Monks at work in Eastern Mediterranean: Ideals and reality
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The main question that the present paper tries to answer is as fol- lows: since two discordant precepts concerning work were to be found in the New Testament, how did monks behave? One precept treated work as a duty, the other recommended not to care about one’s maintenance. The monks followed in their behaviour either the first or the second precept. As a result of disputes that took place in the fourth century the opinion prevailed that work was the better choice. It is important for us to find out when and under what circumstances that choice was done by the majority of the monastic movement in the East. It is also important to see what arguments were used by the monks of Late Antiquity in order to settle the conflict between the two discordant precepts. This conflict worried many and caused a renewal of a dispute that seemed to have been closed. Two ways of reasoning in favour of monastic work were generally used: monks might and should pray and work at the same time, satisfying both precepts; monks ought to work in order to be able to give alms, and this conferred to work a meaning that went beyond immediate usefulness. Praying and working at the same time was not always feasible in actual practice, but this did not bother authors of ascetic treatises.
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