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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: September 2019

5 - The Silent Ascetic

from Part I


The previous chapters showed how Christians assimilated the classical tradition of free speech and turned it into a Christian practice. This chapter explores the other end of the spectrum of the Christian reception of classical free speech, and investigates the doubts and reservations against frank speech that were expressed in some Christian communities, especially in ascetic milieus, from the fifth to the seventh centuries. It questions Foucault’s thesis that the rise of monasticism smothered classical ideals of free speech. As this chapter shows, authors of ascetic literature did indeed emphasise the beneficial effects of silence versus the dangerous power of the tongue and maintained that unrestrained freedom of speech and free behaviour of monks amongst each other impeded spiritual growth. However, it also shows that ascetic ideals of self-control and silence did not replace, but rather reframed the traditional discourse of free speech.