Christian monasticism

'St. Paul the Hermit Fed by the Raven', after Il Guercino, Dayton Art Institute

Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals 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 monachos "monk", itself from monos meaning "alone". [1] [2]

Monks did not live in monasteries at first, rather, they began by living alone, 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 community ( cenobites), or in seclusion ( recluses).

Life

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

The basic idea of monasticism in all its varieties is seclusion or withdrawal from the world or society. The object of this is to achieve a life whose ideal is different from and largely at variance with that pursued by the majority of humanity, and the method adopted, no matter what its precise details may be, is always self-abnegation or organized asceticism. Monastic life is distinct from the "religious orders" such as the friars, canons regular, clerks regular, and the more recent religious congregations. The latter have 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 labours of the most varied character, in every case this work is extrinsic to the essence of the monastic state. [5]

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. [6] 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.

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. [7]