A big hole in Patristics – the neglect of Ephraim Graecus

We all know that Christianity spread west into the Greek and Latin-speaking world.  It also spread east, into the Syriac-speaking world.  Most important of the Christian writers in Syriac is Ephraim of Nisibis, known generally as Ephraim the Syrian, or Ephrem/Effrem Syrus, who flourished in the mid-to-late 4th century and died in 373 AD.  He wrote mainly in verse.  His work proved popular, and he was translated into or copied in most of the languages of the ancient world.

Ephraim’s Syriac works now exist in fine, modern critical editions, with German translation, thanks to the immense effort of E. Beck in the CSCO series.  Admittedly nobody actually has copies of them – unless somebody has bootlegged that series to PDF without my knowledge! – but the point is that they exist.  Sebastian Brock gives a masterly bibliography of them in his St. Ephrem: A Brief Guide to the Main Editions and Translations, now online at Syri.ac here, and this includes discussion of non-Syriac materials.

There is a huge collection of materials in Greek, attributed to Ephraim the Syrian.  Brock notes:

A glance at the second volume of the Clavis Patrum Graecorum (CPG)52 will indicate that the number of texts in Greek attributed to Ephrem (CPG 3905–4175, 366–468) is exceeded only by those attributed to John Chrysostom (CPG 4305–5197, 491–672). …

The second volume of CPG (1974) and the Supplement (1998)53 provide the essential guide to ‘Ephrem Graecus’, and include references to the main secondary literature.54 The corpus is in fact very disparate in character, consisting of at least three very different elements:

  • (1) translations of genuine works by Ephrem
  • (2) translations of Syriac works not by Ephrem
  • (3) a large body of material, itself disparate in character, for which Greek is the original language. Some of the Greek texts employ a syllabic metre; these may belong to any one of the three categories.

Another scholar writes:

The Greek manuscripts of Ephraem are so numerous that in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris he is counted as the fourth most popular of the Greek Fathers, after St Chrysostom, St Gregory of Nazianzus, and St Basil. The collection of Greek manuscripts of Ephraem in the Vatican Library is almost as numerous. The earliest witness is a papyrus in the Louvre containing fragments of the Life of St Abraamios.[1]

Unfortunately this great mass of material has attracted very little scholarly attention.  What we should like to see is a list of the material, with indications of whether it is (a) really by Ephrem Syrus and translated (b) really from Syriac, if not by Ephrem or (c) clearly a Greek originally composition.  Unfortunately I don’t believe that this basic list of works plus classification exists anywhere.

Lists of Works

What we do have is a list of works in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum vols 2 and supplement:   CPG 3905-4184, supplement pp.227-250, containing supplements – mainly but not exclusively of Arabic and Old Slavonic versions.  This often indicates connections with other versions; but it is quite unclear on what this information is based.

There is also an article by D. Hemmerdinger-Iliadou, in Dictionaire de Spiritualité, vol. 4 (1960), cols. 800-815, which answers some of these questions, in a rather disorganised manner.

There is Homilies of Ephraim Graecus at the Syri.ac site here, covering only the homilies, which suggests that all the homilies have some connection with Syriac.  This claim appears to be based on the CPG data.

A rather strangely formatted bibliography (but useful) is at A Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity – Ephremiana [Greek], here.

There is also a dissertation which I have not been able to access: C. Emereau, Saint Ephrem le Syrien; son œuvre littéraire grecque, Paris (1918).

Likewise inaccesible is a festschrift where two papers seem interesting too:

  • S. P. Brock, “The Changing Faces of St. Ephrem as Read in the West”, (pp.65-80)
  • E. Lash, “The Greek Writings Ascribed to Saint Ephrem”, (pp. 81-98)

Both in K. Ware &c (edd.), Abba: the tradition of Orthodoxy in the West: festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003.


The original edition of Ephraim Graecus was that of Edmund Thwaites, S. Ephraim Syrus, Graece, e codicibus manuscriptis Bodleianis, Oxford, 1709.  This was Greek only, so in a single volume, and can be downloaded from here.

Hardly anybody uses this.  Thwaites edition was of 159 Greek works attributed to Ephraim, plus two Greek vitae.  Thwaite’s edition was made without ever leaving Oxford, so all the manuscripts that he used are in the Bodleian library.[2]

The “normal” edition of Ephraim Graecus is that of Joseph S. Assemani, Sancti patris nostri Ephraem Syri Opera Omnia quae extant graece, syriace, latine; in sex tomos distributa. Romae, 1732-1746.  The first three volumes contain the Greek and Latin versions, the last three the Syriac.  All may be downloaded from here.

But the first two volumes of Assemani were largely a reprint of Thwaites, minus the manuscript sources, so these also are based entirely on manuscripts from the Bodleian.  However he printed in parallel column the renaissance translation of Ambrogio Traversari, thereby making the edition much more useful.  His third volume contains material from other collections to which he had access.

A further problem with Assemani’s edition is the presence of doublets – passages that appear word for word in more than one work.  The CPG indicates these; but this only indicates how bad the Assemani edition is.

Yet another problem with Assemani is the sheer number of works with near-identical titles.  This causes problems in the CPG and the CPL, where the editors themselves became confused in at least one case (since fixed).

S. J. Mercati did his doctorate on Ephraem Graecus,[3] and began an edition in 1915: S. Ephraem Syri opera, textum Syriacum, Graecum, Latinum ad fidem codicum recensuit prolegominis, notis, indicibus instruxit Sylvius Joseph Mercati, Rom 1915 (online here and here).  But only a single volume (of Ephraem Graecus) appeared.

A new edition appeared 1988-98 in Greece, which I am told is from Assemani mostly.  But it also contains translations of all the texts into modern Greek.  It is Κων. Γ. Φραντζόλάς, Ὁσιοῦ Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου, Thessaloniki, 1988-98, 7 vols.[4]   A bookshop with stock is here (and my notes on using it here).  There is also a website with a list of the contents by volume here, and each work has a linked PDF containing Greek text with a Greek government copyright on it.


Twenty-seven translations exist online, at the marvellous Saint Ephrem blog here. This is run by Tikhon Alexander Pino, an Orthodox Christian husband and father, and a PhD candidate at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

Some have been translated by him; others by the late Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, whose blog is now gone but which is archived at Archive.org.  He includes links to both.


I have no list of manuscripts.  But I did discover that a 6th century papyrus fragment exists of a sermon, In secundum adventum domini nostri Iesu Christu, CPG 3920.[5]

    *    *    *    *

Frankly this looks a lot like a complete mess.

It’s not obvious to me how we might begin to solve such a mess.  The presence of the “doublets” makes it particularly difficult to say what any given work does or does not contain.  This in turn makes it very hard to do work on the corpus.

So there we are.  That’s what we have.  Rubbish, isn’t it.

UPDATE 23/10/2018: Added details on the Phrantzoles modern edition.
UPDATE 02/11/2018: Added details of translations.

  1. [1]T. S. Pattie, “Ephraem the Syrian and the Latin manuscripts of De Paenitentia”, in: British Library Journal 13 (1987) 1-24. Online here.
  2. [2]Hemmerdinger-Iliadou “Démocracie. Les manuscrits de l’Ephrem grec utilisés par Thwaites”. In: Scriptorium 13 (1959) pp. 261-262; Online here.
  3. [3]So German Wikipedia.
  4. [4]Konstantinos G. Phrantzolas (google search results use various spellings like Phrantzoles, Phrantsoles, etc; but Phrantzolas is on the copyright page of the first volume.), Ὁσιοῦ Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου  ἔργα, Thessaloniki: Το περιβόλι της Παναγίας / To Perivoli tis Panagias, 1988-98, 7 vols
  5. [5]T.M.Teeter, “A fragment of Ephraim the Syrian”, in: Fabian Reiter (ed.), Literarische Texte der Berliner Papyrussammlung, (2012), pp.44-47, and table viiia. Google Books here.

24 thoughts on “A big hole in Patristics – the neglect of Ephraim Graecus

  1. I was wondering about the percentage of the authentic works of Ephraim translated into Greek. I read somewhere (by Brock) that it is tiny, only a small fraction. What have you found?

  2. I am probably needlessly anticipating you in noting that there are many scans of J.B. Morris’s Selected works of S. Ephrem the Syrian (1847) and more than one of J. Rendel Harris’s Fragments of the Commentary of Ephrem Syrus upon the Diatessaron (1895) in the Internet Archive, as well ones as of, e.g., S. Ephrem et La Sainte Eucharistie (1926), C. Ferry, Saint Éphrem poète (1877), and Alison Salvesen’s The Exodus Commentary of St. Ephrem (1995).

  3. Dear Roger (if I may),
    you might be interested in this:
    https://www.academia.edu/28493099/Hippolytus_Recast_and_a_Late_Antique_Dies_irae .
    In fact, I have to confess that while writing this article I was not aware of the papyrus fragment you mention in another post. All the better, since my argument and the existence of the fragment converge as far as the date of the text is concerned.
    May I add that many of us are grateful for your sharing your questions and research liberally and inspiringly. In my collection of the eschatological fragments of Hippolytus (available only in Hungarian) I have also started while producing the section on Adversus Gaium from the material you have published on this blog — certainly, not without mentioning my debt to you.

  4. Hello,

    I have already found the article – thank you! – but haven’t read it yet!

    I hope I gave details of the papyrus.. I’m wading in a sea of data.

    You are very kind. But all of us owe everything to researchers like yourself.

    I’m on holiday for a few days but there will be more Ephraim next week.

  5. Yes thank you. I wish I could find the K.G. Phrantzoles, Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα 4 (Thessaloniki: To Perivole tes Panagias, 1992) edition with modern Greek translation in 7 vols anywhere.

  6. Hmm… spelling is important. Searching for

    K.G. Phrantzoles Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα

    Gives me this link for vol. 3 at http://www.greekorthodoxbooks.com. That’s something! Searching for “Οσίου Εφραίμ του Σύρου Έργα” at the site suggests that all 7 volumes are available at 25 euros each. But don’t be tempted to switch to English language on the search page – they all vanish! But at least you can get an idea of what most of the menus mean.

  7. Oh rats – they all say “Εξαντλήθηκε” meaning “Out of stock”.

    But this site seems to have stock. The editor’s name doesn’t seem to appear on all the bookshop pages. The shipping overseas is 25 euros, tho. Open the site in Chrome, and right-click and select “Translate to English” on each page – the buttons seem to work. I was able to register an account alright. However at € 43.40 for a single volume, I might hold off a bit!


    I wonder if there are any copies in the UK where I could actually access them. I’m drawing blank in Copac; but possibly Greek Orthodox people might have some?

  8. You say, “It’s not obvious to me how we might begin to solve such a mess.” But the answer is simple. One merely has to be an expert in the writings of St. Ephrem, which involves a wider expertise in Syriac patristics, and then one has to be willing to comb through seven volumes of texts ranging from the fourth through the fourteenth centuries (most of which have nothing to do with Ephrem Syrus) looking for the parallels.

    The ‘corpus’ of Ephraem Graecus is united mostly by simple attribution of authorship. They contain endless small treatises and a good number of very long homilies across a wide range of genres and theological categories. It’s an amorphous body of literature, encompassing everything that anyone at any time was willing to attribute to Ephrem in the Byzantine world, amounting, as you say, to the second largest body of writings in all of Greek patristic theology. Scholars have naturally been wary of venturing into open waters like this.

  9. Simple indeed! 🙂 Although a modern Greek scholar has a definite advantage, because of the existence of the modern Greek translation.

    You make good points here. But the advantage of open water, is that one is unlikely to bump into another boat. Anything we do is most likely to be useful. Even these humble blog posts may inspire somebody to go out there and rampage! I hope so, anyway.

  10. I can’t imagine someone who can’t read the original will make much headway in trying to disentangle the authorship and it’s relationship to the Syriac corpus. Anyway, the Greek of Greek Ephrem is among the simplest you’ll find.

  11. …which is to say, I don’t see why knowledge of modern Greek would add anything to the scholarship.

  12. It wouldn’t add anything to the scholarship. But the first thing that I would do, if I could, would be to skim-read the whole 7 volumes in translation and get familiar with the Ephraem Graecus corpus **as a whole**, say over a few days. I doubt the ancient Greek of most western scholars is good enough for that task. Maybe that’s just me. But it’s all about getting young scholars to delve into it.

  13. It’s not a bad idea. I think it can be done easily from the original. In fact, it would be a good way to introduce the range of genres in the corpus.

    I have a volume of translations planned, in collaboration with others, consisting precisely of different sections representing the standard genres in Greek Ephrem: monastic/paraenetic texts, exegetical homilies and compositions related to the feasts of the Church, and more dogmatic-theological works.

    My own feeling is that there are a few, very distinct Ephrems in the corpus, the principal one for the Byzantines being the ascetical writer, making Ephrem the prototypical monastic, and for modern scholars and readers the poet-theologian in the Syriac tradition.

  14. That’s very interesting. Of course this is where I defer to a scholar like yourself…

    The volume of translations is very very welcome!

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