Thesaurus Monastica

a dynamic library and research tool for early monastic literature

Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia

Monasticism has played a major role in European history, not the least for education and literature. Its emergence in the 4th century CE has, however, been seen as a break with classical education and classical culture. On the basis of new discoveries and unresearched sources, the Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia research program (MOPAI) investigates how early monasticism can be understood in continuity with the classical paideia of Late Antiquity, i.e in continuity with elementary education, higher education in philosophy, and literary production of classical Antiquity.

Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert
Monasticism has been a decisive factor in the formation of Christian culture. With an emphasis on literacy and literature, monasteries have been important centres of education throughout the centuries. In spite of this, the role of early monasticism in the transmission and transformation of classical culture, has received little attention. Due to a focus on the West, and prejudices about illiteracy and anti-intellectualism in early Eastern monasticism, essential questions about early monastic education and its links to pagan school traditions, have not been asked.

Recent research has shown that teaching and literacy were actually important for the early monks and for the early monasteries in Egypt and Palestine, and that there are strong ties to pagan school traditions, both rhetorical and philosophical. With a focus on the Gaza region, the MOPAI program studies early monastic texts and other source material in relation to classical education and classical literary models, with a variety of perspectives and methods, with the aim at a substantial contribution to our understanding of the emergence of early monasticism, but also to the emergence of a Christian culture and its relation the Classical Antiquity. At the heart of the program stand the various collections of the Apophthegmata Patrum, sayings attributed to the first generations of monks. Besides textual studies of these collections, the MOPAI program will also provide new editions of several unedited texts in Greek and Syriac, but also a new digital and interactive research database, the Apophthegmata Research Tool (APDB), with collections in Greek, Latin, Syriac and Arabic.

The research program Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia is based at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University and directed by professor Samuel Rubenson. It gratefully acknowledges the sponsorship of the Bank of Sweden Tercenary Foundation.

Further information

Early Monasticism and Classical Paideia (MOPAI) project at department website