Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Selections from the Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim the Syrian and from the Demonstrations of Aphrahat the Persian Sage.: Recapitulation of Authentic Facts of Life.
IV.—Recapitulation of Authentic Facts of Life.
The Life, whence the above narrative is mainly derived, though evidently put into its present form by compilers many generations later than the time of Ephraim, is in its leading outlines to be accepted as historically trustworthy, though it has no doubt been largely amplified by the incorporation of exaggerated or fictitious details. Of its essential points, not a few are confirmed by his own writings; and many more (as has been said above, p. 121), by evidence of hardly later date,—especially by the Encomium of Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395), who assures us that he derives his account from Ephraims written statements and from no other source. 277 This Father, as being brother of Basil with whom Ephraim was so closely associated in his later life, may well have known personally the man of whom he wrote, and was at least in a position to collect and verify with discrimination the facts of his life. Further, the general historical framework of the biography is sufficiently attested as correct by the contemporary secular historians, non-Christian as well as Christian—notably (as will appear farther on), as regards the siege of Nisibis, by one whom Ephraim most abhorred, the Emperor Julian.
It may be briefly affirmed that the external independent evidence covers all the facts included in the summary given above (pp. 120, 121), at the opening of this Section. It extends farther to many incidents related in the Life,—such as the attempt of Sapor to take Nisibis by turning the river against its walls, Ephraims encounter with the woman who met him as he entered Edessa and her retort to his rebuke, his borrowing the music of the heretic in order to popularize the orthodox teaching of his own hymns, the call to the Episcopate and his evasion of it, the constancy of the faith of the Edessenes when threatened by the persecutor Valens, the famine and the work of relief organized by Ephraim in the last year of his life; also to a few of the details which belong to or verge on the supernatural,—the dream of the vine-shoot which foreshadowed his literary fertility, the vision of the Angel with the book who appeared to his brother-anchorite, and that of the dove, which he himself seemed to see, inspiring the discourses of Basil. In these facts, greater and smaller taken together, we have sufficient data for the derivation of the main outlines of his life and the leading features of his character.
There is no ground for supposing that Gregory could read Syriac. It follows therefore that some of Ephraims writings must have been at a very early date translated into Greek; and that one of these was the Testament which Gregory refers to no less than five times in the Encomium.
Next: Historical Criticism of Mediæval Amplifications.
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