Chapter 5 surveys the development of ascetic renunciation as a favored mode of Christian existence from the religion’s origins to late antiquity. It details what ascetic Christians “renounced” (e.g., money, food, property, sleep), what their goals were, and what models of ascetic living became popular. Pagan writers as well as some Christian writers criticized the movement, which could jolt members of the upper classes when their members broke rank and divested themselves of possessions. In Rome, shortly before Melania’s time, aristocratic women had, at various stages in their lives, given up markers of their status (including civic philanthropy) and adopted ascetic practices, sometimes within their own palaces. Transmission of property and inheritance came into question, as women refused to marry (or to remarry). Melania’s Life dramatically illustrates how difficult it was to rid oneself of all property and possessions, especially the thousands of slaves that she and Pinian owned. Modern scholars have been less kind than their predecessors in their assessments of the social and economic consequences of Christian calls to renunciation.
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