chapter  8
Pages 21

Jerome-Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus-was born in the thirties or forties of the fourth century,1 in an empire that was ruled by Christian emperors, either Constantine himself or his sons. He came into a world in which Christianity ‘was rapidly consolidating its ascendancy, but in which Christians were becoming more and more divided into those whose commitment was deep-rooted and the much greater number whose Christianity was conventional, superficial, sometimes opportunist’.2 With Christianity becoming the accepted and favoured religion of the empire, the divisions among Christians became increasingly apparent, not only along the dimension of commitment but also on the very nature and meaning of the faith, with its implications both for theological discourse and political power. Not having to fear the power of the State, having even a stake in it, enabled Christians to focus increasingly on their differences; they soon intensified their conflicts and fought each other for both spiritual and worldly power with vigorous ferocity. Christian asceticism, put forward by its promoters as the spiritual basis for authority, became an integral part of this struggle. Christian attitudes to food and fasting from this period will be influenced by the ascetic ideology to such an extent as to make impossible their discussion independent of this propaganda. The present chapter will treat therefore attitudes to food and fasting in ascetic propaganda, while the next and last chapter will discuss them in monastic practice.