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A History Of The Church In Nine Books by Sozomen

EPHRAIM, the Syrian, was entitled to the highest honours, and was the greatest ornament of the church. He was a native of Nisibis, or of the neighbouring territory. He devoted his life to monastic philosophy; and although he received no instruction, he became, contrary to all expectation, so proficient in the learning and language of the Syrians, that he comprehended with ease the most abstruse theorems of philosophy. His style of writing was so replete with splendid oratory and sublimity of thought that he surpassed all the writers of Greece. If the works of these writers were to be translated into Syriac, or any other language, and divested, as it were, of the beauties of the Greek language, they would retain little of their original elegance and value. The productions of Ephraim have not this disadvantage: they were translated into Greek during his life, and translations are even now being made, and yet they preserve much of their original force and power, so that his works are not less admired when read in Greek than when read in Syriac. Basil, who was subsequently bishop of the metropolis of Cappadocia, was a great admirer of Ephraim, and was astonished at his erudition. The opinion of Basil, who was the most learned and eloquent man of his age, is a stronger testimony, I think, to the merit of Ephraim, than any thing that could be indited in his praise. It is said that he wrote three hundred thousand verses, and that he had many disciples who were zealously attached to his doctrines. The most celebrated of his disciples were Abbas, Zenobius, Abraham, Maras, and Simeon, whom the most learned men of Syria regard as the glory of their country. Paulanas and Aranad are likewise generally included in their number; for they were renowned as men of great eloquence, although reported to have deviated from sound doctrine.

I am not ignorant that there were some very learned men who flourished in Osroene, as, for instance, Bardasanes, who originated a heresy designated by his name, and Harmonius his son. It is related that this latter was deeply versed in Grecian erudition, and was the first to compose verses in his vernacular language; those verses he delivered to the choirs, and even now the Syrians frequently sing, not the precise verses written by Harmonius, but others of the same metre. For as Harmonius was not altogether free from the errors of his father, and entertained various opinions concerning the soul, the generation and destruction of the body, and the doctrine of transmigration, which are taught by the Greek philosophers, he introduced some of these sentiments in the lyrical songs which he composed. When Ephraim perceived that the Syrians were charmed with the elegant diction and melodious versification of Harmonius, he became apprehensive, lest they should imbibe the same opinions; and therefore, although he was ignorant of Grecian learning, he applied himself to the study of the Metres of Harmonius, and composed similar poems in accordance with the doctrines of the Church, and sacred hymns in praise of holy men. From that period the Syrians sang the odes of Ephraim, according to the method indicated by Harmonius. The execution of this work is alone sufficient to attest the natural endowments of Ephraim. He was as celebrated for the good actions he performed as for the rigid course of discipline he pursued. He was particularly fond of tranquillity. He was so serious, and so careful to avoid giving occasion to calumny, that he refrained from looking upon woman. It is related that a female of licentious character, who was either desirous of tempting him, or who had been bribed for the purpose, contrived on one occasion to meet him face to face, and fixed her eyes intently on him; he rebuked her, and commanded her to look down upon the ground. “Wherefore should I obey your injunction,” replied the woman; “for I was born not of the earth but of you? It would be more just if you were to look down upon the earth whence you sprang, while I look upon you as I was born of you.” Ephraim, astonished at the language of the woman, recorded the whole transaction in a book which most Syrians regard as one of the best of his productions. It is also said of him, that, although he was naturally prone to passion, he never exhibited angry feeling towards any one from the period of his embracing a monastic life. It once happened that after he had, according to custom, been fasting several days, his attendant, in presenting some food to him, let fall the dish on which it was placed. Ephraim, perceiving that he was overwhelmed with shame and terror, said to him, “Take courage; we will go to the food as the food does not come to us,” and he immediately seated himself beside the fragments of the dish, and ate his supper. What I am about to relate will suffice to show that he was totally exempt from the love of vain-glory. He was appointed bishop of some town, and attempts were made to convey him away for the purpose of ordaining him. As soon as he became aware of what was intended, he ran to the market-place, exhibited himself in an indecorous manner, and ate in public. Those who had come to carry him away to be their bishop, on seeing him in this state, believed that he was out of his mind, and departed: and he, meeting with an opportunity for effecting his escape, remained in concealment until another had been ordained in his place. What I have now said concerning Ephraim must suffice, although his own countrymen relate many other anecdotes of him. Yet his conduct on one occasion shortly before his death, appears to me so worthy of remembrance that I shall record it here. The city of Edessa being severely visited by famine, he quitted the solitary cell in which he dwelt, and rebuked the rich for permitting the poor to die around them, instead of imparting to them of their superfluities; and he represented to them that the wealth which they were treasuring up so carefully would turn to their own condemnation, and to the ruin of the soul, which is of more value than all the riches of the earth. The rich men, convinced by his arguments, replied, “We are not intent upon hoarding our wealth, but we know of no one to whom we can confide the distribution of our goods, for all are prone to seek after lucre, and to betray the trust placed in them.” “What think you of me?” asked Ephraim. On their admitting that they considered him an excellent and just man, and worthy of confidence, he offered to undertake the distribution of their alms. As soon as he received their money he had about three hundred beds fitted up in the public galleries, and here he tended those who were ill and suffering from the effects of the famine, whether they were foreigners or natives of the surrounding country. On the cessation of the famine he returned to the cell in which he had previously dwelt; and, after the lapse of a few days, he expired. He attained no higher clerical degree than that of deacon, although his attainments in virtue rendered him equal in reputation to those who rose to the highest sacerdotal dignity, while his holy life and erudition made him an object of universal admiration. I have now given some account of the virtue of Ephraim. It would require a more experienced hand than mine, to furnish a full description of his character and that of the other illustrious men who about the same period had devoted themselves to a life of philosophy; and it is to be regretted that Ephraim did not enter upon this undertaking. The attempt is beyond my powers, for I possess but little knowledge of these great men, or of their exploits. Some of them concealed themselves in the deserts. Others, who lived in populous places, strove to preserve a mean appearance, and to seem as if they differed in no respect from the multitude, that their virtue might be unknown, and that they might so avoid the praises of others. For as they were intent upon the enjoyment of future blessedness, they desired no other testimony to their virtue than that of God, and sought not outward glory.








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