What does it Mean to Call the Monasteries of Gaza a ‘School’? A Reassessment of Dorotheus’ Intellectual Identity

in Vigiliae Christianae
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This paper investigates the pedagogic theory and practice reflected in the Instructions of Dorotheus of Gaza. Recent scholarship has emphasised the school-like character of Palestinian monasticism in the sixth century, but failed to define in what respects the monks’ activity in the coenobia near Gaza resembled teaching in the ancient schools. Taking the education system of the Neoplatonic schools as a starting point, this article systematically analyses Dorotheus’ conceptualisation of his community, his methods in the formation of the brothers and the role of intellectual activities in the daily life of the monks. It is demonstrated that Dorotheus implemented a curriculum of medico-philosophical therapy that followed the pedagogic pattern in philosophical schools and circles. However, what distinguishes his pedagogy from that of ancient philosophers is the strong emphasis on communal psychagogy and the role of practice in the progress to virtue.

Vigiliae Christianae

A Review of Early Christian Life and Language




Lorenzo Perrone, “The necessity of advice: spiritual direction as a school of Christianity in the correspondence of Barsanuphius and John of Gaza,” in Christian Gaza in Late Antiquity, ed. by Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony and Aryeh Kofsky (Leiden: Brill, 2004) 131-149 (‘the idea of “being for the other” may conveniently sum up both the essential dynamics of the human religious experience of this monasticism and its lasting significance as a “school of Christianity” ’, 148); Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony and Aryeh Kofsky, The Monastic School of Gaza (Leiden: Brill, 2006) passim; Rosa Maria Parrinello, “La scuola monastica di Gaza,” Rivista di storia del cristianesimo 5 (2008) 545-565. See also François Neyt, “A Form of Charismatic Authority,” Eastern Churches Review 6 (1974) 52-65, here 57.


Alois Grillmeier et al., Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 2.3: The Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch from 451 to 600 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) 109-112. Further, Rosa Maria Parrinello, Comunità monastiche a Gaza: Da Isaia a Doroteo (secoli IV-VI) (Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2010) 215-230 studies social mechanisms in Dorotheus’ community.


Lillian I. Larsen, “On learning a new alphabet: The sayings of the Desert Fathers and the Monostichs of Menander,” Studia Patristica 55 (2013) 59-77. Samuel Rubenson, “Monasticism and the Philosophical Heritage,” in The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, ed. by Scott F. Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 487-512. Philip Rousseau, “Ascetics as mediators and as teachers,” in The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown, ed. by James Howard-Johnston and Paul Antony Hayward (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 45-59, here 55: ‘I believe it was the schola, the world of the paidagogos . . . Here was the milieu that the Christian ascetic wished to capture, to colonize, to redefine.’


Robert Browning, “Education in the Roman Empire,” in The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 14: Late Antiquity, Empires and Successors AD 425-600, ed. by Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins and Michael Whitby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) 855-883 gives a useful overview of teaching in the period under discussion. On rhetorical teaching see Robert Kaster, Guardians of Language: The Grammarian and Society in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) and Raffaella Cribiore, Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).


Richard Lamberton, “The schools of Platonic philosophy of the Roman Empire: The evidence of the biographies,” in Education in Greek and Roman Antiquity, ed. by Y. L. Too (Leiden: Brill, 2001) 433-458 gives an instructive overview based on the Lives. See also Edward J. Watts, City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) on the schools’ place in the intellectual milieus of Athens and Alexandria.


Elżbieta Szabat, “Teachers in the Eastern Roman Empire (Fifth-Seventh Centuries),” in Alexandria: Auditoria of Kom el-Dikka and Late Antique Education, ed. by Tomasz Derda, Tomasz Markiewicz, and Ewa Wipszycka (Warsaw: Warsaw University, 2007) 177-345, here 181-208 analyses the categories of teachers in late antiquity, but also points out their fuzziness.


See Harold Tarrant, “Platonist curricula and their influence,” in The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism, ed. by Pauliina Remes and Svetla Slaveva-Griffin (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014) 15-29 on the Iamblichian curriculum that dominated Neoplatonic schooling.


Szabat, “Teachers,” 195.


Lamberton, “Schools,” 446-447. See also Champion, Explaining, 36-37 on the overlap between philosophical and rhetorical teaching. With regard to the local background of Dorotheus’ monastery, we may add that Aeneas and Procopius of Gaza both combined rhetorical education with philosophical interests.


Szabat, “Teachers,” 197-198.


Lamberton, “Schools,” 440.


Henrik Rydell Johnsén, “Renunciation, Reorientation and Guidance: Patterns in Early Monasticism and Ancient Philosophy,” Studia Patristica 55 (2013) 79-94.


Leah Di Segni, “Monk and society: The case of Palestine,” in The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present, ed. by Joseph Patrich (Leuven: Peeters, 2001) 31-36. See also Rubenson, “Monasticism,” 489-491.


Hadot, Philosophy, 209-211. Michel Foucault has also drawn attention to the practice of ‘writing the self’, for instance in The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-82, ed. by F. Gros (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) 358-362.


Hadot, Philosophy, 209-210.


Hevelone-Harper, Disciples, 76-77.


See also Heinrich von Staden, “La lecture comme thérapie dans la médecine gréco-romaine,” Comptes-rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 146 (2002) 803-822 on the use of reading in ancient physical and mental therapy.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 5 5 4
Full Text Views 2 2 2
PDF Downloads 2 2 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0