Efrem il Siro

L’arpa dello Spirito Santo

Vita

Se dalla Vita di Efrem filtriamo tutti gli elementi legendari, resterebbe tra le nostre mani soltanto una biografia in linee grossolane. Fu nato inorno all’anno 306/7 dC nella città Nisibis. Nei suoi anni giovanili si dedicava ad una vita di singolo e diventava docente alla scuola di Nisibis, fondata dal vescovo dell’epoca Giacobbe. In 363 dC la sua città natale diventava parte dell’Impero Persiano, e poco tempo dopo fu stato permesso alla popolazione cristiana di stabilirsi altrove nell’interno dell’Impero Romano. Efrem viaggiava verso ovest, ad Edessa, dove morì dieci anni dopo, in 373, mentre prendeva cura delle vittime di una carestia che teneva la città nella presa.
 

Presentazione

Dove mondi si toccano

Om Efrem te ontmoeten, reizen we af naar het begin van de vierde eeuw, in de landstreek Mesopotamië, een gebied met schuivende grenzen tussen het Romeinse en Perzische Rijk. Nisibis (het huidige Nusaybin in het zuidoosten van Turkije) was in die tijd een karavaanstad, gelegen aan een zijweg van de beroemde Zijderoute, die Oost en West met elkaar verbond. De stad was getuige, niet alleen van de ontmoeting en verspreiding van exotische handelswaar uit verre landen, maar ook van mensen, culturen, talen en religies. Het is in deze kosmopolitische sfeer dat Efrem leefde, waarin verschillende talen en bevolkingsgroepen naast elkaar bestonden, van Joden, Grieken en Armeniërs tot de inheemse Oud Syrisch-talige bevolking.

Roeping

Efrem bracht het grootste deel van zijn leven door als diaken, in dienst van de bisschoppen van de stad. Hij gaf exegese-les en catechese op de school die daar door een van hen gesticht was. Hoewel de biografische bronnen over Efrem hem steevast afschilderen als een anachoreet die leefde in een grot bovenop de heuvels die de stad omringden, leefde Efrem in feite als een asceet en een onvermoeibare en levendige leraar en verdediger van de gezonde christelijke leer, een liturgisch componist, een dichter-theoloog, diep betrokken op het leven van zijn Kerk.

De dichter

Efrem leefde in een atmosfeer die geladen was met religieuze en filosofische systemen, syncretische bewegingen en vervalsingen van het christelijk geloof die de mesopotamische wereld overspoelden. Veel van de vroeg-christelijke ketterijen kwamen in dit gebied op (encratisme, manicheïsme, marcionisme, arianisme). Hij was zich bewust van de urgentie om zijn gemeenschap het juiste onderricht te geven in orthodox geloof om deze bewegingen te bestrijden. Zijn zorg om aan God de centrale plaats en stem te geven in ons leven en ons tot Gods luisteraars te maken, in plaats van Hem te maken tot object van onze beperkte verstandelijke inspanningen, vormt de ondergrond van geheel zijn omvangrijke literaire oeuvre, waarvan slechts ongeveer 500 werken, naast werken van proza voornamelijk hymnen, tot op vandaag bewaard zijn gebleven. Zijn hymnen waren niet slechts literaire creaties, maar krachtige instrumenten om de ware houding van de mens tegenover God te onderwijzen. Ze werden gebruikt in de liturgische vieringen van zijn kerkgemeenschap in Nisibis, waar hij ze op muziek zette en koren van maagden leerde ze te zingen. Zo werden muziek en poëzie voor hem het geschikte voertuig om de onuitsprekelijke schoonheid te bezingen van een verborgen God, die zich vanuit zijn eigen liefdesinitiatief wil openbaren aan zijn schepsel.

In het voetspoor van Christus

Efrem omarmde een leven als alleenstaande, wat in die tijd de beginnende, Mesopotamische vorm was van ascetisch leven, bekend als de bnay en bnath qyama, ofwel de verbondenen. Dit waren mannen en vrouwen die waarschijnlijk ten tijde van hun doop een plechtigere belofte deden om het leven van Christus te leiden. Zoals bekend werd de doop in de eerste eeuwen van het christendom op latere leeftijd toegediend. Het bewustzijn van de doop als doorgang naar een andere levensstaat moet voor zulke mensen zo diepgaand zijn geweest, dat precies dit moment, met zijn rijke symboliek van sterven en verrijzen, hun nieuwe leven in Christus bezegelde. Ze wilden simpelweg het evangelie leven en Hem navolgen, wat ook een toewijding inhield aan een leven van armoede en dienst aan de plaatselijke gemeenschap.

Eenwording

De paradox van alleen-zijn en celibaat als vorm van één zijn met een Ander is onmiddellijk aanwezig in het hart van de geestelijke roeping zoals die in de eerste eeuwen van Oud-Syrisch christendom geleefd werd. Zoals Christus de Eniggeboren Zoon van de Vader was (Ihidaya, van de stam had = één) en in zichzelf mens en God verenigde, zodat zij één waren in de eenheid van zijn leven, zo begreep degene met een geestelijke roeping zijn of haar leven ook in termen van deze onuitwisbare vereniging met Christus, die hem één maakt in zichzelf en met God. De uiterlijke organisatie van zulk een leven stond niet vast (ze waren leken-asceten die nog in hun eigen huis leefden of een gemeenschappelijk leven leidden in kleine groepen, hoewel niet onder een specifieke regel of ‘monastieke’ discipline), maar de geest van hun levensvorm werd vertegenwoordigd door de werkelijkheid van alleen-zijn die zij in het leven van Christus ontwaarden.

De onuitsprekelijke Schoonheid bezingen

In veel van Efrems hymnen is een aanduiding te zien van de melodie die gebruikt werd om ze uit te voeren tijdens liturgische vieringen. Zo verenigt muziek zich met poëzie om de onuitsprekelijke Schoonheid te bezingen van het goddelijke. Zijn hymnen herinneren ons aan waar het in liturgie om gaat en leren ons ook wat de houding van de mens is tegenover God: een zingende, aanbiddende ziel, zichzelf vergetend in contemplatie. Een contemplatie echter die, om ons te laten opstijgen tot die sublimatie van geestelijk leven in God, stevig geworteld en vast verankerd is in zijn openbaring aan de mensheid. Onze opgang naar Hem heeft zijn begin in Gods initiatief om zich aan ons te openbaren. Deze hymnen, die werden gezongen in de Oud-Syrische liturgie en waaraan Efrem heel de diepte van zijn creatieve talent wijdde, waren uitdrukkelijk bedoeld om de geloofsgemeenschap te onderrichten in de orthodoxe leer over God. Ze zijn doortrokken van de Schrift, die door Efrem wordt opgevat als een van de drie harpen die God bespeelt in zijn zelfopenbaring aan ons. Zijn Woord is het begin van de menselijke verkenning van Gods mysterie, en iedere menselijke poging om God te kennen die zijn oorsprong vindt in onszelf of ons eigen initiatief is tot mislukken gedoemd.

Nalatenschap

Als er iets is dat de wereld waarin wij leven in de loop van de eeuwen helaas verloren heeft, dan is dat polysemie en een symbolische manier van kijken naar en spreken over onze werkelijkheid. In plaats daarvan gebruiken wij een onopgesmukte, ondubbelzinnige, horizontale taal zonder diepgang die perfecte overeenstemming nastreeft. In al zijn werken geeft Efrem vorm aan een contemplatieve benadering van het goddelijke en Gods schepping, uitgedrukt in een symbolische taal als de gepaste manier om te spreken over onze werkelijkheid als de plaats van goddelijke openbaring, die ons uitnodigt binnen te treden, in relatie te treden en ontvangers ervan te worden. Een herstel van het symbool met zijn helften, een zichtbare die verwijst naar een mysterieuze ander en zo oneindige horizonten opent, is vandaag de dag meer dan gewenst, nu alles gereduceerd lijkt te worden tot het voor de hand liggende en concrete. Maar bovenal moet ons spreken geworteld zijn in stilte en in het luisteren naar een Stem die ons als eerste aanspreekt en ons tot zijn ontvangers maakt: ‘Gij, mijn Heer, liet het opschrijven: open je mond en Ik vul het / Zie, de mond van uw dienaar en zijn geest staan open voor U / Heer, Gij vult het met uw gave / Dat ik, naar uw wil, uw lof zing.’

Testi

Gedichten en hymnen

Dati bibliografici

Titolo:The Poetics of Faith between Word and Silence : a Hermeneutical Key to Ephrem the Syrian’s Symbolic Theology
Autore:Carmen Fotescu
Anno:2004
Luogo:Nijmegen
Casa di edizione:Radboud University (Master – thesis)
ISBN:XX-XXX-XXXX-X
DOI:Zenodo

Sintesi

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Hymnus de Virginitate 28

On the same sixteenth melody 1 Most of Ephrem’s hymns start with the indication of the type of chant on which they were to be performed, the so-called rish-qala, head of the song, corresponding to the Greek hirmus and indicating an existing and known melody on which various texts could be sung. Yet, such indications do not tell us anything about the musical laws governing the performance of his hymns. The original melodies are irretrievably lost, being impossible today to reconstruct them, given the fact that even today the liturgical texts used in the Syriac-speaking Churches are not accompanied by any musical notation and the chants are sung from memory and transmitted from one generation to another by means of an oral tradition.

1.Who has ever sung the wonder and the marvel
And stirred together myriads of harps
Or mixed in wisdom the old things
And the new ones with what is of nature? 28 A theme that Ephrem consecrates in his hymns, particularly in Hymns on Virginity, is that of the three harps God plays to reveal Himself, the harp of the Old Testament, of the New and of nature (see also Virg 30, 1). For him, the revelation received in the Scripture and that contained in nature constitute a unity that witnesses to the same truth, that of a revealing God. Cf. Tanois Bou Mansour, La Penseé symbolique de Saint Ephrem le Syrien (Kaslik-Liban,
Bibliothèque de l’Université Saint-Esprit, 1988), p. 122.

The Creator’s image was hidden in them.
Upon them You openly portrayed Him.
From them all appeared for us the Lord of all
And the Son of the Lord of all.

Responsory: Praises to Your Hiddenness!

2.You gathered the scattered symbols 27 Several of the Syriac concepts circumscribed to the symbol are gathered here, all having a rich polysemy: raza (symbol, mystery, secret, sacrament), tapnka (prototype, image, type), rushma (sign, mark, trace).
From the Law, towards Your beauty
You gave the types which are in Your gospel
And the powers and signs from nature.
You mixed them as colours for Your portrait,
You observed Yourself and You portray Yourself,
O Painter, who also portrayed His Father in Him.
The two portray Each Other.

3.Prophets and kings and priests, who are all created
Portrayed You, though they are unlike You.
Created servants do not suffice
For only You suffice to portray Yourself.
They have truly drawn Your portrait,
You have perfected it in Your coming.
The images were swallowed by the strength of the colours
All so bright.

4.Faded is the drawing of the temporal lamb
The glory of the true Lamb shines forth
Very weak is the image of the staff.
[…] of the cross of light
[…] the fixed serpent.
In the desert it portrayed the crucified body 26 Ephrem refers here to the typological relation between the brazen serpent raised in the desert (Num. 21: 8-9) and Christ’s cross.
The transitory symbols were fulfilled and swallowed
By the truth that is not transitory.

5.The dawn that is from You, the daybreak that is from You
Enclosed and swallowed […]
The shadows shone in the radiance of Your coming
And the types vanished, yet the names remained. 24 Another word related to the sphere of the symbol, tupsa, a loan translation of the Greek typos .
The flash of symbols was swallowed by Your rays
Your symbols passed away, but Your prophets did not pass
The people erred in the prophets that they read 25 Ephrem might refer here to the Jews, who were not able to recognise Christ, although He was announced by all the prophets.
And thought that You were not You.

6.For You, Lord, it is easy to make a symbol
The Scripture also has an image and a table
The kings’ images do not pass away
When a king comes to his land.
Kings who murder kings
Also destroy and ruin their images.
Our king is exalted; behold, his images are in his temples
And his images are in his possessions.

7.The scribes killed the Son of the King
[…] another king
[…]
And they were not able to clothe another king.
They wanted to, but they could not make a king 23 Possible reference to Jn 6: 15. Cf. Kathleen McVey, Ephrem the Syrian. Hymns, p. 387.
That they may know who did not allow it!
And how hard was the violence [done to] our silent lamb
Who was sacrificed and did not cry!

8.They sought a king for themselves without command 20 Possible reference to 1 Sam. 10:17-19. Cf. Kathleen McVey, op. cit., p. 388.
And with violence they led God away?
How many kings did they kill, and overthrew, and made again,
And also others after them!
In seven days they killed two kings 21 Ephrem’s allusion is unclear; he possibly makes reference to the book of Daniel and the prophecy about Christ’s coming, where a week means seven years. Cf. ibidem.
And they had remained a long time and behold, there was no other to make a king.
Daniel persuades [us] that he is killed and again 22 Dan. 9: 26, cf. ibidem.
There was no other king.

9.Jezabel’s sword reaped the prophets 18 1 Kg 18:4, cf. ibidem.
And the sword of Jehu reaped her sons. 19 2 Kg 10: 7-11, cf. ibidem.
The prophets of the Lord were slaughtered and cast off
And the king’s sons were slaughtered and heaped up.
The prophets followed one after the other and did not cease,
Kings succeeded one another and did not perish.
What a disgraceful sight! That the source of those
Who crucified our Fountain, dried up.

10.When the king of a land comes to it
He offers a new image there.
The images that stood for him when he was young
The measures pass away, but his images remain.
An image is carved to his fullness
The prophets remained, his images did not pass away.
The perfection of the One who is portrayed in all the images
is painted by the Spirit.

11.He is the praised one whose nature is immutable
And through His love He acquired changes.
Colours were put on; symbols and types;
And also all images with all measures.
The crucifiers saw Him and disfigured Him. 16 According to Kathleen McVey, Ephrem launches a polemic against the Jews here. Cf. op. cit., p. 389.
The wicked men saw Him and repudiated Him. 17 The Marcionites are meant here, cf. ibidem.
The Church saw Him and recognising His nature,
It worships His changes.

12.For that teaching saw Him and shamed Him,
Which in itself repudiates its own words.
For it called Good the Stranger, 15 Ephrem develops here his polemic against the Marcionites who do not make the distinction between Christ’s divine nature that assumes the changes inherent to the human nature in order to redeem mankind.
The name that is contrary to its creature.
The perceptions that Marcion proposed to us
Who denies in him the just, the good and also the evil,
Your Scripture will repudiate him
For the names of the Stranger are not in Your Book.

13.If He is the one who has no strange name,
He also has no inclination towards the strange
And then, if He has no name for His essence
He also has no nature of Himself.
Our God has a name and a nature.
His names signify His splendours.
Just in His word and good in His gift
And Lord in His possessions.

14.Names are the simplest of all things?
Behold, there is no […]
[…]
[…]
Behold, the deeds of our Lord and His names
That demand worship
[…] necessarily depends
on the name of our God.

Hymnus de Fide 10

On the melody of the conducting messenger 1 Most of Ephrem’s hymns start with the indication of the type of chant on which they were to be performed, the so-called rish-qala, head of the song, corresponding to the Greek hirmus and indicating an existing and known melody on which various texts could be sung. Yet, such indications do not tell us anything about the musical laws governing the performance of his hymns. The original melodies are irretrievably lost, being impossible today to reconstruct them, given the fact that even today the liturgical texts used in the Syriac-speaking Churches are not accompanied by any musical notation and the chants are sung from memory and transmitted from one generation to another by means of an oral tradition.

1.You, my Lord, had it written: open your mouth and I fill it 64 The hymn opens with a quotation of Ps. 81:10.
Behold, the mouth of your servant and his spirit 65 We encounter here a word with a rich polysemy attached to it. The Syriac word re‛yana renders the following meanings: thought, mind, feeling, sense, spirit, intelligence. We have opted here for a meaning with a larger signifying sphere, namely “spirit”, and one that we thought is more in consonance with the hymn’s theological message. are open to You
Lord, You fill it with Your gift 66 Edmund Beck, in his Die Theologie des Hl. Ephräm in seinen Hymnen über den Glauben (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Vaticana, 1949), pp. 89-91, tells that the Syriac word for gift, mawhabta, refers on the one hand to the Holy Spirit, associated in this hymn with the image of “fire” and “power”, and on the other, to the understanding of God given in His revelation.
That, according to Your will, I sing Your glory.

Responsory: Make me worthy that I approach Your gift with awe

2.For speaking of You 61 We follow the reading of manuscript BCD here, rendering tash‛aitak, “speaking of You”, instead of simply tash‛aita, “speaking”. Cf. Beck, Hymnes de Fide, note 6, p. 49. every man has several levels of different measures. 62 A characteristic feature of Ephrem’s theology expounded in his hymns is the attitude of humility in approaching God and the idea of a gradual ascent in understanding Him. This has equally to be understood within a polemical context in which Ephrem counterattacks the various Christological heresies that claim to have knowledge, albeit a distorted one, about the relation between the Father and the Son. The entire collection of Hymns on Faith addresses in fact the distortion of divine truth by different heresies and is set in an all-pervading and sharp polemic with them.
When I dare to it, I approach the low degree.
Deep in silence Your birth 63 Birth, mawlada, refers to the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, and not to Incarnation, expressed in Syriac through the image of Christ clothing Himself in a human body (lbesh – to clothe). For more see Tanios Bou Mansour, op. cit., pp. 177, 232-234. is sealed
And which is the mouth that will dare to fathom it?

3.Though Your nature 59 The Syriac term for the Greek physis is kyana, nature, closely related to essence, substance - ousia. is one, its interpretations 60 Ephrem refers here to “interpretations”, pushaqa (in the singular), as exegetical explanations. He uses one of the many words for exegetical commentaries on the Scripture, thus making here the association between the human understanding of Christ and the interpretation of the biblical revelation. abound
The expressions are high, middle and also low
Make me worthy of the lower part
That I may gather what has fallen from Your wisdom.

4.Your revealed expression remains hidden with Your Father
The angels 57 Syriac has a beautiful and significant way of naming the angels, namely the “watchers”, ‛ire, pointing at them as contemplative beings, and messengers, malake, revealing them as beings sent on missions. marvel at Your middle richness
The little stream of Your explanation, Lord, is with the lower ones
A torrent of interpretations. 58 Ephrem uses here another term with the same meaning of exegetical interpretation of the Bible as pushaqa, namely, turgama (targum
in Aramaic).


5.For if that great John was crying
“I am not worthy, Lord, of the straps of Your sandals” 54 This is another example of intertextuality as in stanza 3, the reference being to John the Baptist. Cf. Mk. 1: 7.
As the sinner-woman 55 Ephrem possibly refers here to the sinful woman who washes his feet with her tears and anoints them. I will seek refuge
in the shade of Your garments 56 We follow Beck’s indication to read, according to the manuscript B, the plural nahtak, “Your garments”, instead of the singular nahta, “garment”. Cf. Beck, op. cit., note 22, p. 49. so as to start therefrom.

6.And like her who feared and took heart again when she was healed 53 The woman suffering from an issue of blood, in Mk 5: 25-34.
Heal my fright of danger and I will take courage in You
And from Your vestment let me pass
Near Your Body, so that, according to my strength, I may speak of You.

7.Your garment 50 Ephrem plays here with the association between Christ’s vestment that the suffering woman touched and was healed, and the imagery of Christ’s body as a garment and also a remedy for men. In Syriac the term for Christ’s body, pagra, is also used for the sacramental body of Christ people receive in the Eucharist, the healing being thus a spiritual one. , Lord, is the fountain of remedies 51 Healing was a central issue in the world of the Near East, considered as a divine gift. Hospitals were attested early, not only in the cities, but later on attached to monasteries as well. Christians were to become eminent physicians both at the Persian court and at the Caliph’s, under the Muslim rule. Cf. J. B. Segal, Edessa – The Blessed City, pp. 71-2. Healing is equally one of the recurring motifs in Ephrem’s hymns.
In Your visible vestments does Your hidden power secretly dwell
The little spit 52 Reference to Christ’s healing of the man born blind, in Jn 9: 1-7. from Your mouth
Is a great light, for there was light in his clay.

8.In Your hidden bread there is Spirit not to be eaten 48 Ephrem initiates here an elaborate picture of the power of the Eucharist.
In Your wine dwells a fire not to be drunk
The Spirit in Your bread, the fire 49 The fire may be here another way of reference to the Holy Spirit, as manifested in the Pentecost event. in Your wine
A wonder set apart that our lips receive.

9.The Lord descended on earth near the mortals
A new creation he created them, likened to the angels
He blended fire and Spirit in them 46 Men become like angels in virtue of their being made able to receive the gift of the Spirit and internalise it.
That they will be secretly made of fire and Spirit. 47 The imagery is that associated with the Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit over the apostles. Cf. Ac 2: 1-4.

10.The Seraph did not touch the coal with his fingers
You only approached the mouth of Isaiah
He neither took it, nor ate it.
Yet, to us our Lord gave both. 45 Ephrem expresses here wonder at the divine mystery, relating it to the prophet’s vision in Is 6: 6-7, as well as amazement towards the dignity God imparts on man, higher than that of the angels.

11.The food of the mortals to the spiritual angels 43 For several stanzas, from the 11th to the 15th, Ephrem develops a typology between the Old and the New Testament, contrasting the various signs announcing Christ in the Old Testament with their fulfillment at his coming, as witnessed in the New Testament. We may sense here a polemical tone against the Jews who failed to see the accomplishment of the Old Testament signs and prophecies in the person of Christ.
Did Abraham bring and they ate 44 Reference to the episode of the mysterious persons visiting Abraham and his gift of hospitality. Cf. Gen. 18: 1-8. ; new wonder
Of our mighty Lord, who to the bodily creatures
Gave fire and Spirit to eat and drink.

12.Fire descended upon sinners and consumed them in God’s wrath 42 Possible reference to the divine punishment of Sodom and Gomorrha, cf. Gen. 19: 24-25.
Fire of mercy came down in the bread and dwelt in it
Instead of the fire that consumed men
You ate the fire in the bread and you received life.

13.The fire descended and consumed the sacrifices of Elijah 41 Cf. 1 Kg 18: 36-38.
The fire of love became the sacrifice of life to us
The fire consumed the sacrifice
In Your sacrifice, Lord, we ate Your fire.

14.Who held the spirit 40 Ruha in Syriac has a plurality of meanings, from “spirit”, to “wind”, “breath”, “soul” and “cardinal point”. in his hands?
Come and see, o Solomon, what the Lord of your father has done
Fire and Spirit, against nature,
He blended and poured into his disciples’ hands.

15.Who is the one who gathered the waters in a veil, he asked, 39 Reference to Pr 30:4.
Behold, the fountain in the veil is Mary’s bosom
From the cup of life, a drop of life
Your servants have taken in the veil.

16.Behold, power is hidden in the veil of the holy sanctuary 37 Manuscript BCD renders bayt qudsha, “the holy sanctuary”, instead of ruha qudsha, “the Holy Spirit”. We rendered in our translation the former version, cf. Beck, op. cit., note 13, p. 51.
A power which mind has never fathomed
His love lowered, descended and hovered 38 The reference is here to the Holy Spirit, whose “hovering” sends us back to the image of creation in the book of Genesis, where the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters, Gen. 1: 2, but also to the Spirit’s hovering in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Cf. Tanios Bou Mansour, op. cit., p. 400.
Upon the veil of the altar of reconciliation.

17.Behold, the fire and the Spirit in the womb that has begotten You
Behold, the fire and the Spirit in the river where You were baptized
Fire and Spirit in our baptism,
In the bread and the cup, fire and Holy Spirit.

18.Your Bread killed the greedy one who made us his bread
Your cup destroys the death which was swallowing us.
We have eaten You, Lord, and we have also drunk You
Not to consume You, but to live in You.

19.The strap of Your sandals is dread to the wise
The hem of Your cloak is fearful to the learned ones
Our foolish generation that became drunk with Your wine,
Behold, it has grown mad by searching into You. 36 Ephrem’s attack against the heretics who claim to be learned in the knowledge of the hidden God. His answer to them points in the direction of a symbolic approach of the divine mystery.

20.Wonder in Your footsteps which were walking upon the waters
The great lake You have subdued under Your feet
Yet in a small river Your head 35 We follow manuscript BC, which reads rishak, “your head”, instead of just hu, “he”. Cf. Beck, op. cit., note 7, p. 52. had been subdued
That bowed and was baptized in it.

21.The river was like John who baptised in it 34 Cf. Mt 3: 13.
Both of them are portrayed in their smallness in each other.
To a small river and a weak servant
The Lord of both subdued Himself.

22.Behold, Lord, my bosom filled with what has fallen from Your crumbs
And since there is no more place in my bosom
Hold back Your gift when I bow down,
And keep it as a treasure in Your storehouse, that You will give it back to us again.

Hymnus de Fide 11

On the same melody 1 Most of Ephrem’s hymns start with the indication of the type of chant on which they were to be performed, the so-called rish-qala, head of the song, corresponding to the Greek hirmus and indicating an existing and known melody on which various texts could be sung. Yet, such indications do not tell us anything about the musical laws governing the performance of his hymns. The original melodies are irretrievably lost, being impossible today to reconstruct them, given the fact that even today the liturgical texts used in the Syriac-speaking Churches are not accompanied by any musical notation and the chants are sung from memory and transmitted from one generation to another by means of an oral tradition.

1. AlafLord, I am not capable and therefore I do not dare 46 We follow manuscript BCD, which renders the negation la in the latter part of line 1 as well, la mamrah na - “I do not dare “. Cf. Edmund Beck, op. cit., note 1, p. 52.
For even if I would dare to receive You, I will not attain [it].
The one who dares so mocks at himself,
Not at You, who are above all else.

Responsory: Glory to You from all the simple 45 In Syriac tamime, the perfect ones, are also the simple ones. ones who believed in You

2. BethIn its breath Your nature rebukes us by frightening us
Your height fills us with shame; how high and lofty [You are]
Your mercy again shames us
For how much has He lowered Himself 44 We follow Beck’s indication to read napsheh – Himself, instead of risheh – His head, according to the rendition of manuscript BCD. Cf. Beck, op. cit., note 7, p. 53. to the vile ones!

3. GamalLet the one who dares openly give a proof
His eye 42 Ephrem plays here on the close association existing between the “eye” and “intelligence”, evident in language: the “eye”, ‛ayna, and intelligence, mind, thought, re‛yana. watches from a distance and from a great mountain
His eye hinders his thought,
Which extends his investigation beyond measure. 43 The reference is here to the mind that dares to explore too far, instead of accepting to remain anchored in the revelation offered by God.

4. DalathHis rush reproaches him, his sight rebukes him
His rush consumes the tongue; how did it wander astray!
In that greatness, in the middle of whose womb
The earth stretches like the palm of the hand.

5. HeBehold, the ear is not able to listen to the mighty thunder
Nor can it hear the tranquil silence
How then does he hear the great voice 41 We have ignored here Beck’s suggestion to read, according to manuscript C, qaleh dabra – the voice of the Son, instead of qaleh raba – the great voice, in op. cit., note 26, p. 53, as neither the previous stanzas, nor the present one, justify such an abrupt introduction of the Son in the economy of the hymn at this very point. and the silence of the Father
Which is the eloquent silence?

6. WawAnd heaven 38 Shmaya means “sky”, “ceiling”, therefore “firmament”, but also “heaven”. Quotation of Ps. 19:1. tells of the glory of God
Behold, the silence that speaks 39 Beck indicates reading l‛ez – to speak, instead of l‛es – to eat, according to manuscript BCD, which is most probably a transcription error of the copyist of the manuscript Beck rendered here. Cf. op. cit., note 32, p. 53. wholly in all languages
To all languages; behold 40 According to Beck’s suggestion to read ha – behold, according to manuscript BCD, in op. cit., note 35, p. 53. , this firmament speaks
Of its Maker’s glory.

7. ZaynOf little inclination is man to listen to all languages 37 Ephrem refers here to the languages of beasts, angels and God, which man cannot comprehend, given the limitations of his nature, an idea which he develops more in the next stanza.
And if he were capable to listen to the tongue of the spiritual angels
Then he could ascend to listen to the silence
That is spoken between the Father and the Son.

8. HethForeign 36 “Foreign”, nukray, is the keyword of this stanza, in which the poet uses it to emphasize the distance between men and animals, men and angels, angels and God. If we look closely at the stanza, we remark the strong polemical context it is steeped in. Against the Marcionites and the Arians reducing everything to the dualism of the superior and the inferior, the created and the uncreated, Ephrem links the Son with the Father, showing that they are infinitely beyond all creatures. See also Tanios Bou Mansour, op. cit., pp. 137, 163, 190, for a more elaborate illustration of the associations Ephrem makes, using the word nukray. is our language from the voice of the beasts
Foreign is the language of angels from all language
Silence, in which the Father speaks with His beloved Son,
Is foreign to the angels.

9. TethGood is He who put on all forms for our sight
He thus put on all sounds for our persuasion.
His nature is one; one can see it 35 Though the previous stanza lays stress on the infinite distance between the Creator and His creatures, Ephrem balances that here by pointing to the existence of a bridge mediating between them: the divine revelation in creation.
And His silence is one that man can hear.

10. YudhHis child who is from Him, is also worthy of Him
And he who is foreign to His nature is also foreign to fathoming You
Truly is he astray,
For there is no road that leads to the Hidden One 34 To emphasize divine transcendence, Ephrem uses recurrently the term kasya, not simply to qualify God as hidden, but using it as a name for the divine. Cf. Tanios Bou Mansour, op. cit., p. 72. .

11. KaphWhen the Creator paved a way for creation
That offerings of prayer would reach His door 33 We follow Beck’s suggestion to read tar‛eh ­– His door, according to manuscript BCD, instead of the plural tar‛e – doors, in op. cit., note 15, p. 54. ,
The path of search was not there,
On which man will run to the door of essence.

12. LamadhTo the one who goes and bears the offering of prayer
The path 32 Cf. Beck’s indication of the rendition of manuscript BCD, as more clarifying, namely shabila napsheh – the path itself, instead of leh lnapsheh – itself, in op. cit., note 20, p. 54. shows itself and accompanies him
And also the door, when it has seen him,
Opens itself to his offering.

13. MimWho went in search of His might?
The paths are hidden, the doors also closed.
The precise 31 We understand here hatita – exact, precise, accurate, proper, as referring to the one who searches for God with his mind, striving to comprehend Him according to his limited logic and rationality. one becomes a waste land, barren as a desert;
That bold one goes astray.

14. NunLet us know that Satan has led him to this,
The one who thought he was capable of Your divinity.
His nature rebukes him, since he has gone astray in You,
Whom he is not able to know.

15. SemkathFoolish is the one who thinks he can vanquish death.
He can know neither death, nor himself.
Not knowing is only left to him
Since the nature of the one who perished is in Your nature.

16. ‛EBlameworthy is he who destroyed what is his when he did not find what is Yours.
He ridiculed himself, the one who thought he was capable to fathom You.
He has not harmed You, since Your knowledge
Is wholly in You and his is outside You.

17. PeMy mouth is not worthy of You and I rejoice that I am not worthy.
If I became worthy, blasphemy would be on both sides,
Namely, that man’s nature would be greater than God,
Which is utter stupidity.

18. ÇadheYour banquet thirsts for guests without number 28 Cf. Beck’s suggestion to read the variant of manuscript BCD, dla saka – without number, instead of  zka – to be pure, innocent, an error of transcription, in op. cit., note 24, p. 55.
Your wedding rejoices in the guests and in their garments 29 Reference to the parable of the marriage feast, Mt. 22:2-12.
Your bridal chamber longs for virgins
Whose lamps are rich with oil. 30 Reference to the parable of the ten virgins, Mt 25:1-13.

19. QophMany are called who long at Your door
Your gate is narrow 26 Cf. Mt. 7:13-14. and they are few 27 Cf. Mt. 20:16.
Those who cast away and stripped themselves of all things
And who could enter through the door that hates possessions.

20. RishYour fire exulted in us that we become perfect in trial
And true ones 25 We have chosen to read here the plural sharire – true ones, and not the singular, as rendered by Beck, sharira, which does not make sense in relation to the previous line. in the test
Since He fashioned His seal upon our word and upon our mind,
May o, Lord, the seal of Your truth be placed on us.

21. ShinYour long road has become short for us out of His mercy
He shrank His infinity out of love for the weak one
He set a measure to eternity for the little one
In order that his wages will increase. Praise to Your manifold wisdom!

22. TawThe throne of Your glory and the seat of Your justice
Rejoices in the victorious one 24 We follow the rendition of manuscript BCD, which gives hadia bzakia – rejoices in the victorious one, instead of had ap zakia – the victorious one also rejoiced. Cf. Beck, op. cit., note 17, p. 56. who shames his enemy
Your mercy supports the weak
And also the Gehenna You comfort with Your dew.

End.

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Approfondimento

Ephrem the Syrian’s Hymnus de Fide 10 and Psalm 80/81

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God the Artist

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The Poetics of Faith between Word and Silence

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