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Becoming Christian

The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia

By Raymond Van Dam

Publication Year: 2003

In a richly textured investigation of the transformation of Cappadocia during the fourth century, Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia examines the local impact of Christianity on traditional Greek and Roman society. The Cappadocians Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Eunomius of Cyzicus were influential participants in intense arguments over doctrinal orthodoxy and heresy. In his discussion of these prominent churchmen Raymond Van Dam explores the new options that theological controversies now made available for enhancing personal prestige and acquiring wider reputations throughout the Greek East.

Ancient Christianity was more than theology, liturgical practices, moral strictures, or ascetic lifestyles. The coming of Christianity offered families and communities in Cappadocia and Pontus a history built on biblical and ecclesiastical traditions, a history that justified distinctive lifestyles, legitimated the prominence of bishops and clerics, and replaced older myths. Christianity presented a common language of biblical stories and legends about martyrs that allowed educated bishops to communicate with ordinary believers. It provided convincing autobiographies through which people could make sense of the vicissitudes of their lives.

The transformation of Roman Cappadocia was a paradigm of the disruptive consequences that accompanied conversion to Christianity in the ancient world. Through vivid accounts of Cappadocians as preachers, theologians, and historians, Becoming Christian highlights the social and cultural repercussions of the formation of new orthodoxies in theology, history, language, and personal identity.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Gregory of Nazianzus flattered one learned correspondent as an "emperor of culture." These days a career in academic scholarship requires the encouragement of more than even a tetrarchy of such guides and teachers. The publication of the final book in a trio about Cappadocia in late antiquity allows me to pause and remember with deep gratitude some of the teachers and friends who have encouraged me along the way, long ago and ...

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pp. 1-6

Cappadocians were there in the crowd at the beginning of Christianity. At the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, Cappadocians were among those amazed spectators who were startled to hear the apostles preaching in their own exotic languages. Cappadocians were also present at the end of imperial hostility toward Christianity in the eastern empire. During the final great persecutions under the emperor ...

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Orthodoxy and Heresy

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pp. 7-13

Disputation over Christian doctrines, in all its profusion, diversity, and glorious ferocity, was a defining characteristic of the Roman empire during the fourth century. Everyone seemed to participate. Bishops and other prominent churchmen obviously took the lead in arguing these complex issues, both in their sermons and by shooting "arrows of black ink" in their treatises. Emperors and powerful imperial magistrates often imposed ...

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Chapter 1: "The Evil in Our Bosom": Eunomius as a Cappadocian Father

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pp. 15-51

The three Cappadocian Fathers were representatives of a long line of important churchmen from Cappadocia during the fourth century. Basil proudly claimed that the author of the creed endorsed by the Council of Nicaea had been Hermogenes, a future bishop of Caesarea. One of the early supporters of Arius, the infamously heterodox priest at Alexandria, was Asterius the Sophist, a Cappadocian theologian who seems to have ...

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Chapter 2: "Even Though Roman Laws Judge Differently": Christianity and Local Traditions

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pp. 53-71

By the mid-370s Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium, had become Basil's closest confidant and a primary inspiration for his thinking about theological and ecclesiastical matters. Basil composed his treatise on the Holy Spirit as a response to a request for clarification from Amphilochius, and he also sent him three lengthy letters about discipline and penance. ...

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Chapter 3: Remembering the Future: Christian Narratives of Conversion

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pp. 72-81

From our vantage point it is all too easy to applaud some of the changes that Christianity introduced. The academics among us fully appreciate the benefits of lifetime tenure; and regulations about permissible degrees of marriage, condemnation of the use of violence in abducting women, and restrictions on the use of lethal violence seem to be markers of the progress of civilization. ...

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Chapter 4: "Everything in Ruins": Ancient Legends and Foundation Myths

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pp. 82-92

The most conspicuous change in the local landscape came with the construction of new shrines and churches. In the past, local aristocrats had used their wealth to finance the construction of municipal buildings, such as porticoes, baths, theaters, stadiums, walls, and temples, on which they would of course inscribe their names. By the later Roman empire, many cities no longer had the resources to maintain these buildings and ...

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Chapter 5: The Founder of the Cappadocians

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pp. 93-97

In the early fifth century a Cappadocian scholar wrote an extensive ecclesiastical history that surveyed the developments of the previous century. In his homeland Philostorgius had grown up in the shadows of the great Cappadocian Fathers. Despite their prominence, Philostorgius did not embrace their version of orthodox theology. Instead, he and his family accepted the doctrines of Eunomius, another Cappadocian theologian ...

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Preachers and Audiences

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pp. 99-104

People had always watched and listened to the Cappadocian Fathers. Always they had lived in public and performed in public, as students praised by their teachers, as patrons interceding on behalf of friends and cities, as clerics ministering to congregations, even as ascetics who publicized their ideas about the benefits of seclusion. As bishops one of their ...

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Chapter 6: Listening to the Audience: The Six Days of Creation

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pp. 105-131

Among Basil's many extant orations is a series of nine sermons on the Hexaemeron, the "six days" described in the first chapter of Genesis during which God created the heaven and the earth. For Jewish intellectuals and then for Christian theologians, the first chapter of Genesis had long posed as many problems of interpretation as opportunities for exegesis and speculation. ...

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Chapter 7: Small Details: The Cult of the Forty Martyrs

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pp. 132-150

During late antiquity perhaps the most popular saints in eastern Asia Minor were the Forty Martyrs, a band of soldiers who had reputedly been left to die of exposure on an icy lake for refusing to perform pagan sacrifices. Already during the later fourth century many legends about their martyrdom were in circulation, among them those recorded in an ...

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The Life to Come

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pp. 151-155

One intriguing feature of these descriptions is the blending of physical characteristics with details of their personalities. Gregory of Nazianzus was gentle, while Basil looked stern and piercing. Gregory of Nyssa may have been more graceful than his peers, but in iconography as in life he was still just a ...

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Chapter 8: "I Saw a Parrot": Philostorgius at Constantinople

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pp. 157-161

In the later 380s a young man left his home village in Cappadocia and traveled to Constantinople. Philostorgius was only following the lead of many young men from the Greek provinces who, in their late teens or early twenties, would go to a larger city such as Antioch, Alexandria, Athens, or Constantinople to continue their education and expand their personal contacts. ...

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Chapter 9: A Blank Sheet of Paper: The Apocryphal Basil

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pp. 162-170

Forty years before Philostorgius had gone to Constantinople Basil had also visited the new capital as a young man. In the later 340s he had studied there briefly with "the most accomplished sophists and philosophers" before going on to Athens. Then, little more than a decade after Constantine's death, construction was proceeding or recently had been completed on extensive fortifications, a senate ...

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Chapter 10: "Trail of Sorrows": The Autobiographies of Gregory of Nazianzus

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pp. 171-185

Unlike Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus seemingly could not get enough of his past life, and as he incessantly rewrote and revised earlier episodes, he became a man with many, almost too many, pasts. To find a consistent trajectory in his life and activities, Gregory constantly examined and reinterpreted his earlier thinking and behavior. Since his uncertainties and anxieties had often prompted him toward extravagant reactions, he had ...

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Epilogue: A Different Late Antiquity

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pp. 187-189

Cappadocia might well have had a different late antiquity. Gregory Thaumaturgus had originally left Pontus to study Latin and Roman law at Beirut. While there, he might have been seduced from his legal studies not by biblical studies with the Christian teacher Origen, but by the delights of classical Greek culture. During the mid-third century, perhaps already when Gregory would have been a student there, one grammarian at Beirut ...


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pp. 191


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pp. 193-222

Editions and Translations

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pp. 223-229


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pp. 231-246


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pp. 247-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207378
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812237382

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2003