Teachers in Late Antique Christianity

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Peter Gemeinhardt, Olga Lorgeoux, Maria Munkholt Christensen
Studies in Education and Religion in Ancient and Pre-modern History in the Mediterranean and Its Environs
  • Tübingen, Germany: 
    Mohr Siebeck
    , June
     278 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This collection of essays, stemming from an eponymous 2016 workshop at the University of Göttingen, brings together a range of scholarship on the variety of educational practices in late antiquity and their relationship to classical paideia. While this review cannot cover all of the contributions published here, it will highlight some of the innovative and exciting scholarship,  and themes that run throughout the volume. 

A significant theme found in Teachers in Late Antique Christianity, edited by Peter Gemeinhardt, Olga Lorgeoux, and Maria Munkholt Christensen,is that of competition with other non-Christian Hellenes regarding whose educational systems represent a continuation of true, classical paideia. In Arthur Urbano’s contribution, “Literary and Visual Images of Teachers in Late Antiquity,” he suggests that we think of this competition not as straightforward religious rivalry but as “a model of intellectual exchange” (3). Should we first categorize late ancient Christian teachers as elite intellectuals or as Christians? What identity is most prominent or activated in this competition to teach the correct paideia? As Urbano notes, both Hellenes and Christians turned to Plato’s Theaetetus as a source for debating which philosopher-teachers that were separated from polis life fell within this classical Greek genealogy of education. Furthermore, Urbano suggests that late ancient Christians often held seemingly contradictory positions on philosophers, as they simultaneously mocked philosophers and utilized the philosopher’s view throughout early Christian art (26-7). Peter Gemeinhardt observes a similar problem in his contribution on the education of clerics in late antiquity: how can one both emulate the apostles and have a traditional paideia(33)? Gemeinhardt argues that bishops were expected to be able to read the Bible and function as mediator between God and others, but a bishop was certainly not required to have a classical education in order to fulfill their role. Alongside this Hellene-Christian debate regarding who owns the lineage of classical paideia, Carmen Angela Cvetković observes that intra-Christian debates regarding who counts as a true teacher also occurred. For example, Cvetković explains how Origen and Demetrius of Alexandria argued over whether teachers or bishops were true successors to the apostles and their function(s) within the Christian community, and how Ambrose, at a later point, attempted to subsume the role of teacher under his position as bishop, thus making bishops “equal to the apostles” (93). 

Another prominent theme in this volume is the role of the bishop as a catechetical instructor. Juliette Day explores the 4th and 5th century development of mystagogical catechesis among bishops such as Ambrose of Milan, Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and John Chrysostom. Day elucidates how Ambrose, in his De mysteriis and De sacramentis, provides a chronological framework to his instruction of the typological consistency seen throughout salvation history, as the catechumen will experience death and resurrection “only in symbols and representations” (67). Day demonstrates that the catechumen was expected to memorize the catechetical order and the meaning of liturgical events, and that bishops such as Cyril would offer correction in order to reify such memories and interpretations of the liturgy. Olga Lorgeoux also examines Cyril of Jerusalem through Catecheses ad illuminandos and Lenten lectures reflecting upon how the bishop legitimized his role as a teacher. She finds that Cyril envisioned himself as a builder involved in the active production and spiritual arrangement of his catechumens, often imagining his students as children. 

Multiple essays in the volume explore the role of monasticism in late antique Christian education. Although some scholars have argued that late ancient monastic education breaks with classical paideia, Henrik Rydell Johnson explores how the Apophthegmata Patrum presents a more continuous image of monks as a director of souls in the style of Platonic and Stoic teachers. Andreas Müller demonstrates that some monks in the Apophthegmata Patrum, the Life of Anthony, and other tales of monks at Mt. Sinai suggest that God alone was one’s teacher, and that one should imitate the saints and prophets rather than model oneself on a monastic instructor. Maria Munkholt Christensen surveys understudied portrayals of holy women––for example, Macrina, Paula, Marcella, Melania the Younger, and Syncletica––both transforming the formerly negative attribute of humility into a Christian ascetic virtue as well as having a complex relationship with teaching. Christensen suggests that there was a paradox between one’s performance of humility that requires abandoning one’s ability to teach, and holy women acting as role models and teachers within their Christian communities (160).

Finally, Katharina Greschat helps us catch rare glimpses of domestic education in late antiquity beyond the control of the grammaticus or the bishop. Surveying a wide range of authors such as Prudentius, Cato the Elder, Suetonius, Celsus, Paulinus of Pella, John Chrysostom, and Jerome, she illuminates the expectation that fathers take responsibility for the basics of their children’s education, and that late ancient Christians produce Christian children through a correct type of exposure to biblical texts. 

Ultimately, Teachers in Late Antique Christianity does an excellent job exploring the ways in which patristic and monastic texts can elucidate our understanding of the development of Christian education as well as the ways in which it associates or dissociates with classical paideia. Future volumes might explore the materiality and material remnants of late ancient Christian education in more depth, as well as further considering why and how many of the patristic and monastic educational texts used in this volume were preserved by Christians throughout the medieval and early modern periods. Nevertheless, Teachers in Late Antique Christianity will be an invaluable resource for future scholarship to investigate the continuities and discontinuities of educational practices in antiquity and beyond.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Chance E. Bonar is a doctoral student in New Testment and Early Christianity at Harvard University.

Date of Review: 
February 4, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter Gemeinhardt Geboren ebendort Sprecher des Sonderforschungsbereichs »Bildung und Religion".

Olga Lorgeoux is Research Assistant at the Chair of Church History at the Faculty of Theology in Göttingen and Associate Researcher in the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre »Education and Religion".

Maria Munkholt Christensen is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre »Education and Religion".


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