Early Syriac Theology

Early Syriac Theology

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Early Syriac Theology
    Book Description:

    Presents the insights of St. Ephrem and Jacob of Serugh, two of the earliest representatives of the theological world-view of the Syriac church.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2702-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)

    In formulating this survey of Syriac theology we are directing our study to that body of thought that grew out of the Syriac culture and language. However, the Syriac world was not homogenous. It extended from Antioch to Nisibis and the Eastern regions. Antioch was a center of Greek culture while possessing a Syriac substratum; Nisibis and the East were embedded in Judeo-Christianity and ancient Persian beliefs.

    Sebastian Brock tells us that at the beginning of the Christian era a number of dialects of Aramaic developed, of which Syriac was the local dialect of Edessa and its province of Osrhoene....

    (pp. 1-12)

    The history of religious experience in all religious traditions, including the Catholic tradition, has been an attempt to affirm the obvious elusiveness of the holy that is God and yet the conviction that the divine is within creation and human existence itself. In traditions that believe that God has indeed manifested himself in revelation and exercises an abiding presence in grace, there is sometimes an inclination to act as if this radical distinctness of God from humanity has been overcome. While manifesting the divine, creation and revelation in no way diminish its mystery. Therefore, an affirmation of the essential mysteriousness...

    (pp. 13-25)

    The Syriac view of creation is more a product of biblical influence and faith experience than philosophical speculation.

    One of its main contributions is the teaching that creation, revelation, and incarnation are viewed as elements of one divine process. Therefore, creation cannot be separated from God’s self-revelation or from the event of the Word becoming creature. The next chapter will discuss the view of the Syriac writers that creation is in its very nature revelatory through types and symbols. The present chapter deals with the creation of the world and humanity. In this regard it will be noted that the...

    (pp. 26-40)

    As noted, the Syriac mind was in awe of the radical inaccessiblity and mysteriousness of God. Only the word of God expresses God and would possibly manifest God. However, any attempt to understand the Word taking on created form would necessarily involve paradox and dialectic. Ephrem has been described as moving between apophatic and cataphatic poles. On the one hand, there is God’s absolute transcendence and the incommunicability of his name to humans. On the other hand, human terms are inapplicable to him. Ephrem in hisCommentary on the Diatesseronpoints out, “Among the ancients wisdom was recognized more in...

    (pp. 41-54)

    The incarnation represents the fullness of revelation and the climax of human creation. In its redemptive aspect it remedies the effects of sin. Sin had introduced disharmony between heaven and earth and among humankind. Humans created in the image of God now possessed a distorted image and were unable to benefit from the grace of God’s indwelling. Sin had also led humans into darkness and ignorance. The Word of God, both the instrument and model of creation, now brings about its fulfillment in history. Possessed with the glory that he had from the beginning, he undergoes a second birth to...

    (pp. 55-76)

    The Syriac fathers do not separate the redemption from the incarnation of Christ in their theology. The word of God from the beginning of time desired in his “tenderness” to restore his image in humans who had distorted it through sin.

    In a continuous movement, the Word humbles himself and becomes flesh, enters the womb of Mary, the waters of the Jordan, and the mouth ofsheol(i.e., the region of the dead), where he overcomes death and leads all humans on a path that takes them to the kingdom of the Father. The two events most focused on are...

    (pp. 77-81)

    The process of divinization is rooted in the nature of creation and manifested in revelation and reaches its fullness in the incarnation and redemption. The divinization of humans is the result of the work of redemption, and the active principle of divinization is the Holy Spirit. In the Syriac mind all acts of power and sanctification are the work of the Spirit of God. This is especially highlighted in theepiklesis(invoking the Holy Spirit), which is an essential element of the divine liturgy and the mysteries. While the Syriac writers reflect the New Testament references to the indwelling of...

  11. 7 THE CHURCH
    (pp. 82-92)

    The church is primarily the vehicle whereby new members of Christ are formed. It is the source of the mysteries [sacraments] through which sanctification occurs. Early Syriac thought still awaiting an imminent “parousia” did not concern itself with the structural make-up of the church, and it is only when serious threats of heresy began to develop in the fourth century on that questions of the unity and cohesiveness of the church became important. A prominent theme in Syriac writings is that God has rejected the chosen people of the Old Testament in favor of the “church of the Nations.” This...

  12. 8 MARY
    (pp. 93-101)

    T he Syriac writers claimed that Christ throughout his life on earth was also continually the divine presence, possessing the power of creation and annihilation and the healing power of redemption. In their minds the mother who conceived and bore him would be intimately affected and divinized by that power. However, Mary was also very much a human possessed of free will. Through her virginity and free assent to the will of the Father she takes away the shame of her own ancient mother, Eve, and in so doing becomes the first member of the church. It was natural for...

    (pp. 102-128)

    The incarnation and redemption of Christ represent the fulfillment of creation and the realization of the shadows and types of the Old Testament. However, Christ not only brings the completion of salvation but the reality of the divinization of creatures, primarily through the action of the Spirit. The events of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and his death on the cross were not meant to be discrete moments in time, but to manifest a power that will extend through time. The waters blessed by the baptism of Christ and the blood and water that poured from the side of Christ...

    (pp. 129-136)

    From the earliest tradition the Eucharist was seen as the completion of initiation into the discipleship of Christ. It is the Eucharist that constitutes church and that is the central mystery. All other sacramental celebrations receive their meaning from the Eucharist. One could use a reverse form of reasoning and claim that the purpose of baptism itself is to render one worthy of partaking of the Eucharist. All these themes are to be found among the Syriac fathers.

    In the Eastern mind one does not give priority to the idea of church as sacrament and then understand the seven sacraments...

    (pp. 137-142)

    Eschatology speculates on the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. Christ’s work is completed only when creation is restored to its original state. For individual Christians, the focus is primarily sacramental. Baptism and the Eucharist are the pledge of future fulfillment. The imagery for the future kingdom is basically biblical. In fact, while Syriac theology in general manifests a great tension and anticipation of the future world, it provides very little detail of the time to come.

    Baptism and the Eucharist are filled with eschatological meaning. They restore the condition of the first paradise and anticipate our future state. Through...

  16. 12 FAITH
    (pp. 143-146)

    With the redemptive work of Christ and the action of the Spirit culminating in baptism, faith is engendered in our hearts. The Syriac writers view faith from several aspects.

    Aphrahat, having established the teaching that Christ is the rock of faith, declares in hisDemonstration No. 1 on Faiththat Christ the “stone” is the foundation on which our faith is based. Aphrahat, continuing this image, speaks of a structure to be built by the person of faith:

    For first a man believes, and when he believes, he loves.

    When he loves, he hopes. When he hopes, he is justified....

    (pp. 147-160)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 161-163)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 164-164)