I would like to introduce this world through Aphraates, also known as "the wise one." He was one of the most important and enigmatic characters of fourth-century Syriac Christianity. He lived in the first half of the fourth century and was a native of the Nineveh-Mosul region -- today’s Iraq.
We have little information about his life; he had strong ties with the ascetic-monastic environment of the Syriac Church, on which he reflected a great deal in his work. According to some sources, he was the head of a monastery, and later ordained a bishop. He wrote 23 speeches known as Expositions or Demonstrations, in which he discusses different topics of Christian life, such as faith, love, fasting, humility, prayer, ascetic life, and also the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and between the Old and New Testaments. He writes in a simple style, with short sentences and at times contrasting parallelisms; nevertheless he manages to make consistent speeches by developing articulated arguments.
Aphraates came from a clerical community halfway between Judaism and Christianity. The community was very closely linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and its bishops were traditionally chosen among what were called James' "relatives," the "Lord’s brother" (cf. Mark 6:3): These people were connected to the Church of Jerusalem by blood and faith.
Aphraates spoke Syriac, a Semitic language like the Hebrew of the Old Testament and like the Aramaic spoken by Jesus himself. The ecclesial community in which Aphraates lived wanted to stay faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which it felt it was a daughter. Therefore it maintained a close relationship with the Jewish world and its sacred books.
Significantly Aphraates defines himself as a "disciple of sacred Scripture," of both the Old and New Testaments (Exposition 22,26), which he considered his sole source of inspiration, and so often mentioned it that it became the center of his reflections.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
ARAMAIC WATCH: Yesterday Pope Benedict preached a homily "On the Teachings of Aphraates." Aphraates was a fourth-century Syriac-speaking church father who took some interest in Jewish traditions. Excerpt: