Arsenic Vačesdze

Medieval Georgian Polemical Literature

  • Summary/Abstract

    Religious polemics is not the most developed genre of the medieval Georgian literature. Compared to the neighbouring Armenia medieval Georgia was far less affected by various Christian denominations and has produced rather few original theological works in the first five centuries of literacy. We know of very few samples of writing that targeted various Christian denominations or non-Christian religions. Instead the medieval Georgian literature abounds of translations of Greek texts that were adapted to suit immediate needs, whether educational or polemical. The true outburst of religious polemics coincides with the so-called Athonite period of the Georgian literature, when a number of such works were translated and actively edited on the Holy Mountain, Mt. Sinai, Petition monastery and other cultural centers. In the eleventh century Arsenic Vačesdze created a compilation of various dogmatic and polemical treatises nowadays know as the Dogmatikon, apparently a study book for the monastic schools. The compendium comprises over seventy-three dogmatic and polemical treatises and is attested in twenty-three manuscripts, which suggests its high popularity in the Georgian tradition. Despite the numerous translations the medieval Georgians both in Georgia and in the monastic centers abroad were concerned mainly with two problems: the anti-Armenian polemics, which has its roots in the Caucasian ecclesiastical separation of the early seventh century and which became especially ardent in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when a need for political and ecclesiastical integration of northern Armenia into the Georgian kingdom arose, and the anti-Byzantine one, when the Georgians had to protect their canonical rights against the attacks from the Byzantine Church. Due to the lack of historical knowledge of concrete ecclesiastical developments in the Late Antique Georgia and also due to lack of experience in theological polemics, the Greek sources were translated and used to defend the Georgian case. It is in this political and ideological framework that the Georgian polemical literature developed further and created a need for intensive translating.

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