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In God’s Army? Socialhistorical Aspects of Early Egyptian Monasticism

Christian Barthel

Goethe Universtät Frankfurt am Main

The Origins of Christian Monasticism are embedded in Christian Asceticism“. With this statement Karl Suso Frank opened up his study of the history of Christian monasticism (6th edition, 2010). According to his view monasticism developed gradually out of a movement of hermits or anchorites into coenobitic communities. This progression was enhanced through a strong religious motivation of self-fulfillment, which was often accompanied by a form of escapism. Viewing such movements exclusively through the lens of its spiritual aspirations still remains a popular mode of inquiry among religious scholars and historians alike (Farag 2013; Sheridan 2012).

In contrast to this asceticism-paradigm I will draw on a sociohistorical theory, developed by the German medievalist Otto Gerhard Oexle, in order to discover alternative role models and lines of development of this innovative vision of community (Oexle 2011). For that purpose the focus of my presentation will be on one of the first coenobitic congregations, founded by the Egyptian monk Pachomius (Rousseau 1985; Wipszycka 2009).

Pachomius’ normative strife was not only of great importance for the evolution of Coptic literature, but through Jerome’s Latin translation also for the dissemination and reception of monastic communities and attitudes in the western Mediterranean.

Through the analysis of Pachomius’ conversion, reported in his vita, and the specific legal terminology employed in several regulations of the monastic rules, I will argue that the impact of the Roman state institutions, especially the military, on the birth of monasticism has so far been neglected and could help to deepen our understanding of this religious movement.

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Ritual and Religious Belief

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