Ontological ecology: the created world in early Christian monastic spirituality

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Silviu N. Bunta


This thesis analyzes the ability of early Christian monastic spirituality to contribute fruitful theological principles and spiritual practices to the contemporary Christian response to climate change. To accomplish this task this thesis analyzes the threefold spiritual vision (i.e. liturgical, ascetical, and mystical) of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of fourth century Egypt. Eco-theology" has followed the well-established trends of western theology and ethics, and with few exceptions, supports its conclusions with ethical arguments that use reason and natural law; these ethical systems tend to shy away from the various spiritual (i.e. liturgical, ascetic, and mystical) aspects of theology. This polarization in favor of strict ethical arguments transforms the Christian response to climate change into a mere moral obligation; however, the Christian's love and care for the created world is not just a moral obligation, but an ontological necessity. This thesis explores two major areas of interest in relation to the Desert Fathers and Mothers: (1) the liturgical (i.e. Baptism, Eucharist, and Confession), ascetical (i.e. fasting, prayer, and stability), and mystical (i.e. visions of the divine light and deification) traditions that form the threefold, yet singular, spiritual vision of early Christian monasticism; and (2) the manner in which this spiritual life is related to the numerous interactions between monastics and the created world that are portrayed in early Christian monastic literature. The intent of this thesis is not to reject or replace the work that has been accomplished in the modern field of ecotheology, but rather to add an alternative "voice" in the Christian conversation on the dignity of the created world. The ethical arguments made by eco-ethicists have produced much fruit in recent years, and those accomplishments are not to be overlooked; technological advancements, international trade/business agreements, and grassroots movements are essential to the short-term initiatives to repair the damage that has been done to our common home. For these short-term solutions to have a lasting impact, however, it is imperative that human beings make a radical shift in the way that they understand their relationship with the created world--this shift must be one toward an ontological understanding of the relationship between humanity and the rest of the created world. This shift must be accomplished through a revitalization of early Christian monastic spirituality among Christians today--lay and religious alike."


Environmental ethics, Monasticism and religious orders History Early church, ca. 30-600, Desert Fathers, Ecotheology, Theology, Religion, Environmental Philosophy, Monasticism, Spirituality, Environmental Ethics, Eco-Theology, Desert Fathers

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