Revolution of the Solitaries, Arsenius the Great, and Socrates. An Early Theological Justification of the Radical Monastic Detachment from Society
The article investigates an early theological justification of the radical detachment from society expressed in a saying by the famous Egyptian hermit Arsenius the Great (4th‒5th century) who avoided contacts not only with lay people, but even with his fellow monks in the desert of Sketis. This justification is to be seen in connection with the phenomenon of monastic secluded life which suddenly emerged in the second part of the 3rd century, in sharp contrast with traditional views of the catholic Christians of the 1st‒3rd centuries on the way of life suitable for the followers of Christ. In this article, the radical break with this early paradigm is called the “revolution of the solitaries”. Arsenius, who lived about eighty years after the first monks in Egypt started to be recognized as a distinct phenomenon in public space, does not necessarily draw on the oldest layers of the traditions justifying and explaining the religious motivation for being alone. Nevertheless, his statement is one of the first pieces of theological reflection on the subject transmitted in full which opens a number of intriguing possibilities for further research on this widely neglected field. The article provides the historical context of Arsenius’ justification which includes criticism of the anachoretic monasticism in the pagan and Christian communities. Some critics of the secluded life consider it as contrary to the Jewish and pagan wisdom as well as to the revelation of Christ, a statement making Arsenius’ apology most precarious. Of special inrerest is that Arsenius, when staying away remaining secluded from all kinds of people, was to a certain degree guided by the example of Socrates.
early Egyptian monasticism, Arsenius the Great, Socrates, eremitism
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