Early Syriac Theology With Special Reference to the Maronite Tradition


Written by Msgr. Seely Beggiani

Early Syriac Theology with Special Reference to the Maronite Tradition

Available at Amazon.com

St. Ephrem, who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Benedict XV, and Jacob of Serugh were two of the  earliest and most important representatives of the theological world-view of the Syriac Church.  A good part of their work was in the form of hymns and metrical homilies wherein theology was expressed in poetry.  This present work strives to present their insights in a systematic form according to headings used in western treatises, while not undermining the originality and cohesiveness of their thought.  The material is organized under the themes of the hiddenness of God, creation and sin, revelation, incarnation, redemption, divinization and the Holy Spirit, the Church, Mary, the mysteries of initiation, eschatology and faith.

This work notes the paradox of God’s utter mysteriousness and yet his presence in all that he has created.  The kenosis (emptying) of the Word of God is found not only in the human nature of Christ, but in the finite words of Sacred Scripture. The purpose of these actions is for the divine to make itself accessible to humans. The triple descent of the Son of God into the womb of Mary, the Jordan River at his baptism, and into sheol at his death were actions directed both to redemption and divinization. The system of types and antitypes used in Sacred Scripture are employed to demonstrate the sacraments as extensions of Christ’s actions through history.

The goal of this work is to display the rich theological insights the early Syriac fathers provide to the tradition of the universal church. A second purpose of this work is to highlight the fact that the liturgical tradition of the Maronite Church, one of the Syriac Churches, is consistently and pervasively a living expression of the theology of these to Syriac church fathers.  This is done through citations from the Maronite divine liturgy, ritual, and divine office.

While monographs on specific themes in St. Ephrem and James of Serugh have been published in English and other modern languages, this work aims to present a complete overview of the theological world-view of these Syriac writers.

Death of “Sin and Death” on the Cross – An Excerpt from “On the Crucifixion” by Jacob of Sarug (ca. AD 451-521)


Our Lord was crucified, bore the debts of the entire world, and fastened sin [on the cross] with nails that it might never reign again. ܙܩܺܝܦ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܡܳܪܰܢ ܘܰܛܥܺܝܢ ܚܰܘ̈ܒܶܐ ܕܟܽܠܳܗ ܬܺܒܶܝܠ܃ ܘܰܩܒܺܝܥܳܐ ܠܶܗ ܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܒܨܶܨ̈ܶܐ ܕܬܘܽܒ ܠܳܐ ܬܰܡܠܶܟ܀
While crucifying Him on Golgotha, they crucified [also sin] with Him that [sin] might never again slay another generation henceforth. ܟܰܕ ܙܳܩܦܺܝܢ ܠܶܗ ܙܰܩܦܳܗ݀ ܥܰܡܶܗ ܥܰܠ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ܃ ܕܠܳܐ ܬܘܽܒ ܬܶܩܛܽܘܠ ܕܳܪ̈ܶܐ ܐ̱ܚܪ̈ܳܢܶܐ ܡܶܢܶܗ ܘܰܠܟܳܐ܀
He led sin from the tribunal to [the place of the] crucifixion, lifted up with Him the daughter of perdition, and slew her on the cross. ܕܒܰܪ ܠܰܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܡܶܢ ܒܶܝܬ ܕܺܝܢܳܐ ܠܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܐܣܩܳܗ݀ ܥܰܡܶܗ ܘܰܩܛܠܳܗ݀ ܒܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܠܒܰܪ̱ܬ ܐܰܒܕܳܢܳܐ܀
Sin slew Adam with a tree from the beginning.
For this reason did the Son of God slay [sin] on a tree.
ܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܒܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܩܶܛܠܰܬ ܠܳܐܕܳܡ ܡܶܢ ܫܘܽܪܳܝܳܐ܃ ܘܡܶܛܽܠܗܳܢܳܐ ܒܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܩܰܛܠܳܗ݀ ܒܰܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ܀
Our Lord died indeed on account of sin. For this reason did He die and slay [sin] by His crucifixion. ܠܰܚܛܺܝܬܳܐ ܓܶܝܪ ܡܺܝܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܡܳܪܰܢ ܟܰܕ ܡܳܐܶܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ܃  ܘܡܶܛܽܠܗܳܢܳܐ ܡܺܝܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܘܩܰܛܠܳܗ݀ ܒܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܶܗ܀
The Tree of Life destroyed the tree of knowledge, shook down Its fruit on the dead and resurrected them. ܐܺܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܫܪܳܝܗ̱ܝ ܠܺܐܝܠܳـܢܳܐ ܗܰܘ ܕܺܝܕܰܥܬܳܐ܃ ܕܰܐܬܰܪ ܦܺܐܪܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܥܰܠ ܡܳܝ̈ܘܽܬܶܐ ܘܢܰـܚܶܡ ܐܶܢܘܽܢ܀
Our Redeemer uprooted the tree of death by His death that the tree that slew Adam might never again be fruitful. ܠܗܰܘ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܕܡܘܰܬܳܐ ܒܡܘܰܬܶܗ ܥܩܰܪ ܦܳܪܘܽܩܰܢ܃ ܕܬܘܽܒ ܠܳܐ ܢܶܬܶܠ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܶܐ ܩܰܝܣܳܐ ܕܩܰܛܠܶܗ ܠܳܐܕܳܡ܀
He cut down the bitter tree of knowledge with the Tree of Life which He chose to sprout from Golgotha. ܚܪܰܒ ܐܺܝܠܳܢܳܐ ܗܰܘ ܕܺܝܕܰܥܬܳܐ ܕܡܰܪܺܝܪܳܐ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ܃ ܒܺܐܝܠܳܢ ܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܕܰܨܒܳܐ ܕܢܺܐܥܶܐ ܡܶܢ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ܀
He stretched out His arms like branches at the crucifixion, His fruit fell off on the ground of the dead, and it bore life [immediately]. ܦܫܰܛ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܕܪ̈ܳܥܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܒܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܳܐ ܐܰܝܟ ܣܰܘ̈ܟܳܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܢܬܰܪܘ ܦܺܐܪ̈ܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܕܡܺܝ̈ܬܶܐ ܘܚܰܝ̈ܶܐ ܛܶܥܢܰܬ܀
He lured the formidable Serpent to Golgotha, attacked it, and crushed it with the suffering of His crucifixion. ܐܰܛܥܺܝ ܐܰܣܩܶܗ ܠܚܶܘܝܳܐ ܪܰܒܳܐ ܨܶܝܕ ܓܳܓܘܽܠܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܗܦܰܟ ܥܠܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܘܪܰܨܶܗ ܒܚܰܫܳܐ ܕܰܙܩܺܝܦܘܽܬܶܗ܀
By the nails of His hands He pierced the venom of the Snake that it might never again fill the earth devastation by its hateful deceit. ܒܨܶܨ̈ܶܐ ܕܐܺܝ̈ـܕܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܒܰܙܥܳܗ݀ ܠܡܶܪܬܶܗ ܕܗܰܘ ܚܰܪܡܳܢܳܐ܃ ܕܠܳܐ ܬܘܽܒ ܢܶܡܠܶܝܗ݀ ܠܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܚܪ̈ܺܝܒܶܐ ܒܢܶܟܠܶܗ ܣܰܢܝܳܐ܀
To accomplish this, He brought Himself to the crucifixion, stretched out His hands and received the nails from the insolent ones. ܕܢܶܣܥܘܽܪ ܗܳܠܶܝܢ ܐܰܝܬܝ ܝܳܬܶܗ ܠܰܙܩܺܝܩܘܽܬܳܐ܃ ܘܰܦܫܰܛ ܐܺܝ̈ـܕܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܩܰܒܶܠ ܨܶܨ̈ܶܐ ܡܶܢ ܡܰܪ̈ܳܚܶܐ܀
Imaged published at http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/courses/mst-syriac-studies
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Syriac, Spiritual Ancestral Language, Key to a Vast Treasury


Aramaic, an ancient language spoken in the Near and Middle East, goes back to the 9th century BC. Like any language, it evolved with time and broke off into several dialects. Syriac (Suryoyo), one of these dialects that came to the scene decades after the Ascension of our Lord, became the dominant Christian literary language among the Peoples who spoke these various local Aramaic tongues and whose presence extended from the coast of present day Lebanon all the way to China.
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Balai of Qenneshrin on the Faithful Departed


May the faithful departed
who put You on through baptism
put on, in Eden,
the robe of glory.
ܥܰܢܺܝ̈ܕܶܐ ܡܗܰܝ̈ܡܢܶܐ.
ܕܠܰܒܫܘܽܟ ܒܰܥܡܳܕܳܐ.
ܢܶܬܥܰܛܦܘܽܢ ܒܰܥܕܶܝܢ.
ܐܶܣܛܰܠ ܬܶܫܒܘܽܚܬܳܐ܀
The mouths that professed You,
ate You and drank Your blood,
shout with the angels,
“Glory be upon Your coming!”
ܦ̈ܘܽܡܶܐ ܕܰܐܘܕܺܝܘ ܒܳܟ.
ܘܰܐܟܠܘܽܟ ܘܐܶܫܬܺܝܘ ܕܡܳܟ.
ܥܰܡ ܥܺܝܪ̈ܶܐ ܢܶܩܥܘܽܢ.
ܫܘܽܒܚܳܐ ܒܡܶܐܬܺܝܬܳܟ܀
The hands and feet
that have ministered at the altar
may they not, Lord, be burnt up
in the fire of Gehenna.
ܐܺܝ̈ܕܰܝܳܐ ܘܪ̈ܶܓܠܶܐ.
ܕܫ̈ܰܡܶܫܝ ܩܕܳܡ ܡܰܕܒܚܳܐ.
ܠܳܐ ܡܳܪܝ ܢܶܣ̈ܬܰܝܛܳܢ.
ܒܢܘܽܪܳܐ ܕܓܺܗܰܢܳܐ܀
Glory be to the Voice,
who calls the departed
so that they may rise in incorruption
and sing glory.
ܫܘܽܒܚܳܐ ܠܗܰܘ ܩܳܠܳܐ.
ܕܩܳܪܶܐ ܠܥܰܢܺܝ̈ܕܶܐ.
ܘܩܳܝܡܺܝܢ ܕܠܳܐ ܚܒܳܠܳܐ.
ܘܙܳܡܪܺܝܢ ܬܶܫܒܘܽܚܬܳܐ܀
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Balai of Qenneshrin on a Laborer in the Vineyard of the Lord


Blessed are you, our father,
when the King reveals himself
and rewards justly every
person according to their deeds.
ܛܘܽܒܰܝܟ ܐܳܘ ܐܰܒܘܽܢ.
ܡܳܐ ܕܡܶܬܓܠܶܐ ܡܰܠܟܳܐ.
ܘܦܳܪܰܥ ܒܟܺܐܢܘܽܬܳܐ.
ܠܟܽܠܢܳܫ ܐܰܝܟ ܥܰܡܠܶܗ.
Since you labored in His vineyard
from morning till evening,
behold, a wage awaits you,
an entire denarius.
ܕܰܦܠܰܚܬ ܒܓܰܘ ܟܰܪܡܶܗ.
ܡܶܢ ܨܰܦܪܳܐ ܠܪܰܡܫܳܐ.
ܗܳܐ ܢܛܺܝܪ ܠܳܟ ܐܰܓܪܳܐ.
ܕܺܝܢܳܪܳܐ ܡܰܠܝܳܐ܀
Pray, on our behalf,
to your Lord, Who is pleased with you,
so that, through your prayer, with you,
we may rejoice in your gladness.
ܐܰܦܺܝܣ ܚܠܳܦ ܟܽܠܰܢ.
ܠܡܳܪܳܟ ܕܡܶܬܬܢܺܝܚ ܒܳܟ.
ܕܒܰܨܠܘܽܬܳܟ ܥܰܡܳܟ.
ܢܶܚܕܶܐ ܒܚܰܕܘܽܬܳܟ܀
Glory be to the Father
and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
Who chose you, our father.
You then triumphed and were crowned.
ܫܘܽܒܚܳܐ ܠܶܗ ܠܰܐܒܳܐ.
ܘܰܠܰܒܪܳܐ ܘܪܘܽܚ ܩܘܽܕܫܳܐ.
ܕܰܓܒܳܟ ܐܳܘ ܐܰܒܘܽܢ.
ܘܰܢܨܰܚܬ ܘܐܶܬܟܰܠܰܠܬ܀
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Balai of Qenneshrin on the Holy Martyrs


To the contest went
the holy martyrs
and against false worship battled
the glorious laborers.
ܠܰܐܓܘܽܢܳܐ ܢܚܶܬܘ ܗ̱ܘܰܘ.
ܣܳܗ̈ܕܶܐ ܩܰܕܺܝ̈ܫܶܐ.
ܘܥܰܡ ܛܘܽܥܝܰܝ ܐܰܩܪܶܒܘ.
ܦܳܠܚ̈ܶܐ ܢܰܨܺܝ̈ܚܶܐ܀
We beseech the martyrs
and entreat them earnestly
to implore with us
the Lord, who crowned them.
ܡܶܢ ܣܳܗ̈ܕܶܐ ܢܶܒܥܶܐ.
ܘܰܠܗܘܽܢ ܢܶܬܟܰܫܰܦ.
ܕܰܢܦܺܝܣܘܽܢ ܥܰܡܰܢ.
ܠܡܳܪܝܳܐ ܡܟܰܠܠܳܢܗܘܽܢ܀
They entered the contest
that is full of sufferings
and trampled every torment
by the Messiah’s love.
ܥܰܠܘ ܗ̱ܘܰܘ ܠܰܐܓܘܽܢܳܐ.
ܕܡܳܠܶܐ ܐܘܽܠܨ̈ܳܢܶܐ.
ܘܕܳܫܘ ܥܰܠ ܟܽܠ ܫܶܢ̈ܕܺܝܢ.
ܒܚܘܽܒܶܗ ܕܰܡܫܺܝܚܳܐ܀
Glory be to Him who exalted
the commemoration of His holy ones
in heaven, on earth
and in the four corners of the world.
ܫܘܽܒܚܳܐ ܠܗܰܘ ܕܰܐܘܪܶܒ.
ܕܘܽܟܪܳܢ ܩܰܕܺܝ̈ܫܰܘܗ̱ܝ.
ܒܰܫܡܰܝܳܐ ܘܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ.
ܘܒܰܐܪ̈ܒܰܥ ܦܶܢ̈ܝܳܬܳܐ܀
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Balai of Qenneshrin on the Holy Apostles


The disciples of the Son,
the holy apostles,
armed themselves and went out
to the four corners of world.
ܬܰܠܡܺܝ̈ܕܰܘܗ̱ܝ ܕܰܒܪܳܐ.
ܫܠܺܝ̈ܚܶܐ ܩܰܕܺܝ̈ܫܶܐ.
ܐܶܙܕܰܝܰܢܘ ܘܰܢܦܰܩܘ.
ܠܰܐܪܒܰܥ ܦܶܢ̈ܝܳܬܳܐ܀
The holy apostles
laid hold of the cross,
an unequally matched weapon,
and battled with the evil one.
ܫܠܺܝ̈ܚܶܐ ܩܰܕܺܝ̈ܫܶܐ.
ܠܰܨܠܺܝܒܳܐ ܐܶܚܰܕܘ.
ܘܙܰܝܢܳܐ ܕܠܐܳ ܚܳܐܶܒ.
ܘܰܐܩܪܶܒܘ ܥܰܡ ܒܺܝܫܳܐ܀
Blessed is the One Who chose them
and exalted their commemoration
in heaven, on earth
and in the four corners of the world.
ܒܪܺܝܟ ܕܰܓܒܳܐ ܐܶܢܘܽܢ.
ܘܰܐܘܪܶܒ ܕܘܽܟܪܳܢܗܘܽܢ.
ܒܰܫܡܰܝܳܐ ܘܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ.
ܘܒܰܐܪ̈ܒܰܥ ܦܶܢ̈ܝܳܬܳܐ܀
Remembrance to the just ones,
hope to the righteous ones,
and, to the Trinity,
worship and exaltation.
ܕܘܽܟܪܳܢܳܐ ܠܟܺܐܢ̈ܶܐ.
ܘܣܰܒܪܳܐ ܠܙܰܕܺܝ̈ܩܶܐ.
ܘܠܰܬܠܺܝܬܳܝܘܽܬܳܐ.
ܣܶܓܕܬܳܐ ܘܪܘܽܡܪܳܡܳܐ܀