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Posted April 15, 2004

Book: Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop in Late Antiquity
Author: Andrea Sterk
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp.360

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Although an ascetic ideal of leadership had both classical and biblical roots, it found particularly fertile soil in the monastic fervor of the fourth through sixth centuries. Church officials were increasingly recruited from monastic communities, and the monk-bishop became the dominant model of ecclesiastical leadership in the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantium. In an interesting paradox, Andrea Sterk explains that “from the world-rejecting monasteries and desert hermitages of the east came many of the most powerful leaders in the church and civil society as a whole.”

Sterk explores the social, political, intellectual, and theological grounding for this development. Focusing on four foundational figures — Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom — she traces the emergence of a new ideal of ecclesiastical leadership: the merging of ascetic and episcopal authority embodied in the monk-bishop. She also studies church histories, legislation, and popular ascetic and hagiographical literature to show how the ideal spread and why it eventually triumphed. The image of a monastic bishop became the convention in the Christian east.

An Excerpt from the Book:

As bishop of Caesarea, Basil wielded a great deal of authority in the political, social, and ecclesiastical realms, and his exercise of authority in these domains helped to shape and popularize the image of the monk-bishop in the latter half of the fourth century . . .Particularly important in this regard was his invention in the selection of bishops who shared his ascetic ideals.

Ideally the monastic bishop represented both the institutional authority of the church and the charismatic experience of the holy man. Though individual bishops might fall short of the ideal, it was this Basilian legacy that shaped the leadership of the eastern church for centuries. To be sure, it was a peculiar assortment of churchmen who fell into the category of monk-bishops. They were educated elites, wealthy aristocrats, royal dignitaries, and simple peasants by background . . . They were holy fools, great theologians, and leaders of prominent spiritual movements . . . But alongside, or perhaps underlying, these diverse backgrounds and circumstances was a theological ideal that must not be ignored. The ascetic bishop had . . .purged his passions, contemplated divine truths, and ultimately, like Moses, encountered the living Lord on Mt. Sinai. This vision, the fruit of the bishop’s monastic vocation, was the true source of his authority in the church and the world.

Table of Contents:

I. Basil of Caesarea and the Emergence of an Ideal

1. Monks and bishops in the Christian East from 325 to 375

2. Asceticism and leadership in the thought of Basil of Caesarea

3. Reframing and reforming the episcopate: Basil’s direct influence

II. The Development of an Ideal

4. Gregory of Nyssa: On Basil, Moses, and episcopal office

5. Gregory of Nazianzus: Ascetic life and episcopal office in tension

6. John Chrysostom: The model monk-bishop in spite of himself

III. The Triumph of an Ideal

7. From nuisances to episcopal ideals: civil and ecclesiastical legislation

8. Normalizing the model: The fifth-century church histories

9. The broadening appeal: monastic and hagiographical literature

Epilogue: The legacy of the Monk-Bishop in the Byzantine World