Ephrem, St.

, an ancient Christian writer of the fourth century, was a native of Edessa, according to some; or, as others say, of Nisibe in Syria; and was born under the emperor Constantine. He embraced a monastic life from his earliest years, and in a short time was chosen superior to a considerable number of monks. He is also said to have been ordained deacon at Edessa, and priest at Caesarea in Cappadocia by St. Basil, who taught him Greek; but these two last circumstances are questionable, and it is more generally asserted that he did nat understand Greek, and that he died a deacon. He might have been a bishop, which promotion he averted in a very singular manner, that reminds us of the conduct of Ambrose on a similar occasion: Sozomen relates, that when the people had chosen him, and sought him in order to have him ordained to that function, he ran into the market-place and pretended to be mad, and they desisting from their purpose, he escaped into some retired place, where he continued till another was chosen. He wrote a great number of books, all in the Syriac language; a great part of which is said to have been translated in his lifetime. Photius tells us that he wrote above a thousand orations, and that himself had seen forty-nine of his sermons: and Sozomen observes, that he composed three | hundred thousand verses, and that his works were so highly esteemed that they were publicly read in the churches after the scriptures. The same writer adds, that his works were so remarkable for beauty and dignity of style, as well as for sublimity of sentiments, that these excellences did not disappear even in their translations: and St. Jerom assures us, that in reading the truiislatiun of St. Ephrem’s treatise of the Holy Ghost, he recognized all the excellence of the original. Gregory Nyssen, in his panegyric on this father, is very copious with regard to the merit of his writings, and his attachments to the orthodox faith. St. Ephrem had an extreme aversion to the heresies of Sabellius, Arius, and Apollinarius; the last of whom, as Gregory relates, he treated in a manner which partakes too much of the modern trick to deserve much credit. It is thus related: Apollinarius having written two books, in which he had collected all the arguments in defence of his own opinion, and having entrusted them with a lady, St. Ephrem borrowed these books, under the pretence of being an Apollinarian; but before he returned them he glewed all their leaves together. The lady seeing the outside of the books to be the same as before, and not discovering that any thing had been done to them, returned them to Apollinarius to be used in a public conference he was going to have with a catholic: but he, not being able to open his books, was obliged to retire in disgrace. St. Ephrem was a man of the greatest severity of morals, and so strict an observer of chastity, that he avoided the sight of women. Sozomen tells us, that a certain woman of dissolute character, either on purpose to tempt him, or else being hired to it by others, met him on purpose in a narrow passage, and stared him full and earnestly in the face. St. Ephrem rebuked her sharply for this, and bade her look down on the ground. But the woman said, “Why should 1 do so, since I am not made out of the earth, but of thee It is more reasonable that thou shouldst look upon the ground, from which thou hadst thy original, but that I should look upon thee, from whom I was procreated.” St. Ephrem, wondering at the woman, wrote a book upon this conversation, which the most learned of the Syrians esteemed one of the best of his performances. He was also a man of exemplary charity, and as a late historian remarks, has furnished us with the first outlines of a general infirmary. Edessa having been long afflicted with a famine, he quitted | his 'cell; and applying himself to the rich men, expostulated severely with them for suffering the poor to starve, while they covetously kept their riches hoarded up. He read them a religious lecture upon the subject, which affected them so deeply, that they became regardless of their riches: “but we do not know,” said they, “whom to trust with the distribution of them, since almost every man is greedy of gain, and makes a merchandise and advantage to himself upon such occasions.” St. Ephrern asked them, “what they thought of him” They replied, that they esteemed him a man of great integrity, as he was universally thought to be. “For your sakes, therefore,” said he, “I will undertake this work;” and so, receiving their money, he caused three hundred beds to be provided and laid in the public porticoes, and took care of those who were sick through the famine. And thus he continued to do, till, the famine ceasing, he returned to his cell, where he applied himself again to his studies, and died notlongafter, in the year 378, under the emperor Valens. Upon his death-bed he exhorted the monks who were about him, to remember him in their prayers forbade them to preserve his clothes as relics and ordered his body to be interred without the least funeral pomp, or any monument erected to him. St. Ephrem was a man of the severest piety, but confused in his ideas, and more acquainted with the moral law than the gospel.

There is an edition of St. Ephrem’s Sermons, by Thwaites, the Greek only, Oxford, 1709, fol. and of his whole works, by Asseman, Gr. Syr. and Lat. printed at Rome, 1732 46, in 6 vols. fol. which is accompanied with prolegomena, notes, and prefaces. 1

1 Cave, vol. L Dupin. Gen. Dict. Milner’s Eccl. Hist. vol. II. p. 251. Lardner’s Works. Saxii Onmast.