The “most famous poet of the patristic age," St. Ephrem the Syrian, was the topic of the Pope’s general audience held in Paul VI Hall today. Wishing to show that the Christian faith is not European in origin, Benedict XVI pointed to St. Ephrem’s origins in modern day Turkey.
The Pope remarked how "it is widely believed today that Christianity is a European religion which subsequently exported that continent's culture to other countries. But the truth is much more complex."
Picking up on a theme from his audience last week, Pope Benedict reminded people that, "The roots of the Christian religion are in the Old Testament, hence in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. And Christianity constantly draws nourishment from these Old Testament roots.”
During the first centuries of Christianity, it spread both “westwards - to the Greco-Latin world where it later inspired European culture - and eastwards to Persia and India, where it contributed to the formation of a specific culture, in Semitic languages and with its own identity," the pontiff noted.
Benedict XVI indicated that "in order demonstrate the one Christian faith's multiplicity of cultural form ever since its inception" he had chosen to focus his audience on St. Ephrem, a theologian and a poet who was born in Nisibis (present-day Turkey) around the year 306 and died in Edessa (present-day Armenia) in 373.
In addition to his origins in the East, the Holy Father also spoke of Ephrem’s gift for poetry, which "enabled him to deepen his theological reflections through the use of paradox and images."
Pope Benedict XVI cited several examples of St. Ephrem’s poetry including his famous saying: "Nothing in the Creation is isolated and the world is - alongside Scared Scripture - a Bible of God. Using his freedom wrongly, man overturns the order of the universe."
Another of the saint’s teachings that the Pope dwelt on was on the topic of the dignity of women. St. Ephrem taught that "Jesus' presence in Mary's womb greatly raised the dignity of women ... about whom he always speaks with sensitivity and respect,” Benedict said.
Honored in Christian tradition with the title of "harp of the Holy Spirit," Ephrem remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. "This was a decisive and emblematic choice," said the Holy Father. "He was a deacon, in other words a servant in liturgical ministry and, more radically, in the love of Christ ... as well as in charity towards his brethren who, with great skill, he introduced to a knowledge of the divine Revelation."