dimanche 7 avril 2013

Saint APHRAATE le Syrien, appelé aussi le Sage persan, ermite


BENOÎT XVI


AUDIENCE GÉNÉRALE


Mercredi 21 novembre 2007


Aphraate, le Sage persan


Chers frères et sœurs,

Dans notre parcours dans le monde des Pères de l'Eglise, je voudrais aujourd'hui vous guider dans une partie peu connue de cet univers de la foi, c'est-à-dire dans les territoires où fleurirent les Eglises de langue sémitique, qui n'étaient pas encore influencées par le pensée grecque. Ces Eglises, durant le IV siècle, se développent au proche Orient, de la Terre Sainte au Liban et à la Mésopotamie. Au cours de ce siècle, qui est une période de formation au niveau ecclésial et littéraire, ces communautés voient l'affirmation du phénomène ascétique et monastique avec des caractéristiques autochtones, qui ne subissent pas l'influence du monachisme égyptien. Les communautés syriaques du IV siècle représentent donc le monde sémite, dont la Bible elle-même est née, et elles sont l'expression d'un christianisme dont la formulation théologique n'est pas encore entrée en contact avec des courants culturels différents, mais qui vit sa propre forme de pensée. Ce sont des Eglises où l'ascétisme sous diverses formes érémitiques (ermites dans le désert, dans les grottes, reclus, stylites), et le monachisme sous des formes de vie communautaire, exercent un rôle d'importance vitale dans le développement de la pensée théologique et spirituelle.

Je voudrais présenter ce monde à travers la grande figure d'Aphraate, également connu sous le nom de "Sage", un des personnages les plus importants, et dans le même temps les plus énigmatiques, du christianisme syriaque du IV siècle. Originaire de la région de Ninive-Mossoul, aujourd'hui en Irak, il vécut dans la première moitié du IV siècle. Nous ne possédons que peu d'informations sur sa vie; il entretint cependant des rapports étroits avec les milieux ascétiques et monastiques de l'Eglise syriaque, dont il nous a transmis des informations dans son œuvre et auxquels il consacre une partie de sa réflexion. Selon certaines sources, il fut même responsable d'un monastère et, pour finir, il fut également consacré Evêque. Il écrivit 23 discours, connus sous le nom d'Expositions ou Démonstrations, dans lesquels il traite de divers thèmes de vie chrétienne, comme la foi, l'amour, le jeûne, l'humilité, la prière, la vie ascétique elle-même, et également le rapport entre judaïsme et christianisme, entre Ancien et Nouveau Testament. Il écrit dans un style simple, en employant des phrases brèves et en utilisant des parallélismes parfois contrastants; il réussit toutefois à formuler un discours cohérent avec un développement bien articulé des divers thèmes qu'il traite.

Aphraate était originaire d'une communauté ecclésiale qui se trouvait à la frontière entre le judaïsme et le christianisme. C'était une communauté profondément liée à l'Eglise-mère de Jérusalem, et ses Evêques étaient traditionnellement choisis parmi ceux qu'on appelle "les proches" de Jacques, le "frère du Seigneur" (cf. Mc 6, 3): il s'agissait en fait de personnes liées par le sang et par la foi à l'Eglise hyérosolimitaine. La langue d'Aphraate est la langue syriaque, une langue donc sémitique comme l'hébreu de l'Ancien Testament et comme l'araraméen parlé par Jésus lui-même. La communauté ecclésiale dans laquelle se déroule la vie d'Aphraate était une communauté qui cherchait à rester fidèle à la tradition judéo-chrétienne, dont elle se sentait la fille. Celle-ci conservait donc un lien étroit avec le monde juif et avec ses Livres sacrés. Aphraate se définit de manière significative "disciple de l'Ecriture Sainte" de l'Ancien et du Nouveau Testament (Démonstrations 22, 26), qu'il considère comme son unique source d'inspiration, ayant recours à celle-ci d'une manière si fréquente qu'il en fait le centre de sa réflexion.

Aphraate développe plusieurs arguments dans ses Démonstrations. Fidèle à la tradition syriaque, il présente souvent le salut accompli par le Christ comme une guérison et, donc, le Christ lui-même comme un médecin. En revanche, le péché est vu comme une blessure, que seule la pénitence peut guérir: "Un homme qui a été blessé lors d'une bataille, dit Aphraate, n'a pas honte de se remettre entre les mains d'un sage médecin...; de la même façon, celui qui a été blessé par Satan ne doit pas avoir honte de reconnaître sa faute et de s'éloigner d'elle, en demandant le remède de la pénitence" (Démonstrations 7, 3). Un autre aspect important de l'œuvre d'Aphraate est son enseignement sur la prière, et en particulier sur le Christ comme maître de prière. Le chrétien prie en suivant l'enseignement de Jésus et son exemple d'orant: "Notre Sauveur nous a enseigné à prier ainsi, en disant: "Prie dans le secret Celui qui est caché, mais qui voit tout"; et encore: "Entre dans ta chambre et prie ton Père dans le secret, et le Père qui voit dans le secret te récompensera" (Mt 6, 6)... Ce que notre Sauveur veut montrer, c'est que Dieu connaît les désirs et les pensées du coeur" (Démonstrations 4, 10).

Pour Aphraate, la vie chrétienne est centrée sur l'imitation du Christ, sur le fait de prendre son joug et de le suivre sur la voie de l'Evangile. Une des vertus qui s'adapte le mieux au disciple du Christ est l'humilité. Celle-ci n'est pas un aspect secondaire dans la vie spirituelle du chrétien: la nature de l'homme est humble, et c'est Dieu qui l'exalte pour sa sa propre gloire. L'humilité, observe Aphraate, n'est pas une valeur négative: "Si la racine de l'homme est plantée dans la terre, ses fruits croissent devant le Seigneur de la grandeur" (Démonstrations 9, 14). En restant humble, même au sein de la réalité terrestre dans laquelle il vit, le chrétien peut entrer en relation avec le Seigneur: "L'humble est humble, mais son coeur s'élève à des hauteurs éminentes. Les yeux de son visage observent la terre et les yeux de l'esprit, les hauteurs éminentes" (Démonstrations 9, 2).

La vision qu'Aphraate a de l'homme et de sa réalité corporelle est très positive: le corps de l'homme, à l'exemple du Christ humble, est appelé à la beauté, à la joie, à la lumière: "Dieu s'approche de l'homme qu'il aime, et il est juste d'aimer l'humilité et de rester dans la condition d'humilité. Les humbles sont simples, patients aimés, intègres, droits, experts dans le bien, prudents, sereins, sages, calmes, pacifiques, miséricordieux, prêts à se convertir, bienveillants, profonds, pondérés, beaux et désirables" (Démonstrations 9, 14). Chez Aphraate, la vie chrétienne est souvent présentée dans une claire dimension ascétique et spirituelle: la foi en est la base, le fondement; elle fait de l'homme un temple où le Christ lui-même demeure. La foi rend donc possible une charité sincère, qui s'exprime dans l'amour envers Dieu et envers le prochain. Un autre aspect important chez Aphraate est le jeûne, qu'il entend au sens large. Il parle du jeûne de la nourriture comme d'une pratique nécessaire pour être charitable et vierge, du jeûne constitué par la continence en vue de la sainteté, du jeûne des paroles vaines ou détestables, du jeûne de la colère, du jeûne de la propriété des biens en vue du ministère, du jeûne du sommeil pour s'appliquer à la prière.

Chers frères et soeurs, revenons encore - pour conclure - à l'enseignement d'Aphraate sur la prière. Selon cet antique "Sage", la prière se réalise lorsque le Christ demeure dans le coeur du chrétien, et il l'invite à un engagement cohérent de charité envers son prochain. Il écrit en effet:

"Apporte le réconfort aux accablés, visite les malades,

sois plein de sollicitude envers les pauvres: telle est la prière.

La prière est bonne,

et ses oeuvres sont belles.

La prière est acceptée lorsqu'elle apporte le réconfort au prochain.

La prière est écoutée

lorsque dans celle-ci se trouve également le pardon des offenses.

La prière est forte

lorsqu'elle est remplie de la force de Dieu" (Démonstrations 4, 14-16).

Avec ces paroles, Aphraate nous invite à une prière qui devient vie chrétienne, vie réalisée, vie pénétrée par la foi, par l'ouverture à Dieu et, ainsi, par l'amour pour le prochain.

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Je suis heureux de vous accueillir, chers pèlerins francophones. Je salue particulièrement les jeunes, ainsi que les responsables chrétiens d’associations humanitaires, du diocèse de Fréjus-Toulon, avec leur Évêque, Monseigneur Dominique Rey. Que votre foi et votre prière augmente et affermisse votre charité. Avec ma Bénédiction apostolique.

________________________________________

APPEL

Des nouvelles douloureuses nous parviennent à propos de la situation humanitaire précaire en Somalie, en particulier à Mogadiscio, toujours plus frappée par l'insécurité sociale et par la pauvreté. Je suis avec inquiétude l'évolution des événements et je fais appel à ceux qui exercent des responsabilités politiques, aux niveaux local et international, afin qu'ils trouvent des solutions pacifiques et que l'on apporte du réconfort à cette chère population. J'encourage également les efforts de ceux qui, malgré l'insécurité et les difficultés, restent dans cette région pour apporter de l'aide et du réconfort aux habitants.

© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana



APHRAATE le Syrien, appelé aussi le sage Persan, un nom à la sonorité des contes des milles et une nuits, et pourtant une personne bien réelle. Une personne bien réelle et cependant bien mystérieuse… D'APHRAATE, nous savons peu de choses sinon qu'il serait né de parents païens et serait peut-être mort en 344-345, lors de la persécution des chrétiens sous SHAPUR II, roi de PERSE. Converti au CHRIST, il serait devenu ascète puis peut-être évêque. Il vécut probablement dans la région de NINIVE, la MOSSOUL actuelle, au pays des mages.

Nous le connaissons grâce aux 22 exposés que nous avons de lui. Nous retiendrons ici le sixième qui est adressé aux « fils de l'alliance ». Qui sont ces « fils de l'alliance » ? Ce sont des chrétiens qui au jour de leur baptême se sont engagés par une promesse à suivre le CHRIST dans l'ascèse et le célibat. Ils ont fait « alliance » d'une manière toute spéciale avec lui. Ces chrétiens vivaient par groupes informels au milieu de la communauté ecclésiale. Ils assuraient, entre autres, des fonctions de portiers, « sacristains », catéchistes, enseignants, lecteurs, chantres.

Nous relèverons dans cet exposé quelques points plus particulièrement importants :


• Être les temples du Messie et de son Esprit : http://abbaye-veniere.fr/2c-aphraate-le-persan-3.php

Être disciple du Messie : Ceux qui sont disciples du MESSIE ne peuvent se comporter en contradiction avec la vie de leur Maître. APHRAATE médite sur la vie du MESSIE. C'est en le regardant que les disciples pourront conformer leur vie à la sienne et lui ressembler : la vie du MESSIE est caractérisée par l'humilité, la douceur, la pauvreté, le service laborieux des hommes jusqu'au don de sa vie, la patience dans les outrages. De là découlent concrètement pour les « fils de l'Alliance » : la tranquillité de la parole, la simplicité du vêtement, la pureté des pensées, le support des injustices, le don de leurs biens aux pauvres.

• Vivre dans l'attente du retour du Messie : http://abbaye-veniere.fr/2c-aphraate-le-persan-5.php

Mener le combat spirituel : Tendus vers le Royaume à venir, les « fils de l'Alliance » ont à combattre contre l'Adversaire. C'est le combat spirituel auquel aucun chrétien vivant authentiquement la suite du MESSIE ne peut échapper. Si le chrétien lutte, c'est uniquement du MESSIE qu'il peut obtenir la victoire : « Recevons de notre Seigneur le pouvoir de piétiner serpents et scorpions » (p. 361). La victoire est assurée : « Celui qui veut obtenir la couronne, qu'il coure au combat comme un vainqueur » (p. 366).

APHRAATE énumère les attaques portées par le Mauvais contre les « fils de la lumière » et les parades qui lui sont opposées :

« S'il se fait pour eux semblable aux ténèbres, eux seront lumière.

S'il rampe vers eux comme un serpent, ils seront le sel qu'il ne peut manger. […]

S'il cherche à entrer chez eux par le désir de la nourriture, ils le vaincront par le jeûne à l'image de notre Sauveur. […]

S'il cherche à entrer chez eux pendant le sommeil, ils veillent, montent la garde, psalmodient et prient.

S'il les attire par les biens, ils les donnent aux pauvres.

S'il fait semblant d'être doux pour pouvoir entrer chez eux, ils ne le goûtent pas, parce qu'ils savent qu'il est amer » (p. 371, 372).

Quel rapport entre le serpent et le sel ? Le serpent a été condamné à ramper et à manger de la poussière et l'homme à redevenir poussière (Gn 2, 14 ; 19). Aussi APHRAATE appelle t-il l'homme : « nourriture de serpent » ! Mais le sel a comme propriété d'empêcher la décomposition, il est utilisé pour conserver les aliments. Le sel est le symbole de la nouvelle condition du disciple de JESUS : « Vous êtes le sel de la terre » (Mt 5, 13). Il échappe ainsi au serpent !

• Vivre déjà dans le Royaume : http://abbaye-veniere.fr/2c-aphraate-le-persan-7.php

Les citations qui seront faites dans ces pages sont tirées de : Aphraate le Sage Persan. Exposés (exposés I-IX). Tome I, trad. Marie-Joseph Pierre, Paris, Cerf, 1988, SC 349.

Abbaye Notre Dame Venière. 71700 BOYER. Tel : 03 85 51 05 85


BENEDICT XVI


GENERAL AUDIENCE


Wednesday, 21 November 2007


Aphraates, "the Sage"


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our excursion into the world of the Fathers of the Church, I would like to guide you today to a little-known part of this universe of faith, in the territories where the Semitic-language Churches flourished, still uninfluenced by Greek thought. These Churches developed throughout the fourth century in the Near East, from the Holy Land to Lebanon and to Mesopotamia. In that century, which was a period of formation on the ecclesial and literary level, these communities contributed to the ascetic-monastic phenomenon with autochthonous characteristics that did not come under Egyptian monastic influence. The Syriac communities of the fourth century, therefore, represent the Semitic world from which the Bible itself has come, and they are an expression of a Christianity whose theological formulation had not yet entered into contact with different cultural currents, but lived in their own way of thinking. They are Churches in which asceticism in its various hermitic forms (hermits in the desert, caverns, recluses, stylites) and monasticism in forms of community life, exert a role of vital importance in the development of theological and spiritual thought.

I would like to introduce this world through the great figure of Aphraates, known also by the sobriquet "the Sage". He was one of the most important and at the same time most enigmatic personages of fourth century Syriac Christianity. A native of the Ninive-Mossul region, today in Iraq, he lived during the first half of the fourth century. We have little information about his life; he maintained, however, close ties with the ascetic-monastic environment of the Syriac-speaking Church, of which he has given us some information in his work and to which he dedicates part of his reflection. Indeed, according to some sources he was the head of a monastery and later consecrated a Bishop. He wrote 23 homilies, known as Expositions or Demonstrations, on various aspects of Christian life, such as faith, love, fasting, humility, prayer, the ascetic life, and also the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old and New Testaments. He wrote in a simple style with short sentences and sometimes with contrasting parallelisms; nevertheless, he was able to weave consistent discourses with a well-articulated development of the various arguments he treated.

Aphraates was from an Ecclesial Community situated on the frontier between Judaism and Christianity. It was a community strongly-linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and its Bishops were traditionally chosen from among the so-called "family" of James, the "brother of the Lord" (cf. Mk 6: 3). They were people linked by blood and by faith to the Church of Jerusalem. Aphraates' language was Syriac, therefore a Semitic language like the Hebrew of the Old Testament and like the Aramaic spoken by Jesus himself. Aphraates' Ecclesial Community was a community that sought to remain faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which it felt it was a daughter. It therefore maintained a close relationship with the Jewish world and its Sacred Books. Significantly, Aphraates defines himself as a "disciple of the Sacred Scripture" of the Old and New Testaments (Expositions 22, 26), which he considers as his only source of inspiration, having recourse to it in such abundance as to make it the centre of his reflection.

Aphraates develops various arguments in his Expositions. Faithful to Syriac tradition, he often presents the salvation wrought by Christ as a healing, and thus Christ himself as the physician.

Sin, on the other hand, is seen as a wound that only penance can heal: "A man who has been wounded in battle", Aphraates said, "is not ashamed to place himself in the hands of a wise doctor...; in the same way, the one who has been wounded by Satan must not be ashamed to recognize his fault and distance himself from it, asking for the medicine of penance" (Expositions 7, 3). Another important aspect in Aphraates' work is his teaching on prayer, and in a special way on Christ as the teacher of prayer. The Christian prays following Jesus' teaching and example of oration: "Our Saviour taught people to pray like this, saying: "Pray in secret to the One who is hidden, but who sees all'; and again: "Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you' (Mt 6: 6).... Our Saviour wants to show that God knows the desires and thoughts of the heart" (Expositions 4, 10).

For Aphraates, the Christian life is centred on the imitation of Christ, in taking up his yoke and following him on the way of the Gospel. One of the most useful virtues for Christ's disciple is humility. It is not a secondary aspect in the Christian's spiritual life: man's nature is humble and it is God who exalts it to his own glory. Aphraates observed that humility is not a negative value: "If man's roots are planted in the earth, his fruits ascend before the Lord of majesty" (Expositions 9, 14). By remaining humble in the earthly reality in which one lives, the Christian can enter into relationship with the Lord: "The humble man is humble, but his heart rises to lofty heights. The eyes of his face observe the earth and the eyes of his mind the lofty heights" (Expositions 9, 2).

Aphraates' vision of man and his physical reality is very positive: the human body, in the example of the humble Christ, is called to beauty, joy and light: "God draws near to the man who loves, and it is right to love humility and to remain in a humble state. The humble are simple, patient, loving, integral, upright, good, prudent, calm, wise, quiet, peaceful, merciful, ready to convert, benevolent, profound, thoughtful, beautiful and attractive" (Expositions 9, 14). Aphraates often presented the Christian life in a clear ascetic and spiritual dimension: faith is the base, the foundation; it makes of man a temple where Christ himself dwells. Faith, therefore, makes sincere charity possible, which expresses itself in love for God and neighbour. Another important aspect in Aphraates' thought is fasting, which he understood in a broad sense. He spoke of fasting from food as a necessary practice to be charitable and pure, of fasting understood as continence with a view to holiness, of fasting from vain or detestable words, of fasting from anger, of fasting from the possession of goods with a view to ministry, of fasting from sleep to be watchful in prayer.

Dear brothers and sisters, to conclude, we return again to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. According to this ancient "Sage", prayer is achieved when Christ dwells in the Christian's heart, and invites him to a coherent commitment to charity towards one's neighbour. In fact, he wrote:

"Give relief to those in distress, visit the ailing,

help the poor: this is prayer.

Prayer is good, and its works are beautiful.

Prayer is accepted when it gives relief to one's neighbour.

Prayer is heard when it includes forgiveness of affronts.

Prayer is strong

when it is full of God's strength" (Expositions 4, 14-16).

With these words Aphraates invites us to a prayer that becomes Christian life, a fulfilled life, a life penetrated by faith, by openness to God and therefore to love of neighbour.

________________________________________

To special groups

To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I extend a warm welcome. In a special way I greet Senior Staff members of the USS Harry S. Truman, diaconate candidates from the Diocese of Brownsville and members of the All-American Star Dance Team. May your visit to Rome be a time of growth and renewal. Upon all of you I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lastly, I greet the youth, the sick and the newly-weds. This Sunday, the last of Ordinary Time, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. Dear young people, put Jesus at the centre of your life. May Christ, who has made his Cross a royal throne, teach you, dear sick people, to comprehend the redemptive value of suffering lived in union with him. I invite you, dear newly-weds, to place Jesus at the centre of your matrimonial journey.

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APPEAL

Distressing news is being reported about the precarious humanitarian situation in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, ever more gravely afflicted by social insecurity and poverty. I am anxiously watching the evolution of events and I appeal to those who have political responsibility on the local and the international levels to find peaceful solutions and to bring relief to that beloved population. In addition, I encourage the efforts of those who, even amid insecurity and discomfort, remain in that region in order to bring help and relief to the inhabitants.


© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana



Aphraates lived during the first half of the fourth century (about 300 to 350 A.D.) He lived in an area that is now part of modern day Iraq. At the time, his culture was still part of the Semitic world, uninfluenced by Greek thought. That means, he grew up with different influences than most of the other Fathers of the Church. But, it was still a Christian culture, and one heavily influenced by Judaism. It originally had very strong ties to the Church in Jerusalem that we read about in the Book of Acts. In fact, the leaders of his Church traced their ancestry back to the James who lead the Church of Jerusalem during the time of the Acts.

23 homilies that he wrote have survived to our time. Aphraates is known for emphasizing Jesus' role as a healer. He describes sin as a disease that attacks and harms us. Then, he talks about how Jesus offers us healing, freeing us from our suffering, and ultimately death.

In response, Christians must devote themselves to the imitation of Christ. There is nothing "foreign" sounding to us in that idea. What Aphraates taught in the 300's would be the same thing that Thomas a Kempis wrote about one thousand years later in the northwestern part of Europe: we must model everything we do after Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI quoted Aphraates about prayer:

"Give relief to those in distress, visiting the ailing,

help the poor: this is prayer.

Prayer is good, and its works are beautiful.

Prayer is accepted when it gives relief to one's neighbour.

Prayer is heard when it includes forgiveness of affronts.

Prayer is strong

when it is full of God's strength."

SOURCE : http://www.stpatstolono.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=236

Aphraates of Antioch, Hermit (RM)

Born in Syria; died c. 345. Saint Aphraates was born into an illustrious pagan family on Syria's border with Persia (Iran). After his conversion to Christianity, he gave up all worldly possessions and became a hermit at Edessa in Mesopotamia, where he lived in severe austerity. He then moved to a hermitage next to a monastery in Antioch, Syria, and attracted numerous visitors with his reputation for holiness and as a miracle-worker.


He publicly and valiantly opposed Arians, who attempted to exile him, but Emperor Valens refused to allow it because he thought the death of his attendants who had threatened to murder Aphraates was retribution for his threat.

Some scholars considered Aphraates identical with the bishop of the monastery of Mar Mattai near Mosul, Mesopotamia, and the author of Demonstrations, 23 treatises written between 336 and 345 (the oldest document of the Church in Syria), which give a survey of the Christian faith. This Aphraates may have suffered persecution at the hands of King Shapur the Great and was known as 'the Persian sage' (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).

In art, Saint Aphraates is a hermit striking a rock from which water gushes out, or refusing a rich robe (Roeder).



April 7

St. Aphraates, Anchoret

From Theodoret, Philoth. c. 8. and Hist. b. 4. c. 26. See Tillemont, t. 10. and Henschenius, t. 1. Apr. p. 664

Fourth Age

THIS saint was descended from an illustrious family in Persia, but infected with the superstitions of idolatry. He had the happiness of attaining to an early knowledge of the truth, which he embraced with his whole heart. Grieving to see it so little known and loved in his own country, regardless of honours and worldly advantages, he renounced all pretensions to them; and, leaving his friends and country, came to Edessa, in Mesopotamia, where Christianity flourished. There he diligently informed himself what was the best manner of serving God perfectly, and securing his only affair, the eternal salvation of his soul. After some deliberation, he shut himself up in a little cell without the walls of that city, applying himself entirely to the exercises of penance and heavenly contemplation. After some time he removed into a cell near a monastery in the neighbourhood of Antioch, in Syria, where many resorting to him for spiritual advice, he became a great advocate of virtue and truth against vice, and the reigning Arian heresy, by whomsoever professed. He ate nothing but a little bread after sunset, to which, when he was grown extremely old, he added a few herbs. He made use of no other bed than a mat laid on the bare ground. His clothing was one coarse garment. Anthemius, who was some time after appointed governor of the East, and consul, returning from an embassy in Persia, pressed Aphraates to accept of a robe he had brought with him, because the product of his own country. Aphraates made answer: “Do you think it reasonable to exchange an old faithful servant for a new one, merely because he is a countryman?” “By no means,” replied Anthemius. “Then,” said the hermit, “take back your garment; for I have one that I have worn these sixteen years; and I am not willing to have two at the same time.” Hitherto the saint had lived retired in his cell; but seeing the Arian persecution under Valens make great havoc in the flock of Christ, he left his retreat to come to the assistance of the distressed Catholics of Antioch; where he omitted nothing in his power to comfort the faithful, and to assuage the fury of their heretical persecutors. Valens had banished the holy bishop Meletius; but Aphraates joined Flavian and Diodorus, who governed St. Meletius’s flock during his absence. His reputation for sanctity and miracles gave the greatest weight to his actions and words. The Emperor Valens being at Antioch, looking one day out of a window of his palace upon the high road which parted it from the river Orontes, and led into the country, saw the saint passing by, and asked who that old man was, so meanly clad, and making such haste; and being told it was Aphraates, for whom the whole city had the greatest veneration, asked him whither he was going in so great a hurry? The man of God replied, “To pray for the prosperity of your reign.” For the Catholics, not being allowed a church in the city, held their assemblies of devotion in a field where martial exercises were performed. The emperor said, “How comes it that you, who are by profession a monk, leave your cell thus to ramble abroad?” Aphraates answered, “I lived retired, so long as the flock of the heavenly Shepherd enjoyed peace; but now I see it torn to pieces, how can I sit quiet in my cell? Were I a virgin confined in my father’s house, and should see it take fire, would you advise me to sit still and let the house be burnt, in which I should also perish; or leave my room to run and procure help, carry water, and exert my utmost endeavours to put out the fire? Reprove me not, O emperor, if I do the like; rather blame yourself, who have kindled the fire, not me for labouring to quench it.” The emperor made not the least reply; but one of his eunuchs, then in waiting, reviled the aged saint, and threatened him with death. But God chastised his insolence: for soon after, going to see if the emperor’s warm bath was ready, being taken with giddiness, he fell into the caldron of boiling water, and nobody being there to give him assistance, was scalded to death. This example so terrified the emperor, that he durst not listen to the suggestions of the Arians, who endeavoured to persuade him to banish the saint. He was also much moved by the miraculous cures which the holy man wrought by the application of oil or water, upon which he had made the sign of the cross. Aphraates would never speak to a woman but at a distance, and always in as few words as possible. After the miserable death of Valens, when peace was restored to the church, our saint returned to his solitude, and there happily departed this life to possess God, “with whom,” says Theodoret, “I believe he has greater power than when he was on earth: on which account I pray also to obtain his intercession.” The whole church has imitated his example. St. Aphraates is honoured in the Synaxary of the Greeks, and in the calendars of other oriental churches on the 29th of January; but in the Roman Martyrology his name is placed on the 7th of April.

Every saint is eminently a man of prayer; but this is the peculiar perfection of holy hermits and monks. This was the means by which so many in that state had been raised to such wonderful heights in heroic virtue, so as to seem seraphim rather than men on earth. As a vessel at sea is carried by a favourable wind with incredible ease and swiftness, so a soul, which is borne upon the wings of a true spirit of prayer, makes sweetly, and without experiencing either difficulty or pain, quick and extraordinary progress in the paths of all interior virtues, particularly those of a close union of her affections and powers with God, and those of divine charity, the queen and form of all perfect Christian virtue. In this spirit of prayer a simple idiot has outstripped the most subtle philosopher, because its foundation is loud by profound humility, and perfect simplicity and purity of heart; and compunction and love require neither penetration nor depth of genius, nor elegance of words, to express or raise their most tender affections. St. Bruno was an eloquent and learned man; yet in his most sublime contemplation he expressed to God all the burning sentiments of his soul by a single word, which he wished never to cease repeating, but to continue actually to pronounce it for all eternity with fresh ardour and jubilation: “O goodness! O goodness! O infinite goodness!” But by this word his heart said more than discourses could express in many years or ages.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints.  1866