way, by a process that is as amazing as it is incomprehensible. In this very way from the uncircumscribed Father the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds, in an uncircumscribed way: the eternal from the eternal, the uncreated from the uncreated, the spiritual from the spiritual. Since they are uncircumscribed they are not separated from one another, and since they are not bodies they are not mixed and confused with one another, but are separated in their persons in a united way, so to speak, and are united in their nature in a separate way. God is, therefore, one in nature with three personal attributes."

And our King said to me: "If they are not separated by remoteness and nearness as they are uncircumscribed, the Father therefore, |27 and the Spirit clothed also themselves with the human body, together with the Son; if the Father and the Spirit did not put on human body with the Son, how is it that they are not separated by distance and space?"—And I replied to his Majesty: "As the word of the King clothes itself with the papyrus on which it is written, while his soul and his mind cannot be said to do the same, and as his soul and his mind while not separated from his word, cannot nevertheless be said that they clothe themselves with the papyrus, so also is the case with the Word of God; because although He put on our human body without having been separated from the Father and the Spirit, yet the Father and the Spirit cannot be said to have put on our human body.

"Further, the word that is begotten of the soul clothes itself with the voice that is caused by the vibration of the air, and yet it is not separated from the soul and the mind, and the soul and the mind are not said that they clothe themselves with the voice, and no man ever says that he heard the mind and the soul of so-and-so, but he does say that he heard the word of so-and-so, and this in spite of the fact that the word is not remote from the mind, nor the mind from the soul, and are not separated from one another. In this very way the Word-God clothed Himself with a body from ourselves, without having been separated in the least from the Father and the Spirit, and in this way also the Father and the Spirit are not said to have put on human body with the Word.

"Finally, the body is believed to be and actually is the temple and the clothing of the soul, but it is not believed and actually is not the temple and the clothing of the word and of the mind, in spite of the fact that neither the word nor the mind are remote from the soul, nor is the soul itself remote from the word and the mind. In this way the Word alone is spoken of as having put on our human body, while the Father and the Spirit are not said to have put it on, in spite of the fact that they are not remote from the Word in distance and locality." The objections and the difficulties raised by our Sovereign have been rebutted and explained in the above way.

After these the King said to me: "Who is your head and your leader?"—And I replied: "Our Lord Jesus Christ."—And our King asked me: "Was Jesus Christ circumcised or not?"—And I answered: "He was."—And our King asked me: "Why do you |28 not then circumcise yourself? If your head and leader is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was circumcised, you should also by necessity circumcise yourself."—And I spoke thus: "O King, Jesus Christ was both circumcised and baptised. He was circumcised eight days after His birth according to the injunction of the Law, and He was baptised while He was about thirty years of age, and by His baptism He annulled circumcision. I do not follow the Law as the Christ followed all the Law;24 I follow the Gospel, and that is why I do not circumcise myself in spite of the fact that Christ circumcised Himself, but I baptise myself with water and spirit like Him. I believe in Jesus Christ, and since Jesus Christ was baptised I consider baptism as an urgent necessity for me.25 I leave the image and cleave to the reality."

And our King asked me: "How did Jesus Christ abolish circumcision and what is the meaning of the 'image' you have spoken of?"—And I replied: "All the Torah, was, O King, the image of the Gospel. The sacrifices that are in the Law are the image of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the priesthood and high-priesthood of the Law are the image of the high-priesthood of Christ, and the carnal circumcision is the image of His spiritual circumcision. As He abolished the Law by the Gospel, and the sacrifices by His sacrifice, and the priesthood of the Law by His priesthood, so also He abolished and annulled the carnal circumcision which is performed by the work of the hands of men by means of His circumcision which is not performed by the work of the hands of men but by the power of the Spirit, and it is the sacrament 26 of the Kingdom of Heaven and of the resurrection from death."

And our King said: "If Christ abolished the Law and all its requirements, He is, therefore, its enemy and its adversary. We call enemies those who destroy and contradict one another."—And I replied to him: "The light of the stars is abolished by the light of the sun, and the light of the latter is not for that the enemy of that of |29 the former; the functions of childhood are also abolished by those of manhood, and man is not for that the enemy of himself; an earthly kingdom is also abolished by the heavenly Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God is not for that the enemy of men. In this very way Jesus Christ abolished and destroyed the Law by the Gospel, while He is not for that the enemy and the adversary of the Law."

And our King said to me: "Where did Jesus Christ worship and pray in the years that elapsed between His birth and His ascension to Heaven? Was it not in the house of holiness 27 and in Jerusalem?"—And I replied: "Yes."—And our King asked: "Why then do you worship God and pray in the direction of the East?"—And I replied: "The true worship of the Omnipotent God, O King, will be performed by mankind in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the image of the Kingdom of Heaven in the earth is the paradise of Eden; now as the paradise of Eden is in the east, we therefore worship God and pray rightly in the direction of the east in which is the Paradise which is the image of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is also another reason for our conduct: Jesus Christ walked in the flesh thirty-three years on the earth, O King. In the thirtieth year he repaid to God all the debt that the human kind and angels owed to Him. It was a debt that no man and no angel was able to pay, because there has never been a created being that was free from sin, except the Man with whom God clothed Himself and became one with Him in a wonderful unity.28

"After having then paid to God the debt of all the creatures and abrogated, annulled, and torn the contract containing it, He went to the Jordan, to John the Baptist, and was baptised by him, and thus the One who was the image of the Kingdom of Heaven placed this baptism of His in the forefront of the Christian life. From the day of His baptism to that of His ascension to heaven there are three years, and it is in these three years that He has taught us all the economy of the Christian religion: baptism, laws, ordinances, prayers, worship in the direction of the east, and the sacrifice that we offer. All these things He practised in His person and taught us to practise ourselves. Because He wished to proclaim to the world through His disciples: the Gospel, the baptism, the sacrifice and the worship |30 and prayer to God, He performed and fulfilled them all in His own person, in order that His disciples might fulfil themselves what they had seen Him practising Himself, and that they might teach others to do the same.

"Further, the worship of God started at the beginning in the East; it is indeed in that direction that Adam and his children worshipped God, because the Paradise is in the direction of the east.29 Moreover, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses used to worship God and to pray while turning towards the east and Paradise, that is towards the direction and the place in which God had been worshipped from the beginning by Adam and his children, as we have just now said. It is for this reason that Jesus Christ taught His disciples to worship God and pray towards the east. Because Adam transgressed the commandment of God, he was driven out of Paradise, and when he went out of Paradise he was thrown on this accursed earth. Having been thrown on this accursed earth, he turned his face away from God, and his children worshipped demons, stars, sun, moon and graven and molten images. The Word of God came then to the children of men in a human body, and in His person paid to God the debt that they were owing Him. To remind them, however, of the place from which their father was driven because of his transgression of the commandment, He made them turn their faces towards Paradise in their worship and prayer, because it is in it that God was first worshipped.

"Because Jesus Christ saved men from the deportation of Satan, and the Word of God freed them from the worship of idols, He rightly turned also the direction of their sight and their mind towards God and towards Paradise where He was first worshipped. He simply brought back the one who was going astray to the house of his father. This is also the reason why the angel Gabriel, when announcing to Mary the conception of Jesus Christ, appeared to her from the direction of the east as it is written in your book.30 Finally, we worship God in the direction of the east, because being light He is more congruously worshipped in the direction of the light."



12. In Syr. the same root milltha is used to express both "reason" and "word." The author plays on this identical root in a constant manner.

13. In Syr. "Spirit" which means also "soul." 

14. Ps. xxxiii. 6 (Peshitta). 

15. Ps. lvi. 10 (Peshitta).

16. Ps. civ. 30.

17. Ps. cxix. 89 (Peshitta).

18. Is. xl. 8.

19. John i. 1.

20. John i. 4.

21. John xvii. 5.

22. Matt. xxviii. 19.

23. Most of the above Biblical passages are quoted also by the Christian apologist Kindi in his Risalah, pp. 43, 147-148.

24. Cf. Matt v. 17.

25. This objection about the circumcision of Christ and the uncircumcision of Christians is also mentioned and refuted by the Christian apologist Kindi, Risalah, p. 109. It is likewise alluded to by the Muslim apologist `Ali Tabari, Kitab ud-Din, pp. 159-160 of my translation.

26. The same Syriac word means both "mystery" and "sacrament"

27. I.e. Temple. Syr. baita d-makdsha from which the Arab, bait al-makdis.

28. This teaching is that of Theodore of Mopsuestia.

29. That the Paradise of Eden was situated in the direction of the East is the opinion of the majority of Eastern Fathers, many of whom believe also that it is found in the firmament. To it, according to them, the souls of the just go till the day of the Resurrection.

30. Kur'an, xix. 16.

 End of part 2