Beatitudines aliae 3 – stepping through the Greek once more

Let’s carry on looking at the Greek of Ephraim Graecus, Beatitudines aliae capita XX.  I apologise if it’s a bit dull, but it’s useful to me.  Into section 3:

γ’. Μακάριος ὃς γέγονεν π τς γς ς ἄγγελος οράνιος κα μιμητς τν Σεραφίμ, γνος ἔχων καθ’ κάστην τος λογισμούς.

Traversari’s modern translation (which helps quite a bit in sorting out the sense):

Beatus, qui in terra est tamquam Angelus coelestis, & imitator factus Seraphim, castas assidue cogitationes habet.

(I.e. Blessed [is he], who on earth is like an angel of heaven, & has become an imitator of the Seraphim, [and] continually has pure thoughts.)

As before, we start with “Μακάριος ὃς”, “Blessed [is he] who“, and we expect a verb.  This time we’re not getting a verb in participle form, but instead a normal main verb, a 3rd person perfect indicative active, “γέγονεν”, “he has become”.  The next bit is simple; π τς γς, meaning “upon the earth”.

Then we get ς, meaning “as, like”.[1]  Alright, Traversari tipped me off; so I hunted around until I found an excuse for it!  But it still fits.  Next ἄγγελος οράνιος, i.e., like a heavenly angel.  Finally “κα μιμητς τν Σεραφίμ”, “and an imitator of the Seraphim”.

So the first clause means:

Blessed [is he], who has become, on earth, like a heavenly angel and an imitator of the seraphim…

Nothing unusual here.

But the rest gets messy.

γνος | ἔχων | καθ’ κάστην | τος λογισμούς.

The object of this clause is the accusative plural, ἁγνος τος λογισμούς =  “pure thoughts”. 

In truth, I’m not sure that I would have recognised λογισμος as “thought”, from Liddell and Scott.  I got the idea from Traversari; but I see that even in Lampe’s Lexicon of Patristic Greek (p.806), meaning 1 is “argument, faith based”.  But meaning 2 is indeed “thought”, thankfully.

ἔχων = a present participle, “having”.

But what on earth is “καθ’ κάστην”?  From googling I find that it appears in Hebrews 3:13, where καθ’ means “each”, and “hekastos” is an adjective meaning “every”, but not as a phrase.  However I find “καθ’ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν” and “καθ’ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν” both rendered as “every day” in Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek p.159

This is in fact the meaning. I find in the 1826 A new Greek and English Lexicon by James Donnegan, p.292, in the middle of the entry for hekastos the following entry:

καθ’ ἑκάστην (ἡμέραν understood), every day.

This Traversari has rendered as “continually”.  So we end up with

Blessed [is he], who has become, on earth, like a heavenly angel and an imitator of the seraphim, having pure thoughts every day”.

That was harder work than it should have been!

  1. [1]A nice discussion of conjunctions here.

Beatitudines aliae, section 2

In the comments to my last post it was pointed out that the syntax of the sentence of Beatitudines aliae capita xx is poetic, rather than prose; and the word order is accordingly weird.

The first two “chapters” – or rather sentences – are both in a similar form.  The first clause consists of:

  1. Μακάριος ὃς (“Blessed is he who”), then:
  2. A verb in participle form, meaning “having been/done/hated/whatever”.  This expects an object, but the object is displaced to the end of the clause.  Instead:
  3. A verb or two in the simple indicative, past or present – I am avoiding too much jargin here – meaning “he does/feels/whatever”.
  4. The object.

So in section 1, we had “Blessed is he who, having hated | the human life, abandoned [it]”.  But “the human life” was at the end of the clause.

Section 2 is as follows.

β’. Μακάριος ὃς μισήσας βδελύσσεται τν κακίστην μαρτίαν, Θεν μόνον γαπήσας τν γαθν κα φιλάνθρωπον.

Modern Greek translation, printed by Phrantzolas:

2. Μακάριος αυτός πού μίσησε καί άποστρέφεται την απαίσια αμαρτία, επειδή αγάπησε μόνο τόν αγαθό καί φιλάνθρωπο Θεό.

Traversari’s Latin translation, printed by Assemani:

Beatus, qui odit ac detestatur pessimum peccatum, Deumque solum bonum atque hominum amatorem diligit.

This as before gives a general sense rather than an accurate one.

A kind correspondent pointed out last time that the syntax  of the first clause is in a poetic order, so needs to be rearranged for translation purposes.  We have

Μακάριος, ὃς | μισήσας βδελύσσεται | τν κακίστην μαρτίαν,

Blessed is he, who | having hated the worst sin | loathes [it].

Where βδελύσσεται (normal meaning = loathe) is the active verb (3rd person present indicative middle/passive), and the object is “τν κακίστην μαρτίαν”  (= the worst sin), which we must pull forward after the participle, μισήσας.

A mistake I made last time was in not checking Lampe’s Lexicon of Patristic Greek.  This pays dividends again, for on p.294 I find βδελλύσσομαι given as “abhor”, which is better than loathe.

So far so good.  Now the rest of the clause, which I read as:

Θεν μόνον | γαπήσας | τν γαθν κα φιλάνθρωπον

having loved | only God | [who is] good and loves mankind.

Here I move the aorist active singular masculine participle γαπήσας (“having loved”) to the front, as all the rest are in agreement with “God”.

But this is still not right, I think.  Clearly there is something about the syntax of the second clause that I don’t know, about that aorist participle.  It feels wrong.

Googling I find that an aorist participle should mean a past event, except where the main verb is also aorist, when it can mean a contemporary event.  (It can even mean a subsequent event, rarely! Aargh!)[1]  In our context, that does make sense.

Traversari cheerfully changes the participle into an indicative, and the aorist into the present tense.  He treats it as meaning “loves / values / esteems / aspires to”, which seems about right.  But even here “loving only God…” would be closer.

Putting it together, we get:

2. Blessed is he, who having hated the worst sin, abhors [it], loving only God [who is] good and loves mankind.

Is that right?  Criticisms welcomed below!

  1. [1]See Daniel B. Wallace, here: “The aorist participle, for example, usually denotes antecedent time to that of the controlling verb.[1] But if the main verb is also aorist, this participle may indicate contemporaneous time.[2]” References: “[1]  We are speaking here principally with reference to adverbial (or circumstantial) participles. [2]  Cf. Robertson, Grammar, 1112-13. From my cursory examination of the data, the aorist participle is more frequently contemporaneous in the epistles than in narrative literature. There is also such a thing as an aorist participle of subsequent action, though quite rare.”

More on Beatitudines aliae capita xx.

There are perils to late-night writing, one of which is that you may not be that sharp!  But today I have started to look at Traversari’s translation of Ephraem Graecus’ Beatitudines aliae capita xx.  Here’s the first “chapter” (with ocr error corrected!):

I. Beatus, qui praesentem hanc vitam odit ac deserit, & in solo Deo meditatio vitae suae est.


1. Blessed [is he], who hates and abandons this present life, and in God alone is the meditation of his life.

Somewhat odd phrasing, so let’s look at the Greek, taken from the Phrantzolas edition:

α’. Μακάριος, oς μισήσας κατέλιπε | τόν βίον τούτον άνθρώπινον, καί σύν Θεώ μονωτάτω | ή μελέτη | τής ζωής αυτού | έγένετο.


1. Blessed [is he], who hated [and] abandoned | this human life, and in God alone | the pattern | of his life | there came to pass.

The “μισήσας” is an active aorist participle; the κατέλιπε is a 3rd person active aorist indicative, neither of which is obviously rendered by an English present tense.  (The έγένετο 3rd person aorist indicative middle is familiar to everyone as “there came to pass”).

I’m quite sure that Ambrogio Traversari knew vastly more Greek back in the 15th century than I know now.  But all the same… this is not a good translation.  Getting the verb tenses right is important.  It’s poetic, much the same meaning, but not good.

At this point, I am curious to know how the sentence was rendered by the late antique translator who created a Latin version of Beatitudines aliae capita xx.  Fortunately this was printed, albeit in a horrid and  hideously abbreviated incunable:

Which looks like:

Beatus qui odio habuerit hunc mundum, et solummodo (?) meditatio eius in deo fuerit.


I.e. Blessed is he who held this world in contempt, and alone his meditation was in God.

Better tense rendering, anyway, although not very close to the original.  But how interesting the use of the word “meditatio” in both cases.

At this point I consult Souter’s Glossary of Later Latin which includes uses for meditatio such as “thinking”, “study” and “carrying out”.  All the same; neither is that close to the Greek.

UPDATE: Please see the comments for corrections of my mistakes.  In particular, I should have looked at Lampe’s Lexicon of Patristic Greek for μελέτη!

Looking at Ephraem Graecus, “Beatitudines aliae capita XX”

Insomnia is a pain.  But it is my lot tonight, so I thought that I’d go and look at Ephraim Graecus’ work Beatitudines aliae capita XX” (Other blessings, 20 chapters).

My first intention was to translate some of the Greek; but I quickly was drawn to the parallel Latin translation printed by Assemani, and originally made by Ambrogio Traversari.  I used to scan quite a bit of Latin, back in the day.  So I wondered what Finereader 12 would make of it.

Well!  I can say that it made a much better job of it than in days of yore.  On the other hand, the long-s is still not recognised.  I had to go through the text and fix each and every one.

Likewise ligatures for -ae are not recognised; quae was usually read as qua: or qux or just qua.

All the same, it scanned fairly well.  But now there is no time for translating.

Anyway here it is:

I’m rather better at Latin than Greek, and I really don’t want anything very challenging at the moment, so I might translate that instead.  Just for fun!

Working on the bibliography of Ephraim Graecus

This is a bit of a computer-y post, so perhaps will be of interest to few.

A couple of days ago I started with a list of PDFs of Greek works of Ephraem Graecus from here, and I opened it up in Notepad++ and global search and replaced on it.  So this:

became this, by changing <li> to <hr>\r\nGreek Title:

A similar process of changes added in blank fields, and became this:

Then it was time to type in some of the data, from the CPG, picking up the pages of the Assemani edition.  The file became this:

Next came the pages of the Phrantzolas edition:

I carried on, until I ended up with a text file like this:

Now this is well and good, but I really wanted to manipulate the data programmatically.

For one thing I knew that the works were in the same order as the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae entries – 001-156 – which meant that all I needed to do was number them.  But I didn’t fancy typing that in.

What I did, therefore, was to turn each row into XML tags, of my own invention.  The file became this:

Of course it is really easy to get the start and end tags mismatched, so I used a free online validator to check the XML, just pasting it in, and dealing with whatever errors it found.

I avoided reformatting the XML in Notepad++, tho.  I did install the XML plugin, and tried it out; but it made the file much less compact – not a great idea if you are paging down it and filling in blank fields, as it doubles your keystrokes.

I then added in the translations information from the Ephraem Graecus website list of translations.  This meant more tags; but of course I could alter the structure as I went along.  I jammed in the data, separated with commas, for speed of entry, and got stuff like this:

So far so good.  But I was beginning to feel the need to start turning the XML into something that could be used in a web page.  That meant coding.

A moment’s thought suggested that I use perl.  I installed Strawberry perl, at the suggestion of the site.  I had a lot of trouble installing other types of perl.

That done, I opened a command window and installed the CPAN libraries using

This done, I looked for a bit of sample code, which I found here, using the XML::LibXML library.  This I adapted.

I got a lot of “Wide character in print” messages, which turned out to be unicode-related.  I had to specify in the perl to use utf-8, and also that the STDOUT should use it too (see my code below).

When the script ran, the Greek was gibberish.  So I changed the windows console font to “Lucida Console”, and also specified that the code page for it to use was utf-8 by entering the command “chcp 65001”.

But once I had this running, it was fine!

Of course then I had to decide what I wanted my output to look like. I built it up, a bit at a time.  I found there was more than one translation; so I had to create a nested array of translations.  Some translations had a url, because they were online, so I needed a way to have a url.  I had to break up the original <translation> tag above into <info> and <url>.  But I managed.

I kept validating the xml file, and I kept running my perl script.

At the end, the output file looked like this:

So, if you open it in Chrome – the browser everyone uses for web development -, it looks like this:

Not bad!  The first entry is a bit messy, but that was a vice of the original data.  The Phrantzolas edition doesn’t give a title in Greek for the whole work, only for each of 26 bits.  Nor is there one in the CPG.  The links I made up from the <url> tags that were in my file.  I didn’t add much formatting, other than <small> on the editions etc line.

It’s fairly plain HTML.  My guess is that it will paste into a WordPress page quite nicely, in the “Text” tab in the editor.

It may need some rejigging, but the code is hardly complex.

Anyway, here are the complete files, as of today:

This contains the script, (if I have to type “perl > op.htm” I want as few characters as possible), the xml file input.xml, and a sample output, op.htm.

Of course the bibliography could be extended mightily, but I don’t propose to do this.  What I really wanted was the cross-reference between the old Assemani edition, the new Phrantzolas edition, and the CPG, plus any translations that were around.  We’ve got more than one translation already for some works.

All this did take a while!  But it was worth it.

From my diary – yes, Ephraem Graecus and Phrantzolas etc

A kind correspondent lent me the missing volume 2 of Phrantzolas today.  So I’ve been able to add the page numbers for the works in this volume into my XML file of works and editions.

I’ve also just gone through the list of translations at Tikhon Alexander Pino’s excellent website, Saint Ephrem the Syrian: Translations from the Greek Corpus, to which all this writing about Ephraim Graecus owes so much.  I’ve added in brief references to these to the XML as well, plus a couple of other sources which I came across independently.

I don’t know if the XML will actually be useful to anyone – it’s all pretty obvious -, but in case it is, I upload it here:

There are probably bugs in this, although I have validated the basic format against this online validator here.  Still, it is what it is.

I’d like to generate a nice human-readable HTML page from this, but I’m running low on time now.  I shall have to go off to work for bread, like everyone else, very soon.  Still… watch this space.

From my diary – still more Phrantzolas and Ephraem Graecus

I have now looked through all the volumes of the Phrantzolas edition of Ephraem Graecus, (except for volume 2 which I do not have), and added all the page numbers of the works, as printed in it, to the file of works and page numbers and editions that I am building up.

Probably I shall have to buy a paper copy of volume 2 in order to do the rest.  It’s 40 euros, tho, including postage from Greece, so I have hesitated.

I’ve also created an XML version of the file, which I’ve sent over to the Pinakes people so that they can add in the Assemani page numbers to their page on the works of Ephraim Graecus.  Their list of works is that of the Phrantzolas edition.

The Phrantzolas edition of Ephraim Graecus is clearly now the “standard edition”.  The Greek text is printed in a modern typeface – the early 18th century Assemani is hardly readable.  The choice of contents is more restricted than Assemani; but many of the “works” listed by Assemani are duplicates, as everyone acknowledges.  It is unfortunate that this edition is present in few western libraries.  None is listed in COPAC for the UK, for instance.

However it is a great pity that K. Phrantzolas did not add a few pages to his work, and explain just why each work or fragment in Assemani was, or was not, included.  All we have is the product of his labour, and his modern Greek translation.  So for works listed in Assemani, but not included by Phrantzolas, the reader is left to wonder whether the item is actually a duplicate, a fragment, and if so, of what?

But with 156 works in Phrantzolas’ 7 volumes, the researcher has plenty to work on!  Also all the works have a modern Greek translation, which will help some; and Assemani prints a Latin translation of all the works he prints.  So even without knowledge of ancient Greek, a researcher should be able to work with the corpus.

I intend to place online my own concordance of the works printed by Phrantzolas, with the pages of Assemani, and a Greek text found online for most of them.  I’m not quite sure what format would be most useful, tho.

My time of leisure is probably coming to an end, and I shall have to go back to work.  So getting that online will be a convenient stopping point for Ephraim Graecus.  I shall try to do that in the next couple of days.

From my diary

On Saturday I was working on a text file containing the works of Ephraem Graecus, as they appear in the Phrantzolas edition, with CPG numbers and Assemani page numbers.  This proved much more difficult than I had at first thought, and I was reduced to opening the PDFs of the Greek text and looking at the opening words in the index of initia in the CPG volume 5.

At various points it became obvious that it would be very helpful if I had a PDF of the CPG that was searchable.

I don’t possess the volumes of the CPG and never have.  The price puts them outside the reach of the layman.  (I do possess a copy of the CPL, however, because Brepols issued a paperback of it).  So, like most people, I am dependent on PDFs made up of photos taken with a mobile phone by someone or other.  These are always askew, and can’t be made searchable.

However… in my directory of CPG files, I discovered a set of 5 PDFs where the images of each double-page were pretty much square on, and also in grey-scale.  I never used them, as the grey-scale was faint, and unpleasant to look at.  But I started to experiment.

I pulled one volume into Finereader 12, with the options set to automatically split pairs of pages into two.  To my amazement this worked fine, without need for correction (in subsequent volumes I had to manually split a dozen pages).

The single page images were still a rubbishy hard-to-read grey, however.  I then tried saving the images out of FR12 to disk, as black and white .png files.  I hoped that these would be readable and … it worked!  The original images were such high resolution that the black-and-white versions were just fine.

The new page images were also much more readable, being black and white.

I then combined all the B/W images into a new PDF file, which became my new volume of the CPG.  So now I had a PDF of perfectly readable, square-on, single pages, in black and white.

I wanted to make this searchable.  Ideally the Greek should be searchable as Greek, and the Latin as Latin.  I am not clear how to do this.  One idea would be to pull the black and white images back into FR12, OCR them, and then let FR12 create a searchable PDF.  This might well work;  but the PDFs created by Finereader tend to be huge.  And… would the ancient Greek really work?

What I did instead was to use Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 to OCR the B/W PDFs.  This makes the Latin text more or less searchable.  It’s a start.

I’ve had to pause work on this for much of today in order to do a job interview, but I am resuming the process for all the volumes tonight.  Then I shall return to the Phrantzolas file, with the aid of searchable PDFs.

The job interview was successful, so I may have to go back to work next week!  Whatever I am to do must be done now!

From my diary – more Phrantzolas and Ephraem Graecus

At the  moment I am plodding away through a tedious but necessary task.

On the web here, there is a page which purports to be a list of all the works of Ephraem Graecus, as they appear in the seven volume Phrantzolas translation / edition.  It also links to a PDF with the ancient Greek text of most of them.

It’s fairly obvious that this is a useful item, which would be much more useful if it had the CPG number for each work, and the page numbers in the Assemani edition, and indeed the page numbers for the works in the Phrantzolas edition.  So I have begun to prepare a version of it, in just such a form.

Boy it is hard work!

I’d naively assumed that Phrantzolas wouldn’t resequence the works from the order in which they appear in Assemani.  This is largely, but not completely true.

I knew that he omitted “texts” which are duplicate, printing in each case the longest version.  I had not realised quite how wholesale the omissions are.  In fact, we really need a cross-reference table for each work, indicating which of the several  versions in Assemani has been translated by Phrantzolas.  But this does not seem to be in the edition.  Indeed Phrantzolas states that an index volume will be published separately.  Unfortunately I have not been able to locate any details of such a volume.

Clearly Ephraem Graecus scholarship needs to start with some basic bibliographical tasks, requiring no more than the skills of a research assistant.  But this is a very necessary task, which is as yet undone.

So… I have been driven back to work from the original list.  I find that in CPG volume 5 there is a list of authors and (Latin titles) in alphabetical order, which helps quite a lot.  There is also a list of Greek initial words (initia), which also (but not always) helps.

Slowly, slowly I drive this forward.  I am in volume 4 at the moment.  I’ve not added the Phrantzolas page numbers as yet – I’ll do a second pass for these.

I’m editing in raw HTML, as this gives me some interesting capabilities for bulk find-and-replace.  I’m not convinced, either, about the format.

Nor am I certain that the result would be best hosted here.  I wonder if perhaps the Saint Ephraim site ( might be a better place?  Oh well.  First create the thing.

Ephraem Graecus and John Wesley

The name of John Wesley is not well-remembered today; and indeed the same could be said of the organisation that he founded, the Methodist church.  Born and raised as an Anglican high churchman, he was converted and became one of the most important figures of the 18th century.

Few will be aware that he refers to Ephraim the Syrian in his copious works, which in the 1872 Methodist Conference edition fill 14 volumes.  But he does.  Let’s hear the words of Ephrem Lash, in his article “The Greek Writings Attributed to Saint Ephrem the Syrian”, in: Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, 2003.  Page 90:

In more recent times [the works of Ephraim Graecus] have attracted the attention of people as diverse as … John Wesley, who had a particular fondness for Ephrem, and refers to him a number of times in his journals. In his Fourth Savannah Journal, on 12 October 1736 at Frederica in Georgia, he describes him as “The most awakening writer, I think, of all the ancients.” Eleven years later, in Newcastle, he wrote in his journal on Ash Wednesday, 4 March 1747, “I spent some days in reading ‘The Exhortations of Ephrem Syrus.’ Surely never did any man, since David, give us such a picture of a broken and contrite heart.”

Wesley was almost certainly using the Oxford edition of 1709, since the Greek volumes of Assemani were only published in 1732, 1743 and 1746. He cannot, despite what some of his biographers have written, have been using the Syriac texts, since these the first of these was only published in 1737; with the other two following in 1740 and 1743.

Wesley also seems to have known what is, I suspect, the earliest work of Ephrem to be translated into English, which was published by W. Bowyer in 1731.[29] It is a pamphlet of some fifty pages in small quarto. Only seven copies are known to exist, three of which are in the USA. Neither the British Library nor any Oxford library possesses a copy; there is, however one in Liverpool University Library, which I have been able to consult.

The translator is anonymous, but was almost certainly the publisher, William Bowyer, who was a good Greek and Latin scholar. The translation was made from Thwaites’s Oxford edition of the Greek, together with the Cologne edition of Gerard Vossius’s 16th century Latin translation. It is the sermon known as the Sermo Compunctorius, which is to be found in the first volume of Assemani’s edition on pages twenty-eight to forty.

Apart from this extremely rare edition, nothing of the Greek Ephrem has been published in English, so far as I am aware, except for the Prayer of Saint Ephrem, of which there are numerous versions.

[29] … The title is, “A Serious Exhortation to Repentance and Sorrow for Sin, and a strict and mortified Life; written about the Middle of the Fourth Century by St. Ephraim, the Cyrian [sic], Deacon of Edessa. Translated into English from the Greek and Latin compared.”

I wonder what would be necessary to get the Liverpool University Library copy of this translation online?  This particular Sermo Compunctorius is CPG 3908.

Lash gives us just two quotes, neither very well referenced.  The first, from 1736, and indeed before his conversion, is in fact on p.42 of the 1872 edition of the Works of John Wesley.  It reads:

Tues. Oct. 12.—We considered if any thing could yet be done for the poor people of Frederica ; and I submitted to the judgment of my friends ; which was, that I should take another journey thither: Mr. Ingham undertaking to supply my place at Savannah, for the time I should stay there. I came hither on Saturday, the 16th, and found few things better than I expected. The morning and evening prayers, which were read for a while after my leaving the place, had been long discontinued; and from that time every thing grew worse and worse, not many retaining any more of the form than the power of godliness.

I was at first a little discouraged, but soon remembered the Lord which cannot fail: “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” I cried to God to “arise and maintain his own cause;” and after the evening prayers were ended, invited a few to my house; as I did every night while I stayed at Frederica. I read to them one of the exhortations of Ephraim Syrus: The most awakening writer, I think, of all the ancients. We concluded our reading and conversation with a psalm ; and I trust our God gave us his blessing.

The second passage is in volume 2, pages 47-48:

Wed. 4.—(Being Ash-Wednesday.) I spent some hours in reading “The Exhortations of Ephrem Syrus.” Surely never did any man, since David, give us such a picture of a broken
and contrite heart.

I had intended to search all of the volumes of the edition.  But as we all know, Google Books is terribly bad at handling multi-volume series.  I was quite unable to locate volumes 3 and 5 of the edition, although I am quite certain that they are there somewhere.

Another article on the same subject is by Gordon Wakefield, “John Wesley and Ephraim Syrus”, in: Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, Vol. 1.2 (1998) 273-286.  He writes:

In 1756, in his “Address to the Clergy,” he writes: Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning (the universities) be excused if they do not add to that of the languages and the sciences, the knowledge of the fathers.—the most authentic commentators on Scripture as being both nearest the fountain and eminently endued with that Spirit by whom ““all Scripture was given”” [cf. 2 Timothy 3:16]……

I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the Council of Nicea. But who would not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed then——with St. Chrysostom, Basil, Jerome, Austin, and, above all the man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus?[3]

3. Volume 10, p.484.


In his letter of 1749 to the Cambridge deist Conyers Middleton, who asserted that “miraculous powers” ceased with the Apostolic Age, he recognises the Fathers’ limitations and mistakes. He does not regard them as powerful intellectuals, but they were Christians and describe “true, genuine Christianity.”

He writes “I mean particularly Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Cyprian, to whom I would add Macarius and Ephraim Syrus..” In that letter, marred by his careless garbling of Middleton’s text, he has sixty pages of analysis of patristic authors to refute his antagonist, though Middleton had not written specifically against Wesley. … [4]

4. Works, vol. X, 1-79.


Wesley read Ephraim in sermon preparation. He was too inclined to be influenced by the latest book he had read, but Ephraim was a permanent guide and he included him with authors ancient and modern in his required reading for his assistants. He once said that Ephraim was .“the most awakening writer among all the ancients.” and translated one of his stories.

Unfortunately there is no reference given to allow us to locate the story translated by Wesley.

I have searched the volumes of the 1872 edition that I have, and have found a couple more slight references to Ephrem (or Ephraim).

In volume 7, p.424 (sermon 132, “On laying the foundation of the new chapel near the city-road, London”, April 21, 1777), we find this:

3. This is the religion of the primitive Church, of the whole Church in the purest ages. It is clearly expressed, even in the small remains of Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, and Polycarp; it is seen more at large in the writings of Tertullian, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Cyprian; and, even in the fourth century, it was found in the works of Chrysostom, Basil, Ephrem Syrus, and Macarius. It would be easy to produce “a cloud of witnesses,” testifying the same thing; were not this a point which no one will contest, who has the least acquaintance with Christian antiquity.

In the same volume, p.459, Sermon 134, “True Christianity Defended”, June 24, 1741 (a Latin copy of the same sermon also exists among the Wesley papers; probably to be preached at Oxford):

7. Know ye not then so much as this, you that are called moral men, that all idleness is immorality; that there is no grosser dishonesty than sloth; that every voluntary blockhead is a knave He defrauds his benefactors, his parents, and the world; and robs both God and his own soul.

Yet how many of these are among us! How many lazy drones, as if only fruges consumere nati! “born to eat up the produce of the soil.” How many whose ignorance is not owing to incapacity, but to mere laziness! How few, (let it not seem immodest that even such a one as I should touch on that tender point) of the vast number who have it in their power, are truly learned men!

Not to speak of the other eastern tongues, who is there that can be said to understand Hebrew? Might I not say, or even Greek? A little of Homer or Xenophon we may still remember; but how few can readily read or understand so much as a page of Clemens Alexandrinus, Chrysostom, or Ephrem Syrus?

And as to philosophy, (not to mention mathematics, or the abstruser branches of it,) how few do we find who have laid the foundation,–who are masters even of logic; who thoroughly understand so much as the rules of syllogizing; the very doctrine of the moods and figures ! O what is so scarce as learning, save religion?

That’s all that there is.  Which “exhortations” Wesley read we cannot say, beyond the one mentioned above.  Thwaites edition is not online.  The Bowyer translation is not online.

Let’s end with a longer version of one of the passages above, which is interesting for its own sake, from volume 10, 78 f., in the reply to Conyers Middleton.

Fifthly. What reasonable assurance can you have of things whereof you have not personal experience? Suppose the question were, Can the blind be restored to sight? This you have not yourself experienced. How then will you know that such a thing ever was?

Can there be an easier or surer way than to talk with one or some number of men who were blind, but are now restored to sight? They cannot be deceived as to the fact in question; the nature of the thing leaves no room for this. And if they are honest men, (which you may learn from other circumstances,) they will not deceive you.

Now, transfer this to the case before us: And those who were blind, but now see, — those who were sick many years, but now are healed,—those who were miserable, but now are happy, will afford you also a very strong evidence of the truth of Christianity; as strong as can be in the nature of things, till you experience it in your own soul. And this, though it be allowed they are but plain men, and, in general, of weak understanding; nay, though some of them should be mistaken in other points, and hold opinions which cannot be defended.

11. All this may be allowed concerning the primitive Fathers, I mean particularly Clemens Romanus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Cyprian; to whom I would add Macarius and Ephraim Syrus.

I allow that some of these had not strong natural sense, that few of them had much learning, and none the assistances which our age enjoys in some respects above all that went before.

Hence I doubt not but whoever will be at the pains of reading over their writings for that poor end, will find many mistakes, many weak suppositions, and many ill-drawn conclusions.

12. And yet I exceedingly reverence them, as well as their writings, and esteem them very highly in love. I reverence them, because they were Christians, such Christians as are above described. And I reverence their writings, because they describe true, genuine Christianity, and direct us to the strongest evidence of the Christian doctrine.

Indeed, in addressing the Heathens of those times, they intermix other arguments; particularly, that drawn from the numerous miracles which were then performed in the
Church; which they needed only to open their eyes and see daily wrought in the face of the sun.

But still they never relinquish this: “What the Scripture promises, I enjoy. Come and see what Christianity has done here; and acknowledge it is of God.”

I reverence these ancient Christians (with all their failings) the more, because I see so few Christians now; because I read so little in the writings of later times, and hear so little, of genuine Christianity; and because most of the modern Christians, (so called,) not content with being wholly ignorant of it, are deeply prejudiced against it, calling it enthusiasm, and I know not what.

That the God of power and love may make both them, and you, and me, such Christians as those Fathers were, is the earnest prayer of, Reverend Sir,

Your real friend and servant,

John Wesley

January 24, 1748-9.

Interesting indeed.

UPDATE: (7 Nov 2018).  Commenter “Diego” has located volume 3.  This contains part of John Wesley’s journal.  On p.56 (Thu 21 May 1761) we find the following entry, with the story that was mentioned.

Thur. 21.—I was much struck with a story told by Ephraim Syrus. I wonder it was never translated into English. It is as follows :—

“My beloved brethren, I have a desire to relate to you what our brother Abraham did in his old age. This blessed man had a brother according to the flesh, who had an only child. When her father fell asleep she remained an orphan. Her friends brought her to him, being six years old. He ordered her to be placed in the outer cell : He himself abode in the inner. A little door was between them. He taught her the Psalms and the other Scriptures, and watched and sang with her. And as he lived an austere life, so did she, willingly profiting in every exercise, and labouring to excel in all virtues. The holy man often besought God for her with tears, that her heart might be fixed on God, and not entangled with the care of worldly things; for her father had left her much wealth, which by his advice she gave to the poor. And she entreated him, saying, ‘Pray for me, that I may be delivered from evil thoughts, and from all the wiles and snares of the devil.’ The blessed man rejoiced, seeing her good conversation, and forwardness, and tears; her lowliness, meekness, quietness of spirit, and earnest love to God. And for twenty years she thus exercised herself with him, as a fair lamb, a spotless dove.

“When the twentieth year was fulfilled, the devil was mad against her, and lay in wait to get her into his net. There was a man, in name religious, but not in truth, who frequently came to consult Abraham. He saw the maid, and his heart burned within him. He lay in wait for her a whole year, till her heart was inflamed also : And opening the door of her cell, she went out to him, and consented to his will. But no sooner had she committed wickedness, than she rent her clothes, smote her breast, and thought of putting an end to her own life; for she said in herself, ‘Now I am dead, and I have lost all my time and all my labour, and my austerity and my tears are perished, and I have destroyed my own soul, and I have brought sorrow upon the man of God, and am become a laughing-stock to the devil : Why do I live any longer? Ah me, what have I done! Ah me! from whence, how low am I fallen! How shall I be hid? Where shall I go? Into what pit shall I cast myself? Where is the exhortation of the blessed man, Keep thy soul spotless for thy immortal Bride groom? I dare no more look up to Heaven! I am lost both to God and men. I dare not approach that holy man, sinner as I am, and full of uncleanness. Were I to make such an attempt, surely fire would come out of that door, and consume me. It is better for me to go where none knows me; for I am undone, and there is no salvation for me!’ And rising up, she went straight to another city, and became servant at an inn.

“A little before this, Abraham saw a vision;—a dragon, great and terrible, rising out of his place ; and, coming to his cell, he found a dove, and devoured it, and then returned to his place. The holy man, coming to himself, was much troubled, and wept bitterly, and said, ‘ Thou, Lord, knowest all things ; and thou only knowest what this vision meaneth.’ After two days he saw the same dragon again; and he came out of his place to the blessed man, and, laying his head under Abraham’s feet, burst asunder, and the dove was found alive in the dragon’s belly.

“Coming to himself, he called once and again, saying, ‘Child, where art thou? Behold, here are two days that thou hast not opened thy mouth in the praise of God.” Finding that none answered, and that she was not there, he perceived the vision related to her; and he groaned in spirit, and said, ‘ O Saviour of the world, bring back this lamb into thy fold, that my grey hairs come not down with sorrow to the grave! Lord, despise not my supplication; but send down thy hand, and take her out of the mouth of the dragon that hath devoured her!’

“After a season he heard where she was; and, having learned all things concerning her, he called one of his friends, and said to him, ‘Bring me an horse and the habit of a soldier.’ And having put it on, with a large cap on his head, he left his cell, and rode away. Being come to the place, he alighted, and went in ; and, after a time, said to the inn keeper, ‘Friend, I have heard thou hast a beautiful damsel here : Call her to me, that I may rejoice with her.’ Being called, she came. When the holy man saw her in her harlot’s attire, he was melting into tears; but he refrained himself, that she might not perceive it. After they sat down, she embraced him, and kissed his neck; and she smelled the smell of his cell, and called to mind past things; and, groaning deeply, said, ‘Woe is me! What am I?’ The inn-keeper, being astonished, said, ‘Mary, thou hast now been with us two years, and I never heard thee groan before, or heard such a word from thee. What is come to thee?’ She answered, ‘Would I had died three years since ; then I had been happy.’

“Immediately Abraham said to him, ‘Prepare us a supper, that we may rejoice together ; for I am come from far for her sake.’ After supper she said to him, ‘Let us go into the chamber.’ And when they were come in, he saw a bed made ready; and he sat upon it, and said, ‘Make fast the door.’ She made it fast, and came to him. Having taken hold of her, so that she could not run away, he took off his cap, and said to her, weeping, ‘ My child, Mary, dost thou not know me? Am not I he that brought thee up? Mary, what is come to thee ? Who hath destroyed thee, my daughter? Where are thy prayers and thy tears, thy watching and holy exercise? My child, when thou hadst sinned, why didst thou not tell me, that I might have humbled myself for thee? My daughter, why hast thou done this? Why hast thou forsaken thy father?’ She remained in his hands as a lifeless stone, till he said to her with tears, ‘ Dost thou not speak to me, my child, Mary? Dost thou not speak to me? Am I not come hither for thy sake? I have besought the Lord concerning thee.’ Till midnight he continued exhorting and comforting her. Then, coming a little to herself, she said to him weeping, ‘I cannot look at thee, for I am defiled with sin.’ The blessed man replied, ‘On me be thy sin; only come, let us go to our place.’ She said to him, ‘ If it be possible for me to repent, and if God can accept my repentance, I come, and I fall down, and kiss thy steps, wetting them with my tears, that thou hast thus had compassion on me, a forlorn wretch, and art come hither to draw me out of the mire of sin.’ And laying her head at his feet, she wept bitterly all the night; saying, ‘What shall I render thee for all thy benefits?’

“Early in the morning he set her upon the horse, and went before her with great joy. And being come to his place, he put her in the inner cell; where she gladly resumed her former
exercise, with sackcloth and ashes, and much humiliation, with mourning and watching, and ceaseless calling upon God: And the merciful Lord gave her a sign that he accepted her repentance, healing many that were sick, through her prayers.

“Holy Abraham lived ten years after, beholding her good conversation, and blessing, and praising, and magnifying God. Then, having lived seventy years, he slept in peace. Mary survived him thirty and five years, calling upon God night and day ; insomuch that all who passed by glorified God, who saveth them that were gone astray.”

Now that I see it, I recall reading this in Wesley’s journal.  But I had not remembered that it was from Ephraim Graecus.  I wonder which Greek text this is?

Now I think about it, if Ephraim was “required reading for his assistants”, then Wesley must specify somewhere which bits of it must be required.  I wonder where this list might be.