Domestic piety

'Busy yourself in your home in such a way that you do not neglect your soul,' Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-542; Serm. 196.2) advised his congregants during Lent. Busying oneself in piety extended to many aspects of domestic life. From the naming of newborns to the decoration on walls, the home was where Christians were born and formed. Well into the fifth century, while baptism remained a ritual reserved for mature adults, Christian devotions introduced many to the faith. No surprise, then, that church leaders took it upon themselves to advise parents on raising a Christian child. John Chrysostom, for instance, warned parents to choose baby names wisely. In some homes, he remarked, it was the custom to light several lamps and assign a name to each lamp and choose the name of the lamp that burned longest, in the hopes that the child would likewise live a long life (Hom. in 1 Cor. 12.13). Instead, martyrs, bishops or apostles would provide better models for childrearing and parenting.

During Lent, Christians sought advice on appropriate devotions. Church leaders like Athanasius of Alexandria and Caesarius of Arles recommended that Christians dedicate the forty days prior to Easter to adopting an ascetic regime of prayers, vigils, sexual abstinence, fasting, devotional reading, charity and hospitality.3 For some, those devotions were not confined to Lent. In his eulogy for Gorgonia, the Cappadocian theologian Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-89/90) recalled his sister's 'intelligent chanting of the psalms . . . her reading, explanation, and timely recollection of the divine oracles'. The intensity of her genuflections, he notes, left her knees 'callous and, as it were, attached to the ground, in her tears to cleanse her stains with contrite heart and humility of spirit'.4

Beyond prayer, hymnody and vigils, Christians were also advised to cultivate other devotions within the home. For educated elites, John Chrysostom promoted private reading and writing as a form of devotion. 'Tell me,' he challenged his congregants, 'who of you, when at home, ever takes the Christian Book in his hands and goes through what is contained therein and studies Scriptures?' (Hom. in Ioh. 32) Still, he often advised his congregants to set aside one day of the week to study the Gospel selection to be read at the next synaxis. 'Seek a time and place of quiet,' Chrysostom advised on another occasion,

3 David Brakke, Athanasius and the politics of asceticism, 182-99; Caesarius of Arles, Serm.

4 Gregory of Nazianzus, Gorg. 13 (FOTC 22:110); cf.On his Father 8 (FOTC 22:125-6).

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