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Henana of Adiabene

Henana of Adiabene was headmaster of the School of Nisibis, the theological center of the Assyrian Church of the East, from 571 to about 610.

His predecessor was Abraham of Beth Rabban who had worked hard to make the legacy of Theodore of Mopsuestia more accessible. Before he became headmaster, Henana of Adiabene had occupied the chair of biblical exegesis. His teacher was a certain Moses, who was probably Byzantine orthodox. Many of Henana's ideas were close to Byzantine theology, and his appointment as head of the school might have been in line with a general uneasiness with the radical decrees of the Synod of Beth Lapat.

Henana was a humble man, worked tirelessly, and stood to his convictions. Under his leadership the school initially continued to grow. He wrote extensive commentaries and other works, but only two works and a number of citations have been preserved. A speech for the commencement of the academic year from the time when Henana was director has survived, and in it Henana is painted as equal to Theodore of Mopsuestia: in productivity, and with the authority to choose the best from among all traditions. But Henana did not reconcile the teaching of Theodore with the other creeds. Instead, he tried to replace him.


Christological dispute

Theodore held that a union of the two natures in Christ was unthinkable. Henana on the other hand favored a union of the two natures, the divine and the mortal, in Christ in one hypostasis, as specified in Chalcedon in 451. Accordingly, he believed in God's suffering on the Cross, impossible without a union between the two natures, and he accepted the decisions of Ephesus and believed that the term 'mother of God' was appropriate for the Virgin Mary.

Theodore had taught that man was created mortal. Henana believed that Adam was initially immortal, and that he became mortal through sin. It also appears that Henana rejected Theodore's idea that the book of Job was a book of fiction composed by a Hellenist, and rejected his commentary on Job.


Henana's Byzantine orientation was so complete that he even followed the Byzantine fashion of the day, which was the teaching of Origen. It was popular among Byzantine monks, but disputed and finally condemned in 553. One of the more extreme positions held by the followers of Origen was the believe in spherical bodies and the denial of the resurrection of the body of the Lord on the third day. This clashed head on with any literal interpretation of scripture, certainly with the rigorous literal interpretation of the Antiochene type.

Growing opposition

As Henana's break with tradition became more open, opposition grew. In Nisibis, the Deacon Elijah established the rival school of Beth Sahde, and made a man from the school of Balad director, who had also lived on the monastery of Mt. Izla and was a disciple of Abraham the Great. His name was Abimelek, and his great opponent Babai the Great later glorified him in a biography of 'The Priest and Martyr Abimelek'.

In 596 Sabrisho, an alumnus of the school of Nisibis, was appointed successor of Ishoihab as Catholicos. He immediately held a synod and anathematized the opponents of Theodore, though he did not mention Henana explicitly. At the same time or sometimes after, Gregory, another alumnus of the school of Nisibis, became Metropolitan of Nisibis, probably chosen by Sabrisho. Gregory first reproached and censored, later condemned the writings of Henana. Henana wrote a defense to Sabrisho that resulted in his excommunication by the other bishops.

But Henana was not without protection: Queen Shirin was a convert from the Nestorian to the Monophysite creed, and so was Gabriel of Shiggar, the influential royal physician. They supported Henana. As Babai the Great reports: "the medical science at the court had taken sides with Henana. This tilted the scales in favor of Henana and upset the carefully prepared strategy of his enemies. Of course, all this was clear to Sabrisho."

In 601 Bishop Gregory had to leave and was ordered by the king to live in the monastery of Shahdost. The Catholicos disagreed with the excommunication and was spared the royal wrath. But Henana's position could not be saved. Even though he stayed head of the school, 300 souls left the same year. (There is some doubt on when exactly these events took place. But all sources agree that they happened under the Catholicos Sabrisho (596--604)).

Some of the exiles went to the monastery of Mar Abraham on Mt. Izla, others were welcomed by Marcos, bishop of Balad, at his school. Still others went to the rival school-monastery of Beth Sahde in Nisibis itself. Only 20 persons stayed with Henana, and the school hardly struggled on.

Legacy of Henana

Henana of Adiabene died in 610. Two years later, the teachings of Theodore were canonized by an episcopal gathering, and the Christology of Theodore became the official doctrine of the Church.

Of the many writings of Henana very little has been preserved, and the Assyrian Church has rejected him. But in order to refute him, Babai the Great clarified the Christology of the Assyrian Church, which otherwise might not have happened.

Last updated: 05-23-2005 01:17:49