St. Ephrem was prolific, writing over 3000 poems and hymns during his lifetime. So why have I never heard of him? Maybe because I haven’t been paying attention. Well, I’m paying attention now because even though he wrote his poems in Syriac, they translate beautifully into English.
As I’ve written before, I really enjoy learning new things about our Church and the depth and breadth of our Catholic faith. And I enjoy sharing my discoveries with you too. Perhaps I’ve been studying the wrong poets for too long a time, but poems like this one leave me yearning for more.
Below is the Fourth Hymn of St. Ephrem’s The Pearl: Seven Hymns on the Faith translated by J.B. Morris. I think Hilaire Belloc got a kick out of reading poems like this. It left me mesmerized. After reading this, you will understand why St. Ephrem was known by the sobriquet, The Harp of the Holy Spirit.
The Pearl: Hymn Four
The thief gained the faith which gained him,
And brought him up and placed him in paradise.
He saw in the Cross a tree of life;
That was the fruit,
He was the eater in Adam’s stead.
The fool, who goes astray,
Grazes the faith, as it were an eye,
By all manner of questions.
The probing of the finger blinds the eye,
And much more doth that prying blind the faith.
For even the diver pries not into his pearl.
In it do all merchants rejoice
Without prying into whence it came;
Even the king who is crowned therewith
Does not explore it.
Because Balaam was foolish,
A foolish beast in the ass spoke with him,
Because he despised God Who spoke with him.
Thee too let the pearl reprove
In the ass’s stead.
The people that had a heart of stone,
By a Stone He set at nought,
For lo, a stone hears words.
Witness its work that has reproved them;
And you, ye deaf ones,
Let the pearl reprove to-day.
With the swallow and the crow did He put men to shame;
With the ox, yea with the ass, did He put them to shame;
Let the pearl reprove now,
O ye birds and things on earth and things below.
Not as the moon does thy light fill or wane;
The Sun whose light is greater than all,
Lo! of Him it is that a type is shadowed out in thy little compass.
O type of the Son,
One spark of Whom is greater than the sun!
The pearl itself is full,
for its light is full;
Neither is there any cunning worker who can steal from it;
For its wall is its own beauty,
Yea, its guard also!
It lacks not,
since it is entirely perfect.
And if a man would break thee
To take a part from thee,
Thou art like the faith which with the heretics perishes,
Seeing they have broken it in pieces and spoiled it:
For is it any better than this
To have the faith scrutinized?
The faith is an entire nature
That may not be corrupted.
The spoiler gets himself mischief by it:
The heretic brings ruin on himself thereby.
He that chases the light from his pupils
Fire and air are divided when sundered.
Light alone, of all creatures,
As its Creator, is not divided;
It is not barren, for that it also begets
Without losing thereby.
And if a man thinks that thou art framed by art
He errs greatly;
Thy nature proclaims that thou, as all stones,
Art not the framing of art;
and so thou art a type of the Generation
Which no making framed.
Thy stone flees
From a comparison with the Stone which is the Son.
For thy own generation is from the midst of the deep,
That of the Son of thy Creator is from the highest height;
He is not like thee,
In that He is like His Father.
And as they tell,
Two wombs bare thee also.
Thou camest down from on high a fluid nature;
Thou camest up from the sea a solid body.
By means of thy second birth
Thou didst show thy loveliness to the children of men.
Hands fixed thee, when thou wast embodied,
Into thy receptacles;
For thou art in the crown as upon the cross,
And in a coronet as in a victory;
Thou art upon the ears, as if to fill up what was lacking;
Thou extendest over all.
St. Ephrem, Pray for Us.
You may read all seven hymns in The Pearl here.