Saturday, 11 April 2015

Daniel Weisser: The Eustathians as exclusive ascetics and their reintegration into the Catholic Church

The Eustathians and their condemnation at the Council of Gangra are a rather well known example of a 4th century ideal of exclusive asceticism: In the eyes of these ascetics, only those Christians can be saved, who abstain from sexual intercourse, property, eating meat etc. Yet, they are not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a larger movement whose followers can be found in Syria, Egypt, and Spain. Since those radical ascetics encounter only in the 4th century, the obvious question occurs, how the bishops handled this provocation.
Their reaction, as the short communication will show, not only contains threats of condemnation (as documented in Gangra), but first and foremost aim at their reintegration. One of these attempts are Basil's regulae, which can be understood as an immediate response to the Eustathians in Asia Minor. Other examples are the Councils of Milan and Rome of 393, which not only condemn Jovinian, but also make an attempt to reintegrate exclusive ascetics into the church by establishing a hierarchy of stands in the church: Ascetics are accepted as members of the church as long as they abstain from their claim of exclusiveness, then bringing a hundredfold grain, whereas widows only bring sixtyfold and married Christians even thirtyfold grain (cf. Mt 13,8).
Again: Why do these exclusive ascetics disappear in the sources of the 5th and later centuries? Because the bishops have reacted to their provocation by a compromise and reintegrated the predominant majority of them.

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