Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ilias Nesseris: Church Fathers and Higher Education in Twelfth-Century Byzantium

It is a well-known fact that during the Byzantine period some of the works of the most prominent Church Fathers, such as Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and John the Chrysostom, were meticulously read and copied time and again. More than that, they were also regarded as exemplars in their respective literary genre or sub-genre (e.g. epistolography, epideictic oratory etc.) and as such they were expectedly meant to be imitated in terms of style, eloquence and language. From this angle twelfth-century Constantinople does not constitute a breach in a well-established and centuries-old practice. Nevertheless, there is an aspect of intellectual activity during this period, which has not yet received the attention it merits, namely the impact or influence of patristic literature on the educational process. A vigorous interest was indeed demonstrated by the repeated use of patristic texts in the classroom. One vivid example would be the commentary of Niketas of Heracleia (late 11th/early 12th century) on sixteen orations of Gregory Nazianzenus, which soon after its composition entered the school curriculum. Moreover, the aforementioned Fathers’ works, as well as various encomia, lives, passions and miracles of other early Church Fathers and saints (e.g. Nicholas and Spyridon), Apophthegmata Patrum and Narrationes animae utiles, were a vast pool from which extracts could be drawn so as to be used for the teaching of grammar with the innovative technique of schedography (i.e. the composition of short grammatical pieces).

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