Ben Myers wrote an article on the ABC entitled “Reflected glory: Imitation, biography and moral formation in early Christianity.”
Here are three excerpts.
While some Christian writers drew freely on ancient Roman ideas of virtue and self-care, the characteristic way early Christians reflected on the moral life was through biographical stories. It was Christianity’s immense investment in the idea of incarnation – the belief that God had entered the world in human flesh – that made stories of embodied life so important for the Christian moral imagination.
Basil’s saintliness was legendary in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and beyond. He had given away his family fortune to help the poor. He distributed food during times of famine. He worked to reform prostitutes and criminals. He founded monastic communities. He created what his contemporaries regarded as one of the wonders of the world: the Basiliad, a “new city” outside the city, a vast and complex community of care and support for the poor, the sick, the dying, the aged, the orphaned, and the outcast.
Gregory’s report [on the people who imitated Basil] sounds uncannily like our own celebrity culture, where the hairstyle or brand of sunglasses or tone of voice of our film-star saints sets in motion wave after wave of stylised imitation. Western culture today remains, for good or ill, a culture of imitation. It remains a culture of saints. All that’s missing is the virtue of the saints whose lives we imitate. It is, after all, not the clothing someone wears that makes them worthy of imitation, but the virtue – that nobility of spirit, that spark of godlike excellence – which has become enfleshed in them.
Ben Myers’ article can be found here.