Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Jonathan Zecher: Byzantine Monastic Anthologies and the Organization of Tradition

Byzantine monastic writers—as did all Byzantines—presented their beliefs and practices as traditional. While scholars have asserted the tensions of tradition and innovation in Byzantine monastic spirituality, the mechanisms by which novel ideas and schemas of knowledge could assume the appearance of antiquity and normativity are not well understood.This paper will present some of the mechanisms of innovation as they appear in Byzantine florilegia. It will be shown that these create what cultural memory theorists call a “canon” out of the “archive” of patristic and scriptural material—by authorial practices of selection, juxtaposition, modification, and attribution, the editor gives his resultant anthology the appearance of completeness and asserts continuity and homogeneity over the mass of materials available. Thus, anthologies witness to the motives and milieu of their editors as much as (likely much more than) they do to the past they purport to represent.Passages on confession in the Damascene’s Sacra,George the Monk’s Chronicon, Nicon of the Black Mountain’s Pandecta, and Mark the Monk’s Florilegium, will be examined to show how the motivation and organization of practices of confession emerge, via the processes of “canonization”, as a new organization of knowledge about death and postmortem judgment. We will close by suggesting that these same processes mark other, more famous anthologies, such as the Evergetinon and the Philokalia and, as such, require a new assessment of the role of anthologies in creating tradition in Byzantine theology.

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