EPHRAEM SYRUS, SAINT (c. 306-373)
One of the most productive spiritual writers of the fourth century. Lives of Saint Ephraem (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Orientalis 269) are late and provide us with no objective information about him. His portrait can best be traced through the considerable quantity of his works. He was born at Nisibis around 306 and must still have known and been subject to the influence of James of Nisibis (303-338). The portrait he gives of the latter is that of a pastor and a saint, an ascetic and a churchman, whose relics protected the town against the Persians. Bishop Vologesus (346-361) is also the subject of the most lively eulogies.
Through innumerable hymns it is possible to compile a table of the numerous doctrinal deviations on the periphery of Christianity in the fourth century in Mesopotamia. In 363 the town of Nisibis was handed over to the Persians following the defeat of JULIAN THE APOSTATE. Ephraem then went to Edessa, where he certainly taught at its famous school. He appears never to have been other than a deacon. The hymn dedicated to Julian Sabas (d. 367) bears the tone of a fervent disciple. According to the Chronicle of Edessa, Ephraem died in 373.
The work of Ephraem appeared at the same time in Syriac and in Greek, and it is not easy to establish the priority for his thought, which was certainly first given expression in Syriac. The theological profundity of his works resulted in his being declared a doctor of the universal church by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920. Like all prolific writers, Ephraem inspired a large number of pseudepigrapha. Other works sought the support of such a celebrated name. Sifting the authentic from the apocryphal has mainly been the labor of D. Hemmerdinger-Iliado and J. Kirchmeyer, as published in two articles in the Dictionnaire de spiritualité.
In Coptic, under the name of Ephraem there remain the following eight texts:
- An ascetic discourse (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 3909; British Museum, Manuscript, Or. 6783, written in 973 at DAYR ANBA MAQAR [Monastery of Saint Macarius of Idfu], fols. 45-63). It was published by E. A. Wallis Budge in 1914. The text existed in Syriac, Greek, and Latin almost from the start.
- Sermon on the patriarch Joseph, in the Pierpont Morgan Series (Vol. 31 of the photographic edition) and in a codex of Dayr Anba Shinudah (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 3938).
- A sermon on the transfiguration (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 3939). This sermon is variously attributed in the manuscripts. It was interpolated in various ways by the Chalcedonians in Greek, whence its attribution by various patristic scholars to Ephraem of Antioch, but in Coptic it is interpolated in an anti-Chalcedonian way. As there is an extant Georgian version that is not in the service of either of the two factions, one must ask whether the homily is not prior to Ephraem of Antioch, and therefore authentic.
- A sermon on the vain life and on penitence (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 4031; Vatican Library, Coptic manuscripts, 57, fols. 66-74 [Bohairic] under the name of John Chrysostom; also in PG 60, cols. 735-38; but it can also be found in Greek in Ephraem’s name).
- The sermon on the adulteress (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 3952; there is a Bohairic Coptic version in Vatican Library Coptic manuscripts, codex 68; this has been published by I. Guidi (1897).
- A letter attributed to Ephraem, which exists only in Coptic (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 4135) was published by E. A. Wallis Budge (1914) from the same manuscript that contains the Asketikon.
- Some fragments from the White Monastery contain the remains of De Antichristo (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 3944); others have the remains of the Catecheses (T. Orlandi, 1970, p. 118).
- A text published among the Coptic festal letters of Saint Athanasius by L. T. Lefort (1955, pp. 121-38) corresponds to A Doctrine for Certain Monks, published in Georgian by I. Imnaišhvili (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 4145, item 16). Authenticity cannot be ruled out. Ephraem’s influence in Egypt, though late, has been analyzed by H. J. Polotsky (1933).
- Beck, E. “Ephrem le syrien.” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, Vol. 4, cols. 788-800. Paris, 1958.
- Budge, E. A. W. Coptic Martyrdoms in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. London, 1914.
- Guidi, I. “La traduzione copta di un’omelia di S. Efrem.” Bessarione, ser. 2, 4 (1897):1-21.
- Hemmerdinger-Iliadou, D. “Ephrem (Les versions).” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, Vol. 4, cols. 800-819. Paris, 1958.
- Kirchmeyer, J. “Autres versions d’Ephrem.” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, Vol. 4, cols. 819-22. Paris, 1958.
- Orlandi, T. Elementi de lingua e letteratura copta. Milan, 1970. Polotsky, H. J. “Ephraem’s Reise nach Ägypten.” Orientalia 2 (1933):269-74.
MICHEL VAN ESBROECK