Holy feigning in the Apophthegmata Patrum

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 3
  • Abstract:

    The purpose of this article is to uncover the meaning of holy feigning in the late-antique Christian text the Apophthegmata Patrum, or Sayings of the Desert Fathers [and Mothers]. Whereas stories in this text depict demonic feigning as a regular occurrence (demons often appearing in the guise of a fellow desert dweller), what I call ‘holy feigning’ depicts one desert Christian expressing empathy for the situation of another – and helping the other to change. By looking at two stories that are paradigmatic of holy feigning, I show that exemplary deceptive behaviour, though explicitly defying the otherwise consistent rhetoric of ‘radical self-honesty’ in the Apophthegmata Patrum, paradoxically marks out the person who feigns as holy, discerning and imitative of Christ. In this article, I offer several suggestions for accounting for this seeming contradiction in the desert literature and propose how a spirituality of holy feigning might remain meaningful to readers of this literature today.