Isaac of Nineveh

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Isaac of Nineveh

Isaac of Nineveh (c. 613 – c. 700), also known as Saint Isaac the Syrian, Abba Isaac, Isaac Syrus and Isaac of Qatar, was a 7th-century Syriac Christian bishop and theologian best remembered for his written works on Christian asceticism.


  • What is a charitable heart? It is a heart which is burning with love for the whole creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts … for all creatures. He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes being filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion which seizes his heart; a heart which is softened and can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain being inflicted upon a creature. That is why such a man never ceases to pray for the animals … [He is] … moved by the infinite pity which reigns in the hearts of those who are becoming united with God.
    • Mystic Treatises, cited in Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1976), p. 111; also cited and discussed in A. M. Allchin, The World is a Wedding (1978), p. 85. Quoted in Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology (1994), p. 56.

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian[edit]

Second Edition (2011), published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA
  • In the measure that love for the flesh prevails in you, you can never become brave and dauntless, on account of the host of adversaries that constantly surround the object of your love.
    • p. 115
  • There is nothing so capable of banishing the inveterate habits of licentiousness from our soul, and of driving away those active memories which rebel in our flesh and produce a turbulent flame, as to immerse oneself in the fervent love of instruction, and to search closely into the depth of the insights of divine Scripture.
    • p. 115
  • If the heart is not occupied with study, it cannot endure the turbulence of the body's assault.
    • p. 116
  • True is the word of the Lord which declares that no man possessing love for the world can acquire the love of God, nor can any who has communion with the world have communion with God, nor can any who has concern for the world have concern for God.
    • p. 428
  • Question Whence does a man perceive that he has attained to humility?
Answer From the fact that he regards it as odious to please the world either by his association with it or by word, and that the glory of this world is an abomination in his eyes.
  • p. 439

‘The Second Part’, Chapters IV-XLI[edit]

Trans. Sebastian Brock, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 555, Scriptores Syri 225, Louvain: Peeters, 1995.
  • So then, let us not attribute to God's actions and His dealings with us any idea of requital. Rather, we should speak of fatherly provision, a wise dispensation, a perfect will which is concerned with our good, and complete love. If it is a case of love, then it is not one of requital; and if it is a case of requital, then it is not one of love. Love, when it operates, is not concerned with the requiting of former things by means of its own good deeds or correction; rather, it looks to what is most advantageous in the future: it examines what is to come, and not things that are past.
    • XXXIX, 17, p. 170
  • By saying that He will even hand us over to burning for the sake of sufferings, torment and all sorts of ills, we are attributing to the divine Nature an enmity towards the very rational beings which He created through grace; the same is true if we say that He acts or thinks with spite and with a vengeful purpose, as though He was avenging Himself. Among all His actions there is none which is not entirely a matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and the end of His dealings with us.
    • XXXIX, 22, p. 172
  • And it is clear that He does not abandon them the moment they fall, and that demons will not remain in their demonic state, and sinners (will not remain) in their sins; rather, He is going to bring them to a single equal state of perfection in relationship to His own Being — in a (state) in which the holy angels are now, in perfection of love and a passionless mind. He is going to bring them into that excellency of will, where it will not be as though they were curbed and not <free>, or having stirrings from the Opponent then; rather, (they will be) in a (state of) excelling knowledge, with a mind made mature in the stirrings which partake of the divine outpouring which the blessed Creator is preparing in His grace; they will be perfected in love for Him, with a perfect mind which is above any aberration in all its stirrings.
    • XL, 4, p. 175
  • No part belonging to any single one of (all) rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernal Kingdom which is prepared for all worlds. Because of that goodness of His nature by which He brought the universe into being (and then) bears, guides and provides for the worlds and (all) created things in His immeasurable compassion, He has devised the establishment of the Kingdom of heaven for the entire community of rational beings — even though an intervening time is reserved for the general raising (of all) to the same level.
    • XL, 7, p. 176
  • Let us beware in ourselves, my beloved, and realize that even if Gehenna is subject to a limit, the taste of its experience is most terrible, and the extent of its bounds escapes our very understanding. Let us strive all the more to partake of the taste of God's love for the sake of perpetual reflection on Him, and let us not (have) experience of Gehenna through neglect.
    • XLI, 1, p. 180

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