In the following selection from the voluminous writings of Ephraim, the great light of the Syrian Church of the fourth century, I have endeavored to give adequate specimens of his Hymns and of his Homilies; but have not included any part of his Commentaries on Holy Scripture. These last contain much that is worthy of study, but would not be found attractive to the general reader; nor could they be fairly represented by a series of extracts such as the limits of the present volume would admit of.
The Hymns (with small exceptions, presently to be specified), and the Homilies, which I have selected, appear now for the first time in an English version; and are translated from Syriac texts which have come to light within the last fifty years, in the great collection of manuscripts acquired by the British Museum by the purchase of the library of the monastery of the Theotokos in the Nitrian Desert, in Egypt.
To these I have added eight chosen from the twenty-three Demonstrations, or Epistles, of Ephraim's contemporary Aphrahat. These also appear for the first time in English, and are translated from a Syriac text, long lost, and lately recovered from the same famous collection.
Of the Hymns of Ephraim, I have placed the Nisibene series first, including forty-six of the total number (originally seventy-seven; but a few are lost). The first twenty-one, relating to the history of Nisibis and of its Bishops, I have given in full, because of their special interest and historic value. The translation of these is the work of the Rev. Joseph T. Sarsfield Stopford, B.A. (Dublin), Rector of Castle Combe in the Diocese of Gloucester. It follows the text edited by Dr. Bickell (Leipzig, 1866), from Nitrian mss.
Of the Hymns On the Nativity, which stand next in order, the first thirteen have already appeared in the Oxford |Library of the Fathers| (1847), translated by the Rev. J. B. Morris, M.A., from the text printed in the great Roman edition, S. Ephræmi Syri Opera Syriaca (Rome, 1743). These were all of the series known when that edition was published; but since then six complete hymns, and some fragments of the same have been recovered from Nitrian mss. I have reprinted Mr. Morris's version of the thirteen, with some modifications, and have subjoined the Nitrian six, rendered from the text published by Professor Lamy, of Louvain, in Tom. II of his edition of Ephraim (Mechlin, 1889). These last, and the series of fifteen Hymns For the Epiphany which follow them, have been translated by the Rev. Albert Edward Johnston, B.D. (Dublin), formerly Assistant-Lecturer in Divinity in the University of Dublin, and now Principal of the Church Missionary Society's College, Benares. The remaining series, of seven Hymns On the Faith, also called The Pearl, is borrowed, like the thirteen On the Nativity, from Mr. Morris's version.
I have carefully revised and in parts rewritten all these translations of the Hymns, chiefly with a view to bringing into some approach to uniformity the style and method of rendering of a collection which thus includes the work of three independent translators. While very sensible of the high merit of Mr. Morris's work, and conscious that by retouching and altering it I may incur the blame of presumptuousness, I have thought it expedient to tone down somewhat of the exceeding severity of his faithfulness to his original, and to remove some of the harsh expressions and harsher inversions which make his version, valuable as it is to the student, almost repulsive, and often barely intelligible, to the English reader. Of his learned Notes, I have retained a few, some of them in a curtailed form, of those which seemed most useful for the illustration of the text.
The three Homilies of Ephraim, which follow the Hymns, have been translated by Mr. Johnston from Professor Lamy's text (as above, Tom. I., 1889).
The selections from the Demonstrations of Aphrahat are the work of the same translator, and follow the text of Dom Parisot's edition, forming Tom. I of the Patrologia Syriaca (Paris, 1894).
The versions of the Homilies and of the Demonstrations, being all the work of one and the same hand, have called for but few and trivial alterations from the editor. I have, however, revised them throughout; and am responsible for the general accuracy of the rendering of the originals in these, and in the whole of the selections now presented to the public.
In the Introductory Dissertation prefixed to the work, I have drawn largely on the materials supplied by the Prolegomena of Dr. Bickell's Carmina Nisibena, and of Professor Lamy's S. Ephræmi Hymni et Sermones, Tom. I. and Tom. II.; and by Dr. Forget's Treatise De Vita Aphraatis, and the Preface of Dom Parisot to Tom. I. of the Patrologia Syriaca.
Trinity College, Dublin, 31st March, 1898.