This is my report of a public lecture given by Dom André Louf in Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Parish, Ghent, as part of the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers. Please note my earlier disclaimer on the accuracy of my reporting and translations, something that may particularly apply to my reporting of this talk as I was tired and my note taking somewhat uneven! I also have the impression that Dom André skipped over some sections due to time constraints. Once the text is published I may consider doing an English translation for publication somewhere.

Dom André Louf, ocso is abbot emeritus of the abbey of Mont des Cats in France and author of several books, including Teach us to Pray, The Cistercian Way and Grace can do more. He is now a hermit and translates Syrian texts. He was responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies.

The phrase “liturgy of the heart” is not found in Scripture but it finds its roots in the reference in 1 Peter 3, 4 in which Peter speaks of the “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” (“interior disposition of the heart”, NJB, or “inner self”, NRSV), literally the hidden human being of the heart.

This interior human heart is viewed by Scripture in rather ambiguous terms. It may be orientated to wicked schemes (Gen. 6, 5), it may be hard and even turned to stone (Ex. 7, 3) but it may also be softened and humbled (2 K 22, 19) and especially contrite (Ps 50, 17) and to be healed by God (Ps 147, 3). God reproaches the uncircumcised heart (Lv 26,41; Dt 10, 16; 30, 6; Jer. 9, 26). It is on the tablets of the heart that God will write a new law (Pr. 3,3; 7, 3). With the prophet Ezekiel God promises to change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (11, 19; 36, 26). Solomon will plead for such a heart at the beginning of his reign (1 K. 3, 9) and advises his son David to watch over his heart, for from the heart come the wellsprings of life. (Pr. 4, 23)


Here is the third conference from the colloquium in Ghent. Please see my previous disclaimer concering the accuracy of my reporting and translations!

Brother Sabino Chialà is a monk of Bose monastery in Italy, the ecumenically orientated monastic community founded by Enzo Bianchi. He is responsible for the Italian translation of the third series (and parts of the first two series) of Saint Isaac’s homilies.

After Ephraim, Isaac of Nineveh, also known as Isaac the Syrian, is the most well known and best loved of the Syrian writers and his works have been translated into many languages. He has been known principally through his writings and his own history has remained rather vague, although there have been speculations that have identified him as a Coptic monk in Scetis, a Byzantine monk in Syria and a hermit in Italy! The vagueness was perhaps not entirely accidental, for it remains a paradox that such an influential spiritual writer, whose orthodoxy and holiness have been universally recognised, was in fact a member (and for a short time even a bishop) of a Church that the rest of the Christian world considered heretical.

Critical studies into Isaac’s work and background began towards the end of the nineteenth century with the work of J.B. Chabot. From such studies, it has become clear that Isaac was an East Syrian monk (and for some months a bishop) who was born in Bet Qatraye (present day Qatar) in the first half of the seventh century where he probably began his monastic life. The catholikos named him as bishop of Nineveh in the north of Mesopotamia, close to present day Mosul, between 676 and 680. After only some months he resigned as bishop and returned to his life as a hermit, this time in Bet Hazaye in what is today southwest Iran in or near the monastery of Rabban Shabur where he composed a number of homilies for his disciples. The date of his death is unknown but we are told that he died blind as a result of all his reading.


This is my report of the second conference from the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers in Ghent last weekend. Please see my earlier disclaimer regarding the accuracy of my reporting and translations!

Dom André Louf, ocso is abbot emeritus of the abbey of Mont des Cats in France and author of several books, including Teach us to Pray, The Cistercian Way and Grace can do more. He is now a hermit and translates Syrian texts. He was responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies.

Our information concerning the life of Simeon comes from two Syrian chroniclers who lived several centuries later: Bar Hebraeus (+1286) and Abdisho Bar Brika (+1318). From these we learn that he had been a doctor before becoming a monk, that he lived during the episcopacy of Catholicus Henanisho (685-699), and that he wrote works on medicine, on monastic life and on the mystery of the cell. From these works we can also gather that he lived in the southeast of what is now Iraq, a region that at that time was undergoing a monastic growth and which was home to well known spiritual writers such as Dadisho Qatraya and Isaac of Nineveh. The latter was somewhat older than Simeon.

The designation “of Taibouthèh” refers not to a place, but means “of grace” and refers to one of his writings. Many manuscripts contain such a “Book of Grace” which had previously been ascribed to Isaac of Nineveh, but which recent critical scholarship believes to originate with Simeon. Simeon also refers to the crucial role of grace in his other works and is particularly concerned with the relationship between asceticism and grace.


Joris van Ael is an iconographer and author whose work I have mentioned before (here, here and here). He is one of the leading figures behind the Leerhuis van de Kerkvaders, and was one of the organisers of this colloquium.

This conference served as an introduction to the more specific papers that would follow and sought to provide an overview of important themes in the seventh and eighth century East Syrian Fathers, and a sort of framework in which to place the texts that we would be encountering.

Joris began by asking what the relevance is of these three seventh and eighth century Syrian hermit monks for us today. One of the goals of the Leerhuis van de Kerkvaders is to help us become more conscious of the true dimensions of what it means to be Christian. One of the gifts of our time is that the writings of the Syrian Fathers are now becoming available, for which we owe a debt of gratitude to the translators. These Fathers can help to break open our own Christian consciousness and to help us connect with a broader Christian tradition. They thus have an important ecumenical impact. They can help us in the discernment of our own traditions and in the return to the sources that the conciliar renewal encouraged.


I have returned from the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers in Ghent and will try and write up my notes for a series of posts, although it will probably take a few days before I have them all. It was a very good experience despite being very intense. The speakers were excellent and two of them were leading authorities on the subject who were also responsible for important translation work. The colloquium was jointly organised by the Leerhuis voor de kerkvaders which I mentioned before, the vicariate for formation of the Catholic diocese of Ghent, the Orthodox parish of St Andrew in Ghent and the Catholic National Council for Ecumenism. There were over 90 participants from all sorts of backgrounds. Despite the high scholarly qualtity of the content there was a pastoral concern and an emphasis on what the Syrian Fathers can mean for us today. On the Friday evening we all went to the Orthodox parish for a short prayer service followed by a public lecture by Dom André Louf on “The liturgy of the heart” followed by a reception.

The conferences that were given, and which I will try and post on, were:
  * An introduction to the Syrian Fathers by Joris van Ael
  * Simon of Taibouthèh by Dom André Louf
  * Isaac the Syrian by Br Sabino Chialà
  * The Liturgy of the Heart by Dom André Louf
  * John of Dalyatha by Br Benoît Standaert

There were also two sessions devoted to reading texts.

Please note that what I am posting here is based on my rather hurriedly scribbled notes and, while I have tried to accurately reflect what the speakers said, errors are always possible. Also note that, except in cases where I indicate otherwise (i.e. where I have access to English translations) quotations from the Fathers are my English translations from the Dutch, which are themselves usually translations from the French … thus a translation of a translation of a translation. This is hardly ideal, but I’m posting them nevertheless, partly because doing so provides me with a stimulus to further process what I heard, and also because I believe that the content is worth sharing with others.

The papers that were presented will be published in the next edition of the journal Heiliging, published by the Benedictines of Zevenkerken.

Update: in case anyone is interested, there are photos available here.

I leave early tomorrow for a two day colloquium on the Syrian Fathers in Ghent organised by the Leerhuis van de Kerkvaders, a very hopeful ecumenical initiative to make the Fathers of the Church better known. The speakers include Dom André Louf (abbot emeritus of Mont des Cats and responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies), Brother Sabino Chialà (of Bose monastery in Italy) and Brother Benoît Standaert (of the abbey of Zevenkerken in Brugge, Belgium). They are providing presentations on  St Simon of Taiboutheh, St Isaac the Syrian and John of Dalyatha respectively.

It looks like a very promising line-up and I’ll try and write up as much as I can to share here when I get back.

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