Asceticism as an Ancient Authority
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Resource Notes: Asceticism in Antiquity
**************** Armarnd Veilleux Monasticism and Gnosis in Egypt The literary sources of Egyptian monasticism, the Life of Antony and the Life of Pachomius in particular, releval the presence in Upper and Lower Egypt - before Antony and Pachomius - of monks living a life of asceticism either in their local community or in the nearby desert, near the village. Non-Pachomian monasteries existed beside the Pachomian. Coptic Pachomian documents speak of "brothers" rather than monks when they refer to members of the Pachomonian "Koinonia", the name "monks" being given to all others. ****** In addition, the council anathematized “the filthy book of this heresy, which is called the ‘Asceticon.’ ” (See 390.) 431 Third Ecumenical Council, was held at Ephesus. Called by the emperor Theodosius II. ******** TATIAN WIKI ENCRATITIC = Ascetic Following the death of Justin in 165, the life of Tatian is to some extent obscure. Irenaeus remarks (Haer., I., xxvlii. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, i. 353) that after the death of Justin, was expelled from the church for his Encratitic (ascetic) views (Eusebius claims he founded the Encratitic sect), as well as for being a follower of the gnostic leader Valentinius. It ******** "A History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient --- Voobus ***** Between the material world and the divine spirit the ancients felt that there must lie a great gulf almost impossible to bridge. Some thinkers found a way through the doctrine of Aeons, intermediate qualities or even beings, probably derived from the Platonic "Ideas." These aeons were conceived as rising, tier above tier, toward God; and by communing with one after another one might, through reflection, asceticism, and self-discipline, rise from material things into full fellowship with the Divine. It was like climbing a vast spiritual ladder. Communion with these Aeons seemed perfectly natural to them. So their philosophy and their faith fitted together. Their communion with these aeons was stimulated, they believed, by ascetic practices—fasts, vigils, and the observance of set days. --- Goodspeed (Paraphrased and omitting C) ******** HERMES and early therapeutae? http://www.greatdreams.com/lion.htm Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-220) tells us that the gods Hermes, Ptah and Imhotep once lived amongst men in Egypt, to which they came from a land before the Flood. Hermes, the learned father informs us, brought from those lands certain books of a medical nature that were absolutely indispensable. These numbered forty-two, thirty-six of which contained the whole wisdom discipline of the Egyptians which the priests were required to learn by heart, the remaining six applying to the healing arts of the 'shrine-bearers' (physicians). ****** Theory And Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson (Studies in the History of Religions, 110.) Containing ... Wisdom and Method: Yoga in the Platonic Dialogues by Judy D. Saltzman:Yoga, defined as a method of liberating the individual from the bondage of material existence and joining her/him to a higher, enlightened phi¬losophy and religious systems, was taught in the West through Pythagoras, called the Pitar or Yavana Guru in India. In his line of successors, Plato continued this tradition of spiritual knowledge and austerity of habits, but broadened it hopefully to influence the political and ethi¬cal climate of the Greek city states and of humanity in general. This essay shows how the yogas: jnana, the seeking of knowledge as higher wisdom; karma, the purifying of behavior and political institutions; bhakti, devotion through love, and raja, the kingly mystery of meditation, are all present in the Platonic dialogues. Although Plato presents his knowl¬edge in specifically Greek language and terms, and some of his meth¬ods differ, his spiritual aims are not ultimately different from those of the Upanishads or Bhagavadgata.
******** http://www.thenazareneway.com/therapeutae_jesus.html The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies The Therapeutae and the Miracles of Jesus Therapeutae: The Essene Healers of Alexandria The Therapeutae (meaning "healers") and Therapeutridae (the female members of the sect) were an early pre-Christian Essenic order that the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria knew from personal experience, and were established on a low hill by the Lake Mareotis close to Alexandria, the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. Communities of Therapeutae were widely established in other regions, Philo understood, for "this class of persons may be met with in many places, for both Greece and barbarian countries want to enjoy whatever is perfectly good." (Philo, para.) Philo described the Therapautae in the beginning of the 1st century AD in De vita contemplativa ("On the contemplative life"), written ca. AD 10. Philo explained the etymology of their name as meaning either physicians of souls or servants of God. Philo employed the polarity in Hellenic philosophy between the active and the contemplative life, exemplifying the active life by the Essenes and the contemplative life by the desert-dwelling Therapeutae. The Forerunners of the Monastic Orders Philo writes, "They lived chastely with utter simplicity; they first of all laid down temperance as a sort of foundation for the soul to rest upon and proceed to build up other virtues on this foundation." They were dedicated to the contemplative life, and their activities for six days of the week consisted of ascetic practices, fasting, solitary prayers and the study of the scriptures in their isolated cells, each with its separate holy sanctuary, and enclosed courtyard: "the entire interval from dawn to evening is given up by them to spiritual exercises." They read the holy scriptures and draw out in thought and allegory their ancestral philosophy, since they regard the literal meanings as symbols of an inner and hidden nature revealing itself in covert ideas" (Philo, para. 28). They renounced property and followed severe discipline: "These men abandon their property without being influenced by any predominant attraction, and flee without even turning their heads back again". (Philo, para. 18) They "professed an art of healing superior to that practiced in the cities" Philo On the seventh day the Therapeutae met in a meeting house, the men on one side of an open partition, the women on the other, to hear discourses. Once in seven weeks they meet for a night-long vigil after a banquet where they served one another, for "they are not waited on by slaves, because they deem any possession of servants whatever to be contrary to nature. For she has begotten all men alike free" (Philo, para.70) and sing antiphonal hymns until dawn. The practices described by Philo were considered as early as Eusebius of Caesarea as one of the first models of Christian monastic life. Eusebius was so sure of his identification of Therapeutae with Christians that he deduced that Philo, who admired them so, must have been Christian himself, not knowing the date of Philo's essay, and Christian readers still believed that this must have been so until the end of the 18th century. "The semianchoritic character of the Therapeutae community, the renunciation of property , the solitude during the six days of the week and the gathering together on Saturday for the common prayer and the common meal, the severe fasting , the keeping alive of the memory of God, the continuous prayer, the meditation and study of Holy Scripture were also practices of the Christian anchorites of the Alexandrian desert" (Scouteris). Formative Influences Various formative influences on the Therapeutae have been conjectured. The Book of Enoch and Jubilees exemplify the Hebrew tradition for the mystic values of numbers and for allegorical interpretaions, without having to reach to Zoroaster or Pythagoreans. In particular, the similarities between the Therapeutae and Buddhist monasticism, a tradition earlier by several centuries, combined with Indian evidence of Buddhist missionary activity to the Mediterranean around 250 BC (the Edicts of Ashoka), have often been pointed out. Philo described the Therapautae in the beginning of the 1st century AD in De vita contemplativa ("On the contemplative life"), written ca. AD 10. Philo explained the etymology of their name as meaning either physicians of souls or servants of God. **** http://www.nutrition-information.net/Vegetarianism.html Vegetarianism History Vegetarianism has been common in Hindu countries, such as India, since possibly the 2nd millennium BC for spiritual reasons, such as ahimsa (nonviolence) and reducing bad karmic influences. Jainism, which claims between eight to ten million adherants, enjoins its followers to be vegetarian. Many Buddhist monks have also historically practiced vegetarianism. In looking for parallels in Jewish and Christian antiquity for these practices, some Christian vegetarians feel a kinship with Nazirite and Ebionite practices. Many Hindu scriptures advocate the diet. For instance, the epic Mahabharata states: "He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth." The secular literature of Tirukural in Tamil Nadu, India, proclaimed over 2000 years ago: "Perceptive souls who have abandoned passion will not feed on flesh abandoned by life. How can he practise true compassion, he who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?" Vegetarians in Europe used to be called "Pythagoreans", after the philosopher and his followers abstained from meat in the 6th century BC. These people followed a vegetarian diet for nutritional and ethical reasons. According to the Roman poet Ovid, Pythagoras said: "As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." In 1847, attendees at the meeting of the first Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate, England, agreed that a "vegetarian" — from the Latin uegetus "lively", and suggestive of the English word "vegetable" — was a person who refuses to consume flesh of any kind. ***** http://sorabji.com/d/dictionary/ascetic/ From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0 (link) 221 Moby Thesaurus words for "ascetic": Albigensian, Apostolic, Apostolici, Catharist, Diogenes, Encratic, Encratite, Franciscan, Hieronymian, Hieronymite, Lenten, Pythagorean, Pythagorist, Rechabite, Sabbatarian, Shaker, Spartan, Stoic, Timon of Athens, Trappist, Waldensian, abbacomes, abbot, abstainer, abstemious, abstinent, anchoress, anchorite, anchoritic, apologetic, astringent, atoning, austere, bald, banian, bare, beadsman, bedridden invalid, bhikshu, brother, caloyer, candid, celibate, cenobite, chaste, cleansing, cloistered monk, closet cynic, common, commonplace, compensational, compensatory, continent, conventual, conventual prior, dervish, desert fathers, desert saints, direct, disciplined, dry, dull, dwarfed, dwarfish, eremite, eremitic, exiguous, expiatory, fakir, flagellant, forbearing, frank, friar, frugal, fruitarian, grand prior, gymnosophist, hermit, hermitess, hieromonach, homebody, homely, homespun, hydropot, impoverished, invalid, isolationist, jejune, lay abbot, lay brother, lean, limited, loner, lustral, lustrational, lustrative, marabout, matter-of-fact, meager, mean, mendicant, miserly, monastic, monk, mortified, narrow, natural, neat, nephalist, nephalistic, niggardly, on the wagon, open, outcast, palmer, paltry, pariah, parsimonious, penitential, piacular, pilgrim, pillar saint, pillarist, plain, plain-speaking, plain-spoken, poor, prior, propitiatory, prosaic, prosing, prosy, puny, pure, purgative, purgatorial, purifying, puritan, puritanical, reclamatory, recluse, recompensing, redeeming, redemptive, redressing, religieux, religious, reparative, reparatory, repentant, repenting, restitutional, restitutive, restitutory, restrained, righting, rigoristic, rustic, sannyasi, satisfactional, scant, scanty, schooled, scrawny, scrimp, scrimpy, seclusionist, self-abasing, self-abnegating, self-denying, self-forgetful, selfless, severe, sexually abstinent, shut-in, simple, simple-speaking, skimp, skimpy, slender, slight, slim, small, sober, solitaire, solitary, solitudinarian, spare, sparing, squaring, stark, starvation, stay-at-home, stern, stingy, stinted, straightforward, straitened, stunted, stylite, subsistence, sworn off, teetotal, teetotaler, teetotalist, thin, trained, unadorned, unaffected, unimaginative, unnourishing, unnutritious, unpoetical, unvarnished, vegetarian, water-drinker, watered, watery, wedded to poverty, yogi, yogin ******** http://www.hermetic.com/sabazius/pythagoras.htmThe teachings of Pythagoras were influential on both the Gnostic and Neoplatonic movements. The Pythagorean doctrine sharply distinguishes between thought and sense, soul and body, the mathematical form of things and their physical appearances. For the Pythagoreans, the Universe was mathematical harmony, and all phenomena were sensuous expressions of mathematical ratios. Their conception of God was as a supreme, intelligent and imperceptible spirit, pervading all Nature, and imbuing it with life. They believed in reincarnation of an immortal soul, and their system of ethics was based on the restoration of harmony out of the confusion of the senses. They recommended ascetic practices to engender the serenity and tranquility necessary to achieve perfect harmony.
Pythagorean teachings incorporated a complex symbolism based on numerical correspondences. The Pythagoreans spoke of the Universe as being composed of ten concentric spheres: the outermost was the Sphere of the Stars; then, moving inward, one sphere for each of the seven planets; then one sphere for the Earth; and the innermost sphere was of the "Anti-Earth" (Antichthon), composed of fire. Each sphere was thought to have its own particular vibration. The harmony of these vibrations was termed the "music of the spheres," and music theory was thus an important element of the Pythagorean teachings.
********* http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0075-4358(1971)61%3C80%3ATRAFOT%3E2.0.CO;2-M The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity Peter Brown The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 61, 1971 (1971), pp. 80-101 doi:10.2307/300008 This article consists of 22 page(s). ********* http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/religion/hagiography/compare.htm The Holy Person in Comparative Perspective Thomas Head Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNYA holy person is one who serves as an exemplar of virtue and an embodiment of sacred power. The holy person lives according to the highest ideals of a religious tradition. The word "saint" is frequently used in English for such persons. Explicitly Christian in its origin, this term (and many many linguistically similar terms in modern European languages) comes from the Latin sanctus (holy man) or sancta (holy woman). It was Peter Brown who--in a 1971 article entitled "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity"-- coined the phrase "holy person" in its modern scholarly usage through the brilliantly simple expedient of taking his Christian sources literally. Brown has since (see the citations below) regularly rethought this concept in the light of more recent scholarship on Christianity. Scholars of other religious traditions have freely used this term and concept in studying other traditions. Thre fruists of those studies provide a useful mirror on the practice of holiness in Christianity.
Early Christians, such as those studied by Brown, honored as saints specifically those persons who were thought to have earned immediate entrance to the kingdom of heaven after their death. In practice only a limited number of people were so venerated. The first to be so recognized were martyrs, who had died for their witness to the name of Christ. With the end of persecution, monks who endured the symbolic martyrdom of rigorous self-denial came to be officially honored as saints. Still later bishops, teachers, visionaries, and others were included in the possible ranks of the saints. As residents of the court of heaven, saints were capable of working miracles and their prayerful intercession could aid ordinary Christians gain salvation. The veneration of these saints was central to the practice of medieval Christianity, and continues to be important in modern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, although it was rejected by the Protestant reformers.
Both Islam and Judaism are at root religions which, out of fear of idolatry, reject the use of any image of the divine or of any human intermediary with the divine. Nonetheless rabbinic Judaism of the classic period gave reverence to a large group of exemplary biblical heroes. Medieval Jewish communities compiled lists of martyrs whose example served as instruction in the need for steadfast faith. More recently, various rabbinic schools have extended veneration to the tsaddiqim or hasidim, the "disciples" of various important masters who embody the power of mystical teachings. Nonetheless the holy person has always remained of marginal importance in Judaism. Islam, on the other hand, has developed a number of centrally important categories of venerated figures whose importance is widely accepted. A shahid is a martyr who has died for the faith. The awliya, or "friends of God," are teachers and ascetics who have earned a close relationship to the divine and thus wield miraculous powers, particularly at their tombs. A number of historical imams, or leaders of the community of Muslims, are revered by Shiites.
In Hinduism it is not always possible to make precise distinctions between holy persons and the anthropomorphic appearances of divinities. The range of types of people who over the course of history have been thought to embody holiness is immense, but focuses on three categories: those who have had close relationships to divinities, such as the rsis or sages of the Vedas; those who have achieved some form of spiritual liberation (siddha or "perfected one"), and thus amassed miraculous powers through accumulated austerity; and great gurus or teachers, of whom Sankara (eighth century Christian Era) was apparently the first accorded posthumous veneration.
Buddhism and Jainism define holy people more exclusively within the context of the attainment of enlightenment. Jainists venerate tirthamkaras, those historical figures who taught the Jainist path and achieved enlightenment, as well as more recent monks of particular piety who are known as sadhu or "spiritually great souls." For Theravada Buddhists, an arahant can be either an historical disciple of Buddha or a more recent monastic "worthy" who has achieved the highest stage of spiritual development. In addition to the wisdom and virtue they attain on the path to enlightenment, they also can perform miraculous and magical feats. For the Mahayana, a bodhisattva is a "Buddha-to-be," that is someone who will achieve enlightenment in the current lifetime and can transfer merit to fellow humans, thus speeding fellow human beings on their own paths to enlightenment. The former ideal is specifically confined to monks, while the latter is open to all. These concepts all betray a basic tension between the ideal of enlightenment as a pure state of being and the practical reality of the great powers which are believed to accompany its attainment.
In other religious traditions, persons who hold sacred offices can transcend them through the unique holiness of their actions or instruction. A Confucian teacher, for example, can become a sheng, or venerated "sage." Similarly, various Native American and African shamans have become leaders of large-scale movements. The devotion of their followers marks them as holy persons.
This list by no means exhausts the possible analogues to "holy person" in the world's religions. Nor is an analogue present in all traditions. Protestant Christians reject the cult of saints and use the term "saint," if at all, to refer to all true members of their community. Similarly some rigorist interpretations of Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism avoid the veneration of any human being. One of the most common means by which holy people in virtually all traditions develop and display their sacred charisma is through those acts of physical renunciation known under the rubric of asceticism. Asceticism (from askesis; Greek, "exercise" or "training") the use of the renunciation of physical pleasures or other forms of bodily self-denial as a means of spiritual development. The term literally referred in its origins to exercises performed by soldiers and athletes. By the fifth century BCE philosophers had adopted the word to refer to their own very different physical regimen which was intended to train the body in search of spiritual benefit. The varied schools of Greek philosophy employed different forms of bodily training: Stoics, for example, ate a very spare diet, while Cynics could be recognized by their simple clothing and aversion to money. All shared a vision of the human individual as divided into a (superior) spiritual soul and a (inferior) material body. Plato (a Greek philosopher of the fourth century BCE) wrote eloquently of the need for withdrawing the soul from the body. The goal was to purify the soul by controlling the body's appetites and thus achieve a state devoid of passion.
While asceticism is a word of western origin, the term is now used to refer to practices common to many religious traditions. Asceticism is often practiced in conjunction with spiritual exercises such as meditation and contemplative prayer. No single definition, however, can be universally applied; each tradition uses its own terms for these practices. The underlying assumption of asceticism in both western and eastern traditions is that the training of the body will aid in the training of the will or the soul and hence aid in the attainment of greater virtue or spiritual perfection. The Buddha, for example, preached the utility of dhuta, those actions which one vows to undertake for a period of time and which literally aid in "shaking off" bodily passions body. Indeed Buddhism is a tradition, like Catholic Christianity and classical Hinduism, in which asceticism is central to the practice of the religion.
The most common forms of ascetic renunciation focus on food and sexual relations. The practices range widely in rigor: from simple abstinence from certain forms of food (most typically meat) to long-term fasts in which the ascetic survives on meager foods (such as bread and water); from the chaste avoidance of sexual passion to a vow of lifelong virginity. Other important practices include the rejection of money or personal property in favor of a life of voluntary poverty and the withdrawal from normal modes of social interaction to live in seclusion or in an isolated community of like-minded ascetics. In extreme instances asceticism can go beyond self-denial to self-inflicted mortification, although the propriety of such action has been vigorously debated. Ascetic practices should be distinguished from the ordinary pious actions required of all adherents of a given religion. In general such a distinction is a matter of extent, intensity, or duration. All Muslims, for example, are required to fast during the month of Ramadan, but members of some Sufi orders practice rigorous fasting for their entire lives.
A brief comparison of the development of two basic versions of the ascetic holy person in west and east will serve to highlight certain common elements, as well as certain distinctions, in the cross cultural consideration of sanctity. Christianity developed in an Hellenistic environment and inherited this ideal of physical training in search of spiritual perfection, as well as the mysoginistic assumption that women were more material than men and hence less capable of spiritual development. Christians, however, set the practice of asceticism within the context of the search for salvation. Early Christian saints were frequently referred to as "soldiers of Christ" or "athletes of God." This context added a moral dimension to asceticism, because it was practiced for the purpose of penance as well as purification. The body was seen as sinful and in need of punishment in order to attain spiritual perfection. Thus it was not sufficient to withdraw the soul from the body; rather the ascetic had to withdraw from human society, which was sinful in its fallen state. The most enduring expression of ascetic ideals within Christianity was the monastic movement. By the fourth century Christian ascetics had begun to create an alternative society by forming communities in desolate places such as the Egyptian desert, which became, as one author remarked, "a city." The monastic life then and later was marked by a spare diet, frequent fasts, a vow of life-long chastity, lack of personal property, and silence which was broken for prayer but not personal conversation. Monastic communities were restricted to a single sex and fewer developed for women than for men. Benedict of Nursia (6th century monk) described the monastery as "a school for God's service." One purpose of asceticism for the Christian monks was to share in the sufferings of Christ and thus to gain salvation. As Benedict explained, "Never departing from God's guidelines, remaining in the monastery until death, we patiently share in Christ's passion, so we may enter into the kingdom of God."
An analogous set of ascetic institutions developed from a concept of ancient importance in Indian thought, that of world renunciation. The sannyasin relinquishes all property and social relations in order to take up life as a wandering begger who possesses only a begging bowl, a staff, and a simple robe. This poverty assures a certain level of asceticism, but many renouncers undertake further feats of self-mortification, such as extended fasts which leave them emaciated or lead to their death. Asceticism serves as a means of eliminating all attachments: the robe of the renouncer resembles a burial shroud and thus serves as a symbol of death to the world. The purpose of renuncation is to seek liberation of the self from the world and thus from the round of reincarnation. Traditionally this life is considered to be a possible final stage in the life cycle of a Brahman. While in theory available to women, it is in practice usually undertaken by men and only after their sons have male offspring. Gautauma Buddha was a world renouncer, as was Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. Their new religions incorporated the concept of renunciation as a fundamental organizing principle. The use of asceticism, however, distinguishes the Buddhist monk from the Hindu sannyasin. One of the discoveries which the Buddha made on his path to enlightenment was that the feats of self-denial which he had once performed as an ascetic had served to focus his attention on his body and thus actually hindered his quest. The Buddha therefore preached the need for moderation in monastic asceticism. Nonetheless Buddhist monks have no personal property and practice chastity; they eat only what they beg, then moderately, and nothing after the noon hour. Historically there was a monastic order for women: in Buddhism became extinct only to be refounded recently, while it has survived in Jainism.
Monks and nuns by no means exhaust the possibilities for the attainment of a reputation of holiness or sanctity in either Christianity or Buddhism. But the practice of monasticism, in which the individual ascetic (ordinary or saintly) lives in dynamic tension with both a tradition of practice adn with a wider community of fellow practitioners helps to highlist a fundamental tension present in the concept of the holy person. In the eye of the believer the holy person has inherently become an exemplar of how to live one's life and has thus become an embodiment of sacred power. In practice, however, a person cannot attain holiness in isolation; his or her achievement must be recognized by a community of fellow believers. These are the disciples of a living teacher or the pilgrims who flock to the shrine of a martyr. Without such an audience the holy person could not serve as an exemplar and there would be no clientele for miraculous powers. The example and sacred powers of the holy person provides are in fact social constructs which are informed and constrained by their humanity and their gender, by their life and their death, as well as by institutional considerations.
People become holy in different ways than do places, or totemic animals, or ritual objects. A sacred mask, for example, confers holiness upon the dancer who wears it, but that dancer does not become inherently holy in the manner of a martyr or an ascetic monk who has attained enlightenment. The holiness of the dancer is evanescent, that of the holy person enduring. The masked dancer is a ritual performer, the holy person has become a living embodiment of the sacred, an actual piece of the kingdom of heaven or of nirvana. As a human being, the holy person transmits sacred power in ways that are quintessentially human. Devotees gather to hear the sermons of a great teacher, bring gifts to the shrine of a saint or bodhisattva, or build geneologies to demonstrate their descent from a martyr or imam. The veneration of holy people implies that sacred power can be dispersed not only through rituals or sacraments, but through social relationships.
The construction of holiness is also constrained by gender or, more accurately, by the cultural construction of gender. A medieval Christian woman, for example, could become a saint as a visionary or martyr, but not as a preacher or bishop (offices from which they were excluded). Confucianism restricts teaching, and thus sagehood, to males. While there have historically been monastic orders for women in both Buddhism and Jainism, they have produced few figures of widespread veneration. Just as the power wielded by holy people necessarily reflects its social and cultural context, so too the ways in which women have attained positions of veneration as holy people (notably in Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam) also reflects the historic misogyny of the world's religions. The holy person becomes an exemplar for others as a result of the way in which he or she has lived. For an exemplar to have meaning, however, it must be disseminated beyond the circle of those disciples or students who have intimate knowledge of that particular person. Written or oral legends (known under the general heading of hagiography) serve to transmit that example and play a vital role in the construction of holiness. This literature follows traditional forms and is intended to convey a moral message rather than historically accurate biography.
While the power of a holy person begins during his or her lifetime, miracles are performed not only by the living, but also (and perhaps most often) posthumously, usually in relation to physical objects known as relics. Corpses are the favored relics and tombs the preferred sites of shrines in Christianity and Islam, but teeth, clothing, statues, and books can all serve as relics. These act as the continued physical presence of the holy person in the material world after their death. They should not be regarded as symbols, but as an actual extension of the holy person's charismatic power. The miracles performed by holy people and their relics include such visible marvels as cures and exorcisms, but also invisible acts such as the remission of sin or the transfer of merit. The institutional hierarchy of a religious tradition often seeks ways to control the power of the holy person, declaring their right to validate a person's holiness through such processes as that of canonization in Catholicism. Most religious traditions have categories such as witch or heretic which serve as the antithesis of the holy person. They, too, can perform wonders, but their powers are opposed to the correct practice of religion and have their origin in an evil debasement of a correct life.
Note: A version of this essay has appeared as part of the entries which I wrote on "asceticism" and "holy person" which appeared in theHarper's Dictionary of Religion, eds. Jonathan Smith and William Scott Green (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995), pp. 77-80 and 61-464. I would prefer that any published citation deriving from this on-line essay should be made to these printed versions.
Sources: Brown, Peter. "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity." Journal of Roman Studies, 61 (1971): 80-101. Reprinted in Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (Chicago, 1982), pp. 103-52. Brown, Peter. "Arbiters of the Holy: The Christian Holy Man in Late Antiquity," in idem, Authority and the Sacred (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 55-78. Brown, Peter. "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity, 1971-1997." Journal of Early Christian Studies, 6 (1998): 353-76. Eckel, M. David.To See the Buddha. San Francisco, 1992. Faure, Bernard. Relics and Flesh Bodies: The Creation of Ch'an Sites. Berkeley, 1992. Gellner, Ernest. Saints of the Atlas. Chicago, 1969. Gilsenan, Michael. Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt. Oxford, 1973. Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer. Songs of the Saints of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Hawley, John Stratton (ed.), Saints and Virtues. Berkeley, 1987. Head, Thomas. "Asceticism" and "Holy Person" in Harper's Dictionary of Religion, eds. Jonathan Smith and William Scott Green (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995), pp. 77-80 and 61-464. Jacobs, Louis. Holy Living: Saints and Saintliness in Judaism. Northvale, N.J., 1990. Kieckhefer, Richard and George Bond (eds.). Sainthood: Its Manifestation in World Religions. Berkeley, 1988. Naquin, Susan and Chün-Fang Yü (eds.). Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China. Berkeley, 1992. Ray, Reginald. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. Oxford, 1993. Schopen, Gregory. "Ritual Rights and Bones of Contention." Journal of Indian Philosophy, 22 (1994), pp. 31-82. Wijayaratna, Mohan. Buddhist Monastic Life. Cambridge, 1990. ******** www.thesikhencyclopedia.com - ASCETICISM ASCETICISM derived from the Greek word askesis, connotes the `training` or `exercise` of the body and the mind. Asceticism or ascetic practices belong to the domain of religious culture, and fasts, pilgrimages, ablutions, purificatory rituals, vigils, abstinence from certain foods and drinks, primitive and strange dress, nudity, uncut hair, tonsure. shaving the head, circumcision, cavedwelling, silence, meditation, vegetarianism, celibacy, virginity, inflicting pain upon oneself by whips and chains, mutilation, begging alms, owning no wealth or possessions, forbearance and patience, equanimity or impartiality towards friends and foes, eradication of desires and passions, treating the body as something evil or treating human life as a means of achieving ultimate release or union with God ---- all these are subsumed under ascetic practices. The history of Indian religiousness presents the ultimate in the development of the theory and practice of asceticism. Evidence of the existence of ascetic practices in India has come down to us from the most ancient period of known history; archaeology and literature have documented its growth as a panIndian religious phenomenon; all the systems of religious thought that have ever appeared on the soil of India have been influenced in varying degrees by the philosophy and terminology of asceticism. Ancient Indian literature abounds in ascetic terminology and there are numerous terms which refer to ascetics or to diverse ascetic practices. Muni, yati, bhiksu, yogin, sramana, tapasvin, tapas, mundaka, parivrajaka, dhyanin, sannyasin, tyagin, vairagin, atita, udasina, avadhuta, digambara, etc. are terms frequently used in Indian religious tradition. Nontheistic systems such as Jainism, Buddhism and SankhyaYoga provide instances of ascetic culture in its. classical form. All these Sramanic systems of faith are predominantly ascetic though their philosophical theories place varying degrees of emphasis on bodily askesis. Forms of asceticism differ inJainism and Buddhism, the former being an extreme instance of it. Asceticism is the heart of Jaina caritra or acara which, along withJnana and darsana, constitutes the way to moksa. In the Buddhist form of asceticism, there is no metaphysical dualism of God and the world, or of soul and the body. Phenomenal existence is viewed as characterized by suffering, impermanence and notself. The aim of ascetic culture is to go beyond this sphere of conditioned phenomena. The keynote of Buddhist ascetic culture is moderation; selfmortification is rejected altogether; tapas is a form of excess which increases dukkha. The aim of ascetic effort is to secure freedom from suffering; this ascetic effort is to be made within the framework of the Middle Way. Among all schools of Indian ascetics the GURU or preceptor is held in the highest esteem. No one becomes an ascetic without receiving formal initiation (diksa) or ordination (pravargya) at the hands of a recognized teacher who is himself an ascetic of standing. Practice of various kinds of physical postures (asanas), meditation, study of Scriptures, devotional worship, discussion on subjects of religious and philosophical importance, going on pilgrimage to holy places, giving instruction to the laity, accepting gifts of dress materials and foodstuff, and radiating good will and a sense of religiousness and piety, are the usual facets of the life of Indian ascetics. Ascetic way of life, in any religion is the way of selfmortification. Injury to others is however disallowed. But SIKHISM which of course emphasizes the importance of nonviolence never lets this dogma to humiliate man as a man and accepts the use of force as the last resort. Says Guru Gobind SINGH in the Zafarnamah : (22). Sikhism denies the efficacy of all that is external or merely ritualistic. Ritualism which may be held to be a strong pillar of asceticism has been held as entirely alien to true religion. Sikhism which may be described as pravrtti marga (way of active activity) over against nivrtti marga (way of passive activity or renunciation) enjoins man to be of the world, but not worldly. Nonresponsible life under the pretext of ascetic garb is rejected by the Gurus and so is renunciation which takes one away to solitary or itinerant life totally devoid of social engagement. Says Guru NANAK: "He who sings songs about God without understanding them; who converts his house into a mosque in order to satisfy his hunger; who being unemployed has his ears pierced (so that he can beg); who becomes a faqir and abandons his caste; who is called a guru or pir but goes around begging never fall at the feet of such a person. He who eats what he has earned by his own labour and yet gives some (to others) Nanak, it is he who knows the true way" (GG, 1245). Here one may find the rejection of asceticism and affirmation of disciplined worldliness. A very significant body of the fundamental teachings of the Gurus commends nonattachment, but not asceticism or monasticism. The necessity of controlling the mind and subduing one`s egoity is repeatedly taught. All the virtues such as contentment (santokh), patience (dhiraja), mercy (daya), service (seva), liberality (dana), cleanliness (snana), forgiveness (ksama), humility (namrata), nonattachment (vairagya), and renunciation (tiaga), are fundamental constituents of the SIKH religion and ethics. On the other hand, all the major vices or evils that overpower human beings and ruin their religious life, such as anger (krodha), egoism (aharikara), avarice (lobha), lust (kama), infatuation (moha), sinful acts (papa), pride (man), doubt (dim`dha), ownership (mamata), hatred (vair), and hostility (virodh) are condemned. Man is exhorted to eradicate them but certainly not through ascetic selfmortification. SAHAJ is attained through tensionfree, ethical living, grounded in spirituality. In Sikhism all forms of asceticism are disapproved and external or physical austerities, devoid of devotion to God, are declared futile. An ascetic sage who is liberated from all evil passions is called avadhuta in Indian sacred literature. Guru Nanak reorientates the concept of avadhuta in purely spiritual terms as against its formularies. The sign of an avadhuta is that "in the midst of aspirations he dwells bereft of aspirations" suni machhindra audhu nisani/asa mahi nirasu valae/nihachau Nanak karate pae" (GG, 877). An ascetic is defined again as "one who burns up his egoity, and whose alms consist in enduring hardships of life and in purifying his mind and soul. He who only washes his body is a hypocrite" (GG, 952). 1. Hall, T.C., "Asceticism," in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Ed. James Hastings. Edinburgh, 1969 2. Eliade, Mircea, Yoga, Immortality and Freedom. Princeton, 1969 3. Chakraborty, Haripada, Asceticism in Ancient India. Calcutta, 1973 4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. LAHORE, 1944 5. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990 ******* The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed ascetic practices of an ancient Jewish sect who took vows of abstinence to prepare for a holy war ****** http://www.foucault.info/documents/parrhesia/foucault.DT5.techniquesParrhesia.en.html Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia. six lectures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley, Oct-Nov. 1983Although our word "asceticism" derives from the Greek word "askesis" (since the meaning of the word changes as it becomes associated with various Christian practices), for the Greeks the word does not mean "ascetic", but has a very broad sense denoting any kind of practical training or exercise. For example, it was a commonplace to say that any kind of art or technique had to be learned by mathesis and askesis – by theoretical knowledge and practical training. And, for instance, when Musonius Rufus says that the art of living, techne tou biou, is like the other arts, i.e., an art which one could not learn only through theoretical teachings, he is repeating a traditional doctrine. This techne tou biou, this art of living, demands practice and training: askesis. But the Greek conception of askesis differs from Christian ascetic practices in at least two ways: (1) Christian asceticism has its ultimate aim or target the renunciation of the self, whereas the moral askesis of the Greco-Roman philosophies has as its goal the establishment of a specific relationship to oneself – a relationship of self possession and self-sovereignty; (2) Christian asceticism takes as its principle theme detachment from the world, whereas the ascetic practices of the Greco-Roman philosophies are generally concerned with endowing the individual with the preparation and the moral equipment that will permit him to fully confront the world in an ethical and rational manner.
Thirdly, these ascetic practices implied numerous different kinds of specific exercises; but they were never specifically catalogued, analyzed, or described. Some of them were discussed and criticized, but most of them were well-known. Since most people recognized them, they were usually used without any precise theory about the exercise. And indeed, often when someone now reads these Greek and Latin authors as they discuss such exercises in the context of specific theoretical topics (such as time, death, the world, life, necessity, etc.), he or she gets a mistaken conception about them. For these topics usually function only as a schema or matrix for the spiritual exercise.
***** Ascetics, Society, and the Desert: Studies in Early Egyptian Monasticism By James E. Goehring Published 1999 A rigorous examination of multiple papyrological documentary sources that infuses the study of Egyptian monasticism with renewed energy "The desert was made a city by monks, who left their own people and registered themselves for citizenship in heaven." --- "Life of Anthony", Athanasius **** NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine Author: Schaff, Philip (1819-1893) FOOTNOTE 1790 It was very common from the fourth century on (the writer knows of no instances earlier than Eusebius) to call an ascetic mode of life “philosophical,” or “the life of a philosopher” (see §2 of this chapter, and compare Chrysostom’s works, where the word occurs very frequently in this sense). Origen, in his ascetic practices, was quite in accord with the prevailing Christian sentiment of his own and subsequent centuries, which looked upon bodily discipline of an ascetic kind, not indeed as required, but as commended by Christ http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.xi.iii.html NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine ******* Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-Century Palestine: The Career of Peter the Iberian By Cornelia B. Horn http://books.google.com/books?id=C7BpJop820kC&dq=%22claudine+dauphin%22 Asceticism as Locus of Authority Authoritative Ascetic Models: (Late Fourth Century) Melania Pinianus *********** www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/sbf/Books/LA49/49397CD.pdf FROM APOLLO AND ASCLEPIUS TO CHRIST (nb: PDF) Pilgrimage and Healing at the Temple and Episcopal Basilica of Dor C. Dauphin Thirty kilometres south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, the massive mound or tell of Dor juts out into the Mediterranean Sea, encapsulating layers of human occupation since the 15th century BC. Byzantine Dora in the Onomastikon and as revealed by archaeology In St Jerome’s Latin translation of the Onomastikon – a descriptive list of sites in Palestine compiled in Greek by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea –, 4th century Dora is described as “a city now deserted”, and in Epistle 108, dated to 404, in connection with the pilgrim Paula’s first journey round the sites of Palestine in 385, Jerome wrote: “She marvelled in the ruins of Dor, a city once very powerful”1. Yet, already at that date, an impressive Christian basilica rose above a grid-patterned lower city at the south-eastern foot of the tell2. The semi-circular eastward-oriented apse of the central nave of this basilica, as well as part of the mosaic pavement of a northern aisle were discovered in the course of a rescue excavation, conducted in February 1952 by Dr J. Leibovitch on behalf of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums. Asclepius and Christ The iamata which recorded healing from paralysis, blindness, infestation by worms, sterility and abnormally long pregnancies, herald the Byzantine Miracula, in the same way that Asclepius appears as a precursor of Christ. The Church Fathers were acutely aware of the traits which Asclepius and Christ shared, rendering their rivalry particularly bitter. In the eyes of common worshippers who, unlike the Church Fathers, were not versed in the casuistry of dogma which asserted that “Jesus Christ, our teacher, was produced without sexual union”, both Asclepius and Christ were the sons of a god and of a mortal woman. Both had devoted a blameless life, primarily as physicians, in assisting those in need of physical and mental succour, Asclepius acting in the name of his father Apollo, and Christ in that of God the Father. Moreover, the system of filiation in the Christian Trinity was dangerously similar to the line of descent from Zeus through Apollo to Asclepius. Both Asclepius and Christ had died the death of mortals, and both had resurrected. Various stories circulated in Late Antiquity, whereby Asclepius had returned from the nether world with the permission of the Fates, or had been rendered immortal by the intervention of the gods. Like Christ, Asclepius was ever-present in his shrines. However, although Asclepius saved men from death by healing them and thus “revived” them, he operated solely on Earth, and could not give his patients the assurance of immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body which Christ promised his adherents would gain in the Other World, in the True Life. For Christ’s divinity had provided him with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Moreover, even if Asclepius was indifferent to financial gain, he expected purity of thoughts as a prerequisite for healing, whereas Christ attached no strings to his generous help which he extended to all, including “the sinners and the publicans”. ********* The Chronology of Galen's Early Career Vivian Nutton The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 23, No. 1 (May, 1973), pp. 158-171 This article consists of 14 page(s). http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-8388(197305)2:23:1%3C158:TCOGEC%3E2.0.CO;2-S The Greek Language of Healing from Homer to the New Testament Times by Louise Wells Author(s) of Review: David E. Aune Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 119, No. 3 (Autumn, 2000), pp. 561-564 doi:10.2307/3268426 This article consists of 4 page(s). NOTE: This article is a review of another http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-9231(200023)119%3A3%3C561%3ATGLOHF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-C Pagan-Christian Conflict over Miracle in the Second Century by Harold Remus Author(s) of Review: Howald Clark Kee Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 104, No. 2 (Jun., 1985), pp. 371-373 doi:10.2307/3261008 http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-9231(198506)104%3A2%3C371%3APCOMIT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-1 **************** Jesus as Healer By Harold Remus http://www.google.com.au/search?as_q=aristides+asclepius&hl=en&num=100&btnG=Google+Search&as_epq=harold+remus&as_oq=&as_eq=&lr=&cr=&as_ft=i&as_filetype=&as_qdr=all&as_occt=any&as_dt=i&as_sitesearch=&as_rights=&safe=images ********* BOOK: Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World By John S. Kloppenborg, Stephen G. Wilson Part 9: Voluntary Associations and Networks: Aelius Aristides at the Asclepieion in Pergamum --- Harold Remus HABICHT (1969) often cited. ******** http://www.giffordlectures.org/Browse.asp?PubID=TPRIGL&Volume=0&Issue=0&ArticleID=15 Books Religion in Greek Literature 1894–1896 Lewis Campbell Previous | Table of Contents | Next Chapter 13 Philosophy and Scepticism Pythagoreanism had two sides, which seem hard to reconcile, and which perhaps at the time now spoken of were represented by different sections of the professing followers of the sage. 1. There was the mystical and ascetic doctrine, closely allied, as before said, to Orphism, and depending on the belief in immortality and transmigration. 2. There was the mathematical and scientific learning pursued in reliance on the first principle of the master, that ‘number is the world.’ *********** Asceticism From Wikipedia Asceticism describes a life characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures (austerity). Those who practice ascetic lifestyles often perceive their practices as virtuous and pursue them to achieve greater spirituality. Many ascetics believe the action of purifying the body helps to purify the soul, and thus obtain a greater connection with the Divine or find inner peace. This may take the form of self-mortification, rituals or renunciations of pleasure. However, ascetics maintain that self-imposed constraints bring them greater freedom in various areas of their lives, such as increased clarity of thought and the ability to resist potentially destructive temptations. Christianity The deserts of the middle-east were at one time said to have been inhabited by thousands of hermits, amongst the most revered include St. Anthony the Great, St. Mary of Egypt, and St. Simeon Stylites. Christian authors of late antiquity such as Origen, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine interpreted meanings of Biblical texts within a highly asceticized religious environment. Through their commentaries, they created a new “asceticized Scripture,” and in the process an asceticized version of Christianity. The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed ascetic practices of the ancient Jewish sect of Essenes who took vows of abstinence to prepare for a holy war. ****** http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1995/95.12.18.html Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.12.18 David Brakke, Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Pp. 356. $65.00. ISBN 0-19-826816-5. Reviewed by Susanna Elm, University of California (Berkeley)Recent years have witnessed an accelerated break-down of the categorical distinctions that have traditionally determined much of the study of the Later Roman Empire and early Christianity. Instead, a picture of great complexity and fluidity emerges, where nothing is simply rising or falling, and pagans and Christians, heretics and orthodox are no longer either villains or heroes, but rather, like Shakespearean protagonists, a mixture of both.
One area where this acceleration has been particularly dramatic is late Antique Egypt. Here, scholars have significantly redrawn a map which used to oppose the city (Alexandria) and Egypt proper, unlearned Christian Copts and hellenized upper-class pagans, desert-monks and city bishops, and are revealing instead a complex web of interdependencies, interactions and cross-currents.
Such redrawing has, of course, also affected the mise-en-scène of one of those great dramas in which a (quasi-) demon has traditionally been pitted against a (near-) saint (whereby both could have been either, depending on the scholarly view-point): even Athanasius and Arius are becoming increasingly Shakespearean, will say a complex mixture of good and bad, representatives of a distinctive "way of being human" (L. MacCoull, Dioscouros of Aphrodito, 147-159) that needs to be grasped through categories other than heretic and orthodox, margin and center, academic and episcopal.
The latest addition to this continuously evolving picture is David Brakke's Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism. Brakke seeks to demonstrate how Athanasius' "ascetic programme of self-formation was also a political programme of Church formation." Through imitation of past and present saints, achieved through an appropriate ascetic discipline, Christian individuals, be they high-performance ascetics or moderate lay-persons, "not only formed themselves into saints but also formed the Church as the embodiment of the Christian politeia." (p. 266). Brakke derives Athanasius' dual strategy from a significantly enlarged body of his writings. In addition to the ten works on ascetic topics generally accepted as genuine (seven letters to monks, the Life of Antony, and two letters to female virgins), Brakke draws from another nine ascetic and pastoral works, the authenticity of which he defends in a separate article in Orientalia 64 (1994): 17-56. His broadening of the source-basis and the Appendix with the first English translation of the most important of these works are significant contributions by themselves.
On the basis of these broadened sources, Brakke develops his interpretation of Athanasius' ascetic (and hence political) program.
********** http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=1553&C=1361 East of the Euphrates: Early Christianity in Asia by T.V. Philip East Syrian Church and MonasticismIt has often been held that the monastic movement in Mesopotamia originated as part of the general movement which started in Egypt under the influence of Anthony and Pachomius. Today historians are inclined to believe that monasticism in East Syria is independent of and prior to the Egyptian movement. The primitive Christian movement in Mesopotamia and Persia found itself in the midst of a number of movements and groups such as the Marcionites, Valentinians, Manicheans, which were very congenial to asceticism. All these movements displayed a uniform hatred toward the world and the body. Mesopotamia was a playground for such radical ideologies and groups which evoked mutual competition. These movements had great impact on Christianity producing various interpretations and sects within Christianity itself. According to Voobus, during the third and fourth centuries, real spiritual and religious strength was found precisely in these movements and the demarcation between orthodoxy and heresy in this situation was very thin and fluid. It was also true that numerical strength lay with such groups. Ecclesiastically organized Christianity was a mere minority in comparison. (Arthur Voobus, op.cit., p.161. ) . This was true in Edessa as well as in several other places. One writer described the situation thus. "A single ear of wheat on a huge field full of weeds which the Devil has sown full of heretics….(Ibid., p.161.)
Such ideologies and movements also influenced the shape and development of Christian monasticism. The question is, to what extent they influenced Christian monasticism? Voobus points out that Christian ascetics had a thirst after mortification and self annihilation. Not only did they persist in severe fasting and extreme self-deprivation, they actually went so far as to despise life itself. Voobus thinks such an extreme form of asceticism developed due to the influence of Manicheism. Manicheism also brought Mesopotamian monasticism into contact with various forms and manners of Indian asceticism. The recent excavations have shown that Buddhist colonies were in existence in eastern Persia. It is also probable that Mani himself went to India and thus Manichean monasticism was greatly influenced by certain extreme forms of Indian asceticism, which in turn, influenced Christian monasticism as it developed in east Syria.
While admitting that there might have been some extreme form of asceticism practiced by some Christian groups, the question has been asked whether we can speak of the whole of the Christian monastic movement as similar to that of Manichean monasticism. Was it greatly influenced by the strong anti-worldly and anti-bodily Manichean dualism? H.J.W. Drijvers (H.J.W. Drijvers. East of Antioch, p.301.) disagrees with the conclusion of Voobus. He asks: Is the Christian ascetic practice an expression of contempt for the human condition and hatred of the body? He says that the social role of Christian holy men is in flagrant contradiction to such an explanation. The Manichean ascetics are a religious elite who never interfere with the body-social but always live at a safe distance from the cares and worries of daily life. We never hear about their social activities. Contrary to Christianity it never became a social movement, its ideology leads away from the trivial and material aspects of human life. Christian holy men are always ready to participate in the daily life of the common people in order to protect and integrate that life. They may cherish the ideal of virginity, but when necessary, they repair a marriage and they pray for the barren women.
Drijvers points out that the life style of the Christian saint is an exact replica of the essential-elements in early Syrian christology. Anthropology is part of christology. The literary heritage of the early Syriac speaking Church is reflected in the Acts of Thomas, Odes of Solomon and in Tatian’s Diatesseron. In all these, Christ is considered God’s eternal thought and will incarnate in the human body in order that human beings might return to the original state in which he or she was created according to God’s thought and will. Christ manifests the divine will by his obedience unto death, which means by denouncing human passions and strivings, revealing in this way God’s eternal thought concerning the salvation of humankind. The life style of the holy man or woman is an imitation of Christ’s passion, a training of his or her will in dominating his or her passions and human strivings. He or she shows a certain Christ conformity. Virginity is the ideal of the holy person not because he or she is filled with a deep hatred of the human body, but because Christ was ihidaya meaning that Christ had singleness of purpose to be the instrument of God’s will and thought. The doctrine of free will of the human being by which he or she can control all passions and guide his or her body is an essential part of Syriac theology. In the hard exercise of his or her will, the holy person gains insight into God’s saving thought. Asceticism and acquisition of wisdom are two sides of the same Imitatio Christi. The Acts of Thomas illustrate this. The holy person displays this insight of wisdom in his or her acts of power, which always aims at salvation of people. The Syrian holy person is the image of Christ and the continuation of incarnation so that, the divine is manifested in human shape by transforming that shape, into an instrument of God’s thought and will. The central aspect of the main line east Syrian monasticism is not the fleeing from the world or despising the human body, but the exercise of self-discipline by the use of the human will and acquisition of wisdom to be used for the salvation of people.
The monks were popular with the masses. In the prayers of these spiritual men, the masses saw expiatory acts in the interest of the whole nation. The masses knew that the monks had particular compassion for those who suffered and they were never tired of hearing the complaints and worries of the people. They were always willing to help the people spiritually as well as materially. The monasteries became the congregating centres of the poor and those who suffered. There was competition between monks and regular clergy. The general masses believed that the monks’ explanation of the scripture was more accurate, their teachings more powerful and their prayers more effective. Large number of believers made pilgrimages to the monasteries even on Sundays. As a result the church was forced to make a rule that the people should go to churches on Sunday and they should visit the monks only on weekdays.
Several of the monks entered the ministry of the church and became priests, bishops, metropolitans and even Catholicos. One important activity of the monks was the education of children and youth. The monasteries were also a sort of Bible training schools.
In the fifth century, the spread of the monastic movement throughout Persia was very rapid and a large number of monasteries were founded both inside Persia and outside where the Persian church undertook missionary work. The monastic movement reached the zenith of its prosperity by the middle of the seventh century, but started declining afterwards. From hundreds of monasteries all over Persia and central and eastern Asia, there poured forth a constant stream of ascetics who had completed their training and went forth, in obedience to the Lord’s command, seeking to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. They introduced letters and learning among peoples who were previously illiterate, such as Turks, Uighurs and Mongols, all of them are said to have derived their alphabet from Syriac. About these monks it is said that they were people of great faith, well versed in the Scriptures, large portions of which they knew by heart, fervent in prayer, gentle and humble in manner, full of the love of God on the one hand, and love to their neighbour and all humankind on the other.
Hence there was a missionary dynamics involved in east Syrian asceticism. In the Egyptian monasticism the saints ignored the world and retreated to the desert into caves and cells. On the contrary, Syrian ascetics became wandering missionaries, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and preaching the gospel. They moved from place to place. (Moffett, op.cit., p. 77.) R. Murray describes them as "homeless followers of the homeless Jesus on ... ceaseless pilgrimage through the world." (R. Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: a Study in early Syrian Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 1975, p.29.) A. Gerd Thessen, a German sociologist and New Testament scholar speaks of the first followers of Jesus as ‘wandering charismatics’. In the traditions of the first missionaries of the East, there is the same note of wandering mission, moving out across the world for Christ. Thomas in India gives thanks that he has become an ascetic and a pauper and a wanderer for God. (Acts of Thomas 6:60-61; 12:139, 145) (Moffett, op.cit., p. 78.) Addai refuses to receive silver and gold from the king of Edessa, saying that he has forsaken the riches of this world "because without purses and without scrips, bearing the cross on our shoulders, we are commanded to preach the gospel in the whole creation." The Gospel of Thomas exhorts the faithful to "become wanderers" perhaps as a call to mission. It says that travelling and healing are higher callings than fasting, praying and giving alms. And it quotes the Lord’s call to mission- "The harvest is great but the labourers are few." (Ibid., p. 78.)
The East Syrian church was a great missionary church. It was a church on fire. The Monastic movement played a very important role in the missionary enterprise of the church.
Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem is the most widely celebrated figure in the Syrian church. The tradition is that he was born of Christian parents in AD 306 in or near Nisibis. In AD 363 when Nisibis was handed over to the Persians by Jovian, many Christians including Ephrem from Nisibis and the neighbourhood migrated to Edessa because of the persecution of Christians in Persia under Shapur II. It was in the city of Edessa, which housed the great church of St.Thomas the Apostle, that Ephrem spent the remaining ten years of his life, mostly in a cell. Here he continued the writing he had been engaged in Nisibis. R. Murray speaks of him "as the greatest poet of the patristic age perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante." (R. Murray, op.cit., p.31.) An anonymous Life of Ephrem tells how he wrote his hymns and sang them to the harp, teaching them to the ‘Daughters of the covenant’. Singing was that age’s effective means of propaganda as Arius had found in Alexandria and Bardaisan in Edessa. (Ibid., p, 30.)
Ephrem’s authentic writings are all in Syriac or preserved in Armenian versions. His works fall into three groups: biblical commentaries, homilies including controversial writings, and hymns and odes. Ephrem wrote against the heretics of his day -- Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan. In one of his sermons he said "He who prays with the Manichees prays with Satan, and he who prays with the Marcionites prays with Legion, and he who prays with Bardaisans prays with Beelzebub, and he who prays with the Jews prays with Barabbas, the robber." (Quoted in McCullough, op.cit., p. 59.) The popularity of his poems and sermons, and the careful elucidation of the text displayed in the biblical commentaries, ensured Ephrem of a permanent place among the great figures of the Syriac church! (Ibid., p.60)
The School of Edessa
The East Syrian church had a number of famous theological schools and centres such as those at Edessa, Nisibis, Seleucia and Arbela. Of those the most important ones were those at Edessa and Nisibis. Edessa was in western Mesopotamia and since the fourth century directly administered by Rome. It was the centre of Syriac Christianity. The beginnings of its celebrated theological school are obscure. The Edessean population gave the school the name, ‘the school of the Persians or the Christian Didascalion for the Persians.’ From this Arthur Voobus and several others mention the possibility of the school being founded by the Christian refugees from Persia. (" See Arthur Voobus, History of the School of Nisibis, Louvain, 1965.) When Nisibis was transferred to Persian control in AD 363, many Christians from Nisibis moved westwards to the Roman territory where their Christian faith could be easily practised. What is proposed by Voobus and others is that it was these Persian Christians who later in the fourth century founded the school in Edessa to train the clergy. There can hardly be any doubt that there were teachers among the refugees from Persia. Ephrem, the -- great Christian poet was one of them. There is a tradition that he founded the school but it is doubtful if he had much to do with the founding of the school. The most famous of the teachers who came from Persia was Narsai. He was the director of the school at Edessa from AD 451 to 471 and under his’ direction the school made great advancement.
****************** PDF MONASTICSM AND GNOSIS in EGYPT ********** http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1995/95.12.07.html Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.12.07 James A. Francis, Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority in the Second-Century Pagan World. Reviewed by Pamela Gordon, University of Kansas.This study of second-century C.E. culture and society focuses upon the attitudes of the educated elite toward the prophets, miracle workers, religious innovators, and radical philosophers who seem to have stood on every street corner throughout the Greek and Roman world during this "balmy late afternoon of Rome's classical empire" (p. i). According to Francis's interpretation, the cultural and political authorities of the era (represented here mainly by Marcus Aurelius, Lucian, Celsus, and Philostratus), viewed such figures as dangerous deviants who posed a serious threat to society, to culture, and to the continued existence of the Roman Empire. What is original about F.'s approach is his notion that the wide range of behaviors viewed as deviant by the elite can be gathered under the rubric of rigorous physical asceticism. F. phrases his central claim thus in his introduction:
In addition to offering a new approach to second-century social and cultural history, F.'s claim for the importance of asceticism in this era would redefine the early history of ancient asceticism itself: while many studies begin with the flowering of Neoplatonism and Christian monasticism in the late third and early fourth centuries, F. stresses the importance of this earlier period, when the dominant culture reacted to asceticism with suspicion and opposition. Not all readers will be persuaded that asceticism is indeed the "key" to the second century, and many will find that F. neither provides an adequate definition of ascetic practice nor succeeds in demonstrating the relevance of asceticism to all of the historical figures he discusses. Still, even where F.'s claim for the significance of second-century asceticism is not entirely convincing, the discussion throughout is well worth reading.
In the first chapter, "Stoicism: Setting the Norm," F. describes second-century Stoicism as "a sort of ethical koine" (p. 1) that set the standards for acceptable behavior and provided justification not only for traditional Roman mores, but for Roman rule. This represents a drastic change from the values of the Early Stoa: although Roman Stoicism preached "restraint and conformity," the original Stoa four centuries earlier was a center of "dissident asceticism and social radicalism" (p. 2). In F.'s outline of the Stoa's evolution, Panaetius (with help later on from Posidonius and then Epictetus) is largely responsible for this shift from radicalism to social respectability. (This fits well with the current majority view of Stoic history, but for the argument that Stoicism was fundamentally authoritarian even in the days of Zeno, see B. D. Shaw, "The Divine Economy: Stoicism as Ideology," Latomus 44 : 16-54.) Not all Stoics supported Roman authority in equal measure, but serious dissident behavior is to be found among the adherents of other schools, especially the Cynics. Roman imperial society was suspicious of both ascetics and philosophers, especially if their behavior involved "ostentatious asceticism and novelties of social and religious doctrine" (p. 10). Far more palatable to general taste was the more moderate askesis proposed by first- and second-century Stoics such as Musonius Rufus and Epictetus, who emphasized mental over physical asceticism. Stoic "asceticism," rather than setting the philosopher apart from society, required the practice of conventional "decorum and moderation" (p. 13). Thus Stoicism "set the norms and limits of acceptable ascetical practice in the second century," (p. 19) and elevated traditional Roman social obligations (whether to family or to state) to the status of ethical duty.
Ch. 2, "Marcus Aurelius: Rational Asceticism and Social Conservatism," offers a new interpretation of the asceticism of Aurelius and attempts to undermine the "'Golden Age' Tendenz" (p. 22) that has dominated biographies of Aurelius since Gibbon. Unlike the asceticism of the Christians, Cynics, and Pythagoreans (which stressed physical privations), the Stoic asceticism of Aurelius is almost exclusively cerebral. It also differs from non-Stoic ascetic practice in that it "conveys no extraordinary authority, moral or otherwise, on its practitioner" (p. 37). In F.'s interpretation, Aurelius' professed philosophical beliefs do not bring any Stoic humanitas (or any positive social impact whatsoever) to his legal acta. Instead, Aurelius promoted conformity and intolerance: "Stoicism had become the philosophical justification for Romanitas" (p. 52).
Ch. 3, "Lucian: Ascetics as Enemies of Culture," focuses primarily on Lucian's portrait of Peregrinus, who exploited asceticism as a means to establish the "personal credentials" (p. 80) of a holy man. Readers persuaded by F.'s unflattering portrait of Marcus Aurelius may be dismayed to find Lucian treated here as the emperor's close ally. In his effort to deny that Lucian was a subversive social satirist, F. seems to me to give inadequate attention to Lucian's essential quality, which R. B. Branham has described recently as: "a wry and nimble sense of humor that seems to resist seeing anything in precisely the accepted fashion" (Unruly Eloquence: Lucian and the Comedy of Traditions, Harvard University Press, 1989, p. 7). F.'s writing also seems especially unclear in this chapter. On p. 80, for example, F. suggests that Demonax and Nigrinus were radicals, an idea he denies on p. 75. It is also difficult to see how Alexander of Abonuteichos (discussed on pp. 69-73) fits into F.'s paradigm, since the pseudomantis has no ascetic qualities. Many of F.'s comments (such as the following) seem right on target, however: "Lucian had no tolerance for fools, particularly if they are organized" (p. 58). In Ch. 4, "Apollonius of Tyana: The Rehabilitated Ascetic," F. argues (persuasively, to my mind) that Philostratus' Vita Apollonii purges the biographical tradition of its less acceptable features and converts the radical Pythagorean ascetic into "a model of classical ideals and defender of the social order" (p. 83). Philostratus is especially zealous to disassociate Apollonius from magic or goeteia, and he removes from Apollonius' asceticism items such as the strident attitude toward wealth, and the refusal to bathe. The Vita Apollonii represents a departure from the outlook of Marcus Aurelius and Lucian, however, in that it expresses (qualified) admiration for rigorous physical askesis. In addition, the Vita also takes care to portray Apollonius not as a deviant, but as a "rare heroic individual" (p. 107). The result is a portrait of a "socially acceptable ascetic" that later helped pave the way for a more positive view of asceticism.