Friday, September 04, 2009

Compassionate Mother: part 5

More from Fire from Heaven, on the grammatical feminine usage for the Holy Spirit, and its subsequent alteration to the masculine,
    What is the situation with authors writing in Syriac? It has already been mentioned that the grammatical masculine in connection with the Holy Spirit is extremely rare in Syriac writers prior to c. AD 400. After that approximate date we meet quite a variety of different practices. Narsai, the great fifth-century poet of the Church of the East, regularly prefers to use masculine grammatical forms where the Holy Spirit is concerned, where as the equally famous Syrian Orthodox poet Jacob of Serugh (died 521) will at some points use feminine forms, and at others masculine; what governs his choice would seem to be entirely metrical, rather than theological, considerations.

    A similar inconsistency can be found in many writers up to and including the early Arab period, and clearly the question was jnot of particular interest to them. Surprisingly enough, we even occasionally encounter a feminine form in the East Syrian theologian Babai, who, as we have already seen, altered the grammatical gender of certain biblical quotations. Although most writers, especially from the seventh century onwards, opt to treat the Holy Spirit as grammatically masculine, this is by no means a universal phenomenon for the early centuries of Arab rule.

    This also applies to the texts, originating from many of different periods, to be found in the vast liturgical compilations of the Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox and Maronite Churches, known as the Hudra or Fenqiho: here many examples of feminine grammatical forms can be found alongside the more frequent masculine. As a single example, out of many, of the feminine usage, a verse text which features during the season of Epiphany in the ritual of the Church of the East may be cited:

      The Holy Spirit was sent,
      she overshadowed the baptismal font
      and in the womb of water, in the 'Jordan',
      she fashioned infants who will not die,
      and they became spiritual bridegrooms
      in whom there dwells Christ the King
Interesting to remember that the KJV treated the Holy Spirit as a grammatical neuter, reflecting the underlying Greek,
    The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: Romans 8:16
but I don't think it would be possible to do that today.

1 comment:

Peter Kirk said...

Since you mention the Arab period, do you know the gender of the Arabic ruh? Perhaps it is, or became, masculine, and this influenced the Syriac. I suspect it is masculine in Qur'anic Arabic because of the way it is used in as a male personal name, Ruhullah = "spirit of Allah/God", the given name of Ayatollah Khomeini - or maybe this is just a distortion by Persians who, like English speakers, don't understand grammatical gender.