Describe the move from martyrdom to the life of the hermit as the path to holiness.
Until 313 AD (when the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire), being a Christian meant that one may be subject to persecution and death. Just deciding to become a Christian required a serious commitment as it frequently meant a loss of status at very least. Following the legalization of Christianity, this radical path of Christianity was no longer available, and as time went on, many Christians didn’t have the desire for such an intense life of sacrifice for their faith.
However, there were some who truly wanted to live a radical life of spiritual commitment. Because the avenue of martyrdom was no longer available to them (at least not to the same degree as it had been before), some sought another kind of martyrdom—one of spirit rather than body. These people began to separate themselves from society, often in the deserts of the East, and live as hermits. Of course, their living was primitive and sparse. This lifestyle, which eventually evolved onto monasticism, is sometimes referred to as “white martyrdom,” as opposed to the red martyrdom of the earlier Church period.
The writings of St. Athanasius went a ways to promote this lifestyle. On one of his many exiles and sojourns in the desert, he befriended St. Anthony of the Desert, one of the great Desert Fathers. He wrote a biography of St. Anthony, and that biography became the impetus for many who sought a more radical encounter with Christ to choose a hermetical existence.
St. Basil the Great himself wanted to live the life of a hermit but was denied this opportunity with the exception of a short period of time. However, he greatly encouraged this lifestyle, and in a series of conversations with other monastics, developed an important set of guidelines for monastic life in the East—the short and long rules of St. Basil. St. Benedict would later develop something similar for the West.
Describe the contributions of Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, Clement and Jerome.
St. Ignatius of Antioch was possibly a direct student of St. John the Evangelist and Apostle and a friend of St. Polycarp. He wrote a series of letters as he was being transported to Rome for trial. One of the most memorable letters he wrote was to the Church of Rome. In it, he noted his love for them but also his concern that in their zeal for him they might prevent his martyrdom. He asserted his complete desire for and surrender to martyrdom, evoking an image of wheat being ground by the beasts in the coliseum into bread for Christ. This letter is also invoked as an early example of a bishop who recognized the ascendancy of the See of Rome and of the limits of his own authority as a bishop to his own diocese.
Origen was a theologian and scripture scholar in Alexandria. He is known for his creative spiritual exegesis of scripture and his development of the school of theology started by Clement of Alexandria. Because of disagreements with his own bishop, he was ordained by a bishop in the Holy Land and wound up in exile in Jerusalem, where he started another school of theology. While Origen has been repeatedly accused of (and condemned) for heresy after his death, he truly desired to be orthodox and to teach the faith of the Church. He wrote (according to Eusebius) some 2000 titles. However, because of his troubled history, only a small remnant of his works remain—many of them cited or translated by St. Jerome, who held him in high regard as an exegete.
St. Clement of Alexandria was a teacher of Origen and started the Catechetical School of Alexandria (also called the Didascalium). He helped to develop a proper sense of Christian Gnosis in opposition to the Gnosticism that was prevalent at the time. As a philosopher, he was well versed in pagan literature and developed a Christian Platonism. Clement understood the need for Christians to engage in philosophical modes to fully understand their faith.
St. Jerome is known mostly for two things: the Latin Vulgate and his charming personality. As an aside, I have to say that I’m tempted to study Jerome for the sheer entertainment value. I’m certain I would still learn a great deal from this saint, but I confess that I find him captivating largely because of his reputation as a monumental curmudgeon. He should be the patron saint of Catholic bloggers. That said, he contributed a great deal to the study of scripture, understanding the absolute necessity of knowing the original languages of scripture as a means of seeking the intent of the author. He greatly esteemed Origen’s work on scripture, although he clearly had some disagreement with some of Origen’s theological opinions. He inserted himself (bidden or not) into every theological dispute of his day. Concerning him, I am reminded of the words in Revelation to the Church of Laodicea concerning being lukewarm. St. Jerome was anything but. For whatever faults he may have had in the charity department, he had zeal for Christ.