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REPENTANCE AS THE CONTEXT OF SAINTHOOD IN THE ASCETICAL THEOLOGY OF MARK THE MONK

by ALEXIS TORRANCE

t seems fitting to begin with a tribute to the late Henry Chadwick, whose thorough, even-handed, and ever readable work contributed much to our understanding of the theme of sanctity in the early Church. In particular, his address at a conference on The Byzantine Saint held in Birmingham in 1980 exemplified his capacity to identify and constructively pursue the broad issues at stake. In speaking of the early saints and the content of their lives, Chadwick explains, we are tempted either to tell the stories of their mortifications and then, as was said of Lytton Strachey, ostentatiously refrain from laughing, or we go in search of trendy non-religious explanations of the social needs that created them.1 He goes on to acknowledge, as most would, the importance of sociological interpretations and their potential for the study of sanctity, but warns that a stripping away of their religious motivation will leave the historian with a distorted picture.2 It is along this route of keeping the religious or theological motivations and presuppositions of sanctity in mind, that the present essay will proceed. It focuses on the neglected concept of or repentance (lit. a change of mind) which dominates much of the ascetic theology of the early Christian East, particularly as expounded by the influential fifth-century theologian Mark the Monk (or the Hermit / the Ascetic). What makes the concept of repentance worthy of closer scrutiny in the context of views about sanctity in the early Church is the way in which it is used, particularly in Mark, as a term and an idea which sums up the path not simply of the ordinary Christian, but also of the near-perfect or perfected Christian. Repentance is, to be sure, the gateway to the holy in early Christian thought, but

1 H. Chadwick, Pachomios and the Idea of Sanctity, in S. Hackel, ed., The Byzantine Saint (London, 1981), 1124, at 12. 2 Ibid.

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Repentance in Mark the Monk it is also, as elaborated by Mark and others, conceivable in terms of the content of the holy, expressed through a loving one might say Christ-like repentance for ones fallen neighbour and for the fallen world at large. Mark the Monk Comparatively little scholarly consideration has been given to the ascetical theology of Mark the Monk. His identity and date have perplexed several scholars, though placing him in the early fifth century, and linking him to Egypt and/or Syria, seems the most plausible approximation.3 Despite the limited knowledge we have about the person of Mark, we know of his popularity in the Eastern Christian ascetic tradition. A simple attestation to this is the maxim that had apparently become commonplace amongst Eastern Orthodox monastics, and is mentioned in several Markan manuscripts:sell all and buy Mark.4 Marks circle of influence spans such dignitaries of Eastern Christian monasticism and spirituality as Dorotheus of Gaza, John Climacus, Isaac the Syrian, Theodore the Studite, Symeon the New Theologian, Peter of Damascus, Gregory of Sinai, Gregory Palamas and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain.5 He figures widely and substantially in patristic florilegia, about six per cent of the Synagoge of Paul of Evergetis being made up of Markan quotations.6 As such, he can safely be regarded as a mouthpiece for much Eastern Christian ascetic thought, and so deserving of the church historians attention.

3 Studies of Mark include: K. T. Ware, The Ascetic Writings of Mark the Hermit (unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 1965); H. Chadwick, The Identity and Date of Mark the Monk, Eastern Churches Review 4 (1982), 12530; O. Hesse, Was Mark the Monk a Sixth-Century Higumen near Tarsus?, Eastern Churches Review 8 (1976), 1748; A. Grillmeier, Marco eremita e lorigenismo: Saggio di reinterpretazione di Op. XI, Cristianesimo nella storia 1 (1980), 958; M. Plested, The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford, 2004), 75132; C. Carlton, Kyriakos Anthropos in Mark the Monk, JECS 15 (2007), 381405; and the introduction to the SC edition of Marks works by G.-M. de Durand (Traits I, SC 445, 1335). 4 On which see K. T. Ware, Introduction to Marc le Moine: Traits spirituels et thologiques, trans. C.-A. Zirnheld (Begrolles-en-Mauge, 1985), ixli, at ix. 5 For more on the afterlife of Mark, see Ware, Ascetic Writings, 45769. 6 See J. Wortley, The Genre and Sources of the Synagoge, in M. Mullett and A. Kirby, eds, The Theotokos Evergetis and Eleventh-Century Monasticism (Belfast, 1994), 30624, at 320.

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Repentance in Mark the Monk The basis for Marks preoccupation with and its relationship to sanctity is, as with countless Christian ascetics and teachers, the gospel word. The need to bear in mind that Christs public ministry begins, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, with the present imperative (repent ye / keep repenting), as well as that the term is key in many New Testament texts, cannot be overestimated when examining how the early ascetics approached the concept, particularly Mark. He opens his treatise (On Repentance) with an incisive exegesis of Christs initial command as found in Matthew 4: 17 (repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand), one which serves as a fitting keynote to his whole vision of repentance. He writes: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the power and wisdom of God, foreseeing for the salvation of all what he knew was worthy of God, decreed the law of liberty by means of various teachings, and to all set a single goal, saying: Repent, so that we might understand by this that all the diversity of the commandments is summed up by one word: repentance.7 That repentance ought to be the foundation of Christian life, and that it should accompany the ascetic throughout the struggle for Christian sanctity, are not particularly striking ideas for anyone familiar with early ascetic literature.The need for an open and more nuanced idea of the early Christian understanding of repentance, one which includes not simply self-mortifications and desperate weeping, but also thanksgiving, forgiveness, faith, joy, hope and humble love (in short, all the Christian virtues), has been raised a number of times in different ways.8 However, that repentance should not only be the means to, but in some sense the actual goal
De Paenitentia [hereafter Paen.] 1.17 (SC 445, 214). See K. T. Ware, The Orthodox Experience of Repentance, Sobornost 2.1 (1980), 1828; J. Chryssavgis, Repentance and Confession (Boston, MA, 1990); C. Rapp, For Next to God You are my Salvation: Reflections on the Rise of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity, in J. Howard-Johnston and P. A. Hayward, eds, The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown (Oxford, 1999), 6381; C. B. Horn, Penitence in Early Christianity in its Historical and Theological Setting: Trajectories from Eastern and Western Sources, in M. Boda and G. T. Smith, eds, Repentance in Christian Theology (Collegeville, MN, 2006), 15387; C. Trevett, I have heard from some Teachers: The Second-Century Struggle for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, in K. Cooper and J. Gregory, eds, Retribution, Repentance and Reconcilia7 8

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Repentance in Mark the Monk and content of sanctity ( )9 has yet to be underlined and discussed. In order to understand how this works itself out in Mark and (by extension) in much Eastern Christian ascetical theology, his reasoning underlying the need for a continuing repentance should be unpacked. Mark the Monks theology has been noted chiefly for two of its emphases. The first is his dissection of the process of temptation and sin, which was to be taken up virtually in toto by John Climacus in his Ladder of Divine Ascent. The other is his detailed theology of baptism, something he developed in response to the threat of Messalianism, which emphasized the efficacy of ascetic effort over against that of the sacraments. More than perhaps any other ascetic writer, Mark depicts baptism as the one and only allencompassing renewal for the human being.10 Baptism does not simply launch Christian life for Mark, but contains within itself (, secretly) the fullness of sanctity, which must be lived out , actively, by the Christian through the keeping of Christs commandments. It is within this framework of baptism, as containing in itself all the gifts of grace, that Marks vision of repentance emerges. Mark claims that in all our activity, there is but one foundation of repentance and that is the one baptism in Christ.11 This statement arises through Marks interpretation of Hebrews 6: 16 and 10: 26, on the impossibility of restoring or renewing the apostate to repentance.12 The purpose of these passages is by no means ( ), Mark insists, to question the validity or possible frequency of post-baptismal repentance. The renewal, enlightenment and sacrifice mentioned in these verses is not repentance but baptism: not, then, there is no second
tion, SCH 40 (Woodbridge, 2004), 528; R. Price, Informal Penance in Early Medieval Christendom, in ibid. 2938. 9 Paen 1.4 (SC 445, 214). 10 Baptism in Mark is discussed by K. T. Ware, The Sacrament of Baptism and the Ascetic Life in the Teaching of Mark the Monk, Studia Patristica 10 (1970), 44152. 11 Paen. 7.256 (SC 445, 238). 12 Paen. 78 (SC 445, 23444). The crucial verses are Heb. 6: 6, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance [unlike most modern translators, Mark took to mean unto / into repentance, not through repentance], seeing as they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame; Heb. 10: 26, For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins (citations from the Authorized Version, slightly modified).

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repentance, but there is no second baptism. He uses this platform to argue that what is in fact being said is that baptism is the basis of repentance, its enabling. It is thanks to baptism that repentance is possible.13 Far from being a facet of Christian life that can and ought to be avoided, repentance is for Mark inescapable for the Christian, inasmuch as he understands the practice of repentance to be coterminous with the keeping of the gospel commandments: repentance, in my opinion, is neither limited to times or actions, but it is practised in proportion with the commandments of Christ.14 Just as we eat, drink, listen, and speak, so for the believer repentance is a necessity of nature, and to fix a term on it is to turn backwards and renew the falls of times past.15 Personal sanctity is necessarily the preserve, for Mark, of the repentant, and to deny repentance is tantamount, he says, to denying Christ, who is the guarantor of repentance.16 Without repentance, the hallowed treasure hidden within through baptism remains buried, and the Christians potential is stunted, not to say thwarted. Even the hypothetical absence of sin cannot be used as an excuse not to repent, Mark explains, given the status of repentance for him as the most basic and overarching commandment of Christ: He who lives in faith lives for the sake of repentance, even if it was not because of our own sin, but because of the sin of the transgression, that we were purified by baptism and once purified, received the commandments.17 Even the saints then, need repentance. Indeed, if the righteous
13 This interpretation is shared with Ambrose of Milan and John Chrysostom: Ambrose, De Paenitentia 2.2 (PL 16, 497C); John Chrysostom, In epistulam ad Hebraeos 9.5 (PG 63, 78). All three, incidentally, are explicitly reacting to the Novatianist interpretation of these verses (this is the only point at which Mark explicitly names a heretical group). 14 Paen. 6.257 (SC 445, 232). This sentence, along with others in the same vein, is cited by the late seventh-century Syrian ascetic Dadisho Qatraya: Commentary on Abba Isaiah (CSCO 32627), Discourse 14.6, cf. 15.43; 3.9. 15 Paen. 12.35, 1517 (SC 445, 252). 16 Christ became the guarantor of repentance for us: the one who abandons it rejects the guarantor: Paen. 12.1920 (SC 445, 252). 17 Paen. 12.69 (SC 445, 252). It is suggested (Ware, Ascetic Writings, 199200, 348) that this and two other passages (Paen. 10.1538 (SC 445, 2468); On the Spiritual Law [hereafter Leg.] 155 (SC 445, 114)) may imply a person repenting for original as well as actual sin. The point, however, in the passages from Paen. is not that there is a need to repent for original sin, but that original sin necessitates that all, even a perfect person, find salvation in Christ, who commands us to repent (and so repentance is unavoidable). The most natural reading of Leg. 155 is that a person should consider

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Repentance in Mark the Monk neglect repentance, they prove themselves to be like Samson, Saul, Eli and his sons, who may have gained a certain measure of sanctity, Mark says, but because of their rejection of repentance they suffered fearful deaths.18 This way of thinking leads Mark to consider the form of repentance carried out by the saints, since repentance without sin appears counter-intuitive. To begin with, Marks sense of the devastation wrought by sin allows him to see a need for repentance even for those who have reached the measure of the saints. While there may be, he admits, people who live in perfection, they have not always done so. The sins of their past, however apparently slight (and here he cites the Sermon on the Mount and other texts related to this theme: anger towards another is like murder; an impure glance equals adultery; we are accountable for every vain word; and so on), sins such as these make even the apparently perfect in need of repentance until death.19 On a deeper level, however, the repentance of the saints is not so much preoccupied with their own past faults and flaws, but with something which we may call Christlike repentance. To this we now turn. Mark
the

Monk

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Christ-like repentanCe

There is no doubt that Mark, together with the Christian East generally, would have considered the view that Christ needed to atone for his own failings heretical: Christ had no failings.20 Yet when faced with the question of whether the sufferings Christ endured were for a personal debt (since he had argued that all sufferings have this as their source), Mark gives a nuanced answer:

himself responsible for the vain chatter of others because of an old debt in his own life, not the ancient debt of Adam. 18 Paen. 11.1013 (SC 445, 24850). 19 Paen. 10.114 (SC 445, 246): . Elsewhere he makes a comparable and striking point regarding the inability of present virtue to make up for past laxity: the greatest degree of virtue which we have accomplished today is a reproach for our past negligence, not a compensation for it: On that there is no Justification by Works [hereafter Justif.] 43 (SC 445, 142). Neither of these points mean that Mark considers forgiveness unattainable, only that, according to him, no matter how much we do (and we should always do as much as we can), we are not worthy of forgiveness. 20 Mark twice alludes to Heb. 4: 15, speaking of Christs humanity as full, only without sin: On the Incarnation [hereafter Incarn.] 49.223 (SC 455, 310); To Nicholas [hereafter Nic.] 9.67 (SC 455, 136).

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Tell me, those who fall into debt because of their own borrowing, are they alone debtors or are their guarantors () also? The subordinate answered saying: their guarantors also of course. The old man went on: Know it well that in accepting us Christ constituted () himself a debtor according to the holy scriptures: the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one who became a curse for us, the one who took upon himself the death of all and died on behalf of all .21 This idea of Christ as guarantor of humanity sums up what the repentance of Christ (my phrase) in Mark entails. The Incarnation is the occasioning of Christs underwriting or guaranteeing human life with his own, becoming the focal point of all human failure and sin, and at the same time the focal point of their forgiveness, and of hope. If we are to speak of the repentance of the saints as Christ-like in Mark, it must be shown, then, that it is in some way akin to this process of underwriting the life of humanity. Mark does this at De Paenitentia 11: the saints are obliged to offer repentance for their neighbour, since without an active love it is impossible to be perfected.22 The end of repentance is not found for Mark in the forgiveness of ones own failings, but in an imitation of Christs perfect and redemptive self-giving sacrifice. This reinforces for him the point that repentance is always incomplete in this life and can never be left aside. The fullest exposition of the Christian imitating Christ in this way is found in Conversation with a Lawyer 1820. Here Mark elaborates on the idea of suffering for others, involving what he calls the two types of communion: one of love, the other of evil. Because of this communion, without even knowing it, we stand surety for one another.23 Mark then briefly explains the communion of evil which begets involuntary sufferings in the one who enters it. The result of such entry is an overall increase

21 Conversation with a Lawyer [hereafter Causid.] 15.1223 (SC 455, 70), citing John 1: 29; Gal. 3: 3; 2 Cor. 5: 14. 22 Paen. 11.1517 (SC 445, 250). 23

Causid. 18.368 (SC 455, 80).

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Repentance in Mark the Monk of evil rather than its lessening.24 This leads to his explanation of the communion of love and how the saints become sponsors () for their fellows.25 He begins by declaring that the sponsoring ( ) that comes from love is that which the Lord Jesus transmitted to us.26 Having taken on all our sufferings, and death itself, to his own apostles he passed on this law, as to the prophets, fathers, and patriarchs: the latter being taught before by the Holy Spirit, the former being shown the example through his immaculate body.27 The essence of this teaching and law is encapsulated, says Mark, in the words no one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends (John 15: 13).28 This law was perpetuated by the Apostles, who taught that if the Lord laid down his life for us, we also should lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3: 16) and that we should bear one anothers burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6: 2).29 Entering the communion of love entails suffering in imitation of Christ for our fellow human beings. Elsewhere he writes: Do not say that a dispassionate person ( ) cannot suffer affliction; for even if he does not suffer on his own account, he is under a liability to do so for his neighbour.30 This, in short, is the meaning of Christ-like repentance in Mark. In the life of the believer it involves a radical enlargement of individual repentance in order to embrace and relieve the pain of his or her neighbour. Such merciful repentance is, moreover, not simply a desirable attribute according to Mark, but the basis upon which the world continues to stand: Since the merciful will be shown mercy, through repentance, in my opinion, the whole world holds together ( ), one finding mercy through another according to the divine will.31 The act of mercifully reaching out to other people is the repentance that holds the world together. Without it, the cosmos itself would lose all coherence, and forfeit
Causid. 19 (SC 455, 804). This is interesting from an ecclesiological perspective, since this became the common term used for godparents at baptism in the Christian East. 26 Causid. 20.56 (SC 455, 84). 27 Causid. 20.214 (SC 455, 84). 28 Causid. 20.279, 603 (SC 455, 848). 29 Causid. 20.637 (SC 455, 88). 30 Justif. 123 (SC 445, 166). 31 Paen. 11.302 (SC 445, 250).
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all meaning. Thus Christ-like repentance is for Mark an idea of profound consequence, and becomes the goal towards which all repentance ought to strive. This is a goal traced and fulfilled for Mark in the life of Christ, a life which needed no repentance, but which nevertheless willingly repented on behalf of all and for all. Conclusion What has been briefly presented is an attempt, following the call of Henry Chadwick, to bring out a key aspect of the early Christian ascetic mindset regarding the nature and purpose of holiness. Mark proves a perfect focus for attention given both his unambiguous popularity among posterity, and his ability to take common tropes of the ascetic life and develop them within a theological framework more elaborate than those held (if at all) by the common monks of the late antique Christian world. But while others may not have completely shared his tendency to weave such a detailed ascetic theology of repentance, particularly regarding what I have termed Christ-like repentance, the ideas and concepts he espoused regarding the concept were indeed a shared heritage and preoccupation among many Christian ascetics, both anterior and posterior to Mark. Examples are plentiful, and a representative sample might include: Abba Lots carrying of half the burden of a disciple who had sinned grievously;32 Poemens compassion which leaves his own dead to weep over the dead of another;33 Pachomiuss giving himself up to mourning before the Lord for forty days on behalf of ten brothers who were murmuring;34 the grief, described by Antony, which a monk feels for the whole Church;35 Bassian the Solitarys feverish mourning for the delusion and captivity and destruction of the race of men;36 Barsanuphius and Johns bearing of the whole of their disciples transgression;37 the taking on of the sins of the community by the monks at a monastery near Alex-

Apophthegmata Patrum, Lot 2 (PG 65, 256). Apophthegmata Patrum, Poemen 6 (PG 65, 320). First Greek Life 100, in Pachomian Koinonia: The Lives, Rules, and other Writings of Saint Pachomius, Volume One, trans. A. Veilleux, Cistercian Studies 45 (Kalamazoo, MI, 1980), 367. 35 Epistle 5, in The Letters of Saint Antony the Great, trans. D. Chitty (Oxford, 1975), 1416. 36 John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 41 (PO 18, 6523). 37 Barsanuphius and John, Letter 73 (SC 427, 34850).
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Repentance in Mark the Monk andria described by John Climacus;38 Isaac the Syrians merciful heart which bleeds not only for other people, but for the whole of creation;39 and so on. Marks preoccupation with the theme of repenting for others is thus not an isolated one in the history of the ascetical theology of the Christian East, as these examples from the fourth to seventh centuries demonstrate. Rather Mark was giving theological justification to an idea that permeated the experience of the Christian ascetics before as well as after his time. To the mind of many of these ascetics, embarking on the way of repentance was a journey with the goal not of individual perfection or personal salvation, but of cultivating and enlarging ones heart to repent for, and bear the falls and pain of, those around, trying, in however faltering or inadequate a way, to mimic and share in the example of Christ. Moreover, because of this grounding of sanctity in the concept of repentance, one also sees how the hope of living a saintly life was not altogether out of reach for the average monk and the average layperson, since every Christian life, to be Christian at all, was bound to the continuum of repentance. While the seasoned ascetics may not have expected that treading the path of repentance would always yield the heights of a Christlike repentance in the lives of the average monk or layperson, they recognized an organic, even indissoluble link between all forms of repentance, exalted or lowly. Sanctity was attainable by all, in other words, because the path of sanctity intersected completely, from beginning to end, with the path of repentance. Christ Church, University of Oxford

John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 4.23 (PG 88, 685D). Homily 71, Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian, trans. D. Miller (Boston, MA, 1984), 3445.
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