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' In A.D. 339-340, according to Th. Noldeke (article Persia: Sasaniaits, in Eiicy.
Brit. ).

Edguiiatsiii and the Armenian Church 305

from the commander of the luckless Roman army after the death
of Julian.^

The reign of Arshak is, indeed, contemporary with the great
wars which were waged by Shapur with the power which disputed
his supremacy over the East. However little credit we may
attach to the narrative of the Armenian historian, it is at least
plain that a king who owed his throne to the Caesars was often
their enemy and never their loyal ally. We are told, indeed, that
on one occasion his armies violated the Roman territory and
advanced as far as Angora ; on another that the king himself led
his troops against those of the Empire, and fell upon them as
they were preparing to receive a Persian attack. When the duel
was being waged most fiercely he maintained an attitude of
expectant neutrality, waiting to see which of the antagonists would
offer him the best terms. The only palliation which we may
discover for such a course of outrageous conduct is derived from
the obscure notice of a religious persecution, directed against the
Armenian pontiff, Nerses, by one of the successors of Constantine.
Yet that prelate with true wisdom enjoined resistance to the
Persians at a moment when it might well have seemed a desperate
course. The king, left to his fate by the provision in the Roman
treaty, maintained for awhile a courageous front to the Persian
onslaught. But he was at length compelled to sue for peace and
to place his person in the power of his enemy under a guarantee
of security. His former treachery was requited, as it deserved,
by the same treatment ; and, while he himself was taken to Persia
and consigned to the castle of oblivion, his queen, after a brief
resistance, was brought to the presence of Shapur and outraged
before the eyes of his army until she expired.

A series of massacres on a large scale and organised by
Shapur in person was the sequel of these events. The unfortunate
Armenians were collected into large bodies and trampled down
under the feet of elephants. The number of the victims is said
to have amounted to thousands and tens of thousands of either
sex and every age. The great cities, including Artaxata and
Vagharshapat, were ruthlessly destroyed. Whole populations,
among which were conspicuous the numerous Jewish colonies,
were driven off into captivity. From this calamity, which must
have occurred after the year 363 and before 379, the Arsakid
dynasty does not appear to have recovered. The son of Arshak,

1 The peace of A. n. 363.

3o6 Armenia

by name Pap, was indeed placed upon the throne by the emperor,
and reigned for several years. But, like his father, he turned his
arms against his protectors the moment they had cleared his
frontiers of the inveterate foe. Like his father he coquetted with
the Persian power, forgetting the unspeakable insults to which
his family had been subjected. He even possessed the effrontery
to despatch to the emperor an insulting message, summoning him
to restore Edessa and Caesarea and ten other cities which he
averred had belonged to his ancestors. Pap was put to death
by imperial order, and another member of the Arsakid family
sent to reign in his place. But that prince was expelled by the
most valiant of the Armenian chieftains, who proceeded to
administer the country in the interests of the sons of Pap. When
these had come of age the royal authority was divided between
them, while the numerous Persian party among the Armenians
selected a rival Arsakid and enlisted in his favour Persian support.
Armenian politics were becoming a farce when the rulers of the
two great powers arrived at a solution to which both had been
provoked. The buffer state was divided between them, the
Persians taking the greater portion, and the smaller, including
the valley of the Western Euphrates, falling to the Roman
Empire (a.d. 387). Phantom kings of Arsakid descent were set
up by either power, until in the course of time Persian governors
and Greek prefects administered the government in either sphere.
I have anticipated in this brief summary upon the sequel of
the ecclesiastical policy pursued by King Tiran. After the murder
of the bishop of Taron, whose diocese included Astishat, a priest
of the church in this religious centre was elevated to the pontifical
dignity and duly consecrated at Caesarea. He was succeeded by
a scion of the House of Albianus — a House of which the founder
is mentioned first in the list of bishops chosen by St. Gregory
from the ranks of the children of the heathen priests.^ Meanwhile
the sons of Yusik — the terrible progeny given to the world by
his bride of a single night — had reached an age which permitted
the full indulgence of their wicked appetites in every kind of vice.
They are said to have met their death in the pontifical palace,
where their wassail was cut short by the angel of God. One of
the twins, by name Athenogenes, had already produced an heir ;
and it was this child who, when he had reached the estate of
manhood, was acclaimed katholikos by army and nation during

' Agathangelus, Life of St. Gregory, sec. 154.

Edgmiatsin and the Armenian Church ^oj

the reign of King Arshak. Nerses— such was his name — had
been brought up at Csesarea, the native city of his contemporary,
St. Basil the Great. After an early marriage he adopted the
military profession and became chamberlain and counsellor to his
king. He is delineated as the ideal of a perfect cavalier — tall
and supple of figure, with a face of great beauty, which enlisted
the sympathy of both sexes and all classes. Yet the youth wore
the flower of a blameless private life ; and his high capacities
were from the first bestowed upon the intimate care of the poor
or afflicted, and the protection of the oppressed. His function
at court was to stand behind the person of the king, attired in
a rich and elegant robe, and bearing in his hand the royal sword
of tried steel with its golden scabbard and belt inlaid with precious
stones. Such was the station which he was fulfilling when the
nobles and assembled troops approached the steps of the throne.
They had come to demand his acceptance of the high office,
hereditary in his family ; but the embarrassed chamberlain waved
them aside. His profession of personal unworthiness was received
with laughter ; his indignant protests by the clash of shields.
Upon his persistence King Arshak gave orders that he should be
bound in his presence, and shorn of his long and abundant hair.
Many of the bystanders shed tears when the ruthless scissors
severed those silky and floating locks. Stripped of his gay apparel,
he was made to assume the garb of a priest ; and it was difficult
to recognise in the face of the deacon, who was being ordained
by a venerable bishop, the brave soldier and princely courtier
of a few minutes ago.^

The national character of the Armenian Church is mainly
derived from the institutions of St. Gregory; but it was this Nerses,
his direct descendant, who brought it into line with the Church
of the Empire in the important sphere of internal development
and discipline. The family likeness which it still presents to
the neighbouring Greek Church is largely due to this prelate.
The monastery is still the piv^ot of the ecclesiastical organisation ;
and it was this contemporary, perhaps this disciple of St. Basil
of C^esarea, who spread broadcast cloisters and convents over the
land. A sing-le rule was established for the several orders of
monks ; and the laity were bidden to observe certain wholesome
regulations, among which was included abstention from animal
food. The poor and the sick were lodged in hospices, and were

^ Faustus, iv. 3.

3o8 Ariucnia

not allowed to beg ; a humane enactment provided that their
neighbours should bring them food to their public or private
dwellings. In each district was founded a school for the instruc-
tion of the people in the Greek and Syriac languages. Every
action of the great katholikos bears the imprint of a high purpose
and overwelling zeal. That purpose was to conquer the lusts
of a full-blooded and intemperate people by subduing their unruly
bodies and fanning into life the spark of the soul. But just in
the execution of this lofty project he was brought into conflict
with the king, and the fate of his grandfather stared him in the
face. The son of Tiran was indeed the son of that obstinate
sinner, nor was Nerses less inflexible than Yusik. Perhaps the
monarch acted with design, and wished to divide his people into
separate communities of the black and the white sheep. The
saints might be handed over to the sway of their prince-prelate ;
over the sinners his own prerogative would remain supreme. He
proclaimed an edict which enacted that every debtor or accused
person, those who had shed the blood or taken the property of
their neighbours, should assemble in an appointed place, where
no law would be allowed to touch them and each man might
lead his life after his own guise.^ To that haven beyond their
dreams flocked the company of the unrighteous — women with
the husbands of other women, and men with the wives of other
men. The brigands and the assassins and the unjust judges and
the perjured witnesses, all collected at the given tryst. The
place was at first a village ; but it soon prospered, and became
a town, which again extended until it filled an entire valley.
Then the king built a palace in the midst of his congenial
subjects and called the city by his own name (Arshakavan).
Upon the return of the katholikos — he is said to have been exiled
by a Roman emperor ; but his vicar during his absence had not
betrayed his trust — this truly original and royal solution of the
problem of joint government was vigorously arraigned. The
pontiff taxed the monarch with having founded a second Sodom ;
but, relenting to a mood of greater amiability, he suggested that
the sovereign might continue to reside in his city if he would
entrust its management into the hands of the katholikos. The
rejection of this kind proposal was shortly followed by the out-

1 Mr. Y. C. Conybearc has kindly communicated to me the following interesting
note to this passage : — "These communities were really cities of refuge, imitated from the
old Jewish legislation ; and the Armenian monarch's aim was a wise one, namely, to set
limits to the blood-feuds and vendettas of his subjects."

Edgniiatsin and the Annenian Church 309

break of a malady, which decimated the inhabitants. The king was
constrained to sue for pardon from the saint and to disband his
colony. The quarrel broke out anew when the inveterate pro-
fligate shed the blood of a subject and espoused his beautiful
wife. Nerses left the court and did not return. Arshak, in open
defiance, appointed a katholikos in his stead — a certain Chunak,
who was nothing better than one of his minions. He could
not hope that his action might be endorsed at Caesarea ; so he
summoned all the bishops of his own country and bade them
consecrate the object of his choice. Only two could be persuaded
to perform the ceremony ; and these were perhaps pensioners
of the king.^

The full activity of the lawful pontiff was not resumed until
after the calamity which resulted in the bondage of his old enemy
and the seclusion of Arshak in the castle of oblivion. The
accession of Pap was attended by the presentation of a solemn
petition, in which sovereign and nation craved the assistance of
their true pastor. Nerses devoted his energies to the restoration
of the churches which had been destroyed by Shapur. But the
son of Arshak was quite as licentious, although less capable than
his father ; and he is said to have added to the sum of the
delinquencies of his predecessor the habitual practice of unspeak-
able vice. The monster was forbidden entry even into the porch
of the church ; and he retaliated by poisoning the katholikos
with a cup of peace which, in token of repentance, he tendered
with his own hand. The death of Nerses, which occurred not later
than the year 374,' marks an epoch in the history of the Church.

On the one hand its emoluments were considerably curtailed ;
on the other — and this is a fact with the most far-reaching
consequences — it was dissevered for good and all from the Church
of the Empire. It is quite evident that Nerses failed to gauge
correctly the temper of his countrymen ; and it was the defect of
his undoubted virtues that he at once endeavoured to go too far
and to accomplish too much. The reaction from his severe
ordinances enabled the king to proceed unhindered in the work
of overthrowing the structure which his victim had reared. The

^ I adopt the ingenious suggestion of Professor Gelzer (Die Anfdnge, etc., p. 155)
that the dioceses of Korduk and Aghdznik were inckided in the provinces ceded to Persia
under Jovian's treaty in 363. Their bishops would have taken refuge in the dominions
of the king and be receiving his support. The sequence of events in Faustus is
against this liypothesis ; but that is not of much account.

- We know from Ammianus Marcellinus (xxx. i) that King Pap himself died in 374.

3IO Arm cilia

hospices were abolished, the convents were destroyed and their
inmates given over to prostitution. Moreover the greater portion
of the lands bestowed upon the Church by Tiridates were appro-
priated by the State. Of each seven domains belonging to
the former institution the revenues of five were allotted to the
Treasury, Nor can we doubt that popular support was forth-
coming for the revolution which the monarch initiated in the
relations with the Greek Church. The Armenians have at all
periods approved a national policy, and preferred to perish than
unite with their neighbours. A bishop of the House of Albianus,
always obsequious to the throne, was invested with the vacant
primacy. The consent of Ca:sarea was not even applied for,
nor was the bishop despatched to the capital of the province of
Cappadocia for consecration in accordance with the usual custom.
With the possible exception of the two sons of St. Gregory and,
of course, of the pseudo-katholikos, Chunak, each successive
holder of the pontifical office, including the Illuminator, had been
in the habit of proceeding with great pomp through the territory
of the Empire to the steps of the episcopal throne in the Greek
city. It was there that the chosen of the Armenians bowed his
head before a prelate who loomed in the eyes of his countrymen
as the living embodiment of the authority of the Church of Christ.
The defiance offered him by the king was accepted by Basil in
a similar spirit. He called together all the members of the
provincial synod of Ca^sarea, without inviting the nominee of King
Pap. A violent despatch was addressed to the Armenian bishops
and a similar one to the king. The right of consecrating bishops
was taken away from the katholikos, and he was left the single
prerogative of blessing bread at the court of the king. The result
of this hot temper upon either side was a bitter conflict in the
Armenian Church itself. The clergy were divided into followers
of the king and the House of Albianus, and those who held to the
necessity of consecration in Csesarea and to allegiance to the
House of Gregory.^ The subsequent lapse of the greater part of
Armenia under Persian influence promoted the policy initiated by
Pap ; and when, towards the close of the century, the chair was
again occupied by a descendant of St. Gregory, the link with
Cnssarea was not restored.

^ Professor Gelzer, whose admirable essay I have freely used in the composition of
this paragraph, adduces evidence from the correspondence of Basil to show that the
advisers of King Pap proceeded cautiously along the path which they had chosen.

Edgmiatsin and the Armenian Clnirch 311

There can, I think, be no doubt that the story of the
foundation of the Armenian Church by a direct mandate of Christ
Himself was invented not earlier than the period at which we
have now arrived. The mandate is said to have taken the form
•of an injunction to St. Gregory to build the church of Vagharshapat.
Neither the author of the Life of the Illuminator, as we can trace
that source through the Agathangelus treatise, nor the historian
who continues his narrative, displays any cognisance with such a
momentous event. The former tells us that it was at Astishat in
the south of Armenia, the country of the Murad, that Gregory
built the first Christian church. The cult of martyrs which he
first introduced was not the cult of the Ripsimians but that of St.
John the Baptist and Athenogenes. We learn from the latter
that after the death of the saint, and at least down to the murder
of Nerses, the mother-church of Armenia was situated at Astishat
and not at Edgmiatsin. Faustus, indeed, expresses himself not
once alone or in a doubtful manner upon this important point.
Astishat contains the " first and great mother of Armenian
churches," " the first and greatest of all the churches of Armenia,
the principal and most honoured seat of the Christian religion."
It was at Astishat that was situated the palace of the katholikos.
The great synod which was convoked by Nerses of all Armenian
bishops was held at Astishat. When that prelate wished to chide
the chief of the king's eunuchs for casting covetous glances upon
the wide domains which surrounded the church, he quoted the
scriptural injunction against such ignoble conduct, and added that
such was the will of Jesus Christ, " WJiose choice had first fallen
upon the church at Astishat for the glorification of His Nanie."^
On the other hand, I cannot help detecting in these passages
indications that their author was aware of the growing rivalry of
the church at Edgmiatsin. Faustus wrote after the severance
from Caesarea and after the partition of Armenia (a.d. 387). He
displays acquaintance with the Ripsimian legend. But there is
no trace in his pages of a knowledge of the vision of St. Gregory
upon which Edgmiatsin has founded her claim.

As time went on, several causes, which perhaps we may
distinguish, contributed to widen further the breach with the
Church of the Empire. The Persian occupation and the ultimate
removal of the Arsakid dynasty, whose hereditary blood feud
with the House of Sasan had long embittered the antagonism of

^ Such is the translation given by Professor Gelzer of the passage in Faustus iv. 14.

3 1 2 Armenia

the peoples, were no small factors in an estrangement from Greek
influences which the policy of Persia lost no occasion of promoting.
The invention by Mesrop of an Armenian alphabet,^ and the
institution of a school of translators during the pontificate of the
son of Nerses, Isaac the Great {c. 390-439), constitute elements
which, while they worked for the attachment of the Armenians to
Greek culture and for the wider propagation of Christianity, were
yet calculated to foster the strong proclivities of this people
towards complete religious independence. Lastly — if indeed
there be an end to such a catalogue, in which each item is as
much an effect as a cause — the peculiar genius of the Armenian
nation imprinted a stamp upon the dogma of their Church which
was not the stamp sanctioned by that of the Empire.

The Council of Chalcedon (a.D. 451) addressed itself to the
solution of the problems which were the natural outcome of the
dogma adopted at the Council of Nice. What was the true
view of the mystery expressed by the words of the formula : Son
of God, of one nature with the Father, Who came down from
heaven and took fesh and became man ? How explain the
character of the union of God with man in the person of Christ ?
Over the answer which should be returned to this question conflicts
arose which destroyed thousands of innocent people, and which
prepared the way for the disappearance of the Roman Empire
from the map of Asia, and for the triumph of Islam. The
compromise adopted at Chalcedon is difficult to place in a short
sentence ; but perhaps no essential feature is omitted in the
following phrase: Christ according to His Godhead is of ojic nature
with the Father, according to His humanity is, apart from sin, of
one nature zvith us. This one and the same Christ is recognised in
tivo natures indissolubly united but yet distinct. The Armenians
were not represented at this Council ; - and, indeed, it is contem-
porary with the fierce religious persecutions directed against them
by Yezdegerd II. But, when once the unfortunate nation, or

^ I am indebted to Mr. F. C. Conybeare for the following note to this passage : —
The Armenian alphabet was imposed on Sahak (Isaac the Great) by the Persian
Government as a political device to estrange the Armenians both from Greeks and from
Syrians. The only historical account is that of Anania of Shirak (unedited chronicle
in an uncial MS. at Mush), who relates that the twenty-nine consonants were "arranged
in order " by Daniel, a .Syrian philosopher, and sent (during the reign of Theodosius the
Less) to the Armenian Satrap Vakortsh by Viram Shapu the king by hand of the Elder
Abel. The seven vowels were still wanted, and Mesrop received these from Hayek, a
noble of Taron. Stephanus, a scribe of Samosata, incorporated these seven vowels
among the consonants.

^ Nor at the Councils of Constantinople and of Ephesus.

Edgmiatsin and the Armenian Church

J' J

what remained after the orgy of the fire-worshippers, had settled
down to a more peaceful routine, they proceeded to hold a
synod of their own, which assembled at Vagharshapat (a.d. 491),
and which with all solemnity cursed the Council of Chalcedon.
This procedure was repeated at several subsequent synods ; nor
has the bitterness which was consequent, upon this open breach
with the Church of the West subsided at the present day. At
Edgmiatsin, the seat of this synod, held fourteen centuries ago,
I was informed that the Armenian Church expressly rejects
Chalcedon ; and the emphasis of language was underlined by the
tone of the voice. The Armenians therefore differ both with the
Greek and with the Roman Church in their expression of the
mystery of Christology. They will not hear of two natures.
They hold that in Christ there is one person and one nature, one
will and one energy ; and their liturgy presents this dogma in an
impressive manner in the Trisagion, which runs : " O God,
holy God, mighty God, everlasting God, '-cu//o ivast cnicified for
lis" ^ At the same time they deny and denounce the teaching
of Eutyches, protagonist against the Nestorians. Eutyches held
that the body of Christ is not to be regarded as of one nature
with ours ; the Armenians maintain that God became man in the
fullest sense.-

One might argue this question to all eternity ; but one feels
that the Greeks were the subtler disputants. The Armenians,
like the Persian Mohammedans, would appear to be averse to
abstractions ; they go, perhaps, to extremes in the concreteness
of their conception of God — a God -man in the crudest sense.
This Christology has probably embodied the sentiments of the
people ; but it had the effect of estranging them not only with
the Church of the Empire, but also with the great body of their
fellow- Christians of different nationality within the Persian
dominions. At the synod of Beth Lapat (A.D. 483 or 484) the
old Christian Church of Persia welcomed into its bosom the
flying forces of Nestorianism, and adopted the Nestorian con-
fession. The Georgians, it is true, followed the lead of the
Armenians, with whom their Church was directly connected. But
these allies broke away before the close of the sixth century, and
went over to the teaching of Chalcedon. As the centuries rolled

1 It appears that this formula was added to the Trisagion by the Synod of Vaghar-
shapat (Ter-Mikelean, Die armenische Kiirhe, etc., p. 47)-

- The subject is fully discussed by Ter-Mikelean (op. cit. pp. 52 seq., and cp. pp. 70 *
and 89).

314 Armenia

by, these various breaches became wider, and they are still
marked features in the Christianity of the East. Martyrdom and
political slavery were alternatives which were gladly accepted
rather than compromise dogmatic and doctrinal differences.
When Heraclius visited Armenia after replacing the Cross in the
churches of Jerusalem, the Armenians refused to camp with his
troops. In the Middle Ages, when the Sasanians were already
forgotten, when the caliphs, their successors, were approaching
their doom, the stubborn hierarchy insisted upon baptizing babes

Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 33 of 49)