Thursday, 5 February 2015

Christine Shepardson: [WS] Representing the Saints: John of Ephesus's Lives and the Polarization of the Chalcedonian Conflict

In the fifth century a theological controversy over the relation of the divine and human aspects of the second Person of the Christian Trinity became sharply politicized. The emperor called the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but many Christians in the eastern Mediterranean rejected its outcome, and political favor vacillated as subsequent emperors sought a compromise. By the late sixth century, the church was permanently divided in schism, fueled by decades of persecution, political rivalries, and hostile propaganda. Anti-Chalcedonian Christians have traditionally been marginalized in western scholarship, initially because westerners considered them "heretics" and later because few could read the languages in which their histories were preserved. Nevertheless, their texts offer valuable insights into the escalation of this conflict and the rhetorical means by which those who rejected the Council's outcome constructed an alternate narrative of recent events, including strong memories of persecution. My paper will examine the Syriac Lives of the Eastern Saints by the sixth-century anti-Chalcedonian leader John of Ephesus through the lens of memory studies. I will argue that John carefully shaped his stories of persecuted saints in ways that encouraged a coherent history and identity for the disparate anti-Chalcedonian community and facilitated religious radicalization and the move toward irreconcilable schism.

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