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Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity

Daniel Caner
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 339
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnhsj
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  • Book Info
    Wandering, Begging Monks
    Book Description:

    An apostolic lifestyle characterized by total material renunciation, homelessness, and begging was practiced by monks throughout the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries. Such monks often served as spiritual advisors to urban aristocrats whose patronage gave them considerable authority and independence from episcopal control. This book is the first comprehensive study of this type of Christian poverty and the challenge it posed for episcopal authority and the promotion of monasticism in late antiquity. Focusing on devotional practices, Daniel Caner draws together diverse testimony from Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and elsewhere-including the Pseudo-ClementineLetters to Virgins,Augustine'sOn the Work of Monks,John Chrysostom's homilies, legal codes-to reveal gospel-inspired patterns of ascetic dependency and teaching from the third to the fifth centuries. Throughout, his point of departure is social and cultural history, especially the urban social history of the late Roman empire. He also introduces many charismatic individuals whose struggle to persist against church suppression of their chosen way of imitating Christ was fought with defiant conviction, and the book includes the first annotated English translation of the biography of Alexander Akoimetos (Alexander the Sleepless).Wandering, Begging Monksallows us to understand these fascinating figures of early Christianity in the full context of late Roman society.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92850-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book explores social and economic concerns that contributed to the promotion of certain forms of Christian monasticism over others between roughly 360 and 451 C.E. Its focus is ascetic poverty and competing claims to material support made by ascetic laymen and church leaders. The monastic movement was just taking shape: How should monks interpret scriptural pronouncements on poverty? What relation was there between early monastic practice and apostolic tradition? What were the implications for members of the clergy? To what extent, and on what conditions, was material dependency acceptable in late Roman society?

    Although we will pursue these questions...

  7. 1 Wandering in the Desert and the Virtues of Manual Labor
    (pp. 19-49)

    This vignette from theapophthegmata patrum(sayings and stories attributed to pioneers of Egyptian desert monasticism) presents two very different attitudes toward wandering monks in the late fourth or early fifth century, and introduces questions that are central to our entire study. It assumes that monks would likely cause a scandal if seen repeatedly(palin)moving or changing residence: Why? Who would be scandalized by such behavior? Does the labelakathistoi—the “unsettled,” “restless,” or perhaps “unstable” ones—imply other behavior that caused alarm? If so, what sort of behavior? At the same time, why might other people consider such...

  8. 2 Apostolic Wanderers of Third-Century Syria
    (pp. 50-82)

    Writing in Constantinople in the middle of the fifth century, the church historian Sozomen believed the first monks of Syria were those who had “emulated the monks of Egypt in the practice of philosophy” by scraping a rawexistence off the mountains, near the Persian frontier.

    When they first began such philosophy they were calledboskoi[grazers] because they had no homes, ate neither bread nor meat and drank no wine, but dwelt constantly in the mountains, continually praising God with prayers and hymns according to the lawof the Church. At the usual meal hours they would each take a sickle...

  9. 3 In Support of “People Who Pray”: Apostolic Monasticism and the Messalian Controversy
    (pp. 83-125)

    In 431 church officials at the Council of Ephesus condemned what they called “the most noxious heresy in memory,” namely that of the “Messalianites or . . . the Euchites or . . . the Enthusiasts, or however else . . . it is known.”¹ Sixteen years earlier, in 415, despite previous efforts to expel “this disease” from eastern regions,² Jerome could designate “Messalians” as the “heretics of nearly all Syria.”³ From seemingly obscure beginnings first noticed in the last quarter of the fourth century, Messalianism had become regarded as one of the most tenacious and exasperating heresies in the...

  10. 4 Apostle and Heretic: The Controversial Career of Alexander the Sleepless
    (pp. 126-157)

    Across the waters from Constantinople, in the oak-shaded suburbs of Chalcedon (modern Kadiköy) stood an impressive martyr’s shrine dedicated to Peter and Paul, called “the Apostles.” In 403 it saw the rancorous deposition of John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople; some twenty-five years later it became the scene of an armed confrontation with another persona non grata of the imperial city. This was Alexander, a Greek archimandrite (leader of a flock or fold) who had “come from the East” and settled in Constantinople with nearly a hundred followers:

    His way of life became known to all, for he was a zealot...

  11. 5 Hypocrites and Pseudomonks: Beggars, Bishops, and Ascetic Teachers in Cities of the Early Fifth Century
    (pp. 158-205)

    At the turn of the fifth century, about the same time Augustine was complaining that so many “hypocrites in the garb of monks” could be found everywhere seeking alms for their “pretended piety,” Paulinus of Nola described how a young novice monk named Martinianus worried lest he might be thought “to be feigning destitution for love of gain” if, after his shipwreck near Marseilles, he were seen traveling “through army camps, hamlets, and towns” in tattered clothes, “just as greedy beggars habitually wander over land and sea, who solemnly swear they are monks or shipwrecked survivors, telling their story of...

  12. 6 Monastic Patronage and the Two Churches of Constantinople
    (pp. 206-242)

    The council held at Chalcedon in 451 marked a watershed in official church policy toward monks. It issued the first disciplinary canons specifically aimed at bringing them under episcopal control. As stated in its fourth canon,

    Let those who truly and sincerely adopt the solitary life be considered worthy of the appropriate honor. But since some have used the monastic cover to throw church and civil affairs into confusion, moving indiscriminately around the cities, even making it their business to establish monasteries for themselves, let no one construct or establish anywhere a monastery or house of prayer against the will...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 243-248)

    As Muslim armies bore down upon Roman Syria and Egypt in the early seventh century, a monk named John (ca. 580–649) was living in the Theotokos monastery (now St. Catherine’s) below Mount Sinai. Safe within its walls, John culled the sayings and writings attributed to the desert fathers, Evagrius Ponticus, Nilus of Ancyra, and other luminaries of the philosophic monastic tradition to compose his famousLadder of Divine Ascent.This spiritual guidebook would soon gain the same normative stature as a repository of ascetic wisdom among monks of the East as Benedict’sRuledid among monks of the West.¹...

  14. APPENDIX: The Life of Alexander Akoimētos
    (pp. 249-280)
  15. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 281-310)
  16. Index
    (pp. 311-325)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)