Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
My thesis is that Ephrem uses Mary's pregnancy in his Hymns on the Nativity both as a model for the ascetical life and as a way of explaining, theologically, what it means to be a Christian ascetic. For Ephrem, Mary is the first to have her body transformed through the union of Christ and humanity, a transformation that prefigures both the resurrected body and the common Christian experience of Christ prior to that. Thus, the fact that Mary was physically pregnant is theologically significant for Ephrem. Mary's personal and free response to God's invitation uniquely illustrates that the transformative experience of God is at once spiritual and bodily; Ephrem believes that Christ provides the means for this transformation, but throughout the Hymns on the Nativity Mary's pregnancy shows how to say "yes" to Christ in order to receive that transformation. For Ephrem, this image of the woman, in her fertility of mind and body, represents the Christian who himself would be transformed. Mary's pregnancy serves to provoke our imagination to visualize Christian salvation in a very real and common way, in the image of a pregnant, expectant woman. After Mary, everyone can conceive; Mary's fertility best captures the totality of the Christian experience
A central aspect of my thesis is that we can best examine Ephrem's development of Mary as exemplar by locating his treatment of Mary within the context of Jewish and Jewish-Christian treatments of Eve. I will argue that in this Jewish Christian Eve tradition, the problem of Eve is her deception, but even more important to Ephrem is that this tradition suggests that Eve's deception resulted in the loss of humanity's glory. It is both this deception and the resulting loss of glory that Ephrem believes Mary's pregnancy overcomes. Ephrem's description of Mary's pregnancy in the Hymns of Nativity, especially his emphasis on how that pregnancy restores "glory" to humankind, recalls the Jewish-Christian Eve traditions.