Sunday, 3 May 2015

Yuliya Minets: Languages of Christianity in Late Antiquity: Between Universalism and Cultural Superiority

The Christian thinkers of Late Antiquity felt the need to delineate the place of Christianity within the wider world, and to define more clearly its attitude to the Other who happened to speak in another language. The paper focuses on the questions of the extent to which the Christian elite groups became sensitive to the world's multilingualism, and whether this multilingualism was regarded as a hindrance in spreading Christianity. Being the offspring of a multilingual milieu, from the very beginning Christianity was articulated in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. Unlike the Islamic tradition, Christianity rather welcomed the translations of its sacred text (the Bible) into the local languages. Still, there was an on-going discussion between the representatives of two different intellectual tradition. The authors who belonged to the first one (Augustine, John Chrysostom, Theodoret of Cyrrhus), aspired to represent Christianity as a universal religion. They argued that racial, ethnic, linguistic background was of no importance for one's ability to become a Christian. The opposite position was based on the commandment "do not throw your pearls before swine" bolstered by the traditional supercilious attitude of the Greco-Roman civilization towards the "barbarians". It was reflected in hagiographical sources that described the limited ability of a barbarian to turn into a Christian, and in the fact that the protagonists of the numerous Christian geographical, historical, missionary narratives and travelogues demonstrated the lack of interest in learning of and preaching in foreign languages. The paper aims to highlight the main points of this cultural dialogue.

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