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Ascetic Culture

Essays in Honor of Philip Rousseau

Blake Leyerle

Publication Year: 2013

Ascetic Culture honors Philip Rousseau’s pathbreaking work on early Christian asceticism in a series of essays exploring how quickly the industrious and imaginative practitioners of asceticism, from the early fourth through the mid-fifth century, adapted the Greco-Roman social, literary, and religious culture in which they had been raised. Far from rejecting the life of the urban centers of the ancient world, they refined and elaborated that life in their libraries, households, and communities. The volume begins with a discussion of Egyptian monastic reading programs and the circulation of texts, especially the hugely influential Life of Antony. A second group of essays engages the topic of disciplinary culture in ascetic spaces such as the monastery, the household, and the city. A third group focuses on the topic of imaginary landscapes and ascetic self-fashioning. Ascetic Culture concludes by surveying the scholarly study of asceticism over the last one hundred and fifty years, arguing that previous generations of scholars have regarded asceticism either as a product of the inner dynamism of early Christianity or as a distortion of its earliest aims. Together, the contributors recognize, reflect upon, and extend the themes explored in Rousseau’s work on early Christianity’s ascetic periphery—a region whose inhabitants reflect in various ways the aspirations of their religion, from the daily to the otherworldly.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-8

Like the children of Israel, Philip Rousseau has spent forty years in the desert. During that time, the monks of early Christianity have been both his companions and his subjects, and they have accompanied him from Oxford to New Zealand and to the United States. ...

Part I: Books as Guides

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Chapter 1: Pachomius and the Mystery of the Letters

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pp. 11-28

The only writings left behind by Pachomius, father of cenobitic monasticism, are thirteen brief epistles—all terse, all puzzling. The puzzle lies in Pachomius’s cryptic use of the letters of the alphabet, the result of a spiritual language an angel was said to have taught him. This alphabet recurs time and again in Pachomius’s epistles, rendering many of them unintelligible to all but the recipients, ...

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Chapter 2: Writing Rules and Quoting Scripture in Early Coptic Monastic Texts

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pp. 29-49

In his book on Pachomius, Philip Rousseau remarked: “It is surprising in the face of such general allusions that there is so little quotation from scripture in the Rules.”1 Occasionally, in the Coptic texts of the Pachomian Rules, there are statements such as “Everything contrary to the standard of the scriptures, all these, the steward (οικονόμος) shall judge.”2 ...

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Chapter 3: The Life of Antony in Egypt

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pp. 50-74

In the famous Greek and Latin monastic texts, written mostly by visitors to Egypt for foreign audiences, the influence of the Life of Antony looms large.1 It is the model, both for monastic life and in particular for monastic Lives. Its influence on the conception of monastic life and the tradition of narrating monks’ lives can be traced in the Greco-Roman world ...

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Chapter 4: Apologetics of Asceticism: The Life of Antony and Its Political Context

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pp. 75-96

Why was the Life of Antony written? Was it to promote Antonian tradition or to rectify its influence in Egyptian monasticism? Was it part of a campaign against Arianism in Egypt, or rather propaganda for Egyptian monasticism in the West? ...

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Chapter 5: The Memory Palace of Marcellinus: Athanasius and the Mirror of the Psalms

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pp. 97-124

In 2002, a new product hit the Bible market. The “Survival Bible” consisted of a viewing panel into which users could insert one of several “scripture scrolls.” each scroll was devoted to a specific topic (e.g., faith, love, healing) and contained about a dozen biblical quotations on that specific topic. ...

Part II: Disciplines and Arenas

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Chapter 6: From the Pillar to the Prison: Penitential Spectacles in Early Byzantine Monasticism

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pp. 127-146

“Come, gather round, and I will speak to all who have angered the lord. Come see what He has revealed to me for your edification.” Thus John Climacus, author of the seventh-century ascetic treatise the Ladder of Divine Ascent, introduces readers to a place called the Prison. ...

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Chapter 7: Cassian, Cognition, and the Common Life

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pp. 147-166

For the past few decades, much work on early Christian asceticism has focused on ascetic individuals, or holy persons, and on the strategies late ancient Christians used to create them.1 in most of this work, the traditional boundaries of the human body have generally been taken to be the boundaries of the ascetic person, always excepting cases of miraculous intervention. ...

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Chapter 8: Gender, Eros, and Pedagogy: Macrina’s Pious Household

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pp. 167-181

“I want to defend here the contention that Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina describes more a ‘pious household’ than anything ‘institutional,’” asserts Philip Rousseau in the opening salvo of a 2005 essay.1 A decade earlier, he writes of the special role and status of educated women like Macrina, ...

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Chapter 9: Waiting for Theodosius, or The Ascetic and the City: Gregory of Nazianzus on Maximus the Philosopher

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pp. 182-198

Asceticism, authority, and the church, the individual and the community as illuminated through “exploration of [their] literary heritage,” are among the themes that fascinate Philip Rousseau.1 Focusing on a broad cast of characters, ranging from Sidonius Apollinaris via Jerome, Augustine, and Pachomius to Basil of Caesarea and Theodoret of Cyrus, ...

Part III: Landscapes (with Figures)

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Chapter 10: Remembering for Eternity: The Ascetic Landscape as Cultural Discourse in Early Christian Egypt

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pp. 201-228

In a fascinating volume entitled The Age of Homespun, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich explores the origins, contributions, and persistence of the American myth of homespun through an analysis of eleven late seventeenth- to early nineteenth-century objects from new England representing rural life and household production: ...

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Chapter 11: Xeniteia According to Evagrius of Pontus

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pp. 229-252

The condition of being a xenos—a stranger—fascinated the authors of ascetic culture in the mid-fourth century. The novelty and experimental arrangements of monastic settlements outside and around cities and villages prompted anxious discussion of what kind of voluntary exile—xeniteia—was tolerable and what kind was controversial and intolerable. ...

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Chapter 12: Adam, Eve, and the Elephants: Asceticism and Animality

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pp. 253-268

Around the year 400 or perhaps shortly thereafter, a Christian artist of unknown provenance carved an ivory diptych whose left leaf features a nude Adam seated in a languid position.1 Located in the upper, central-right register of the diptych leaf, Adam looks out with a dreamy expression, not quite making eye contact with the viewer. ...

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Chapter 13: The Consolation of Nature: Fields and Gardens in the Preaching of John Chrysostom

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pp. 269-292

Preaching in the urban churches of Antioch and Constantinople at the end of the fourth century, John Chrysostom often dilated on the beauties of creation.1 Occasionally scripture prompted this theme, but at other times the preacher seems to have deliberately introduced it. In this respect, he was not wholly idiosyncratic. ...

Part IV: Founding the Field

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Chapter 14: Adolf Harnack and the Paleontological Layer of Church History

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pp. 295-314

The nineteenth century was an exciting period for the study of antiquity in Germany. Karl Lachmann (1793– 1851) had recently pioneered the modern philological method of textual analysis that aimed to establish the “urtext” by peeling away the layers that had accumulated and obscured it in the process of textual transmission— ...

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Chapter 15: From East to West: Christianity, Asceticism, and Nineteenth-Century Protestant Professors in America

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pp. 315-341

Among the notable characteristics of Philip Rousseau’s scholarship is his skillful and sympathetic treatment of both Eastern and Western forms of early Christian asceticism. By his several books—Ascetics, Authority, and the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian; Pachomius: The Making of a Community in Fourth-Century Egypt; and Basil of Caesarea—and magisterial essays ...

Select Publications of Philip Rousseau

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pp. 342-346


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pp. 347-389


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pp. 390-392


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pp. 393-415

Back Cover

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p. 431-431

E-ISBN-13: 9780268085827
E-ISBN-10: 026808582X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268033880
Print-ISBN-10: 0268033889

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2013