John Moschos' Spiritual Meadow
Authority and Autonomy at the End of the Antique World
John Moschos' Spiritual Meadow is one of the most important sources for late sixth-early seventh century Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian monasticism. This undisputedly invaluable collection of beneficial tales provides contemporary society with a fuller picture of an imperfect social history of this period: it is a rich source for understanding not only the piety of the monk but also the poor farmer. Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen fills a lacuna in classical monastic secondary literature by highlighting Moschos' unique contribution to the way in which a fertile Christian theology informed the ethics of not only those serving at the altar but also those being served. Introducing appropriate historical and theological background to the tales, Llewellyn Ihssen demonstrates how Moschos' tales addresses issues of the autonomy of individual ascetics and lay persons in relationship with authority figures. Economic practices, health care, death and burials of lay persons and ascetics are examined for the theology and history that they obscure and reveal. Whilst teaching us about the complicated relationships between personal agency and divine intercession, Moschos’ tales can also be seen to reveal liminal boundaries we know existed between the secular and the religious.
Table of Contents
Contents: Foreword; Preface; Introduction; Monks in The Meadow: proving and improving the ascetic program; Money in The Meadow: coin, cost and conversion; Medical management in The Meadow: curing, enduring and identity formation; Mortality in The Meadow: dying, death and predetermination; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen teaches courses in early and medieval Christianity and Islam, and specific topics in historical theology and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Her research is focused primarily on the social ethics found in the writing of fourth-century Cappadocian authors and in monastic and spiritual texts of Orthodox Christianity during the age of the Byzantine Empire. Dr. Ihssen's publications include 'Smashing God's Face: Art, Theology and Violence in the Byzantine Empire,' in ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies, 'Strip the Rich Right Down to Their Shirts': St. John the Almsgiver and the Transformation of the City,' in Ekklesiastikos Pharos, and the forthcoming 'They Who Give From Evil'; the Response of the Eastern Church to Money-lending in the Early Christian Era' (Wipf and Stock, 2012).
’John Moschos' perennially popular Spiritual Meadow has received a worthy and thorough examination in this excellent study written by Brenda Ihssen. She has taken up the daunting task of cutting a path through Moschos' rich text, inviting readers to pause and reflect on some of the great themes that sprout up along the way: poverty and almsgiving, health and sickness, death and dignified dying. Especially noteworthy are her insights on how Moschos elaborates the reality of spiritual authority and where it resides. While the Spiritual Meadow has long been valued for its information about early Christian monasticism, Ihssen draws attention to the broader social context reflected in its numerous anecdotes and offers practical guidance on how to read those anecdotes for spiritual profit and delight.’ T. Allan Smith, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Canada ’Wandering with John Moschos and Sophronios through the cultural and religious landscapes of Eastern Christian monasticism at the end of antiquity, Llewellyn Ihssen uncovers a monastic author who both documents and comments on his world. Ascetic discipline provides not only knowledge of the self but a vantage point from which to observe and to critique inequality and poverty, illness and health care, and to interpret the mortality that defines the human condition. Moschos emerges as much a social critic as a hagiographer.’ Derek Krueger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA