The Book of the Dove (Ktobo d-Yawno) by Gregory Bar Hebraeus is a short work in four chapters which describes the various forms of the ascetic life. Chapter four contains material from his own experiences. It is a classic work of Syrian asceticism.
“From my first youth ‘) burning with love of teachings, I was taught the holy scriptures with the necessary explanation, and from an exquisite teacher I heard the mysteries contained in the writings of the holy doctors. When I had reached the age of twenty, the then living patriarch compelled me to receive the dignity of a bishop. Then it was inevitable for me to engage myself in disquisitions and disputations with the heads of other confessions, interior and exterior. And when I had given my thoughts and meditations to this business during some time, I became convinced, that these quarrels of Christians among themselves are not a matter of facts but of words and denominations. For all of them confess Christ, our Lord, to be wholly God and wholly man, without mixture, nivellation or mutation of natures. This bilateral likeness is called by some nature, by others person, by others hypostasis. So I saw all Christian peoples, notwithstanding these differences, possessing one unvarying equality. And I wholly eradicated the root of hatred from the depth of my heart and I absolutely forsook disputation with anyone concerning confession. So I zealously turned to attain the power of Greek wisdom, viz. logic, physics and metaphysics, algebra and geometry, science of the spheres and of the stars. And because life is short and teachings long and broad, I read concerning every branch of science what was the most necessary.
During my studies in these teachings, I resembled a man who is immersed in the ocean and stretches forth his hands towards all sides in order to be saved. And because in all teachings, interior and exterior, I found not that which I sought, I almost fell into complete destruction.
I feel not justified to describe the snares and nets in which I was entangled, because hearing this might do harm unto many feeble ones. In short, if the Lord had not sustained my little faith in those dangerous times, and if He had not led me to look in the writings of the Initiated, as Aba Euagrius and others, occidental and oriental, and if He had not picked me up from the gulf of destruction and ruin, I would ere long have despaired of psychical, if not of bodily life.
I meditated on these works for seven years, during which I hated other sorts of knowledge, though I had to occupy my thoughts superficially with some of them, not for my own sake, but for the sake of others who wished to profit by me. During this space of time, many offences made me miserable and caused me to stumble. Sometimes I fell into unbelief, saying: How loud is the sound of the bells of these solitaries, and how is their mill devoid of meal, viz. their words contain simple thoughts, remaining without effect. But sometimes my
mind reprehended me, saying: Do not speak idle words and think not that all what you know not, does not exist. What you know is much less than what you know not.”
The Book of the Dove (Ktobo d-Yawno) by Gregory Bar Hebraeus, translated by A.J. Wensinck, Leiden: Brill, 1919: 60-61
“Kthobo d-Yawno (The Book of the Dove). A compendium in the training of ascetics. He wrote it at the suggestion of some lovers of asceticism after he had written the Ethikon. It consists of four parts, the first one on the bodily service in the monastery, the second one on the psychic service which is accomplished in the cell, the third on the spiritual quest of the perfect and the fourth on the author’s progress in knowledge. Some terms communicated to him in revelation (which are about eighty in number). The whole book consists of eighty pages. The author states that he called it The Dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. This book was translated into Arabic about 1299 under the title Kitab al-Warqa fi Ilm al-Irtiqa. I saw its well-written introduction in the handwriting of Abu al-Hasan ibn Mahruma of Mardin. There is an old copy of it at the University of Chicago, written in 1290, and another copy at Oxford. To it was appended a chapter on the Youthfulness of the Mind, which is the beginning of a story the author was writing on his way to Maragha, but death precluded its completion. The book was published by Bedjan and then by the monk Yuhanna Dulabani in 1916.”
“Gregory Bar Hebraeus (1226 – 30 July 1286) was a catholicos (bishop) of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century. He is noted for his works addressing philosophy, poetry, language, history, and theology; he has been called “one of the most learned and versatile men from the Syriac Orthodox Church” (Dr. William Wright).
Bar Hebraeus was born in the village of ʿEbra (Izoli, Turk.: Kuşsarayı) near Malatya, Sultanate of Rûm (modern Turkey, today province Elazig). It appears that he took the Christian name Gregory (Syriac: ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ Grigorios, Ġrīġūriyūs) at his consecration as a bishop Throughout his life, he was often referred to by the Syriac nickname Bar ʿEbrāyā (Syriac: ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ, which is pronounced and often transliterated as Bar ʿEbroyo in the West Syriac dialect of the Syriac Orthodox Church), giving rise to the Latinised name Bar Hebraeus. This nickname is often thought to imply a Jewish background (taken to mean ‘Son of the Hebrew’). However, the evidence for this once popular view is slim. It is more likely that the name refers to the place of his birth, ʿEbrā, where the old road east of Malatya towards Kharput (modern Elazığ) and Amida (Mesopotamia) (modern Diyarbakır) crossed the Euphrates. He collected in his numerous and elaborate treatises the results of such research in theology, philosophy, science and history as was in his time possible in Syria. Most of his works were written in Syriac. However he also wrote some in Arabic, which had become the common language in his day.”
For a summary of Bar Hebraeus’ writings, see
The Book of the Dove is available for download on-line at https://archive.org/details/barhebraeussbook00barh and http://archive.org/stream/barhebraeussbook00barh/barhebraeussbook00barh_djvu.txt
A modern edition is available: http://www.gorgiaspress.com/bookshop/p-55919-the-book-of-the-dovebrby-gregory-abulfaraj-bar-hebraeus.aspx
“Bar-Hebraeus was a prolific writer for his age. Among the many treasures he produced was his ascetical training guide known as The Book of the Dove. Written especially for those in Eastern Christianity who aspired to be hermits, this treatise offers practical spiritual advice for those in his charge in the Syriac church. The study is divided into four parts, treating the training of the body, training the soul, the spiritual rest of the perfect, and a section including Bar-Hebraeus’ spiritual autobiography. A classic of monastic literature, The Book of the Dove retains valuable insights into spiritual exercises, including prayer, fasting, repentance, humility, and alienation from the world. Presented here in the original Syriac, this text will be of interest to the historian as well as readers interested in the Medieval Eastern Church. In a world frantically seeking a spiritual center, the wisdom of one of Orthodoxy’s most erudite writers on spiritual development is always welcome.”
A reprint of is the 1919 translation by A. J. Wensinck is available at: http://oldsouthbooks.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/bar-hebraeuss-book-of-dove-together.html