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Monastic sources warn of the distractions and even dangers of maintaining familial attachments once in the monastery. Affective bonds between children and parents prove to be some of the most contested relationships in the communities. These bonds are further complicated by being intertwined with economic ties and social bonds. Regulating emotions was an important element of the asceticism practiced at the White Monastery (led by Shenoute and then Besa), Jerome's and Paula's monasteries, and Cassian's monastery. These authors and ascetic leaders urged monks male and female to discipline their emotions toward their relatives and redirect their affect in what they deemed to be more appropriate direction, such as positive affect for their monastic family and reverence for God. They also used these familial bonds as points of leverage, appealing to emotions between family members to manipulate and influence others. This discourse is gendered, with ideal emotional states reflecting ideals of masculinity and femininity held by the authors. Additionally, these emotional ideals are influenced by classical philosophy (especially Stoicism) and shaped through biblical interpretation.
This is the first book-length study of children in one of the birthplaces of early Christian monasticism, Egypt. Although comprised of men and women who had renounced sex and family, the monasteries of late antiquity raised children, educated them, and expected them to carry on their monastic lineage and legacies into the future. Children within monasteries existed in a liminal space, simultaneously vulnerable to the whims and abuses of adults and also cherished as potential future monastic prodigies. Caroline T. Schroeder examines diverse sources - letters, rules, saints' lives, art, and documentary evidence - to probe these paradoxes. In doing so, she demonstrates how early Egyptian monasteries provided an intergenerational continuity of social, cultural, and economic capital while also contesting the traditional family's claims to these forms of social continuity.
Sources for children in early Egyptian monasteries are primarily textual. This chapter discusses the terms used to refer to children in monastic documents from Egypt written in Greek and Coptic. The language is often ambiguous, with terms that can refer to child or enslaved person in Greek, and terms in Coptic that may refer to familial relationships (sons and daughters) or monastic status or rank (new monks) or age (minor children). A methodology is established for assessing the presence of minor children and adolescents based on the language of the written sources.
This chapter examines children's daily life in monasteries, examining rules and narrative accounts to reconstruct the social history of these children. Despite the gaps and limitations of our sources, we can map some of the difficult terrain minor children navigated. On the one hand, monasteries offered a fairly stable home with food, healthcare, and educational opportunities for a lifetime. (Though even children could be expelled from the monastery.) On the other hand, children were regarded as a challenge, even a danger, to adult monks, who often prioritized adults’ needs and power over children’s well-being. This chapter looks at these complexities with respect to sexuality, food, labor, health, illness, disability, and even death.
Despite being communities of celibate individuals who had renounced marriage and family, monasteries housed and raised minor children. The definition of childhood in Egypt of late antiquity varied by gender and status and constituted age ranges rather than a clearly defined beginning and end point. Challenges with the source material include a paucity of references to children, ambiguity in primary sources about age, and the frequent context of trauma.
This essay examines accounts of child killings in Egyptian monastic culture through the lens of various textual and visual sources: the Greek Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), paintings of the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter and the averted sacrifice of Isaac at the monasteries of Saint Antony on the Red Sea and Saint Catherine at Sinai, and exegesis of the same biblical narratives by the Egyptian monk Shenoute and other ascetic authors. The textual and visual representations of these killings or attempted killings are paradoxically theologically, politically, and socially generative. They reaffirm priestly authority and theological orthodoxy in the monasteries at the same time as they invite male monks to identify with both male and female exemplars. Child sacrifice represented not merely an ascetic injunction to abandon family, but, perhaps more radically, an ascetic reproduction of monastic community and genealogy.
Late antique monasticism both participated in and disrupted familial networks of power in the Mediterranean world. The book concludes by arguing that Christian monasticism as an institution positioned itself as both rival and heir to the classical tradition of familia, challenging the ancient household’s position as the cornerstone of society’s political and economic apparatuses. Monasticism asceticized a key component of this institution – fatherhood – while maintaining that this anomaly – the celibate, ascetic father – was no innovation; the monastic father was but one node in a chain of fathers and sons stretching back into the biblical era and forward into eternity. Monasticism transformed traditions of paternity, inheritance, and genealogy. Focusing on the monastic federation of Shenoute in upper Egypt and the monastery of Cassian in Gaul, this chapter demonstrates how the coenobium positioned itself as a “house” or domus in late antique culture – an ancient institution that included home, household, property, and family, and required the financial, religious, disciplinary, and educational management of all of those moving parts.
Children in early Egyptian monasteries were simultaneously a special, protected class and one of the most vulnerable populations – in some ways protected from the realities of the poverty-stricken world outside the monastic walls and the rigors of asceticism within, in other ways still vulnerable to the whims, desires, and ambitions of the adult monks around them. A status above the enslaved, but well below free adult men, children even in the monastery found their standing and status subject to negotiation. Children were in many ways a gift; caring for them was regarded as a sacred duty commanded directly by God. Their many needs and challenges, however, remained secondary to those of their adult caregivers. This chapter examines the education of children, their discipline (including corporal punishment), and their preparation for future lives as monastics.
Boys and girls of varying ages lived in early monasteries in Egypt or were part of the larger network of care for Egyptian monasteries in late antiquity. Children entered monasteries on their own or along with their parents. They joined monastic communities or monastic households for a variety of reasons: familial poverty, abandonment, orphanhood, religious devotion and dedication, temporary care, and education. This chapter surveys papyri, monastic rules, hagiography, Manichaean documents from Kellis, letters, inscriptions, and graffiti to document the presence of children in early Egyptian monasteries.
This chapter examines the construction of male sexuality in early Egyptian monasticism, focusing on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) and the rules from various monasteries. The masculine ascetic ideal builds upon certain classical ideals of masculinity, especially the control of the passions, but purports to eschew classical models of eroticism in which the adolescent male represents the ideal sexual partner. These sources are designed to be recited or retold as edifying texts; despite their overt disavowal of sexual contact between men and boys, their retelling and rereading keeps homoeroticism and the representation of boys as sexually desirable objects alive in the ascetic imagination.