views updated


The earliest-known Christian writer in Persia; fl. first half of the 4th century. He was an ascetic and high-ranking cleric, but it is not clear whether he was a bishop. Manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries preserve 23 of his sermons or homilies, the first 10 composed in 337, the following 12 in 344, the last in 345, at the beginning of the persecution of Sapor II. The homilies are preceded by a letter falsely ascribed to Gregory the Illuminator.

Sermons 1 to 10 are hortatory and ascetical in tone and content: 1, on faith, contains an ancient Trinitarian creed; 2 to 4 deal with charity, fasting, and prayer; 5, written when war was imminent, hopes subtly for Roman victory in the interests of Christianity; 6 to 10 cover Christian perfection, Penance (against rigorism in forgiving sins), resurrection of the dead, humility, and the shepherds of souls. The remainder are frequently polemics against the Jews, who were numerous and learned in Northern Mesopotamia, and treat of circumcision, Easter, the Sabbath, distinction of foods, Gentiles supplanting the chosen people, Jesus' divine sonship, virginity, impossibility of restoring the kingdom of the Jews, and the saving blessing that lay hidden on the vine of Israel and came to flower in the Gentiles. Sermon 14 castigates clerical morals; 20 is concerned with the poor and needy; 21, with impending persecution; 22, with the last things.

Doctrinal elements in Aphraates include a profession of the Trinity, salvation through Christ-God, who invaded Sheol and conquered the devil in his own domain, and the Real Presence. His works bear no trace of Hellenistic influence; rather, he reveals a mentality discoverable in contemporary rabbinic literature and Judeo-Christian thought. His grasp of Scripture is remarkable, his use of it felicitous, especially in his constant recourse to the Old Testament, which he regards as intimately linked to the New. His theology, while genuinely Christian, is quite primitive; the Bible may well have been his only written source.

Bibliography: j. parisot, ed., Demonstrationes (Patrologia syriaca, ed. r. graffin et al., 12; 18941907). i. ortiz de urbina, Patrologia syriaca, 4347, with bibliog. e. j. duncan, Baptism in the Demonstrations of Aphraates, the Persian Sage (Washington 1945). a. vÖÖbus, "Methodologisches zum Studium der Anweisungen Aphrahats," Oriens Christianus 46 (Leipzig-Wiesbaden 1962) 2532. e. beck, "Symbolum-Mysterium bei Aphraat und Ephräm," ibid. 42 (1958) 1940.

[i. ortiz de urbina]