Human Freedom in the Context of the Theological Anthropology of St. Ephrem the Syrian
Since around the middle of the last century, Ephrem the Syrian has received an increasing amount of scholarly attention. Yet, amid all the literary and topical studies of his works, his understanding of human freedom, which occupies a central place in his thought, has gone largely unexamined. This dissertation contributes to the task of filling in that gap. The structure of this dissertation takes its cue from two sources. The first source, the order of salvation history as it appears in the Bible and in Ephrem's works, begins with the Creation, the Fall, and the expulsion from Paradise; it finds its center in the incarnate Word; and it looks forward to pilgrim humanity's return to the renewed Paradise. The second source is Ephrem's two-fold conception of the way in which we are conformed ever more clearly and fully to the divine image in which we were created: by coming to know the truth and by living in accordance with it.Closely examining texts of different genres across Ephrem's literary corpus, this study brings into clear view his doctrine of human freedom, in both its positive and its polemical dimensions. It shows that Ephrem placed freedom firmly at the center of the human person, in an intimate, inseparable connection with the "authority" (shultana) that Ephrem singles out as the core component of humanity's possession of the divine image. The study then explores Ephrem's expositions of the Fall and the attendant decree of death for humanity and its exile from Paradise. In charting humanity's way forward, the study examines Ephrem's understanding of the relationship between knowledge and freedom, especially in its bearing on his doctrine of divine revelation, his critique of the Arians' theological and epistemological method, and his battle with opponents outside the Church over the reality and efficacy of freedom itself. The study closes with a discussion of the second aspect of our perfection in the divine image, life lived according to the truth: we discuss Ephrem's understanding of the relationship between grace and freedom, his use of moral exempla, and his vision of humanity's return to the renewed Paradise.
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