Christian ascetic tradition prior to the emergence of monasticism

Philosophical and cultural studies

Objectives: The article addresses genesis and development of the ascetic tradition in I-III century Christianity. Applicability of this study consists in the steadily increasing interest in Early Christianity among religious scholars and the ongoing gradual shift in the emphasis of their work. History of the first centuries asceticism is yet to be written, however it is already clear that scholars need to re-frame traditional approaches in order to fully cover its gradual development. Thus, the history of early ascetic thought and deeds shall be viewed less as an antecedent to monasticism and more as a sequential evolution from apostolic asceticism to martyrdom tradition and mysticism of Alexandrian fathers. Methods: Article methodology is based on Russian religious studies tradition, main methods are comparative approach to history of religions and relations between parts of the Christian canon and their interpretation, typological method in analysis of the key concepts of ascetic theology and hermeneutical method in reading of the sources. Conclusion: During the first three centuries main ideas of the Christian ascetics, which later became basis for monastic tradition, had been articulated, developed and practically tested. Distinctive features of the apostolic ascetic theology are soft limitations, developed axiology of asceticism and the life of community as the point of focus. In the II and III centuries the task of invocation, fasting, nonpossessiveness, celibacy and martyrdom understanding comes to the fore together with an affirmation of the central role of asceticism in the teachings of Christian perfection. The later, as well as discontinuance of Christians’ prosecution and their growth in numbers, made possible the emergence of monasticism. Despite the widely occurring in the XX century religious studies opinions, early Christian theology views asceticism as an essential attribute of Christianity, states the general applicability and necessity of ascetic norms for all community members. Application: The article can be valuable for forthcoming creation of the comprehensive history of Early Christian asceticism, which would be based on re-thinking of the traditional approach to asceticism's place in Christian societies and distinctive character of the II-III centuries ascetic thought ongoing in modern religious studies.