The rise of monasticism was, after Christ’s commission to his disciples, the most important – and in many ways, the most beneficial - institutional event in the history of Christianity. For over a millennium, in the centuries between the reign of Constantine and the Protestant Reformation, almost everything in the church that approached the highest, noblest, and truest ideals of the gospel was done either by those who had chosen the monastic way or by those who had been inspired in their Christian life by the monks.”
Mark Noll, Turning Points
THE EASTERN (Greek Othodox) CHURCH
I. The roots of monasticism: the early ascetics
A. Asceticism literally = “training”
1. Generally a withdrawal/separation from society through separation, isolation, disciplines (prayer, fasting,
celibacy) and self punishment (artificial suffering, sleep deprivation, etc., in order to seek and be devoted to God. Included men and women.
2. The underlying understanding: suppression of natural enhances the spiritual..
B. Antony of Egypt, 251(?) – 256
1. Gave away his possessions, became a village ascetic.
2. Moved to the desert.
3. Solitary fasting, continuous prayer, etc. Later joined by others became clusters of hermits
4. Believed himself attacked by evil spirits
C. Simon Stylites – lived for 30 years on a pillar near Antioch.
II. Beginning Monasticism
A. From isolated individuals to separated communities.
B. ca. 320 – Pachominius established first communal monastery
-individuals together under an abbot and following a “Rule”.
-prescribed hours of worship
C. 370 – Bishop Basil of Cappadocia (NE Turkey) wrote the Rule (set of regulations) that will become the standard for the eastern church. More rules that put more emphasis on prayer, work, Bible reading, and
service to others.
A. Is self-mortification (punishment) as a spiritual discipline a biblical model or practically useful?
B. Asceticism and monasticism will encourage a perception that the church consists of the truly spiritual and everyone else.
C. The separation of monasticism creates is artificial and so is its spirituality.
THE WESTERN (Catholic) CHURCH
I. Benedict (ca 480 – ca 550)
A. 529 - begins a monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy.
1. He founded 12 monasteries which became the beginning of The Benedictine order
2. Benedictine monasteries would become, among other things, centers of order, civilization, learning, and keepers of books..
B. His “Rule” became the standard organizing pattern of monastic life in the west.
1. Worship is the prime duty.
7 daily periods totaling 4 hours.
Example schedule attached.
2. Work and reading emphasized.
3. No spiritual vagabonds or hermits.
4. Monasteries are to be self sustaining.
5. Specific example:
Monks could only leave premises for the most urgent reasons and upon return were required to
report all that they saw.
II. Vows – Poverty, chastity, obedience.
A. Celibacy will not become the rule for priests/monks until the 1100’s
1. No private ownership of anything.
2. Irony – Because of their organization, discipline, work ethic and donations (especially land) monasteries
regularly became very rich..
III. Later Monastic Developments
A. Cluny (southern France) – founded in 910 as an independent Benedictine monastery.
1. Founded for the purpose of prayer.
2..Became a “massive, self-sufficient monastic complex seen as a model monastery that began the ‘Benedictine centuries’.”
B. Mendicant (Begging) orders – originally not tied to a monastery, served in among people, in cities, etc.
1216 - Dominicans (Dominic Guzman) initially founded to combat heresy.. Educated teachers and preachers, educators, missionaries, agents of the Inquisition.
1223 – Franciscans (Francis of Assisi) founded with emphasis on poverty and serving the poor and In addition became teachers, missionaries.
C. Society of Jesus (Jesuits) founded in 1534 by Ignatius of Loyola (Spain), largely in response to the
Protestant Reformation. Evangelists, diplomats, missionaries, devoted to the Pope and Catholicism, educators, “soldiers of God.”
IV. Some More Observations
A. Monasteries would produce “tens of thousands” of copies of books/manuscripts.
B. In the chaotic, disorganized, lawless, “dark” European world from about 500 to about 900 the church, especially the monasteries, would be the main keepers of civilization resources.
C. Monks would be the main missionaries of the church.
The Irish and English monks would be noteworthy in this.
D. Monasteries would serve as “hospitals”, inns, welfare centers
E. Monastic movements would be agents of revival for the church.
1. Comment: “Studies have shown that extended fasting leads to visions/delusions.”
2. Questions: Do Capuchin monks have some connection to cappuccino?
Answer: Yes, the color of their robes.