or EPHRAIM, a Syrian, born at Nisibis, flourished A. D. 370.
He spent his youth in diligent study, and devoted himself at first to a monastic life, but afterwards went to Edessa, where he was ordained deacon.
He refused to proceed to the higher orders of the ministry, and is even said to have played the part of Brutus, by feigning madness in order to avoid elevation to the bishopric.
He formed a close friendship with Basil, bishop of Caesareia, and shared his acrimony against the Arians and other heretics, whom he attacks with the violence characteristic of his age.
He appeared in a truly Christian light at the time of a famine at Edessa, when he not only assisted the suffering poor with the greatest energy and most zealous kindness, but also actively exerted himself in urging the rich to deny themselves for their brethren's good. Sozomen (3.15) speaks with admiration of the manner in which Christianity had subdued in him a naturally irascible temper, and illustrates it by a pleasing anecdote, amusing from its quaint simplicity.
At the conclusion of a long fast, Ephraem's servant let fall the dish in which he was bringing him some food. His alarm at having thus spoiled his master's dinner was removed by hearing him say, " Never mind, since the food has not come to us, we will go to it." Whereupon Ephraem sat down on the floor and ate the scraps left in the fragments of the broken dish.
He died about A. D. 378, and in his last illness forbad the recitation of any funeral oration over his remains, and desired that his obsequies should be conducted in the simplest manner.
Ephraem knew no language but his native Syrian, though nearly all his works are translated into Greek, and were formerly held in such high esteem, that portions of them were sometimes read in churches after the gospel for the day.
Treatises, epistles, homilies etc.
Most of his writings were collected by Gerard Voss, who turned them into Latin, and published them (1) at Rome A. D. 1589-93-97, (2) at Cologne in 1603, (3) at Antwerp in 1619. Voss's edition is in three volumes.
The first consists of various treatises, partly on subjects solely theological, as the Priesthood, Prayer, Fasting, &c., with others partly theological and partly moral, as Truth, Anger, Obedience, Envy.
The second contains many epistles and addresses to monks, and a collection of apophthegms.
The third consists of several treatises or homilies on parts of Scripture and characters in the Old Testament, as Elijah, Daniel, the Three Children, Joseph, Noah. Photius gives a list of 49 homilies of Ephraem (Cod. 196), but which of these are included in Voss's edition it is impossible to ascertain, though it is certain that many are not.
Another edition of Ephraem's works in Syriac, Greek, and Latin, was published also at Rome with notes, prefaces, and various readings, " studio Sim. Assemanni, P. Benedicti et Steph. Evodii Assemanni," 6 vols. fol. 1732-46.
The Greek version of several of his writings, from eighteen MSS. in the Bodleian library, wass published by Edw. Thwaites at Oxford, 1709.
There have been several editions of separate works.
Ephraem is also said to be the author of an immense number of songs.
He began to write them in opposition to Harmonius, the son and disciple ot Bardesanes the heretic, who composed poetry involving many serious errors of doctrine, some of which were not only of an heretical but even of an heathen character, denying the resurrection of the body, and containing views about the nature of the soul extracted from the writings of pagan philosophers.
These songs had become great favourites among the common people, and Ephraem, to oppose their evil tendency, wrote other songs in similar metres and adapted to the same music of a pious and Christian character.
Sozomen, l.c. ;
Theodoret, 4.27; Cave, Script. Eccl. Hist. Liter.
part 1. sec. 4; C. Lengerke, Commentalio Critica de Ephraemo Syrio SS interprete, qua simul Versionis Syriacae, quam Peschito vocant, Lectiones variae ex Ephraemo Commentariis collectae, exhibentur,
Halle, 1828, and De Ephraemi Syri arle hermeneutica liber,