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Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity

Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition

Claudia Rapp
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 358
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  • Book Info
    Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity
    Book Description:

    Between 300 and 600, Christianity experienced a momentous change from persecuted cult to state religion. One of the consequences of this shift was the evolution of the role of the bishop—as the highest Church official in his city—from model Christian to model citizen. Claudia Rapp's exceptionally learned, innovative, and groundbreaking work traces this transition with a twofold aim: to deemphasize the reign of the emperor Constantine, which has traditionally been regarded as a watershed in the development of the Church as an institution, and to bring to the fore the continued importance of the religious underpinnings of the bishop's role as civic leader. Rapp rejects Max Weber’s categories of “charismatic” versus “institutional” authority that have traditionally been used to distinguish the nature of episcopal authority from that of the ascetic and holy man. Instead she proposes a model of spiritual authority, ascetic authority and pragmatic authority, in which a bishop’s visible asceticism is taken as evidence of his spiritual powers and at the same time provides the justification for his public role. In clear and graceful prose, Rapp provides a wholly fresh analysis of the changing dynamics of social mobility as played out in episcopal appointments.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93141-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • CHAPTER ONE The Nature of Leadership in Late Antiquity
      (pp. 3-22)

      The emperor, the holy man, and the bishop. These were the most powerful and evocative figures in late antiquity. They provided practical leadership, moral guidance, and the dispensation of favors. Their important position in society is illustrated by artistic representations such as the seventh-century mosaic from St. Demetrius in Thessalonike on the frontispiece of this book, which shows the youthful saint flanked by the bishop of the city and a civic dignitary as representative of the emperor. Emperors, bishops, and holy men also occupy center stage in the literary production of late antiquity. The ancient genre of panegyric in praise...

    • CHAPTER TWO Pragmatic Authority
      (pp. 23-55)

      The average bishop of a large city in the later Roman Empire fulfilled a number of different roles: he was a preacher to his community; a teacher to the catechumens; administered baptism to neophytes; celebrated the eucharist and other liturgical occasions; and admonished and, if necessary, reprimanded Christians who had stumbled. He was responsible for the charitable works of his congregation, the care of consecrated virgins, widows and orphans, prisoners, travelers, and the poor. In addition, he was in charge of the discipline and proper discharge of office of the clergy under his authority, the priests, deacons, and perhapschorepiskopoi,...

    • CHAPTER THREE Spiritual Authority
      (pp. 56-99)

      Spiritual authority is the authority that comes from the possession of the Holy Spirit. In its purest form, it is received as a divine gift, without any participation or preparation on the side of the recipient. The active involvement of the individual to prepare himself for the receipt of this gift, or to enhance the gift that has already been received, falls under the purview of what I call ascetic authority and will be discussed in the next chapter. The present chapter begins with an investigation of the conception of spiritual authority among the Greek church fathers. The distinction they...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Ascetic Authority
      (pp. 100-152)

      We have defined spiritual authority as the gift of the Spirit, and its holders, following the terminology of Clement and Origen, aspneumatophoroiorgnostikoi. One of the ways in which this gift could be shared with others was through intercessory prayer. Especially valued was prayer on behalf of sinners. Such prayers were offered up by holy men, martyrs, and bishops, all of whom had a claim to spiritual authority. This gave rise to conflict and competition between martyrs and bishops at the time of Cyprian. The analysis of this and similar conflicts enabled us to identify two ways in...


    • CHAPTER FIVE Bishops in Action
      (pp. 155-171)

      Moving on from theory to practice and from the religious to the secular, we now take pragmatic authority as our focus and explore the bishop’s role in his city. To achieve a better understanding of the nature of the bishop’s concrete role in society, the following chapters aim to bring into focus the similarities and differences between public episcopal activities and those of holy men, on the one hand, and prominent citizens, on the other. Imperial and canon law as well as inscriptions provide the evidentiary basis for study and are supplemented by anecdotal evidence from literary works of the...

    • CHAPTER SIX Social Contexts
      (pp. 172-207)

      The public role of the bishop was greatly augmented as Christianity gained in importance and the church grew in numbers. The favors showered by Constantine and his successors on the Christian church contributed to making the new religion attractive to prospective converts.¹ The church soon became a considerable economic force as a result of the acquisition of property and income through regular contributions, imperial donations, and pious bequests, first allowed by Constantine in 321.² Ecclesiastical finances were put to use in providing charity to the needy and in the creation of a permanent ecclesiastical infrastructure, including building projects. Proportionate to...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Cities
      (pp. 208-234)

      The bishop of the late antique city came to belong to the urban elite. His social origin was, more often than not, among the urban upper class, and he usually had enjoyed the exclusive education to prove it. No wonder, then, that he displayed the same civic pride and social ambition as his peers. And little wonder that the episcopate appeared to many of those who attained it as a great distinction, a civic honor, unless they had come to it after a monastic interlude, as John Chrysostom and the Cappadocian fathers had done.

      In order to understand the distinctive...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Empire
      (pp. 235-273)

      The first Roman emperor to put the accommodation and integration of Christians on his political agenda was Constantine. More than any other aspect of his reign, Constantine’s religious policy has fueled the popular imagination and attracted the attention of scholars. Harold Drake’s study firmly places Constantine’s interaction with Christianity, in the form of his dealings with Christian bishops, in its historical context. Rather than following previous scholarship, which portrayed Constantine either as the pious ruler motivated by genuine conviction or the power-hungry exploiter of religious sentiment for his own political agenda, Drake depicts him as an “artful negotiator, patient consensus...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Bishop as a New Urban Functionary
      (pp. 274-289)

      In the two centuries after Constantine, a new understanding of the episcopate developed that privileged the bishop’s pragmatic authority over his ascetic authority. This was the outcome of a gradual process in which a variety of factors coalesced. The accelerated progress of Christianization and the recruitment of bishops predominantly from among thecurialescombined to bring about the increasing identification of church and empire, on the one hand, and the bishop’s de facto patronage of his city, on the other. Justinian’s declaration, in 545, that canon law had the same legal force as imperial law is evidence of the extent...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 290-302)

      The preceding pages have concentrated on the theory and practice of the episcopate within its late antique context. The theological and monastic literature examined in part 1 have revealed the importance of spiritual authority, which accounts for the potential congruity of bishops and holy men. Rather than being considered incompatible with or diametrically opposed to the ascetic or the monastic life, the episcopate was considered its culmination, a confirmation of personal virtues attained through an extended effort ataskēsis. Holy men could and did become bishops, and bishops were expected to lead exemplary, holy lives. The historical and documentary sources...

    (pp. 303-338)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 339-346)