Shenoute of Atripe led the White Monastery, a community of
several thousand male and female Coptic monks in Upper Egypt,
between approximately 395 and 465 C.E. Shenoute's letters, sermons,
and treatises-one of the most detailed bodies of writing to survive
from any early monastery-provide an unparalleled resource for the
study of early Christian monasticism and asceticism.
In Monastic Bodies, Caroline Schroeder offers an in-depth
examination of the asceticism practiced at the White Monastery
using diverse sources, including monastic rules, theological
treatises, sermons, and material culture. Schroeder details
Shenoute's arduous disciplinary code and philosophical structure,
including the belief that individual sin corrupted not only the
individual body but the entire "corporate body" of the community.
Thus the purity of the community ultimately depended upon the
integrity of each individual monk.
Shenoute's ascetic discourse focused on purity of the body, but he
categorized as impure not only activities such as sex but any
disobedience and other more general transgressions. Shenoute
emphasized the important practices of discipline, or askesis, in
achieving this purity. Contextualizing Shenoute within the wider
debates about asceticism, sexuality, and heresy that characterized
late antiquity, Schroeder compares his views on bodily discipline,
monastic punishments, the resurrection of the body, the incarnation
of Christ, and monastic authority with those of figures such as
Cyril of Alexandria, Paulinus of Nola, and Pachomius.
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