Prudentius’ Panopticon of Christianity

With the overt descriptions of violence and the anthropomorphization of Vices and Virtues into grandiose warriors, it is perhaps a foreign notion to consider Psychomachia as a properly Christian text. Yet while it may clash with a modern conception of Christianity, Psychomachia presents a notably Foucauldian sense of human community and utopia through the filter of Christian ideals, and the violence is more of a medium of storytelling, not a focus. The eponymous “Fight for Mansoul” belies the text’s argument that rather than physicalized violence, the true threat to peace within both the individual human as well as humankind on the whole is one that is inherently spiritual and psychological. This is evident from the fact that the text places Greed as the mother of every Vice – while Greed itself does not cause the same kind of literal death and destruction as Wrath and Pride, Greed is a Vice of the Mind, insidiously infecting humanity and inciting the type of war and destruction described earlier in the text. Much like a plague, all it takes is for one person to succumb to Greed in order for it to spread.

This ties in with the consideration of Heresy as one of the most dangerous Vices, and is illuminated by the description of Concord and Faith in the ending passages. By characterizing the two leading Virtues as towering over humanity, where “All tents stand exposed, their curtains drawn back, the canvas open,” in order to prevent any individual from remaining outside the purview of the Virtues, it gives the ideal Christian society the airs of a Panopticon. Consequently, Psychomachia presents a worldview where the perfect Christian society is one in which the notion of “free will” is stripped away in order for the human collective to make sure no individual member succumbs to the Vices of the Mind and infects the unified Mansoul. 

The combination of its message, evangelizing for a future with no individual free will and collective enforcement of Christian doctrine, and its style, with its crowd-pleasing violence (easily brought to life with vivid manuscripts), renders the Psychomachia a document of indoctrination, or even “brainwashing.” It meets the reader wherever they are on their spiritual journey: vices like Wrath and Lust, which are easily seen in real life and manifested by physical actions, are dispensed with quickly and gruesomely, capturing the emotions of a less sophisticated or pious believer; whereas more subtle vices of the mind caution the outwardly pious to be ever-vigilant about themselves and their fellow flock, looking beyond the superficial.

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