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Author Topic: Borrowing flesh from the Theotokos?  (Read 873 times) Average Rating: 0
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scamandrius
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« on: June 28, 2010, 12:29:22 PM »

I recently acquired the Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God by St. Ephraim the Syrian.  It has been a boon to my spiritual life and I pray it in the same way monastics use the psalter during the week for Orthros and Vespers.  Going through these wonderful prayers, I was struck by this particular phrase from Psalter 29 of the 4th Kathisma, 2nd stasis where he says that "God is born incarnate, wearing flesh borrowed from her, having become man, which He was not, and remaining GOd, which He was, in order to save the world."  I don't know if anyone is proficient in the Syriac to give me the etymology for the word "borrowed" but this particular word choice (which may be the fault of the translator), to me at least, indicates that once something is borrowed it should be returned.  From my reading, and I am willing and wanting to be corrected, if the flesh is only borrowed then it is not really Christ's but something on loan and from there one may infer (though I see no indication whatsoever) that Ephraim was Apollinarist or Nestorian or Adoptionist in his Christology.  If someone knows the Syriac, I would like to know what the etymology of the particular word for "borrowed" is and to clear up any confusion that word generates.  Thanks.
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« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2010, 12:34:42 PM »

If he was orthodox then I can't imagine that he meant the borrowing to be temporary - but I don't speak Syriac.
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« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2010, 12:59:38 PM »

If the Syriac word used has the same meaning as the English word in the translation, I suppose 'borrowing' as opposed to 'taking' signifies that the Incarnation was dependent on the Theotokos' voluntary acceptance of it - that it was a matter of free will rather than coersion - and that the flesh He assumed from her was not something He possessed by nature.
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« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2010, 03:06:52 PM »

Speaking from the standpoint of modern chemistry, one could speculate that when Jesus was born, the atoms with which he was born, were indeed 'borrowed' and then 'given back' to the environment (earth, air, water, etc.) during His life, such that perhaps all the atoms present when He was 2 years old, had all been replaced by the time He turned 33. So, at least from that standpoint, He 'borrowed' the atoms from Mary and the environment, and returned them to the environment. And perhaps the atoms present at the crucifixion had become "trans-formed" after resurrection.
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« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2010, 03:37:34 PM »

Speaking from the standpoint of modern chemistry, one could speculate that when Jesus was born, the atoms with which he was born, were indeed 'borrowed' and then 'given back' to the environment (earth, air, water, etc.) during His life, such that perhaps all the atoms present when He was 2 years old, had all been replaced by the time He turned 33. So, at least from that standpoint, He 'borrowed' the atoms from Mary and the environment, and returned them to the environment. And perhaps the atoms present at the crucifixion had become "trans-formed" after resurrection.
But I don't think the Holy Fathers and hymnographers who spoke of Christ borrowing flesh from the Theotokos understood chemistry as we do today.  So how does your speculation fit in with this discussion?
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« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2010, 04:09:01 PM »

I recently acquired the Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God by St. Ephraim the Syrian.  It has been a boon to my spiritual life and I pray it in the same way monastics use the psalter during the week for Orthros and Vespers.  Going through these wonderful prayers, I was struck by this particular phrase from Psalter 29 of the 4th Kathisma, 2nd stasis where he says that "God is born incarnate, wearing flesh borrowed from her, having become man, which He was not, and remaining GOd, which He was, in order to save the world."  I don't know if anyone is proficient in the Syriac to give me the etymology for the word "borrowed" but this particular word choice (which may be the fault of the translator), to me at least, indicates that once something is borrowed it should be returned.  From my reading, and I am willing and wanting to be corrected, if the flesh is only borrowed then it is not really Christ's but something on loan and from there one may infer (though I see no indication whatsoever) that Ephraim was Apollinarist or Nestorian or Adoptionist in his Christology.  If someone knows the Syriac, I would like to know what the etymology of the particular word for "borrowed" is and to clear up any confusion that word generates.  Thanks.

It is ironic that you imply St Ephrem (Ephraim) may have been a heretic. I am not a scholar and fully know the dangers of relying upon Wikipedia, but the following excerpt points at St Ephrem as a champion of Orthodoxy.

"Ephrem, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church, and seems to have continued his work as a teacher, perhaps in the School of Edessa. Edessa had always been at the heart of the Syriac-speaking world and the city was full of rival philosophies and religions. Ephrem comments that orthodox Nicene Christians were simply called 'Palutians' in Edessa, after a former bishop. Arians, Marcionites, Manichees, Bardaisanites  and various Gnostic sects proclaimed themselves as the true church. In this confusion, Ephrem wrote a great number of hymns defending Nicene orthodoxy. A later Syriac writer, Jacob of Serugh, wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all-female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes in the forum of Edessa."

It seems like the Saint was an innovator only in one respect: his use of Syriac (or secular) folk tunes for his all female choirs (gasp) to sing his hymns to.  Is outrage, no?   Cheesy

Seriously though, I am amazed at our propensity to make mountains out of molehill. This saint was a poet, he spoke and wrote in Syriac, and was not a Greek. Therefore, it is extremely unfair to consider anything that he said in a linguistic, cultural and philosophical setting foreign to him. So, what if he used the word "borrowed"? It seems to me that our Creed supports such usage: "who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." His humanity thus came from the Theotokos and it may not be fully accurate but not a falsity that his flesh was indeed borrowed from her, in a manner of speaking. I do not think that this act of borrowing makes him any less the Christ, nor do I think that it contradicts or lessens any of the other clauses of the Creed.

In this vein, I had been following the debates regarding the Orthodoxy (or not) of Chalcedon and I cannot understand why in the world there was and remains such a divide. Both sides seem to agree on the basics; why is that not enough? Why must we argue indefinitely over molehills?
« Last Edit: June 28, 2010, 04:10:40 PM by Second Chance » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2010, 04:16:49 PM »


It is ironic that you imply St Ephrem (Ephraim) may have been a heretic. I am not a scholar and fully know the dangers of relying upon Wikipedia, but the following excerpt points at St Ephrem as a champion of Orthodoxy.

I did no such thing!  I never charged him with being a heretic!  The wording threw me for a loop and I was trying to understand it.  In fact, I wrote (which you obviously seemed to miss) the following:
From my reading, and I am willing and wanting to be corrected, if the flesh is only borrowed then it is not really Christ's but something on loan and from there one may infer (though I see no indication whatsoever) that Ephraim was Apollinarist or Nestorian or Adoptionist in his Christology. 

I demand an apology.  I would never blaspheme the Holy Fathers as you think I have.
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« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2010, 04:21:27 PM »

I recently acquired the Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God by St. Ephraim the Syrian.  It has been a boon to my spiritual life and I pray it in the same way monastics use the psalter during the week for Orthros and Vespers.  Going through these wonderful prayers, I was struck by this particular phrase from Psalter 29 of the 4th Kathisma, 2nd stasis where he says that "God is born incarnate, wearing flesh borrowed from her, having become man, which He was not, and remaining GOd, which He was, in order to save the world."  I don't know if anyone is proficient in the Syriac to give me the etymology for the word "borrowed" but this particular word choice (which may be the fault of the translator), to me at least, indicates that once something is borrowed it should be returned.  From my reading, and I am willing and wanting to be corrected, if the flesh is only borrowed then it is not really Christ's but something on loan and from there one may infer (though I see no indication whatsoever) that Ephraim was Apollinarist or Nestorian or Adoptionist in his Christology.  If someone knows the Syriac, I would like to know what the etymology of the particular word for "borrowed" is and to clear up any confusion that word generates.  Thanks.

It is ironic that you imply St Ephrem (Ephraim) may have been a heretic. I am not a scholar and fully know the dangers of relying upon Wikipedia, but the following excerpt points at St Ephrem as a champion of Orthodoxy.

"Ephrem, in his late fifties, applied himself to ministry in his new church, and seems to have continued his work as a teacher, perhaps in the School of Edessa. Edessa had always been at the heart of the Syriac-speaking world and the city was full of rival philosophies and religions. Ephrem comments that orthodox Nicene Christians were simply called 'Palutians' in Edessa, after a former bishop. Arians, Marcionites, Manichees, Bardaisanites  and various Gnostic sects proclaimed themselves as the true church. In this confusion, Ephrem wrote a great number of hymns defending Nicene orthodoxy. A later Syriac writer, Jacob of Serugh, wrote that Ephrem rehearsed all-female choirs to sing his hymns set to Syriac folk tunes in the forum of Edessa."

It seems like the Saint was an innovator only in one respect: his use of Syriac (or secular) folk tunes for his all female choirs (gasp) to sing his hymns to.  Is outrage, no?   Cheesy

Seriously though, I am amazed at our propensity to make mountains out of molehill. This saint was a poet, he spoke and wrote in Syriac, and was not a Greek. Therefore, it is extremely unfair to consider anything that he said in a linguistic, cultural and philosophical setting foreign to him. So, what if he used the word "borrowed"? It seems to me that our Creed supports such usage: "who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." His humanity thus came from the Theotokos and it may not be fully accurate but not a falsity that his flesh was indeed borrowed from her, in a manner of speaking. I do not think that this act of borrowing makes him any less the Christ, nor do I think that it contradicts or lessens any of the other clauses of the Creed.

In this vein, I had been following the debates regarding the Orthodoxy (or not) of Chalcedon and I cannot understand why in the world there was and remains such a divide. Both sides seem to agree on the basics; why is that not enough? Why must we argue indefinitely over molehills?

Second Chance, I think scamandrius is merely seeking to understand a passage he deems difficult to comprehend.  I don't think he's trying to impugn the character of one of our Holy Fathers or exaggerate the importance of a trifling detail, as you suggest he is.
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« Reply #8 on: June 28, 2010, 04:25:24 PM »


It is ironic that you imply St Ephrem (Ephraim) may have been a heretic. I am not a scholar and fully know the dangers of relying upon Wikipedia, but the following excerpt points at St Ephrem as a champion of Orthodoxy.

I did no such thing!  I never charged him with being a heretic!  The wording threw me for a loop and I was trying to understand it.  In fact, I wrote (which you obviously seemed to miss) the following:
From my reading, and I am willing and wanting to be corrected, if the flesh is only borrowed then it is not really Christ's but something on loan and from there one may infer (though I see no indication whatsoever) that Ephraim was Apollinarist or Nestorian or Adoptionist in his Christology. 

I demand an apology.  I would never blaspheme the Holy Fathers as you think I have.
Relax, bud. Cool  There's no need to focus on how wronged you were by demanding an apology like this.  Second Chance apparently misunderstood something you said.  Such misunderstandings happen.  It's not something to get worked up over. Cool
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« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2010, 04:32:44 PM »

The book you're reading/praying is translated from a Russian translation, which is noted in the introduction. This is a translation of St. Theophan the Recluse's Russian translation, which might have been based on a Greek translation of the Syriac. So don't get hung up on these kind of specifics, because linguistically you are too far removed for it to matter.
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« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2010, 05:57:59 PM »


It is ironic that you imply St Ephrem (Ephraim) may have been a heretic. I am not a scholar and fully know the dangers of relying upon Wikipedia, but the following excerpt points at St Ephrem as a champion of Orthodoxy.

I did no such thing!  I never charged him with being a heretic!  The wording threw me for a loop and I was trying to understand it.  In fact, I wrote (which you obviously seemed to miss) the following:
From my reading, and I am willing and wanting to be corrected, if the flesh is only borrowed then it is not really Christ's but something on loan and from there one may infer (though I see no indication whatsoever) that Ephraim was Apollinarist or Nestorian or Adoptionist in his Christology. 

I demand an apology.  I would never blaspheme the Holy Fathers as you think I have.

You've got it; I did not notice your disclaimer (though I see no indication whatsoever). I never would think that you would ever blaspheme them either. I am very sorry to have upset you. Please forgive me.
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« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2010, 06:15:19 PM »

The book you're reading/praying is translated from a Russian translation, which is noted in the introduction. This is a translation of St. Theophan the Recluse's Russian translation, which might have been based on a Greek translation of the Syriac. So don't get hung up on these kind of specifics, because linguistically you are too far removed for it to matter.

I'm aware of that, but I would still like to know what the original Syriac is, if anyone here understands it.
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« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2010, 06:54:43 PM »

I don't mean to raise any accusations against St. Ephrem, but isn't he thought to have been a member of the Nestorian Church?
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« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2010, 10:38:44 PM »

I don't mean to raise any accusations against St. Ephrem, but isn't he thought to have been a member of the Nestorian Church?

He predates the Nestorian controversy by several decades.
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« Reply #14 on: June 28, 2010, 10:39:23 PM »

In this vein, I had been following the debates regarding the Orthodoxy (or not) of Chalcedon and I cannot understand why in the world there was and remains such a divide. Both sides seem to agree on the basics; why is that not enough? Why must we argue indefinitely over molehills?


Is this really the appropriate place to be discussing this?
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« Reply #15 on: June 29, 2010, 04:14:33 AM »

I don't mean to raise any accusations against St. Ephrem, but isn't he thought to have been a member of the Nestorian Church?

He predates the Nestorian controversy by several decades.

Sorry!  I got him confused with St. Isaac the Syrian! angel
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« Reply #16 on: June 29, 2010, 06:56:09 PM »

I don't mean to raise any accusations against St. Ephrem, but isn't he thought to have been a member of the Nestorian Church?

He predates the Nestorian controversy by several decades.

Sorry!  I got him confused with St. Isaac the Syrian! angel

I believe they were both essentially part of the East Assyrian tradition. But Ephraim was part of it before it started becoming explicitly Theodorean, whereas Isaac came significantly after the outbreak of the Nestorian controversy, and was most likely part of the aforementioned schismatic Sassanian (Persian) church.
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