Monday, 8 October 2012

Abstract: Be an example! Sing to the Lord! - St. Ephrem the Syrian



St. Ephraem the Syrian
Harp of the Holy Spirit
306-373AD

Be an example; Sing of the Lord!

Ephrem never left his solitude in Edessa except on fixed days to preach. In his preaching, he defended the dogmas of faith from swelling heresies. If, conscious of his lowliness, he did not dare to rise to the priesthood, he nevertheless showed himself a most perfect imitator of St. Stephen in the lower rank of the diaconate. He devoted all of his time to teaching Scripture, to preaching, and to instructing the nuns in sacred psalmody. Daily he wrote commentaries on the Bible to illustrate the orthodox faith; he came to the aid of his fellow citizens, especially the poor and the stricken. What he sought to teach others, he first did absolutely and perfectly. In this way, he could serve as the example which Ignatius Theophorus proposes to the deacons when he calls them "charges of Christ"[1] and asserts that they express "the mystery of faith in a pure conscience."[2]

Ephrem lived among people whose nature was attracted by the sweetness of poetry and music. The heretics of the second century after Christ used these same allurements to skillfully disseminate their errors. Therefore Ephrem, like youthful David killing the giant Goliath with his own sword, opposed art with art and clothed Catholic doctrine in melody and rhythm. These he diligently taught to boys and girls, so that eventually all the people learned them. In this fashion he not only renewed the education of the faithful in Christian doctrine and supported their piety with the spirit of the sacred liturgy, but also happily kept creeping heresy at bay.



Ephrem also teaches that the sources of spiritual life are in the sacraments, in the observance of the Evangelical precepts, and in the manifold exercises of piety which the liturgy supplies and the authority of the Church proposes. On this subject, note what our saint has to say about the sacrifice of the Altar: "With his hands the priest places Christ on the altar to become food. He addresses the Father as a member of the family saying, "Give me your Spirit, that in his coming he may descend upon the altar and sanctify the bread placed there to become the Body of your only begotten Son. He tells him of Christ's passion and death and exposes His blows; nor is His divinity ashamed of those blows. He says to the invisible Father: behold, your Son is nailed to the cross, his garments are sprinkled with blood, his side pierced with a lance. He recalls for him the passion and death of his Beloved, as though he had forgotten them, and the Father, hearing, favors his request."[3] He also remarks on the state of the just after death. In a singular manner, these remarks augment the constant doctrine of the Church, later defined in the council of Florence. "The deceased has been taken away by the Lord and has already been introduced to the kingdom of heaven. The soul of the deceased is received in heaven and inserted as a pearl in the crown of Christ. The deceased even now resides with God and his saints."[4]


References:

1. St. Ignatius, epistle to Thrall., n. 3.

2. 1 Tm 3.9.


Compiled by Pope Benedict XV
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xv/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xv_enc_05101920_principi-apostolorum-petro_en.html