"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, July 7, 2014

Early Syriac Theology

After a lovely sojourn through New England, I returned to find many catalogues of fall publications lying on my desk. The first to catch my interest was by Chorbishop Seeley Joseph Beggiani, Early Syriac Theology: With Special Reference to the Maronite Tradition (Catholic U of America Press, October 2014), 192pp. I have long had a devotion to St. Ephraim/Ephrem/Efrem (etc.) and given several talks on him over the years as a wonderful figure celebrated in all the apostolic Christian traditions (Roman and Eastern Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East). He provides, as Sebastian Brock and others have reminded us over the years, a wonderful introduction to the "third lung" of Christianity as well as to a more "Semitic" and pre-Hellenized form of Christianity.

About this impending book the publisher tells us:
For St. Ephrem of Syria (d. 373) and Jacob of Serugh (d. 521), God is utterly mysterious, yet He is present in all that He has created. The kenosis (self-emptying) of the Word of God is found not only in the human nature of Christ, but in the finite words of Sacred Scripture. In this action, the Divine makes itself accessible to human beings. The triple descent of the Son of God into the womb of Mary, the Jordan River at his baptism, and into sheol at his death, were actions directed both to redemption and divinization. Ephrem and Jacob employed a system of types and antitypes used in Sacred Scripture to demonstrate the sacraments as extensions of Christ's actions through history. St. Ephrem, who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XV, and Jacob of Serugh were two of the earliest and most important representatives of the theological world-view of the Syriac church. Much of their work was in the form of hymns and metrical homilies, using poetry to express theology. In Early Syriac Theology, Chorbishop Seely Joseph Beggiani strives to present their insights in a systematic form according to headings used in western treatises, while not undermining the originality and cohesiveness of their thought. The material is organized under the themes of the hiddenness of God, creation and sin, revelation, incarnation, redemption, divinization and the Holy Spirit, the Church, Mary, the mysteries of initiation, eschatology and faith. Additionally, the book highlights the fact that the liturgical tradition of the Maronite church, one of the Syriac churches, is consistently and pervasively a living expression of the theology of these two Syriac church fathers.

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