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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

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

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.

Article

Columbanus is important for two reasons: he was the earliest Irish scholar to have composed a significant corpus of writings in Latin, and he founded an austere but influential form of monasticism which flourished in France and Italy from the 7th century onwards. He was born in Leinster about 550 ce; his Irish name was Columba (perhaps a diminutive of Irish Colmán, perhaps a baptismal name influenced by Latin columba “dove,” which was subsequently Latinized as Columba-nus). (Scholars often refer to him as “Columba the Younger,” in order to distinguish him from the well-known abbot of Iona.) His earliest studies took place at Clain Inis (Cleenish, county Fermanagh) under one Sinell, but he subsequently became a monk at Bennchor (Bangor, county Down) under Abbot Comgall. The only written testimony to his years at Bangor is a Latin hymn for Eastertide in rhythmic verse (beginning “Precamur patrum”), which is preserved, anonymously, in the famous “Antiphonary of Bangor,” written around 700 and now preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan (MS. C 5 inf.). With the permission of Abbot Comgall, Columbanus left Bangor in 590 or 591, accompanied by twelve monks (a number symbolic of the twelve disciples of Christ), on a “pilgrimage for the love of God,” the aim of which was to convert pagan peoples to Christianity. His journey took him first to Brittany, then subsequently to Burgundy, where, apparently through the patronage of King Guntram (d. 592), he was granted the site of a hermitage in the wilderness at Annegray (département Haute-Saône), probably in 592; a year or so later, through the patronage of Guntram’s son Childebert II (d. 596), he was given a site for a monastery in the Roman ruins at Luxeuil (Luxovium), where he became the abbot of an ever-growing community of monks, both Irish and Frankish. While at Luxeuil, Columbanus enjoyed the patronage and protection of Childebert’s son Theuderic II (596–612); however, he lost this support when he chastised Theuderic for consorting with concubines, and, without royal support, the Burgundian bishops and nobles, who were unhappy with his (royally protected) independence from their jurisdiction, were able to secure his arrest and expulsion from Burgundy in 610. After proceeding to Auxerre and Nevers, Columbanus took a boat down the Loire to Nantes. When he failed to find a boat to take him to Ireland, he refocussed his attempts to find a permanent home for his monks, looking first in the region of Lake Constance, then ultimately in the Lombard kingdom of northern Italy, where at Milan in 612 he secured the patronage of the Lombard king Agilulf, from whom he obtained possession of a ruined church at Bobbio. After rebuilding the church there, he re-established his monastic community and ended his days, dying there on 23 November 615.

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

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.

Article

Meropius Pontius Paulinus was a Gallo-Roman aristocrat whose social network, wealth, and education led him to the prestigious governorship of the Italian province of Campania. After returning to Gaul in the mid-380s, however, Paulinus abandoned his secular career and life-style, withdrawing in 395 to live as a monachus at the memorial shrine of the confessor Felix, just outside the Campanian town of Nola. From there he nurtured epistolary friendships with such leading literary and ecclesiastical figures of his day as Augustine, Jerome, and Sulpicius Severus, and managed the burgeoning cult of St. Felix. Paulinus’ surviving letters and poems, many devoted to the feast day of Felix, reveal his attitudes and values, illuminate his social and spiritual relationships, preserve vivid traces of the literary and aesthetic evolution of Latin literature under the influence of Christian ideas, and document the emergence of the late antique cult of the saints. All of this makes Paulinus a remarkable representative of many of the forces reshaping Roman society and religion in the later Empire.