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Sketching the Invisible : Patterns of Church and City in Theodoret of Cyrrhus' Philotheos Historia

Westergren, Andreas LU (2012)
Abstract (Swedish)
Popular Abstract in Swedish

Livet uppe på en pelare



År 423 e.Kr. klättrade en man som närmade sig fyrtioårsåldern upp på en pelare, för att leva resten av sitt liv på dess topp; det skulle bli nästan fyrtio år till på knappt tjugo meters höjd. Han hette Symeon och skulle redan i sin samtid bli världsberömd för sin märkliga livsstil, som den första styliten, eller pelarhelgonet. I dagens krigsdrabbade Syrien finns fortfarande de arkeologiska lämningarna av hans pelare, och de vittnar om att berättelserna om honom trots allt vilar på en solid historisk grund. Varför Symeon gjorde detta är förstås svårt att svara på, men det finns bevarade skrifter från hans samtid som arbetade intensivt med att försöka... (More)
Popular Abstract in Swedish

Livet uppe på en pelare



År 423 e.Kr. klättrade en man som närmade sig fyrtioårsåldern upp på en pelare, för att leva resten av sitt liv på dess topp; det skulle bli nästan fyrtio år till på knappt tjugo meters höjd. Han hette Symeon och skulle redan i sin samtid bli världsberömd för sin märkliga livsstil, som den första styliten, eller pelarhelgonet. I dagens krigsdrabbade Syrien finns fortfarande de arkeologiska lämningarna av hans pelare, och de vittnar om att berättelserna om honom trots allt vilar på en solid historisk grund. Varför Symeon gjorde detta är förstås svårt att svara på, men det finns bevarade skrifter från hans samtid som arbetade intensivt med att försöka förstå sig på honom. I mitt avhandlingsarbete har jag arbetat med en sådan källa, skriven på grekiska av en dåtida biskop, Theodoretos. I denna textsamling beskrivs en mängd märkliga livsöden, där Symeons bara är det mest kända.



Symeon var ju inte det enda exemplet på en asket som drog sig undan världen de första århundradena. Det var ju i denna tid som grunden blev lagd för en av västerlandets viktigaste kulturinstitutioner: klosterväsendet. Berättelsen om Symeon verkar dock peka i motsatt riktning, mot något radikalt annorlunda som var främmande för både värld och kultur. I hög grad verkar hans liv bekräfta föreställningen om det antika samhällets nedgång och fall i kristendomens efterföljd. Just därför är det intressant att se hur redan de texter, som jag har studerat, verkar vända sig mot en sådan tolkning. Jag har undersökt hur Theodoretos – mot en grupp anonyma kritiker – artikulerar välkända samhällsideal när han tecknar Symeon i ljuset av de gamla hjältemyterna. Liksom gudar och hjältar erbjöd en kulturell identitet och stolthet, blir Symeon en liknande kristen status- och identitetssymbol i Theodoretos beskrivning. Det är inte meningen att man ska härma Symeon, så mycket som att låta sig fascineras och förundras av honom: han framställs som ett av världens nya underverk!



Varför ska man studera sådana här berättelser? En anledning gäller förstås deras plats i vår förståelse av den framväxande klosterrörelsen i senantiken, som felaktigt har tolkats som en världsfrånvänd rörelse utan nära kopplingar till det omgivande samhället. En annan anledning berör den roll som stora berättelser kan spela som gemensam referens i ett mångsidigt och pluralistiskt samhälle – och man får då inte glömma att Symeon fortfarande ses som ett helgon i flera traditioner. Till sist kanske man kan säga att studiet av en så främmande gestalt som Symeon kan bidra till att, med historien som verktyg, öva upp vår känslighet för att lära känna den som är verkligt annorlunda. (Less)
Abstract
The fundamental question in this work concerns the ideal relation between asceticism and society in a 5th c. writing (C.E.), the Philotheos Historia (PH), written in elaborate Greek by the learned bishop of Cyrrhus, Theodoret. This collection of saints’ stories tells about the lives of a number of ascetics who lived in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, many of them close to Antioch. As these narratives are analysed in this study, the story about the individual saint evokes philosophical and theological ideas and ideals of community. Generally, these stories are taken to represent both Hellenic and Christian points of view in a way that would make particular sense to a civic, educated audience. The depiction of the ascetic as a... (More)
The fundamental question in this work concerns the ideal relation between asceticism and society in a 5th c. writing (C.E.), the Philotheos Historia (PH), written in elaborate Greek by the learned bishop of Cyrrhus, Theodoret. This collection of saints’ stories tells about the lives of a number of ascetics who lived in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, many of them close to Antioch. As these narratives are analysed in this study, the story about the individual saint evokes philosophical and theological ideas and ideals of community. Generally, these stories are taken to represent both Hellenic and Christian points of view in a way that would make particular sense to a civic, educated audience. The depiction of the ascetic as a philosopher plays a crucial role in this interpretation.



After an introductory survey of recent research on the PH and statements of purpose (Pt. 1), the relation between ascetic and society is approached from two angles: from the characters in Theodoret’s biographies (Pt. 2), and from the spatial environments depicted in the same narratives (Pt. 3). The starting point for all these chapters is a narrative analysis of a single life-story in the PH, which is then followed by a larger discussion on topics that are raised in the preceding analysis and that are related to the purpose. The characters that are studied first (ch. 2.2–2.5) include an eremite (James of Nisibis), an abbot (Eusebius of Teleda), an ideal believer with ascetic pretensions (Theodoret’s own mother), and a monk-bishop (Abraham of Carrhae). In each of these chapters a discourse that would make sense in a Late Antique setting is identified. A first discourse is called “sacralization”, designating a way of situating a character in a specific, sacred tradition, which in this case is the ecclesia ab Abel. Then is examined how the ascetic, and the Syrian monasteries, are situated in a discourse of “civilization”. Thirdly, a discourse of “christianization” is traced, in which an individual member of the elite is displayed in a privileged Christian setting. Finally, the way the church, led by the bishop, brings forth the secret of the saints for the benefit of society is termed a discourse of “ecclesiastization”. These discourses, and the mediating role of the church, are topics also in the following chapters (3.2–3.4), in which the presentation of different environments is examined, the cells of the ascetics, the city, and the space in-between. Here is displayed how these spaces are deeply interrelated, and how they were part of a contemporary debate about the sanctity of space.



In the Conclusion (Pt. 4), a narrative analysis of the most well-known saint of the PH, Symeon the Stylite is pursued, and related to the previous discussions and discourses. A final word is said about how the ascetic, in the narrative framework of the PH, often resembles a passive object, like a relic or a holy image, and becomes a powerful symbol both of the church and of the city. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
supervisor
opponent
  • Professor Rapp, Claudia, Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, Universität Wien
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Late Antiquity, biography, hagiography, panegyric, asceticism, monasticism, Syria, Antioch, Symeon the Stylite, pilgrimage, relics, cult of the saints, civic ideals, invention of tradition, the role of the bishop, ecclesiology, sacralization, christianization, philosophy, Neoplatonism, Libanius, Dionysius Areopagita
pages
342 pages
publisher
Lunds universitet
defense location
Sal 118, Centrum för teologi och religionsvetenskap, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund
defense date
2012-10-12 13:15
ISBN
978-91-7473-382-2
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
3496eacb-10e3-4b28-acdb-ccbf0c854317 (old id 3051489)
date added to LUP
2012-09-14 11:12:38
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:03
@misc{3496eacb-10e3-4b28-acdb-ccbf0c854317,
  abstract     = {The fundamental question in this work concerns the ideal relation between asceticism and society in a 5th c. writing (C.E.), the Philotheos Historia (PH), written in elaborate Greek by the learned bishop of Cyrrhus, Theodoret. This collection of saints’ stories tells about the lives of a number of ascetics who lived in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, many of them close to Antioch. As these narratives are analysed in this study, the story about the individual saint evokes philosophical and theological ideas and ideals of community. Generally, these stories are taken to represent both Hellenic and Christian points of view in a way that would make particular sense to a civic, educated audience. The depiction of the ascetic as a philosopher plays a crucial role in this interpretation. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
After an introductory survey of recent research on the PH and statements of purpose (Pt. 1), the relation between ascetic and society is approached from two angles: from the characters in Theodoret’s biographies (Pt. 2), and from the spatial environments depicted in the same narratives (Pt. 3). The starting point for all these chapters is a narrative analysis of a single life-story in the PH, which is then followed by a larger discussion on topics that are raised in the preceding analysis and that are related to the purpose. The characters that are studied first (ch. 2.2–2.5) include an eremite (James of Nisibis), an abbot (Eusebius of Teleda), an ideal believer with ascetic pretensions (Theodoret’s own mother), and a monk-bishop (Abraham of Carrhae). In each of these chapters a discourse that would make sense in a Late Antique setting is identified. A first discourse is called “sacralization”, designating a way of situating a character in a specific, sacred tradition, which in this case is the ecclesia ab Abel. Then is examined how the ascetic, and the Syrian monasteries, are situated in a discourse of “civilization”. Thirdly, a discourse of “christianization” is traced, in which an individual member of the elite is displayed in a privileged Christian setting. Finally, the way the church, led by the bishop, brings forth the secret of the saints for the benefit of society is termed a discourse of “ecclesiastization”. These discourses, and the mediating role of the church, are topics also in the following chapters (3.2–3.4), in which the presentation of different environments is examined, the cells of the ascetics, the city, and the space in-between. Here is displayed how these spaces are deeply interrelated, and how they were part of a contemporary debate about the sanctity of space. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
In the Conclusion (Pt. 4), a narrative analysis of the most well-known saint of the PH, Symeon the Stylite is pursued, and related to the previous discussions and discourses. A final word is said about how the ascetic, in the narrative framework of the PH, often resembles a passive object, like a relic or a holy image, and becomes a powerful symbol both of the church and of the city.},
  author       = {Westergren, Andreas},
  isbn         = {978-91-7473-382-2},
  keyword      = {Late Antiquity,biography,hagiography,panegyric,asceticism,monasticism,Syria,Antioch,Symeon the Stylite,pilgrimage,relics,cult of the saints,civic ideals,invention of tradition,the role of the bishop,ecclesiology,sacralization,christianization,philosophy,Neoplatonism,Libanius,Dionysius Areopagita},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {342},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0x94f15f8)},
  title        = {Sketching the Invisible : Patterns of Church and City in Theodoret of Cyrrhus' Philotheos Historia},
  year         = {2012},
}