A mountainous region of Western Asia occupying a somewhat indefinite area to the southeast of the Black Sea. Although the name "Armenia" occurs twice in the Vulgate, the regular biblical designation of the country is "Ararat", a name which is doubtless identical with the "Urartu" of the cuneiform inscriptions. Not being delimited by permanent natural boundaries, the territory covered by Armenia has varied at different epochs of the world's history, and even as early as the time of the ancient Romans there was recognized a Lesser as well as a Greater Armenia, the former embracing a portion of Asia Minor. Politically Armenia has been partitioned between Turkey, Iran, and (formerly) the Soviet Union, the largest share being possessed by Turkey. The country comprises a total area of about 120,000 square miles and consists in the main of an elevated plateau traversed by several mountain ranges which run parallel to the Caucasian mountains on the north. A few of the principal peaks, the most noted of which is Ararat, the "holy mount", rise above the line of perpetual snow. Among the important rivers that take their rise in Armenia are the Euphrates, the Tigris, and the Araxes. There are many lakes, chief among which are Lake Sevanga and Lake Van. The latter is seventy miles in length and about twenty-eight in breadth, and is probably the "Upper Sea of the Nairi" mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions. The climate is severe, including the extremes of heat and cold. There are practically but two seasons, summer and winter, the latter lasting from October to May, and the transition from one to the other is abrupt. The peculiarities of the climate, among which may be noted a considerable degree of humidity, are due in part to the proximity of the Black Sea, partly to the high elevation of the region, most of the inhabited localities being from 5,000 to 8,000 feet above the sea level. Scarcely any trees are to be found on the Armenian mountains, but those planted in the inhabited localities thrive well. Grapes are successfully cultivated in the valleys and around Lake Van. Wheat, barley, hemp, cotton, and tobacco are also raised. Pre-eminent among the domestic animals are the horse and buffalo. The mountainous tracts yield excellent pasturage, and in consequence, the rearing of live stock is more extensively carried on than agriculture. On account of the various subjugations of the country, the inhabitants of Armenia belong to different races. The native Armenians and Kurds form each about a quarter of the entire population; the Turkish and Turcoman elements constitute the major part of the remaining half. Greeks, Jews, and Gypsies are scattered throughout the country. The Armenians themselves, most of whom live outside of Armenia, are a commercial people par excellence.
The name Armenia appears for the first time in the cuneiform inscriptions of Darius Hystaspis. Much obscurity obtains as to the derivation of the word. Some would refer it back to the Vannic word Armani-lis, a stela, while others would connect it with Arman, a district lying to the south of Lake Van. Armenia is the name given to a mountainous strip of land situated in the southwestern portion of Asia. One one side it touches the Black Sea, on the other the Caspian, while on the north and on the south it is enclosed respectively by the Caucasus and the Taurus Mountains. Within its confines is the celebrated Lake Van. In shape it much resembles a quadrangle. As far as is known, the earliest inhabitants of Armenia were a white race, whose capital, Dhuspa, stood on the site of the present city of Van. An Aryan race replaced it and it is from this latter stock that the modern Armenians have sprung. They style their ancestors the Haïk and make allusion to their country as Haísdan. They claim that the father of their race, Haïk was the son of Thogorma, whom in Genesis we find to the third son of Gomer. This belief has given rise to many beautiful legends. Be this as it may, it was about the end of the seventh or the beginning of the sixth century B.C. that this new race took possession of the country. In number and social condition it was superior to its predecessor, but this new people also was subject to the Medes and the Persians. With the victory of Alexander the Great over the Persians in 328 B.C. Armenia fell into Greek hands. The Seleucidae of Syria, under whose control the land soon passed, allowed it the choice of its rulers. When in 190 B.C. the Romans over threw Antiochus the Great, Artaxias and Zariadris, who were then ruling the land, declared themselves kings, the former in Armenia proper, the latter in Sophene. Thus began the national dynasty of the Arsacides, which became famous under Tigranes the First. Later the Romans and the Parthians made a plaything of the country, which soon chose as its ruler Tiridates, the brother of the Parthian king. When the Arsacides lost the Persian throne to the Sassanides (A.D. 226) Armenia declared itself against the new house and there ensued a bloody combat between the two countries, which lasted for several centuries.
The nature and characteristics of the paganism which preceded Christianity in Armenia are practically unknown to us. Attempts have been made to identify its gods with those of Greece, but all we know are the names and the sanctuaries of its pagan deities.
Obscurity likewise shrouds the beginnings of Christianity in the country. Native historians of a rather late period would have us believe that several of the Apostles preached in Armenia, and that some of them, as St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus, died there. A popular legend ascribes to the latter the evangelization of the land. Although the very ancient writers of the country, such as Korioun, Agathangelus, etc., do not even mention the name of Thaddeus, yet the legend, which apparently came at a late period from a Greek source, has so prevailed that even today the head of the Armenian Church claims to be occupying the "throne of St. Thaddeus." Although legendary, this tradition witnesses that Christianity at a rather early date passed from Syria over into Armenia.
The letter of Meruzan to Dionysius of Alexandria (A.D. 248-265) confirms us in the belief that Christianity had already penetrated into Armenia before the time of St. Gregory the Illuminator. However, it is around St. Gregory that the story of Christianity's growth in Armenia centres; for in him Armenia had its apostle. Born of the royal stock of the Arsacides, and brought in early infancy to Cæsarea of Cappadocia because of a Persian persecution of the Armenians, he was there instructed in the Christian Faith. About 261 he returned to Armenia and after much persecution brought the king and a large number of the people over to Christianity. Consecrated Metropolitan of Armenia (according to Cardinal Hergenröther) in 302, by Leontius, Archbishop of Cæsarea, he took up his residence at Achtichat. Under his influence the Faith began to spread throughout the land. Priests from the Greek Empire aided him in the work of conversion. When Christianity had gained a good headway in the country, the metropolitan turned his attention to the organization of the Church. The national language replaced the Syriac in the liturgy. To win over the converted pagan priests more fully, he chose from their sons, after educating them, the occupants of a dozen episcopal sees created by himself. Thus the high dignities were given to the sacerdotal families, which retained them for some time. The office of catholicos or patriarch was for a considerable period confined to the family of St. Gregory. A beautiful legend, lacking, however, a historic basis, tells of a trip by him to Rome. His missionaries went as far north as Georgia and Albania.
In 311 Maximinus began war on the struggling Church of Armenia, but met with many repulses. About this time St. Gregory passed away, having spent the last years of his life in solitude. After his death we find the progress of the infant Church stayed by internal dissensions. At the time apostates were numerous and, in their eagerness to subjugate the country, the Persians lent every encouragement to perversion. Meanwhile, successors filled the office of metropolitan once held by St. Gregory. His youngest son, Aristaces, took the post of his father and was present at the Council of Nicaea. In 363 and 872 the Armenian episcopate took an active part in the affairs of the Christian world. St. Basil of Cesarea visited a great part of Armenia and corrected many abuses. Led on by his example, the Catholicos Nerses in the Synod of Achtichat (c. 365), the first authentic Armenian synod, laid the foundations of the first hospitals and other charitable institutions for the country. He gave an impetus to monastic life and promulgated numerous laws on marriage and the observance of fasts. These reforms, showing a Greek influence, arrayed against the catholicos the king and the nobles, and thus we meet the first recorded instance of that spirit of national independence and intolerance of foreign influence which is so important a factor in the history of the Armenian Church. An anti-catholicos was appointed by the king, and soon Nerses died a violent death. Then a fierce anti-religious reaction set in. State endowments were in part withdrawn, numbers of the clergy fell away, and charitable institutions were allowed to crumble to ruins. Pagan practices came into use everywhere and the Christianity of but a few years before seemed to have died out. The vacant see of the catholicos was filled by the king, and the coveted position went to Housik, of the family of the Aghbianos, rival to that of St. Gregory. St. Basil clamoured for the rights of his Cæsarean see, but, though supported by the older clergy of Armenia, his claims were not allowed, and the consecration of the Armenian catholicos was thus lost forever to the Church of Cæsarea.
The religious autonomy of the Armenian Church was begun thus. Shortly after this event occurred the death of Manuel the Mamikonian, which was the signal for Rome and Persia to divide Armenia between them. Of the country, which both had lost and reconquered, and were now parceling out (387) four-fifths went to Persia. As a consequence, persecution was immediately raised against the Christian Church, and the Christians were forced to take to the mountains. The man of the hour for the Christian cause was the catholicos, Isaac the Great, the son of Nerses. About him rallied all parties. Even during his exile the people remained attached to him. Beneath his care the Armenian Church flourished in spite of difficulties, ecclesiastical discipline was enforced, and the intellectual standard of the people raised. His death in 439 was a great loss to the cause of Christianity in Armenia. The Persian masters continued to leave no stone unturned to stifle Christianity and to replace it by Parseeism. The Armenians, however, remained constant in the face of persecution. Another foe attacked them, and that was heresy. Gnosticism in the second century and Paulicianism in the sixth and seventh centuries had adherents among the Armenians, but the chief heresies to be mentioned in this connection are Nestorianism and Monophysitism. The works of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodorus of Tarsus, which were filled with Nestorian ideas, were translated into Armenian, and through them endeavours were made to disseminate the teachings of Nestorius. Rabulas of Edessa and Acacius warned the bishops against these writings. A synod was held and two priests were dispatched to Constantinople to ask of Proclus what was the right position in the matter. In reply came the famous "Document for the Armenians" which was held in high honour by the Armenian ecclesiastical authorities, and which exerted a powerful influence on their theology. Henceforth the Armenians were bitter opponents of Nestorianism. But where Nestorianism failed, Monophysitism succeeded. The Council of Chalcedon, which condemned that error, was held while the Armenians were fighting against the Persians' endeavour to crush out Christianity. As soon as they heard of the council and of the action it had taken, opposition arose against it, and the charge of the Monophysites that Chalcedon had but renewed the Nestorian error was readily believed. Monophysitism was accepted, and the decrees of Chalcedon rejected. The attitude of the Armenians in this entire matter was dictated not so much by a love of orthodoxy as by the desire of promoting the welfare of their country; for, by receiving Monophysitism, they hoped that Greek favour would be gained and Persian domination more easily thrown off. Writings were published in Armenia against Chalcedon and appeals were urged for a return to Apostolic doctrine. The Catholicos Papken in the Synod of Vagharchapat (491) solemnly condemned in the presence of the Armenian, Iberian, and Albanian bishops the Council of Chalcedon. Within half a century, this condemnation was reaffirmed by the two Councils of Tvin, the second of which was held in 552, and fixed 11 July 552, as the beginning of the Armenian era. The Greeks, having returned to orthodoxy, tried several times to lead back the Armenians also from Monophysitism. In 571 the Catholicos John went with part of his clergy to Constantinople, where he died, after making an act of fidelity to orthodoxy. This incident had no effect on Armenia. When in 591 the Greek emperor Maurice, having taken most of Armenia from the Persians, invited the Catholicus Moses I, to convoke at Constantinople the bishops and nobles of Armenia, his request met with a refusal, Then the emperor had the Armenian bishops in the Roman territory assemble and recognize the Council of Chalcedon. He chose for the office of patriarch a bishop named John, with residence at Avan. Thus in 593 the Armenian Church found itself divided into two sections. Soon after the Iberians fell away, with their Catholicos Kiouron at their head, rejecting Monophysitism and the authority of the Armenian patriarch. For a time the Albanians also declared themselves independent, but soon came back. When Heraclius had conquered the country and thus deprived the Persians of their control for the second time (629), he obtained from the Catholicos Ezr the condemnation of Nestorius and all heretics, without any mention being made of Chalcedon. The union with the Greeks thus effected lasted during the lifetime of Heraclius. But in the Synod of Tvin (645) Chalcedon was again condemned. Meanwhile, the Arabs had attacked the country, which fell, an easy victim, before them, and so Armenia, which once had its own rulers and was at other times under Persian and Byzantine control, passed into the power of the Caliphs.
Of the literature of pagan Armenia only few fragments have come down to us. The foundation of what we know as Armenian literature must therefore be sought in Christian times. Very rich in itself, Christian Armenian literature dates from the invention of the national alphabet by Mesrob. In these first years of the fifth century were composed some of the apocryphal works which, like the Discourses attributed to St. Gregory and the History of Armenia said to have come from Agathangelus, are asserted to be the works of these and other well-known men. Connected with early Armenian literature are the names of such illustrious persons as Isaac the Great and Mesrob, by whom an impetus was given to the literature of the country. They translated the Bible from a Syriac version and revised their translation by means of the Septuagint of the Hexapla, and the Greek text of the New Testament. There followed various other translations which for the most part are of great importance, since the originals of many have been lost. Of these we may mention the "Homilies" of St. John Chrysostom, two works of Philo on "Providence", together with some of his Biblical commentaries, the "Chronicle" of Eusebius, and the works of St. Ephrem. This early period of Armenian literature also produced original compositions. Eznik of Kolb wrote a "Refutation of the Sects", and Koroun the "History of the Life of St. Mesrob and of the Beginnings of Armenian Literature". These men, both of whom were disciples of Mesrob, bring to an end what may be called the golden age of Armenian literature.
The medieval period opens with comparative sterility. The first name of importance is met with in the eighth century, that of John Otznetzi, surnamed the "Philosopher". A "Discourse against the Paulicians", a "Synodal Discourse", and a collection of the canons of the councils and the Fathers anterior to his day, are the principal works of his now extant. About the same time appeared the translations of the works of several of the Fathers. particularly of Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Cyril of Alexandria, from the pen of Stephen, Bishop of Siounik. It was two centuries later that the celebrated "History of Armenia" by the Catholicos John VI came forth, covering the period from the origin of the nation to the year A.D. 925. A contemporary of his, Annine of Mok, an abbot and the most celebrated theologian of the time, composed a treatise against the Thondrakians, a sect imbued with Manicheism. The name of Chosrov, Bishop of Andzevatsentz, is honoured because of his interesting commentaries on the Breviary and Mass-Prayers. Gregory of Narek, his son, is the Armenian Pindar from whose pen came elegies, odes, panegyrics, and homilies. Stephen Asoghtk, whose "Universal History" reaches down to A.D. 1004, and Gregory Magistros, whose long poem on the Old and New Testaments displays much application, are the last writers worthy of mention in this period.
The modern period of Armenian literature can well be dated from the renaissance of letters among the Armenians in the twelfth century. The Catholicos Nerses surnamed the Gracious, is the most brilliant author in the beginning of this period. Besides his poetic works, such as the "Elegy on the Taking of Edessa", there are prose works including a "Pastoral Letter", a "Synodal Discourse", and his "Letters". This age gave us also a commentary on St. Luke and one on the Catholic Epistles. Of note, too, is the Synodal Discourse of Nerses of Lampron, Archbishop of Tarsus, delivered at the Council of Hromcla in 1179, which is anti-Monophysite in tone. The thirteenth century gave birth to Vartan the Great, whose talents were those of a poet, an exegete, and a theologian, and whose "Universal History" is extensive in the field it covers. Gregory of Datev in the next century composed his "Question Book", which is a fiery polemic against the Catholics. The sixteenth century saw Armenia in the hands of Persia, and a check was for the time put on literature. However, in scattering the Armenians to all parts of Europe; the Persian invasion had its good effects. They established printing shops in Venice and Rome, and in the following century (the seventeenth) in Lemberg, Milan, Paris, and elsewhere. Old works were republished and new ones given forth. The Mechitarists of Venice have been the leaders in this movement; but their publications, although numerous, have been often uncritical. Their brothers, the Mechitarists of Vienna, have been likewise active in this work and it is to their society that Balgy and Catergian belong, two well-known writers on Armenian topics. Russia, Constantinople and Etchmiadzin are the other centres of Armenian literary efforts and the last-named place is especially worthy of note, imbued as it is today with German scientific methods and taste. Looking back over the field of Armenian literature, we note a trait the national character displayed in the bent Armenians have had for singing the glories of their land in history and chronicles. Translations have ever been an important part of Armenian literature. Again, the standpoint is religious, and even history seems to have been written rather for its doctrines than for the facts themselves. A last feature is that the golden age came early and with the passing of centuries the Armenian writers grew fewer and fewer.
Although the native dynasty of the Bagratides to which the Arabs gave the royal crown of Armenia, was founded under favourable circumstances, yet the feudal system by gradually weakening the country, brought about its ruin. Thus internally enfeebled, Armenia proved an easy victim for the Seldjukid Turks under Alp-Arian in the latter half of the eleventh century. To escape death or servitude at the hands of those who had assassinated his relative, Kakig II, King of Ani, an Armenian named Roupen with some of his countrymen went into the gorges of the Taurus Mountains and then into Tarsus of Cilicia. Here the Byzantine governor of the place gave them shelter. Soon after the members of the first Crusade appeared in Asia Minor. Hostile as they were to the Turks, and unfriendly to the Greeks, these Armenian refuges joined forces with the crusaders. Valiantly they fought with the Christians of Europe, and for their reward, when Antioch had been taken (1097), Constantine, the son of Roupen, received from the crusaders the title of baron. Within a century, the heirs of Roupen were further rewarded by the grant of a kingdom known as Cilicia or Lesser Armenia, to be held as a vassal government of the Holy See and of Germany. This kept them in touch with the crusaders. No doubt the Armenians aided in some of the other crusades. This kingdom lasted till 1375, when the Mamelukes of Egypt destroyed it.
The establishment of the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia created more frequent relations between the Armenians and the Holy See. On the occasion of the crowning of King Leo II, the union of the union of the Armenian Church with Rome was proclaimed under Catholicos Gregory VI. Only southern Armenia was affected by this. In 1251 however there took place at Sis at the order of Pope Innocent IV a council of Armenians to witness to their belief in the procession of the Holy Ghost. In strange contrast we find James I refusing to send representatives to the Council of Lyons. Yet, when Pope Boniface VIII began his pontificate, Catholicos Gregory VII sent to him an expression of filial attachment. A little latter (1307) a council was held by the Armenians in which the old error of Monophysitism was repudiated, and two natures acknowledged in Christ. The bonds of union which united Rome and Armenia during this period gave way more or less after the fall of Lesser Annarea in 1375. Harassed from without by the Turks, and weakened by the internal strifes that divided it into so many independent patriarchates, Armenia had after that date but spasmodic relations with Rome. Which of the patriarchs during this period remained united to the West is hard to determine. Yet, even in the darkest days, there were always some Armenians who remained attached to Rome. The Dominican missionaries in founding houses in Armenian territory were instrumental in the training of native missionaries called the "United Brothers", whose sole aim was to procure union with Rome. Their founder, John of Kerni, went too far in his zeal, so that Pope Benedict XII was forced to have the Armenians assemble in council in 1342 and repudiate the errors ascribed to these monks. These cries of unorthodoxy did much to estrange Armenia from the West. The Fathers of the Council of Basle (1433) asked the catholicos to attend, but the invitation was not accepted. However, in the Council of Florence (1439) Armenia was represented and here a last attempt was made to bring about reunion. It was at the behest of Eugenius IV that Catholicos Constantine V had dispatched his delegates. The decree "Exsultate Deo", which was to affect the union, was published in 1439, containing among other things the Nicene Creed, the definitions of Chalcedon, and the Letter of Pope Leo I. Meanwhile Constantine died. A few years later a rent occurred in the Armenian Church which gave a setback to the plan of union. Armenia was divided into two large jurisdictions, that of Sis in Cilicia and that of Etchmiadsin in Greater Armenia, each with its own catholicos. The latter of the two patriarchates was looked upon as devoted to the cause of union with Rome. Its Catholicos, Stephanos V, paid a visit to the Eternal City, and in 1680 Aghob IV, just before his death, made a profession of Catholic faith, an example followed by many of his successors. Some of the patriarchs of Sis were friendly to Rome, such as Gregory IX, while others were hostile.
The action of Count Ferriol, minister of Louis XIV at Stamboul (1689-1709), in carrying off to Paris the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, who evinced strong anti-Catholic tendencies served to bring persecution upon the Armenian Catholics in the Turkish Empire, which lasted till 1830. The declaration of religious liberty at that time caused the Catholic missions in Armenia to become more energetic than ever before. In 1838, Eugène Boré, still a layman, founded at Tabriz and Ispahan two schools for Armenians, which the French Lazarists have since, conducted. Within twenty years this order had three other missions. The barefooted Carmelites with Bagdad as their centre are labouring for the Armenians in that city and Bassorah. Since 1856 the French Dominicans have been active in the provinces of Mossoul, Bitlis, and Van. The Capuchins are also represented in this field and are working with Diarbekir as their headquarters. Lesser Armenia is a field cultivated chiefly by Jesuit missionaries, and, unlike the rest, their efforts are confined to the Armenians. The Oblate Sisters of the Assumption and the Sisters of St. Joseph from Lyons are effectively aiding them in their work, in which some 31 Fathers and Brothers are engaged.
When we come to statistics, we find that most Armenians belong to the Gregorian or non-Catholic Church of Constantinople. There is a small Catholic and Protestant minority. Of the Catholic Armenians, the greater part are under the patriarch, whose full title is "the Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians", and whose residence is at Constantinople. Under his jurisdiction are 3 other Armenian archbishops, 12 bishops, 1 being at Alexandria in Egypt, 9 patriarchal vicars, one of whom resides at Jerusalem. In Rome there is a titular bishop for the Armenians, whose chief function is that of ordaining. The Armenian patriarch is assisted in the work of tending to the flock by a vicar who is a titular archbishop, by an ecclesiastical council composed of 12 priests, by a civil council and by two other councils, one of which is for the national hospital. Directly under his charge are 3 large churches, that of St. Gregory the Illuminator at Leghorn, those of St. Blaise and St. Nicholas in Rome, the 2 seminaries of Zmar and Rome, and finally the 16 churches and the 16 schools of Constantinople. In the Armenian Archbishopric of Lemberg there are about 5,000 faithful, the greater part being in Galicia, the rest in Bukowina. The religious orders among the Armenians are of but comparatively recent origin and are not very prosperous. The Mechitarists of Venice, the most flourishing, have but 60 priests and some lay-brothers. Among the women the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception have flourishing schools at Constantinople and Angora.
APA citation. (1907). Armenia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 26, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01736b.htm
MLA citation. "Armenia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 26 Apr. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01736b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Carl H. Horst.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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