Sexuality, Angelification, and Divine Indwelling: A Contemporary Ethic of Early Christian Asceticism

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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The monastic movement originated among laity who recognized within themselves the potential to embody the Christian gospel. That a practice so central to early Christians and their Scriptural understanding would undergo such a decline contemporarily gives pause for reconsideration. This article posits that the kind of asceticism at the core of Christian monasticism maintains relevance as a transformative Christian practice in the contemporary world, as well. The argument draws on a tripartite model of spirituality in accord with Gregory of Nyssa’s notion of epektasis. This suggests asceticism’s contemporary appropriation as an ethic of Christian spiritual development oriented toward perpetual ascent. Asceticism will be analyzed as a form of spiritual struggle; that is, physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual exertion aiming to progress in knowledge, similitude, and intimacy with Jesus Christ, for God and for others. The three stages of this ethic of Christian spiritual growth – 1) detachment from fleshly passions, 2) strengthening of the soul, and 3) union with God – find parallels in the three themes at the core of asceticism: sexuality, angelification, and divine indwelling. Situating asceticism within a framework of spiritual struggle creates an opportunity to recover and re‐envision a well‐established Christian practice in a contemporary context.


Special Themed Issue: “Love Your Enemy: Its Political Significance.”

Stephen Meawad is an adjunct professor in the Catholic Studies Department at Sacred Heart University.