Agathangelos, History, Prologue

Agathangelos (Greek Ἀγαθάγγελος; second half of the fifth century): Armenian hagiographer, author of a History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia.

Prison cell of Gregory the Illuminator

Although Agathangelos presents himself as a contemporary of king Tiridates III of Armenia (r.c.287-330), modern scholars think the History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia was in fact completed after the mid-fifth century CE. The author tells atbout the reign of king Chosroes II, about the Christian preacher Gregory the Illuminator, about the conversion of king Tiridates III, and about several later events.

He casts his information in Biblical moulds, which means that a nucleus of information, like Tiridates' madness, is presented with all kinds of Biblical references, like the madness of Nebuchadnezzar in the Biblical book of Daniel. This procedure, which was common among Christian authors (e.g., Eusebius), makes it difficult to recognize what is a real fact and what is not. Still, Agathangelos' message is clear: central in his account is the vision of God's church descending in the city of Vagharshapat (modern Etchmiadzin), which means that the text essentially offers a legitimation of the position of the catholicos of the Armenian Church.

The History of St. Gregory and the Conversion of Armenia has come down to us in an Armenian, Aramaic, Coptic, Georgian, Arabic, and Greek versions. It is offered here in a (slightly adapted) anonymous translation that can be found on several internet sites. I hope the translator can identify himself to receive his credits.


[Prologue.1] The fervent wish of sailors, as their journey nears its end, is to reach port safely. So amidst surging billows and tempestuous winds they spur on their steeds made of wood and iron and held together by nails. They fly over the mounting waves until, finally escaping the troubled waters, they race to their homelands. They tell their loved ones how they braved the fearful tumult of the sea in order to come back home with the spoils of their perilous sea journey. With their profits they settle debts, free their families from servitude to kings and overlords, and make a name for themselves as being generous and rich.

[Prologue.2] Such people risk their lives not because they are greedy, but because they really want to make their lives better. Some of them then use their wealth for their country's good. They give the king treasures of every description. They create jobs for the poor; from their sea journeys they bring back new and wonderful things such as herbs that are beneficial to health. And for this they are willing to put themselves at the mercy of the sea, and allow the tumultuous winds to plot their course.

[Prologue.3] Like them, the one who writes this history now sets sail on the perilous sea of wisdom. Like them, the writer is at the mercy of another power: that of the princes who command that an account of past events should be written. It is impossible to oppose royal commands, so here is the history, written to show forth the glory of God's workers, the saints. They shine like the priceless pearls, adorning the crowns of kings and consoling, refreshing, enlightening even the poorest in the kingdoms. They give rest and hope to the work-worn, and enrich the land by their prayers. They are guideposts on the road to God's Kingdom. They were tortured and died for God, and they gained life, leaving the fruits of their triumph for us to enjoy. They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and opened the gates of Christ's compassion to all of us.

[Prologue.4] They battled through the sea of sin, and when they reached the heavenly port they offered the King of Light their prayers for us. Through their intercession we receive God's mercy and love. And what can we offer to be worthy of such a gift? Only a heart ready to hear God's word. If we bow our heads we will receive the spiritual crown. If we merely wash ourselves of sin, we will be clothed with an everlasting shining garment that makes us more splendid than the lily. If we just let ourselves be thirsty for His love, a living spring will satisfy us eternally.

[Prologue.5] From these historical writings, readers may gain some spiritual wisdom. Therefore I have set them down, I, Agathangelos from the great city of Rome and trained in the art of the ancients, proficient in Latin and Greek, a not unskilled literary practitioner.

[Prologue.6] And so we come to the Arsacid court during the reign of Tiridates, who has ordered me to narrate not a false account of his brave deeds, but what really happened in the battles, the plundering of provinces, the capture of towns, the struggles of men for renown or revenge. Here are the deeds of the brave king Chosroes, and the equally valorous exploits of his son Tiridates, and the works of God's beloved martyrs who rose like stars to scatter the mist of darkness from this land of Armenia. These martyrs died for God's truth, and He had mercy on the land, showing miracles through one man who endured countless afflictions and then triumphed for Christ, even making the mighty Tiridates accept a salvation he had known nothing about.

[Prologue.7] This history will tell how the teaching of the Gospel came to be honored in Armenia, by the king and then by all his subjects. We shall see how they undertook to destroy the pagan temples and establish the foundations of the Holy Church, and how they appointed a man as shepherd of the land and benefited by his teaching. We shall see how Tiridates visited and made a covenant with emperor Constantine, and returned to glory and honor, dedicating many places to God.

[Prologue.8] All this we shall relate in detail, with the teaching of Saint Gregory who became bishop and inherited the patriarchal title as a champion of virtue ­ who he was, and from what descent and family he came.

[Prologue.9] Then, when future generations look to their past, they will open this book and come to know what happened. They will read how the Gospel was preached in Armenia, and how a man appointed by divine grace did teach and endure tortures, and how by his love for God the cults were crushed. They will read how the first churches were built, and how the people were pulled from the treacherous sea of sin by his preaching.