Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Golitzin, Alexander

Second Advisor

Barnes, Michel

Third Advisor

Young, Robin D.


This dissertation responds to an explicitdesideratum from Robert Beulay, who, in his book La Lumière sans forme, calls for a presentation of Isaac's thought with special attention to his sources.

Contrary to the belief of older scholarship, I conclude that Isaac's anthropology and eschatology are much more than a Syriac repetition of Greek Evagrian thought; rather, they are influenced by John the Solitary, a Syriac author who has received less scholarly attention. Although Isaac refers to Evagrius, as well as Pseudo-Dionysius and Pseudo-Macarius, to define specific terminology, the influence of John the Solitary permeates all areas of Isaac's thought.

The first part of this dissertation investigates the sources for Isaac's anthropology. Isaac appropriates Evagrius's definitions of the tripartite soul to explain how evil arises from the natural goodness of the soul and he uses Pseudo-Dionysius's and Pseudo-Macarius's definition of loving desire to explain how the soul naturally prepares the mind for the reception of heavenly knowledge, but these definitions only make sense within the context of John's three degrees. The three degrees framework explains that the operation of the soul depends on the degree of ascetical renunciation performed by each monk.

The second part of this dissertation examines the sources for Isaac's eschatology. Isaac rejects Evagrius's eschatology, which focuses on returning the soul to the original purity of creation and instead emphasizes an eschatology in which the future state of the soul surpasses original purity. Isaac bases this future-oriented eschatology on John's obsessive interest in the life of the world to come.

The third part of this dissertation investigates the sources for Isaac's conception of wonder, which, I argue, is Isaac's most significant contribution to Syriac theology. Wonder renders Isaac's ascetical system coherent because it unifies anthropology with eschatology by accounting for the way that the material human being embraces the spiritual order of the world to come. Although Isaac turns to Evagrius and Pseudo-Dionysius in order to construct ancillary definitions for the term wonder, John's conception of wonder as heavenly knowledge of the world to come is the basis for Isaac's conception of the term.