Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

August Books 21) Early Christian Lives, ed. Carolinne White

Six biographies of important figures in early monatsticism - Athanasius' life of Anthony, three short biographies by Jerome, Sulpicius Severus' life of Martin of Tours and Gregory the Great's life of Benedict. They all live holy lives and perform many miracles (often involving expelling demons from the possessed). Arians and other heretics are at least as bothersome as the pagan authorities (and more so after the early fourth century). Devils take on physical form and wrestle with our heroes. I had come across some of this material in Gibbon (who hates monks and all they stand for) but it was interesting to see it in its own context.

I do find it striking that the Christian tradition links spiritual excellence so closely with self-denial. I know that this is the case for some others as well - the heroes of the Ramayana are forever performing feats of asceticism - but now that I have read Rumi, it is pretty clear to me that this is a policy choice rather than a necessity for spirituality. Christianity missed out by not balancing the ascetic school with institutionalised pleasure.
Tags: bookblog 2011, religion

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