byB. M. Lourie (
The main topic of the book is the theological idea of monasticism, as put forward by the founders of the monastic movements, especially in Egypt. It is defined as the full realisation of the life according to the New Testament, in contrast with the secular life, which is according to the Old Testament at best. Thus the idea of a specific «(New) Covenant» occupied a very central place in both early monastic authors and the Fathers of the 3rd and 4th century. Therefore monasticism was simply following the call of Christ which is addressed to everybody. The development of this idea is traced through the following areas:
In the Early Church (ch. 1), including:
the latest pre-Christian and the earliest Christian periods (1.1–1.2), Aphraat and Methodius of Olympus (1.3), the Council in Gangra, the Eustathians and Basil the Great (1.4–1.5),
In the earliest Egyptian monastic Fathers (ch. 2), including especially:
The Letters of St. Anthony (2.2.1), the Pachomian Koinonia (2.2.2), Scetis (2.2.3). This chapter is introduced by a discussion of the sources presently available for the reconstruction of the earliest Egyptian monasticism as well as the problems posed by our recent knowledge of Christian culture in Egypt (2.1). The author elaborates on several points which seem to him especially remarkable: the meaning of the Pachomian Synaxis in the month Mesore (according to the author, it was the main feast of the Covenant going back to some pre-Christian Jewish liturgical calendars) (18.104.22.168), the «afterlife» of the very archaic features of the 4th century Pachomian rules in Medieval and Modern Ethiopian monasticism (22.214.171.124), the early history of the Jesus Prayer (126.96.36.199.2–188.8.131.52.3). Moreover, the same idea of the Covenant is traced in contemporary Western Fathers other than John Cassian (2.2.5) and in John Chrysostom (2.2.6, including a discussion of the historiography: 184.108.40.206).
The next chapter (ch. 3) deals with the repercussions of the above idea of the New Covenant for the worldview in general. On the one hand, the views of the monastic Fathers are examined, especially their eschatological feelings (3.1–3.3). On the other hand, the idea of Constantine the Great representing himself (through Eusebius) as a New Moses of the Old Covenant (studied by E. Becker as early as the 1910s) is seen as a secular counterpart to the Fathers’ idea of the New Covenant (3.4). The chapter is concluded by an investigation of the mutual relationship between the Christian Empire and the Christian monasticism (3.5). Instead of the oldish postulate that the monastic movement arose as a spontaneous reaction to a general deterioration in the standards of spirituality after the peace of the Church, the author argues that, regardless of the possible motivations of individuals, what took place was a process of the reconstruction both of society stimulated by the Church and of the Church herself. In this process, the main problem for the Church was constituted, not by monasticism (whose main principles were already presented and even elaborated within pre-Constantinian Christianity), but rather by secular society. The hard work of people like St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose of Milan was needed to establish the standards of Christian life «in the world». The latter were patterned after the Old Testament’s standards, — which was quite natural in the light of the Fathers’ concept of Law and Grace —, although they were always kept open to the reality of the life in Christ according to the Gospel.
An additional chapter (ch. 4) is devoted to the history of Chalcedonian monasticism in Egypt starting from the 6th century until the 14th century. (As regards anti-Chalcedonian monasticism, the author has previously traced the history of Scetis up to the end of the 7th cent., with some remarks on the present state of Coptic monasticism: 220.127.116.11).
The final chapters (chs. 5 and 6) contain some general conclusions regarding both early monasticism and monasticism as such.
The book is supplied with a selective Bibliography on early (up to the 6th cent.) Egyptian monasticism. Its purpose is to provide easy access to the full bibliographic data concerning any particular point in the field.