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 . . .

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What is it about them philosophers?


Voltaire and Diderot at the Cafe Procope

Do philosophers today

know what they say;

or do they conspire

to make us tire

of frumpery and fog,

to feel like a cog

and slip a gear

from some primal fear

that every word

is genuinely dear

—or simply absurd?

– RDG

‘Tis the Season for Christmas Reading


There’s so much great Christmas-related fiction that you have to start January 1 to get it all in before Christmas. But the best time to dive into Christmas stories, large and small, is during the Christmas “season.” That starts earlier for some people than others. But within ten days of December 25 you should be into the spirit of things. Some good reading can help.

Here are a few tips, including some suggested reading: Read more of this post

Quotations: On Poetry


Emily Dickinson Script

Emily Dickinson Script

“. . . you can’t force a poem.” —Elizabeth Jennings, quoted in The Poetry of Piety, edited by Ben Witherington III and Christopher Mead Armitage

“It takes a grateful audience to keep a poem alive.” —Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual

“Another note to tack up over your desk: Too much cleverness in poetry can be a real killer.” —Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual

“Poetry, even the poetry of humor and delight, is an agent of the imagination pressing back, in Wallace Stevens’s phrase, against the pressure of reality.” —David Lehman, Forward to The Best American Poetry 2006, edited by Billy Collins

Beyond the Sounds of Poetry


In a separate post, I’ve recommended Robert Pinsky’s little book The Sounds of Poetry. So maybe you’ve jumped in and grabbed your own copy of the book to get yourself educated in the values of poetry. What comes after Pinsky’s guide? Here are a few suggestions that vaguely parallel my own path toward greater understanding and appreciation of the riches of poetry. Read more of this post

Don’t Like Poetry? Start Here


How often have you read a poem and thought, “I don’t get it”? I can relate. How about this one: “I don’t get it; but I wish I could”? That was me, too. And it kept me away from poetry. Then I discovered Robert Pinsky’s little book The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide. Pinsky helped me get it, and made me a believer in poetry.

There are several reasons why I wanted a deeper appreciation of the poetry I didn’t understand. Read more of this post

Poem in Need of a Title


Poetry

Is not for me.

I wrote “this little ditty,” as they say, earlier this year. Imagine the exertion!

I’m now taking suggestions for a title. I’ve had two nominations, so far: “The Poet,” and “Poet Wannabe.”

For the time being

And maybe in perpetuity,

“Poetry

Is not for me,”

Will have to idle

As “Poem In Need of a Title.”

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