Thursday, 30 April 2015

Kathryn Kleinkopf: A Landscape of Bodies: Exploring the Role of Ascetics in Theodoret's Historia Religiosa

From hunching over in compact wooden crates to suspending themselves in a box several feet off the ground, Theodoret’s ascetics as described in his Historia Religiosa perform awe-inspiring feats.  While previous scholarship has delved into the politics motivating this history or the differences between Syrian and Egyptian asceticism, most scholars have ignored the significant role that place plays in these stories except to acknowledge the text’s general setting.  Yet, to remove Symeon from his pillar or Domnina from her millet hut would be to ignore a defining aspect of their practice and the ways in which Theodoret constructs their religious identity.   In the Historia Religiosa, Theodoret fuses place with the ascetic in order to define and defend Christian space and Christianity.  In many instances, a walled hut or wooden box symbolize the face of the ascetic within, becoming their defining characteristic and symbolizing their relationship with the world around them.  In other instances, ascetics living in the open air become places themselves, infusing the very ground with their holiness. While becoming part of the landscape, these men and women establish themselves as limes of Theodoret’s power and Christianity, fortifying its borders with the watchtowers and fortresses of their bodies.  The fight that ensues between these Christians and their daimon assailants thus seeks control of the physical place and the souls of those who lay within its borders.  By inextricably linking his ascetics to their places, Theodoret forever alters the imagined landscape not only of Syria but of Christian asceticism itself.

No comments:

Post a comment