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  • Double Monasticism in the Greek East, Fourth through Eighth Centuries
  • Daniel F. Stramara Jr. (bio)

Throughout the history of early Christianity, monasticism played a dominant role. The form of ascetic life known as double monasticism—men and women following the same rule under one superior while living separately—integrally functioned in the Greek east. In this article the author studies the subject in its historical context, providing insights into organization, theological ideology, masculine and feminine identity, operation, governance, monastic office and economic structure. The influence of Basil and the other Cappadocians is highlighted.

Although monasticism has played an indisputably vital role throughout the Church’s history, one aspect of its lived reality has received minimal attention: that of the double monastery, a single monastic unit of monks and nuns following the same rule, under the same superior, living in the same locality, but in separate quarters.1 Most often this topic is relegated to a few paragraphs or columns in encyclopediae.2 The dearth of [End Page 269] information concerning this form of monastic life is particularly acute for Greek double monasteries; Mary Bateson, William Clarke, Stephen Hilpisch, all devote a few meager pages to the subject in works written at the beginning of this century.3 Only two authors have written articles specifically on Greek double monasteries.4 The recent works of Ruth Albrecht and Susanna Elm merely touch on this subject.5

This lack of scholarly research is all the more glaring when one takes into account that this type of monastic institution was widespread throughout the East, particularly in the early church.6 Furthermore, double monasteries following the Rule of Basil received the approbation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787.7 In fact, double monasteries are attested in the Greek east up until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.8 [End Page 270] Such a normative and persistent manner of monks and nuns sharing their monastic life together warrants historical investigation and appreciation. For brevity sake, this study is limited to the fourth through eighth centuries.9

Greek double monasticism is discussed here under the following headings: 1) Definition, 2) Historical Context, 3) Basil and Monasticism, 4) Organization, 5) Theological Ideology, 6) Masculine and Feminine Identity, 7) Operation, 8) Governance, 9) Monastic Office, 10) Economic Structure, 11) Subsequent History, and 12) Conclusion. I have attempted to approach and to present this material in its lived functional experience: men and women joined together in their search for God via asceticism.

Once assembled, they needed to clarify the theological basis for their manner of life. This theological ideology, in turn affected the institutional expression of their shared experience. I am presuming the following sequence: initial experience, subsequent reflection, institutionalization, further experience and reflection leading to modification. The life and writings of Basil of Caesarea as well as those of his brother Gregory (of Nyssa) and his sister Macrina (the younger) afford an invaluable window into this process.


The term “double monastery” is a confusing appellation. Several modern scholars have questioned the appropriateness and value of its use.10 I have retained it for two reasons, one historical and one practical. First, the term is historical and has canonical import. Second, the term enjoys the sanction of regular usage among scholars.11

It appears that the first ecclesial use of the term “double monastery” [End Page 271] (διπλου̑ν μοναστήριον/duplex monasterium) was by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The earliest civil and legal witness to the term, however, is found in Justinian I’s Novellae 123.36 in 546.12 It is impossible to know when monastics first applied this term to their own institution.

Canonists and historians stress that a “double monastery” is not to be confused with a “mixed monastery.”13 Regarding Greek monasticism, Jules Pargoire emphasizes:

It is necessary to distinguish the double monastery from the mixed monastery. The first simultaneously houses a community of men and a community of women, both communities placed under the governance of the same person, but separated one from the other. In the case of the second, men and women live together.14

The mixed monastery is an ascetical dwelling in which there is cohabitation with common sleeping quarters. This form of...


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