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Open Access Slavery and Asceticism in John of Ephesus’ Lives of the Eastern Saints

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Slavery and Asceticism in John of Ephesus’ Lives of the Eastern Saints

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This article examines the phenomenon of slavery – both institutional (being enslaved to other human beings) and divine (being enslaved to God) – and its relationship to asceticism in John of Ephesus’ (507-589 CE) Lives of the Eastern Saints. The study first examines the nature of institutional slavery in Lives. It is shown that John is somewhat indifferent with regards to institutional slaves – they are either depicted as symbols of the wealth and decadence of the elite, or part of the ascetic households of the virtuous. In both cases, though, the slaves serve to illuminate the vice or virtue of the masters (wicked masters have scores of slaves serving them, while virtuous masters are so exceptional that even their slaves follow the ascetic lifestyle). Slavery is no impediment to the ascetic vocation – slaves have a part to play in John vision of asceticism as social outreach. John’s views on divine slavery are less conventional. In Lives, the ideal slave of God (ʿabdā d’Allāhā) is not one who busies him- or herself with self-centered acts of self-mortification, but rather one who supports and cares for those who suffer, the poor, and the marginalized. In this regard, labor and service to society become the prime virtues of John’s slave of God. By promoting this quasi-utilitarian stance on divine slavery, John also positions himself against earlier traditions such as those in Liber graduum that view worldly labor and service as unfitting to the life of Perfection.


Affiliations: 1: University of South Africa (Pretoria)
 chrisldw@gmail.com


10.1163/18177565-00131p09
/content/journals/10.1163/18177565-00131p09
dcterms_title,pub_keyword,dcterms_description,pub_author
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This article examines the phenomenon of slavery – both institutional (being enslaved to other human beings) and divine (being enslaved to God) – and its relationship to asceticism in John of Ephesus’ (507-589 CE) Lives of the Eastern Saints. The study first examines the nature of institutional slavery in Lives. It is shown that John is somewhat indifferent with regards to institutional slaves – they are either depicted as symbols of the wealth and decadence of the elite, or part of the ascetic households of the virtuous. In both cases, though, the slaves serve to illuminate the vice or virtue of the masters (wicked masters have scores of slaves serving them, while virtuous masters are so exceptional that even their slaves follow the ascetic lifestyle). Slavery is no impediment to the ascetic vocation – slaves have a part to play in John vision of asceticism as social outreach. John’s views on divine slavery are less conventional. In Lives, the ideal slave of God (ʿabdā d’Allāhā) is not one who busies him- or herself with self-centered acts of self-mortification, but rather one who supports and cares for those who suffer, the poor, and the marginalized. In this regard, labor and service to society become the prime virtues of John’s slave of God. By promoting this quasi-utilitarian stance on divine slavery, John also positions himself against earlier traditions such as those in Liber graduum that view worldly labor and service as unfitting to the life of Perfection.


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/content/journals/10.1163/18177565-00131p09
2017-11-28
2018-06-19

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