Two old Orthodox great schema monks

Misappropriating “Brother-Making”

A new attempt was made recent­ly to reach back and re-inter­pret his­to­ry in light of today’s social mores. That attempt has already been met with strong respons­es, notably from Dr Alfred Kentigern Siegers and Arch­priest Lawrence Far­ley. By way of fur­ther his­tor­i­cal con­text, we offer this review by a stu­dent at Holy Trin­i­ty Ortho­dox Sem­i­nary of a notable recent pub­li­ca­tion in the field of Byzan­tine Studies. 

Review of: Clau­dia Rapp, Broth­er-Mak­ing in Late Antiq­ui­ty and Byzan­tium: Monks, Lay­men, and Chris­t­ian Rit­u­al (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016). 

Clau­dia Rapp is an esteemed Pro­fes­sor of Byzan­tine Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na and direc­tor of the Divi­sion of Byzan­tine Research in the Insti­tute of Medieval Stud­ies at the Aus­tri­an Acad­e­my of Sci­ences. She is also a pro­lif­ic con­trib­u­tor to schol­ar­ly jour­nals, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the field of Byzan­tine holy men, spir­i­tu­al lead­er­ship, spir­i­tu­al rela­tion­ships, and church rit­u­als. Pri­or to the pub­li­ca­tion of Broth­er-Mak­ing… she was award­ed the pres­ti­gious Wittgen­stein Prize. This book rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of twen­ty years of research, seek­ing to weave togeth­er the var­i­ous aspects of her pre­vi­ous writings. 

Against a con­tem­po­rary back­drop of intense debate over same-sex mar­riage and attempts by some schol­ars to effec­tive­ly re-write his­to­ry to jus­ti­fy mod­ern per­spec­tives,
 Rapp’s book is a thor­ough analy­sis of the issues relat­ing to his­tor­i­cal same-sex part­ner­ships through the lens of the ancient ‘broth­er-mak­ing’ rit­u­al. The author sets out her posi­tion in the intro­duc­tion, that she does not find her­self in agree­ment with the con­clu­sions of John Boswell in his 1994 book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Mod­ern Europe, that the broth­er-mak­ing rit­u­al was an ear­ly form of same-sex mar­riage. Although this would be evi­dent to any Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian who knows the Church’s moral and canon­i­cal tra­di­tion, there are many who are tak­en in by Boswell’s argu­ment. As well as set­ting out to demon­strate that Boswell’s con­clu­sions are wrong, Rapp’s study seeks to pro­vide a broad overview of a dis­tinct and wide­spread socio-reli­gious prac­tice, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on the litur­gi­cal aspects of this rit­u­al with­in the Church of the Byzan­tine Empire and its dependencies. 

Rapp’s book is arranged into six chap­ters, deal­ing with: soci­ol­o­gy and social net­work­ing in Byzan­tium; the Adelphopoiesis (broth­er-mak­ing) rit­u­al as found in litur­gi­cal man­u­scripts; small-group monas­ti­cism; social prac­tices sur­round­ing broth­er-mak­ing in Byzan­tium; rules and reg­u­la­tions con­cern­ing broth­er-mak­ing; and broth­er-mak­ing beyond the his­tor­i­cal-geo­graph­i­cal Byzan­tium. Most chap­ters fea­ture case stud­ies to illus­trate Rapp’s find­ings, or in the case of chap­ter two, the per­son­al rem­i­nisces of two of her con­tem­po­raries. The appen­dices include a com­par­a­tive table of man­u­scripts fea­tur­ing broth­er-mak­ing prayers, a chart of the var­i­ous prayers, and some of the author’s own trans­la­tions. The bib­li­og­ra­phy is thir­ty pages long, show­ing the vast amount of research that has gone into this work. 

Based on the man­u­script rubrics, the author points out in the sec­ond chap­ter that Boswell’s argu­ment that broth­er-mak­ing was a form of wed­ding ser­vice is total­ly inac­cu­rate and based on both a mis­read­ing of the texts in ques­tion, as well as a lack of broad­er knowl­edge of Byzan­tine litur­gi­cal rituals.

The third chap­ter is by far the longest and most detailed of the book, and con­tains the crux of Rapp’s the­sis that the broth­er-mak­ing rit­u­al devel­oped in the con­text of small-group monas­ti­cism. In a high­ly-detailed and his­tor­i­cal­ly broad chap­ter, using a mul­ti­tude of his­tor­i­cal and hagio­graph­i­cal sources, she gives a broad expla­na­tion of the var­i­ous types of monas­ti­cism that devel­oped from the late third cen­tu­ry onwards, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on small groups, and the role of rela­tion­ships in monas­ti­cism – most sig­nif­i­cant­ly the spir­i­tu­al father-son, and spir­i­tu­al broth­er-broth­er rela­tion­ships that devel­oped in the con­text of monas­tic dis­ci­ple­ship and cohab­i­ta­tion. Also explored is the var­i­ous prac­tices and rit­u­als of monas­tic ini­ti­a­tion, such as the cut­ting of hair, the wear­ing of spe­cial cloth­ing, and the swear­ing of oaths, which is sig­nif­i­cant for the study of broth­er-mak­ing in particular. 

Fol­low­ing this, Rapp devel­ops her the­sis by explor­ing the cas­es of ‘paired monas­ti­cism’ that fre­quent­ly occur in the lit­er­a­ture, explor­ing the rea­sons why this devel­oped, and the vari­ety of temp­ta­tions that could occur, such as bick­er­ing and jeal­ousy. The theme of ‘spir­i­tu­al cap­i­tal’, or the co-suf­fer­ing of paired monas­tics on each other’s behalf, par­tic­u­lar­ly in regard to tak­ing on another’s penances, is explored through var­i­ous hagio­graph­i­cal accounts. The case study for this chap­ter is the life of Saint Syme­on the Fool and his paired monas­ti­cism with a man that he met whilst on pil­grim­age in the Holy Land. The author spec­u­lates that the prayer that is record­ed in this hagio­graph­i­cal work might pos­si­bly be the first record­ed broth­er-mak­ing prayer. The bless­ing pre­cedes their two men’s mutu­al recep­tion into the monas­tic life, and sub­se­quent ‘paired monas­ti­cism’ in the desert togeth­er. This bond is dis­solved when, despite the spir­i­tu­al union and the pleas of his spir­i­tu­al broth­er, Syme­on returns to the world to under­take his strug­gle of “fool­ish­ness for Christ.”

Broth­er-Mak­ing… is prob­a­bly the most com­pre­hen­sive work in its field, and one that posits a very real­is­tic assess­ment of the sub­ject at hand. Rapp’s com­pi­la­tion of man­u­script sources and trans­la­tions alone is an excel­lent con­tri­bu­tion to stud­ies in this area, and will like­ly be price­less for future schol­ars who research the sub­ject. For those with no pri­or knowl­edge of the broth­er-mak­ing rit­u­al, this book is both an ide­al intro­duc­tion and prob­a­bly the only work that one should need to read in order to obtain a fair­ly com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge of the sub­ject — such is its breadth and coverage. 

Clau­dia Rapp has pro­duced a work of schol­ar­ship that is not only metic­u­lous­ly researched but also avoids the dense lan­guage that could make it inac­ces­si­ble to non-schol­ars. Her argu­ment is well devel­oped and she eas­i­ly refutes the the­ses of Boswell and Fou­cault by the weight of her accu­mu­lat­ed evi­dence. Her inter­est­ing approach to the ques­tion, through his­tor­i­cal soci­ol­o­gy and the use of case stud­ies and peo­ples’ per­son­al accounts, gives her argu­ment a “three-dimen­sion­al” feel, bring­ing the sub­ject alive for the read­er. Although this is a fair­ly spe­cial­ized sub­ject, the rel­e­vance of Rapp’s find­ings make it a work that I would rec­om­mend to any­one with more than a pass­ing inter­est in Byzan­tine social his­to­ry or litur­gics, or con­tem­po­rary moral issues. 

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