• Ambivalence about the Angelic Life: The Promise and Perils of an Early Christian Discourse of Asceticism

    Author(s):
    Ellen Muehlberger (see profile)
    Date:
    2008
    Group(s):
    Late Antiquity
    Subject(s):
    History, Ancient
    Item Type:
    Article
    Tag(s):
    Early Christianity, Late antiquity, Ancient history, Religious studies
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/M6GW4Z
    Abstract:
    The equation of the ascetic life with "the angelic life" permeates ancient writing about the renunciatory efforts of Christians; indeed, contemporary scholars often use this same discourse as shorthand for the ascetic movement in Christianity. While the analogy between renunciation and angels began as an inventive exegetical extension of a gospel story, it found traction among the fourth-century bishops who were pressed to make sense of new ascetic movements in their territories. Those in late ancient renunciatory communities knew that lay Christians referred to them as "living the angelic life," and community members put this trope to use among themselves: by envisioning angels as a constant audience for their practices, ascetics created and sustained the boundaries between their communities and the world. Imagining ascetic communities to be places where angels could appear at any moment also created constructive solutions for the sometimes difficult navigation between the strict ideal of perfection in virtue and the flexibility demanded by life in community. At the same time, angelic appearances generated their own difficulties on occasion—both conflicts of authority and crises of identity. Far from an entirely positive identification, being thought of as living "the angelic life" was a prospect received in ascetic literature with ambivalence, and at times disdain.
    Metadata:
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
    License:
    All Rights Reserved
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