Clothed in language

Daily Reading for June 10 • Ephrem of Edessa, Deacon, 373

Part of the interest in the salvific potential of textuality resulted from the affirmation of embodiment through the incarnation. Bodies were analogous to texts, a theme already explored in the hymns of the Syriac poet Ephrem. . . . Not only did God “put on a body,” but in accommodating himself to human limitation, God also “put on metaphors,” clothing himself in a garment of words. Scripture figured as a type of divine embodiment. Scripture’s linguistic description of God is an accommodation to our own boundedness in language. The thirty-first of Ephrem’s Hymns on Faith has as its refrain: “Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.” Ephrem explains,

“We should realize that, had He not put on the names

of such things, it would not have been possible for Him

to speak with us humans. By means of what belongs to us did He draw close to us;

He clothed Himself in language, so that he might clothe us

in His mode of life. He asked for our form and put this on,

and then, as a father with his children, He spoke with our childish state.”

For Ephrem, language figures not a sign of the Fall but as a marker of human creatureliness. For this reason, in scripture, God is clothed in language, in the materiality of writing.

From Writing and Holiness: The Practice of Authorship in the early Christian East by Derek Krueger (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

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