Church's Roots Aren't European, Says Pope
Comments on Syriac Poet-Theologian
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Christianity didn't
originate in Europe, but rather has its roots in the Middle Eastern
world of the Old Testament, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope said this today during the general audience in Paul VI
Hall, which he dedicated to the figure of St. Ephrem the Syrian, a
fourth-century theologian, poet and musician.
He said the reflection continued along the lines of his commentary
last week on the fourth-century Syriac Christian Aphraates, which
also showed the cultural diversity of the early Christians.
"According to general opinion," said the Pontiff, "Christianity is a
European religion that has exported the culture of this Continent to
other countries. The reality, though, is a lot more complex, as the
root of the Christian religion is found in the Old Testament, and
therefore in Jerusalem and the Semitic world."
The Holy Father continued: "Its expansion during the first centuries
was both westward -- toward the Greek-Latin world, where it then
inspired the European culture -- and eastward to Persia and India,
thus contributing to stimulate a specific culture, in Semitic
languages, with its own identity."
St. Ephrem, said Benedict XIV, "was the most important
representative of Syriac Christianity, and succeeded in a unique way
to reconcile the vocation of the theologian with that of the poet."
Ephram was born in 306 in Nisibis, in what is modern-day Turkey, and
died of the plague in 373 in Edessa, in what is modern-day Greece.
The Pope said that while not much is known of his life, it is
commonly held that he was a deacon and lived a life of celibacy and
The Holy Father said the deacon, "a rich and captivating author,"
also "left us a large written theological inheritance."
"The specific character of his work is that theology meets poetry,"
continued the Pontiff. "If we want to get closer to his doctrine, we
need to acknowledge that he studied theology through poetry.
"Poetry allowed him to deepen his theological reflections through
paradoxes and images. His theology became both liturgy and music at
the same time: He was indeed a great composer and musician."
Benedict XVI quoted several of Ephrem's hymns, as examples of the
saint's "poetic theology."
In his hymn "On Christ's Nativity," Ephrem reflected on the figure
of the Virgin Mary: "The Lord came to her to make himself a servant.
The Word came to her to keep silence in her womb. The lightning came
to her to not make any noise."
Pearl of faith
In another hymn, "On the Pearl," St. Ephrem talks of faith: "My
brothers, I put (the pearl) in the palm of my hand, to be able to
look at it closely.
"I observed it from one side and then the other: It had only one
appearance from all sides.
"(Such) is the search for the Son, inscrutable, for he is luminous."
Commenting on the hymns of the fourth-century poet-theologian,
Benedict XVI said, "His theological reflection is expressed with
images and symbols taken from nature, from daily life and from the
The Pope also noted the deacon's writings on women: "To Ephrem the
role of the woman is a relevant one. The way he wrote about women
was always prompted by sensibility and respect: The fact that Jesus
dwelt in the womb of Mary has enormously raised the woman's dignity.
"For Ephrem there is no redemption without Jesus, just as there
could be no incarnation without Mary."
SOCM News Bureau