Early Christian Disenchantment

Guy G. Stroumsa writes in The Making of the Abrahamic Religions in Late Antiquity that “For Weber, as is well known, the most striking ‘disenchantment of the world’ in history occurred with the rise of the ‘inner-worldly’ asceticism (innerweltliche Askese) of the Calvinist Reformation. And yet, it can be argued that also in earlier periods, one can witness religious transformations, even mutations, which may also be described in similar terms. Sadly, Weber did not have the opportunity to work on early Christianity. Had he been given the time to do so, he might well have described the rejection of the Gnostic Weltanschauung by the church fathers of late antiquity as a clear case of ‘disenchantment.’”

Mani presented one form of mythological, enchanted cosmology. Stroumsa repeats Paul Ricoeur’s suggestion that Maniceahnism offers a “simulacrum” of rationality: “The multiple levels of reality, the complex structure of Manichaean cosmogony and cosmology, anthropogony, and anthropology, as well as eschatology of both the soul and the world’s structure, all acted as a sophisticated scaffolding of sorts, supporting the world, and giving the misleading impression of rationality.”

The appearance is misleading: “in fact, Manichaeism represented a flight into an unbridled, Gothic mythology attracting intellectually inclined spirits. It may well be that it is precisely its rigorous geometry (two powers, three times, pentads of divine hypostases, etc.) and its abstract character which prevented many from becoming captivated by the radical alternative of Manichaeism in late antiquity and beyond. It is indeed to Greek mythological thinking, rather than to Greek rational thinking, that Gnosticism was appealing.”

Thus, “the eventual Christian rejection of Gnosticism reflected a denial of those mythological overgrowths, as well as the reaffirmation of a theology emphasizing not only God’s unity, but also His incarnation. It also positioned ethics at the very core of religion. In this sense, one may speak of a process of ‘disenchantment of the world’ in action in late antiquity in general, and in early Christianity in particular. The rejection of the radical Hellenization of Gnosis, therefore, might legitimately be perceived as both a case of ‘disenchantment of the world,’ and a process of rationalization of religion.”

Is a form of ‘disenchantment” perhaps inherent in Christian faith?

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