Monastic Rules of Shenoute

Bentley Layton “The Canons of Our Fathers: Monastic Rules of Shenoute” (Oxford Early Christian Studies), [Oxford University Press, 2014]
The Canons of Our Fathers
“This book is the first publication of a very early collection of Christian monastic rules from Roman Egypt. Designed for the so-called White Monastery Federation, a community of monks and nuns who banded together about 360 CE, the rules are quoted by the great monastic leader Shenoute of Atripe in his writings of the fourth and fifth century. These rules provide new and intimate access to the earliest phases of Christian communal (cenobitic) monasticism.

In this volume, Bentley Layton presents for the first time the Coptic text of the rules, amounting to five hundred and ninety-five entries, accompanied by a clear and exact English translation. Four preliminary chapters discuss the character of the rules in their historical and social context, and present new evidence for the founding of the monastic federation. From passing remarks in the rules, Layton paints a brilliant picture of monastic daily life and ascetic practice, organized around six general topics: the monastery as a physical plant, the human makeup of the community, the pattern of ascetic observances, the hierarchy of authority, the daily liturgy, and monastic economic life. “The Canons of Our Fathers” will be a fundamental resource for readers interested in Christian life in late antiquity, ascetic practices, and the history of monasticism in all its forms.”

“Shenoute the Great, Saint Shenoute the Archimandrite (347-465 or 348-466) (also called Shenouda) was the abbot of the White Monastery in Egypt. He is considered a saint by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and is one of the most renowned saints of the Coptic Orthodox Church…
Shenoute was born in 348 AD in the Upper Egyptian village of Shenaloletto to devout Christian parents. His uncle was Saint Pigol, another famous Egyptian saint and the founder of a monastery in Upper Egypt known today as the White Monastery. At a young age, Shenoute helped taking care of his father’s flock of sheep.
During one of Shenoute’s trips to his uncle’s monastery, Saint Pigol kept him as a result of a vision and later made him a monk. Around 385 AD, he was chosen by his fellow monks to succeed his uncle as the abbot of the White Monastery. When he took over that task, the monastery was inhabited by 30 old monks. By the time of his death in 466 AD, the monastery had 2,200 monks and 1,800 nuns, who lived over an area about 3,000 times its original size.
From his uncle, Saint Pigol, Shenoute inherited a monastery based on the Pachomian system, though more austere and stringent. This made its followers few in number and probably promoted decline rather than growth. Shenoute implemented a more comprehensive system that was less stringent and more suitable to the surroundings and the background of the people. This new system had an unusual component, which was a covenant (diatheke) to be recited and adhered to literally by the new novices. It read as follows:
‘I vow before God in His Holy Place, the word which I have spoken with my mouth being my witness; I will not defile my body in any way, I will not steal, I will not bear false witness, I will not lie, I will not do anything deceitful secretly. If I transgressed what I have vowed, I will see the Kingdom of Heaven, but will not enter it. God before whom I made the covenant will destroy my soul and my body in the fiery Hell because I transgressed the covenant I made.’ [Bell, the Life of Shenute by Besa, pp.9-10]
Transgressors of that covenant were expelled from the monastery altogether. This was considered a near death sentence for those peasant monks.Another interesting feature of Shenoute’s monastic system was the requirement for the new novices to live outside the monastery for a period of time before they were deemed worthy to be consecrated as monks. This seemed to be at odds with the Nitrian monastic system, which allowed the monks to live away from the monastic settlements only after they became proficient in the monastic life. Shenoute also utilized the time of the monks, outside prayer and worship, in more varied tasks within the monastery than the Nitrian monks were exposed to. Aside from the traditional trades of rope and basket weaving, the monks engaged in weaving and tailoring linen, cultivation of flax, leather work and shoe-making, writing and book-binding, carpentry, and metal and pottering-making. All in all, Shenouda tried as much as possible to employ the monks in their old professions. Such activities made the monastery a vast self-supporting complex, which occupied some 20 square miles (52 km2) of land.
Shenute 2
As a monastic leader, Shenoute recognized the need for literacy among the monk. So he required all his monks and nuns to learn to read and encourage more of them to pursue the art of writing manuscripts. This made the monastery more and more appealing to belong to, and consequently made the threat of expulsion seems the more painful.”
shenoute red monastery
Shenoute. Secco painting, ca. 7th century. North lobe of the sanctuary, Red Monastery Church, near Sohag, Egypt.
See further:
Life of Shenute
Davdi N. Bell “Besa: The Life of Shenoute” [Cistercian Studies Series, vol. 73. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1983]
Stephen Emmel “Shenoute’s Literary Corpus” 2 vols. [Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, vols. 599–600 (= Subsidia, vols. 111–112). Leuven: Peeters, 2004] [With an extensive bibliography on Shenoute up to 2004.]
Stephen Emmel “Shenoute’s Place in the History of Monasticism” in Gawdat Gabra and Hany N. Takla (eds) “Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt, vol. 1: Akhmim and Sohag” pp. 31–46 (with bibliography on pp. 321–350) [Cairo and New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2008]
Monastic bodies
Carolin T. Schroeder “Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe” [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007].
Shenouda tomb
“The tomb of St. Shenoute of Atripe, White Monastery, Sohag, Egypt. In 2002, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) discovered and investigated a triconch funerary chapel at the White Monastery. Slightly off-center in the chapel nave is an opening in the floor that provides access to a pair of small subterranean chambers decorated with a stunningly well-preserved program of paintings. The walls of the barrel-vaulted passageway, antechamber, and burial chamber display a program principally featuring images of gemmed crosses, deer, gazelles, eagles, and peacocks, in a restrained palette consisting of ocher, light yellow, rose, cream, pale green, blue, and black. In the rectangular, barrel-vaulted tomb chamber itself; this visual program survives almost completely intact. Its fine state of preservation and traces of mortar at its threshold indicate that this interior space was sealed after the interment of the deceased. But at the time of excavation in 2002 the tomb no longer contained any human remains. The tomb was almost certainly built and decorated for St. Shenoute, who died in 465.”,0.00,75.7


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