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  • Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition
  • Robin Darling Young
Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition. By Claudia Rapp. [The Transformation of the Classical Heritage, Vol. 37.](Berkeley: University of California Press. 2005. Pp. xii, 346. $55.00. ISBN 978-0-520-24296-3.)

If its title provides a near occasion for cognitive dissonance, it is not because this book lacks an interesting thesis and rich documentation: Rapp amply illustrates the activities and aims of the numerous early Christian leaders whose rise as a new order of politicians revolutionized the Mediterranean world. An exception proves her case. Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch from 260 to 272, lost his job for doctrinal error, but his accusers added charges of moral turpitude for good measure; yet he could be deposed only after his protector Zenobia suffered military defeat. If holiness could not secure his office, its alleged lack demonstrated the justice of his punishment.

The book has two parts. The first, chapters 1 through 4, describes the quality of holiness as a necessity—no less than for the ascetic—for the bishop and traces it through three aspects. The second part, chapters 5 through 9, considers bishops' specific contexts in late antiquity and the institutions that grew out of them.

Rapp begins her treatment with a review of previous scholarship on the episcopacy in early Christianity. She distinguishes three groups of previous studies: histories of the episcopacy's development, ending with Constantine; the "public role of bishops" in urban or rural sees; and biographies of particularly notable bishops. Rapp wants to dispute the importance of the reign of Constantine, particularly dear to European historians as a watershed, and, by making the chronological range of her book the third to sixth century, to discount the corrosiveness of imperial sponsorship upon Church and bishop. She also recommends a "more integrative approach" in the studies of particular [End Page 779]bishops to link their activities within Stadtherrschaftto "their religious position as Christian leaders" (p. 13).

In part 1, Rapp groups the "pragmatic," "spiritual," and "ascetic" aspects of this leadership. The method and content of this part might be called theological, because, compared with the second, it is based upon the concept of the "holy man," especially following the discussion of Peter Brown; and because, to extend the concept from the ascetic and patronusdescribed by Brown, it gathers examples from various works to arrive at a synthetic portrait of the quality of episcopal holiness.

By contrast, part 2 is more empirical, beginning with a contrast between two bishops—Synesius of Cyrene and Theodore of Sykeon—and going on to examine social contexts (chapter 6, cities (chapter 7, empire (i.e., the relationship between empire and bishops in the imperial system [chapter 8]), and ending in chapter 9 with a description of what was, after all, a notable change in the significance of this highest Christian office—the transition "from model Christians to model citizens" (p. 275). Here the book seems to revert to a previous historiographical model, by claiming that "[i]n the two centuries after Constantine, a new understanding of the episcopate developed that privileged the bishop's pragmatic authority over his ascetic authority" (p. 274)—in other words, it reduced prior expectations for holiness and drew upon status and money to make the bishop an indispensable urban and imperial official.

A few errors should be noted—the Apostolic Traditionis known to be a composite of the fourth century, not a witness to the second; the Didacheprobably favors local officials, not the mobile "prophets and teachers" against whom it cautions; and in the fifth century, the miaphysite Peter the Iberian certainly did not support Nestorius.

Robin Darling Young
University of Notre Dame


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