18-09-'08 | J. Hofstra
Date and time
18 September 2008, 4.15 p.m.
Leontius von Neapolis und Symeon der Heilige Narr [Leontios of Neapolis and Simeon the Holy Fool]
Prof. J.N. Bremmer
The holy fool as a ‘hidden’ Christ
Jan Hofstra’s PhD thesis focuses on a peculiar saint: Simeon, the Holy Fool for Christ’s sake. The life of this saint (Syria, mid-sixth century) was recorded by Leontios of Neapolis. Hofstra’s study shows how a saint’s life can be deliberately constructed and provided with a subtly designed profoundness – even if hardly any historically reliable facts are known about that saint. The saint in this case functions as a source of inspiration for an interesting sermon. In addition, according to Hofstra, this vita also has some of the characteristics of a psychological novel.
Leontios of Neapolis lived on Cyprus in the 7th century. In his earlier work Life of St. John the Merciful, Leontios had already demonstrated a critical attitude by using humour and offensive behaviour to make the Church and society morally and religiously conscious. This work already has all the ingredients for the later Life of Simeon the Holy Fool. Although the author worried about the ecclesiastical and monastic situation in his time, his vitae, which were written shortly before the Arab conquest of the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, show no signs of an atmosphere of doom.
Leontios was an upbeat writer, and the Life of Simeon has a subtle and powerful composition, states Hofstra. Simeon played a role and had a hidden assignment. As a foolish monk he was able to identify with outcasts and in his crazy acts he managed to convince many notables to repent of their hidden mischief. Leontios constructed parallels between the lives of Jesus and Simeon, who as an alter Christus conducted his rescue work in utter humiliation. Hofstra discusses these parallels in detail. According to Hofstra, Leontios in this work full of critical humour did not try to propagate holy foolishness as the best way of life – he mainly tried to rehabilitate truly overworked monks – who knows, Christ might be hidden inside them.
Jan Hofstra (Groningen, 1945) studied theology at the University of Groningen. He started his research at the department of Ecclesiastical History and Liturgical Studies of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. Hofstra later became a minister for the Dutch-Reformed church and is currently director of a travel organization and of study and contemplation centre Karmel in Drachten. /ES
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