Back to the Monastic Future  

Posted by Joe Rawls

At the very end of Atheist Delusions:  The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies (Yale 2009) the philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, speculates on a possible future scenario of monasticism vis-a-vis the declining Western church.  But read the rest of the book too.


[The birth of monasticism in the fourth century] might be viewed as the final revolutionary movement within ancient Christianity:  its rebellion against its own success, its preservation of its most precious and unadulterated spiritual aspirations against its own temporal power (perhaps in preparation for the day when that power would be no more), and its repudiation of any value born from the fallen  world that might displace love from the center of the Christian faith.

It may be that ultimately this will again become the proper model of Christianity in the late modern West.  I am not speaking, of course, of some great new monastic movement.  I mean only that, in the lands where the old Christendom has mostly faded away, the life of those ancient  men and women who devoted themselves to the science of charity, in willing exile from the world of social prestige and power, may perhaps again become the model that Christians will find themselves compelled to emulate.  Christian conscience once sought out the desert as a shelter from the empire, where those who believed could strive to cultivate the pure eye (that could see all things as gifts of God) and the pure heart (that could receive all persons with a generous love); now a very great deal of Western culture threatens to become something of a desert for believers.  In other parts of the world, perhaps, a new Christendom may be in the process of being born--in Africa and Asia, and in another way in Latin America--but what will come of that is impossible to say.  We live in an age of such cultural, demographic, ideological, and economic fluidity that what seems like a great movement now may surprise us in only a very few years by its transience.  Innumerable forces are vying for the future, and Christianity may prove considerably weaker than its rivals.  This should certainly be no cause of despair for Christians, however, since they must believe their faith to be not only a cultural logic but a cosmic truth, which can never finally be defeated.  Even so, it may be the case that Christians who live amid the ruins of the old Christendom--perhaps dwelling on the far-flung frontiers of a Christian civilization taking shape in other lands--will have to learn to continue the mission of their ancient revolution in the desert, to which faith has often found it necessary, at various times, to retreat.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 12, 2012 at Thursday, January 12, 2012 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



I hope that mankind finds it possible to live without any religion.

January 25, 2012 at 2:26 PM

I think it is well and truly underway. I am a monk, living alone, a Priest, and a missionary, in the desert yes, and in a sense persecuted by others in the Church. I am not alone for I know that there are many others such as I and I suspect that akll unwittingly, we may - just may - be the beginning of some sort of remnancy. How it will play out only God knows. meanwhile I have my thin places where I can pray, and my chapel where others can join me.

February 24, 2012 at 1:45 PM

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