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John Cassian and the Creation of Monastic Subjectivity

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By the beginning of the fifth century when John Cassian was writing his monastic manuals, monks in Egypt and Palestine could refer to a veritable litany of their own monastic traditions, both oral and written, which appear to have all but ignored much of earlier Christian theological tradition. In Cassian’s writings, as well as the larger corpus of monastic writings from his era, monks never referred to early Church fathers such as Irenaeus or Tertullian as authorities; instead they cited either scripture – almost always in allegorical interpretations – or quotes and stories exclusively from earlier, venerated monks. In that sense, monastic discourse such as Cassian’s formed a closed system, consciously excluding the hierarchical institutional Church. Thus, the thesis of this book is that Cassian insisted on the maintenance of monasticism as a closed discursive system so that it could achieve autonomy, becoming separate from, rather than subject to, the institutional church. In this sense, the solitary monk may have been, for Cassian, a kind of synecdoche for a larger, ideal monastic system.

Published: Oct 1, 2022