Different Views of Hierarchy in Early Christian Communities

Faculty Sponsor

Jim Nelson


Arts and Sciences


Theology, Sociology

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


In the mid-300s, many Christians fled a corrupt political system to practice their faith in supportive groups. The monastic communities established by Pachomius in 323 CE and St. Basil in 529 CE emphasized building faith in a community of believers. Both Pachomius and St. Basil laid out Rules for the community structure that promoted unity and cooperation among group members. However, in practice, the early communities turned to an organized hierarchy of spiritual leaders to facilitate daily activities and uphold their values. Although it seems contrary to the Christian ideal of equality in koinonia, research suggests that social hierarchy can provide strong moral orientation for groups with shared values. Using vertical and horizontal hierarchy models, I compare how the early Christian communities of Pachomius and Basil used hierarchical structures to standardize practice and promote a focus on individual growth and development. While Pachomius and Basil lay out specific practices in their rules, The Regla Magistri or Rule of the Master, an anonymous monastic guide written around the sixth century, further supports the use of social hierarchy through general guidelines rooted in scripture passages. By combining both the implementation of hierarchy in the communities of Pachomius and Basil with the general reasoning in the Rule of the Master, it is clear that social hierarchy was a well-accepted and promoted facet of early Christian monasticism and was used to strengthen the faith of members and organize the community.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Rebekah Hershberger is a junior psychology and sociology student and Christ College scholar from Madison, Wisconsin. She is interested in how people interact with one another, and the social structures that allow for effective communication in groups. Advised by Professor Jim Nelson, Rebekah has researched early Chrisitan communities for the past year and presented her original research at the virtual conference for the Christian Association for Psychological Studies in March 2022.

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