Ephrem the Syrian writes this poem as a fictional argument between Satan and Death, where each bicker about who is strongest. Ephrem, like many in church history, advocates laughing at our spiritual enemies as one important piece of spiritual warfare. Martin Luther agrees, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” This poem is a call to confidently laugh today at evil, thereby echoing the victorious laughter of the coming resurrection.
Nisibene Hymns, no. 52 I heard Satan and death loudly disputing which was the strongest of the two amongst men. Refrain: Praise to You, Son of the Shepherd of all, who has saved his flock from the hidden wolves, the Evil One and Death, who had swallowed it up. Death has shown his power in that he conquers all men, Satan has shown his guile in that he makes all men sin. Death: Only those who want to, O Evil One, listen to you, but to me they come, whether they will it or not. Satan: You just employ brute force, O Death, whereas I use traps and cunning snares. Death: Listen, Evil One, a cunning man can break your yoke, but there is none who can escape from mine. Satan: You, Death, exercise your strength on the sick, but I am the stronger with those who are well. Death: The Evil One has no control over the person who reviles him, but all who have cursed me, in the past or now, still come to me. Satan: You, Death, received your power from God, but when I make men sin I do it without any outside help. Death: You, Evil One, lay snares like a coward, but I use my power like a king. Satan: You are too stupid, Death, to recognize how great I am, seeing that I can capture free will. Death: You, Evil One, go around like a hooligan, whereas I am like a lion, fearlessly crushing my prey. Satan: You have no one who serves or worships you, O Death, but me, kings honor with sacrifices, like a god. Death: But many address Death as a benefactor, whereas no one ever has or shall call on you as such, O Evil One. Satan: Do you not realize, Death, how many call on me in one way or another, and offer me libations? Death: Your name is hated, Satan, you cannot remedy it; everyone curses your name. Hide your shame. Satan: Your ear is dull, Death, for you fail to hear how everyone howls out against you. Go, hide yourself. Death: I go open-faced among creation, and do not use deceit like you: you do not pass a single night without some kind of deceit. Satan: You have not found a better lot for all your truth: men hate you just as much as they do me. Death: Everyone fears me as a master, but you they hate as the evil one. Satan: People hate your name and your deeds, O Death; my name may be hated, but my pleasures are loved. Death: Your sweet taste ends in setting the teeth on edge: remorse always accompanies those pleasures of yours. Satan: Sheol is hated for there is no chance of remorse there: it is a pit which swallows up and suppresses every impulse. Death: Sheol is a whirlpool, and everyone who falls in it is resurrected, but sin is hated because it cuts off a man's hope. Satan: Although it grieves me, I allow for repentance; You cut off a sinner's hopes if he dies in his sins. Death: With you his hope was cut off long ago; if you had never made him sin, he would have made a good end. Chorus: Blessed is he who set the accursed slaves against each other so that we can laugh at them just as they laughed at us. Our laughing at them now, my brethren, is a pledge that we will again be able to laugh, at the resurrection.
-Ephrem the Syrian, translated by Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: Poems of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, p. 104-107
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