Tracing the Jesus Prayer Westward
“Tracing the Jesus Prayer Westward: Reaffirming Egyptian Influence on Western Monasticism in Late Antiquity”
by Patricia Ann Eshagh, Ph.D., THE CLAREMONT GRADUATE UNIVERSITY, 2016, 138 pages; 10046738
“In the ancient world, Egyptian monasticism became the standard model for exemplary asceticism. Its influence continued on to Europe in late antiquity and informed the development of western monasticism. Spiritual seekers learned the ways of the Egyptian monk by either reading authoritative texts such as the Life of Antony (Vita Antonii) or by hearing stories from people who visited monasteries in Egypt. Monastic texts documented the oral tradition of Egyptian monasticism, the experiences of visitors to its monastic communities and the lives of its spiritual leaders. These valued texts transformed people’s lives and shaped the way in which later generations approached their commitment to monastic life.
In the nineteenth century, scholars initiated a line of inquiry into monastic origins that resulted in damaging allegations against the legacy of Egyptian monasticism and its foundational texts. That investigation sparked an international debate between scholars who accepted the established Egyptian monastic tradition and the nontraditionalists, who set out to redefine its historic truth—a circuitous debate that continues to the present day.
This dissertation engages the scholarly debate on behalf of the traditionalists by reaffirming the value of the monastic texts as credible transmitters of the spirituality of Egyptian monasticism. That spirituality consisted of a unique prayer culture that combined work with unceasing prayer. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of fourth-century Egypt utilized a short supplication of remorse as their unceasing prayer formula—known today as the Jesus Prayer. This dissertation discusses the origin of the Jesus Prayer within the prayer culture of early Egyptian monasticism. It then traces the transmission of the Egyptian monastic prayer culture through the Jesus Prayer from its origin in Egypt to the West in the fifth century through the facility of discipleship and the treatises of John Cassian. Finally, it demonstrates how the Jesus Prayer and the essence of the Egyptian monastic prayer culture were absorbed into the western monastic rules of Benedict and Caesarius as an essential element in the inner contemplative prayer life of western monasticism.”
A very interesting dissertation, accessible to those with access to electronic resources via, for example, University libraries.