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Part I - Heretics and Other Enemies of the Church

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2015

David Brakke
Affiliation:
Ohio State University
Andrew Crislip
Affiliation:
Virginia Commonwealth University
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Summary

Introduction

Shenoute is most famous among students of late ancient history for his activities as a colorful example of the late antique “holy man” and his vociferous and sometimes violent opposition to the local “pagans.” This latter, and undeniably important, aspect of his career is covered in Part iv of this collection. But Shenoute's anti-pagan rhetoric and activities take place against the background of his broader interest in defending the Church as he understood it against a range of threats – threats that included not only the abuse, “violence,” and “corruption” that so exercises his moral thought, but also errors in doctrine. Such threats for Shenoute – doctrinal and moral – were not necessarily distinct. Nor were threats from heresies, pagans, and others. Part i includes several important works that give a representation of Shenoute's theological apologetics.

Shenoute's engagement with theology and apologetics has been all too easy to overlook or minimize, especially for those approaching the Egyptian monk with the standards of fourth- and fifth-century Greek theologians. He was not, after all, a major player in the theological debates of the fifth century throughout the wider Mediterranean world. He had no readership outside of Egypt and is never mentioned by Greek or Latin sources. Even his visit to the Council of Ephesus in 431 does not bear mention outside Egypt, notwithstanding its importance in Shenoute's Life and in his own writings. He was such a local figure that it has been tempting to separate him off as “Coptic” or “Egyptian,” a category that reflects outmoded conceptions that divide intellectual Greek monks from their purer and more simple-minded (haplōs) Egyptian brethren immortalized in the imaginative world of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. But Shenoute was deeply engaged in theology, in particular a polemical theology that pointedly defends Alexandrian orthodoxy, from the lineage of Athanasius (ca. 298–373) through Dioscorus (d. 454), against the various enemies inside and outside the Church: Origen and his followers, subordinationist followers of Arius, Nestorius and his allies, Manichaeans, Melitians, Jews, and “pagans” (hellēnes).

Shenoute's staunch defense of Alexandrian orthodoxy and his lengthy polemics against its various enemies inside and outside of the Church are of the sort more typically expected of late ancient bishops, of which Shenoute was not.

Type
Chapter
Information
Selected Discourses of Shenoute the Great
Community, Theology, and Social Conflict in Late Antique Egypt
, pp. 27 - 34
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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