monastic communities from secular and ecclesiastical authorities was very often channelled through the hands of influential women.12


Debates about proper monastic conduct and necessary conditions for being regarded as a monk seem to have been part of the developments from the beginning. Various terms were used to signify particular monks, and attempts were made to define the main varieties and to set standards for proper monastic lifestyles. The best known of these were made by the Latin authors Jerome and John Cassian, who both claimed that there were three basic sorts of monks: anchorites, coenobites and a third group called by Jerome sarabaites and by Cassian remnuoth. The first two groups were easily identified with the already famous examples of Anthony and Pachomius, respectively, and the third characterised people who pretended to be monks and who were recognised by their instable life and wandering lifestyle. Since Jerome and Cassian were tremendously influential in reporting to the West on Eastern monasticism, this threefold scheme has been predominant in descriptions of monasticism and indeed continues to inform modern discussions ofthe history of monasticism. It is, however, evident that these categorisations are part of a broad-based polemic against contemporary monks and cannot be taken as a proper depiction of monastic varieties at that time. Jerome admits this by stating that the third group includes most of the monks of his era.13 It is actually not possible to draw a sharp line between anchoritic and coenobitic monks; as for the monks who were on the move, some were actually living a rather strict coenobitic life, whereas others were hermits.

Ultimately, the combined efforts of secular and ecclesiastical authority succeeded in getting rid of the wandering monks, thus gradually reducing the kinds of monasticism to the two preferred groups. But there is no doubt that Jerome and Cassian's politically motivated conceptualisation fails to capture the complex richness of late ancient monasticism.

12 Early biographies of prominent female monks include Gregory of Nyssa's Life ofMacrina, Jerome's Letter to Marcella and the Life ofMelania the Younger. The role of rich women for the monastic establishments is well documented in the correspondence of both Jerome and John Chrysostom. The female part of early monastic tradition is analysed in Susanna Elm, 'Virgins of God".

13 See Jerome, Letter 22.34 and John Cassian, Conlationes 18.4, whose claims are enshrined in the Rule of St Benedict 1. The letter by Jerome is discussed in de Vogue, Histoire litteraire, i: 288-325. The entire idea of genera monachorum as presented by Jerome and Cassian is critically analysed in Caner, Wandering, begging monks, 4-18. See also Choat, 'The development and usage of terms for "monks"'.

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