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Optatus of Milevis, c. 4th cent. CE  

M. J. Edwards

Catholic bishop from Africa, whose treatise Against the Donatists (or De Schismate Donatistarum, “On the Donatist schism”) provides our only surviving account of the origins of the Donatist controversy. Jerome (On Famous Men 90) speaks of a work in six books written in the reign of Valens (364–379ce), but the extant version runs to seven and alludes to the pontificate of Siricius, which commenced in 384 (Donatists 2.3). Since Optatus speaks elsewhere of the persecution that ended in 311 as having occurred sixty years ago (1.13) and implies that Photinus, who died in 376, is a contemporary (4.5), we may postulate a first edition in six books before 376, and a second in seven after 384. The work is also known as the Contra Parmenianum, since its principal interlocutor is the man of that name whom the Donatists regarded as bishop of Carthage.

The first book gives an account of the Numidian bishops’ revolt against Caecilian when he succeeded Mensurius as bishop of Carthage. The cause of this, according to Optatus, was the rumour that bishop Felix of Abthugni, who took part in the consecration of Caecilian, had handed over copies of the scriptures to be burnt in the Great Persecution. He adds (1.19) that the malice of a rich woman named Lucilla was a contributory factor. At 1.22 he reproduces a letter of remonstrance to Constantine, in which the signatories declare themselves to be of the party of Donatus; if genuine, this is evidence that the malcontents named themselves after the man whom they had nominated as bishop of Carthage. The acquittal of Felix by a Roman synod under Miltiades is recorded as the final ecclesiastical pronouncement (1.24); nothing is said of the subsequent Council of Arles in 314, and we are given to understand at 1.26 that Constantine doubted the validity of Caecilian’s election even after the Roman judgement (1.26). This passage, since it appeared to favour the Donatists, was strenuously debated at the Conference of Carthage in 411.


Athanasius, c. 295–373 CE  

John Norman Davidson Kelly and David M. Gwynn

Athanasius was one of the greatest fathers of the 4th-century Church. As a deacon he attended the council of *Nicaea (1) (325), and in 328 he was appointed bishop of *Alexandria (1). Athanasius faced immediate opposition from the Meletian Schism within Egypt, and particularly from those whom he regarded as supporters of *“Arianism”, the heresy condemned at Nicaea. These conflicts caused Athanasius to be exiled from his see on five separate occasions, but he never ceased to defend his conception of Christian orthodoxy, and became the foremost champion of the Nicene doctrine that Father and Son were consubstantial (homoousios). He also developed the doctrine of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, promoted the spread of monasticism, notably through his Life of Antony, and greatly enhanced the power and prestige of the Alexandrian see. Athanasius’ surviving writings include apologetic, dogmatic, and ascetic treatises, and a number of letters.



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.


athletics, late antiquity  

Sofie Remijsen

Whereas chariot races gained popularity in late antiquity, athletics declined. Traditional agones, such as the Olympics, disappeared in the course of the 4th and 5th centuries ce. The traditional explanation, that they were abolished by Theodosius I, is no longer widely accepted, as the imperial policy clearly remained positive towards games. Changes to the administration of the cities, which administered the funds of these games, must have had a stronger effect, as did the rise of new, and in particular Christian, values. The drive to compete in the individual competitions typical of Greek athletics can be linked to the ambition to excel that was typical of the earlier political culture, but which was increasingly perceived as a vain pursuit and replaced by an ideal of humility. Not all forms of athletics disappeared, however, as the spread of circus games created new opportunities for the demonstration of spectacular feats by athletes.


pagan, paganism  

Michele Renee Salzman

The Latin word paganus (pagan), which originally meant “a country district or community,” could take on a more general sense as “a place with fixed boundaries.” From this early meaning, paganus evolved to mean civilian as opposed to military. Its application by Christians to those who were not of their faith has been explained variously. Some scholars derive its Christian usage based on the association of pagans with the countryside, while others see Christians using the term for the civilians as opposed to “soldiers of Christ.” Only in the 4th century do the words pagan and paganism (paganismus) emerge with the general meaning of “non-Christian.” Some scholars dispute the pejorative nature of the term at this date, but non-Christians were increasingly attacked by hostile 4th-century Christian writers. Because of this enmity and due to the misleading denigration of non-Christians as pagans, some modern scholars have refused to use the term pagan or paganism in their works. Others, however, view its usage as justified, especially given the hostility of late Roman Christians to non-believers.



Peter Heather

Ulfila, “little wolf,” Gothic bishop (see goths), fl. c. 340–382 ce, was born in Gothia of the stock of Roman prisoners from Cappadocia. Famous for translating the Gothic Bible, of which the surviving Gospels closely reflect his work. Closely involved in Gotho-Roman diplomatic relations, he worked in Gothia for only seven years before being expelled (c. 348); his precise role in the formal conversion of the Goths as they crossed the Danube in 376 is unclear. He also played a major role in eastern Church affairs as a leader of the anti-Nicene coalition dominant in the mid-4th century.


Victorinus, Marius, c. 285–c. 365 CE  

Stephen A. Cooper

Marius Victorinus is one of the few direct links between the Platonist schools of late antiquity and Latin theology. A professor of rhetoric in mid-4th century Rome, Victorinus is perhaps the only Latin author whose writings, composed before and after his conversion to Christianity, survive. His school works of grammar and rhetoric were used for over a millennium, and he anticipated Boethius in integrating logic and dialectic into the rhetorical curriculum. He also translated the Neoplatonic works that deeply impacted Augustine. After conversion, Victorinus composed theological works of various genres: treatises and hymns in defense of the Nicene Creed and commentaries on the Pauline epistles, the first in Latin. The treatises reveal his chief contribution to the history of Christian thought: a philosophical interpretation of the trinity that drew deeply on late antique Platonist language and conceptuality to formulate a pro-Nicene theology. His commentaries on Paul employ the grammarian’s literal treatment of the text to identify the situational context of the epistles and the apostle’s rhetorical strategy. Victorinus was a pioneer of the synthesis of Christianity and Platonism in the Latin church, which reached its heights in late antiquity with Augustine and Boethius and flowered variously in the medieval Latin church.


Madaba Map  

Richard J. A. Talbert

This damaged, but still striking, floor-mosaic map offers a unique and invaluable example of late antique cartography, as well as the earliest surviving vision of the Holy Land. The map was discovered by accident around 1890, when the inhabitants of the recently repopulated village of Madaba in modern Jordan were erecting a new church (dedicated to Saint George) in the ruins of a former Byzantine one in the province of Arabia. By far the largest part of what survives of the map extends up to 10.5 × 5 metres (34 × 16 feet), although within this span several areas are missing. The survival of three other small segments reinforces the probability that the original map covered the full width of the nave(14 metres/46 feet). The orientation is east, so that the top of the map is closest to the apse and altar. The coverage visible comprises two large sections: (1) the Nile delta, part of Sinai, and the south coast of Palestine as far as Gaza; and (2) Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and several towns around it. There is no means to determine how much farther the original map extended in each direction, but in all likelihood it ranged considerably farther north at least. The Jordan and Nile rivers, the Dead Sea, and the city of Jerusalem in bird’s-eye view (Fig.


Donatus and Donatism  

David E. Wilhite

The Donatist party began around 312 ce when Mensurius, bishop of Carthage, died and was replaced by Caecilian. Caecilian’s accusers claimed that he had been ordained by a traditor, someone who had “handed over” the scriptures to Roman officials during the Diocletian persecution. This ordination by a traditor allegedly contaminated Caecilian and all who continued in his communion with the contagion of idolatry, and therefore his ordination was seen as invalidated. In his place the opposing party appointed Majorinus as the rightful bishop of Carthage, and when he died, he was succeeded by Donatus, for whom the party eventually was named. Caecilian and his supporters continued to claim his innocence from such contagion, and so the Donatists appealed to Constantine. A council was summoned to Rome which ruled on Caecilian’s behalf. The Donatists again appealed, and so a larger council met in Arles in 314 and ruled again for Caecilian. When the Donatists still refused to recognize Caecilian, and since they broke fellowship with all in communion with him, Constantine pressured the Donatists with legal and even violent means. This schism continued through the 4th century with sporadic violence between the parties: Caecilian’s party could invoke government officials to enforce their legitimacy, while the Donatists were accused of utilizing the Circumcellions, a group which functioned as a violent mob. In the late 4th century, writers such as Optatus of Milevis and Augustine articulated a defense of their own “Catholic” party through various pamphlets and treatises; they claimed that their party was never guilty of such contagion, and that the Donatists were so concerned with the purity of the church that they had forsaken its catholicity. In short, the Donatists allegedly believed that their party in North Africa was the only remaining true church. In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, the government, advised by Augustine’s party, developed stricter attempts to coerce the Donatists. In 411 a conference met in Carthage at which the Donatists were found to be “heretics,” which finalized the Roman policy against them by requiring the enforcement of heresy laws against this party. While there is ongoing evidence for Donatists long after Augustine’s time, when the Vandals invaded and conquered North Africa beginning in 429, the Donatist controversy largely disappeared in the surviving literary sources.



James I. Porter

Materialism, the belief that matter is a primary constituent of reality, is a constant feature of ancient Greek and Roman thought, and also one of its most contested and productive ideas: matter was a never-ending source of fascination and ambivalence in antiquity, while modernity inherited these same obsessions. Homer is an intuitive materialist. Later philosophers were divided over the definition and value of matter. Because a “pure” definition of matter proved so difficult to maintain in any coherent fashion, cross-overs between materialism and immaterialism, mostly unacknowledged, were the rule in antiquity. Immaterialism gradually gained the upper hand, thanks to the offices of Platonism, then of Christianity, and, from the advent of the secular age, of classicism. But not even immaterialism could rid itself of the lures of matter. Only now are the attractions and complexities of matter and materialism in ancient thought and experience being appreciated once again.The belief in matter as a constituent of experience and reality was strongly rooted in Greek and Roman thought, but it was also highly contested. Matter was explicitly named for the first time by the earliest Greek philosophers, the so-called .


Coptic language  

T. G. Wilfong

Coptic is the latest phase of the ancient Egyptian language, written in an alphabet partly derived from Greek and incorporating Greek vocabulary. Strongly associated with Christianity in Egypt, Coptic preserves a wide range of original and translated Christian literature as well as an important body of documentary texts of the later Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods.

Coptic is the latest phase of the ancient Egyptian language, notable for its use of a largely Greek-derived alphabet, its extensive incorporation of Greek vocabulary, and its strong association with Christianity in Egypt. Coptic texts include a wide range of documentary texts of the later Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods; an extensive and rich body of original and translated Christian literature (of particular importance for the early history of Christian monasticism); and unique witnesses to major Gnostic, Manichaean, and Hermetic texts. Coptic was ultimately supplanted by Arabic as the language of daily life in Egypt, but it continues in use to the present as a liturgical language within Christian communities in Egypt (and expatriate Coptic communities across the world).


demons in Christian thought  

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.


conversion, Jewish  

Matthew Thiessen

There is little evidence of conversion to Israelite religion or Judaism in Jewish scriptures. For instance, while later rabbis understood the book of Ruth to portray the conversion of Ruth to Judaism, the book itself repeatedly refers to her as a Moabite, even after she declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Similarly, the Hebrew text of Esther 8:17 portrays numerous Gentiles Judaizing: “Many peoples of the land Judaized because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” The Septuagint translation (LXX) adds that this “Judaization” included circumcision. While some scholars believe that this verse refers to conversion, the author claims that this action was taken only out of fear of the Jews. These Gentiles did not Judaize out of religious conviction; rather, they merely pretended to be Jews to avoid Jewish retaliation for the violent machinations of Haman.


anti-Semitism, pagan  

Catherine Hezser

Whether the modern term anti-Semitism, popularized by the German anti-Semitic agitator and founder of the League of Antisemites Wilhelm Marr (1819–1904), is appropriate for antiquity is controversial. Scholars have proposed to use alternative terms such as Judeophobia or hatred against Jews instead. Similarly controversial is the question whether racism existed and was directed against Jews in antiquity. Greek and Latin writers’ expression of anti-Jewish arguments and slanderous allegations against Jews need to be investigated within the respective social, political, and cultural contexts in which they occur. Several anti-Jewish writers lived in Egypt and created variant versions of a counter-narrative to the biblical exodus story. Egyptian “anti-Semitism” is usually explained by reference to relations between Jews and non-Jews in Alexandria and the Hellenistic and Roman rulers’ treatment of the different ethnic groups. Recurrent anti-Jewish arguments are directed against beliefs and practices associated with Jews, such as Jewish monotheism, Sabbath observance, circumcision, and abstinence from pork. Rather than being based on detailed knowledge of Judaism or close observance of Jewish practices, they reflect misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Some allegations were entirely fictional. Greek and Roman authors’ claims of their own culture’s superiority over Jews as an ethnic and religious minority flared up in times of rebellion and defeat. Conflicts and clashes also happened in Antioch, Caesarea, and Rome, where Jews were frequently expelled. Major Roman authors expressed hostile views of Jews and Judaism. Roman emperors’ policies shifted between submission and toleration. Not every form of conflict between Jews and others can be called anti-Semitism. When pagans became Christian, traditional pagan attitudes towards Jews merged with Christian anti-Judaism.


Bede (Beda Venerabilis), c. 673–735 CE  

Scott DeGregorio

Bede (Beda Venerabilis) was Anglo-Saxon England’s most prolific Latin writer, and indeed one of the most distinguished authors of the early Middle Ages. At the end of his most celebrated work, Historia ecclesiastical gentis Anglorum (HE), he provides a cursory autobiographical note which remains the starting point for what we know about his life and many writings.1 Born in the kingdom of Northumbria, at the age of seven he was given by his parents to the monastery at Wearmouth, founded in 674, to be reared and educated. When a sister monastery was founded in 681 some seven miles away at Jarrow, Bede was probably among the monks transferred to that new site, and there he remained until his death in 735, at the age of fifty-nine. Ordained deacon at the age of nineteen and priest at the age of thirty, he devoted the whole of his life to monastic observance and scriptural study, memorably stating that “amid the observance of the discipline of the Rule and the daily task of singing in the church, it has always been my delight to learn or to teach or to write.”2 The fruits of this labour are readily evidenced by the long list of his writings that concludes Bede’s note, with its some forty works in various genres—impressive in any era, to be sure, but not least in one popularly understood as “dark” in comparison to the luminous achievements of the classical past.


Aethicus Ister  

Paola Marone

Aethicus Ister is the unknown author of the Cosmographia, a fictional world travelogue that probably belongs to the 7th to 8th centuries. This work, written in an abstruse Latin, makes use of a whole range of antique (the Bible, the Isidore’s Etymologies, the Pseudo-Augustine’s De mirabilibus sacrae scripturae, etc.) and medieval texts (the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, the Liber historiae Francorum, some Latin translations of the Alexander Romance, etc.). It is one of the most difficult and puzzling early medieval texts, and it has been the object of intense study since its earliest editions. According to a recent theory espoused by Herren, it could have been written c. 675–725 by a Frank with connexions to Ireland and, possibly, England.Aethicus Ister (c. 7th–8th century ce), otherwise known as Aethicus of Istria or the philosopher of Istria, is the supposed author of the Cosmographia, a description of the world that claims to have been written originally in Greek and subsequently translated into Latin by an ecclesiastical called Jerome (not Saint .


God-fearers (theosebeis)  

Pieter W. van der Horst

In ancient literature (both Graeco-Roman and Jewish and Christian) as well as in epigraphic material (mainly Jewish), one finds references to persons or groups variously called theosebeis, sebomenoi, phoboumenoi (ton theon), metuentes (in Hebrew parlance yir’ei shamayim, “fearers of heaven [=God]”). Although in the past scholars sometimes assumed these terms to be just designations of pious persons in general,1 nowadays the prevalent opinion is that they often refer to a quite specific category: gentiles who sympathize with the Jewish religion.2 The evidence evinces the existence of non-Jewish groups or individuals on the fringes of local synagogues who were deeply interested in aspects of Judaism and observed ad libitum precepts of the Jewish law (Torah), for instance by keeping the Sabbath and attending synagogue services or adhering to some form of monotheism, without, however, formally converting to Judaism (in contrast to proselytes).In Greek and Latin literature of the imperial period, references to gentiles who were attracted to Judaism are rare. Juvenal the satirist ridicules gentiles who have themselves circumcised and revere the Law of Moses after their father had begun to observe the Sabbath (metuentem sabbata patrem) and to abstain from pork (Sat.


reception in historical novels  

Tom Stevenson

Reception in historical novels set in ancient Greece and Rome differs fundamentally between the 19th and the 20th/21st centuries. In the 19th century, reception was governed heavily by imperial attitudes and religious controversies, particularly in regard to claims about the true Christian faith under the Roman Empire. Hence, novels set in Rome or the Roman Empire dominated the field. In the 20th century, attitudes to empire and religion were drastically revised in the wake of World War I. The growing authority of academic history in an age of scientific progress was another factor which helped to produce a decline in the reputation of historical fiction. Other changes, however, were more stimulating in nature, including the use of ancient Greece as a setting, more impressive source analysis, the rise of female novelists, different subjects and perspectives, and new social and sexual attitudes. These and other developments lifted the reputation of historical fiction once more.


Benedictus Nursinus, c. 480–c. 550 CE  

Scott G. Bruce

Benedict of Nursia was an Italian abbot active in the hinterland of Rome at Subiaco and Monte Cassino in the early 6th century. He is best known as the author of a normative guide for monastic life, The Rule of Benedict (Regula Benedicti; hereafter RB), the only surviving work that bears his name. The earliest account of Benedict’s life and independent reference to the RB appeared in the second book of the Dialogues on the Miracles of the Italian Fathers by Gregory the Great (pope590–604ce). Composed at Rome in 593–594ce, the Dialogues were a popular compendium of hagiographical portraits of 6th-century Italian saints cast as a conversation between the pope and one of his disciples. Gregory’s endorsement of Benedict’s sanctity was instrumental in promoting the RB in the early Middle Ages. As a result, the authority of the RB as a guide to monastic life was unassailable from the time of the Carolingians to the end of the 12th century, so much so that historians have traditionally referred to this period (c.


Biblical Archaeology  

Aren Maeir

Biblical archaeology is defined as the study of the archaeological remains of the peoples, cultures, and periods in which the biblical texts were formed. While in the past biblical archaeology was often seen as an ideologically motivated field of inquiry, currently, a balanced and scientifically advanced approach is common among most practitioners. The large body of research in this field, continuing to the present, provides a broad range of finds, insights, and understanding of the relevant cultures, peoples and periods in which the biblical texts were formed.Biblical archaeology may be defined as the study of the archaeological remains of the regions, cultures, and periods, in which the biblical texts were formed. Modern biblical archaeology does not attempt to prove or disprove the Bible. Rather, archaeological study of the cultures in which the Bible was formed, or which are included in the Bible narratives, can provide a better understanding of the material and intellectual context of the biblical texts. The primary aim, however, is to study the archaeology of these regions, periods, and cultures associated with the Bible, the biblical interface being secondary. Biblical archaeology focuses primary attention on the regions and cultures of the Southern Levant, specifically the region of modern-day Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and southern Syria. Nearby regions such as Egypt, northern Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Cyprus, and the Aegean are within its scope of interest. The main chronological focus of biblical archaeology are the periods in which the actual biblical texts were formed and written down—the Iron Age, Persian period, and Hellenistic period for the Hebrew Bible, about .