The organization and institutions of female asceticism in fourth century Cappadocia and Egypt
In discussing the organization and institutions of fourth century female asceticism I attempt to apply methods used in the study of history to a topic generally regarded as theological, and therefore almost neglected by scholars of Ancient History. I concentrate on monasticism neither as generic phenomenon, nor on its spiritual aspects. Rather, I try to identify the social, economic and legal basis of a specific form (female asceticism) in a specific environment (fourth century Cappadocia and Egypt). By reconstructing the process of organization and the developing institutions of female asceticism one discerns a great variety of models, starting with those most akin to the model of the family, and ending with models which call for a complete rupture with society, while based on scrupulous observance of the Scripture. Out of a constant interaction of these two extreme forms models of integration eventually developed, which were specifically created to suit ascetic needs. The survival of these synthesized organizational models depended on their practicality, and on the personality and doctrinal affiliation of charismatic leaders associated with them. The process of the organization of female asceticism is not isolated; it is important to the general development of early Christianity. It illustrates a problem central to Church History: the conflict between institutions and sectarian enthusiasm. The study of this process highlights the methods employed by the hierarchy in solving the paradoxical task of restraining extremes which grow from the teachings of the very Gospel the hierarchy propagates.