LETTER OF AMMON
The two most important manuscripts that have transmitted the text of the first Greek Life of Pachomius to us, the Florentinus and the Atheniensis, have also preserved the text of a document known as the Epistula Ammonis. It is a letter addressed by a bishop called Ammon to a certain Theophilus and is followed in the manuscripts by a response from the latter.
The texts of the letter and of the answer were first published by Papenbroech in 1680 in his ACTA SANCTORUM (Bollandus, 1643) and again by F. Halkin in 1932 in his Sancti Pachomii Vitae Graecae, according to the Florentinus manuscript. Halkin published the version of the Atheniensis manuscript in 1982.
No translation of this text appeared before the two published in 1982: one by A.-J. Festugière, following the Atheniensis manuscript (with footnotes indicating the divergent readings of the Florentinus manuscript), and the other by A. Veilleux, following the Florentinus manuscript but taking into account the readings of the Atheniensis manuscript.
From the details given in the letter itself, we know that Ammon, born to pagan parents in Alexandria, was converted to Christianity at the age of seventeen and went to Pbow as a monk in 352, six years after the death of PACHOMIUS OF TABENNESE, when THEODORUS OF TABENNESE was at the head of the Pachomian koinonia (community). He spent three years there in the house of the Alexandrian brothers and then transferred to NITRIA, where he spent many years before becoming a bishop. His letter is a kind of panegyric of Theodorus, for whom he developed a great admiration during the three years he spent at Pbow. It is accompanied in the manuscripts by a response from a certain Theophilus and was published by Papenbroech under the title Epistula Ammonis Episc. ad Theophilum Papam Alexandriae. But since the lemma of the Florentinus manuscript has no mention of Theophilus and that of the Atheniensis manuscript speaks of “a certain Theophilus,” it is far from certain that the addressee of the letter was really the archbishop of Alexandria.
The authenticity and the historical value of Ammon’s letter, generally acknowledged by historians, was radically questioned by L. T. LEFORT (1943), whose conclusions were in turn rejected by P. PEETERS (1946) and especially by D. J. Chitty (1954).
Ammon knew Theodorus personally and heard about him from various people, especially from two monks called Ausonius and Elourion. Although he wrote some forty years after leaving the THEBAID, Ammon seems to have had a very good memory for dates, and his letter is extremely useful in reconstructing the chronology of early Pachomian monasticism. But the fact that he lived for a long time at Nitria after only three years at Pbow and that he wrote his letter so many years later certainly explains that his terminology and even his preoccupations (e.g., the possibility of forgiveness of sins committed after baptism) are not particularly Pachomian. Of Theodorus and the other Pachomians he has remembered not so much their virtues and their graces of prayer as their gift of prophecy and their miracles.
- Bollandus, Acta sanctorum. Antwerp, 1643. Continued by J. B. Carnendet, G. Henschenius, D. Papenbroech. Venice, 1734; Paris, 1863.
- Chitty, D. J. “Pachomian Sources Reconsidered.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 5 (1954):38-77.
- Halkin, F. Sancti Pachomii Vitae Graecae. Subsidia Hagiographica 19. Brussels, 1932.
- . Le Corpus athénien de saint Pachôme avec une traduction française par A.-J. Festugière. Cahiers d’orientalisme 2. Geneva, 1982.
- Lefort, L. T. Les Vies coptes de saint Pachôme et de ses premiers successeurs, pp. li-lxii. Bibliothèque du Muséon 16. Louvain, 1953; repr. 1966.
- Peeters, P. “Le Dossier copte de S. Pachôme et ses rapports avec la tradition grecque.” Analecta Bollandiana 64 (1946):258-77.
- Veilleux, A. La Liturgie dans le cénobitisme pachômien au IVe siècle, pp. 108-111. Studia Anselmiana 57. Rome, 1968.
- . Pachomian Koinonia, Vol. 2, Pachomian Chronicles and Rules. Cistercian Studies 46. Kalamazoo, Mich., 1981.