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Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, was deposed and sent into exile in Egypt for opposing the Christological views of Cyril of Alexandria. The theological and ecclesiastical controversy was set in motion soon after Nestorius began to serve as bishop of Constantinople. Interested in eliminating heresy, he proposed to align himself with the emperor Theodosius II. Soon thereafter, Nestorius learned that debates were taking place concerning the appropriate title of devotion for the Virgin Mary. In the use of the title Theotokos that some had proposed, he sensed a deeper Christological question, namely, “Was Mary the bearer of the Godhead”? He reasoned that if Mary was indeed the Theotokos, as some suggested, then God, or rather the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, was born from her. For Nestorius, however, while Mary was the mother of Jesus, she was not the mother of the Logos, and for that reason could not be called Theotokos.

Article

Lucy Grig

The Kalends of January was a festival that involved both official and private celebrations and rituals; its durability as a new year festival into Late Antiquity and beyond is striking.

January 1 was the beginning of the consular year (from the mid-2nd century onwards, codified in the reform of the calendar under Julius Caesar),1 and marked by the public consultation of the auguries and the procession of the new consuls to the Capitol for the customary vows and sacrifices.2 During the imperial period vows of loyalty to the emperor were made by the senate,3 the army,4 and provincials on this date.5 As part of the extension of the period of Kalends celebration, the making of yearly vota publica, originally on January 1, became fixed on January 3.6 Strenae (“good luck presents”) were given both to and by the emperor, as well as being shared by individuals more broadly.

Article

Geoffrey Greatrex

Not much can be said of the shadowy Syriac compiler who expanded Zachariah’s Ecclesiastical History around the year 569ce. There is even some dispute as to whether his compilation should be termed a chronicle or an Ecclesiastical History; it is perhaps best to refer to it simply as a “Miscellaneous History,” as Witold Witakowski has proposed.1 The author was probably a monk based at Amida, a city that features extensively in Books vii—xii, and able to draw on both written and oral sources for his work; at xii.7l, for instance, he cites John of Resaina for his account of the Huns, while at vii.5b he implies familiarity with a certain Gadana at Amida. In the latter case, given that the siege described took place in 502–503ce, he may be drawing on an earlier source. He claims familiarity also with “a certain Dominic,” a refugee from Italy in Constantinople before Justinian’s reconquest (ix.18a). He had access to dossiers of correspondence, some of which may have been held in the library of Mara, bishop of Amid (viii.5b), and to some conciliar records (ii.3). It has recently been suggested that Pseudo-Zachariah may have been an archiatros or official doctor, perhaps before becoming a monk; there are, at any rate, several references to such officials in the work, for example, at ix.

Article

Dina Boero and Charles Kuper

Symeon the Stylite the Younger (521–592 ce), a pillar-saint or “stylite,” practised his mode of Christian asceticism for more than sixty years on a mountain southwest of Antioch. Symeon’s lifetime, spanning most of the 6th century, coincides with a drastic time of transition in the history of Antioch, which began with the devastating earthquake of 526 ce and includes events such as the sack of Antioch in 540 ce and the Plague of Justinian in the following years. Symeon also happens to be one of the best-documented holy men from this period. The remains of his monastery have been preserved and studied extensively. A number of pilgrimage objects, most notably clay tokens, have also received much scholarly attention. The extant literary evidence is also vast, though understudied in comparison. It includes homilies, letters, and short hymns penned by the saint himself, as well as two hagiographies composed by members of his monastic community shortly after his death. Symeon, therefore, is a critical figure for understanding many issues relevant to the study of the Eastern Roman Empire during this period: political, social, and theological history; the development of cult sites and pilgrimage; the literary self-representation of a stylite and his community; and the construction of monumental architecture and water management in remote locations in Syria, among many others.

Article

Zachariah rhetor or scholasticus, following an education at Gaza and Alexandria, trained as a lawyer in Beirut (Berytus). A close friend of the future patriarch Severus of Antioch, he wrote a detailed biography of his life until his nomination as patriarch in 512; he also composed biographies of three other anti-Chalcedonian holy men and an Ecclesiastical History. The one biography that survives and the latter work exist only in a Syriac translation because of their anti-Chalcedonian line. Zachariah spent much of his life in Constantinople practising as a lawyer, where he composed two works refuting Manichaeanism and a philosophical dialogue, set in Alexandria, rebutting pagan views. He appears to have accepted the pro-Chalcedonian policies of Justin I and Justinian, becoming metropolitan bishop of Mytilene at some point before 536, the year in which he attended the Council of Constantinople. At this gathering he was absent for the session that condemned Severus and other leading opponents of Chalcedon.

Article

Gregory D. Wiebe

The background of early Christian demonology was in both Hebrew and Greek culture. Jews associated the Greek word daimōn with the false gods of the surrounding nations. This was in many ways an intuitive application of the Greek term. It carried the sense of ambivalent divine or semi-divine power, which significant philosophical traditions understood to mediate between humans and gods. The New Testament carries this theme, though its focus is more on Christ’s exorcisms of demons, and his gift of that power to his disciples, with the early church tying the two together in the theological literature, as well as baptismal exorcisms and renunciations of the devil and idolatry.Demons were widely thought to have aerial bodies, which allowed them to perform various marvels, like foretelling the future. They were ultimately taken to be fallen angels with Satan as their leader, though this was not a given early in the tradition. While the Christian understanding was that Christ had defeated them on the cross, this was not taken to preclude the ongoing influence of demons in human affairs prior to the final judgement. Indeed, they constituted a significant moral problem for the Christian life, which absolutely opposed them. For Christians, Christ and the demons were the two sides of the fundamental dilemma of every human soul. The problem of demons manifested differently depending on the context, whether in its encounter with false religion, from idolatry to the persecutions the gods inspired; or in the innumerable tempting thoughts encountered in the pursuit of ascetic discipline.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

Didymus the Blind (c. 313—c. 398) was a textual scholar and ascetic practitioner. He is not associated with any of the major ascetic settlements around Alexandria and appears to have spent his entire life in or near the city. He is most known for his treatises On the Holy Spirit and On the Trinity (although the authorship of the latter is disputed) and for his biblical commentaries.Although the Council of Nicaea in 325 took place when Didymus was still a schoolboy, controversy and competition by the parties involved continued through Didymus’ lifetime. Didymus himself supported the decision of the Council, which the Alexandrian bishop, Athanasius, had promoted. After Didymus’ death, however, he was no longer associated with the orthodoxy of the day and, because of his reception of Origen of Alexandria, was condemned, along with Origen and Evagrius Ponticus, in connection with the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

The literary tradition portrays Arsenius as a particularly stringent and austere man who was formed as a monk at Sketis, near Alexandria. It is probable that his reputation in his own day was much greater than the scope allowed him in the modern reception of the desert tradition, which tends to focus on other figures like Antony the Great. While we cannot independently verify his date of birth or death or his precise movements and deeds during his life, the traditional story of Arsenius remains important as a depository of key elements from the ascetic tradition, such as the relationships between different ethnic and social groups within ascetic communities, the abba and disciple system of ascetic formation, and teachings on compunction, pure prayer, and extreme austerities.Arsenius is believed to have been born to an aristocratic family in Rome around the year 354 and to have committed himself to an ascetic life as a young man. He moved to Constantinople in 383 and is said to have tutored the Emperor Theodosius’ sons (Arcadius and Honorius) while there.

Article

Blossom Stefaniw

A deacon, ascetic teacher, and prolific writer, Evagrius Ponticus lived from c. 345 to 399ce. Within some strands of late ancient Christianity, his teachings were no longer considered orthodox later in his life or after his death, although the Armenian and Syrian churches continued to cherish his writings. As a young man, Evagrius contributed to the doctrinal campaign of Gregory Nazianzus at the 1st Council of Constantinople in 381, a position which prevailed as orthodox at that time. Around 382, Evagrius left the capital and joined a monastic community in Jerusalem led by Rufinus of Aquileia and Melania the Elder, who were learned ascetics. In 383, while still in Jerusalem, Evagrius committed himself to asceticism and eventually travelled to Egypt. Until his death in 399, Evagrius studied and taught and wrote on the ascetic life, developing a meticulous taxonomy of evil thoughts, their origins, and the physical experiences associated with them. He arranged his works in an ascetic curriculum for the training of monks, monitored and counseled more junior monks in their practice, and provided handbooks on the ascetic practices or biblical texts which were best suited to neutralize specific evil thoughts.

Article

Richard Flower

The concept of orthodoxy denotes a central set of doctrines, often specified by a recognised authoritative body or set of individuals, to which any person must subscribe in order to be accepted by others as a fellow member of a religious community. Despite some possible precedents among ancient philosophers, the concept of orthodoxy developed in a distinct manner within Christianity in tandem with the notion of heresy, especially from the 2nd century onward. This involved defining an identity around certain core beliefs, alongside particular practices, apostolic traditions, and canonical texts, thereby gradually restricting the boundaries of theological speculation and acceptable difference of opinion. This was partly in response to disagreements with people who regarded themselves, or were most regarded by others, as forming part of the religious community, but also partly in response to criticisms from non-Christians. These arguments were, therefore, focused on the establishment of identity for a group through the establishment of boundaries, particularly in a context of a diversity of scattered Christian communities in which there was no recognised central authority to which adherents could appeal. Some of these earliest disputes were centred on the status of the Creator God and other cosmological issues, but also included Christological disagreements concerning Jesus Christ himself, which would go on to be the most prominent sources of controversy in the attempts to define orthodoxy during late antiquity.