In 1979, Ken Davis published an article that outline the characteristics of an orthodox Charismatic movement (as opposed to heretical ones), and then proposed that the 16th Century Anabaptists were such a movement. Taking up his work, I see the 4th Century Desert Fathers and Mothers were another such movement. This series explores those characteristics and shows how they were expressed among the Desert Saints.

Apocalyptic Restorationism

Heretical charismatic movements often exhibit a “heightened mood of apocalyptic, eschatological urgency” and see the “last days” outpouring of the Holy Spirit described in Joel 2 and Acts 2 not as operative in the church age generally, but as “a superapostolic restitution at the end of the age as the agency for bringing the millennium. Miracle-working, superempowered prophets were to lead to the conversion and purification of the whole human race and its institutions”. Their prophetic message is one of impending judgement (usually against their mainstream church “oppressors”).  Sometimes, the chief prophet of the movement claims to be one of the witnesses of Revelation 11, or even the second coming of Christ Himself.

The Desert Fathers were very mildly eschatological, with only a few references to the end times and the return of Christ. However, they were highly preoccupied with the judgement to come, regardless of whether it was experienced after one’s own death or as part of the Eschaton. This is why they constantly encouraged one another to live each day as though it was their last. This focus expressed itself in the later tradition in monasteries to locate the cemetery in a well-trafficked part of the grounds, as well as to dig a new grave after each burial. This way, the monks would have to pass by an open grave several times a day, as a stark reminder to “keep death daily before one’s eyes”.