Ascetic Flight

Is it possible to see asceticism as an inner element of faith’s responsibility for the world?  In terms of ordinary feeling and usage everything seems to speak against it.  Do we not automatically identify asceticism with an attitude of rejection and denial of the world?  Does not Christian asceticism have an inner tendency to flee from the world?  We are not concerned here to deny this tendency outright, or to show that somewhere this there is a grievous misunderstanding; on the contrary, we affirm this tendency to be true, in a sense.  And we consider it an important one — still today.  The important thing is to understand it properly and thus find an approach to an elementary feature of Christian responsibility for the world.  Ascetic flight from the world should never be simply a flight out of the world, for man cannot in fact exist without a world.  Such a “flight” would only be a deceptive entry into some artificial world beside this one (generally only the more convenient religious world situation of yesterday).  Not flight from the world, but flight “forward” with the world is the basic movement of ascetic flight from the world: flight from the world that is established only in the present and in what is controllable, whose “time is always here” (Jn. 7, 6), St. Paul’s call to renounce the world, above all his warning “Do not be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12, 2), must be correctly understood.  Paul is critical not of solidarity with the world, but of conformism with it.  He is critical of men who in their self-prestigiousness seek to fashion the world’s future entirely by themselves and to turn everything into a function of the present.  He is calling not simply for some undialectical denial of the world, but for the acceptance of painful conflict and self-sacrificing disagreement with the world, for readiness to challenge the present in the name of the promised future of God.  What drives the Christian to the flight of asceticism and denial of the world is not, therefore, contempt for the world, but responsibility for it in hope — in hope for that world future as it is announced and sealed in the promises of God, against which we constantly harden our hearts in pride or despair. (101-102)

Johannes Baptist Metz | Theology of the World

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