Standard Article

Isaac the Syrian, Saint

  1. Bruce V. Foltz

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc1614

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Foltz, B. V. 2011. Isaac the Syrian, Saint. The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


St. Isaac the Syrian, also known as Isaac of Nineveh (fl. c.680), was a monk and mystic, briefly a bishop, and the author of some of the Christian East's most profound and influential texts in ascetic spirituality. He was born in the region of what is now Qatar and Bahrain, then part of Persia and an important center for Christianity; he was tonsured as a monk, and eventually was made Bishop of Nineveh, present-day Mosul, Iraq. After five months he abdicated his episcopacy for reasons that are now unclear, and withdrew to a solitary life in the mountains of Khuzistan, in southwest Iran. A 9th century source states that he lost his eyesight due to his arduous “reading and asceticism,” adding that “he entered deeply into the divine mysteries and composed books on the divine discipline of solitude” (1984: lxv). These books, composed in Syriac, perhaps originally dictated to his followers, are masterpieces in the literature of asceticism and mystical theology. The extant works are in two collections, the earlier-known and longer one translated into English in 1923 by Wensinck, and again in 1984 by Miller, while the second was discovered only recently by Sebastian Brock at Oxford University's Bodleian Library, and translated by Brock in 1995.


  • Isaac the Syrian, Saint;
  • Isaac of Nineveh;
  • center of St. Isaac's mystical theology, insight into divine love