Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Early Syriac Theology (CUA Press)

When we think of the Church, we think of the Roman West and Greek East. While this is the majority of the Church, it also overlooks an important branch - the Syriac. In the recent book, Early Syriac Theology, Chorbishop Seely Joseph Beggiani draws on the words and writings of St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh to explain a number of theological topics through the lens of Syriac Christianity. There are twelve chapters/topics total including Mary, The Church, Incarnation, and Revelation to name a few. To give you an idea of the Syriac viewpoint, I will be providing some small quotes from different chapters.

When looking at the Creation story, St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh both speak about man being made in the Image of God. When speaking of this theological concept, they discuss the idea of Jesus' human form being created first. Therefore, Adam was created as Jesus was going to appear on this earth. The book goes on to say that "Jacob of Serugh concludes that humanity was created originally as a kind of double image - as an image of the Son, who is the image of the Father, but also as an image of the Son made man." In regards to sin, the Syriac Fathers don't seem to dwell on original sin. Instead, they say sin is a result of error and darkness. "It consists ultimately in a distortion of the image of God that human beings are, and in a loss of the harmony between the heavens and the earth."

The chapter on Redemption is pretty deep and awesome to read. In this chapter, Jesus is compared to the Passover lamb. No, this isn't groundbreaking, but the way it is spelled out makes you pause and think. "He is the lamb who is also the priest." That means Jesus offered himself as a self-sacrifice. No priest is able to accept Him as a sacrifice though, so he must be the one who is sacrificed (the lamb) and the one to accept the sacrifice (the priest). This chapter also develops on the theme of the Cross as both reconciling Heaven and Earth and as a Bridge. St. Ephrem builds upon the idea of Jesus being the son of a carpenter (Joseph), and Jesus using the Cross to build a bridge over Sheol. You might recognize the image from Protestant tracts, but the idea has been around longer than any Protestant denomination.

Reading through this book, one gains a basic understanding of Syriac theology. In it we see an emphasis on allegory and hidden meanings of Scriptural texts. The book also touches on the Maronite Church;s liturgical tradition and demonstrates how both St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh influenced it. With the little amount of Syriac texts available in the English language, this is truly a one of a kind book. If you would like to learn more about this subject, then I can recommend no better place to start than this book.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!