The Prayer of Moses of Mardin
by Fr. Dale A. Johnson
Moses of Mardin was the diplomat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch in 16th century Rome. He arrived at a critical time in world history. The Reformation was draining the Roman Church of her power, prestige, and people. The Counter-Reformation was led by the Jesuits and cleansing the Roman Church of the cancer of corruption. Humanism and science were the new prophetic voices offering a future free of superstition and illumined by the Enlightenment.
The arrival of Moses in Rome created a sensation at first. He was a curiosity but over time he came under scrutiny by the theologians of Rome. After much delay he wrote a statement of faith. It opens with a most remarkable prayer. It is both a literary masterpiece and at the same time a study in the theology of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
The prayer has four parts.
2. This is followed by an appeal to be protected and saved from the attacks of Satan.
3. Then he professes a beautiful series of six promises to God to remain faithful, to give thanks and be grateful, to not be discouraged by controversies, to not give Satan a reason to erase his name, and to be a faithful soldier in the Army of God.
4. The prayer ends with a plea against his enemies and a thanksgiving for reunion with the Church of Rome.
The opening of the prayer clearly established Moses' love for his church. Syriac Christians pray everyday a prayer written by Ephrem, “Open the Door of your Mercies O Lord....” Next to the “Our Father” (aboon dbashmayo....) this is perhaps the most beloved prayer of the church.
Moses admits his weakness and powerlessness to resist with snares of the Evil One. The enemy of man uses fraud, deceit, secret weapons, and roadblocks to faith. Moses appeals to God to save him but at the same time recognizes his responsibility to be connected to the mind of God. This latter point is described in detail in the main body of the prayer that follows.
Moses initiates six lines with the repitition “By no means, O Lord...”( in Latin it is “Necquaquam Domine...”).
First, for Syriac Christians, “gratitude” is the heart of prayer. The abundance of Anaphoras in every age and generation testify to the beauty of Syriac prayer. Even in a Latin translation, the language of Jesus finds its highest expression in grateful prayer. All of this is shaped by the Orthodox faith.
Second, Moses pleads with God to guard his tongue.
Third, Moses makes a reference to the Orthodox faith. Although Andreas Masius clearly uses the Latin phrase “fide recta” I cannot imagine this in the Syriac as anything other than “hymonutho orthodoxo.” For those who suggest that Moses was a renegade priest acting on his, the evidence seems to suggest immense pride that Moses had in his church.
Fourth, Moses promises to stay away from controversies. Moses knew of the many controversies both within and outside his church. He knew that he came from a quarreling people and rival bishops. This is not because his traditions and faith were trivial but because they are so important. Enemies encouraged division, so every quarrel was charged with a sense of life and death.
Fifth, Moses pleads with God to not allow Satan to erase his name from the earth. The idea of the “Name” is critical to understanding a culture of honor. A man and a family is branded by its name. Its value before men and God is in the “Name.” The culture of the Church of Rome was a culture of shame. It was about guilt and sin. Cultures of shame do not place a high value on one's name but rather on our anonymity before men and God. Shame arises from an individual sense of self. Moses, in this one line identified a key psycho/social difference between the East and West.
The sixth repetition that leads with the line, “By no means,O Lord..” Moses casts himself before the utter mercy of God.
In the final section Moses requests the enlightenment of God. “Illumine me by your face...” Again, Moses is drawing upon the genius of Ephrem and the Syriac tradition that sees the source of our enlightenment in God and not in ourselves. In a way this is the challenge to the humanists of Europe who saw the origin of faith within man. Perhaps as an appeal to Pope Julius III before whom this profession was read Moses alludes to military images. Pope Julius III was fighting a war at the time in northern Italy.
Moses ends the prayer by thanking God for allowing him to meet with the sons of Rome. Moses sees himself and the Syriac church as “scattered” brethren not because of theology or excommunication but because of the “enemy of man.” This is an important concept and approach. He does not see himself or the Syriac church as heretical nor does he see the church of Rome as heretical. He will go on to refute the doctrines of heresy in Arius and Nestorius later in his statement of faith. But in the prayer he clearly sees the Church of Rome as a brother in Christ.
Although Moses came before Rome as an equal they eventually rejected his statement of faith. The reason for this was due in part to a reaction by Rome against Semitic influences and the election of a new Pope. Although Hebrew and Syriac were seen as a way to evangelize the Arab world eventually publishing the New Testament in Syriac and Hebrew was banned for brief periods. When Pope Julius III was elected in 1550, he went to war, appointed relatives to high positions, banned the publishing of Syriac and Hebrew, lived a life of luxury and suffered from gout, adopted a street boy and was the subject of rumors, and generally did not have time or interest in scholarship.
Moses arrived in Rome during the reign of Pope Paul III when there was a more cosmopolitan attitude toward the churches of the East. The Patriarch Ignatius III, “Abdullah”, sent Moses as his legate because the Syriac church was in need of printed books. Under Ottoman rule, printing presses were not allowed, a ban that lasted from 1483-1720.
Another motive for Moses to go to Rome was in hope of Union of the Churches. The arrival was a precursor to the eventual visit of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius III. We actually have evidence of this hope and motive in a unique manuscript in the British Museum (Harley 5512). It is Latin but written in Syriac Serto script. Moses describes himself by his own hand in a colophon as “taking refuge in God” with the date 1548. Ignatius III and Pope Paul III are paired in the text. Moses tells us that he was living in the monastery of St. Stefano Maggiori inside the Vatican. This monastery was known for having printed the first New Testament in an eastern script (Ge'ez), so it was not a surprise that this was where Moses resided. The transliteration of the Latin Mass in Syriac script was perhaps created by Moses to teach himself Latin, the court language. It certainly was intended to be used by Syriac readers to pronounce the words of the Latin Mass in Latin.
It was in the monastery of St. Stefano that Moses became friends with the Cardinal of Santa Croce, Marcello Cervini, a humanist and great supported of publishing Syriac texts. In fact, Moses dedicates the Harley manuscript to the Cardinal as first among the patrons of the Harley text. It is no small accident of history that the Cardinal became Pope after the death of Julius III. It is no wonder that the printing of the Syriac New Testament occurs in the first few months he became Pope.
Cervini, who became Pope Marcellos II, had long supported the publishing of Syriac texts. As protector of the Vatican Library he collected 143 Greek manuscripts, printed, encouraged the development of Codex Bezae, and the education of gifted men in eastern languages. Before Moses arrived in Rome Cervini was the patron of Widmanstetter. He spent years preparing the future printer of the Syriac New Testament educating him in oriental languages. As early as 1534 Widmanstetter was promoting the idea of teaching Syriac and Arabic before Pope Clement VII. Cervini had sent deacon Petrus Ghalini from Damascus to Germany to help Widmanstetter with his Arabic. On June 13, 1548, at the Diet of Augsburg Andreas Masius and Widmanstetter met for the first time.
Cervini is also responsible for the collaboration of Andreas Masius and Moses of Mardin on Syriac texts including the Treatise on Paradise by Moshe Bar Kepha. In fact, the Profession of Faith by Moses of Mardin was included in the Moshe Bar Kepha publication by Masius. Masius must have been deeply trusted by Moses as he selected Masius to translate his Profession of Faith from Syriac to Latin.
Moses' hope to achieve Union with Rome was not achieved in his lifetime. But later in the century Pope Gregory XIII is reported to have achieved union. But the ex-Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox church confused the situation while he lived in Rome from 1577-1595 insisting that Pope Gregory XIII negotiate with him. The Pope could not see the legal validity to this representative nor his authority. The Pope wanted to negotiate with the sitting Patriarch of Antioch.
Moses did not have a chance before Pope Julius III. It is not surprising that he left Rome and moved to Venice where he and others, including Andreas Masius, his student and Latin translator, along with Widmanstitter, and G. Postel met and published the Syriac New Testament in 1555, the year of the death of Pope Julius III.
Moses was reluctant to write the profession of faith, probably for good reason, considering the narrow self interests of Pope Julius III. More than likely it was a set up to ostracize Moses and usher him out of Rome. Nevertheless, we have this beautiful prayer at the beginning of the Profession of Faith. For this we thank Moses of Mardin and honor his courage and intelligence for giving us an insight into the Syriac church of the 16th century.
Profession of Faith by Moses of Mardin, Assyrian, Jacobite, Patriarchal legate, a profession for the Patriarch of Rome in the year 1552 declaring by his own hand in Syriac and translated by Andreas Masius of Brussels.
The the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, the one God who is glorified in heaven.
I beseech you O Lord our God that you open the door of your mercies for my heart
and accept from me supplications which I offer to you neither dismiss your grace because of my vain promises nor allow the adversary of my soul to awaken in me idle thoughts which are far from the truth.
Let there not be a place in me for Satan to confuse me with his fraud.
He may throw his hidden arrows into me and hinder me along the level path of faith.
Do not let the enemy of my soul to gloat when I have been separated from your good sense.
By no means, O Lord, take away from me your gratitude so that I am without sincere thought.
By no means, O Lord, may my tongue be the obstacle of my soul.
By no means, O Lord, shall my speech not be grateful to you and may I not hesitate to think about the Orthodox faith.
By no means, O Lord, shall I be kept from turning to the Lord because of controversies that are like a small ship of the soul cast about on a stormy sea besieged by crowded waves and abandon you in the abyss of destruction.
By no means, O Lord, may Satan delight in seeing me and say that God has abandoned me and say “Come, may we erase his name from the earth.”
By no means, O Lord, let this be.
Illumine me by your face; be near and help me and cut back my enemies. Like a soldier set my feet upon the Rock of True Faith And put into my mouth the word of truth. Test me so that my soul is made alive.
You are glorious for having brought together this meeting to introduce me in peace and tranquility according to rank your friends who are the sons of the Holy Catholic Church of Rome and has gathered together each of the scattered children, whom the enemy of man has scattered, that they may enter into it's midst and be one profession that they may proclaim the Holy Trinity. Amen.
For a more definitive analysis of the key players in the life of Moses of Mardin read
Wilkinson, Robert J. Orientalism, Aramaic, and Kabbalah in the Catholic Reformation.
About Pope Julius III: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08564a.htm
This is my translation from Latin to English.
Fidei Professio quam Moses Mardinus Assyrius Jacobita Patirachae antiocheni legatum, suo et patriarche sui nomine est Roma professus Anno 1552 ex ipso profitentis autographo Syrico traducta ad verbum per Andream Masius Bruxellanium
In nomine Patris et Fillis et Spiritus Sancti unius Dei, qui est gloriosus in saecula. Obsecro te Domine Deus noster ut reseres portas misericordiae tue cora me et acceptes a me supplices preces, quas offero tibi, neque dimittas me vacuum responso gratie tue. Neque finas ut excitentur aduersus me cognitationes vane quae sint de rebus veritatis expertibus. Et non des locum in me diabolo, ut conturbet me fraude sua, et iaciat in me sagittas suas occultas, prohibearque me a via plana fidei. Ne gaudeat de me aduersarius animae meae, cum a cognoscedis probis sensis dimotus fuero.
Necquaquam Domine tollas a me gratiam tuam, ut caream cogitationibus sinceres.
Necquaquam Domine sit lingua mea offendiculum animae meae.
Nequaquam Domine loquar quidquam quod tibi non sit gratum, neq; ambigat cogiitatio mea de fide recta.
Nequaquam Domine verfer in illis contouersiis, quae ceu mare tempestuosum undis crebris concitiunt nauiculam animae, conanturq; demergere ipsam in abyssum perditionis.
Nequaquam Domine derelinquas me solum, ne gaudeat Satanas videns me et deleamus nomen eius terra.
Nequaquam Domine ita fiat.
Sed illumina me vultu tuo, atque adsto mihi auxilio, et caede hostes meos retorrsum, pedesque meos constititue super petram fidei veraem et pone in os meum verbum veritatis, ac da mihi cognitionem qua viuat animae mea, Teque gloriosum praeicet propter salutem quam contulisti in ipsuam, atque introdictio me cum quiete et pace in numerum amicorum tuorum, qui sunt filis ecclesiae: sanctae Catholicae, ecclesiae Romanae, ac colligito omnes proles eius dispersas, quas inimicus homo notus dispersit ut intrent in medium ipsius, sintque unius professionis et gloriose praedicent tinitatem sanctam. ita esto Amen