1 This paper was originally given at the 28th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo MI, May 7, 1993.
2 Josep M. Soler, “Les Mères du désert et la maternité spirituelle,” trans. Marie-Therese Nopère, Collectanea Cisterciensia 48 (1986): 237.
3 Hist. éccl. viii 40, PG 147-156; cited by Lucien Regnault, Introduction, Vie de sainte Syncletique et Discours de salut a une vierge, trans. Sr. Odile Bénédicte Bernard, Spiritualité Orientale, 9 (Abbaye Notre Dame de Bellefontaine, 1972), p. iii.
4 Regnault, Vie, pp. iii-iv.
5 Regnault, Vie, p. 14: “Dans certains manuscrits, la Vie de Synclétique est attribuée à uncertain ‘ascète Polycarpe’ ou à un ‘bienheureux Arsène de Pégades.’” The author, however, gives no references to substantiate this claim. There are some indications of attribution to Polycarp and/or Athanasius in the following booklists of Greek manuscripts:
m Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum germaniae belgii angliae, ed. C. Van de Vorst and H. Delehaye, Subsidia Hagiographica 13 (1913; rpt. Bruxelles: Socios Bollandianos, 1968):
Bibliotheca Regia Monacensis Cod. 1181, pag. 103-106 = PG 28.1533, 1545, 1549-1553 (no author)
Bibliotheca Upsaliensis 246 (Sparf. 46), f. 1-54v (no author)
Bibliotheca Bollandiana Cod. 2864, f. 25-26 (Polycarpi)
Bibliotheca Bollandiana Cod. 2865, fl. 27-39v (no author)
Bibliotheca Bollandiana Cod. 2866, f. 40-59 (no author)
Athanasio ep. Alex. [vel Polycarpo asceta.
m Manuscrits grecs de Paris inventaire hagiographique, Subsidia Hagiographica 8a (Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1968):
Grec 1449, f. 78-110 = BHG 1694 (no author)
Grec 1598, f. 208-238v (Polycarp asceta)
Coislin 1241, f. 175-223v (Polycarp)
Coislin 30311. f/ 250-280 (no author)
m Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1909), p. 239 with no attribution.
6 Acta sanctorum, Januarii 1, p. 242. This account attributes authorship to Athanasius.
7 Mt 13:45-46.
8 Mt 7:6.
9“Pseudo-Athanasius The Life and Activity of the Holy and Blessed Teacher Syncletica,” trans. Elizabeth A. Castelli in Ascetic Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook, in Studies in Antiquity & Christianity, ed. Vincent L. Wimbush, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), p. 278. Hereafter all references to the chapters in this life will be from this English translation and will be designated by chapter numbers.
10 Alison Goddard Elliott, Roads to Paradise: Reading the Lives of the Early Saints (Hanover and London: Brown University Press for University Press of New England, 1987).
11 Castelli draws attention to ascetical works which hold up Thecla as a model for female Christian ascetics: Gregory of Nyssa, Vita. Macrinae. 2; Jerome, Epistola. 22, 41; Vita Olympiae 1; Ambrose, De virginitate 2,3; Methodius, Symposium, Discourse 8, 1, 170; 8, 17, 232; 11, 282. See Castelli’s translation, p. 268-269, note 12.
12 Castelli, pp. 269-270.
13 Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 216.
14 Jacques Lacarrière, Men Possessed by God, trans. Roy Monkcom (Garden City: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 58-59.
15 See the story of Pelagia in Benedicta Ward, Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (London & Oxford: Mowbray, 1987), p. 73; Elliott, Roads to Paradise, pp. 119-120; and John Anson, “The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif,” Viator 5 (1974): 1-32.
16 See Bessarion 4, in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (London: Mowbray; Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 41.
17 Elliott, p. 98.
18 Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974), p. 195 as cited in Elliott, p. 178.
19 Castelli, pp. 271-272. The translator rightly identifies the biblical image used here: the tower from Lk 14:28. However, the house built on rock which can withstand the storm is from Mt 7:24-27.
20 Elliott, pp. 145-167 gives an extensive treatment of this literary figure in early saints’ lives.
21 Castelli, p. 273.
22 See Elliott, p. 167, for an explanation of the peaceable kingdom representing paradise regained, i.e., the relationship attained by one whose solitude and symbolic death yields to ascent to a harmony with creation.
23 There is a long patristic tradition of the healing power of the word of God. For Jerome, see Arthur Stanley Pease, “Medical Allusions in the Works of St. Jerome” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 25 : 73-86); for Ambrose, see Gervaise Dumeige’s “Médecin (Le Christ)” Dictionnaire de spiritualité 16 [Paris: Beauchesne, 1980]: 891-901 and “Le Christ médecin dans la littérature chrétienne des premiers siècles” Revista di archeologia cristiana 48 : 115-141; and for Augustine, see R. Arbesmann’s “Christ the Medicus humilis” in St. Augustine: Augustinus Magister Congrés International Augustinien, Etudes Augustiniens (Sept. 21-24, 1954): 623-629 and “The Concept of ‘Christus medicus’ in St. Augustine” Traditio 10 : 1-28). In the monastic tradition there are two famous stories by Cassian about the healing power of scripture in which a divine physician/abba applied as an ointment to a monk wounded by temptation. See John Cassian, Conf. 2.13 and 10.85; trans. Edgar C. S. Gibson in Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, 11 (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1894), pp. 313-315, 124-125.
24 Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos, Chapters on Prayer, trans. John Eudes Bamberger, Cistercian Studies Series, 4 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), p. 14. Apatheia is the keystone to Evagrius’ ascetic practice. Its Stoic origin takes on a Christian flavour making it akin to fear of the Lord and it is the parent to agape. The early Christian writer Clement of Alexandria uses the Greek term to describe the state which persons atain when, under the influence of divine contemplation, they gain full possession of their affective faculties and when their disordered passions are calmed. Evagrius takes up the term and sees it not so much as “a certain definitive state of arrival at a level of perfection,” as “a relatively permanent state of deep calm, arising from the full and harmonious integration of the emotional life, under the influence of love.” Thus John Eudes Bamberger defines apatheia and agape as “but two aspects of a single reality” (lxxxiii-lxxxiv).
25 Basil of Caesarea, Asceticon, Long Rules 1-2; rtans. Monica Wagner, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, The Fathers of the Church 9 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1962), pp. 232-239 and, a better translation, W.K.L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of St. Basil (London, 1925).
26 Praktikos, pp. 16-20: gluttony (§7), impurity (§8), avarice (§9), sadness (§10), anger (§11), acedia (§12), vainglory (§13), and pride (§14).
27 John Cassian, Conference V.3: “Of these faults then there are two classes. For they are either natural to us as gluttony, or arise outside of nature as covetousness. But their manner of acting on us is fourfold. For some cannot be consummated without an act on the part of the flesh, as gluttony and fornication, while some can be completed without any bodily act, as pride and vainglory. Some find the reasons for their being excited outside us, as covetousness and anger; others are aroused by internal feelings, as accidie and dejection.”
28 Castelli, p. 278.
29 Praktikos, p. 17: §8 on impurity.
30 For determinism (genesis), see Methodius of Olympus, Symposium, Section 16, “Logus 8: Thecla” trans. Herbert Musurillo in St. Methodius, The Symposium: A Treatise on Chastity, Ancient Christian Writers 27 (Westminster, MD: Newman Press; London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1958), cited by Regnault, Vie, p. xi. Regnault states that the error of determinism was one against which the Church Fathers battled against in the fourth to fifth centuries (p. xi). Thus Syncletica’s addition of this vice reflects a concern of her own time.
31 Regnault, p. xii.
32 Praktikos, p. 32.
33 Praktikos, p. 30; Castelli, p. 296, n. 162.
34 “The Instructor,” The Writings of Clement of Alexandria, trans. William Wilson, Ante-Nicene Christian Library 4 (Edinburgh: Clark, 1868):
1. On I Cor. 3:2: “I have fed you with milk in Christ … we may make out some such senses as this: I have instructed you in Christ with simple, true, and natural nourishment – namely, that which is spiritual: for such is the nourishing substance of milk swelling out from the breasts of love … .As nurses nourish new-born children on milk, so do I also by the Word, the milk of Christ, instilling into you spiritual nutriment” (p. 138).
2 “In saying, therefore, ‘I have given you milk to drink,’ has he not indicated the knowledge of the truth, the perfect gladness in the Word, who is milk?” (pp. 138-139).
3. “The Word Himself, then, the beloved one, and our nourisher, hath shed his own blood for us, to save humanity; and by him, we, believing on God, flee to the Word, ‘the care-soothing breast’ of the Father. And he alone, as is befitting, supplies us children with the milk of love, and those only are truly blessed who suck this breast” (p. 143).
4. “Thus to Christ the fulfilling of his Father’s will was food; and to us infants, who drink the milk of the word of the heavens, Christ himself is food. Hence seeking is called sucking; for to those babes that seek the Word, the Father’s breasts of love supply milk” (p. 144).
5. “The same blood and milk of the Lord is therefore the symbol of the Lord’s passion and teaching” (p. 147).
35 On the mediaeval use of the image of Jesus as mother and his breasts, see Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982) and Julian of Norwich: Showings, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1978).
36 Voluntary poverty as a good is addressed in chapters 30-3, in 33-36 in terms of advantages, in 37-39 with respect to true riches, and in 72-76 in its relation to almsgiving.
37 I Tim 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all evils.” Evagrius calls avarice “the mother of idolatry” in his introduction to the Praktikos (see p. 14).
38 Castelli, p. 284.
39 Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “On Virginity” 3 in Saint Gregory of Nyssa Ascetical Works, trans. Virginia Woods Callahan, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1967), pp. 12-20.
40 The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers: Apophthegmata patrum from the Anonymous Series §40, trans. Benedicta Ward (Oxford: SLG Press, 1975), p. 10.
41 Castelli, p. 274. Cf. Heb 6:19.
42 The biographer may well have obtained this metaphor from Methodius. See The Symposium, Epilogue (p. 160):
Eubulion. Now just a moment, and answer this question – I think that we can thus proceed on a straighter path in your endeavour to discover what is truly best: is there anyone you would call a good pilot?
Gregorion. Yes, indeed.
Eubulion. Is it the one who saves his ship in great and overpowering squalls or when he is on calm and quiet seas?
Gregorion. The one who is in great and overpowering squalls.
Eubulion. Should we not then say that, in like manner, the soul which does not give up though overwhelmed by the towering waves of the passions, but steers its ship, the body, courageously into the harbour of self-control – shall we not say that such a soul is better and more trustworthy than one that sails on calm seas?
Gregorion. Yes, we shall.
43 Praktikos, Epilogue, p. 42.
44 In §56, humility, “the most beautiful of all virtues,” is likened to the nails used in building the ship. Another use of the ship image occurs in §102.
45 Praktikos 24, p. 23 and Prayer 24, pp. 58-59.
46 Castelli, pp. 294-295.
47 In Ep. 22.20 Jerome is able to praise marriage only because it produces virgins. In Ep. 22.22, he tells Eustochium to read the treatises of Tertullian, Cyprian and Ambrose in order to know the vexations of marriage and the praise of virgins).
48 Castelli translates the Greek kephale skolekas as head worm. The Latin for this is tinea capitis, which can either mean worms or, more likely in this context, lice (Lewis and Short, 1969, p. 1873).
49 The categories for comparison of VA to VS (items 1-13) come, for the most part, from Regnault’s introduction to Vie de saint Syncletique, pp. viii-ix. There is a typographical error in item 7 which reads §28 but which should read §18.
50 This is my addition to Regnault’s list; see footnote 47.
51 This outline is a translation of the table of contents in Regnault, Vie, pp. 173-175.
52 Elliott, Roads to Paradise, p. 215.