John S. Ott
Portland State University
HST 354U - Early Medieval Europe, 300-1100
Life St. Antony;
Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin;
Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of St.
Athanasios of Alexandria, Life of St. Antony (composed
ca. 356-373 C.E.)
The Life of St. Antony, written originally in Greek and most
likely by the
bishop Athanasios of Alexandria (r. 328-373 C.E.), details the lifetime
of the greatest of
the early Christian ascetics to flee to the deserts of Egypt.
Antony, born in 251, died in 354 C.E. after an extraordinary lifetime
of some 105
wrote this biography shortly after Antony's death, between 356-373
C.E, at the request of some of Antony's fellow ascetics. The
success of the biography
(or, more accurately, hagiography)
was rapid. It was diffused across the eastern and western
Mediterranean worlds, and soon translated from Greek into Latin by
Evagrius of Antioch, a prominent churchman of the fourth century who,
like Athanasios, enjoyed close contacts with the leading intellectuals
and writers of his age. The Life
of St. Antony's
popularity endured in the Middle Ages and beyond.
As for Athanasios himself, his career was checkered and dominated in
many respects by his conflicts with Arian Christians, who enjoyed a
powerful following in Alexandria and elsewhere (the intellectual
founder of this Christian sect, Arius himself, was from
Alexandria). Athanasios was present at the 325 Council of Nicaea,
staked his beliefs to the creed of the "orthodox" Christian
party. Elected bishop of Alexandria in 328, he set himself
against the Arians and other Christian sects, but ran into political
opposition which led to his exile to Trier by Emperor Constantine
I. Although allowed to return briefly to his diocese after
Constantine's death in 337, Athanasius's expulsion was confirmed by
Constantius II, who ruled the eastern portion of the Empire from
Constantinople after his father's death. Constantius II was an
Arian; Athanasius therefore bided his time in Rome under the auspices
of Constantius's brother, Constans. Constantius's death in 361
permitted Athanasius' return to Alexandria, but he retreated to the
deserts of Upper Egypt during Julian's brief reign (361-63) and again
during the rule of Emperor Valens, also an Arian. During his long
exiles, however, he wrote numerous treatises and letters against the
Arians and Arian beliefs. Athanasius would be recognized as a
saint by the Latin and Greek churches on his death.
(1) What kinds of images and metaphors does Athanasius
use to describe Antony's experiences of religious conversion
and meditation? How do these images depict the process of ascetic
Sulpicius Severus, Life of St.
Martin of Tours
(composed ca. 396)
(2) What is Antony's attitude toward wealth and worldly
honor/power? How does Athanasios demonstrate it in the text, and
why do you think this theme would have been of concern to him?
(3) What kind of person do you think the text's author, Athanasios,
was? For whom and for what purpose(s) do you think the Life
of St. Antony
was written? How can you tell?
(4) What are the limitations and strengths of
as a historical source?
The second hagiographical work we are reading, the Life
of St. Martin of Tours, was composed in Latin by a Gallo-Roman
aristocrat and lawyer named Sulpicius Severus (lived ca. 363-425) about
396 C.E., shortly before Martin died in 397--which accounts for its
lack of a description of Martin's death. Sulpicius personally
visited Martin in 394 or 395, and their conversations convinced
Sulpicius to leave his secular career to pursue a semi-hermitic life on
one of his remaining estates. The Life's popularity was immense, and
like the Life of St. Antony,
it, too, became a model for later biographies of saints.
Martin of Tours was one of the most popular saints in western
particularly in the Roman provinces of Gallia (the region comprising
France) but also in Spain, Italy, and elsewhere, and the work was read
in the eastern Mediterranean as well.
(1) What kind of model of sanctity does
the Life of Saint
Martin depict? How does the fact that Martin was a Roman
soldier complicate his conversion and his professional life?
(2) What sort of bishop was Martin? What is the estimation of
about the contemporary priesthood and its bishops? What do the
portrayals reveal about the contemporary spiritual preoccupations of
Christian clergy? How do secular authorities (e.g., the emperor)
out looking in the text?
(3) What can the Life of St. Martin tell us about contemporary
towards religious conversion? Does the process of conversion
in the text resemble modern conceptions of the process? If so,
(4) What are the particular limitations and strengths of hagiography as
Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-ca.
of St. Benedict (composed ca.
526-530; there is considerable debate about both the dates of
Benedict's life and the date of his rule)
The Rule of St. Benedict
more simply, the Benedictine Rule, was one of many guides to living in
a monastic community that were composed and circulated in the
Mediterranean World between the fourth and sixth centuries. Since
the popular examples of Antony and Martin, communal retreat and living
for both men and women had gained in popularity. Benedict's rule
gained the stamp of approval from no less a figure than Pope Gregory I
(ruled 590-604), who wrote a biography of Benedict that is one of the
few sources of information we have concerning him. Benedict
devised the rule for the communities of monks he oversaw, most notably
at his foundation of Monte Cassino, south of Rome. The rule
centers on the opus dei
"work of God," which consisted of daily prayer and chant done at eight
offices conducted around the clock, 354 days a year.
In Benedict's day, his rule was by no means the only or most
popular. However, by the ninth century, it had become the most
widely adopted monastic rule in western Europe.
(1) What is the basis of the
monastic community's life?
(2) Into what activities is the community organized? What
does its social structure consist of?