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13. Of NISIBIS, commonly designated MAGNUS, the Great ( μεγας, Theodoret.), was born at Nisibis, or, as it is sometimes called, Antiocheia ad Mygdonium or Mygdonica, an important town of the Eastern Empire in Mesopotamia on the frontier toward Persia. The time of his birth is not ascer tained; it was probably in the latter half of the third century. He embraced a life of solitude and asceticism, living on the mountains, sleeping in thickets and under the open sky in spring, summer, and autumn, and seeking the shelter of a cave during the rigour of the winter. Theodoret ascribes to him the gift of prophecy and other mis raculous powers. After a journey into Persia, apparently to promote the spread of Christianity there, and to encourage its professors, he returned to the neighbourhood of Nisibis, of which he was afterwards made bishop. On this appointment he left his solitude for the city, but continued his hard fare and coarse clothing. He was the friend and benefactor of the poor, the guardian of widows and orphans, and the protector of the injured. The famous Ephraem, when expelled from home by his father, an idolatrous priest, because he refused to participate in his idolatrous practices, found a refuge with Jacobus. The Menaea of the Greeks ascribe to him the conversion of many idolators. If this statement has any foundation in fact, it may possibly have reference to his journey into Persia already mentioned. According to Gennadius, he was one of the sufferers in the great persecution under the successors of Diocletian. Jacobus attended the council of Nice, A. D. 325, and distinguished him-self as one of the champions of the Consubstantial party. (Labbe, Concilia, vol. ii. col. 56.) Some (e. g. Fabricius) have affirmed that he took part as an author in the Arian controversy, founding their assertion on a passage of Athanasius. (Ad Episcopos Aegypti et Lybiae Epistola Encyclica contra Arianos, sometimes cited as Contra Arianos, 100.8; Opera, vol. i. p. 278, ed. Benedictin.) But what Athanasius says is, that the writings of the heretics were apparently so orthodox, that if they had been written by such men as "Jacobus and the rest from Mesopotamia," there would be no ground for reading them with suspicion -- a statement which by no means asserts that he wrote any thing on the question. The name of Jacobus appears among those subscribed to the decrees of the council of Antioch, A. D. 341 (Labbe, vol. ii. col. 585); but there are several difficulties connected with the history of this council.

The most remarkable incident in the life of Jacobus was the siege of Nisibis by the Persians under their king, Sapor II. The siege was vigorously pressed, but the defence was equally well conducted, the brave citizens being animated by the exhortations of their bishop. At length the crisis of their fate seemed to be at hand, when Jacobus, at the entreaty of his disciple Ephraem and others, ascended the walls and prayed for the deliverance of the city. A swarm of gnats or mosquitoes and other insects, which just afterwards attacked the besiegers, made their horses restive, and otherwise produced such annoyance as, with other things, to compel them to raise the siege, was considered as an answer to this prayer. The citizens regarded Jacobus as their deliverer; and when he died, apparently soon after, he was buried in the city. The time of the siege is disputed: Nisibis was twice vainly attacked by Sapor, A. D. 338 and 350. The author of the Chronicon Edessenum given by Assemani (Biblioth. Orient. vol. i. p. 387, &c.), and Dionysius, patriarch of the Jacobites, in his Syriac Chronicle, quoted in the same work, place his death in A. D. 338, which would determine the first of the two sieges to be the one at which he signalised himself; but we have seen that he was probably at the council of Antioch in A. D. 341; and there is reason to believe, with Tillemont, that the second siege is the one referred to, and that the Syrians have antedated the death of Jacobus. The character of Jacobus, as drawn by Theodoret, is very amiable. The miracles ascribed to him, even when punitive, are described as dictated or tempered by mercy, except perhaps in the case of the celebrated Arius, whose opportune death is ascribed by the author of a spurious passage in Theodoret to the prayer of Jacobus that God would preserve the church from the calamity (so it was considered) of that reputed heretic's restoration. [ARIUs.]


Whether Jacobus wrote any thing is much disputed. Jerome, who mentions him in his Chronicon, does not notice him in his book De Viris Illustribus; and Theodoret, from whom we obtain the amplest detail of his life, does not speak of his writings. Ebed-Jesu, in his account of the Syriac ecclesiastical writers, is also silent respecting him. On the other hand, Gennadius (De Viris Illustribus) ascribes to him a work in twenty-six parts, or perhaps twenty-six distinct works, of most of which he gives the titles. They were in Syriac, according to him. Among them was a Chronicon, which Gennadius describes as less curiously minute than those of the Greeks, but more accurate and trustworthy, as resting on the Scriptures. Gennadius accounts for Jerome's silence respecting Jacobus by supposing that Jerome, when he wrote his De Viris Illustribus, was ignorant of Syriac, and that the works of Jacobus had "not yet" (necdum) been translated; an expression which seems to imply that when Gennadius wrote they had been translated. Assemani supposes that Gennadius has ascribed to Jacobus of Nisibis the works of another Syrian of the same name [JACOBUS, No. 3, BATNAEUS, or SARUGENSIS], and perhaps of some others.

Homilies in Syriac and Arabic

Several Syriac and one Arabic manuscript, chiefly of homilies, by a writer or writers vaguely described as " Mar. Jacobus," "Sanctus Jacobus," "Jacobus Syrus," are enumerated in the Catalogus MStorum Angliae et Hiberniae. In some of these MSS. the writings are mingled with those of Ephraem, who was, as we have seen, the protege and pupil of Jacobus of Nisibis; but whether the writer may be correctly identified with James of Nisibis is not clear.

Sermons in Armenian and Latin

A volume published at Rome, fol. 1756, is mentioned by Harles under the title of S. Jacobi Episcopi Nisibeni Sermones, Armenice et Latine cum Praefatione, Notis, et Dissertatione de Ascetis. Omnia nunc primum in lucem prodierunt. The works comprehend a series of discourses addressed by Jacobus to Gregorius Illuminator, or Gregory the Apostle of Armenia [GREGORIUS, No. 6.], and a Synodical Letter. The genuineness of the Discourses is strenuously contended for by Antonelli, their editor, and by Galland, who has inserted them and the Letter, both the Armenian text and the Latin version, in the fifth volume of his Bibliotheca Patrum; and it is remarkable that Assemani, who had been informed that the works were extant in MS. in the library of the Armenian convent of St. Antony at Venice, retracts, in the Addenda et Corrigenda to the first volume of his Bibliotheca Orientalis, the opinion he had expressed in the body of his work, that James was not an author at all, and that Gennadius had confounded Jacobus of Nisibis with Jacobus of Sarug [No. 3] ; and admits the genuineness both of the Discourses and the Synodical Letter; going in this beyond Antonelli and Galland, who doubt the genuineness of the Letter. The subjects of the Discourses agree to a considerable extent, but not wholly, with the list given by Gennadius.

The difficulty arising from their being extant in the Armenian and not in the Syriac language, which was the vernacular tongue of the writer, and in which Gennadius says they were written, is met by the supposition that, as being addressed to an Armenian prelate, they were written in the Armenian tongue; or that being written in Syriac, but sent immediately into Armenia, they were at once translated, and the original neglected and lost. Their not being extant in any other language is thought to account for their being unknown to, and unnoticed by, Jerome, Theodoret, and Photius.

Still commemorated

Jacobus is commemorated in the Martyrologium of the Romish Church on the 15th July; in the Menologium of the Greeks on the 31st Oct.; in the Synaxarium of the Maronites on the 13th January, and in that of the Coptic Church on the 18th of the month Tybi. The Syrians still profess to point out at Nisibis the original burial-place where he was laid.

Further Information

Hieronym. Chron.; Athanas. l.c.; Gennad. l.c.; Philostorg. H. E. 3.23; Theodoret. H. E. 1.7; 2.26. (ed. Vales. 30, ed. Schulz); Philotheus s. Historia Religiosa, 100.1; Theodorus Lector, H. E. 1.10; Theophanes, Chrong. pp. 16, 28, ed. Paris, pp. 29, 52, ed. Bonn; Niceph. Callisti, HE. 9.28, 15.22; Labbe, Concilia, II. cc.; Cave, Hist. Litt. vol. i. p. 189, ed. Oxford, 1740-1743 ; Oudin, De Scriptor. Eccles. vol. i. col. 321, 322; Tillemont, Mémoires, vol. vii. p. 260, &c.; Fabric. Bibl. Graec vol. ix. p. 299; Bollandus, Acta Sanctorm Julii, vol. iv. p. 28, &c.; Assemani, Biblioth. Oriental. vol. i. p. 17, &c.

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