The ascetic twist: Comparing reformation theology and the Byzantine heritage

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Abstract

In the field of church history, this article is a study of the Reformation period on a specific topic, namely, asceticism, from an uncommon perspective. One of the most well-known Reformation treatises, Martin Luther’s On the Freedom of a Christian, is read in conversation with an earlier ascetic wri¬ting, Maximus Confessor’s The Ascetic Life, and then compared to an under¬stu¬died debate from the late 16th c. between the Lutheran Tübingen theologians and the patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremiah II. This textually based study is concerned both with the methodological problems that characterize the politics of comparison and with the present debates surrounding ascetism. In the end it is argued that asceticism is not only a theologically valid topic of study in a Lutheran setting, but also historically relevant. Based on a distinction between spiritual and physical exercise, I argue that there is a social dimension to be rediscovered if inner dimensions of ‘piety’ are reconnected with embodied, visible and communal practices in the context of the counter-culture that is the Christian church.

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  • History of Religions

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Original languageEnglish
JournalStudia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020 Mar 30
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes