St. Ephraem—Syrian Apologist of the Fourth Century?


Students of the life and work of Ephraem the Syriac agree that he died on this date in 373 A.D. He wrote hymns, poems, sermons, and biblical commentary. His style and the tenor of his theology was a blend of the mystical and the intellectually staid.

In Theandros, the online journal of Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, Mary C. Sheridan recounts his huge significance for the Syriac church. Her essay is interesting both for its insight into the life and work of Ephraem and for its discussion of the historical context of his activity.

In my series of posts on Christianity and its tradition of apologetics (see links below), I’ve introduced lesser-known figures and highlighted their contributions. I’m pleased to add this brief post about St. Ephraem (ca. 306-373). In his case, we find a fascinating reflection on apologetic themes in ancient poetry. I don’t know much about his work. But Mary Sheridan includes in her article a sample of his poetry where he acknowledges the value of nature as a source of revelation and places it in relation to Scripture as revelation. The medium of poetry may here be specially valuable for showing how natural theology draws men and women into contact with special revelation.

Ephraem considered both nature and Scripture the “twin sources of revelation.”

Once Nature and Scripture had cleaned the land
–they sowed in it new commandments
in the land of the heart, so that it might bear fruit,
praise for the Lord of Nature
glory for the Lord of Scripture.

He called Nature, the Old Testament, and the New Testament three lyres used in singing the Word of God. He says:

The Word of the Most High came down
      and clothed himself in
a weak body with two hands.
He took up and balanced two lyres,
one in his right hand and one in his left.
A third he put in front of him,
to be a witness for the other two;
for it was the middle lyre corroborating
that their Lord was singing to their accompaniment.

I encourage you to visit Sheridan’s page for more about St. Ephraem.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation


On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

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Other posts in this series . . .

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