APHRAATES Aphrahat

APHRAATES Aphrahat 270?-345?. First father of the Syrian church. The moniker the wise Persian, given him by the tradition, indicates that he was a subject of the Persian Empire. Beyond this we know nothing of his life: the approximate dates listed above are deduced from his works. From them we also know that Aphraates was one of the ascetics who at the time were called the sons of the covenant be nay qyma. Syriac scholars have reached no agreement on the exact meaning of qyma. Resurrection has been proposed instead of covenant, or, in reference to the Semitic root meaning upright position, the term could evoke the idea of vigilance in battle. The most recent French translation see bibl. renders the expression members of the order. In any case, it is certain that the be nay qyma were not monks in the modern understanding of the term. There is no mention of monastic vows, properly speaking, in their regard. They were ascetics who remained in the world but who even before receiving baptism had decided to remain celibate; with baptism, this resolution became a de facto obligation. An in-depth study of their ascetical practices has never been done. Besides being a son of the covenant, it seems that Aphraates was also an important dignitary of the Persian church, perhaps a bishop, though this is not clear. He was at least the superior or spiritual father of a community of sons of the covenant, as a great part of his work is addressed to them. It is certain that he was not the superior of a monastery, as a late 14th-c. tradition claims. His work has come down to us in its entirety, with every desirable guarantee of authenticity. It is composed of a collection of 23 Treatises, Letters or Homilies, which in the manuscripts 5th-6th c. bear the title Demonstrations tahwith. There were originally supposed to have been 22, each beginning with a letter of the Syriac alphabet; the 23rd was added later by the author. These Demonstrations were not all written at once: the first ten written 337 develop classical themes of theology and Christian asceticism. The other 13 written 342345 are primarily dedicated to anti-Jewish polemic. Demonstration 14 is in the form of a letter addressed to a synod of bishops; in it the author denounces the grave abuses committed by some members of the clergy. The 23rd Demonstration, the last of the series, was written during winter 344345, at the start of Shapur II’s bloody persecution of the Christians. All scholars agree in emphasizing the exclusively scriptural character of Aphraates’s doctrine; it shows no influence of Greek philosophy. The author professes himself to be solely a disciple of the Sacred Scriptures. His trinitarian doctrine and his Christology, while thoroughly orthodox, ignore the Council of Nicaea, at which the Persian church was not represented. His theology on the Holy Spirit as a person is not very explicit. Other points could be mentioned to show the primitive character of Aphraates’s theology. This is beside the point, however, in that the originality of his theology is in the fact that it is based entirely on biblical symbolism, enriched by contributions from the targumic traditions handed down by the first Jewish Christian communities of Mesopotamia, before the break between church and synagogue. Until now, the symbols pertaining to Christ, the apostles and the church have been the most studied. At the same time, there has been great interest in research on the influence exerted by rabbinic exegetical methods in order to clarify the origins of the first Christian communities of Persia and Mesopotamia. Without entering into the merits of developments in this regard, we can note the benefit the churches of the Greek and Latin world would have gained from a deeper knowledge of the first Syriac fathers, such as Aphraates and Ephrem, for the elaboration of their later theological syntheses. A less-intellectual theology, better integrating the symbol and myth of the Scriptures, would have perhaps helped avoid a crisis like the iconoclast crisis, and today we would not be facing the problem of a rationalist demythologization, destructive of mystery. Another aspect of Aphraates’s work concerns the anti-Jewish polemic, with its classic themes: circumcision, the divinity of Christ, the sabbath, the election of Israel, etc. The calm, moderate tone with which Aphraates presents his arguments is admirable; his writings are free of the bitterness that characterizes Ephrem’s writings against the Jews. His ascetical theology is contained primarily in the first Demonstrations addressed to the sons of the covenant. The doctrine is classical and, in this case as well, entirely traceable to the Sacred Scriptures. The following points can be considered characteristic: 1 the primacy of charity, which has for its object the three divine persons, and grows with the inhabitation of the soul by the Spirit of Christ, 2 the perfection of charity as a function of the renunciation of marriage, 3 the absolute necessity of love of neighbor, 4 faith as the foundation of the entire structure and 5 insistence on the virtue of humility, a trait which will remain the fundamental characteristic of Syriac spirituality. Aphraates’s is a spirituality imbued with optimism, surrounded with an atmosphere of gentleness and peace. If one had to define it in a few words, one could say that it is the doctrine of peace through faith, brought about by the love of God I. Hausherr, DSp 1, 751. N. Antonelli, Sancti Patris nostri Iacobi episcopi Nisibeni Sermones, Rome 1756, new ed. Venice 1765 the author attributes the 23 Demonstrations to James, bishop of Nisibis, an error that is explained by the fact that Aphraates also bore the name of James; W. Wright, The Homilies of Aphraates, the Persian Sage, London 1869; PS 1, II 1-489; CSCO 382 Arm. 7 and 383 Arm. 8; Bardenhewer IV, 327-340; DSp I, 746-752; Ortiz de Urbina 4849; G. Garitte, La version gorgienne de l’Entretien VI d’Aphraate: Muson 77 1964 301-366; R. Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition, Cambridge 1975, 369-376; J.-M. Sauget, Le dossier phrmien du manuscrit arabe Strasbourg 4226 et ses membra disiecta: OCP 42 1976 426-458 in fact the texts of Ephrem without exemplar, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, correspond to Demonstrations 2, 3, 4, 9 and 6; see AB 96 1978 n. 5 and Muson 92 1979 61-69; A. Guillaumont, Un midrash d’Exode 4, 24-26 chez Aphraate et ‰phrem de Nisibe, in A Tribute to A. Vbus, Chicago 1977, 89-95; G. Nedungatt, The Authenticity of Aphraat’s Synodal Letter: OCP 46 1980 62-88; M.-J. Pierre, Aphraate le Sage Persan. Les Exposs, 1, Exposs I-X, SC 349 1988; 2, Exposs XI-XXIII, SC 359 1989 with copious bibl. and an important introduction; P. Bruns, Das Christusbild Aphrahats des Persischen Weisen, Hereditas 4, Bonn 1990; J. Botha, A Comparison Between Aphrahat and Ephrem on the Subject of Passover: Acta Patristica et Byzantina 3 1992 46-62; N. Koltun-Fromm, Psalm 22:17 in Light of Christian Anti-Jewish Polemic: JECS 61 1998; Id., Yokes of the Holy-Ones: The Embodiment of a Christian Vocation: HTR 942 April 2001; M.-J. Pierre, Aphraate, le Sage perse, in Dictionnaire des miracles et de l’extraordinaire chr- tiens, ed. P. Sbalchiero, Paris 2002, 44-45.Churches overthrown and uprooted | Vultus Christi travelquaz

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APHRAATES Aphrahat

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APHRAATES Aphrahat

St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage ca. 270-345 ” Classical Christianity travelquaz

APHRAATES Aphrahat

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