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Encountering the Sacred

Encountering the Sacred: The Debate on Christian Pilgrimage in Late Antiquity

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 265
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  • Book Info
    Encountering the Sacred
    Book Description:

    This innovative study sheds new light on one of the most spectacular changes to occur in late antiquity—the rise of pilgrimage all over the Christian world—by setting the phenomenon against the wide background of the political and theological debates of the time. Asking how the emerging notion of a sacred geography challenged the leading intellectuals and ecclesiastical authorities, Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony deftly reshapes our understanding of early Christian mentalities by unraveling the process by which a territory of grace became a territory of power. Examining ancient writers' responses to the rising practice of pilgrimage, Bitton-Ashkelony offers a nuanced reading of their thinking on the merits and the demerits of pilgrimage, revealing theological and ecclesiastical motivations that have been overlooked, and questioning the long-held assumption of scholars that pilgrimage was only a popular, not an elite, religious practice. In addition to Greek and Latin sources, she includes Syriac material, which allows her to build a rich picture of the emerging theology of landscape that took shape over the fourth to sixth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93112-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Pilgrimage in Late Antiquity
    (pp. 1-29)

    Gregory Barhebraeus, the thirteenth-century Syriac scholar, perceived and represented the ambiguity of the Christian attitude toward pilgrimage to Jerusalem in these simple terms: “We find that there exist two opposite opinions about worshiping in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The first [is] that of prudent, educated people, who do not consider it becoming. And the other [is] that of simple common people, who regard it as appropriate.”¹ Barhebraeus goes on to explain that “perfect solitaries and the select Doctors only yearn to travel to ‘Jerusalem on high’ [Gal. 4:26]. . . . They are ready to worship God [who is]...

  6. 1 Basil of Caesarea’s and Gregory of Nyssa’s Attitudes toward Pilgrimage
    (pp. 30-64)

    Gregory of Nyssa’sLetter2, written in the 380S C. E., contains some of the most explicit reservations concerning pilgrimage to Jerusalem ever voiced by a Christian theologian. The importance of Gregory’s position on this issue extends beyond his circle and time, exercising a profound influence on the debate that raged between Catholics and Protestants from the sixteenth century on over the religious value of pilgrimage. TheLetterwas first published by Protestants, who used it to reinforce their rejection of pious acts of this sort, whereas Catholics claimed that the document was not authentic. Today, however, the authenticity of...

  7. 2 Jerome’s Position on Pilgrimage: Vacillating between Support and Reservations
    (pp. 65-105)

    In the winter of 385, Jerome arrived in Palestine accompanied by several monks and upper-class enthusiastic female ascetics, leaving behind in Rome a trail of anger and criticism directed toward his monastic way of life and his intellectual activity there. The full reasons for his departure from Rome are obscure. The asceticism of the Roman aristocratic circle of ladies surrounding him, and especially his close relationship with Paula, who had been his traveling companion on his long pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt, had evoked sharp criticism during his second stay in Rome (382–85).¹ It is probable that he was...

  8. 3 Augustine on Holy Space
    (pp. 106-139)

    In any attempt to understand the reactions of Christian intellectuals to the phenomenon of pilgrimage in late antiquity, Augustine (354–430) presents more difficulty than any other figure. The main reasons for this difficulty are the absence in his wide-ranging literary works of any direct reference to the phenomenon and the lack of evidence that he visited any of the pilgrimage centers of the time, such as Rome or Jerusalem. Unlike other thinkers from the Latin-speaking West, Augustine never hinted that he desired to undertake such a visit. Paulinus of Nola, for example, Augustine’s friend and correspondent, did consider the...

  9. 4 Pilgrimage in Monastic Culture
    (pp. 140-183)

    Pilgrimage in late antiquity was widespread in all strata of society in the Christian world, especially among monks and nuns.¹ The monastic literature of fourth-century Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor abounds in descriptions of monks who journeyed to the holy places in Palestine. Egeria’sItineraryand Jerome’s letters in the 380s are good examples. Jerome grumbles that his monastery in Bethlehem is overwhelmed with monks from all over the world.² But the tombs of martyrs and holy men—that is, “Heaven’s family on earth,” in the words of Jerome—exerted no less appeal than did the holy places associated...

  10. 5 Local versus Central Pilgrimage
    (pp. 184-206)

    The above declaration by Philoxenus (440–523), bishop of Mabbug, a leading thinker of the anti-Chalcedonian Church and one of the most admired figures among the Syrian monks, expresses concisely the dilemma in monastic circles concerning pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the rivalry between the two foci of pilgrimage: the holy places in the Holy Land and the new network of holy sites consisting of monasteries and tombs of holy men.¹

    The comparison between visiting a monastery and visiting Jerusalem that Philoxenus addresses here, in a letter to a certain Astorkius, may seem surprising at first glance. But given that Philoxenus...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-238)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 239-246)
  13. Index of Places
    (pp. 247-248)
  14. Index of Biblical Citations
    (pp. 249-250)