Ephrem’s “Hymns on Paradise”

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syrian Christianity. Given the length of Ephrem’s Hymns on Paradise and the number of reflection-worthy aspects of his thought demonstrated in these hymns, this essay offers several general reflections on Ephrem’s concepts of Paradise (historic and cosmic), the limiting of investigation, proper interpretation, and order.

Garden of EdenEphrem’s Hymns on Paradise are a truly beautiful collection of the Syrian poet’s reflections upon the Genesis 2-3 narrative and reality of Paradise. More than any other collection of hymns we have considered to this point, the Hymns on Paradise develop Ephrem’s thought on a single (albeit lengthy) passage of Scripture, namely the account of Adam and Eve in Paradise. This is not to say that Ephrem does not incorporate other Scriptural passages and motifs, for he certainly does—the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and story of King Uzziah being perhaps the most notable. Yet by-and-large these hymns focus on Genesis, and it will be interesting in the weeks to come to compare his poetic recasting of this narrative with his prosaic Commentary on Genesis. Continue reading

A Brief Introduction to Ephrem the Syrian

“The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.” — Robert Murray

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Over the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be running a series on reflections on the theology and hymns of St. Ephrem of Nisibis (often called Ephrem the Syrian). Before launching into these discussions of Ephrem’s theological mind and literary genius, however, I felt it prudent to offer a brief historical introduction to Ephrem. There are two primary reasons for this: first, because while some Christians may have heard Ephrem’s name associated with early Christianity before, few actually know much about the fourth century poet. And second, Ephrem’s context—ancient Syria—is somewhat different than the typical “Greco-Roman” culture that may be safely assumed for engaging most other early Christian writers. Continue reading

Book Review: Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)

Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)There are few times in history so important and yet so obscure as the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, when the movement bearing his name transformed from a band of several dozen followers hiding in terror into an international community that would shape the subsequent history of the world. Despite the paucity of evidence from this period, historians and theologians alike continually return to the earliest years of the Jesus Movement, attempting to ascertain precisely who was doing what and how they were doing it. To help bring clarity to the all important aspect of Christian worship from this period comes Andrew B. McGowan’s masterful Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014). Continue reading

What About People Who Died Before the Incarnation?

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

A while back, a friend wrote me and asked, “How do you justify [and explain] the people who died before Christ came [i.e., Abraham, Moses, David]?” This struck me as an important and insightful question. In our rush to talk about and theologize heaven and hell, we often pay little attention to people who would have lived and died before the time of Christ. So how do we think about those people? One place to being thinking about this topic is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16, which has been used to reflect on questions of salvation and Paradise since at least the time of Ephrem the Syrian (4th century). Continue reading