Thursday, 23 May 2019

David Michelson: Ascetic Reading in the Church of the East: Understanding Dadishoʿ of Qatar's Method of Spiritual Interpretation

There has been an enduring scholarly interest in the use of the phrase “spiritual interpretation” in the works of the seventh-century East Syrian author Dadishoʿ of Qatar. This paper examines Dadishoʿ in light of the ascetic reading practices of the Church of the East. It argues that by the late seventh-century, East Syrian reformed monasticism was able to flex its muscles against three other reading traditions within East Syrian Christianity: the scholastic movement, the reputation of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and the liturgy (a textual tradition controlled by the Church hierarchy not the monasteries). This paper demonstrates that by the time of Dadishoʿ, East Syrian monasticism had its own traditions of reading which it felt worth defending even against other long-standing institutions. Dadishoʿ wrote in response to high demand for ascetic commentary that could teach correct practice of ascetic reading. This mode of reading was that appropriate to the solitary in a monastic cell, what Dadishoʿ also called “the solitary fathers’ own form of commentary.” His use of the phrase “spiritual interpretation” must be understood as part of this Syriac Evagrian tradition of ascetic reading which developed in parallel to lectio divina in the Latin West.

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