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  • Lo Spirito soffia nel deserto: Carismi, discernimento e autorità nel monachesimo egiziano antico
  • Graham Gould
Lo Spirito soffia nel deserto: Carismi, discernimento e autorità nel monachesimo egiziano antico. By Fabrizio Vecoli. [Scienze e Storia delle Religioni, Vol. 6.] (Brescia: Morcelliana. 2006. Pp. 279. €20,00 paperback.)

The subject of spiritual gifts has been of interest to many students of early Egyptian monasticism; this book is best read as a work of synthesis within this tradition of study. It draws on a range of Greek sources (though with a strong focus on the Life of Antony and the First Greek Life of Pachomius) and on a very wide range of both older and more recent scholarly literature, particularly in the first chapter, which is a survey of Egyptian monastic writings in Greek. Since the theme of the book has its starting point in the Greek word charisma and other terms denoting spiritual gifts, Coptic sources are only occasionally referred to, though the Letters of Antony and Ammonas are used in their extant versions. [End Page 128]

The Life of Antony dominates chapter two, the longest. The first part of the chapter examines discernment of spirits in the Life and concludes (p. 60) by underlining its similarity to pagan religious practices in a situation of religious diversity (which is invoked throughout the book, but especially on pp. 167–76 of chapter five). The next main part is on charisms as the fruit of ascetic purification. Finally, discernment and other spiritual gifts are viewed more widely, including the character of Antony's authority as a spiritual father (pp. 88–90) and the way in which it was inherited by his successors.

Chapter three considers how Pachomius' spiritual gifts and authority functioned in the koinonia which he founded, with some attention (like other Pachomian scholars) to the further development of the community after his death. Little use is made of the Pachomian monastic rule, even though its existence was surely an important factor in the koinonia's distinctiveness.

The shorter fourth chapter is mainly about the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto and the Lausiac History. These are seen as reflecting a later stage of hagiographical writing, in which spiritual gifts such as discernment, healing, and prophecy were linked to the monastic way of life almost as a guarantee (p. 162).

The fifth chapter is a synthesis. It comes to the perhaps unsurprising conclusions that Antony's charisms were directed more toward the needs of the Church and society (pp. 180–82), Pachomius' toward the maintenance of the holiness of the koinonia (p. 185). The final pages (pp. 187–97) discuss the role of Christian holy men (there is no distinct mention of holy women) in the general context of late antique religion and society. The conclusion, again unsurprising, is that Christians took on many of the roles of pagan holy men and strengthened and radicalized them, becoming a third locus of authority in society alongside the figures of the emperor and the bishop. There is a brief overall conclusion and an appendix on occurrences of the word charisma in the Bible, early Christian texts, and Egyptian monastic texts in Greek.

While scholars will find it worthwhile to persevere with this book, its discussion of so many historical questions and its review of such a large body of critical studies makes it difficult—and not, for this reviewer, just because of the linguistic barrier—to identify just where its own original contribution lies. For those who are not quite fluent in Italian an English summary of such a complex and detailed work would have been helpful.

Graham Gould


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