Ephraem the Syrian on the Utility of Language and the Place of Silence


This paper attempts to trace the outlines of Ephraem the Syrian's ideas about the extent to which theological language can be usefully applied to the description of God. Centering on the Hymns on Faith and Sermons on Faith, the paper describes Ephraem's ideas about the usefulness of all languages used by created beings and how each of them is limited to dealing with realities close to it on the ontological scale. Ephraem is shown to believe that each language has its own range of usefulness but that no language is universally useful and that no verbal language suffices for the expression of the highest truths. Since all verbal languages function by defining what they describe, the highest realities, which cannot be subjected to definition because of their infinite natures, can be expressed only through the medium of silence. Silence is shown to be, in Ephraem's mind, the highest form of communication and to be used among the persons of the Trinity for their own communication.