Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sulayman al-Ghazzi on the Cross

The writings Sulayman al-Ghazzi (or Solomon of Gaza) are one of the great hidden gems of Arab Orthodoxy, though not a word of them is yet available in a western language. I'm doing a little work on them for a different venue, but would like share something about him on this blog. I'll do another post soon about his life in more detail, but he was an Orthodox bishop in Palestine in the 11th century, during the persecution of Christians under the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. He is the first Arabic-language poet whose poetry was entirely dedicated to Christian religious themes. His Diwan is extensive; it consists of 97 long poems, amounting to over three thousand lines and treats a wide variety of Christian and personal themes. But that will have to wait for another time. Below is his treatise on the Cross, which is interesting, well, because of how weird it is. Connected closely to another of his treatises, On Man as Microcosm, I strongly suspect that they are an apologetic for Christianity aimed at adherents of certain esotericist currents in Islamic thought encouraged by the Fatimid regime. The Italian scholar Paolo La Spisa has a forthcoming article detailing parallels between some ideas of al-Ghazzi's and the Ikhwan al-Safa, for example...

On the Cross

Know, you who abide by the Law of the Cross of Christ, that when you are ignorant of it you become like children who abide by something whose value they do not know and who do not respond to one who asks about the meanings of its mysteries.

If someone asks you, “Do you love what Christ loved or what he hated?”

If you say ‘we love what he loved’ then the Holy Gospel shows you to be liars when it says ‘O Father, if you desire to pass this cup from me, do so’ and this is proof that he did not love to be crucified and he did not choose death. If you say, ‘We love what he hated,’ then you have gone against him by loving what he hated. If you say, ‘We love it because it was the cause of our salvation,’ then you make the instrument loftier than the maker, because Christ was the cause of salvation and the Cross one of his instruments. If you say, ‘The Cross is the image of his death in the flesh, which opened the gate of life,’ this statement is the best by a little.

Anyone who has the slightest knowledge has no doubt that there are two natures in Christ which are brought together in the hypostasis of the Son. One of them is pre-eternal and everlasting and the other come into being after having not existed. The one which hates death is the perceptible human nature which suffered in order to heal us. The one which does not hate death is the divine nature which is imperceptible and cannot suffer. It made the human nature taste the bitterness of bearing to drink the medicine which cured the affliction of death. The latter raised the former after three days unto eternal, everlasting life. By this death God removed from Israel’s neck the yoke of the Law of Moses which judges that he who deserves it should be crucified, and so when this was judged for one who did not deserve it, it saved those who did deserve it, those who were baptized with the death of Christ in the flesh.

The prophecies mentioned beforehand His crucifixion and His death and the nailing of His hands and feet upon the wood, as the prophets prophesied about Him. The first of them was Moses, when he said to the Children of Israel, “You will see your life hanging before your eyes.” The Prophet David said, “They surrounded me like bees and burned like blazing thorns and in the name of the Lord I fought them.” And he also said, “They pierced my hands and my feet and counted my joints and divided my clothes among themselves and cast lots for my robe.” The Prophet Isaiah said, “Truly he suffered for our transgressions and bore our sins. He suffered for our transgressions and was in pain for our sins and by his wounds we were healed. And we are like lost sheep each one of us following his own passion and he cut off all our sins. He was humble and did not open his mouth. Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a ewe before the butcher he was silent, to be taken from the land of the living and for the wickedness of my people he was judged.” The Prophet Zachariah said, “Come let use waste his flesh on the tree and remove him from the land of the living.” He also said, “On that day they shall look upon the one whom they pierced.” The Prophet Ezra said, “The immoral ones who speak evil will speak evil of the Most High and will work great evil. Life will appear from the wood and blood and water will drip from flesh and the voice of the Lord will be heard. On that wood the body will be stretched for six hours and the one who should not be buried will be buried, and a dead man will arise and life will be known among the dead. He will go up from earth to heaven and he will surely be on the right hand of the Most High because he is from before, and before all things he was begotten.” Solomon son of David said, “The footstool of the Holy will be glorified by the cedar, the fir, and the sycamore.” When Jacob blessed the sons of his son Joseph, he placed his right hand on the head of the one to his left, and his left hand on the head of the one to his right, with the sign of the Cross. Likewise God, may He be praised, commanded Moses to strike the sea crosswise, and when the people crossed it, He ordered him to strike it lengthwise, with the sign of the Cross. He also ordered him to crucify the bronze snake, so that all who looked upon it would be saved from the bite of the murderous snakes which afflicted the people. How many signs of the Cross are there among the people of the Children of Israel! The Prophet Habakkuk said, “between the two lives you are known,” meaning the life of the body, that is Christ’s body before His death and His life after His death. If Christ’s body did not die, than the yoke of the Torah’s requirements would not have been loosened from the faithful.

We have found that the wise logicians spoke of the virtue of the Cross when they said that the two double-edged blades, which are cause and reason, became four elements, which are held together by one pole which is the soul. This is the image of the macrocosm, whose borders and sides and natures and elements are four, just like the Cross. They are east, west, north and south; hot, cold, humid, and dry; fire, air, earth, and water; the fifth of them is the pole which is ordered by the Lord.

Some Christians believe that the Cross resembles the tree of knowledge which was the cause of humankind’s death in Adam and which became the cause of life in Christ. Others say that those who believe in Christ must honor the Cross because it because it is their final covenant with Him.

Upon the wood of the Cross, He said to those who were crucifying Him, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up anew.” Just as lovers remember the hour of their beloveds’ farewell and pine for that image, so too Christians remember the hour of their farewell to Christ, when He was on the wood of the Cross.

Among the virtues of the Cross is that none of the Apostles achieved any miracle until they said to the blind, or the leper, or the lame, or the dead, “In the name of Christ whom the Jews crucified in Jerusalem, be healed of your ailment!” and he would then be healed of his ailment immediately. How many kings strove to make them abandon making that sign out of disgust for its ugliness, but they did not obey.

These are the strongest proofs for the majesty of the Cross, which resembles a man standing. Its top is like the upwards direction and its bottom is like the downwards direction. Its front is like the east and its back is like the west. Its right side is like the south and its left side is like the north. The world does not lack the four subtle boundaries which contain all things found within it. Knowledge and clear vision, which are substance, then mass, then living, then breathing, then intellect, which is the pole around which they rotate and which holds them together.

The proof of what we have mentioned is that every rational being is alive and everything alive is breathing and everything that breathes has mass and every mass is a substance. This is its illustration:

God, may His name be exalted, gave to this noble temple—I mean the body—reason by which to order things, in order to rise to higher levels.

Ordering is divided into three parts. The first is man’s ordering of himself, then ordering his family, then ordering his flock. One who orders himself must make himself averse to blameworthy evils, and make himself do specific good things, remind himself of death and cause himself to fear God, and encourage himself toward good works.

One who orders his family must care for them as one who loves, honor them, listen to those of them who complain, and help those who ask for help, teach those who are ignorant, treat those who are sick. He must not be jealous of those who are rich or be haughty with those who are poor.

One who orders his flock must not be unjust in his judgment. He should enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, but he must not forbid something he does himself. He must manage works and inspect the workers’ accounts. He must build fortresses and repel enemies and be awake to uncover what happens. He must protect the weak and honor the ascetic and chaste and punish offenders. He must prepare for excessive ease.

Everyone who is ignorant of what we have said is ignorant of himself and he who is ignorant of himself is ignorant of his Creator and has disobeyed the commandment to honor the precious temple which God raised up to the Kingdom of Heaven in Christ’s human nature. To him is due glory, honor, and respect unto the ages of ages, amen.

The above is translated from the Arabic text, published in "The Prose Theological Works of Sulayman al-Ghazzi", edited by Neophytos Edelby and published in the series al-Turath al-Arabi al-Masihi in 1986, pp. 102-114.


Pintradex said...

Beautiful... thank you Samn!

The Jester of Qi said...

Thanks for this... I think you could offer a very unique and powerful gift to the English-speaking Church by translating his works. We particularly have a shortage of Orthodox non-liturgical poetry in English.

Samn! said...

Well, I'll be publishing some excerpts in a project that will come out some time in 2012. A long-term goal of mine is to translate the whole thing, but this obviously takes time and some leisure.....