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Coptic Christology in PracticeIncarnation and Divine Participation in Late Antique and Medieval Egypt$

Stephen J. Davis

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199258628

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199258628.001.0001

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Translations of Coptic Texts

Translations of Coptic Texts

Coptic Christology in Practice
Oxford University Press

1 Shenoute of Atripe, I Am Amazed (Against the Origenists) (c. 445 CE), edi. T. Orlandi, in Shenute: Contra Origenistas (Rome: CIM, 1985). trans. S. Davis

A. On the Incarnation and the Eucharist (345–58, 367–76: Orlandi, 28–36)

  1. (345) Now there are others who blaspheme, saying that Mary did not conceive Christ and that if she had conceived, then her womb would have distended and retracted.

  2. (346) Let them hear this from us, that if she did not conceive him, then the prophet spoke in vain, ‘Behold the virgin will be able to a give birth to a son and his name will be called Emmanuel.’1 Moreover, ‘The birth of Jesus Christ happened in this way,’2 and ‘Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son, whose name will be called Jesus.’3

  3. (347) If she did not conceive him, then he was not born. If he was not born, then he did not become a human being. If he did not become a human being, then he was not crucified. And if he was not crucified, then he did not rise on the third day, nor ascend to his holy dwelling places where he was at first before the Father sent him to be born of a woman, the holy Virgin Mary.

  4. (348) But now some say that the bread and the cup are not the body and blood of Christ, but are merely a type. I have grown weary saying this. Woe is me! I have become disturbed on account of this ungodliness!

  5. (349) If the Lord himself says, ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will live forever,’4 and moreover, ‘This is my body and this is my blood,’5 how great will be the woe to these people when they say that it is not his body and his blood, and how great will be the woe to those who accept their words!

  6. (350) Who is the one who will despise the bread and the cup? Will Jesus not despise that one even more? For that person has despised the Holy Spirit, whom God sends upon them (the bread and the cup) so that they may become the body and blood of Christ.

  7. (351) Who will say, ‘It is not so,’ and not despise the holy place, the altar of those who fall down and prostrate themselves to them? Thus have I known this: for it is not of concern to them, just as if they were merely eating bread and drinking wine.

  8. (352) Truly, those who say that it is not his body and his blood—especially those from among us, not only the pagans—are more wicked than dogs and swine. Do we say that what we partake of is bread? Is it not a mystery according to the Scriptures?

  9. (353) The one who does not believe in what we say is not only more wicked than the beasts, but he is also more wicked than the unclean demons. If you do not accept (p.280) the apostle when he speaks and you reject the Gospel in this matter, who is the one who will receive you? Who is the one who will not reject you?

  10. (354) Especially, if that one is a presbyter or a cleric according to the order of the priesthood and does not believe that God has the power to do anything greater than this, let him shut his mouth while praying and petitioning the Exalted One when he says, ‘This is my body which will be given for you for the forgiveness of your sins,’ and also, ‘This is my blood which will be poured out for many for the forgiveness of their sins.’

  11. (355) Now do (mere) bread and wine purify a person from sins, or heal him of diseases, and do they become for him a living blessing? Why have you not shut your mouth, in accordance with what I said earlier, when you speak to the Lord, saying, ‘The bread of the blessing, the bread of purification and immortality and eternal life’, and ‘the cup of immortality, the cup of the new covenant’, and ‘this is the body and the blood of your only‐begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’?

  12. (356) Now some others despise the body, saying that this flesh is of swine and that it will be thrown out. They say this because they do not believe that it will arise.

  13. (357) Now if it is of swine, who has made it like this? Who has caused it to become worse than a breeding sow?6 Is it not you yourself? But as for the ones who say that when the soul commits a sin it has been given to the body, they make the body like this animal. But it is those faithless ones alone who rightly and justly despise their own flesh.

  14. (358) But as for us, we should never think this, nor despise the body or say that it will not arise. Now, in truth, ‘The man of God truly reproached the ignorance of those who despise the body, saying, “The shadow of Peter healed multitudes.” ’7

    [paras. 359–66 omitted]

  15. (367) Is this not another new impiety8 that has appeared among the Greeks? For the work of those people always slanders the Scriptures. A new lawlessness has been revealed among us—namely, the idea that Mary did not conceive the Saviour, and once again, that neither his body nor his blood are what we receive in it (i.e. the eucharist).

  16. (368) You see how numerous among us are those who do not have God, just as is the case for the godless (i.e. the pagans). As for the blasphemies that the godless utter against Christ, how do they exceed what is uttered by those who say, ‘We know him’? Truly wickedness has shut the eyes of these people.

  17. (369) If this is your faith, to whom do you pray? Who is the one who will attend to us? Indeed, do you have a God at all? If you do not accept the Scripture in this matter, why are you speaking? How do you belong to Jesus when you despise his holy body and his honoured blood?

  18. (p.281)
  19. (370) Why do you partake of the holy mystery? Have you not found bread to eat and wine to drink just as we wrote elsewhere, ‘O hypocritical people and the true frauds, the false Christians, whose name is priest and monk, leader and father.’

  20. (371) O woe to those who say these things! Why will you be an enemy towards God? What is the profit which you will have in this? I do not see any, except that you will be displayed before the simple‐minded as one who teaches well.

  21. (372) What will this false philosophy and this vain deceit do to you when you will give account to Jesus concerning the souls that you have dragged into your error through the secret and demonic wisdom of the world?9

  22. (373) Cursed is everyone who utters this impiety, along with everyone who believes them when they despise the holy mystery, the hope and the life of all. And blessed are those who partake of it with a true heart.

  23. (374) Cursed also are those who partake of it faithlessly, and even more the one who confesses it with his mouth and gives to others, saying, ‘The body of Christ, the blood of Christ’, while denying that it is truly his body and his blood.

  24. (375) Those who believe this among us are worse than those who do not know God, even if no pious person is truly caused to stumble by them, because they know that they are manifestly godless people.

  25. (376) But indeed, many are those who will be caused to stumble by these kinds of people, because they also have confidence in the fact that they have knowledge. In fact, people of that sort who hold the status of ‘father’ or ‘great leader’ really have the power to pollute the hearts of many people in many monasteries of Christ.

B. On the Nature of Christ: Against Nestorius (464–83: Orlandi, 50–4)

  1. (464) But the one whom the cosmic ruler of darkness has bound in his thoughts, Nestorius, that fox who did not stand firm at all against10 the synod that took place in Ephesus under the blessed and God‐loving bishops, did not prevail over them when he said that Christ was a man who had God dwelling in him, and that after he was born of Mary, the Word entered him.

  2. (465) For thus he said that if you examine all the ancient Scriptures along with the new, you will not find that the crucified one is called God. And moreover, that Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Touch me and you will see that a spirit has no flesh and bone as you see that I have.’11 Thus, Nestorius claimed, if Jesus were God, he would have said, ‘Touch me and see that I am a spirit, and that I am God.’

  3. (466) But why did he not understand this? For (Jesus) did not merely say, ‘Look at the hands and the feet of a man,’ but rather, ‘My feet and my hands’,12 not separating the body from his divinity.

  4. (467) Just as the one who touched him confessed, saying, ‘My Lord and my God’,13 in accordance with what was said in another place, ‘the one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard, the one we have seen with our eyes and perceived, and whom our hands have touched.’14

  5. (p.282)
  6. (468) You see that the Word who exists from the beginning is the one whom they touched [………………] Again, it was said concerning him, ‘They will see the one who was pierced,’15 and the divinity was not separated from the body at all.

  7. (469) Moreover, he said, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema Sabachtani,’16 Nestorius said that it was the flesh that was crying out to the divinity, ‘Why have you abandoned me?’ and that the divinity ascended on high and left the flesh on the cross.17

  8. (470) Indeed, he said in his writings, ‘The one who cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” him I worship along with his divinity because he was joined with it.’18

  9. (471) But the words of the apostle put to shame his foolishness, ‘The Lord of glory is the one who was crucified,’19 and ‘You have killed the author of life.’20 He did not say, ‘He is a man joined with a god.’ But, once more, he said, ‘Although he was in the form of God, he became obedient unto death.’21

  10. (472) This was not because the nature of the divinity died. But rather, he died in the flesh, as it is written, ‘Christ suffered in the flesh.’22 For indeed, his divinity did not separate from the body before this while he was on the cross. This is just as in an example from among us:23

  11. (473) If a person is killed, do they say that a body has been killed? Do they not say, ‘We have killed the whole person,’ and yet the soul does not die? Rather, it is only the body that dies.

  12. (474) This is the way it is with the Lord. He died in the flesh, while remaining immortal in his divinity.24 For, thus, he said, he ‘participated in flesh and blood’ (Heb. 2: 14). As we said many times, ‘The Word became flesh.’25 Where did he become flesh, apart from in the Virgin? Did he not become human in her, just as he willed in the power of his divinity? Has it not been said, ‘She was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit’?26 And ‘It is a holy spirit that is coming down upon you’?27

  13. (475) Because of this, therefore, since the Son is not different from the Father, the Father is a spirit, and the Son also is a spirit. He is God from God, and he is Son from the Father who begot him.28

  14. (p.283)
  15. (476) When he was born of the Virgin according to the flesh, he came to be tested in everything like we are, except for sin. He hungered, thirsted, wept, and grieved over the hardness of heart of the unbelievers.

  16. (477) So wondrous was the great love of our Lord for us that he saved his servants in the midst of the fire—Ananias, Mizael, and Azarias—along with others as well.29 And for our sake he gave himself over into the hands of those who nailed his hands and feet.

  17. (478) The person who dies lays his body upon the place of rest for those who will prepare him for burial, and his soul goes to God. But the Lord Jesus himself tasted death for our sake. He left his body on the cross and went to those who were in Hades,30 so that he might show grace to those who…the works of his hands in that place.

  18. (479) And similarly, he turned and raised up his body on the third day, and he lifted it up to the heavens along with him. He ascended in it; and in it he is coming once again to judge the living and the dead, according to what he said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory’,31 along with the events that follow.

  19. (480) In addition, Nestorius said, ‘On account of this, it is not appropriate to say that the Virgin gave birth to God,’ and ‘I will not say that the one who spent three months in the womb, took to the breast, and advanced little by little was God.’ And he said, ‘It is written, “Take the child and flee to Egypt.”32 It did not say, “Take God.” ’

  20. (481) Why then is it written that the Lord God ‘appeared to us’?33 At what time did he appear to human beings apart from when he was born of the Virgin? As it is written, ‘Behold, the Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and his name will be called Emmanuel, which can be translated, “God with us”.’34

  21. (482) Therefore, the one whom the Virgin bore is God. And therefore, it is necessary to confess, ‘Mary the Mother of God’,35 just as the Fathers said.

  22. (483) Thus, many are the blasphemies of that one, for I have restrained myself and have loathed to say the words of this unclean man who was not (merely) satisfied to proclaim wickedness from his…

C. On Prayer to Jesus: Defending Nicene Piety (800–25: Orlandi, 58–64)

  1. (800) Glory be to you and your blessed Son from the highest heavens and everything in them.

  2. (801) Blessed are you, O God. Glory to you and your blessed Son from the inhabited world that belongs to you and everything in it. Blessed are you, O God. Glory to you from all your works, to you and your blessed Son, because your works are his, and his works are yours.

  3. (802) Blessed are you, O God, you and your blessed Son. Your name and his name are one in the mouth of the one who fights against those who speak this new impiety. This is his wealth and his hope. When he goes in, (he says) ‘God’, and when he comes (p.284) out, (he says) ‘Jesus.’ When he lies down to sleep, ‘God’, and when he gets up, ‘Jesus’. When he blesses, ‘God’, and when he prays, ‘Jesus’.

  4. (803) In order that we not continue in these (examples), it is manifest that when we say, ‘Jesus’, we speak of the consubstantial Trinity (ⲦⲦⲢⲒⲀⲤ ⲚϨⲞⲘⲞⲞⲨⲤⲒⲞⲤ). But the heretics have said, ‘Show us where this word homoousios (ϨⲞⲘⲞⲞⲨⲤⲒⲞⲤ, ‘consubstantial’) is written in the Scriptures.’

  5. (804) But you, tell me from what Scriptures you have understood that the Son is different from the Father in his essence, as you say concerning him that the one who is different in essence is heterousios (ⲨⲈⲦⲈⲢⲞⲨⲤⲒⲞⲤ).

  6. (805) But you do not have any words to say. On account of this, renounce your abominable and lying words, and support the truth. For is the crowning achievement of the Scriptures not the Gospel? Listen to the Lord when he says, ‘I and the Father, we are one.’36

  7. (806) For when he says, ‘I and the Father’, he reveals the hypostases. But when he says, ‘We are one,’ he indicates the oneness of his nature, because it is a single essence which is consubstantial (ϨⲞⲘⲞⲞⲨⲤⲒⲞⲚ).37

  8. (807) So that even when he says, ‘My Father is greater than me,’38 let them not think impious thoughts. For they proclaim this when they argue that he is greater always in the honour of (his) glory and that he is different from him in his nature.

  9. (808) Let them understand that the Father and Son have a single glory, a single honour, and a single nature, in accordance with how we have demonstrated this from the Scriptures.

  10. (809) But they have said, ‘How did the Father beget (ϪⲠⲞ) the Son?’ Let those who meddle hear that it was possible for the wise and for all the church of Christ to know about his birth (ⲠⲈϤϪⲠⲞ) according to the flesh. It was described beforehand by the angels and announced by the Gospels and the apostles. And it was also signalled by the great patriarchs.

  11. (810) But regarding his begetting (ⲠⲈϤϪⲠⲞ) from the Father, no angel, nor prophet, nor apostle, nor anyone at all in the whole of creation knows (how) to describe it, except for him alone and his father. It is impious for a person to ask concerning it, especially the heretics.

  12. (811) For it is sufficient to cause the wise and the faithful to know truly that the Son existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit before all of creation, even the archangels, and all the angels, powers, rulers, authorities, seraphim and cherubim, every spirit, and all the rest—heaven and earth, and (all) the things in them.

  13. (812) How could anything have existed before him, when he is the head of all creation and when ‘everything was created through him, and without him nothing was created’?39 Now therefore, the one who seeks, or the one who thinks in his (p.285) arrogance, ‘I will enquire about Son's begetting (ϪⲠⲞ) from the Father,’ that single thunderbolt will come upon him and upon the one who dares to say, ‘I will come to be like the Exalted One.’40

  14. (813) On another occasion, I have said, ‘What do you have to do with what neither an angel, nor a prophet, nor an apostle has proclaimed? What does it profit you to seek after what becomes for you another (form of) lawlessness upon your head?

  15. (814) If it is possible for you to know how the Father begot the Son, then is it also possible for you to know what existed before heaven and earth were created, or where God was, or how he dwelt, and of what nature God is?

  16. (815) For with regard to these words of this type, the true man of God, Apa Athanasius the archbishop of Alexandria blamed those who meddle, saying concerning them, ‘Why do you dare to look into the things that even the angels do not know? For the creatures will not be able to describe the generation (ϪⲠⲞ) of the Creator.’ And he also said, ‘It is sufficient for you that you know that the Father begot the Son before the aeons, but to say how, no one knows.’

  17. (816) For it is written, ‘Who will be able to proclaim his generation (ⲦⲈϤⲅⲈⲚⲈⲀ)?’41 No one knows the Father, apart from the Son. And no one knows the Son except the Father who begot him.

  18. (817) Now he gives witness to the one who existed beforehand. He says that if you give yourself to those words and to Satan's net, you will be separated from God, just like all the heresies now, along with everyone whom the church anathematizes.

  19. (818) Just as I said earlier, when we name the Son, we call upon the Holy Trinity. Listen to the Lord when he commands his disciples, ‘Go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’42

  20. (819) And the apostle also said, ‘You were baptized into Christ,’43 and again in another place, ‘They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’44 Thus it is revealed that when we name Jesus we name the Holy Trinity, but only the Father as Father, the Son as Son, and the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit.

  21. (820) Therefore let us not now seek after more than this. ‘For who is the one who will be able to trace his paths?’ as it is written.45 Now therefore, do not pay attention to the words of those false teachers. For concerning them it has been written, ‘Many are they who do not subject themselves—those who utter vain speech and those who destroy (people's) hearts.’46

  22. (821) Seek after the fulfilment of these words and you will find them on your lips and on the lips of your children.47 When you celebrate a feast and are joyful, (say) ‘Jesus.’ When you are grieving in heart and are distressed, (say) ‘Jesus.’ When your sons and daughters laugh, (say) ‘Jesus.’ The one who draws water, ‘Jesus’. The one who runs in the face of barbarians, ‘Jesus’. Those who see wild beasts and something frightening, ‘Jesus’. Those who are suffering with pains and illnesses, ‘Jesus’. Those who are taken as prisoners of war, ‘Jesus’. It is sufficient…Those who have suffered (p.286) perversion of justice and violent treatment,48 ‘Jesus’. The name of the one who is on their lips is their salvation and their life, he himself along with the Father.

  23. (822) Am I able to mention all the things that those who love God and his Christ are saying with hope in all their affairs, and even more in their prayers?

  24. (823) If we have one God and one Lord—Jesus—why do you not pray to him, O you faithless Jewish minds and other heretics? In this way, they resemble you and you resemble them in the same spirit of deception.

  25. (824) Listen to the holy apostle John, who says, ‘This one is the true God and the life eternal.’49 Moreover, the holy apostle Thomas said, ‘My Lord and my God.’50

  26. (825) If he is also your Lord and your God, why do you not pray to him? Who will examine the heart of even those types of people, except the Word of God, concerning whom the lawless Jews said, ‘You are a man making yourself out to be God’?51

2 Shenoute of Atripe, And It Happened One Day (c. 455 CE), ed. L. T. Lefort, ‘Catéchèse christologique de Chenoute’, Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 80 (1955), 40–5. trans. S. Davis.

(fo. 87v) And it happened one day, when we were speaking about the divinity of the Saviour and saying that he became human and dwelt with human beings while still being God and the Son of God, that some in the crowd responded congenially and without evil intent, being astonished about the things they had heard. They said, ‘Did he exist then before he was born of the holy Virgin Mary?’ I responded to them knowledgeably, ‘This is ridiculous talk, and the Jews themselves, when they heard the Saviour saying, ‘Abraham our father rejoiced to see my day,’52 those ignorant ones did not tolerate this, but they responded shamelessly, saying, ‘You are not yet fifty years old.’53 And he responded to them, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’54

Let us give heed to his words and we will understand the thing that we seek. For, speaking to his father as a human being, he teaches us according to an ‘economy’ about his perfect divinity, that he existed before the entire world. (fo. 82r) He said, ‘My Father, glorify me with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.’55 And again, ‘The world came into being through him.’56 And again, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Through him the world came into existence and without him nothing (that exists) came into existence.’57 And again, ‘The one who has existed from the beginning is the one who has appeared to us, and we have seen him.’58 And, ‘He was with the Father.’59 And again, ‘It is from God that he came, and it is to God that he is going.’60 And again, ‘I have come from my Father and I have come to the world.’61 And again, ‘It is by him that the aeons were created,’62 and ‘he existed before all things’.63 And again, ‘If you see the Son of Man (p.287) going to the place where he was before…’64 And again, ‘the rock was following them, and the rock was Christ’.65 Indeed, from the time when Israel was in the desert up to the time (fo. 82v) of the Holy Mary. And again, ‘The mystery that was hidden from eternity’.66 And again, when the fullness of time had come, ‘God sent his Son and he was from a woman.’67 Hear it again: ‘He has sent him.’ Where did he send him? Or from whom has he come other than from his holy Father?

As for saying, ‘How did he become a human being in the womb of the holy Virgin?’ who are you, O you meddler? Tell me first how you came to be in the womb of your mother. Likewise, it is necessary for you to know the powers of God and of his Christ. Was the one who took clay from the earth and fashioned for himself a human being according to his image and according to his likeness not capable of building for himself his own temple, the holy body, just as he willed, in the womb of the woman he honoured more than all (other) women? Where does the earth find hand and foot, height and breadth, head, shining hair, eyes full of light, ears that hear, a mouth and tongue that speak, a nose that smells, (fo. 83r) bones, flesh, sinews, and all the other marvellous members (of the body)? Even more so then has it been the case for the one whom he loves, the one whom he fashioned in the womb of Mary. According to the economy she is his mother; according to his exalted divinity, she is his servant. For thus, the Jews and those who resemble them have become delirious and distressed. They have spoken like the crazy ones: ‘Was he not the son of the carpenter? Was his mother not Mary?’68

We have spoken many words and we have written them concerning the birth of the Saviour and of his divinity, but we have said these few other things because of those who have enquired, ‘Did he exist before he was born of Mary?’ There is another testimony which is trustworthy and exceedingly great—namely that the Lord our Saviour is with his Father before the ages. Who is the one who says, and to whom does he say, ‘Let us fashion a human being according to our image and according to our likeness’?69 Is it not the Father who is speaking with his Son, with his holy Only‐begotten?’ For his part, the friend of the prophets and the brother of the apostles, whose words are true, has spoken (fo. 83v) in his writings, telling us that it is the Father who says to the Son, ‘Let us fashion a human being according to our image and according to our likeness.’ And he did not say ‘I will fashion,’ lest he make the Son a stranger to the act of creation. Nor did he say, ‘You, create,’ lest he make himself a stranger to the act. If we understand that the Son works with his Father for the purpose of (creating) humankind, we will also know that he works with him for the purpose of (creating) the sky, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the sea, the heavens of the heavens, and all the things below.

Do you want us to introduce to you another testimony from some of the humblest works of the humans arts? Listen, for when we decipher some markings which come to us written on linen items, we say, ‘This image is of which apostle? And that image belongs to which prophet? And which righteous person is this?’ And we came upon the image belonging to the Saviour and holy Mary, and there was written, ‘Mary, the (p.288) God‐bearer.’70 And I asked the brothers who were with me while we were deciphering them (fo. 84r), ‘Listen, what were the braiders, the weavers, and the embroiderers saying? They responded, ‘Mary, the God‐bearer.’ But this is according to the flesh. Now, according to his divinity, it is he who has fashioned her in the womb and she is rather a young maiden just like all the others he made. But Nestorius himself—he to whom they gave the name bishop, along with the others of his ilk, he whose tongue has swollen, filling his mouth, and who died in exile—said ‘she who gave birth to a good man’,71 likening him to Moses, David, and the others.

These words (of mine) vex the blasphemer who says, ‘How are bread and wine the body and blood of the Lord?’ There are some among us who have said this, as their heart is stricken by the words of Origen. But I myself give answer to their foolishness, ‘Is the one who made earth into a human being not able to cause bread and wine to become body and blood?’ Or, when he says, ‘This is my body; this is my blood,’ for your part (fo. 84v) who are you? Who, among those who read the Scriptures well, does not know that the human being whom God created was himself adorned with all his bodily members, but he did not experience any movement at all? However, when the Lord God Almighty breathed into his face a breath of life, he (the human being) became a living being and he moved all of himself, he spoke, he walked, he stretched his hands to (do) their work, and he blessed with his tongue the one who fashioned him. In this way also, the bread and the wine, while they lie on the holy table of the Lord and while they rest on it, are called bread and wine, but when that fearful eucharistic blessing is recited over them, and when the Lord God sends upon them his Holy Spirit from heaven, from this moment on it is no longer bread or wine, but the body and blood of the Lord. All of these things of God are matters of faith. If you have faith, then you have the fullness of the sacrament; if you do not have faith, then (fo. 85r) you do not have hope in the sacrament and in the Lord of the sacrament.

Again, we have written many words on account of the sacrament, but it is [……(useful?)]72 that we say a little bit more as well. For the beginning (of these words) is sure, and their end is a testimony first and foremost for those who do not believe. As for us, we believe that it is his body and his blood, and we will not doubt that it is the true bread that came down from heaven.73 Bread, along with water, is life for human bodies, but the body and blood of the Lord are spiritual life [.….…],74 because his body is true food and his blood is true drink.75 For he says [……………]76 bodily. Those who believe rightly (p.289) […………]77 the spiritual food and the [spiritual drink],78 the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus [………………]79 our blessing, the Lord and God, both he and his Father. Blessed are those in whose heart is the law (fo. 85v) of God. The Lord will give them in addition another kind of knowledge, following that which belongs to the Scriptures, and agreeing with them. Truly, blessed indeed are those who follow the Scriptures. Those who follow them follow the Lord of the Scriptures. All his works are wonders upon wonders, both those which he has done since the beginning of creation and those which he will do at the end of the age.

3 Shenoute, When the Word Says excerpts from the (incomplete) text ed. L. Depuydt, Catalogue of Coptic Manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library (Leuven: Peeters, 1993), 144–9. Trans. S. Davis.

A. Fragmentary Opening of the Sermon (fos. 1ra, 1vb–2vb: Depuydt, 144)

(fo. 1ra) When the Word says to the ones who belong to the saving prophecy, ‘We saw the Lord and he had neither likeness nor beauty, but rather his likeness was humbled and made sorrowful in comparison with all of humankind,’80 let us know []

B. ‘If He Had Not’: The Incarnation and the Conditions of Human Salvation (fos. 1vb–2vb: Depuydt, 145)

…(f. 1vb)…If he had not been sorrowful, or if he had not groaned, this gift and this grace would not have been for all the faithful (fo. 2ra) who had acted disobediently so that they might enter into the joy of your Lord. And if he had not suffered in the flesh, then woe to us on account of the sufferings which will happen to us, which will come upon us at the hour when we will give our spirit into his hands. If he had not been hit or if they had not thrown him a board of wood, the shame and the blame for our sins would have multiplied upon us, and they would not have been taken away forever. And if he had not given his back to whips and his cheek to punches, we would not have escaped death and destruction in the day of your judgement. If he had not been rejected, just as he said (fo. 2rb) from his own mouth, ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to be handed over to the Gentiles, and to be rejected, and to be despised,’ we would not have been reconciled to God. And if he had not been given vinegar when he was thirsty, or if he had not been given gall as his food, we would not have partaken of the food []—indeed, it is the true bread, the bread of life who has come down from heaven. Nor would we have obtained this grace, about which he said, ‘Whoever drinks from the water that I will give to him will never thirst, but the water that I will give to him will become in [them] (fo. 2va) a watery spring, gushing up [to] eternal life.’81 If (p.290) he had not given himself for our sake, we would not have [] the gi[ft…………], as he said, ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’82 If the true light had not come into the world,83 or if the sun of righteousness had not shone forth to us,84 evil and the storm would have covered the entire inhabited world. And if he had not raised himself up all at once for the sake of sin, as it is written, his Father would not have looked down on the earth on account of the multitude of the the stenches and the filths of the sins belonging to those who inhabited it. (fo. 2vb) And if he had not been found in form as a human being, even though he was God and the Son of God, humankind would not have become equal to angels, especially when one is a celibate among the wise people and discerning children of the holy mother, the catholic church, (the people) who honour God in their true labour. For if the Lord had not done these things (along with all those other things), we would not have salvation at all. These words belong to the Christians whose hope is the Lord Jesus, and do not belong to the heretics, who do not believe in him.

C. An Economy in the Flesh: The Renewal and Perfection of Human Likeness in the Incarnation (fos. 5vb–7rb; Depuydt, 147–8)

…(fo. 5vb; p. 147) For it will be found that he is clothed with rags, lying in a manger, and the angel will speak with Joseph concerning him, saying, ‘Arise and take the child and his mother and go up to Egypt, for Herod will seek after the child to destroy him.’ Who is the one who will kill—who is the one who will destroy—the soul of Herod, along with his body, in the fiery furnace? For concerning him these things will be heard (fo. 6ra) in this fashion—indeed, they will be spoken of in this way and they will be repeated concerning him. Namely, that stones will be taken up and thrown at him, and he will be tempted by the devil. And they will seek after him to kill him, and they will say, ‘You are mad; it is a demon that is with you!’ And they will arrest him and bind him like a thief. And they will nail him to a cross. And they will give him vinegar to drink after he has said, ‘I am thirsty.’ And they will blaspheme against him, while shaking their heads (at him). And they will insult him in the likeness of all the words that they said. And they will pierce his side (fo. 6rb) with a spear. In this way, therefore, when he came, (p. 148) the Lord of all was humiliated in this fashion, for the prophet said concerning him, ‘He has neither likeness nor beauty.’85 Yet truly, he asked a question concerning certain things like a man who lacked knowledge: like when he asked the father of the small child when he wanted to heal him how much time it had been since he had reached him, as if he did not know. Like when he asked about Lazarus, ‘Where have you laid him?’ And also like when he asked his disciples, ‘Who is the one who touched (fo. 6va) my garments?’ as if he was ignorant about who it was. And also, like when his disciples sought him and woke him up when he was sleeping on the boat, saying, ‘Teacher, teacher, we will be destroyed,’ (he responded) as if he did not know that they were troubled or that they were endangered as the (p.291) windstorm descended on the lake.86 O patience of God, establish the place of the wise that they may understand the things which his Christ did according to an economy.

But as for the ignorant, they have acted lawlessly in their asinine nature because they have not known him. As the word says, ‘For if they had (fo. 6vb) known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’87 Nor would they now have become people who cause a disturbance yet again when they answer, so that they become subject to a reckoning. If they had fallen, as it is written concerning the Lord, ‘Behold, he is established for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and as a sign against which they will answer.’88 ‘For the word of the cross is foolishness for those who will perish, [but] for those who will be saved, God's power and wisdom.’89 Thus, the word that the prophet said concerning the Lord says, ‘We saw him, and he had neither likeness nor beauty, but rather his likeness was humbled and (fo. 7ra) made sorrowful in comparison with all of humankind.’90 Until now, he is foolishness to unbelievers since they do not place their trust in Christ. But to us, the ones who are awake and who stand in faith, he is wisdom. We want our Saviour not to be sorrowful when he sees that the creation of his hands, humankind, has perished.

Consider the pattern of humankind, through whom many things have (indeed) perished, or (consider) of what sort human likeness is. (When you do so) you will understand that, as for the likeness humankind took on when he sinned, along with the shame which resulted, the Lord came to dwell in that likeness for our sake when he became human (fo. 7rb), in order to bring humankind to its originary state and sinlessness, and to the initial beauty of the soul before it became unclean. Thus he made the soul clean and perfected humanity.


(1) Isaiah 7: 14.

(2) Matthew 1: 18.

(3) Luke 1: 31.

(4) John 6: 55.

(5) Matthew 26: 28.

(6) Based on my examination of a photofacsimile of Par. 1304, fo. 122v (= HB 32, col. 2), I read here ⲦⲢⲈⲤ (caused it) rather than Orlandi's ⲦⲢ(Ⲉ)Ⲥ (caused you). In this same passage, Orlandi uses a Latin derivative, ⲤⲔⲢⲰϕⲀ (i.e. scrofa; a breeding sow).

(7) Here, Shenoute quotes directly from the writings of the fourth‐century heresiologist Epiphanius of Salamis (Pan. 77. 17. 8), a passage in which the Greek author paraphrases Acts 5: 15–16. I want to thank Janet Timbie for drawing my attention to this layering of patristic and biblical quotations.

(8) The corrected text reads ⲀⲤⲈⲃⲎⲤ (impiety) for ⲈⲨⲤⲈⲃⲎⲤ (piety) (Janet Timbie, per litt., 3 January 2007).

(9) Cf. James 3: 15.

(10) The corrected reading has ⲞⲨⲃⲈ instead of ⲞⲨⲦⲈ.

(11) Luke 24: 39b.

(12) Luke 24: 39a.

(13) John 20: 28.

(14) 1 John 1: 1.

(15) John 19: 37.

(16) Matthew 27: 46.

(17) ⲀⲤⲔⲀⲦcⲀⲢⲜ ϨⲒⲠϢⲈ, following Timbie's correction of Orlandi's reading of ⲘⲠⲀⲦϤⲘⲈϨ ⲚϢⲈ.

(18) ⲚⲘⲘⲀⲤ, following Timbie's correction of Orlandi's reading of ⲚⲘⲘⲀⲤϤ.

(19) 1 Corinthians 2: 8.

(20) Acts 3: 15.

(21) Philippians 2: 8.

(22) 1 Peter 4: 1.

(23) Following Timbie's corrected reading of the text, where she substitutes (ⲈⲃⲞλ) ⲚϨⲎⲦⲚ (‘from us’) for (ⲈⲃⲞλ) ⲚϨⲎⲦϤ (‘from him’).

(24) ϨⲚⲦⲈϤⲘⲚⲦⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ, following Timbie's correction of Orlandi's reading of ‘in his entire soul’, ϨⲚⲦⲈφⲨⲬⲎ Ⲧ(ⲎⲢⲤ).

(25) John 1: 14.

(26) Matthew 1: 18.

(27) Luke 1: 35. My trans. here is based on Timbie's corrected readings of Orlandi's edn.

(28) Once again, I follow the corrected reading provided by Timbie.

(29) Daniel 3: 19–30.

(30) Cf. 1 Peter 3: 19.

(31) Matthew 25: 31; cf. Mark 8: 38 and Luke 9: 26.

(32) Matthew 2: 13.

(33) 1 John 1: 2.

(34) Matthew 1: 23.

(35) Lit. the woman who gave birth to God (ⲦⲈⲚⲦⲀⲤϪⲠⲈ ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ). Shenoute uses the phrase ⲦⲈⲚⲦⲀⲤϪⲠⲈ ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ as an equivalent to the Greek, θεότοκος.

(36) John 10: 30.

(37) In this paragraph, Shenoute uses a series of technical theological terms borrowed from the Greek: ⲚϨⲨⲢⲞⲤⲦⲀⲤⲒⲤ (hypostases), ϕⲨⲤⲒⲤ (nature), ⲞⲨⲤⲒⲀ (essence), and ϨⲞⲘⲞⲞⲨⲤⲒⲞⲚ (consubstantial).

(38) John 14: 28.

(39) John 1: 3.

(40) In place of the verb ⲈⲒⲘⲈ (to know), I follow Timbie in reading ⲈⲒⲚⲈ (to be like, resemble).

(41) Isaiah 53: 8.

(42) Matthew 28: 19.

(43) Galatians 3: 27.

(44) Acts 8: 16.

(45) Cf. Job 36: 23.

(46) Titus 1: 10.

(47) Lit. in your mouth and in the mouth of your sons.

(48) Lit. those for whom justice has been perverted and who have been treated violently.

(49) 1 John 5: 20.

(50) John 20: 28.

(51) John 10: 33.

(52) John 8: 56.

(53) John 8: 57.

(54) John 8: 58.

(55) John 17: 5.

(56) John 1: 10.

(57) John 1: 1–3.

(58) John 2: 3.

(59) John 2: 2.

(60) John 13: 3; cf. 16: 27.

(61) John 16: 28.

(62) Colossians 1: 16.

(63) Colossians 1: 17.

(64) John 6: 62.

(65) 1 Corinthians 10: 4.

(66) Colossians 1: 26; Ephesians 3: 9.

(67) Galatians 4: 4.

(68) Matthew 13: 55.

(69) Genesis 1: 26.


(71) Here, Shenoute presents a pun designed to mock Nestorius' suggestion that Mary be revered as the Mother of Christ (Christotokos) rather than the Mother of God (Theotokos). Specifically, he substitutes the word chrēstos (good one) for christos (anointed one, i.e. Messiah or Christ): thus, according to the terms of Shenoute's polemic, Nestorius was merely proclaiming Mary as ⲦⲈⲚⲦⲀⲤϪⲠⲈⲞⲨⲢⲰⲘⲈ ⲚⲬⲢⲎⲤⲦⲞⲤ, i.e. Chrēstotokos, ‘the one who gave birth to a good man’, instead of Christotokos, ‘the one who gave birth to Christ’.

(72) Lacuna: approx. 5–6 letters missing.

(73) John 6: 32.

(74) Lacuna: approx. 8 letters missing.

(75) Cf. John 6: 55.

(76) Lacuna: approx. 15 letters missing (with one alpha legible).

(77) Lacuna: approx. 12 letters missing.

(78) Cf. 1 Corinthians 10: 3–4. There is a lacuna of approximately 11 letters missing in the manuscript that I reconstruct on the basis of this biblical reference.

(79) Lacuna: approx. 16 letters missing (with one tau and one epsilon legible).

(80) Isaiah 53: 2b–3a.

(81) John 4: 14.

(82) John 6: 54.

(83) Cf. John 1: 9 and 3: 19.

(84) Cf. Malachi 4: 2.

(85) Isaiah 53: 2.

(86) I read ⲠⲈⲦⲢⲰⲘ ⲚⲦⲎⲨ (windstorm) rather than Depuydt's ⲠⲈⲦⲢⲰ ⲘⲠⲦⲎⲨ. Shenoute follows here the Sahidic text of Luke 8: 23 (ⲀⲨⲦⲢⲰⲘ ⲚⲦⲎⲨ ⲈⲒ ⲈⲠⲈⲤⲎⲦ ⲈⲦλⲒⲘⲚⲎ); ed. G. Horner, The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, ii. 150.

(87) 1 Corinthians 2: 8b.

(88) Luke 2: 34.

(89) 1 Corinthians 1: 18. Here Shenoute cites a series of verses that play on a common verbal theme—namely, that of falling (ϨⲈ) or perishing (ϨⲈ ⲈⲃⲞλ), two concepts which both utilize the same root verb in Coptic.

(90) Isaiah 53: 2b.