This study is a cultural history of ancient monastic psychagogy, or ascetic guidance, defined as the training of disciples through various strategies of advice, discipline, and emotional support. My focus is on the first several centuries of the monastic movement, beginning with its early development in the fourth century and ending at its systematic regulation through the legislation of emperor Justinian in the sixth. I relate monasticism's innovative theories about psychagogy to its institutionalized practices; the wider society of the Late Antique Mediterranean; and various ancient philosophical traditions, including earlier Christian authors. Monastic psychagogy, I argue, is based on the fundamental concept of a struggle for identity, a battle against hostile forces which challenge disciples' progress in virtue and salvation. I examine how this concept of struggle, and its reflection in various aspects of monastic society and culture, relates to the instruction of disciples, from initial conversion until death.
In the first chapter, I describe the complex process of conversion, including recruitment strategies, the different types of response, and the hazing period, all of which are meant to test the novice's obedience and commitment in the face of internal and external pressures. The second chapter describes the two fundamental ascetic exercises, which recent converts begin to practice immediately: the recitation of scripture and the fear of God, a complex sense of shame, guilt, and aversion to pain which could be mobilized to combat temptation. These exercises were learned both through individual effort, and the often harsh chastisement, both physical and verbal, of one's teacher. In the third chapter, I relate these disciplinary strategies to the notion of beneficial trauma, according to which disciples are thought to improve by continual warfare with demonic temptation, all unfolding under divine approval. This war with thoughts and emotions is certainly the most distinctive aspect of Christian psychagogy, and I explore its connection to the importance of teachers, and their emotional support, for the progress of disciples, until they are qualified to instruct others. In the conclusion, I apply my results to the contentious issue of the place of Christianity, and especially monasticism, in the history of sexuality.