Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World

Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World

Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World

Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World


Between the years 350 and 500 a large body of Latin artes grammaticae emerged, educational texts outlining the study of Latin grammar and attempting a systematic discussion of correct Latin usage. These texts--the most complete of which are attributed to Donatus, Charisius, Servius, Diomedes, Pompeius, and Priscian--have long been studied as documents in the history of linguistic theory and literary scholarship. In Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World, Catherine Chin instead finds within them an opportunity to probe the connections between religious ideology and literary culture in the later Roman Empire.

To Chin, the production and use of these texts played a decisive role both in the construction of a pre-Christian classical culture and in the construction of Christianity as a religious entity bound to a religious text. In exploring themes of utopian writing, pedagogical violence, and the narration of the self, the book describes the multiple ways literary education contributed to the idea that the Roman Empire and its inhabitants were capable of converting from one culture to another, from classical to Christian. The study thus reexamines the tensions between these two idealized cultures in antiquity by suggesting that, on a literary level, they were produced simultaneously through reading and writing techniques that were common across the empire.

In bringing together and reevaluating fundamental topics from the fields of religious studies, classics, education, and literary criticism, Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World offers readers from these disciplines the opportunity to reconsider the basic conditions under which religions and cultures interact.


This book is a very long answer to a very short question: How did literate Romans of the fourth and fifth centuries come to the idea that there was such a thing as Christianity? On its face the question seems naïve. There was, in this period, a dramatic growth in the numbers of people, buildings, books, and public events that were called, at least in some contexts, Christian; historians now conventionally refer to this period as one in which the Roman Empire was Christianized. the question that this book attempts to answer, however, is not whether people or places called Christian existed in the later Roman Empire. Instead, the book addresses the question of how some later Roman readers and writers went about transforming those people, places, texts, and events into a generality, and how they summoned that generality into conceptual existence. My basic argument is that a movement from the description of various people or things as Christian to the concept of a free-standing religious and cultural entity that could be named Christianity did take place in this period, but took place in a series of quite tenuous intellectual movements, under very specific educational conditions, and with no immediate guarantee that the notion of Christianity would become an enduring component of the Western cultural imagination. Christianitas is a decidedly uncommon formulation in the early centuries of Christian history; its conceptual fragility is worth examining.

Because this is a book about the conceptual consequences of names and naming, it is about language as much as it is about religion. Specifically it is about how the teaching of language in late antiquity shaped the ability of late ancient readers and writers to have concepts that we call religious. This language teaching was primarily in the hands of grammarians, and so texts surrounding the discipline of grammar, in both Christian and traditional contexts, form the evidentiary core of this study. the modest premise . . .

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