It is with a profound sense of gratitude that the students, colleagues, and friends of Fr. Sidney H. Griffith offer this Festschrift on the occasion of his 80th birthday. This collection of articles on the Christian Arabic heritage is a small token of appreciation for the gift of his life, faith, and scholarship.
This Festschrift honors Fr. Sidney’s contribution to Christian Arabic Studies. Fr. Sidney is considered the effective founder of the study of Christian Arabic in the United States, and his work has had a profound impact worldwide. Beginning with his PhD dissertation on the controversial theology of Theodore Abū Qurra (1978), Fr. Sidney has made the world of Syriac and Arabic-speaking Christians of the ʿAbbāsid period and beyond accessible to a wide variety of readers. His knowledge of history and theology, combined with a deep grasp of Syriac and Arabic, has shed a light on the complex changes that took place as Muslim dominance over ancient Christian spaces deepened. Fr. Sidney’s generosity, insight, and fairness towards his subjects has fashioned a more complete picture of the multifaceted milieu of the eighth and ninth-century Near East.
Fr. Sidney’s accomplishments are myriad, and are certainly not limited to Christian Arabic Studies. In 2011, his colleagues in Syriac language and literature honored him with a Festschrift for his 75th birthday: To Train His Soul in Books: Syriac Asceticism in Early Christianity, edited by Robin Darling Young and Monica J. Blanchard (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press). To Train His Soul in Books includes an excellent overview of Fr. Sidney’s life and publications. While it is not necessary for us to repeat this information here, we should note that Fr. Sidney’s bibliography has expanded even more in the last few years and is striking in both its breadth and its depth. At the end of the volume we will therefore present a complete (as far as possible) bibliography of Fr. Sidney’s publications to-date.
Yet Fr. Sidney has not remained a scholar in an ivory tower. He is a well-known figure in the world of Catholic-Muslim and Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, and he has continually published on these subjects. Fr. Sidney’s deep knowledge of history, theology, liturgy, and a multitude of languages are valued in these exchanges. He is frequently called on to give expert advice, particularly with regard to thorny aspects of the relations between Christians and Muslims. Fr. Sidney is also an inveterate defender of Christians in the Middle East, but not at the expense of honesty and generosity towards their Muslim neighbors. Fr. Sidney’s contributions are well regarded precisely because of his integrity. His careful analysis of what is known on the subject has helped dialogue partners overcome centuries of misunderstanding, and clarified disagreements, so that new and accurate ways of thinking can be formulated.
Fr. Sidney is best loved as a teacher of many contributors to this volume. Whether one has known him for decades, years, or months, he is always ready to discuss a text, idea, or author over a drink or meal, or while standing in the lobby at a conference. He has guided countless students and colleagues over the past forty years through obscure texts, difficult theological concepts, and intricate historical relationships, and has done so with patience and enthusiasm. Fr. Sidney is one of those rare academics who has been an inspiration for hundreds worldwide, while remaining humble in every way, eager to share his expertise, and accessible to those who seek him out. It is a badge of honor for those of us who have been privileged to sit in the seminar room in the basement of Mullen Library at the Catholic University of America to pore over an Arabic text with him, or to wait in his office while he searches his file cabinets for an article that would be useful for one’s thesis. For this we will ever be grateful.
Finally, Fr. Sidney is a deeply devout Roman Catholic priest of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity. His love for the Christian community is apparent in all that he does and writes. Indeed, many people of the parishes that he has served over the years know him only as a consummate preacher and pastor, not as the renowned scholar that he is.
We, Fr. Sidney’s friends, colleagues, and students, offer this Festschrift as a small sign of our immense gratitude for the blessing of his faithful, gentle witness to the world.
It is our great pleasure to thank Maurits van den Boogert and Franca de Kort (Brill) for launching the book series “Arabic Christianity: Texts and Studies” and our colleagues on the editorial board for accepting this Festschrift as the first publication in the series.