Thursday, 7 February 2019

John Whitty: On the Utility of the Term "Disciplina Arcani"

Since the coining of the term by Jean Daillé, scholarship has tended to employ disciplina arcani– the rule of secrecy – as a taxonomical term under which any appeals to secrecy in patristic literature might be placed. In this paper, I would like to reassess the utility of such a term based on two main lines of reasoning: First, the concealment of doctrine and practice was an extremely common theme in religion in Late Antiquity rather than a uniquely Christian phenomenon, a fact that is often obfuscated through the use of disciplina-taxonomising. Secondly, I wish to argue that within the immediate context of Late Antique Christianity, invoking disciplina arcanitends to have the effect of harmonising numerous variations on in a way that minimises the idiosyncrasies of both their contents and expression. Based on these two approaches, I wish to argue that the disciplina arcaniis in many ways a misleading term, the usage of which must be reassessed for the sake of good historical practice.

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