Thursday, 23 May 2019

Karin Schlapbach: Remembering the Christian Saints, or: The silencing of the holy men

This paper addresses a change in the cultural practice of remembering saints. In the pre-Christian Graeco-Roman world, it was generally the philosopher who could lay claim to the title of holy man, or theios anér. Endowed with special power, often including rhetorical power, the philosopher was a teacher, and while some philosophers did not leave behind any writings, they certainly talked to their fellow human beings to impart their wisdom. The sayings of the philosophers were held in high esteem and transmitted with great care (several portraits of philosophers by Diogenes Laertius and Lucian of Samosata may illustrate this claim). It was believed that the philosopher’s sayings revealed his character, and if his life was in accordance with his teaching, he was a true philosopher.The portrayal of Jesus in theGospelsoverlaps with this tradition of holy men who were commemorated as teachers, and the Sayings of the Desert Fathersare influenced by it. By contrast, the Livesof Christian saints greatly diminish the role of the saint’s sayings. While the Ur-Life, Athanasius’ Life of Antony, still dedicates over twenty-five chapters to his direct discourse, this aspect becomes more marginal as the new genre develops. Judging from the majority of late antique Latin Lives, Christian saints are not talkative; for them, eloquence is not a virtue. This paper addresses the change in commemorating holy men via a case study, by examining the sparse direct discourse in the Life of Saint Martin by Sulpicius Severus.

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