Literacy, Orality, and the Brokerage of Power and Authority in Late Antique Egyptian Christianity

Antonova, Stamenka E.

The question of literary genre is closely connected with the line of development of Christianity in general, and of the Egyptian desert movement of the late antique period in particular. From different Christian practices and experimentations with asceticism in the third and fourth centuries of the common era emerge differing forms of expression and articulation. In Egypt, for instance, there evolve at least three distinct genres that take different forms and yet are spurred by the very same phenomenon of the practice of askesis and/or the encounter with men and women who endeavor to coin and to improve on such ascetic practices. One literary genre is the emerging elaboration of rules and manuals regulating and governing the daily monastic activities; this genre, albeit a later development in the Egyptian desert tradition, comes to be very influential with the passage of time, particularly in the western and the eastern churches. In this vein is the activity of Basil of Caesarea, when he attempts to write the Shorter and the Longer Rules, and of many others. The production of rules is furthermore strictly associated with the construction of one particular – perhaps totalitarian in its character – model of ascetic life, namely cenobism. This is the kind of genre which will not be treated here but it will remain in the background as a reminder of other possible developments articulating divergent forms of not only literature, but also of actual ascetic practices.

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Also Published In

Power and Authority in the Eastern Christian Experience: Papers of the Sophia Institute Academic Conference, New York, December 2010
Theotokos Press

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Academic Units
Sophia Institute
Sophia Institute Studies in Orthodox Theology, 3
Published Here
February 7, 2013