Ascetic theology St Ignatius

Although the Slavophiles to some extent were repeating the patristic and ecclesiastic theses of 1840s-1850s theology in the academy, their alternative "secular" theology was nevertheless offering a new approach. In this they differed also from that other strand of nineteenth-century theology, the monastic ascetic tradition. This difference is especially noticeable in contrast with the works of St. Ignatius (1807-1867, canonized 1998), who is representative of ascetic theology of the same period. Unlike most other authorities of the Russian Church, Ignatius did not originate in the clergy and, moreover, had no systematic spiritual education. Nevertheless, many of his theological ideas were included in the academic tradition of the period.

Like most theologians of the time, St. Ignatius attached special significance to tradition and the writings of the church fathers. When it came to questions of the Fall, the imago dei, and expiation, he shared the opinions of Makarius (Bulgakov), requisitioning them in his treatises Ascetic Experiences and A Word about Death for polemic effect against European mysticism in general, and against the Catholic

Imitation of God by Thomas Kempijsky in particular. Ignatius' critique was based on his anthropological views. As he saw it, there are three states of human Being: before the Fall, after the Fall, and after Redemption. In the first of these states, human nature was not implicated in evil, about which a person had only theoretical and not practical knowledge. A soul in this state belonged to the spiritual world and could see spirits sensually, so that the body was not separated from the world of spirits. However, after the Fall humanity acquired direct practical experience of evil, with the result that good has become so mixed with evil in human nature that there is now no good work which does not contain some element of evil. Indeed, we are sick with sin to such an extent that we do not even know how diseased we are. Through the Fall, our bodies are in the same category as animal bodies, while the soul has become an outcast spirit which seduces our senses with the illusion of mystical experience. Through expiation and baptism we re-acquire the capacity for spiritual vision, which we achieve through selfless devotion to God as we leave behind the passions of our animal bodies and the illusions of our outcast souls.

In this way St. Ignatius effectively carries on where theology in the academy stops, supplementing dogmatic teaching about the improvement of the expiated and sanctified person with ideas taken from orthodox ascetics. As he saw it, doctrine is the "foundation," but actual Christian living is the "building" itself. Ignatius' opposition to religious mysticism, romanticism, and Scholasticism took the form of a deep existential analysis of the internal life of the soul as it strives for Christian perfection. In his treatise, The Study of Monasticism, he describes how the monastic route is realized through "the carrying of the cross," both "externally" in terms of corporeal suffering, and "internally" in terms of the struggle against the passions. For this reason he considers monasticism to be analogous to Christian martyrdom, given that both involve the repudiation of World and Self through obedience to God, in total opposition to the secular ideal of freedom. Further, both monasticism and martyrdom involve purification by repentance and a deep sense of the fear of God, through which alone it is possible to come to a true love of God. Finally, both involve attentive and continuous prayer, on which last point Ignatius dwells at length. This striving for perfection, particularly in the face of death, constitutes the most interesting part of St. Ignatius' moral and ascetic legacy.

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