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Inventing Monasticism

Columba Stewart, Saint John’s University, Fellow 2009–2010

I spent the fall term surveying the several geographical regions covered by my project on monastic culture, reading widely to build out my conceptual framework. I found myself dissatisfied with the current state of scholarship on the emergence of what we commonly think of as monasticism from the ascetic currents of early Christianity. The conditions and dynamics of this emergence are crucial for my interest in the development of the elements of monastic culture. I have therefore spent most of my time since January focused on observable moments in the emergence of the new monastic paradigm. A particularly observable moment occurs during the tenure of Rabbula, bishop of Edessa in northern Mesopotamia from 412–436. In this time and place the old and new forms of asceticism coexisted, with the traditional form in the towns and the new monastic version up there in the hills or out there in less inhabited regions. Very soon the new model would dominate, and then replace, the older form, a process evident in the manuscript tradition of Rabbula’s regulations, to which I have paid particular attention. As I head to the Middle East for the remainder of my sabbatical year and settle in Jerusalem for several weeks, I will place Rabbula into a diptych with Theodoret of Cyrrhus, who in his much more famous Philotheos Historia surveys an adjoining region but sees and highlights different things. I hope to expand these observable moments into something like a new history of the origins of monasticism.