knowledge or gnosis, is fundamental for both Anthony the Great and Evagrius. The influence of Origen, who was widely read in the early Egyptian monastic tradition, is a matter of debate among scholars, but it is clearly visible in basic cosmological ideas about man, angels and demons, as well as in the understanding of prayer, church and scripture.6 A number of other texts coming out of the Alexandrian theological tradition, such as the 'Sentences of Sextus' or 'Teachings of Silvanus' in the Nag Hammadi corpus, have close parallels in early monastic literature. They show that we must look at the intellectual climate of early monasticism as part of a more general Greek educational and philosophical context. Even in the earliest literary sources, monks are already regarded as persons pursuing a philosophical life, and there are numerous descriptions of monks as the successors to (no less than competitors of) the philosophers. Parallels and interaction between Christian monastic literature and pagan philosophical literature are also found and many early monastic texts are based on the models used in classical rhetorical education. For example, the Apophthegmata patrum, or 'Sayings of the desert fathers', as well as the writings of Evagrius, have parallels in collections of aphorisms, as well as in the exercises of rhetorical education. The Life of Anthony is partly modelled upon a Life of Pythagoras,7 and the so-called 'Paraenesis of Anthony' is a lightly Christianised Stoic tractate circulating under the name of Anthony the Great.

Although deeply formed by Greek cultural traditions, early monasticism also drew upon non-Greek religious traditions. For the emergence of Syrian monasticism, the apocalyptic and Gnostic literature of Jewish background is quite significant. Here the most important image is not the school with its teacher, but the apostle and missionary, the travelling preacher bringing the message to ever new audiences. As a monk the messenger not only preaches about the world to come, but is a living sign of it, and the monastic communities are the visible results of the preaching. The religious traditions of Egypt and Syria have also left their marks on emerging monasticism. Not only do we find in Egyptian monastic material a clear link to Egyptian wisdom traditions, but it is also likely that the emphasis upon seclusion and retreat to tombs in

6 For the debate see Samuel Rubenson, 'Origen in the Egyptian monastic tradition'. Origen's influence on the main theoretician of early monasticism, Evagrius of Pontus (c. 345-99), is well documented in all works on Evagrius.

7 Except for the Life of Anthony little has hitherto been done in the way of rhetorical studies of early Greek and Syriac monastic literature. The Latin tradition, including works of translation, is treated in Adalbert de Vogue, Histoire litteraire. For the Life of Anthony see also the works discussed in G. J. M. Bartelink, 'Die literarische Gattung der VitaAntonii.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment