The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview

43 Messalians: The Macarian Homilies

The ascetic writings of Basil of Caesarea speak of monks who held that because prayer without ceasing is commanded (1 Thess. 5: 17), the canonical 'hours' can be neglected (Reg. fus. tr. 37. 383b). Some monks stayed away from sermons for reasons of devotion and piety (Mor. 70. 33 PG 31. 842d). There were communities of 'Sleepless' monks which sought to implement the Pauline command by having relays to provide a continual life of prayer twenty-four hours a day; they began in Syria but had an important house on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporos, from where in the sixth century they defended the Chalcedonian cause.

Related groups of ascetic texts coming from Edessa about 370 have survived under the name of Makarios, the Greek manuscripts being of the eleventh century and later. The majority of manuscripts preserve a collection of fifty homilies (H), to which in 1918 seven additional homilies (KlB) were added. 1 During more recent times two further large collections have been edited, and it is clear that these different groups overlap with one another. The texts were evidently edited in the tenth or early eleventh century by an enthusiastic reader. The central theme is the soul's ascent to spiritual perfection in God. Sharp language is used to arouse the soul to a realization of war with Satan whose main agencies are the soul's hidden passions. At Adam's fall sin entered the innermost chambers of the soul (H 43. 1). Overthrown by his pride, Adam became lost in thick fog or smoke (8. 5, 43. 7). Humanity is like a wretch in a prison cell without door or window (KlB, p. 146, 11). Many Christians think the devil is expelled at baptism; but actually he continues lodged in the soul. 'Few and rare are those who are aware that the destroyer of souls is with them' (H 51. 2). This does not mean that humanity is

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