Macquarie University
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Philosophers in the desert: the origins and development of the monastic worldview held by Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian

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posted on 2022-03-29, 02:40 authored by Ian Christopher Michie
This thesis will trace the origins and development of the monastic worldview held by Evagrius Ponticus (c.345-c.399 CE) and John Cassian (c.360-c.435 CE), by locating this worldview within the broader context of the development of ancient Greco-Roman thought from the 8th century BCE up to the early 5th century CE. We will employ the historical and methodological framework of the French historian of philosophy, Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), especially as it was articulated in his study entitled 'What is Ancient Philosophy?'. Hadot’s work will be supplemented and augmented with material drawn from various other disciplines, including philosophy of religion, sociology and theology. In Chapters 1-5, we will pursue a critical analysis of ethical teachings and presuppositions found within the work of Homer, Hesiod, the Pre-Socratic thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the members of the Hellenistic and Roman philosophical schools. Methodological insights from sociologist Joseph M. Bryant will be used to elucidate the historical, social and conceptual context within which the worldview of each thinker developed, while the work of philosopher of religion Roy A. Clouser will help to establish the role of the 'Divine', or the 'Ultimate Principle', within each system of thought. In Chapter 6-9, we will trace the influence of earlier Greco-Roman systems of thought on the development of the early Christian monastic worldview of Evagrius and Cassian, with its central focus on the Eight Generic Thoughts, or Eight Principal Vices: gluttony; sexual immorality; avarice; sadness; anger; spiritual weariness; vainglory; and pride. This part of the analysis will demonstrate the ways in which elements derived from earlier non-Christian theological or philosophical systems were combined with Christian doctrines and assumptions in order to create an elegant and sophisticated worldview that still informs Christian monastic theory and practice up to the present day.


Table of Contents

1. Ethical thought in archaic Greece: Homer and Hesiod -- 2. Ethical thought in late archaic and early classical Greece: the pre-Socratics -- 3. Ethical thought in classical Greece: the Sophists -- 4. Socrates: his early interpreters, his ethical teaching, and the nature of ancient philosophy -- 5. The Socratic inheritance: late Classical, Hellenistic and early Roman imperial philosophy -- 6. Early Christian theology and 'assimilation to the divine' -- 7. Martyrdom and ascetic training for virtue -- 8. Martyrdom, monasticism and Antony the Great: Greco-Roman philosophy in the desert -- 9. The monastic worldview of Evagrius Ponticus and John Cassian -- Conclusion -- Bibliography: primary sources -- Bibliography: secondary sources.


Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ken Parry

Additional Supervisor 1

Alanna Nobbs


Copyright Ian C. Michie 2015. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (x, 334 pages)

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