The Mysticism of John Saba of Dalyatha
Brian E. Colless
In reply to those seekers who are wondering when my translation of the mystical discourses of John Saba of Dalyatha will be published, I can report (as I have been saying to inquiring monks and nuns) that the older version is now on the web:
Colless, B. E. (1969). The mysticism of John Saba. PhD thesis, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, The University of Melbourne.
It is available in the University of Melbourne e-Prints Repository:
(You can see from the date 1969 that it is a good thing I was not given any of the Dead Seas Scrolls to edit, or a conspiracy theory would have been concocted by now; there must be something to hide; it is true that the author warned that his discourses should not be seen by the uninitiated, and he did not want his writings to be widely published; and indeed they were banned in the Church of the East, but they were taken up by other eastern traditions and translated into several languages.)
It is not a straightforward process downloading a copy at that site, and I offer instructions to the uninitiated.
You will find there a box with 3 grey icons; clicking on it will bring up the 3 parts into which the two-volume work has been divided; click on each title for a pdf.
For my benefit (I have trouble in finding where they have been downloaded on my iMac) I will record here the numbers that identify them:
256118 is the first one (with introduction and Syriac text)!
256116 is the translation (wrongly titled Conclusion!).
Here are the contents of the three pdf documents:
25618 (140 pages) Vol 1: Introduction, 1-40; Syriac text, 1-89.
25617 (111 pages) Vol 2: John Saba and the Legacy of Syrian Christian Mysticism, 1-118
25616 (123 pages) Vol 2: Translation, 119-222, Bibliography (7 pages)
Now, I am still working on revising the translation, and the pieces will be presented in a sequence that moves from novitiate to beatific vision. There has been a lot of criticism directed at me for playing this game, but a number of early editors (starting with the author's brother) arranged all the pieces differently, and I want to have a turn.
As I say in the preface, I am diffident about the translation, as it is incomplete (one half-page is blank!) and it contains errors; but I hope it will serve its purpose fairly well.
One cause of the long delay was that I was required to publish a French translation with the edition of the discourses (and procrastination set in); but Nadira Khayyat (a student of Robert Beulay, who published the Epistles of JdD with a French translation) is now attending to that task in the series Sources Syriaques. An English translation (with Syriac text) is available: Mary Hansbury, The Letters of John of Dalyatha (Gorgias Press 2006).
As a sample, here is a foreword to the works of John Dalyatha.
I ask every one who comes across these essays, by the love of God, not to be blaming the author for speaking freely and readily about himself and his companions, because he did not write them with the intention of having them copied out on parchment, to be recorded for general inspection, but rather he wrote them for his brother for his consolation, since he was yearning for him while in solitude remote from people, lacking comfort and human society. From time to time he would write for his consolation a few encouraging lines in freedom of speech with his Lord, so that he would not be troubled by his loneliness apart from every one, and also some to his other friends who were in his confidence and were enduring sorrow over him in their hearts, in humble love. His brother collected them together in a book for himself only, because he found pleasure and consolation in them.
However, since the demons are accustomed to slighting divine gifts in the eyes of the weak, especially when one speaks to them about oneself, now that I have made known the purpose for which they were written let no one find fault, lest he die, condemned by God their author.
Rejoicing in God makes one forget the weakness of faultfinders and of oneself, and makes one eager to proclaim openly the secrets and gifts of Grace, as you may learn plainly from Saint Paul. He declares concerning himself that he searched the deep things of God through the Spirit (cp 1 Cor 2:10), and knew hidden things (cp 1 Cor 2:7), he and those like him, possessing the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) through Christ, beholding the glory of God with unveiled face and being transformed into his likeness by the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18); also that God shone forth in their hearts, illuminating them in his knowledge, to see hidden things and to know things to come (cp Eph 1:17-20, Heb 6:4-5). He relates to us freely the visions and revelations that came from our Lord to him, and the great acts of power and the visitations of the Spirit (2 Cor 12:1-13); and also the countless afflictions he bore for Christ’s sake (cp 2 Tim 1:8-12) are stated fearlessly, and that rightly a crown of glory was reserved for him with his Lord in return for the sufferings that he had endured for his sake (2 Tim 4:5-8).
Therefore I beg of you that no one find fault with our Lord for speaking freely about the things concerning himself, for he says: anyone who rejects you rejects me (Lk 10:16).
Let us wait expectantly for the sight of gifts from the Spirit, and glorify the Giver, that we may be glorified by him. Let us applaud his gift, that it may be of help to us; let us be petitioners for his gift and not deride what is done by him, or his indwelling mercy will be taken away from us, which grants to his own the understanding of his mysteries and the gifts of his grace. To him be glory and may we find favour with him through the perception of his holy mysteries. Amen.
Research Associate, School of History, Massey University, New Zealand