BĀBŌĒ, catholicos (d. 481 or 484), orthodox leader of the Christian church in Iran under Pērōz, one of Barṣaumā’s chief opponents. The rule of Catholicos Bābōē fell during an epoch seething with powerful forces which were working towards a complete reshaping of Christianity in Persia. He was the last head of the church who withstood the tremendous pressures which would mold the later history of Christianity in Persia.
Bābōē of Tellā at Ṣerṣer was a Mazda-believer who was converted to the Christian faith by a monk. He was elected catholicos for the see in Seleucia-Ctesiphon some time between 456 and 466. When the persecution of Christians broke out under Pērōz, he was imprisoned and was not released until peace was made between the king of the Persians and the Roman emperor (464). According to some sources his imprisonment lasted for two years; other sources indicate it lasted seven years.
More troubles awaited him after his release. Seleucia-Ctesiphon was no longer the spiritual center of the church, but Nisibis in the north where the Persian School, which had returned from Edessa, had taken its place. And since no other theological school could compete with the one in Nisibis, where the Nestorian theology and the Antiochian traditions were being cultivated, this hearth of spiritual culture was destined to shape the theological life and thought of the church. A number of teachers expelled from Edessa obtained episcopal sees in Persia. Among these was Barṣaumā, who became the most energetic agitator for the theological tenets of the School of Nisibis and worked relentlessly for the dissemination of Nestorianism, causing headaches for the catholicos and the bishops who rallied around him.
Moreover, the time had come when the church could not remain content with the ancient canons for its life. Thus, besides the propagation of the Nestorian tenets, Barṣaumā pursued other aims destined towards a reorientation of the basic ideals and inner tenets of Christian life, and a transformation of the inner countenance of the Persian church. The earliest form of Christianity in these areas had rested on the vigor of the spiritual elite of the ascetics, drawing its strength from these sources who had originated in Mesopotamia even before monasticism appeared in Egypt. These ascetic tenets stood in opposition to the Zoroastrian tenets of the Sasanian society, where marriage and richness of children were seen as religious obligations. In his pursuit of a reversal of the ancient tenets and anti-ascetic ideals, Barṣaumā could count on the power of the state and of Pērōz himself coming to his support.
Bābōē with his fondness for monasticism resisted also on this front. (A writing on monasticism, written to a priest Qyriaqos, is attributed to him. See also Acta martyrum, p. 633 for his relations to monasticism.) But in spite of his resistance, changes took place. Bābōē faced forces too strong to fight against, aiming at the isolation of the Persian church from the west. At a schismatic synod under the direction of Barṣaumā, held in April, 484, at Bēt Lāpaṭ, the capital of Susiana—an important but always restless ecclesiastical province—the Nestorian creed was adopted. Bābōē’s attempts to check its progress through a countersynod were in vain and further attempts ended in tragedy: Bābōē sent a letter to Emperor Zenon in order to arouse his interest in the plight of the church in Persia—this must be understood as a request for help on behalf of endangered orthodoxy. The letter was intercepted in Nisibis and handed over to Pērōz. The sources blame Barṣaumā, probably rightly so, for having had a hand in this affair. Pērōz threw Bābōē into prison, and after an imprisonment of two years, Bābōē was beaten to death in the twenty-fourth year of Pērōz, i.e., 484, but in 481 according to ʿAmr b. Mattā. A vivid account of the end of his life is found in Acta martyrum (pp. 631f.). His death removed the last obstacle to the realization of Barṣaumā’s aspirations.
P. Bedjan, Acta martyrum et sanctorum, Paris, 1890, II, pp. 631ff.
J. A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur, Bonn, 1922, pp. 107f.
J. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide, Paris, 1904, pp. 129, 141ff.
A. Vööbus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, Louvain, 1958, I, pp. 120, 297, 323f.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 19, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 3, p. 317