Subproject 2: Total Devotion: Passions and Plots in Emerging Christianities

Work package 1 (Bremmer): Total Devotion in Christian Martyrdom Literature (2-4th cent. CE)

Total devotion was not part of Greco-Roman polytheist religion; Aristotle bluntly states; ‘It would be absurd if someone were to say that he loves Zeus’ (MM. 1208 b 30). The early Christians developed a language of loving God but also of God loving them. From the earliest texts of the Jesus followers onwards, the Christians called themselves ‘slaves of God’ and God Himself their Master. A striking example of this relationship is the narrative of Polycarp (ca. 165 CE), where the old martyr says: ‘I have been his (Christ’s) slave for 86 years’. The relationship assumes mystical contours in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas (ca. 207) when the latter, in the pains of childbirth and asked how she would endure the terrors of the arena, answers, ‘then there will be another one (viz. Christ) in me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for Him’. Much of the early Christian literature is doctrinal and apologetic, but in the narratives of the martyrs, we find references to this close devotion of the early Christians to Christ, often depicted in emotionally gripping scenes and clearly serving as narrative models for Christian behaviour. My project will investigate this close, emotional and narrativized relationship between the believers and Christ as examples of total devotion and compare this relationship to the relationships with the gods of their polytheist and Jewish contemporaries, cf. SP1.


Work package 2 (Høgel): Total Devotion in Pillar Saint Hagiography (3rd-5th cent. CE)

Stylites, or pillar saints, stand out in terms of total devotion. Many other saints took refuge in marginal spaces (mountains, graves, deserts), often explicitly aiming not to become too known, but the stylites picked a conspicuous dwelling: the tops of pillars, thus giving total devotion a palpable, spatial aspect. Taking Symeon Stylites (the Elder, ca. 390-459) as a model, pillar saints created a special strand within Christian sainthood – that of the mass performance – and as a direct corollary, this project argues – the standard miracle story used in stylite hagiography is that of mass conversion (e.g., Life by Theodoret 15-16, Syriac Life 77; Georgians, Armenians, Persians, and more in large groups). In pillar saint narratives, total devotion is envisioned as a visible mass phenomenon, and visuality and simultaneity play into the saint’s devotion (cf. Life by Theodoret, 21; mass preachings (25-26). Analysing the use of Hebrew Bible models of devotion (cf. SP1 and SP2-WP 1&3), this project investigates the emotion expressions used and the narrativization of emotions in the relationship between stylite and deity, as well as between the stylite and the crowd. The scripting of total devotion as a mass phenomenon and its visual conspicuousness are important with a view to its role in conversion processes.

Work package 3 (Staat): Total Devotion in Ascetic Hagiography (4-6th cent. CE)

Asceticism is a key form of radical religion in the ancient world. Both ascetic narratives and bodies elicit emotions and emulation, even if stated goals are to overcome certain emotions. Asceticism naturally implies the idea of a scale of devotion involving emotions, and asceticism was a key factor in Christianity from the 4th century. This project investigates the transformation of total devotion plots from the Hebrew Bible and Jewish literature (SP1), as well as Christian martyrdom and stylite literature (SP2, WP1&2), in order to analyse total devotion in ascetic hagiography from the Latin west in the great era of transition after the disintegration of the west-Roman empire. Here, “secret saints” such as Hilarion the Great, Germanus of Auxerre, Honoratus of Arles, and Severinus of Noricum hide in caves, mountains, and deserts to heighten their total devotion; secrecy becomes at once a factor of attraction and fascination and functions to totalize devotion. Taking into account total devotion ideals in authors such as Cassian, Salvian, and Ambrose in which ideal religious devotion is understood as intense and emotional, the project inquires into total devotion and group dynamics in the conversion processes of late antique/early medieval Europe.