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Theodore of Studium (d. 826):

Reform Rules

St. Theodore of Studium is the major monastic figure of early ninth century Byzantium. He was an important writer, especially on the issue of Iconoclasm, as well as a monastic reformer. The ruins of his monastery of St. John of Studium still stand in south-east Constantinople [Istanbul]. The reform rules here are not a formal rule, but the contents of a letter Theodore sent to his protegee Nicolas when he became abbot of another monastery.

The interest of such documents is often not in the rules themselves, but in the witness they give to common transgressions. This particular document is also interesting in its discussion of gender and sexuality issues.

There is a veritable horror of femininity, to the extent that, as is still the case on Mt. Athos, female animals are to be excluded from the monastery. Women are seen as tempting, and there is some real fear that any given monk might fall.

Of some interest, following the recent and highly controversial argument of John Boswell that same sex marriages were celebrated in Byzantium, is Theodore's prohibition [para 2 below] of such ceremonies between monks and lay men on the grounds that the monks have "fled from the world and from marriage". Whether or not this relates to homosexual relationships or not is very debateable. In para. 3, however, Theodore makes a clear reference to homosexual attraction when he forbids the abbot from taking a youth alone into his cell.

Since, by the good pleasure of God, you have been promoted, my spiritual child Nicolas, to the dignity of abbot, it is needful for you to keep all the injunctions in this letter. Do not alter without necessity the type and rule that you have received front your spiritual home, the monastery. Do not acquire any of this world's goods, nor hoard up privately for yourself to the value of one piece of silver. Be without distraction in heart and soul and your thought for those in your care who have been entrusted to on by God, and have become your spiritual sons and brothers;- and do not look aside to those formerly belonging to you according to the flesh, whether kinsfolk, or friends, or companions. Do not spend the property of your monastery, in life or death, by way of gift or of legacy, to any such kinsfolk or friends. For you are not of this world, neither have you part in the world. Except that if any of your people come out of ordinary life to join our rule, you must care for them according to the example of the Holy Fathers. Do not obtain any slave nor use in your private service or in that of the monastery over which you preside, or in the fields, man who was made in the image of God. For such an indulgence is only for those who live in the world. For you should yourself be as a servant to the brethren like-minded with you, at least in intention, even if in outward appearance you are reckoned to be master and teacher. Have no animal of the female sex in domestic use, seeing that you have renounced the female sex altogether, whether in house or fields, since none of the Holy Fathers had such, not- does nature require them. Do not be driven by horses and mules without necessity, but go on foot in imitation of Christ. But if there is need, let your beast be the foal of an ass.

Use all care that all things in the brotherhood be common and not distributed, and let nothing, not even a needle, belong to any one in particular. Let your body and your spirit, to say nothing of your goods, be ever divided in equality of love among all your spiritual children and brethren. Use no authority over the two brothers of yours who are my sons. Do nothing, by way of commnad or of ordination, beyond the injunctions of the Fathers. Do not join in brotherhood [adelphopoiia] or close relation with secular persons, seeing that you have fled from the world and from marriage. Such relations are not found in the Fathers, or but here and there, and not according to rule. Do not sit at a feast with women, except with your mother according to the to the flesh, and your sister, or possibly with others in case of necessity, as the Holy Fathers enjoin. Do not go out often, nor range around, leaving your fold without necessity. For even if you remain always there, it is hard to keep safe your human sheep, so apt are they to stray and wander.

By all means keep to the instruction three times a week in the evening, since that is traditional and salutary. Do not give what they call the little habit [of novice or postulant?] and then, some time later, another as the larger,. For there is one habit, as there is one baptism, and this is the practice of the Holy Fathers. Depart not from the rules and canons of the Fathers, especially of the Holy Father Basil; but whatever you do or say, be as one who has his witness in the 'Holy Scriptures, or in the custom of the Fathers, so as not to transgress the commandments of God. Do not leave your fold or remove to another, or ascend to any higher dignity, except by the paternal decision. Do not make friends with any canoness, not- enter any women's monastery, nor have any private conversation with a nun, or with a secular woman, except in case of necessity; and then let it be so that two are present on either- side. For one, as they say, is cause of offense. Do Hot open the door of the sheepfold to any manner of, woman, without great necessity; if it is possible to receive such in silence, it is all the better. Do not procure a lodging for yourself, or a secular house for your spiritual children, in which there are women, for that were to run great risks; but provide yourself with what is necessary for journeys and other occasions from men of piety. Do not take as pupil into your cell a youth for whom you have a fancy; but use the services of some one above suspicion, and of various brothers.

Do not have any choice or costly garment, except for priestly functions. But follow the Fathers in being shod and clad in humility. Be not delicate in food, in private expenditure, or in hospitality; for this belongs to the portion of those who take their joy in the present life. Do not lay up money in your monastery; but things of all kinds, beyond what is needed, give to the pool- at the entrance of' your court; for so did the Holy Fathers. Do not keep a safe place, nor have a care for wealth. But let all your care be the guardianship of souls. As to the money, and various necessaries, entrust them to the steward, the cellarer, or to whosesoever charge it falls; but so that you keep for yourself the whole authority, and change offices among persons from time to time as you see fit, receiving account as you may demand, of the tasks entrusted to each. Do nothing, carry out nothing, according to your own judgment, in any matter whatever, in journeying, buying or selling, receiving or rejecting a brothers or in any change of officer in anything material, or in regard to spiritual failings, without the counsel of those who stand first in knowledge and in piety, one, two, three or more, according to circumstances, as the Fathers have directed. These commands, and all others that you have received, keep and maintain, that it may be well with you, and that you may have prosperity in the Lord all the davs of your life. But let anything to the contrary be far front you in speech and in thought.


Trans A. Gardner, Theodore of Studium: His Life and Times, (London: Edward Arnold, 1905), pp. 71-74

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996

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