4.4. How should religious life be practiced?

The following excerpt comes from an elaborate accusation of deicide that begins as follows and concludes, “ You dashed the Lord to the ground; you, too, were dashed to the ground, and lie quite dead. ”

72 This one was murdered. And where was he murdered? In the very center of Jerusalem! Why? Because he had healed their lame, and had cleansed their lepers, and had guided their blind with light, and had raised up their dead. For this reason he suffered. Somewhere it has been written in the law and prophets, “ They paid me back evil for good , and my soul with barrenness” (Psalm ), “plotting evil against me” (Psalm 34:4; 40:8), saying, “Let us bind this just man because he is troublesome to us” (Isaiah 3:10 LXX).

73 Why, O Israel did you do this strange injustice ? You dishonored the one who had honored you. You held in contempt the one who held you in esteem. You denied the one who publicly acknowledged you. You renounced the one who proclaimed you his own. You killed the one who made you to live. Why did you do this, O Israel?

The institutionalization of Christianity created a hierarchy not only in principle, but in how Christianity was lived for the average Christian. For the bishops, as we have seen, life became very political. Often the general needs of the society fell under the job description of the bishop when there was not a civil authority to effectively govern. On the other end of society, the lowest commoners could expect no formal education or active involvement in the Church. When Christianity became the default religion rather than something actively promoted through persuasion, teaching the faith was sometimes neglected. Reverence for saints as patrons and role models, along with celebration of the Eucharist formed the backbone of living the faith for the common people. Two additional developments are characteristic of the practice of the faith in this period. Well beyond those who themselves practiced monasticism and mysticism, these developments impacted the daily lives and spirituality of many Christians.

4.4.1. Monasticism

Under Christendom monasticism expanded in popularity and variety. The common threads of all forms of monasticism are solitary living (variously conceived), celibacy, and poverty (variously conceived) . Over the centuries the roles of monasteries expanded from radical isolation to relatively urban social service. At times the monasteries served as the “work force” of the bishops, but more often the monasteries balanced the political and practical side of the Church with a spiritual and contemplative side. Whether they were escaping from pagans or Christians, Christians often found a need to escape the pressures of economic and political society.

We have already encountered monasticism in our discussion of the practices of early Judaism and Christianity

Figure 4. St. Anthony the Great (around 300 CE) went to the desert to escape the world and battle the internal temptations of women and wealth. Portrayed here by Salvador Dali.

Monasticism means “ living alone .” Typically that means that the community of monks lives apart from the rest of society, not that individual monks live apart from other monks (although that occurs also). More so in early Christianity, especially in Egypt, monks would go off into the desert. The word “hermit” comes from the Greek word for desert . Anthony is an example of a “desert father” who pursued closeness to God through distance from society. Tales such as those of Anthony, glorified with accounts of miracles, inspired more people to go out to the desert. More Christians admired this ideal even if they could not themselves follow it. If a desert was not handy, some Christians found caves or even lived on top of pillars to separate from the earth and reach to heaven. Ironically, some of these heroes of isolation developed cult followings as people went out to admire them or catch the overflow of their spirituality.

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