CHURCH HISTORY: (Monasticism) The Monastic Life as a Vocation from God? Biblical?

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APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

NO BASIS IN THE SCRIPTURES

We will not hold on to the fact that the whole doctrine of monasticism (monastery life) is contrary to the Scriptures. We discover its origin in Gnosticism and pagan religions and is based on such teachings as that of the immortality of the soul, eternal hellfire torment, and purgatory. Two notable falsehoods of monasticism are that all that is associated with the flesh is evil, and therefore the flesh should be beaten often. In addition, they mistakenly believe that in such abuse of the flesh, personal works, and prayer, the repentant one can perfect himself and earn salvation for himself and others.

Monasticism is the opposite of Christianity. Jesus warned, “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” He further cautioned, “when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others … your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:5-8, 16-18) Thus when we think of the whole monastic procedure of withdrawing to a monastery, wearing black robes, cutting one’s hair in an unusual way, or cutting off completely, sticking to rigid, demanding rules concerning silence, and restraining oneself from indulging in certain foods and spending hours in prayer, is it not showcasing one’s piety, which Christ denounced. God did exhort his people to inflict pain on themselves, but rather to show mercy to their neighbor.—Isa. 58:1-7.

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

There are no examples within the Old or New Testament where we find any grounds for asceticism, as if our depriving ourselves of the essential comforts of life would win a righteous standing before God.  Note how straightforward the apostle Paul condemns such nonsense: “If you died together with Christ from the elementary things of the world, why, as if living in the world, do you submit yourselves to decrees: Do not handle, nor taste, nor touch,” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These things have indeed an appearance of wisdom in self-made worship, and humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.”—Col. 2:20-23, UASV.

It is true that Jesus Christ and his apostle suffered, faithful servants from Abel to John the Baptist suffered, and Jesus said that his servants would suffer as well. However, we do not see them suffering because these desired such and sought to do so to themselves for the sake of it in and of itself or to draw attention to themselves. They suffered at the hands of imperfect humans and Satan’s world. They chose to be abused by Satan and his world instead of compromising their integrity. There is not one Bible verse that supports self-imposed sufferings in order to gain salvation. Rather, it is the blood of Jesus Christ, combined with our faith, that cleanses and atones us from all sins.—Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:1; 1 John 1:7.

There is no Scriptural basis for isolating oneself from humanity. If we look at the Catholic Encyclopedia, it tells us that Christians need to isolate themselves from the world in order to ‘Keep themselves from idols,” because the world is full of idolatry. We do not find such a concept in the Gospels, Acts, or any New Testament letter. If the early Christians had isolated themselves in monasteries or stayed out of the way of the pagan world, no evangelizing, there would have been no persecution. So, as history reports to us, they did not physically separate themselves from the world. Below the article is simply giving you the history of monasticism and what certain so-called Christian denominations have said, it does not advocate this false teaching. Some will turn to the Essenes, who followed lifestyles that could be seen as precursors to Christian monasticism, but the Essenes were a Jewish sect. Elijah and John the Baptist, both spent meditative time alone in the desert but did not live alone in the desert as some claim. Otherwise, how would John the Baptist have prepared the way for Christ? Using a historical narrative that describes events is not any part of the Bible prescribing the actions as obligatory on others.

The Trappists began in 1664 and took a vow of silence. Yet, here again, where are we told to not use our tongue? Far from it, the great commission given to all Christians is to proclaim and teach God’s Word to others to make disciples. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) In addition, Christians are told to console the tired with a word, to share the gospel to our neighbor. The early church was scattered because of persecution. They did not take a vow of silence but rather went about making disciples by preaching the Word until in the second century there were over one million Christians. Speech is a gift from God and God more than wants us to use it, he expects and commands us to do so. What we are not to do is abuse it or misuse it.

It is true that Jesus Christ did spend much of his time praying, and there is at least one occasion when he spent the entire night in prayer right before he selected his twelve apostles. (Luke 6:12-16) And the night when he was betrayed, he prayed much, and he urged his apostles to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) This was a description, not a prescription. In other words, it was a historical narrative where the gospel writer is describing events that took place, not making an effort to stipulate that we should spend several hours daily in prayer. Jesus himself was busy carrying out the Father’s will and purposes (preaching), and the apostles and disciples in the first century were busy doing the same (evangelizing). Christians thereafter in the second century until the present have had the added studying of God’s Word to adequately prepare themselves for proclaiming and teaching.

The two greatest commandments are “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40) We cannot carry out these two commandments from within the walls of a monastery. We do these by making the gospel known where others can hear us, and then they too join in praising God. The greatest gift God has given mankind is life, and we do not then show our appreciation for that life by afflicting our bodies and denying ourselves the necessities of food and rest. And how do we show love to our neighbors if we separate ourselves from them? (Mark 12:28-34) What God expects from Christians cannot be done in a monastery or separating ourselves from the world. Therefore, monastery life is not biblically grounded.

Monasticism in Christianity

Trappist monk praying in his cell.

Monasticism in Christianity, which provides the origins of the words “monk” and “monastery”, comprises several diverse forms of religious living. It began to develop early in the history of the Church, but is not mentioned in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules (e.g., the Rule of St Basil, the Rule of St Benedict) and, in modern times, the Church law of the respective apostolic Christian churches that have forms of monastic living.

The Christian monk embraces the monastic life as a vocation from God. His objective is to imitate the life of Christ as far as possible in preparation for attaining eternal life after death.

Coptic Monks Between 1898 and 1914

Titles for monastics differ between the Christian denominations. In Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, monks and nuns are addressed as Brother (or Father, if ordained to the priesthood) or Mother/Sister, while in Eastern Orthodoxy, they are addressed as Father or Mother. Women pursuing a monastic life are generally called nuns, religious sisters or, rarely, canonesses, while monastic men are called monks, friars or brothers.

In 4th century Egypt, Christians felt called to a more reclusive or eremitic form of living (in the spirit of the “Desert Theology” for the purpose of spiritual renewal and return to God). Saint Anthony the Great is cited by Athanasius as one of the early “Hermit monks”. Especially in the Middle East, eremitic monasticism continued to be common until the decline of Syriac Christianity in the late Middle Ages.

The Monastery of Saint Anthony in Egypt, built over the tomb of Saint Anthony, the “Father of Christian Monasticism.”

Around 318 Saint Pachomius started to organize his many followers in what was to become the first Christian cenobitic or communal monastery. Soon, similar institutions were established throughout the Egyptian desert as well as the rest of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Notable monasteries in the East include:

  • Monastery of Saint Anthony, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.
  • Mar Awgin founded a monastery on Mt. Izla above Nisibis in Mesopotamia (c. 350), and from this monastery the cenobitic tradition spread in Mesopotamia, Persia, Armenia, Georgia and even India and China.
  • St. Sabbas the Sanctified organized the monks of the Judean Desert in a monastery close to Bethlehem (483), now known as Mar Saba, which is considered the mother of all monasteries of the Eastern Orthodox churches.
  • Saint Catherine’s Monastery was founded between 527 and 565 in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt by order of Emperor Justinian I.
Coptic monks between 1898 and 1914.

In the West, the most significant development occurred when the rules for monastic communities were written down, the Rule of St Basil being credited with having been the first. The precise dating of the Rule of the Master is problematic. It has been argued that it antedates the Rule of Saint Benedict created by Benedict of Nursia for his monastery in Monte Cassino, Italy (c. 529), and the other Benedictine monasteries he had founded as part of the Order of St Benedict. It would become the most common rule throughout the Middle Ages and is still in use today. The Augustinian Rule, due to its brevity, has been adopted by various communities, chiefly the Canons Regular. Around the 12th century, the Franciscan, Carmelite, Dominican, Servite Order (see Servants of Mary) and Augustinian mendicant orders chose to live in city convents among the people instead of being secluded in monasteries. St. Augustine’s Monastery, founded in 1277 in Erfurt, Germany is regarded by many historians and theologians as the “cradle of the Reformation”, as it is where Martin Luther lived as a monk from 1505 to 1511.

Today new expressions of Christian monasticism, many of which are ecumenical, are developing in various places such as the Bose Monastic Community in Italy, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem throughout Europe, the New Skete, the Anglo-Celtic Society of Nativitists, the Taizé Community in France, and the mainly Evangelical Protestant New Monasticism.

Brief Overview of Monasticism

The barbarian tribes had increasingly encroached on the western part of the Roman Empire from the end of the 1st century until it finally fell apart in 476. After the church was free from persecutions, it turned its energy toward evangelizing these peoples who were migrating around Western Europe. The spread of Christianity helped to preserve elements of the Greco-Roman culture, but the mass conversions of barbarians affected the church in that they brought many pagan practices into the church that had tried to Christianize them. Christians began celebrating Christmas after a.d. 350 on the date of an old pagan winter solstice celebration; the pagan elements were eliminated and replaced with the commemoration of Christ’s birth. Some would say that this weakened the church, but others argue that this is an example of the way Christianity has adapted itself to and transformed cultural practices as it continued to spread through the following two centuries.

Many barbarians had only partially converted to Christianity and church discipline became lax, so the church accommodated these barbarians who had been used to worshiping images by materializing the liturgy with the veneration of saints through relics, pictures, and statues. A more colorful liturgy developed along with a sharp distinction between clergy and laity. The number of holy days and festivals expanded as did the number of ceremonies that were ranked as sacraments. In the early church the sacraments were baptism and communion, but marriage, penance (doing something physical to atone for sins), ordination (ceremony to ordain bishops and other church officials), confirmation (ceremony to confirm one’s faith in Christ when one is old enough to have a clear understanding of the Gospel), and extreme unction (ceremony done when one is dying) were added as sacraments.

During the period when the Roman Empire was weakening, many Christians felt that society was becoming decadent and that the church had lost its spiritual focus. They responded by retreating into solitude to try to achieve personal holiness through contemplation and asceticism. The monastic movement had its origins in the 4th century, grew considerably during the 6th, was widely popular during the 10th and 11th centuries and again in the 16th, and is still practiced today by comparatively few.

PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

The psychological need to escape from the world of harsh realities and civil disorder was, these men (and women) believed, supported by some Scriptures; for example, they took 1 Corinthians 7:1 to mean that Paul advocated celibacy. Monasteries also offered a more individual approach to God and salvation than the formal corporate worship of the times, and the pure monastic lifestyle was a living social criticism. Geographic factors, such as the warm, dry caves along the Nile (where monasticism began), along with the ability to raise food easily along the river, fostered its spread, and the nearness to the desert stimulated meditation. Indeed, when it spread to the West, the colder climate made communal organization necessary to provide food and warm buildings for winter.

Benedict was the best-known organizer of the movement in Europe. He founded Monte Cassino (in Italy) in about 529; it survived until World War II, when it was destroyed by bombs. Benedict organized and controlled several monasteries. His program of work and worship with dietary rules, vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—along with divisions of the day into periods for reading, worship, and work, as laid down in the still widely used Rule of St. Benedict—was almost universal by 800.

The monasteries served as the medieval equivalent of experimental farms as the monks cleared forests, drained marshes, built roads, and improved seeds and livestock breeds. They kept scholarship alive during the period a.d. 500–1000, when urban life was disrupted as the barbarians took over. The monasteries ran schools and copied manuscripts, collected and translated literature, and recorded history. Monks became missionaries and won whole tribes to Christianity, provided a refuge for social outcasts who needed help, ran hospitals, and provided food and shelter for travelers. However, when many of the best men and women of the Roman Empire went into monasteries, the world lost out on their leadership.

Eventually, some monasteries became wealthy due to their community thrift, so laziness, greed, and gluttony crept in. Monasteries aided in the development of a hierarchical, centralized church organization as monks were bound by obedience to superiors who in turn had superiors.[1]

A Deeper Look Into Monasticism

St. Paul the Hermit Fed by the Raven, after Il Guercino (17th century), Dayton Art Institute

Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of Christians who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules (e. g. the Rule of Saint Augustine, Anthony the Great, St Pachomius, the Rule of St Basil, the Rule of St Benedict,) and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek μοναχός (monachos, ‘monk’), itself from μόνος (monos) meaning ‘alone.’[2]

Christian monks did not live in monasteries at first, rather, they began by living alone as solitaries, as the word monos might suggest. As more people took on the lives of monks, living alone in the wilderness, they started to come together and model themselves after the original monks nearby. Quickly, the monks formed communities to further their ability to observe an ascetic life.[3] According to Christianity historian Robert Louis Wilken, “By creating an alternate social structure within the Church they laid the foundations for one of the most enduring Christian institutions…”[4] Monastics generally dwell in a monastery, whether they live there in a community (cenobites), or in seclusion (recluses).

Nun profession ceremony for a new nun, admitted to the cloister (behind the half door).

Life for Monks and Nuns

The basic idea of monasticism in all its varieties is seclusion or withdrawal from the world or society. Monastic life is distinct from the “religious orders” such as the friars, canons regular, clerks regular, and the more recent religious congregations. The latter has essentially some special work or aim, such as preaching, teaching, liberating captives, etc., which occupies a large place in their activities. While monks have undertaken labors of the most varied character, in every case this work is extrinsic to the essence of the monastic state.[5] Monks and friars are two distinct roles. In the thirteenth century “…new orders of friars were founded to teach the Christian faith,” because monasteries had declined.[6]

Both ways of living out the Christian life are regulated by the respective church law of those Christian denominations that recognize it (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, or the Lutheran Church). Christian monastic life does not always involve communal living with like-minded Christians. Christian monasticism has varied greatly in its external forms, but, broadly speaking, it has two main types (a) the eremitical or secluded, (b) the cenobitical or city life. St. Anthony the Abbot may be called the founder of the first and St. Pachomius of the second.[7] The monastic life is based on Jesus’s amen to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This ideal, also called the state of perfection, can be seen, for example, in the Philokalia, a book of monastic writings. Their manner of self-renunciation has three elements corresponding to the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience.

Supposed Biblical Precedent

First-century groups such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae followed lifestyles that could be seen as precursors to Christian monasticism.[7] Early Christian monasticism drew its inspiration from the examples of the Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist, who both lived alone in the desert, and above all from the story of Jesus’ time in solitary struggle with Satan in the desert, before his public ministry.[9]

Early Christianity

Icon of Saint Anthony the Great, the founder of Christian monasticism

Early Christian ascetics have left no confirmed archaeological traces and only hints in the written record. Communities of virgins who had consecrated themselves to Christ are found at least as far back as the 2nd century. There were also individual ascetics, known as the “devout”, who usually lived not in the deserts but on the edge of inhabited places, still remaining in the world but practicing asceticism and striving for union with God. In ante-Nicene ascetics a man would lead a single life, practice long and frequent fasts, abstain from meat and wine, and support himself, if he were able, by some small handicraft, keeping of what he earned only so much as was absolutely necessary for his own sustenance, and giving the rest to the poor.[8]

An early form of “proto-monasticism” appeared as well in the 3rd century among Syriac Christians through the “Sons of the covenant” movement. Eastern Orthodoxy looks to Basil of Caesarea as a founding monastic legislator, as well to as the example of the Desert Fathers.

The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Eremitic Monasticism

Eremitic monasticism, or solitary monasticism, is characterized by a complete withdrawal from society. The word ‘eremitic’ comes from the Greek word eremos which means desert.[9] This name was given because of St. Anthony of Egypt, who left civilization behind to live on a solitary Egyptian mountain in the third century. Though he was probably not the first Christian hermit, he is recognized as such as he was the first known one.[10]

Paul the Hermit is the first Christian historically known to have been living as a monk. In the 3rd century, Anthony of Egypt (252–356) lived as a hermit in the desert and gradually gained followers who lived as hermits nearby but not in actual community with him. This type of monasticism is called eremitical or “hermit-like.”

Another option for becoming a solitary monastic was to become an anchoress/anchorite. This began because there were persons who wanted to live the solitary lifestyle but were not able to live alone in the wild. Thus, they would go to the Bishop for permission, who would then perform the rite of enclosure. After this was completed, the anchoress would live alone in a room that typically had a window that opened into a church, so they could receive communion and participate in church services. There were two other windows that allowed food to be passed in and people to come to seek advice.[11] The most well-known anchoress was Julian of Norwich, who was born in England in 1342.[12]

Developing Healthy Churches

Cenobitic Monasticism

While the earliest Desert Fathers lived as hermits, they were rarely completely isolated, but often lived in proximity to one another, and soon loose-knit communities began to form in such places as the Desert of Nitria and the Desert of Skete.[13] Saint Macarius established individual groups of cells such as those at Kellia, founded in 328. These monks were anchorites, following the monastic ideal of St. Anthony. They lived by themselves, gathering together for common worship on Saturdays and Sundays only.[14]

In 346 St Pachomius established in Egypt the first cenobitic Christian monastery.[15] At Tabenna in Upper Egypt, sometime around 323 AD, Pachomius decided to mold his disciples into a more organized community in which the monks lived in individual huts or rooms (cellula in Latin,) but worked, ate, and worshipped in shared space. The intention was to bring together individual ascetics who, although pious, did not, like Saint Anthony, have the physical ability or skills to live a solitary existence in the desert. This method of monastic organization is called cenobitic or “communal”. In Catholic theology, this community-based living is considered superior because of the obedience practiced and the accountability offered. The head of a monastery came to be known by the word for “Father”—in Syriac, Abba; in English, “Abbot.”

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

Guidelines for daily life were created, and separate monasteries were created for men and women. St Pachomius introduced a monastic Rule of cenobitic life, giving everyone the same food and attire. The monks of the monastery fulfilled the obediences assigned them for the common good of the monastery. Among the various obediences was copying books. St Pachomius considered that an obedience fulfilled with zeal was greater than fasting or prayer.[16]

A Pachomian monastery was a collection of buildings surrounded by a wall. The monks were distributed in houses, each house containing about forty monks. There would be thirty to forty houses in a monastery. There was an abbot over each monastery and provosts with subordinate officials over each house. The monks were divided into houses according to the work they were employed in: thus there would be a house for carpenters, a house for agriculturists, and so forth. But other principles of division seem to have been employed, e.g., there was a house for the Greeks. On Saturdays and Sundays, all the monks assembled in the church for Mass; on other days the Office and other spiritual exercises were celebrated in the houses.[17]

From a secular point of view, a monastery was an industrial community in which almost every kind of trade was practiced. This, of course, involved much buying and selling, so the monks had ships of their own on the Nile, which conveyed their agricultural produce and manufactured goods to the market and brought back what the monasteries required. From the spiritual point of view, the Pachomian monk was a religious living under a rule.[18]

The community of Pachomius was so successful he was called upon to help organize others, and by one count by the time he died in 346 there were thought to be 3,000 such communities dotting Egypt, especially in the Thebaid. From there monasticism quickly spread out first to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually the rest of the Roman Empire.

Young Christians

In 370 Basil the Great, monastic founder in Cappadocia, became bishop of Caesarea and wrote principles of ascetic life. Eastern monastic teachings were brought to the western church by Saint John Cassian (c. 360 – c. 435). As a young adult, he and his friend Germanus entered a monastery in Palestine but then journeyed to Egypt to visit the eremitic groups in Nitria. Many years later, Cassian founded a monastery of monks and probably also one of nuns near Marseilles. He wrote two long works, the Institutes and Conferences. In these books, he not only transmitted his Egyptian experience but also gave Christian monasticism a profound evangelical and theological basis.[19]

At the time of his conversion in Milan in the years 386–387, Augustine was aware of the life of Saint Anthony in the desert of Egypt. Upon his return to Africa as a Christian in the year 388, however, Augustine and a few Christian friends founded at Thagaste a lay community. They became cenobites in the countryside rather than in the desert.[20]

Saint Benedict (c. 480 – 547 AD) lived for many years as a hermit in a cave near Subiaco, Italy. He was asked to be head over several monks who wished to change to the monastic style of Pachomius by living in the community. Between the years 530 and 560, he wrote the Rule of Saint Benedict as a guideline for monks living in community.[21]

Scholars such as Lester K. Little attribute the rise of monasticism at this time to the immense changes in the church brought about by Constantine’s legalization of Christianity. The subsequent transformation of

Jovinian was the most influential early opponent of monasticism. “Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.” – ccel.org.

Christianity into the main Roman religion ended the position of Christians as a minority sect. In response, a new form of dedication was developed. The long-term “martyrdom” of the ascetic replaced the violent physical martyrdom of the persecutions.

Opposition to Monasticism

In the early church, there were also opponents of Monasticism, among the first opponents to Monasticism were Helvidius, Jovinian, Vigilantius and Aerius of Sebaste. Most of them were attacked by Jerome who defended monastic and ascetic ideas. Jovinian was the most influental opponent of monasticism, he wrote a work in the year 390, which is now lost, which attacked monasticism and its ethical principles.[22]

Eastern Orthodox Tradition

Orthodox monasticism does not have religious orders as in the West,[23] so there are no formal Monastic Rules (Regulae); rather, each monk and nun is encouraged to read all of the Holy Fathers and emulate their virtues. There is also no division between the “active” and “contemplative” life. Orthodox monastic life embraces both active and contemplative aspects.

Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, there exist three types of monasticism: eremitic, cenobitic, and the skete. The skete is a very small community, often of two or three (Matthew 18:20), under the direction of an Elder. They pray privately for most of the week, then come together on Sundays and Feast Days for communal prayer, thus combining aspects of both eremitic and coenobitic monasticism.

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

Historical Development

Even before Saint Anthony the Great (the “father of monasticism”) went out into the desert, there were Christians who devoted their lives to ascetic discipline and striving to lead an evangelical life (i.e., in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel). As monasticism spread in the East from the hermits living in the deserts of Egypt to Palestine, Syria, and on up into Asia Minor and beyond, the sayings (apophthegmata) and acts (praxeis) of the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers came to be recorded and circulated, first among their fellow monastics and then among the laity as well.

Among these earliest recorded accounts was the Paradise, by Palladius of Galatia, Bishop of Helenopolis (also known as the Lausiac History, after the prefect Lausus, to whom it was addressed). Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (whose Life of Saint Anthony the Great set the pattern for monastic hagiography), Saint Jerome, and other anonymous compilers were also responsible for setting down very influential accounts. Also of great importance are the writings surrounding the communities founded by Saint Pachomius, the father of cenobiticism, and his disciple Saint Theodore, the founder of the skete form of monasticism.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Among the first to set forth precepts for the monastic life was Saint Basil the Great, a man from a professional family who was educated in Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens. Saint Basil visited colonies of hermits in Palestine and Egypt but was most strongly impressed by the organized communities developed under the guidance of Saint Pachomius. Saint Basil’s ascetical writings set forth standards for well-disciplined community life and offered lessons in what became the ideal monastic virtue: humility.

Saint Basil wrote a series of guides for monastic life (the Lesser Asketikon the Greater Asketikon the Morals, etc.) which, while not “Rules” in the legalistic sense of later Western rules, provided firm indications of the importance of a single community of monks, living under the same roof, and under the guidance—and even discipline—of a strong abbot. His teachings set the model for Greek and Russian monasticism but had less influence in the Latin West.

Of great importance to the development of monasticism is the Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt. Here the Ladder of Divine Ascent was written by Saint John Climacus (c.600), a work of such importance that many Orthodox monasteries to this day read it publicly either during the Divine Services or in Trapeza during Great Lent.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

At the height of the East Roman Empire, numerous great monasteries were established by the emperors, including the twenty “sovereign monasteries” on the Holy Mountain,[24] an actual “monastic republic” wherein the entire country is devoted to bringing souls closer to God. In this milieu, the Philokalia was compiled.

As the Great Schism between East and West grew, conflict arose over misunderstandings about Hesychasm. Saint Gregory Palamas, bishop of Thessalonica, an experienced Athonite monk, defended Eastern Orthodox spirituality against the critiques of Barlaam of Calabria, and left numerous important works on the spiritual life.

Present Christian Monasticism

Konstantin Savitsky, monk 1897

Christian monasticism was and continued to be a lay condition—monks depended on a local parish church for the sacraments. However, if the monastery was isolated in the desert, as were many of the Egyptian examples, that inconvenience compelled monasteries either to take in priest members, to have their abbot or other members ordained. A priest-monk is sometimes called a hieromonk. In many cases in Eastern Orthodoxy, when a bishopric needed to be filled, they would look to nearby monasteries to find suitable candidates, being good sources of men who were spiritually mature and generally possessing the other qualities desired in a bishop. Eventually, among the Eastern Orthodox Churches, it became established by canon law that all bishops must be monks.

Monastic centers thrive to this day in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Russia, Romania, Serbia, the Holy Land, and elsewhere in the Orthodox world, the Autonomous Monastic State of Mount Athos remaining the spiritual center of monasticism for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, a great renaissance of monasticism has occurred, and many previously empty or destroyed monastic communities have been reopened.

Monasticism continues to be very influential in the Eastern Orthodox Church. According to the Sacred Canons, all Bishops must be monks (not merely celibate), and feast days to Glorified monastic saints are an important part of the liturgical tradition of the church. Fasting, Hesychasm, and the pursuit of the spiritual life are strongly encouraged not only among monastics but also among the laity.

Orthodox monks farming potatoes in Russia, c. 1910

Types of Monks

There are also three levels of monks: The Rassophore, the Stavrophore, and the Schema-Monk (or Schema-Nun). Each of the three degrees represents an increased level of asceticism. In the early days of monasticism, there was only one level—the Great Schema—and even Saint Theodore the Studite argued against the establishment of intermediate grades, but nonetheless the consensus of the church has favored the development of three distinct levels.

When a candidate wishes to embrace the monastic life, he will enter the monastery of his choice as a guest and ask to be received by the Hegumen (Abbot). After a period of at least three days the Hegumen may at his discretion clothe the candidate as a novice. There is no formal ceremony for the clothing of a novice; he (or she) would simply be given the Podraznik, belt and skoufos.

After a period of about three years, the Hegumen may at his discretion tonsure the novice as a Rassophore monk, giving him the outer garment called the Rassa (Greek: Rason). A monk (or nun) may remain in this grade all the rest of his life, if he so chooses. But the Rite of Tonsure for the Rassophore refers to the grade as that of the “Beginner,” so it is intended that the monk will advance on to the next level. The Rassophore is also given a klobuk which he wears in church and on formal occasions. In addition, Rassophores will be given a prayer rope at their tonsure.

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

The next rank, Stavrophore, is the grade that most Russian monks remain all their lives. The title Stavrophore means “cross-bearer” because when Tonsured into this grade the monastic is given a cross to wear at all times. This cross is called a Paramand—a wooden cross attached by ribbons to a square cloth embroidered with the Instruments of the Passion and the words, “I bear upon my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). The Paramand is so-called because it is worn under the Mantle (Greek: Mandyas; Church Slavonic: Mantya), which is a long cape which completely covers the monk from neck to foot. Among the Russians, Stavrophores are also informally referred to as “mantle monks”. At his Tonsure, a Stavrophore is given a wooden hand cross and a lit candle, as well as a prayer rope.

St. Anthony of Kiev wearing the Great Schema.

The highest rank of monasticism is the Great Schema (Greek: Megaloschemos; Church Slavonic: Schimnik). Attaining the level of Schema monk is much more common among the Greeks than it is among the Russians, for whom it is normally reserved to hermits, or to very advanced monastics. The Schema monk or Schema nun wears the same habit as the Rassophore, but to it is added the Analavos (Church Slavonic: Analav), a garment shaped like a cross, covering the shoulders and coming down to the knees (or lower) in front and in back. This garment is roughly reminiscent of the scapular worn by some Roman Catholic orders, but it is finely embroidered with the Cross and instruments of the Passion (see illustration, above). The Klobuk worn by a Schema monk is also embroidered with a red cross and other symbols. the Klobuk may be shaped differently, more rounded at the top, in which case it is referred to as a koukoulion. The skufia worn by a Schema monk is also more intricately embroidered.

The religious habit worn by Eastern Orthodox monastics is the same for both monks and nuns, except that the nuns wear an additional veil, called an apostolnik.

The central and unifying feature of Eastern Orthodox monasticism is Hesychasm, the practice of silence, and the concentrated saying of the Jesus Prayer. All ascetic practices and monastic humility is guided towards preparing the heart for theoria or the “divine vision” that comes from the union of the soul with God. Such a union is not accomplished by any human activity. All an ascetic can do is prepare the ground; it is for God to cause the seed to grow and bear fruit.

Western Christian Monasticism

History

The introduction of monasticism into the West may be dated from about A.D. 340 when St. Athanasius visited Rome accompanied by the two Egyptian monks Ammon and Isidore, disciples of St. Anthony. The publication of the “Vita Antonii” some years later and its translation into Latin spread the knowledge of Egyptian monachism widely and many were found in Italy to imitate the example thus set forth. The first Italian monks aimed at reproducing exactly what was done in Egypt and not a few—such as St. Jerome, Rufinus, Paula, Eustochium and the two Melanias—actually went to live in Egypt or Palestine as being better suited to monastic life than Italy.[25]

The earliest phases of monasticism in Western Europe involved figures like Martin of Tours, who after serving in the Roman legions converted to Christianity and established a hermitage near Milan, then moved on to Poitiers where a community gathered around his hermitage. He was called to become Bishop of Tours in 372, where he established a monastery at Marmoutier on the opposite bank of the Loire, a few miles upstream from the city. His cell was a hut of wood, and round it his disciples, who soon numbered eighty, dwelt in caves and huts. His monastery was laid out as a colony of hermits rather than as a single integrated community. The type of life was simply the Antonian monachism of Egypt.[26]

Honoratus of Marseilles was a wealthy Gallo-Roman aristocrat, who after a pilgrimage to Egypt, founded the Monastery of Lérins in 410, on an island lying off the modern city of Cannes. The monastery combined a community with isolated hermitages where older, spiritually-proven monks could live in isolation. Lérins became, in time, a center of monastic culture and learning, and many later monks and bishops would pass through Lérins in the early stages of their career.[27] Honoratus was called to be Bishop of Arles.

John Cassian began his monastic career at a monastery in Palestine and Egypt around 385 to study monastic practice there. In Egypt, he had been attracted to the isolated life of hermits, which he considered the highest form of monasticism, yet the monasteries he founded were all organized monastic communities. About 415 he established two monasteries near Marseilles,[28] one for men, one for women. In time these attracted a total of 5,000 monks and nuns. Most significant for the future development of monasticism were Cassian’s Institutes, which provided a guide for monastic life and his Conferences, a collection of spiritual reflections.

Celtic Monasticism

It seems that the first Celtic monasteries were merely settlements where the Christians lived together—priests and laity, men, women, and children alike—as a kind of religious clan.[29] According to James F. Kenney, every important church was a monastic establishment, with a small walled village of monks and nuns living under ecclesiastical discipline, and ministering to the people of the surrounding area.[30] Monastic spirituality came to Britain and then Ireland from Gaul, by way of Lérins, Tours, and Auxerre. Its spirituality was heavily influenced by the Desert Fathers, with a monastic enclosure surrounding a collection of individual monastic cells.[31] The British church employed an episcopal structure corresponding closely to the model used elsewhere in the Christian world.[32] Illtud, David, Gildas, and Deiniol were leading figures in 6th-century Britain.

According to Thomas O’Loughlin, “Each monastery should be seen, as with most monasteries of the period, as an individual response to the monastic impulse by someone who had experienced monasticism and then went off to establish either a hermitage to which others later came or a cenobitic community.”[33] The monasteries were organized on a family basis. Next in importance to the abbot was the scribe, in charge of the scriptorium, the teaching function of the monastery, and the keeping of the annals. The role of scribe was often a path to the position of abbot.[34] Hereditary right and relationship to the abbot were factors influencing appointment to monastic offices.

Buildings would generally have been of wood, wattle, and thatch. Monasteries tended to be cenobitical in that monks lived in separate cells but came together for common prayer, meals, and other functions. Celtic monasticism was characterized by a rigorous asceticism and a love for learning.[29]

Some more austere ascetics became hermits, living in remote locations in what came to be called the “green martyrdom.”

Women’s Communities

Women’s communities were normally much smaller and poorer. The nuns had to do everything themselves unless they had a couple of tenant-farmers to supply food, or pious who made donations. They spun and wove, kept their huts clean, milked their cows, and made their own meals, which could be meager.

Double Monasteries

The monastery of Brigit of Kildare at Kildare, Ireland, was a double monastery, with both men and women, supervised by an Abbess, a pattern found in other monastic foundations.

Scotland

Around 397, Ninian, a Briton probably from the area south of the Firth of Clyde, dedicated his church at Whithorn to St. Martin of Tours. According to Bede, Ninian evangelized the southern Picts.[35]

Kentigern was an apostle of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde in the late 6th century and the founder and patron saint of the city of Glasgow. Due to anti-Christian sentiment, he re-located for a time to Wales, where he established a monastery at St. Asaph’s. Here he divided the monks into three groups. The unlettered was assigned to the duty of agriculture, the care of cattle, and the other necessary duties outside the monastery. He assigned 300 to duties within the cloister of the monastery, such as doing the ordinary work[clarification needed], preparing food, and building workshops. The remaining monks, who were lettered, he appointed to the celebration of divine service in church by day and by night.

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Wales

Cadoc founded Llancarfan in the latter part of the fifth century. He received the religious habit from an Irish monk, St. Tathai, superior of a small community near Chepstow, in Monmouthshire. Returning to his native county, Cadoc built a church, and monastery, which was called Llancarfan, or the “Church of the Stags”. There he also established a college and a hospital.[36] His legend recounts that he daily fed a hundred clergy and a hundred soldiers, a hundred workmen, a hundred poor men, and the same number of widows. When thousands left the world and became monks, they very often did so as clansmen, dutifully following the example of their chief. Bishoprics, canonries, and parochial benefices passed from one to another member of the same family, and frequently from father to son. Their tribal character is a feature which Irish and Welsh monasteries had in common.[37]

Illtyd spent the first part of his religious life as a disciple of Cadoc at Llancarfan. He founded the monastery at Llanilltyd Fawr. One of his students was Paul Aurelian, a key figure in Cornish monasticism.[38] Gildas the Wise was also a student at Llanilltyd Fawr,[39] as was Samson of Dol. Samson founded a monastery in an abandoned Roman fort near the river Severn and lived for a time the life of a hermit in a nearby cave before going to Brittany.

St David established his monastery on a promontory on the western sea, well placed to be a centre of Insular Christianity. His establishment became known for its austerity and holiness, more than as a centre of learning,[40] although when King Alfred sought a scholar for his court, he summoned Asser of St David’s. Contemporary with David were Teilo, Cadoc, Padarn, Beuno and Tysilio among them.

Cornwall

Many early medieval settlements in the region were occupied by hermitage chapels which are often dedicated to St Michael as the conventional slayer of pagan demons, as at St Michael’s Mount.

Ireland

Clonmacnois Round Tower

The earliest monastic settlements in Ireland emerged at the end of the fifth century. It was from Illtud and his colleagues that the Irish sought guidance on matters of ritual and discipline. Enda of Aran is called the “patriarch of Irish monasticism.”[41] A warrior prince of Oriel, upon the death of his betrothed he decided to study for the priesthood. He first joined St Ailbe at Emly, before traveling to Ninian’s Candida Casa in Scotland, where he was ordained. About 484 he established the first Irish monastery at Killeaney on Aran Mor. Finnian of Clonard is said to have studied under Cadoc at Llancarfan in Glamorganshire.[42] Finnian of Moville studied under Colman of Dromore and Mochae of Noendrum, before he too went to Candida Casa.[43]

Ireland was a rural society of chieftains living in the countryside. As in Wales, if a clan chieftain accepted Christianity so did those he ruled.[44] Commonly Irish monasteries were established by grants of land to an abbot or abbess who came from a local noble family. The monastery became the spiritual focus of the tribe or kin group. Successive abbots and abbesses were members of the founder’s family, a policy which kept the monastic lands under the jurisdiction of the family (and corresponded to Irish legal tradition, which only allowed the transfer of land within a family). In Ireland, the abbot was often called “coarb”, a term designating the heir or successor of the founder.[45]

The abbots of the principal monasteries— such as Clonard, Armagh, Clonmacnoise, Swords, etc.—were of the highest rank and held in the greatest esteem. They wielded great power and had vast influence. The abbot usually was only a presbyter, but in the large monasteries, there were one or more resident bishops who conferred orders and discharged the other functions of a bishop. The abbot was superior of the house, and all were subject to him.[46]

The Irish rule was rigorous. It was more or less a copy of the French rule, as the French was a copy of the Thebaid. The daily routine of monastic life was prayer, study, and manual labor. With regard to food, the rule was very strict. Only one meal a day, at 3 o’clock p.m., was allowed, except on Sundays and Feast days. Wednesdays and Fridays were fast days, except the interval between Easter and Whit Sunday. The food allowed was barley bread, milk, fish, and eggs. Flesh meat was not allowed except on great feasts.[47]

In Ireland, a distinctive form of penance developed, where confession was made privately to a priest, under the seal of secrecy, and where penance was given privately and ordinarily performed privately as well.[48] Penance was considered therapeutic rather than punitive.[49] Certain handbooks were made, called “penitentials”, designed as a guide for confessors and as a means of regularizing the penance given for each particular sin. According to Thomas Pollock Oakley, the penitential guides first developed in Wales, probably at St. David’s, and spread by missions to Ireland.[50]

Irish monasticism maintained the model of a monastic community while, like John Cassian, marking the contemplative life of the hermit as the highest form of monasticism. Saints’ lives frequently tell of monks (and abbots) departing some distance from the monastery to live in isolation from the community. Irish monastic rules specify a stern life of prayer and discipline in which prayer, poverty, and obedience are the central themes.

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Irish monks needed to learn Latin, the language of the Church. Thus they read Latin texts, both spiritual and secular, with an enthusiasm that their contemporaries on the continent lacked. Subjects taught included Latin, Greek, Hebrew, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, arithmetic, chronology, the Holy Places, hymns, sermons, natural science, history and especially the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.[51] In 544 St Ciarán founded a monastery at Clonmacnoise, which became one of the most important centers of learning and religious life in Ireland. Contrary to common practice, the title of abbot – which included the title “Comarba of Saint Ciarán” – at the community was not hereditary, which reflected the humble origins of its founder. In 557 St Brendan founded a monastery at Clonfert.

By the end of the seventh century, Irish monastic schools were attracting students from England and from Europe.

The achievements of insular art, in illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, high crosses, and metalwork like the Ardagh Chalice, and in the case of manuscript decoration had a profound influence on Western medieval art. The manuscripts were produced by and for monasteries, and evidence suggests that metalwork was produced in both monastic and royal workshops.[52]

The Culdees (Irish: Céilí Dé, lit. “Spouses of God”) were members of ascetic Christian monastic and eremitical communities of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England in the Middle Ages. Appearing first in Ireland and subsequently in Scotland, attached to cathedral or collegiate churches, they lived in monastic fashion though not taking monastic vows.[53]

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Hiberno-Scottish Mission

Irish monasticism spread widely, first to Scotland and Northern England, then to Gaul and Italy. Columba and his followers established monasteries at Bangor, on the northeastern coast of Ireland, at Iona, an island north-west of Scotland, and at Lindisfarne, which was founded by Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria. Abbots of Iona were normally appointed from the founders kin, with an abbot often naming his successor.[54]

Columbanus, an abbot from a Leinster noble family, traveled to Gaul in the late 6th century with twelve companions. Columbanus and his followers spread the Irish model of monastic institutions to the continent. A whole series of new monastic foundations under Irish influence sprang up, starting with Columbanus’s foundations of Luxeuil and Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil and, sponsored by the Frankish King Childebert II. After Childebert’s death Columbanus traveled east to Metz, where Theudebert II allowed him to establish a new monastery among the semi-pagan Alemanni in what is now Switzerland. One of Columbanus’s followers founded the monastery of St. Gall on the shores of Lake Constance, while Columbanus continued onward across the Alps to the kingdom of the Lombards in Italy. There King Agilulf and his wife Theodolinda granted Columbanus land in the mountains between Genoa and Milan, where he established the monastery of Bobbio. From about 698 until the reign of Charlemagne in the 770s, the Hiberno-Scottish efforts in the Frankish Empire were continued by the Anglo-Saxon mission. The rule of St. Columbanus, which was originally followed in most of these monasteries, was eventually superseded by that of St. Benedict.

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Benedictine Monasticism

Saint Benedict by Herman Nieg, Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria

Benedict of Nursia is the most influential of Western monks and is called “the Father of Western Monasticism”. He was educated in Rome but soon sought the life of a hermit in a cave at Subiaco, outside the city. He then attracted followers with whom he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino around 520, between Rome and Naples. He established the Rule of St Benedict, adapting in part the earlier anonymous Rule of the Master (Regula magistri), which was written somewhere south of Rome around 500, and defined the activities of the monastery, its officers, and their responsibilities. By the ninth century, largely under the inspiration of the Emperor Charlemagne, Benedict’s Rule became the basic guide for Western monasticism.

While the Celtic monasteries had a stronger connection to the semi-eremitical tradition of Egypt via Lérins and Tours, Benedict and his followers were more influenced by the cenobitism of St Pachomius and Basil the Great. Early Benedictine monasteries were relatively small and consisted of an oratory, refectory, dormitory, scriptorium, guest accommodation, and out-buildings, a group of often quite separate rooms more reminiscent of a decent-sized Roman villa than a large medieval abbey. A monastery of about a dozen monks would have been normal during this period.

Medieval monastic life consisted of prayer, reading, and manual labor.[55] Prayer was a monk’s first priority. Apart from prayer, monks performed a variety of tasks, such as preparing medicine, lettering, reading, and others. Also, these monks would work in the gardens and on the land. They might also spend time in the cloister, a covered colonnade around a courtyard, where they would pray or read. Some monasteries held a scriptorium where monks would write or copy books. When the monks wrote, they used very neat handwriting and would draw illustrations in the books and decorate the first letter of each paragraph.

The efficiency of Benedict’s cenobitic Rule in addition to the stability of the monasteries made them very productive. The monasteries were the central storehouses and producers of knowledge. Vikings started attacking Irish monasteries famous for learning in 793. One monk wrote about how he did not mind the bad weather one evening because it kept the Vikings from coming: “Bitter is the wind tonight, it tosses the ocean’s white hair, I need not fear—as on a night of calm sea—the fierce raiders from Lochlann.”[56]

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the growing pressure of monarchies and the nation-states undermined the wealth and power of the orders. Monasticism continued to play a role in Catholicism, but after the Protestant reformation, many monasteries in Northern Europe were shut down and their assets seized.

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Military Orders

In the twelfth century, traditional monastic orders in Outremer evolved into military orders, initially for the purpose of defending pilgrims, although they later became larger military forces that played a key role in combating Muslim efforts at reconquest and propping up continued Christian rule in the region. These orders included the Knights Templar and the Hospitallers. In large part, the notion of military monasticism became so popular because of the advocacy of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who believed that existing Christian methods of serving the Church’s ends in the war were inadequate and that a group of dedicated warrior monks, who achieved spiritual merit and served God through waging war, was necessary. In his view, advancing the cause of Christendom was an end that justified means that might fall outside the bounds of just war.[57] These orders largely declined with the loss of Outremer in the 1200s – except for the Teutonic Order, which transferred itself to the Baltic where it took up a major role in the Baltic Crusades.

Western Christian Orders in the Modern Era

Many distinct monastic orders developed within Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Monastic communities in the West, broadly speaking, are organized into orders and congregations guided by a particular religious rule, such as the Rule of St Augustine or especially the Rule of St Benedict. Eastern Orthodoxy does not have a system of orders per se, though some of the Eastern Catholic Churches do.

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Roman Catholicism

  • Benedictines, founded in 529 by Benedict at Monte Cassino, stresses manual labor in a self-sufficient monastery. They are an order of independent monastic communities.
  • Cluniacs, a Benedictine movement at its height c.950-c.1130
  • Camaldolese, founded c.1000
  • Vallombrosans, founded c. 1038 by Saint Gualberto Visdomini.
  • Carthusians, also known as the Order of Saint Bruno, founded 1084 by St. Bruno of Cologne. Open to both sexes; combines eremitical and cenobitic life.
  • Cistercians, also referred to as the Order of St. Bernard, founded in 1098 by Robert of Molesme
  • Paulines, Founded in Hungary in 1225 by Blessed Eusebius.
  • Celestines, founded in 1244 and originally called Hermits of St Damiano, or Moronites (or Murronites). Became known as Celestines after their founder was elected Pope and took the name Celestine V.
  • Olivetans or the Order of Our Lady of Mount Olivet, founded in 1313 by Bernardo Tolomei (born Giovanni Tolomei) along with two of his friends from the noble families of Siena, Patrizio Patrizi and Ambrogio Piccolomini.
  • Bridgettines, founded in 1344 by Bridget of Sweden.
  • Hieronymites, founded in Spain in 1364, an eremitic community formally known as the Order of Saint Jerome
  • Visitation Sisters. The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary of the Visitation Order is a Roman Catholic religious order for women. Members of the order are also known as the Salesian Sisters or, more commonly, as the Visitandines. The Order was founded in 1610 by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal in Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France.
  • Trappists, began c. 1664.
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Lutheran Church

After the foundation of the Lutheran Churches, some monasteries in Lutheran lands (such as Amelungsborn Abbey near Negenborn and Loccum Abbey in Rehburg-Loccum) and convents (such as Ebstorf Abbey near the town of Uelzen and Bursfelde Abbey in Bursfelde) adopted the Lutheran Christian faith.[58]

Loccum Abbey and Amelungsborn Abbey have the longest traditions as Lutheran monasteries. Since the 19th century, there has been a renewal in the monastic life among Protestants. There are many present-day Lutherans who practice the monastic teaching of the Catholic Church.

In 1947 Mother Basilea Schlink and Mother Martyria founded the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, in Darmstadt, Germany. This movement is largely considered Evangelical or Lutheran in its roots.

In 1948 Bavarian Lutheran pastor Walter Hümmer and his wife Hanna founded the Communität Christusbruderschaft Selbitz.

In other Lutheran traditions “The Congregation of the Servants of Christ” was established at St. Augustine’s House[59] in Oxford, Michigan, in 1958 when some other men joined Father Arthur Kreinheder in observing the monastic life and offices of prayer. These men and others came and went over the years. The community has always remained small; at times the only member was Father Arthur. During the 35 years of its existence over 25 men tested their vocations to monastic life by living at the house for some time, from a few months to many years, but at Father Arthur’s death in 1989 only one permanent resident remained. At the beginning of 2006, there are two permanent professed members and two long-term guests. Strong ties remain with this community and their brothers in Sweden (Östanbäck Monastery)[60] and in Germany the (Priory of St. Wigbert).[61] In Germany, Communität Casteller Ring[62] is a Lutheran Benedictine community for women. In 2011, an Augustinian religious order, the Priestly Society of St. Augustine (Societas Sacerdotalis Sancti Augustini) was established by the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church. It follows the Rule of St. Augustine, its headquarters is at Christ Lutheran Church ALCC. Kent Island, Maryland, and Fr. Jens Bargmann, PhD, is the Grand Prior.[63]

In Lutheran Sweden, religious life for women had been established already in 1954, when Sister Marianne Nordström made her profession through contacts with The Order of the Holy Paraclete and Mother Margaret Cope (1886–1961) at St Hilda’s Priory, Whitby, Yorkshire.

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Anglican Communion

In England, John Wycliffe organized the Lollard Preacher Order (the “Poor Priests”) to promote his views, many of which resounded with those held by the later Protestant Reformers.

Monastic life in England came to an abrupt end with Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII. The property and lands of the monasteries were confiscated and either retained by the King, sold to landowners, or given to loyal nobility. Monks and nuns were pensioned off and retired or some were forced to either flee for the continent or to abandon their vocations. For around 300 years, there were no monastic communities within any of the Anglican churches.

Shortly after the Oxford Movement began to advocate restoring catholic faith and practice to the Church of England (see Anglo-Catholicism), there was felt to be a need for a restoration of the monastic life. Anglican priest John Henry Newman established a community of men at Littlemore near Oxford in the 1840s while he was vicar of Church of St Mary and St Nicholas, Littlemore. From then forward, there have been many communities of monks, friars, sisters, and nuns established within the Anglican Communion. In 1848, Mother Priscilla Lydia Sellon founded the Anglican Sisters of Charity and became the first woman to take religious vows within the Anglican Communion since the Reformation. In October 1850 the first building specifically built for the purpose of housing an Anglican Sisterhood was consecrated at Abbeymere in Plymouth. It housed several schools for the destitute, a laundry, a printing press, and a soup kitchen. From the 1840s and throughout the following one hundred years, religious orders for both men and women proliferated in the UK and the United States, as well as in various countries of Africa, Asia, Canada, India and the Pacific.

Some Anglican religious communities are contemplative, some active, but a distinguishing feature of the monastic life among Anglicans is that most practice the so-called “mixed life”, a combination of a life of contemplative prayer with active service. Anglican religious life closely mirrors that of Roman Catholicism. Like Roman Catholic religious, Anglican religious also take the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Religious communities live together under a common rule, reciting the Divine Office and celebrating the Eucharist daily.

In the early 20th century, when the Anglo-Catholic movement was at its height, the Anglican Communion had hundreds of orders and communities, and thousands of religious. However, since the 1960s there has been a sharp falling off in the numbers of religious in many parts of the Anglican Communion, most notably in the United Kingdom and the United States. Many once large and international communities have been reduced to a single convent or monastery composed of elderly men or women. In the last few decades of the 20th century, novices have for most communities been few and far between. Some orders and communities have already become extinct. There are, however, still thousands of Anglican religious working today in religious communities around the world. While vocations remain few in some areas, Anglican religious communities are experiencing exponential growth in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Around 1964, Reuben Archer Torrey III, an Episcopal missionary, grandson of R. A. Torrey, founded Jesus Abbey as a missionary community in Korea. It has some links with the Episcopal Church and holds an Evangelical doctrine.

Methodist Churches

In February 2001, the United Methodist Church organized the Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery. It is a Methodist-Benedictine residential double monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota. Besides monastic orders, the Order of Saint Luke is a dispersed religious order within Methodism.

Presbyterian Churches

The Community of the Sisterhood Emmanuel was founded in 1973 in Makak – in the Centre Province by Mother Marie, one of the first female Pastors of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. In 1975 she moved the community to the present site- at Agyati in Bafut. It has 10 finally consecrated Sisters, four in simple vows and a handful of others in formation. The Sisters are trained in strong collaboration with the sister Institutes of the Catholic Church. They say that one of their charisms is ecumenism. The Sisterhood Emmanuel is the only Presbyterian Monastery in Cameroon.

Anabaptism

Anabaptist Christians “retained many elements of the monastic understanding of a ‘holy life’ that followed true faith.”[64] The Hutterites and Bruderhof, for example, live in intentional communities with their big houses having “ground floors for common work, meals and worship, the two-storey attics with small rooms, like monastic cells, for married couples.”[65]

Quakerism and Shakerism

The Shakers, who are also known as the “Shaking Quakers,” have been characterized as a “Protestant monastic order providing refuge and otherworldly compensation.”[66] They practice a celibate and communal lifestyle, pacifism, and their model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780s. They are also known for their simple living, architecture, and furniture. Sincere newcomers are invited to become Shakers:[67]

If someone wants to become a Shaker, and the Shakers assent, the would-be member can move into the dwelling house. If the novices, as they are called, stay a week, they sign an articles of agreement, which protects the colony from being sued for lost wages. After a year, the Shakers will take a vote whether to allow the novice in, but it takes another four years to be granted full Shaker status in sharing in the colony’s finances and administrative and worship decisions.[68]

Currently, there are two remaining Shakers, Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter, though they hope that others will join them at the only remaining Shaker community, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.[69]

Ecumenical Expressions

Christian monasticism is experiencing renewal in the form of several new foundations with an ‘inter-Christian’ vision for their respective communities.

In 1944 Roger Schütz, a pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church, founded a small religious brotherhood in France which became known as the Taizé Community. Although he was partly inspired by the hope of reviving monasticism in the Protestant tradition, the brotherhood was interdenominational, accepting Roman Catholic brothers, and is thus an ecumenical rather than a specifically Protestant community.

The Order of Ecumenical Franciscans is a religious order of men and women devoted to following the examples of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Clare of Assisi in their life and understanding of the Christian gospel: sharing a love for creation and those who have been marginalized. It includes members of many different denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and a range of Protestant traditions. The Order understands its charism to include not only ecumenical efforts and the traditional emphases of the Franciscans in general, but also to help to develop relationships between the various Franciscan orders.

Additional expressions of ecumenical monasticism can be seen in the Bose Monastic Community and communities of the New Monasticism movement arising from Protestant Evangelicalism.

In 1999, an independent Protestant order was founded named The Knights of Prayer Monastic Order. The community maintains several monks in its Portland, Oregon, cloister, and has an international network of associated laypeople. It is not affiliated with any particular congregation.

A monastery in Hronský Beňadik (Slovakia).

Contributions

In traditional Catholic societies, monastic communities often took charge of social services such as education and healthcare. The legacy of monasteries outside remains an important current in modern society. Max Weber compared the closeted and Puritan societies of the English Dissenters, who sparked much of the industrial revolution, to monastic orders. Many Utopian thinkers (starting with Thomas More) felt inspired by the common life of monks to apply it to the whole society (an example is the phalanstère). Modern universities have also attempted to emulate Christian monasticism. Even in the Americas, universities are built in the gothic style of twelfth-century monasteries. Communal meals, dormitory residences, elaborate rituals and dress all borrow heavily from the monastic tradition. Today monasticism remains an important part of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican faiths.

Education

The capitulary of 789 reads: “Let every monastery and every abbey have its school, in which boys may be taught the Psalms, the system of musical notation, singing, arithmetic, and grammar”. There can be no doubt that by boys are meant not only the candidates for the monastery and the wards (generally the children of nobles) committed to the care of the monks but also the children of the village or country district around the monastery, for whom there was usually an external school attached to groups of monastic buildings.[70]

In the Middle Ages, monasteries conserved and copied ancient manuscripts in their scriptoria. A prospective monk first learned grammar, logic, and oratory. Later, he would take up mathematics, astronomy, and music. The students would use a stylus on wax. Later, when their handwriting improved, they would be given ink and parchment. Eventually, many of those schools became universities.[71] Monks in scriptoria copied texts of Greece and Rome, as well as religious texts, and kept these manuscripts from being lost during the Middle Ages.

The hospital at Soutra Aisle.

Medicine

Monastic pharmacies stored and studied medicaments. Some of the works that the monks copied were by medical writers, and reading and copying these works helped create a store of medical knowledge. Monasteries had infirmaries to treat the monks, travelers, the poor, old, weak and sick. In 2005, archeologists uncovered waste at Soutra Aisle which helped scientists figure out how people in the Middle Ages treated certain diseases, such as scurvy; because of the vitamin C in watercress, patients would eat it to stop their teeth from falling out. The same archeological group discovered hemlock, a known pain killer, in the drains of the hospital.[72]

Monasteries also aided in the development of agricultural techniques. The requirement of wine for the Mass led to the development of wine culture, as shown in the discovery of the méthode champenoise by Dom Perignon. Several liquors like Bénédictine and the Trappist beers were also developed in monasteries. Even today, many monasteries and convents are locally renowned for their cooking specialties.

The consequence of this centralization of knowledge was that they initially controlled both public administration and education, where the trivium led through the quadrivium to theology. Christian monks cultivated the arts as a way of praising God. Gregorian chant and miniatures are examples of the practical application of quadrivium subjects.

The status of monks as apart from secular life (at least theoretically) also served a social function. Dethroned Visigothic kings were tonsured and sent to a monastery so that they could not claim the crown back. Monasteries became a place for second sons to live in celibacy so that the family inheritance went to the first son; in exchange the families donated to the monasteries. Few cities lacked both a St Giles house for lepers outside the walls and a Magdalene house for prostitutes and other women of notoriety within the walls, and some orders were favored by monarchs and rich families to keep and educate their maiden daughters before arranged marriage.

The monasteries also provided refuge to those like Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who retired to Yuste in his late years, and his son Philip II of Spain, who was functionally as close to a monastic as his regal responsibilities permitted.

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[1] Henry Hampton Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook with the New International Version., Completely rev. and expanded. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 984–986.

[2] Harper, Douglas. “monk”. Online Etymology Dictionary.

Corbishley, Mike. Monks lived a very strict and regulated life. Life in a monastery included prayer, manual work, and this promoted the idea of the dignity and labour. Cultural Atlas for Young People The Middle Ages Revised Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2004, page 38.

[3] Rowling, Marjorie. Everyday Life in Medieval Times. London: Jarrold and Sons Ltd, 1968, page 125.

[4] Wilken, Robert Louis (27 November 2012). The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 100.

[5] Huddleston, Gilbert. “Monasticism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013

[6] Macdonald, Fiona. How would you survive in the Middle Ages?. New York: Franklin Watts, 1995, page 37.

[7] Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, describes Philos Therapeutae as the first Christian monks, identifying their renunciation of property, chastity, fasting, solitary lives with the cenobitic ideal of the Christian monks. Professor Constantine Scouteris, Source

“Early Christian Monasticism”, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance

[8] Bacchus, Francis Joseph. “Eastern Monasticism Before Chalcedon (A.D. 451)”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013

[9] “Idiorrythmic Monasticism”Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Retrieved 9 October 2012.

[10] Butler, Edward Cuthbert. “St. Anthony.” The Catholic Encyclopaedia Vol. 1. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 9 October 2012.

[11] “Anchoress”The Middle Ages Website. Retrieved 9 October 2012.

[12] Gardner, Edmund. “Juliana of Norwich”The Catholic Encyclopaedia Vol. 8. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[13] “Early Christian Monasticism”, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance

[14] “Monasticism”, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Nassau, Bahamas Archived 25 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine

[15] “Early Christian Monasticism”, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance

[16] “Venerable Pachomius the Great, Founder of Coenobitic Monasticism”, Orthodox Church in America

[17] Bacchus, Francis Joseph. “Eastern Monasticism Before Chalcedon (A.D. 451)”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013

[18] IBID.

[19] “Early Christian Monasticism”, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance

[20] “Monasticism”, Augnet Archived 12 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine

[21] IBID.

[22] “Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library”ccel.org. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

“Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library”ccel.org. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[23] One may hear Orthodox monks referred to as “Basilian Monks”, but this is really an inappropriate application of western categories to Orthodoxy.

[24] Both Mount Sinai and Mount Athos are referred to as “the Holy Mountain” in Orthodox literature,

[25] Huddleston, Gilbert. “Monasticism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013

[26] Huddleston, Gilbert. “Monasticism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 31 May 2013

[27] Huddleston, Gilbert. “Western Monasticism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.

[28] IBID.

[29] IBID.

[30] Kenney, J.F., The Sources for the Early History of Ireland, New York, 1929

[31] “Celtic Monasteries”, Orthodox Christian Contact Wales

[32] Corning, Caitlin. The Celtic and Roman Traditions: Conflict and Consensus in the Early Medieval Church. Macmillan. (2006)

[33] “Celtic Monasticism”, Encyclopedia of Monasticism, (William M. Johnston, ed.), Routledge, 2013

[34] Hughes, Kathleen. “The Distribution of Irish Scriptoria and Centres of Learning from 730 to 1111”, Studies in the Early British Church, (N. Chdwick et sl, eds.), Cambridge, 1958

[35] Addleshaw, George William Outram. “The Pastoral Structure of the Celtic Church in Northern Britain”, Borthwick Publications, 1973

[36] Chandlery, Peter. “Welsh Monastic Foundations.” The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

[37] Newell, E.J., A History of the Welsh Church to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Chapter III, Elliot Stock, London, 1895

[38] Thurston, Herbert. “Welsh Church.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

[39] Chandlery, Peter. “Welsh Monastic Foundations.” The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

[40] Woods, Richard J., Christian Spirituality, Orbis Books, 2015

[41] IBID.

[42] “Irish Monasticism”, Early Christian Sites in Ireland”. Archived from the original on 13 March 2014. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[43] Grattan-Flood, William. “St. Finnian of Moville.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.

[44] Duckett, Eleanor Shipley. The Gateway to the Middle Ages: Monasticism, University of Michigan Press, 1988

[45] Addleshaw, George William Outram. “The Pastoral Structure of the Celtic Church in Northern Britain”, Borthwick Publications, 1973

[46] O’Halloran, W., Early Irish History and Antiquities and the History of West Cork, Chapter XI, 1916

[47] IBID.

[48] Medieval Handbooks of Penance, eds. John T. McNeil and Helena M. Gamer (New York, Columbia University Press, 1938), p. 28

[49] Hinson, E. Glenn. The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300, Mercer University Press, 1995

[50] Oakley, Thomas Pollock. English Penitential Discipline and Anglo-Saxon Law in Their Joint Influence, p.28, The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2003

[51] O’Halloran, W., Early Irish History and Antiquities and the History of West Cork, Chapter XI, 1916

[52] “‘The Work of Angels’, Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork”, (Susan Youngs, ed.) London: British Museum Press. 1989

[53] D’Alton, Edward Alfred (1908). “Culdees”. In Catholic Encyclopedia4. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

[54] Addleshaw, George William Outram. “The Pastoral Structure of the Celtic Church in Northern Britain”, Borthwick Publications, 1973

[55] Middle-ages.org.uk

[56] Rowling, Marjorie. Everyday Life in Medieval Times. London: Jarrold and Sons Ltd., 1968, page 114

[57] Christiansen, Eric. The Northern Crusades. London: Penguin Books. pg. 75.

[58] “Kloster Ebstorf”. Medieval Histories. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2017. The monastery is mentioned for the first time in 1197. It belongs to the group of so-called Lüneklöstern (monasteries of Lüne), which became Lutheran convents following the Protestant Reformation. […] It is currently one of several Lutheran convents maintained by the Monastic Chamber of Hanover (Klosterkammer Hannover), an institution of the former Kingdom of Hanover founded by its Prince-Regent, later King George IV of the United Kingdom, in 1818, in order to manage and preserve the estates of Lutheran convents.

[59] Saint Augustine’s House

[60] Östanbäck monastery Archived 13 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine

[61] Priorat St. Wigberti: Unser Kloster

[62] Communität Casteller Ring Archived 11 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine

[63] Priestly Society of St. Augustine

[64] Redekop, Calvin Wall; Krahn, Victor A.; Steiner, Samuel J. (1994). Anabaptist/Mennonite Faith and Economics. University Press of America. p. 15.

[65] “Learning from the Bruderhof: An Intentional Christian Community”ChristLife. Retrieved 27 Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[66] Hammond, Phillip E. (1985). The Sacred in a Secular Age: Toward Revision in the Scientific Study of Religion. University of California Press. p. 28

[67] Gibbs, Constance (4 January 2017). “The only two Shakers left live in Maine community”Daily News. New York. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[68] Williams, Kevin (3 May 2015). “A few good Shakers wanted”Al Jazeera. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[69] Gibbs, Constance (4 January 2017). “The only two Shakers left live in Maine community”Daily News. New York. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

[70] Turner, William. “Carolingian Schools.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 11 February 2015

[71] Historymedrend.about.com

[72] Elliott, Jane (6 August 2005). “The medical world of medieval monks”BBC News. Retrieved Saturday, March 19, 2022.

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