Abbot Paul NAAMAN. The Maronites: The Origins of an Antiochene Church. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2011. Cistercian Studies 243. Pp. xviii + 199 (including appendix and maps). ISBN 978-0-87907-243-8. Reviewed by Nathan LUNSFORD, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI 53233
Cistercian Publications has published this translation of Abbot Paul Naaman’s pioneering study of the origins of the Maronite Church in honor of the sixteenth centenary of St. Maron’s death. Originally published in French in 1971, under the title Théodoret de Cyr et le monastère de Saint Maroun: les origines des maronites; essai d’histoire et de géographie (Bibliothèque de l’Université Saint-Espirit, 3. Sin el-Fil, Liban, Inst. of Scientific Studies), Naaman’s book guides the reader through the previously unexplored history of the beginnings and development of the Maronite Church in post-Chalcedonian Syria. Naaman, addressing the “methodological inadequacy” under which the historians and archeologists of his day were operating (xv), endeavors to situate the monastery built in honor of St. Maron “in its geographical, historical, political, theological, and monastic context” (xvi). Offering a “panoramic view of events” surrounding the monastery’s founding and its ensuing importance and influence, Naaman hopes to restore a renewed and holistic portrait of the Maronite “Gestalt” and move the discussion past the (then-current) impasse between non-Maronite scholars and Maronite/pro-Maronite scholars (xvi).
Naaman’s first chapter looks to the only evidence that offers a date for the founding of St. Maron’s monastery: the relatively late testimony offered by Abū l-Fidā, an Arab historian (b. 1273), that a monastery in honor of Maron was built in 452 in the vicinity of Apamaea or Ḥoms at the behest of Emperor Marcian. After discussing the issues of source criticism, the text’s internal evidence, and analyzing its accuracy, Naaman judges that “there is no genuine reason for doubting the testimony of Abū l-Fidā” and in fact much is in its favor (19). Chapter two further situates the monastery of St. Maron via an exploration of the two chief monastic centers of northern Syria: Cyr, where Maron and his disciples lived as hypethrites (in the open air); and Apamaea, known for its cenobitic monasticism and where Theodoret of Cyr dwelt as a before his elevation to the bishopric of Cyr. On the basis of the evidence he has gathered, Naaman contends that the monastics of Apamaea were likely connected to Cyr in a relationship of dependence and origin: the monastic movement centered in Apamaea followed the ascetic rule of Marcian but was founded by two ascetics from Cyr, Simon and Agapetus. Naaman’s contention is further supported by appealing to a certain unity in the archeological evidence between these two regions—a uniformity of material culture that could only have developed through frequent and easy going relations (63). Naaman’s third chapter adduces further evidence for this connection by exploring documents from the sixth century concerning the christological debates in northern Syria, which attest to a monastic confederation of sorts centered around the monastery of St. Maron near Apamaea. The Cyr-Apamaea link postulated in his second chapter thus certainly did come into being; but for Naaman, the best explanation is that “the connection was original, and was later consolidated” (65). Further, Naaman focuses this chapter on Theodoret, attending to both his familiarity with the monks of northern Syria and his role in the christological controversies, and suggests that Theodoret was the chief personality behind the founding of St. Maron’s monastery. For Naaman, Theodoret’s monastery accomplished two related aims: as their concerned bishop, he sought to “consolidate the seriously threatened unity among his monks, to make them rediscover their moral value, and regain confidence in their vocation and local traditions”; such a solidly united group would also serve as a means of defending the Chalcedonian doctrine against “imported” doctrines, especially as elaborated by Theodoret himself (126).
Though one must acknowledge Naaman’s periodic dependence on scholarly paradigms that have since been outdated or considerably nuanced (e.g., the now overworked Alexandrian-Antiochene opposition), Naaman’s study remains a fascinating and worthy read. As a preliminary work and an argument of probability, Naaman’s book does not endeavor to be fully comprehensive in its details, but does seek a certain comprehensive and interdisciplinary scope in order to move the scholarly discussion forward. In this Naaman succeeds, and his case both remains insightful and retains its explanatory power. Naaman builds a persuasive case by gathering together and engaging the relevant—and often obscure—evidence. In doing so, he not only probes the origins of the Maronite Church and the monastery of St. Maron, but also offers a compelling point of view into the difficult-to-navigate christological controversies. One wishes that Cistercian would have made it clear that this volume is a translation and a reprint of Naaman’s 1971 study; nevertheless, Cistercian and all involved are to be lauded for making Naaman’s groundbreaking study available for a new generation of scholars and historians. One hopes that this republication and translation will inspire many to the further historical work which Naaman himself sought to provoke.