Sunday, 3 May 2015

Rebecca Littlechilds: Chaste cohabitation in the Liber ad Renatum monachum

This paper examines ‘chaste cohabitation’, unconventional domestic arrangements that caused concern among Christian authorities from the third century onwards, exhibiting as they did a troubling nimia familiaritas between the sexes. In the fourth and fifth centuries this phenomenon appears in Jerome (epp. 22 and 117), John Chrysostom (PG 47.495ff and 513ff), in fourth-century conciliar canons (e.g. Council of Nicea, Can. 3), and in the Liber ad Renatum monachum, ascribed to Asterius of Ansedonia. The conclusions of the present paper will focus on this last text. The various domestic configurations that appear in these late antique sources have been the subject of general discussion in the now extensive scholarship on Christian asceticism in the late ancient world. Susanna Elm (1994) discussess the phenomenon of these unconventional arrangements in relations to the term syneisaktos. Debra Jean Bucher (Diss. Phd, 2008) focuses on the stylistic and discursive elements of the Liber ad Renatum rather than its historical significance. Most recently Hajnalka Tamás and Liesbeth Van der Sypt (2013) sought to provoke scholarly interest in the text and to prepare the way for further work to be done on it. This paper will explore the extent to which the validity of these domestic situations might have been read from Old Testament tropes, previous Roman models, and the Encratite theological tradition that stretched back to Origen. I will argue that this model of living ascetically is premised on a particular and perhaps heterodox late antique understanding of the vigour and independence of the human will.

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