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  • Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-Century Palestine: The Career of Peter the Iberian
  • Jennifer Hevelone-Harper
Cornelia B. Horn Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-Century Palestine: The Career of Peter the Iberian Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 Pp. xx + 509, $220.00.

In this sweeping study, Cornelia Horn uncovers the struggles and aspirations of the anti-Chalcedonian Christians of Palestine in the pivotal century following the controversial fourth ecumenical council in 451. Using as her focal point the colorful figure of Peter the Iberian, the Georgian prince turned ascetic bishop and anti-Chalcedonian activist, Horn draws upon rich hagiographical traditions to explore the complexities of ecclesiastical and ideological dispute. Many of the texts she utilizes written by anti-Chalcedonians such as John Rufus and Zachariah Rhetor were originally composed in Greek, but survive only in Syriac translations and, therefore, have been largely neglected by scholars of asceticism and Christian doctrine. Horn's command of the complicated multi-lingual textual tradition is impressive, and she graciously ushers her reader through sources with copious footnotes and lengthy quotations of relevant unpublished primary sources. She explores the foundation of Peter the Iberian's spiritual authority, rooted in an ascetic tradition that embraced wandering to symbolize spiritual homelessness, which was also an effective method of both planting new anti-Chalcedonian communities and evading Chalcedonian episcopal control.

Horn's work demonstrates the interconnectedness of theological doctrine, spiritual devotion, and ascetic practices, placing anti-Chalcedonians within the broader milieu of eastern Christianity. Ascetic piety augmented the spiritual authority of anti-Chalcedonian holy men, while ecclesiastical office could be fraught with ambiguity. Anti-Chalcedonians embraced pilgrimage to holy sites and veneration of relics, but in ways that enhanced their own distinct understanding of Christology. Although the anti-Chalcedonians eventually suffered separation from the holy places in Jerusalem which came under Chalcedonian control, fragments of the True Cross proliferated and anti-Chalcedonian Christians effectively redefined "sacred space." In his own monastic cell near Gaza, Peter the Iberian venerated a relic of the True Cross given to him by the emperor, drawing upon the same rituals practiced at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Anointed with oil from this relic, Peter acknowledged that his spiritual authority came directly from the crucified Christ, rather than ecclesiastical authorities. [End Page 667]

Horn elucidates the complexity of theological controversy in the fifth century as she explores connections between Monophysitism, Origenism, and Theopaschism. She highlights the "intimate imitation of the Crucified One" as the focal point of anti-Chalcedonian spirituality. Thus the suffering of God himself on the cross was critical for the anti-Chalcedonian ascetic life: "Only a God who had fully become one with human nature by being subject even to the horrors of crucifixion was a God to whom a human being, who imitated that crucifixion . . . could become alike through whom that human being ultimately could be saved" (338).

This work demonstrates that scholars of Christian doctrine and those interested in the development of eastern monasticism mutually benefit from breaking down disciplinary boundaries. Horn explores the political, social, and monastic contexts for the development of the leaders of the anti-Chalcedonian movement. Her holistic treatment of ascetic spirituality bridges artificial distinctions between dogma and praxis. Her treatment of anti-Chalcedonian ascetic spirituality provides geographical and doctrinal balance to our understanding of monasticism in the region which has been largely shaped by scholarship on the Chalcedonian hagiography of Cyril of Scythopolis in the Judean Desert.

Although her focus is on Peter the Iberian, Horn brings into view another key player in the anti-Chalcedonian milieu, Peter's disciple, hagiographer, and probable successor as bishop of Maiuma, John Rufus. In his works the Life of Peter the Iberian and the Plerophoriae, John Rufus highlights the tension between the authority of ordained ecclesiastics and ascetic holy men. Horn demonstrates how Peter's own initial reluctance for ordained ministry evolved as he became active in laying the infrastructure of the anti-Chalcedonian communion and ordaining other anti-Chalcedonians clergy in Palestine and Egypt.

This book is only part Horn's significant contribution to the study of anti-Chalcedonian spirituality. Her recent translation with Robert R. Phenix, Jr. of...


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