Hagiography Western and Byzantine of Late Antiquity
Terminology, function of hagiography, hagiography and history, themes HAGIORAPHY DEFINED
Terminology Cult of the Saints: The term Cult (worship or veneration) oftheSaints includes the many practices surrounding the holy man, which included writings about the saints’ lives, their suffering, their martyrdom, in the form of biographies, inscriptions, and liturgies, and also the accounts of the transferral of relics from community to community and the miracles effected by these relics. Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p. 65
Terminology Hagiography: Hagiography, then, are the writings about saints’ lives and/or martyrdom, their heroism, miracles, and devotion to God.The hagiography is “a biography devised to serve the purposes of edification,” and the objective often was to show how one saint achieved spiritual or temporal goals. New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 873.
Historiography in Late Antiquity Historiography concerns historical writings, the discipline and methodology of writing history, and the philosophy of history. “History” in Late Antiquity was far different from our understanding today. Historical writing was very popular in the Middle Ages. Writings were frequently concerned with educating the reader on virtues, vices, and their consequences. “Man’s freedom to choose between good and evil actions was critically examined and was considered an important factor in the rise and fall of states.”
Historiography in Late Antiquity “History” in Late Antiquity was far different from our understanding today. Chronology, accuracy, and impartiality were not among the virtues of writers of medieval history. Thus, writers “mixed realistic narratives with supernatural tales dealing with worship of saints, miracles and phenomena, such as the appearance of comets, thunderbolts, and the like, which were considered portents of later events.” The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Medieval Civilization, pp. 400-405.
Was this the function of hagiography? Hagiographies “were written not to provide the historical background of a saint but to perpetuate his or her memory among the faithful, thereby inspiring others to emulate that particular saint’s behavior. Thus, to demand historical accuracy from these documents is to misunderstand their purpose. Although many historical insights can be gained indirectly from them, their major purpose was edification and emulation, not information.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p. 65.
Themes in saints’ lives Some themes may be observed among the lives of the saints, though this by no means is comprehensive. Account of the birth, unusual childhood, and “calling” of the holy man Christ-like ability to overcome temptation Performance of miracles Suffering, ending often in spiritual or physical martyrdom Clearly distinguished among men and the world. Upon death, rewarded with heaven.
Temptations of St. Antony Hieronymus Bosch, 16c.
Temptations of St. Antony The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch, 1505. Oil painting on wood panels.
Temptations of St. Antony The Temptation of St. Anthony, Salvador Dali (1946).
Interpretations and views Scholars in hagioraphy and the cult of the saints
Philip Rousseau Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Early Christian Studies, and Director, Center for the Study of Early Christianity, Catholic University of America (since 1998). L.Phil. (1962), Heythrop College; B.A., M.A., and D.Phil. (1965, 1969, 1972), Oxford University, England. Any judgment on the function of the holy man must take into account the function of the texts…in this light, function becomes predominately the function of the genre. (Ascetics as Mediators and as Teachers)
Peter Brown Peter Brown, the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History, is credited with having coined the term late antiquity (250-800 A.D.), the period during which Rome fell, the three major monotheistic religions took shape, and Christianity spread across Europe. We must look closely at the overall features of the environment in which the changes took place. Only in this way can we avoid from the outset those anachronisms that have encouraged modern scholars to invest the religious and social changes associated with the making of Late Antiquity with a false air of melodrama. (The Making of Late Antiquity)
Dame Averil Millicent Cameron Dame Averil Millicent Cameron, is Warden of Keble College, Oxford, Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine History in the University of Oxford, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. It is useful and important to ask how Christians, the quintessential outsiders as they appeared to men like Nero, Pliny, Tacitus, and Suetonius, talked and wrote themselves into a position where they spoke and wrote the rhetoric of empire. For it is perfectly certain that had they not been able to do this, Constantine or no Constantine, Christianity would never have become a world religion. (Christianity and the Rhetoric of the Empire)
James Goehring Professor of Religion. Coptic language and literature, early Christian studies, late antique Egypt, Asceticism, Gnosticism at University Mary Washington. When this image of the desert as the home of demons comes to the fore in the literary portrayal, the flood of ascetics to the desert can be understood as an effort by the monks to expand divine civilization into the uncivilized realms of Satan.
David Brakke Ancient Christianity, late antiquity, Coptic and Syriac studies The demon and the monk…neither can be understood apart from the other as they developed over the course of the fourth and early fifth centuries in Christian Egypt. During this period the new religious identity of the Christian monk—monachos—single one was invented…what made the “single one” single was not only his celibacy, not only his pursuit of wholehearted devotion to God, but also his individual combat with the many demons, which was a struggle to regain his identity as part of a lost spiritual unity. (Demons and the Making of the Monk)