'Virgins of God'

'Virgins of God' : The Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity

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Situated in a period that witnessed the genesis of institutions that have lasted to this day, this path-breaking study looks at how ancient Christian women, particularly in Asia Minor and Egypt, initiated ascetic ways of living, and how these practices were then institutionalized. Susanna Elm demonstrates that-in direct contrast to later conceptions-asceticism began primarly as an urban movement, in which women were significant protagonists.
In the process, they completely transformed and expanded their roles as wife, mother, or widow: as Christian ascetics, they became `virgin wives', `virgin mothers', and `virgin widows' - with all the legal and economic implications of such a dramatic shift. As importantly, though, Christian men and women ascetics lived together. As `virgins of God' they created new families `in Christ'. No longer determined by their human bonds or human sexuality, they were `neither male nor female'.
Finally, the book demonstrates how ascetic bishops - today known as saints - eventually `reformed' these early models of communal, ascetic life by dividing the `virgins of God' into monks and nuns and thus laid the foundation for the monasticism we know today.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 462 pages
  • 139 x 217 x 26mm | 621g
  • Clarendon Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 019815044X
  • 9780198150442
  • 1,930,201

Review quote

Remarkable study...The volume is well written, amply documented and provided with an excellent select bibliography and various indices. * The Journal of Indo-European Studies * Elm has sought out and made available a number of little-known sources which increase knowledge and understanding of the roles of ascetic women, and in this her study is extremely valuable. * Charlotte Methuen, Ecclesiastical Hisotry, Vol. 48, No. 3 * her book is interesting and important in its placing of the development of this institution, as she sees it, in the framework of the internal political struggles of the Church. * Journal of Hellenic Studies * Anyone interested in either gender studies or the Church will at least want to consult `Virgins of God'... a painstaking detailed account of many diverse sources... * Greece and Rome Reviews 42 * a very well researched and documented academic treatise ... It is, I believe, the first comprehensive study of the place of the virgin in antiquity to be written in English ... challenging and exciting reading ... I welcome the publication of this book and recommend it to all students of the history of ascetic and community life, as well as to those exercised about the future of the consecrated state. * M. Ruth Bleakley, Fairacres Chronicle * an exciting book to read; it should be read by anyone interested in early Church history and the role of women in the early Church ... It belongs in every monastic library ... The scholarship is sensible and almost always fascinating. * Coptic Church Review * an ambitious book ... Instead of three venerable patristic figures, Basil, Pachomius, and Athanasius, as the founding fathers of mansticism, we are now faced with a variegated ascetic tradition in which women and heretics played the pivotal role. * Bryn Mawr Classical Review * Elm's is one of the most important studies of early Christian asceticism in the twentieth century. Its influence on scholarship pertaining to late antiquity should be enormous. `Virgins of God' is required reading for anyone interested in early Christianity's development. * Journal of Religion *
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About Susanna Elm

Susanna Elm is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.
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3 10% (1)
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