Monasticism. On the monastic movement

Reads: 256  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
While developing and spreading over territories, the Christian monastic movement quite changed in conceptual and practical aspects. That is, if at early times Christian monasticism was solely a solitary submission of oneself to God in deserts, which was religiously necessary to conduct, then it gradually transformed into a highly social and institutionalized entity where a deep belief in desert-based solitary quests of holiness and a complete self-abstention became disregarded and even eradicated. Considering this change in the perception of the Christian monastic movement to be quite a vague phenomenon, the task of this study is to find out certain ways and a possible extent of the arisen change in this religious tradition.

Submitted: June 21, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 21, 2016

A A A

A A A


Tokay Ahmadov  

Bachelor degree in Public Affairs, ADA University,

2016,

Ahmadov, T. (2016). Monasticism. On the monastic movement. Retrieved from www.booksie.com

 

To what extent and in what ways did monasticism change outside its Egyptian homeland?

Monasticism (from Greek “monos” – sole, one) is an ancient religious tradition which has existed throughout human history in various religious practices of the world. It is posited that monasticism as a religious movement is a tradition that unites religious adherents who believed that a conscious seclusion and isolation from the external world constitute an ideal form of service to God. It is important to note that the monastic movement and its practice first appeared in Christianity. Moreover, despite Roman imperial persecutions of Christians, potential Christian adherents of this tradition appeared already in the third century A.D in ancient Egypt which is the homeland of Christian monasticism (Kauffman, 2014, p. 3). Eventually, monasticism, with its ascetic and typically cloistered way of living, permeated the whole Christian community in Egypt, was spread in Europe and took all religious possessions under the name of a higher religious service to God in the East and West. However, while developing and spreading over territories, the Christian monastic movement quite changed in conceptual and practical aspects. That is, if at early times Christian monasticism was solely a solitary submission of oneself to God in deserts, which was  religiously necessary  to conduct, then it gradually transformed into a highly social and institutionalized entity where a deep belief in desert-based solitary quests of holiness and a complete self-abstention became disregarded and even eradicated (p. 7-8). Therefore, considering this change in the perception of the Christian monastic movement to be quite a vague phenomenon, the task of this study is to find out certain ways and a possible extent of the arisen change in this religious tradition.  

Christianity, with its preaching of poverty and self-denial, existed long before and simultaneously with various philosophical and religious movements. Therefore, many of those Christians who had a penchant for the achievement of certain truths by a complete abstention were easily able to find a confirmation of their desires in a new movement which afterwards certainly became very well compatible with Christianity itself. Considering the fact that Egypt had a nationwide strong Christian community in the early centuries A.D and quite appropriate for the realization of Christian faith very remote and dangerous deserts, the monastic movement and its norms were realized here immediately (Kauffman, 2014, p. 3-4). Regarding the realization of Christian faith together with the monastic ideology, it is necessary to note that the desert had a crucial importance for monastic adherents. That is, the desert in monasticism symbolized a location of Christian experience where one could talk to God, an inner journey of the heart where one could get the meaning of holiness, and a holy interpretation of Christian morality and spirituality where one could properly understand the bible (p. 5). It is believed that early monasticism (III-IV c. A.D) was started and spread in Egypt by a hermit called Anthony (Stewart, 2010, p.  258). Moreover, not having any monastery in Egypt at that time, but only ascetic monks who lived in very distant edges of society, Anthony was inspired and convinced to go to live in a desert and utterly devote himself to God. Subsequently, he quickly became a very holy representative of solitary monks and attracted that much of adherents that his biographer Athanasius posited an expression as “the desert became a city” (p. 258).  

Eventually, in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and in Asia Minor hermits and recluses, who were mostly named “desert fathers”, became very spread and famous. Despite not having any written monastic norm, they used to make a word of mouth their basic norms such as an aspiration to survive in martyrdom, retreating to inaccessible places, eating almost nothing and abandoning natural pleasures (Kauffman, 2014, p. 7). Regarding monastic norms, it is necessary to mention the monastic ideology itself which presented the imitation of Jesus’s solitary wandering in the desert where one departs his soul and eagers to learn Christ’s virtues. Moreover, the first Bishop of the Christians of Ireland Palladius (V c.) used to claim that gaining immortal spirituality by struggling to win over demons in the desert while remaining benevolent and peaceable and reaching eventual mortification of the body in the name of God and his heavenly grace is all what monasticism pursued (Fordham University, 1998). Besides, some of “desert fathers”, seeking further tightening of the basic conditions of human existence and survival, used to make severe vows to commit monasticism’s spiritual exploits as well as follow its norms better. That is, while some solitary monks used to make a vow of silence where they were obliged not to utter any word for many years, others, spending all day on a high rock or on a specially built tower - a pillar, used to take a feat of a pillar-dwelling. It is also interesting to note that Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as a legal and official religion (313 A.D), where deep asceticism and martyrdom gradually became weakened and unavailable, “desert fathers” struggled and continued their ascetic missions and quests for holiness refusing to take an extensive part in the growing power of the civilizing church (Douglas, 1993, p. 3-4). This is a very necessary point due to which later monasticism, already with a center in Europe, was practiced and propagated in a quite different way.

However, the monastic movement’s being mainly about solitary quests of holiness of Egyptian “desert fathers” with a deep social, intellectual and physical renunciation existed until the introduction of communal monasticism in Egypt (IV c.) by St. Pachomius (Douglas, 1993, p. 7; Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). While monasticism was developing and spreading, its adherents started to extensively disseminate their quests for holiness and monastic norms by what in turn pedagogy in deserts was created (IV-V c.) (p. 5). Pedagogy in deserts made a significant contribution to a big increase in quantity of solitary monks what in turn drove recluses to develop a community-based religious service in monasteries. However, early communities (communal monasticism) were merely informal groups of solitary monks, but later, the achievement as high institutionalization took place, and big monasteries started to be established (Kauffman, 2014, p. 7). After the legalization of Christianity and its becoming the sole sacred authority in the European continent, the Christian monastic movement became split into two branches of its practicing. While the western way, with its center in Italy, appeared to be more civilized and institutionalized, the homeland of monasticism, the East (Egypt, Syria Palestine), remained more personal and continued forming some voluntary informal groups with their practices which were replete with complete ascetic spirituality (p. xvii). Moreover, the idea of membership, which later constituted the strong church power, became very important in the monastic movement of the West. Considering the fact that the West, till the time of development and spreading of the monastic movement and Christianity itself, had enormous experience of paganism and the enlightened understanding of introducing oneself to the outside world in a many centuries-old background, the premises of the monastic tradition were certainly exposed to changes in the West (p. 9).

After being massively criticized by emperors and philosophers, especially Greek ones, ascetic and cloistered monasticism became less crucial for the Christian faith and later for the Church itself in the West (Douglas, 1993, p. 12-13). That is, the critics posited the idea that the monastic movement which promotes a religious service in deserts, later in remote islands, is anticultural, unbiblical and fundamentally misconceived by solitary monks (p. 11). Despite huge influence of criticism and pagan background of the west, monastic norms started to be codified in western churches. Moreover, under the Charlemagne’s reign (IX c.) The Rule of St. Benedict became a basic guide of Western monasticism, and it was aimed to unite monasteries into a single federation. However, it is necessary to note that monastic norms codified and highlighted by the western Church as well as by European kings were for monks who served at big community-based monasteries within medieval European societies. While solitary monks forced themselves to survive at the margins of society and were regarded as hermits, western monks used to engage in growing power of the church and started to get the title of a bishop (Kauffman, 2014, p. xvii). Western monasticism developed to such extent that medieval European monasteries and their communities later took charges of social services as education and healthcare in towns. However, the fact is that solitary monks being fully devoted to their services in deserts, later islands, and refusing to join the growing power of civilizing churches remained ascetic and cloistered as well as became even stronger in the East (p. 9). Hence, it becomes obvious that this was not a matter of time, but mostly the influence of geographical positions of monasticism’s dissemination which transformed the ways of how Christian monasticism were perceived and conducted, and what in turn made it quite a differently functioning entity in medieval Europe.

The tipping point for Christian monasticism outside its homeland came after the transformation of the church (XI-XIII c.) by several reforms, which stimulated church’s growth and an overall intellectual development of Europe and in turn led to the eventual reformation of the Church in Europe (XVI c.). As the massive dissent of Christians due to “the perversion of the church's doctrine of redemption and grace” reached its peak, the European catholic community became split into two sides. While the official Roman Catholic church figuratively used to tax Christians on the grounds of indulgences and continuous manipulations with Christian faith, protesters (later, protestants) went against the sacred authority of the Pope to purify sins, to guarantee a place in heaven, sell indulgences and, most important, to be the sole intermediary actor between Christians and God. Moreover, in regard to monasticism, instead of being focused on personal spirituality, the Protestants strictly preferred highly institutionalized service to both the Church and the outside world (Kauffman, 2014, p. 86). Subsequently, the protestant approach to Christianity, which was successfully strengthened in northern Europe, brought new understanding of the religion and in turn eradicated monasticism at all in the Protestant world (p. 86). Furthermore, such secluded and isolated way of living propagated by monasticism became considered to have a degrading influence on the development of human culture (Douglas, p. 7). Altogether, it is important to note that Christian monasticism with its institutional monasteries became purely catholic activity which also turned to become greatly diminished in influence and power. 

At the time of its occurrence in Egypt, the Christian monastic movement was a specific form of living of religious people which resulted from a deeply ascetic understanding of Christianity and its premises. Considering monastic salvation as a deep seclusion and isolation, eastern ascetics vigorously advocated their understanding of Christianity, and the growth of ascetic sentiments and ideals in its turn achieved the recognition by western Christian communities (Europe). Moreover, the Western Church (Rome) laid the monastic charter of St. Benedict as the basis of the holy institution and its subsequent transformation. However, simultaneously with the success of the ascetic ideals, the internal economic development of monasteries and their highly institutionalized connections with the outside world caused weakening of the monastic discipline, fall in its asceticism and its eventual eradication. That is, an intensive process of secularization in Christian monasticism progressively transformed it in Europe. Altogether, the remaining fact is that once so vastly influential started to be and disseminate the religious tradition, eventually became greatly transformed, diminished in necessity and even eradicated due to geographic differences of its practicing.

. Bibliography

Kauffman, I. (2014). Follow Me: A History of Christian Intentionality. The Lutterworth Press. Available on: http://0-site.ebrary.com.library.ada.edu.az/lib/azdipacad/reader.action?docID=10907220#

Douglas, B. (1993). Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism. Oxford University Press, USA. Available on: http://0-site.ebrary.com.library.ada.edu.az/lib/azdipacad/reader.action?docID=10278410

Stewart, C. (2010). The Origins and Fate of Monasticism. Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, volume 10, number 2. Johns Hopkins University Press. Available on: http://0-muse.jhu.edu.library.ada.edu.az/journals/spiritus/v010/10.2.stewart.pdf

Roman Catholicism. (2015). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/topic/Roman-Catholicism

Fordham University, (1998). Medieval Sourcebook: Palladius: The Lausiac History. Available on: https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/palladius-lausiac.asp


© Copyright 2017 TokaiAhmad. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Religion and Spirituality Articles