Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Eschatological Nature of Asceticism

The eschatological settings of the marriage feast parables in the New Testament encouraged the ascetic nature of Christianity. To engage in activities that furthered the existence of this earthly life only delayed the inevitable — and desired — arrival of the eschaton. Christ as Second Adam had opened the gates of Paradise anew for those who were saved and promised their return to that state of grace lived by the First Adam and Eve before the Fall. To hasten the fulfillment of this event, the believer lived in its expectation and sought in every way possible not to contribute to the continuing existence of this earthly realm, for example, by the procreation of children.

But even further, the Syrian understanding brought a literal living out of life in the eschatological Paradise, as prefigured by Adam and Eve. More than a matter of celibacy, this understanding sometimes led the believer to adopt a life of stark symbolism: living naked in the wilderness exposed to the elements, eating only raw fruit and herbs, dwelling among the wild beasts, and leading an unbroken life of prayer. These precursors of the monastic movement understood the Christian life in its absolute sense; the believer was saved and so no longer part of the fallen world. The believer lived what the true eschatological reality promised. To live as if it had already come was to hasten its actual coming; but there was, too, a palpable sense that to live as if it had already come was to accomplish its actuality.

From Asceticism and Society in Crisis by Susan Ashbrook Harvey, pp. 6-7.