Treatise on Ethics Launches Eastern Christian Texts Series
The Institute is pleased to announce the publication of the first volume in the Eastern Christian Texts series, part of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. The Reformation of Morals was written by Yahyå ibn 'Ad (893—974 c.e.), one of the most important Christian authors to have written in Arabic. Although devoutly Syrian Orthodox, Yahyå ibn 'Ad studied in Baghdad under the Muslim philosopher al-Fåråb and counted Muslims and Christians of all sects among his own disciples. He was a leading figure in the 10th-century translation movement in Baghdad and the author of numerous works of philosophy and theology.
Translator Sidney H. Griffith is professor of Semitic languages at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and chair of the Eastern Christian Texts advisory board. He has distinguished himself as one of the foremost scholars of Arabic and Syrian Christianity. His translation of Ibn 'Ad's important work marks its first appearance in English.
The Reformation of Morals is a treatise on social virtues and vices in which Ibn 'Ad gives advice on cultivating the former and extirpating the latter. His work encourages the effort to promote moral perfection, especially among kings and other members of the social elite. While there are many echoes of Hellenistic moral philosophy in the presentation, the topical profile of the work and the language the author uses reveal his participation in the Baghdad circle of philosophers and intellectuals - both Christian and Muslim - who were responsible for much that has come to be regarded as typical of the classical culture of the Islamic world. In fact, this text by a Christian has sometimes been attributed to one or another famous Muslim author. It stands now as an important Christian contribution, in Arabic, to a strand of moral philosophy integral to the Islamic intellectual tradition.
"The worthiest thing a man chooses for himself is his own fulfillment and perfection," writes Ibn 'Ad; "he will not stop short of attaining the highest degree of it, nor will he be content with any failure to achieve its final reach. Part of a man's fulfillment and perfection is to be well trained in honorable and good moral qualities, to refrain from evil and wrong ones, in all his circumstances to uphold the canons of virtue, and in all his actions to turn aside from the ways of vice."
Much of the work describes all the virtues that the perfect, or complete, person must seek and the vices to avoid. For example, Ibn 'Ad defines abstinence as "the soul's control of the appetites" and goes on to advise that they "should be indulged according to a measure: no more than what is needed, no less than what safeguards soul and strength." And further: "[Humility] is renouncing the assumption of superiority and displaying a low social profile, as well as an antipathy toward aggrandizement and toward the multiplication of honors. It is also that a man avoids boasting about anything in which there is some merit, or vaunting his social standing or wealth, and that he is on his guard against conceit and arrogance."
Ibn 'Ad's conception of "the complete man" is one who is "watchful over all his moral qualities, attentive to all his faults, and wary of the intrusion of any defect. He will be ready to put every virtue into action, assiduous to reach the goal, passionate for the image of perfection. He will be disposed to find pleasure in good moral actions. He will be radically alert, inimical to blameworthy habits, and solicitous to reform himself. He will be disinclined to overestimate the virtues he will have acquired but inclined to regard the least of the vices as grave." To purchase a copy of this book, use the enclosed mail-order form or visit the bookstore section of the FARMS Web site. !