Maronite Clergy Enrichment Conference
April 17, 2018
Early Syriac Theology by Seely Beggiani:
Themes in Syriac Spirituality (Outline)
Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
The goal of the spiritual life: “This is true perfection: not to avoid the wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like and contractual arrangement. On the contrary, . . . we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire.” Gregory of Nyssa, The life of Moses.”
Anthropology will deeply influence the goal and methods of one’s ascetical teaching. For example, a neo-Platonic view will focus on the soul’s liberation from the body, which is only a transitional arrangement, and seek the union of the completely detached soul with the Divinity in eternity.
Syriac spirituality, before the influence of Evagrius and to a degree afterwards, views the soul and body as a single entity which will be transformed into resurrected humanity in the next world.
The early Syriac spiritual writers were immersed in the study of Sacred Scripture. They consider the Scriptures to be the principal source of understanding God’s creation, which according to their faith consisted of both spiritual and material elements. Philosophy is inadequate to this task.
To my knowledge, there is no fully developed Maronite spirituality. We must rely on the broader Syriac tradition. However, the Maronite liturgical tradition is a very rich source of Maronite theology and spirituality.
This presentation will draw primarily from the writings of John the Solitary of Apamea with references to the teachings of Aphrahat, St. Ephrem and the Book of Steps.
The Syriac Theological World-View
Creation – Manifestation of God’s glory: God creates out of a superabundance of love and yearns toward the good he has created. He “is enticed away from his transcendent dwelling place and comes to abide in all things . . .” Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names
Humans are created in the image and likeness of the future Christ. Therefore, the Incarnation was essential to plan of salvation from the beginning and would have taken place, whether or not Adam had sinned.
Being thus created, humans are called to divinization by their very nature
Consisting of spirit, soul and body, the spirit in humans is found in the deepest part of the soul. The body is an integral part of the human self.
In this world, the spirit element is limited in its activity because of its reliance on the soul, and the soul’s intellectual activity is restrained by the body.
The resurrected humanity of Christ is an integral part of bringing about the transformation of our humanity.
The Economy of Salvation includes all spiritual beings, celestial and earthly.
Invisible and the Visible
Human spirit which is the stamp of the image and likeness of God is the meeting point between the visible and the invisible
Invisible realities are embedded in material creation
Divine Revelation = the Word of God becomes “speech” and is embodied in created forms: 1) Scripture and its types and antitypes; 2) Mysteries of the Church; 3) The presence of God in the material universe; 4) The climax of revelation is when the Word becomes voice and actions expressed in his humanity.
Humans sinned by choosing the material world and ignorance over wisdom: Captivated by the flesh, “creatures had gone outside their nature in turning toward the exterior world, having lost knowledge of themselves and of the dignity received at creation, and forgotten the invisible action of God hidden in them . . .”
Invisible Word became the visible Christ to be teacher, exemplar and redeemer “Without his self-abasement, we should have been far too low . . .” Christ appeared and showed in his person what is to be found invisibly in us. Christ “elevates and traces the image and structure of the new man in resemblance to his knowledge and in the image of his wisdom.
Goal of the Plan of Salvation: 1) To elevate, enrich and bring renewal in understanding to celestial creatures; 2) Resurrection, life and participation in his grandeur to earthly beings; 3) Humiliation of their pride, liquidation of their activity and annihilation of their power to Powers and Principalities
Faith: With the eye of faith we see hidden things. Ephrem: Faith is a second soul; spiritual sight. “Behold your image is portrayed with the blood of grapes upon the bread and portrayed on the heart by the finger of love with pigments of faith.” Aphrahat: faith is the foundation stone of the temple of our body where Christ will dwell
Baptism: 1) Plunging completely beyond this visible world; 2) Makes us children of God for the liberty of the new life to come; 3) It is not the water that renews but the “incubation of a secret force;” 4) Christ manifested himself as the true light, the true knowledge; 5) The Jerusalem on high will receive humans according to the measure of their growth in the knowledge of the new man.
Progress in the Spiritual Life
Corporeal Level: 1) The condition of humans before conversion, fully immersed in the secular world; 2) When humans begin to achieve a harmony between soul and body, they experience a salutary fear of judgment; 3) The soul realizes that it will be “deprived of true wisdom and become a stranger to the mysteries of God.
The Level of the Soul: 1) fasting, vigil, prayer, fear of God; 2) Study of the Scriptures; “nurturing a knowledge of the truth; 3) virtuous conduct by a faith which hopes in God; 4) strive against the temptation of vainglory practice charity and mercy.
Tears and Repentance: 1) Ephrem: there is one baptism, but our two eyes, when filled with tears become a baptismal font: “For the Creator knew well before-hand that sins multiply in us at all times and though there is a single baptism, he fixed two fonts (the eyes) that give absolution; 2) Book of Steps: the seal of baptism is there in the unjust till death: “If Iscariot had repented our Lord would have received him because (our Lord) does not seek the death of [any] person, but [wishes] that he might repent and be saved;” 3) Book of Steps: there are tears that arise from sorrow; others represent joy for being in the presence of God, our lover.
Humility: 1) Christ is the model: He emptied himself to become human for our sake; 2) Humans are called to empty themselves from all attachments, material and intellectual, so as to be totally attentive to the divine presence
Singleness – Ihidaya: Aphrahat: The “single one” is single in life-style, is not of a double- mind, and is one with Christ (the “Only-Begotten”), called to put on the mind of Christ.
Purity and Luminosity (Limpidity) of the Soul (Shafyuta): 1) Total purification of mind and will; 2) Ephrem: one is called to recollect in luminous silence within the mind; achieve a “luminous eye;” 3) On Mt. Sinai, rays shone from Moses’ physical eyes, while his interior eye witnessed a vision of God; 4) Ephesians: “May he enlighten the eyes of your hearts”
Prayer: 1) Aphrahat: Following the teaching of Christ, one should pray in secret; one’s inner self is the temple where Christ dwells; private prayer represents the offering of a sacrifice in the new covenant; just as one would not offer a lame animal as a sacrifice in the Old Testament, one must not offer a prayer with a heart that holds a grudge towards another, or where one’s intention is not pure; 2) Ephrem: The heart is a “bridal chamber;” Christ is the bridegroom; the soul is the bride in prayer, the soul is a mirror that must be purified, just as bronze mirrors had to be polished in ancient times; 3) Book of Steps: Three levels of Church visible church founded by Christ and the Apostles interior church where the person is the temple and the heart is the altar heavenly church, which is accessed rarely on earth, where the one seeking perfection recovers the state of Adam before the fall and has access to the “the tree of life”
The Level of the Spirit: 1) One receives a revelation of the divine mysteries; 2) Seeks God’s wisdom and nothing else; 3) Attains a knowledge of the mysteries of the future which leads to perfect charity in the love of others and in total humility.
Silent Prayer – the summit of the spiritual life on earth: 1) One stands where spiritual beings and angels are to be found; like them, one utters ‘holy’ without any words; 2) One has reached a state of humility where one considers others, even great sinners, as better than oneself; 3) In silent prayer, one reverses the process of the Incarnation. Where the Word of God departed from silence to become voice and speech, humans are called to leave the world of speech to arrive at the silence of the holy.
There are 5 types of silence: of the tongue, of the body, of the soul, of the intellect, and of the spirit. The silence of the tongue is to avoid evil speech. The silence of the body is when the senses are inactive. The silence of the soul is the absence of evil thoughts. The silence of the intellect is the absence of distractions in the realm of knowledge. “The silence of the spirit is when the intellect ceases even from stirrings caused by created spiritual beings and all its movements are stirred solely by Being, at the wondrous awe of the silence which surrounds Being.”
The New World
The resurrected humanity of Christ is the paradigm
One’s spiritual senses begin to operate efficaciously on spiritual matters
The body is transformed and constitutes a spiritual unity with the soul
The mind seeks communion with the wisdom of God in the knowledge of his mysteries
One will be able to see the invisible by an invisible thought without the need of form or intermediary