Thursday, 30 April 2015

Jessica van 't Westeinde: Jerome and Pammachius: modelling Christian transformation in epistolary correspondence

Fiunt, non nascuntur christiani' (e.g. Jerome, Ep. 107.1, from Tertullian, Apol. 18.4) seems to imply that the conversion to Christianity demands a transformation of identity which at first sight does not appear to be compatible with Roman aristocratic values. In his letters to his aristocrat friends or patrons, Jerome, too, seems to invoke the idea that their adoption of the Christian faith and their embarking on the ascetic way of life requires such transformation. His letters could be read as instructions in the process of it. However, many questions remain unanswered. To what extent could we actually speak of transformation, what model of Christian identity did Jerome present that could be appealing to these aristocrats?
Indebted to insights presented in the work of a.o. Cain, Brown, and Salzman, but also taking into account and developing further the methodology of embodied early and medieval Christianity, I will explore how Jerome could exercise authority over a figure like Pammachius, so high above his own social standing, and how Jerome's model of Christian elite could have been accepted by the Roman aristocrats in light of its apparent requirement of a radical rupture with the past, whilst at the same time safeguarding social superiority. Jerome appears to have offered a model that would make best ends meet: it did see conversion as discontinuous with the past, but at the same time it attempted to create a superior ‘christianus perfectus' which would rise high above the ‘mediocre flock'.

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