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January 28 Saints of the Day – Ephraim the Syrian and Thomas Aquinas

Ephraim the SyrianOn this day in 1820, Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen discovered Antarctica, making it the first continent “discovered” by a European that someone didn’t already live on.

East of the Stettin-to-Trieste line, Ephraim the Syrian (ca. 306 – 373) is venerated today. Sired by a pagan priest in Nisibis (now split between Nusaybin, Turkey, and Qamishli, Syria) and baptised at either 18 or 28, Ephraim immediately began to compose hymns and metrical sermons in his native Syriac. He is especially known for his didactic hymns combatting various heresies: Arianism, Manicheeism, Marcionism, Bardaisanism, and Gnosticism (not necessarily in that order). Nisibis was on the frontier between the Roman and Persian Empires, and frequently the scene of war between them (one hesitates only slightly to call it “the Poland of Mesopotamia”). One story relates how Ephraim’s curses, no doubt in beautiful metric verse, unleashed a plague of stinging insects upon the Persian armies, which were forced to withdraw.

Eventually, though, the ineptitude of Julian the Apostate (a.k.a. Julian the Really Lousy Military Strategist) forced the Empire to cede a swath of eastern Syria, including Nisibis, to the Persians. The Christian population of the town fled to Edessa (modern Şanlıurfa, Turkey), traditionally — according to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and they should know — home of the prophet Abraham. There he continued to write verse and argue against the local heretics. He died of the plague while nursing its victims, and is honored in the west on June 9, the date of his death, on June 18 in the Marionite Church, and on the seventh Sunday before Easter in the Syriac Orthodox Church. His hymns are still widely used in the worship of all these churches. Except the one about the insects.

Thomas AquinasWest of the Adriatic, today marks the veneration of Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), a Neapolitan noble on both sides (subtract five points if you started singing Joni Mitchell). In an interesting twist on the “I’m going to become a monk and you can’t stop me” theme, he bucked his family’s desire to make him a Benedictine, and declared his intention to join the Dominicans. The latter schlepped him off toward Paris, but when they got to Rome he was kidnapped by his brothers, who hauled him back to Naples and imprisoned him for two years on the family estate, where he spent his time studying and tutoring his sisters. His family even went so far as to hire a prostitute to tempt him (people succumbing to prostitutes being automatically enrolled in the Benedictines, or something — I was unable to puzzle out their logic), but he drove her away. After two years of this, his mother (clearly not being tutored along with her daughters) suddenly considered that this imprisonment thing might bring disrepute to the family, and arranged for his escape.

This time he made it to Paris and began studies under Albertus Magnus (later made a saint despite advocating for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion), eventually becoming master of students. In 1259 Pope Clement IV called him to Rome, then universitiless, where he opened shop and taught moral and religious philosophy. While there also he began his greatest work, the Summa Theologica, intended as an introductory work for beginning students. Graduate students have been bruising their heads against it ever since. The Dominicans then contracted Itchy Feet Syndrome By Proxy and sent Thomas careening between Paris and Rome for some while. When they finally allowed him to go wherever he wanted, he returned to Naples, teaching and continuing work on the Summa. After a mystical vision, however, he retired from teaching, declaring that everything he had written hitherto seemed to him to be made of straw. He died from injuries sustained in a collision with a tree branch while riding an ass to a council meant to reconcile the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, where he was to deliver a conciliatory address titled, On the Errors of the Greeks. Yeah, that would have worked. He was canonized a mere 50 years after his death, and has a broad patronage, including universities, scholars, publishers, and pencil manufacturers.


Bibliography
This Day in History for 30th January (History Orb)
Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (Wikipedia)
Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech (About.Com)
File:N-Mesopotamia and Syria.svg (Wikipedia)
Ephrem the Syrian (Wikipedia)
Marcionism (Wikipedia)
Bardaisan (Wikipedia)
St. Ephraem (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Edessa (Wikipedia)
Sanliurfa (Wikipedia)
Nusaybin (Wikipedia)
Thomas Aquinas (Wikipedia)
Albertus Magnus (Wikipedia)
Saint Thomas Aquinas (SQPN)
St. Thomas Aquinas (Catholic Encyclopedia)


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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