a Syrian writer, whose history is involved in partial obscurity, owing to the perplexed and somewhat contradictory notices of him that are furnished by ancient authorities.
He was born at Edessa in Mesopotamia, and flourished in the latter half of the second century, and perhaps in the beginning of the third. The Edessene Chronicle (Assemani, Bibl. Orient.
1.389) fixes the year of his birth to A. D. 154; and Epiphanius (Haer.
56) mentions, that he lived in favour with Abgar Bar Manu, who reigned at Edessa from A. D. 152 to A. D. 187.
It is difficult to decide whether he was originally educated in the principles of the famous Gnostic teacher Valentinus (as Eusebius seems to intimate), or whether (as Epiphanius implies) he was brought up in the Christian faith and afterwards embraced the Valentinian heresy.
It is clear, however, that he eventually abandoned the doctrines of Valentinus and founded a school of his own. For an account of the leading principles of his theology see Mosheim, de Rebus Christian. ante Constantinum M.
pp. 395-397, or C. W. F. Walch's Ketzerhistorie,
vol. i. pp. 415-422.
Bardesanes wrote much against various sects of heretics, especially against the school of Marcion. His talents are reported to have been of an elevated order, and Jerome, referring to those of his works which had been translated out of Syriac into Greek, observes, “Si autem tanta vis est et fulgor in interpretatione, quantum putamus in sermone proprio.
” He elsewhere mentions that the writings of Bardesanes were held in high repute among the philosophers.
Dialogue on Fate
Eusebius, in his Praeparatio Evangelica
(6.10), has preserved a fragment of the dialogue on Fate by this writer, and it undoubtedly displays abilities of no ordinary stamp.
This fragment is published by Grabe, in his Spicilegium SS. Patrum,
vol. i. pp. 289-299; and by Orelli, in the collection entitled Alexandri, Ammonii, Plotini,Bardesanis, &c., de Fato, quae supersunt,
Turici, 1824. Grabe there shews that the writer of the Recognitiones,
falsely ascribed to Clemens Romanus, has committed plagiarism by wholesale upon Bardesanes.
It appears from this fragment that the charge of fatalism, preferred against Bardesanes by Augustin, is entirely groundless.
It is acutely conjectured by Colberg (de Orig. et Progress. Haeres.
p. 140), that Augustin knew this work of Bardesanes only by its title, and hastily concluded that it contained a defence of fatalism. Eusebius says that this work was inscribed to Antoninus, and Jerome declares that this was the emperor Marcus Aurelius; but it was most probably Antoninus Verus, who, in his expedition against the Parthians, was at Edessa in the year 165.
Works on the persecution of the Christians
Eusebius mentions that Bardesanes wrote several works concerning the persecution of the Christians.
The majority of the learned suppose that this was the persecution under Marcus Antoninus.
Psalms in Syriac
We learn from Ephrem the Syrian that Bardesanes composed, in his native tongue, no fewer than one hundred and fifty Psalms elegantly versified. On this subject see Hahn, Bardesanes Gnosticus Syrorum primus Hyrmnologus,
Bardesanes' Son, Harmonius
Bardesanes had a son, Harmonius (incorrectly called Hammonius by Lumper), whom Sozomen styles a man of learning, and specially skilled in music. (Hist. Eccles.
3.16; comp. Theodoret, Hist. Eccles.
He was devoted to his father's opinions, and, by adapting popular melodies to the words in which they were conveyed, he did harm to the cause of orthodoxy. To counteract this mischief, Ephrem set new and evangelical words to the tunes of Harmonius, which, in this improved adaptation, long continued in vogue.
Babylonian Bardesanes vs. Bardesanes of Edessa
In the writings of Porphyry (de Abstinentia,
4.17, and also in his fragment de Styye
), a Bardesanes Babylonius is mentioned, whom Vossius (de Hist. Graec.
4.17). Strunz (Hist. Bardesanis et Bardesanistarum
), Heeren (Stobaei Eclog.
P. i.), and Harles (Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
iv. p. 247) represent as altogether a different person from Bardesanes of Edessa. Dodwell (Diss. ad Irenaeum,
4.35) identifies the Babylonian Bardesanes with the Syrian Gnostic, and maintains that he flourished, not under Marcus Antoninus, but Elagabalus; and in this last position Grabe concurs. (Spicil.
1.317.) Lardner conceives that the historical and chronological difficulties may be satisfactorily adjusted by the hypothesis that the same individual who had acquired an early reputation in the reign of Marcus Aurelius was still living, in the full blaze of his celebrity, under Elagabalus. His reasoning on the question is very sound; yet an attentive consideration of the ancient authorities disposes us to agree with Vossius and Heeren.
On the Indian Gymnosophists
The Bardesanes mentioned by Porphyry wrote concerning the Indian Gymnosophists.
Euseb. Hist. Eccles.
4.30; Jerome, de Viris Illustr.
c. 33; Sozomen, Theodoret, and the Edessene Chronicle.
The chief modern authorities are the works of Cave, Tillemont, and Remi Ceillier; Beausobre, Histoire de Manichée, &c.,
vol. ii. p. 128; Ittig, Append. Diss. de Haeresiarch. sect.
2.6.85 ; Buddeus, Diss. de haeres. Valentin.
§ xviii.; Lardner, Credibility of the Gospel History,
part ii. ch. 28.12; Burton's Lectures upon Ecclesiastical History,
Lect. xx. vol. ii. pp. 182-185; Neander, Gesch. der Christ. Religion, &c.
I. i. p. 112, ii. pp. 532, 647, 743; and Grabe, Mosheim, Walch, and Hahn, ll.c.