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Ephraem the Syrian and the Latin manuscripts of De Paenitentia

T. S. Pattie


EPHRAEM the Syrian is perhaps the greatest Christian poet before Dante. He was admired by Jerome, he was loved by Syriac-speaking Christians, and on 5 October 1920, somewhat belatedly, he was declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XV. He was born about AD 306 in Nisibis in the Roman province of Mesopotamia (now Nusaybin on the border between Syria and Turkey) and died on 9 June 373 in Edessa (now Urfa in Turkey). He wrote in a dialect of Aramaic (for centuries the lingua franca of the Near East) called Syriac which had an extensive literature, and was important in the transmission to the Arabs of Greek philosophy and science as well as Christian doctrine. Nisibis, which had been conquered by the Romans in AD 298, resisted a three-year siege by the Persians and surrendered in 363 only after the failure of a Roman expedition. Many of the Christian inhabitants moved westwards behind the Roman frontier, and Ephraem settled in Edessa, one of the holy places that the Spanish nun Etheria visited about the year 400. Not far south is the ancient city of Harran, the original home of Abraham, better known in Roman history as Carrhae where Crassus's army was destroyed in 53 BC.

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