Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Thomas Cattoi: SCA A Garment of Metaphors? Incarnation as Divine Speech in Ephrem the Syrian and Maximos the Confessor

The burden of this paper is to explore the notion of incarnation as “borrowed speech” in the writings of Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306-373), highlighting the crucial role played by language and metaphor in his account of the work of Christ, as well as the way in which his understanding of the Logos’ descent into the flesh foreshadows and simultaneously differs from the post-Chalcedonian treatment of the hypostatic union in the writings of Maximos the Confessor (580-662). The first part of the paper will discuss how for Ephrem, God “appeared to the human race under so many metaphors” (Hymn 31), putting them on when they are beneficial, and laying them aside, when they are no longer of use. In Hymn 44.3, Ephrem nuances the distinction between God’s “perfect” and God’s “borrowed” names: while the former intimate the Godhead’s eternal and unchanging characteristics, the latter draw upon the kaleidoscope of the created order to accomplish, and later communicate the mystery of our salvation. The second part of the paper will compare Ephrem’s notion of incarnation with Maximos’ account of the hypostatic union in Ambiguum 10, where the transfigured Christ discloses the congruence between the law of nature and the law of Scripture. This Chalcedonian rendition of God’s descent into language qualifies Ephrem’s intimations of provisionality: for Maximos, the incarnation signals an ontological shift in the economy of salvation, inaugurating humanity’sirreversible participation in Christ’s divine nature. The paper will feature my translations of relevant excerpts from Ephrem’s and Maximos’ works.

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