Working the Earth of the Heart: The Messalian Controversy in History, Text, and Language to AD 431

TitleWorking the Earth of the Heart: The Messalian Controversy in History, Text, and Language to AD 431
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsStewart, C
Series TitleOxford Theological Monographs
PublisherClarendon Press
ISBN Number9780198267362
OCLC Number466366830

This study provides a complete reassessment of the Messalian controversy of the fourth and fifth centuries AD. The Messalians were an ascetic group, their name (of Syriac derivation) meaning `praying people'. Their extraordinary claims and graphic spiritual vocabulary were considered heretical by the early Christian Church and were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Dr. Stewart reconstructs the history of the controversy from its beginnings, carefully avoiding all previous suppositions and flawed methodologies. He considers in depth the spiritual vocabulary which lies at the root of the controversy and which can also be found in the Greek pseudo-Macarian writings. He proves that the pseudo-Macarian vocabulary can be traced to a Syriac milieu and demonstrates this by comparisons with such early Syriac texts as the writings of Ephrem, Aphrahat, and especially the anonymous Liber graduum. In this light, the claims of the Messalians are shown to result from the influence upon Greek Christian culture of an equally orthodox tradition, the Semitic Syriac culture of the Christian East. Christian writers of both cultures were determined to show others a way to 'work the earth of the heart', an image favoured by pseudo-Macarius for its evocation of the patient labour of asceticism. The controversy was thus not indeed a question of heresy, but of misperceived differences of culture and of spiritual idiom.


Part 1 Introduction and method: the ascetical crucible of controversy; the Messalian controversy; the writings of Ps-Macarian writings and their Syrian background. Part 2 The Messalian controversy - history and texts: the emergence of the Messalians; the synod of Antioch and the shift to Asia Minor; towards condemnation by the Third Ecumenical council; the lists of Messalian doctrines. Part 3 Spiritual vocabulary of Ps-Macarius: the writings of Ps-Macarius; the Syrian background of Ps-Macarius; the significance of the spiritual vocabulary of Ps-Macarius. Part 4 A Greek vocabulary of Christian experience. Part 5 Metaphors of spiritual experience in Greek and Syriac: metaphors of mixing and blending; the indwelling of sin and of the spirit; being filled with the spirit or with sin the Syrian face of Ps-Macarius; conclusions. Part 6 Messalian historiography and the Syrian background of Ps-Macarius: the dangerous ambiguity of language; the encounter between two cultures.

Citation Key5104