An institution of ancient and medieval origins, establishing and regulating the ascetical and social conditions of the manner of religious life lived in common or in contemplative solitude.
1. Early Christian (to 600)
In describing the rise and development of Christian monasticism, this article deals with its background—the work of St. Anthony and the origin of Anchoritism, the contribution of Pachomius and the rise of Cenobitism; the life of the Desert Fathers—developments in Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia; Constantinople; and the West.
Background. The primitive Church as a minority group and a community bearing witness to faith in Christ felt so strong in its creative newness and eschatological hope that, while being in the world, it was, on the whole, aware of not being of the world, of being a community of "saints." virginity was held in high regard, and among the poor classes the sharing of goods was relatively easy. Normally the tendency toward encratism did not harden into doctrinal opposition to marriage or the social order of the day. Its source was the gospel; it was not linked with a Manichaean dualism or scorn for created things.
Contacts with Gnostic currents, with the philosophical attitudes of Stoicism and Platonism, or again with the Eastern religions were inevitable and fruitful, though dangerous at times; clearly they did not go to the root of the movement, as Weingarten's outmoded theories claimed regarding the pagan recluses of the Serapeum. The foreshadowings of Christian institutions are to be sought in Israel; the desert spirituality, expressed in the lives of the prophets elijah, Hosea, and john the baptist, was certainly in line with monasticism and had a considerable literary influence on its development. The essenes of the qumran community near the Dead Sea and of Alexandria, of whom the description by philo ju daeus is in part interpretative, bear a resemblance to the monks of the later monasteries that flourished in the same territory. However, there is no evidence of direct historical continuity between the two groups. It is probable that the Judeo-Christian communities, profoundly stamped with the tradition of the "poor of Yahweh" (see ebionites), transmitted their sentiment to the churches of Syria and perhaps to those of Egypt. It is not characteristic of the churches in the Greek stream of culture that are relatively better known.
Early in the 3d century, origen gave expression to an ascetic and mystical ideal that contained elements of gnosticism and of Greek philosophy and was destined to have extensive influence on the Church's future. During the years when Christianity was making peace with the Empire, receiving the masses into its communion, but lowering its moral level, a powerful ascetical movement began to manifest itself with the constitution of a purely evangelical society on the fringes of the populated world. Occasionally this movement opposed itself to the hierarchy and gave rise to unorthodox sects. More often, however, ecclesiastical authority was respected by its saintly founders, and the movement became an institution within the Church. Initially it took the form of anchoritic societies; later, it developed into cenobitism and the founding of the lauras. Marxist interpretation describes this evolution as a seizure by the hierarchy of a popular revolutionary force; and this observation is not entirely false. Like primitive Christianity itself, monastic asceticism is a historical movement that transformed the ancient world and that can be said to have created the medieval society. Monasticism provided a spiritual aristocracy, scions of a new elite, that preserved a notable part of the ancient culture. Once in being, however, the monastic institutions were not always faithful to their original inspiration.
St. Anthony and Anchoritism. A son of Coptic peasants became the father of the monks; he proved to be the model, not the founder, of monasticism. According to his biographer, anthony of egypt (d. 356) retired to a retreat outside his native village at 20 years of age and died
there when he was 105. However, the chronology of the period seems confused, and the beginning of the Egyptian anchorite movement should be dated closer to the year 300 than to 270. The first documentary (papyrus) evidence is supplied by the entourage of Meletius of Alexandria, a rival of Athanasius. It dates from c. 335. The Life of Anthony written by Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 357) stresses Anthony's austerity, the evangelical inspiration of his renunciation, his fight against the demons, and his zeal for orthodoxy. The demonology seems to be an accommodation to popular concepts, and the attention directed to his orthodoxy apparently stems from the concern of the biographer to strengthen the bonds between the hierarchy and monasticism. One thing is certain: Athanasius's own difficulties with the imperial authorities in the Arian controversies strengthened his alliance with the monks.
The impressions of a witness so close to the monastic movement, but himself not a part of it, must be compared with the authentic letters of Anthony. Beneath the somewhat vague concepts formulated by this uneducated old man, there are the pantheistic trends of Origen's thought, with the idea of a return via the Christ-image of God to the primitive soul-image, by means of an inner serenity that is achieved in perfect prayer. In his retreat in the desert between the Nile and the Red Sea, Anthony enjoyed an enormous prestige, because of his lofty and well-balanced ideal of asceticism and solitary contemplation, as well as his gift of discernment of spirits. A number of disciples began to imitate him, living in solitude, separated by great distances, and coming to him at long intervals for counsel.
Pachomius and Cenobitism. Farther to the south, at tabennisi and Pebou in the thebaid, a younger contemporary of Anthony, pachomius, who had become a monk c. 313, began organizing cenobitic communities (c. 320) that in his lifetime included several thousand brothers, not counting convents of women (see monasteries, double). Endowed with an instinctive understanding of human nature, this Copt with no philosophical training founded monasteries that he divided into houses where men lived a disciplined life in common, performed remunerative work, and practiced individual poverty and detachment in essential matters, alternating with judiciously organized prayer. He had many visions of an apocalyptic type; and despite the profound respect he displayed toward ecclesiastical authority, trust in his charismatic gifts gradually brought him into opposition with the hierarchy (Synod of Latopolis), though not with Athanasius, in whom distance fostered comprehension.
Pachomius's successors, Orsiesi and Theodore, did not enjoy the outstanding prestige their master had acquired for himself, but they are attractive figures; the rules and the vitas forming the Pachomian legacy are partly their work. By a strange turn of history, these unsystematized rules that are nevertheless rich in experience had only a limited influence in the East; but they reached Italy in a Latin translation by St. jerome, and there exercised a profound influence.
Desert Fathers. Ammonas, disciple of Anthony, was named bishop of oxyrhynchus by Athanasius, probably to assure proper control and supervision of the masses of monks then multiplying in the region. He showed unusual mildness and forbearance toward those among them who were public offenders; he maintained the brothers in stability and coped with the problems occasioned by the charisms of the Spirit and revelations of heavenly mysteries. Ammonas is to be distinguished from Ammon, founder of the monastic colonies in the Nitrian Valley, who also was acquainted with Anthony, though he died before him. This Ammon had initially lived in virginal matrimony with his wife, a practice that recalls an archaic rule of Christian family asceticism and that, it is astonishing to note, was not condemned judging from available sources. In the great desert of Scete, a little to the south, macarius the egyptian (d. c. 390) collected fewer disciples, but achieved a more perfect and tranquil solitude.
Like Anthony and Pachomius, these monks supported Athanasius in his difficulties with arianism and the civil authority; and Athanasius on his part made their merits known in the West. melania the elder, with rufinus of aquileia and other Romans, visited them and on settling in Jerusalem devoted themselves to imitating their ascesis, their knowledge of Scripture, and their Origenism. In c. 382, evagrius ponticus provided the monks with the spiritual and intellectual legacy of the Cappadocians; he learned the monks' ascetical "alphabet" and profited from the treasures of psychological insights acquired by their long silences. Shortly after his death (399) a quarrel broke out among his friends and disciples, the Origenists, and the anthropomorphites. Archbishop theophilus of alexandria interfered ruthlessly and achieved control of the monastic groups, but not without damage to their gnosis and culture.
The main sources of information regarding this development bear the stamp of the crisis, although the traditions on which they are founded are considerably anterior to it. Of these documents, some were written for the edification of outsiders, such as the Historia Monachorum, produced c. 400 in the monastery of the Mount of Olives, and the Historia Lausiaca of palladius, published c. 420; both reflect the spirit of Evagrius in a popular coloration. For the internal use of Western monasticism, another thoroughly Evagrian author, John cassian, wrote his memoirs in the form of Institutiones and Conferences. For the internal use of Eastern monasticism that had become anti-Origenist, there were compiled various collections of apophthegmata, or Sayings of the Fathers, brief and charismatic replies to problems of the spiritual life.
The proper use of these various sources requires an acquaintance with the literary genres that evaluates each according to its individual worth. Traditional views have often succumbed to the temptation of evaluating them by the criteria of hagiography; and rationalistic criticism, both Catholic and non-Catholic, has not always understood the monastic ideal or sufficiently recognized the gospel legacy and the freedom of spirit that characterized this literature. External witnesses aid in discerning and interpreting the facts, although the authors of these literary sources were themselves often the willing victims of the mirages of the desert. More recently, unpretentious evidence, badly transmitted by the copyists, has been rediscovered and edited from Eastern versions that were strictly contemporary and addressed to the monks themselves. These notices are of the greatest documentary value, and they make it possible to get behind the unsatisfactory syntheses that have hitherto supplied information on the origins of monasticism. They are furnished in the writings of Athanasius, serapion, Anthony, Ammonas, and Arsenius. In the effort to give an accurate picture R. Draguet and J. C. Guy have called attention to the value of the collections of apothegms. However, their value is still to be clarified.
Syria and Palestine. In the attempt to achieve a further understanding of the extent of the monastic beginnings, it must be remembered that the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire had easy commerce with one another: the primitive Gnostics and the Manichaeans of Syria and Egypt, for example, were in close contact. In the 3d century the ascetic movement in Mesopotamia was perhaps more advanced than that of any other part of the East. The name "abbot" is evidently of Syriac origin. The word "monk" may likewise have had an ambitious and Gnostic meaning linked with the Monogenos, the Only Son of God, although this interpretation and etymology is contested. It was certainly not current in the 4th century, when monachos had the simpler meaning of "solitary" (i.e., celibate) and quickly came to mean an anchorite.
Syria took longer than the West to react against the encratism of tatian and to eliminate his influence. In certain quarters Baptism was understood as an engagement involving continence, although the marriage of catechumens was not condemned; and the catechumens did amount to a sizable group. In the 4th century, Baptism did not exclude marriage; but within the communities there was a fervent nucleus, the Sons of the Covenant (b e nai q eyāmā ), who preserved virginity and were more or less ministers of divine worship. They formed the humblest rank of the clergy and lived in a clerical family or among the clergy. The rules concerning these persons were specified only slowly. The Covenant was the acceptance of the New Testament concluded by Baptism, not a vow or an evangelical counsel. No major figure appeared among them in the 4th century; aphraates and St. ephrem the syrian were exemplars rather than pioneers.
Under the Egyptian influence, it seems, a current of anchoritism manifested itself in that part of the Orient c. 360; numerous solitaries escaped all organized discipline, preferring to wander in wild and desert places, leading a primitive and eccentric life. Saints epiphanius of constantia and Ephrem the Syrian testify to the existence of lawless groups called Messalians (Syriac for "those who pray"), who rebelled against any work under the pretext that they had to consecrate themselves to perpetual prayer. They had a scorn for worldly goods and were more a scandal than an edification. Some, for all their oddity, did attract veneration; their achievements are described by theodoret of cyr in his Religious History. Of special note was Simeon the Stylite (d. 459), who lived in a basket between heaven and earth on a column more than 60 feet high. But great numbers, either spontaneously or under the influence of the episcopate, came to accept the way of life implicit in Basilian cenobitism. Their most notable centers were located near the Persian border, in Edessa, Amida, and Tur Abdin. From there a missionary monasticism spread over the southern part of armenia and georgia, and characterized the eastern missions of the Persian church.
The Syrian monastic world had its counterpart in the deserts of Judea and the hermitages of Sinai, with their close contacts with Egypt, and had a special character because of the sacred memories of the Holy Land. The spoudaei (zealots) attached themselves primarily to the holy places and provided them with protection and divine worship. Foreign pilgrims entered their ranks, often after having visited Egypt. In the 4th century, particularly, they had many Latin visitors, including Saints Jerome and Paula, the two Melanias and Rufinus, John Cassian, and Aetheria. Jerome embroidered or invented local traditions of his Life of Malchus and Life of Hilarion; he did the same for Egypt in his Life of St. Paul First Hermit. Later the same process can be observed among the Cappadocians, Armenians, and Georgians. The recognizable Syrian type is sometimes clothed with a Hellenistic veneer, especially when the subjects were men in the cities. Such was the case especially with diodore of tarsus and john chrysostom, at Antioch.
Cappadocia and Messalianism. The eastern part of Asia Minor came under the influence of Syria. At the Council of gangra (341) the Arianism of court bishops clashed with an ascetical movement led by eustathius, future bishop of Sebaste. He was reproached with breaking up homes, misleading children, emancipating slaves, and departing from the obedience of the clergy to live independently in sectarian fashion. When he became bishop, Eustathius annoyed the extremists among his own disciples, e.g., Aetios, by preserving ecclesiastical discipline and organizing a hospice, for this supposed a certain compromise with the goods of this world. To his ideal rallied intellectuals of great families, such as Basil of Caesarea and gregory of nazianzus. They managed to combine asceticism with obedience to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The result was a stable and balanced cenobitism, similar in a sense to that achieved by Pachomius. Gregory of Nazianzus preferred a more inward and contemplative life; it was through him that Evagrius Ponticus was to come to Scete.
After the death of Basil (379), his brother gregory of nyssa and his disciple amphilochius of iconium maintained contact with the ascetic movement in the hope of spreading their mystical ideal to the whole Church. However, they were soon faced with extravagances among the followers of Eustathius and did not succeed in controlling them. After 383, Bishops Letoios of Melitene, Amphilochius, and then Flavian of Antioch, in succession as the evil spread, took the initiative in condemning Dadoes, Sabas, Adelphios, Hermas, Simeon, and other leaders of the movement. This episcopal intervention had been provoked in part undoubtedly by previous experience. But the ascetics claimed they were in communion with the Church, and strategy had to be resorted to in order to get them to express openly their ideas on inner sanctification by the Holy Spirit and on the devices of the demon, conceptions that were dangerous for the sacramental structure of the Church.
To discredit these sects, the bishops linked them with the anarchic Messalians, despite the differences between the two groups. Their spiritual teaching has survived in the homilies improperly attributed to Macarius the Egyptian; the Liber graduum, a Syriac work, is closely allied. These writings are certainly susceptible of an orthodox interpretation and traditional support can be found for them: but they contain the theses condemned by the anti-Messalian councils. These condemnations and the polemic by a diadochus of photice or a mark the hermit did not prevent them from having a beneficent influence on Byzantine mysticism (see hesychasm). They reached the West only at a comparatively late date, during the crisis that was caused by the Franciscan fraticelli and during the beginnings of pietism and methodism.
Constantinople. In the capital of the later Roman Empire, monasticism established itself c. 380; its original contacts were with Syria, but it manifested Egyptian influence when the Origenist monks were expelled by Theophilus of Alexandria (c. 400). The Lives of Hypatius (d. 446) and Alexander the Acoemete (d. c. 430) witness to this movement, although the latter is somewhat in the tradition of the Messalians and gives evidence of conflict with Church discipline. The disciples of John Chrysostom are known through a collection of the letters of nilus of ancyra (d. c. 430) and the works of Mark the Hermit. In the second half of the century, Daniel the Stylite (d.493), an imitator of St. Simeon, was already playing a role in the capital.
Early Western Monasticism. The first centers of monasticism in the West were formed as a result of the exile of Athanasius in Rome, Treves, northern Italy, and Aquileia. The social structure of the Christian communities differed considerably from that of Egypt, but the Life of Anthony readily set the tone for men coming to the movement from higher society. A typical trait of Western monasticism was its penetration into the clergy in the service of the local Church. It is noticeable from the time of eusebius of vercelli (d. 371), who, on his return from exile in the East, brought back the idea of a community life for his clergy; later the idea was put into practice by Ambrose of Milan and augustine.
In northern Italy, martin of tours was trained in the monastic ideal before founding Marmoutier (372) in western France and becoming the model monk bishop of Gaul. After the death of Pope damasus (384), monasticism temporarily lapsed into disfavor in Rome, although Jerome successfully discredited its adversaries Helvidius and Jovinian. In Spain, in this same period, priscillianism proved an analogous movement, but its orthodoxy was suspect, and its principals were persecuted by the episcopacy. In Africa, outside the zone of influence of Augustine, modern historians see traces of Messalianism, perhaps derived from the East. Marxist historians such as T. Büttner link monasticism with the Donatist movement of the Circumcellions who rebelled against the social system and went about the countryside violently imposing their religious opinions. The phenomenon is interesting for the light it sheds on one milieu of the origin of monasticism.
Jerome, Rufinus, Evagrius, and others had translated the Eastern monastic texts into Latin at an early date. At the beginning of the 5th century, Cassian in Provence brought a new influx of Eastern traditions with the avowed aim of reforming Gallic monasticism. The Latin genius was to multiply these monastic rules based on the original ideals as it assimilated the barbarians, until the day when Benedict of Nursia was to synthesize them all. By way of Gaul, particularly, was to be born the early Irish monasticism that was later to bring the gospel and culture back to the Continent.
Conclusion. Monasticism was a development of primitive Christian asceticism along various lines; the anchoritic and cenobitic types were not the original nucleus but rather successful forms on which others patterned themselves. The monks had their own culture; it was independent of the classical world of antiquity and often arose from local popular traditions, Coptic or Syriac. The monks brought the Church an ideal of asceticism, forms of prayer such as the use of the Psalter, a rich experience of inwardness, and new literary forms. The movement became a triumphant power that, despite its resistance to cultural changes, was to give a distinguishing character to the Middle Ages.
Bibliography: p. de labriolle in j. r. palanque et al., The Church in the Christian Roman Empire, tr. e. c. messenger, 2 v. in 1 (New York 1953), v.2. l. bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, tr. m. p. ryan (New York 1964). p. cousin, Précis d'histoire monastique (Paris 1956). k. heussi, Der Ursprung des Mönchtums (Tübingen 1936), critique. Studia Monastica ), Bulletin de spiritualité monastique, app. to Collectanea ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum careful up-to-date bibliography, about 120 pages a year. p. honigsheim and a. adam in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 4:1070–81. Il Monachesimo orientale (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 153; 1958). Théologie de la vie monastique (Théologie 49; Paris 1961). a. j. festugiÈre, ed., Les Moines d'Orient (Paris 1961–65). r. draguet, ed., Les Pères du désert (Paris 1949). h. j. waddell, tr., The Desert Fathers (New York 1936; repr. Ann Arbor 1957). g. turbessi, Ascetismo e monachesimo prebenedettino (Rome 1961). g. penco, Studia monastica 4 (1962) 257–81. a. adam, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 65 (1953–54) 209–39. w. kammerer, A Coptic Bibliography (Ann Arbor 1950). e. e. malone, The Monk and the Martyr (Washington 1950). h. chadwick, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser 5 (1962) 343–65, s.v. Enkrateia. b. steidle, ed., Antonius Magnus Eremita (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 38; Paris-Louvain 1956). g. garitte, ed. and tr., Lettres de S. Antoine: Version géorgienne et fragments coptes (ibid. 149; 1955). r. t. meyer, ed. and tr., Palladius: The Lausiac History (Ancient Christian Writers, 34; Westministers, Maryland-London 1965). l. t. lefort, ed. and tr., Les Vies coptes de S. Pachôme … (Louvain 1943); Oeuvres de S. Pachôme …, 2 v. (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 159–60, Scriptores Coptici 23–24; 1956); S. Athanase: Lettres festales et pastorales en copte, 2 v. (ibid. 150–51; 1955); Muséon 71 (1958) 5–50, 209–39, homily of St. Athanasius. a. boon and l.t. lefort, eds., Pachomiana latina (Louvain 1932). f. halkin, ed., S. Pachomii vitae graecae (Subsidia hagiographica 19; 1932). f. nau, ed. and tr., Ammonas, successeur de S. Antoine (Patrologia orientalis, ed. r. graffin and f. nau 11.4; 1915) 393–504. f. klejna, "Antonius and Ammonas," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 62 (1938) 309–48. a. wilmart, Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 1 (1920) 58–83, Macarius. a. j. festugiÈre, ed., Historia monachorum in Aegypto (Subsidia hagiographica 34; 1961). j. c. guy, Recherches sur la tradition grecque des "Apophthegmata Patrum" (Brussels 1962); Orientalia Christiana periodica 30 (1964) 129–47, Scete. g. garitte, Muséon 68 (1955) 259–78, letter of St. Arsenius. r. draguet, ibid. 64 (1951) 1–25, Serapion of Thmuis; "Les Apophtegmes des moines d'Egypte," Académie Royale de Belgique: Bulletin de la classe des lettres 47 (1961) 134–49. a. guillaumont, Les "Kephalaia gnostica" d'Évagre le Pontique (Paris 1963). a. and c. guillaumont, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 4:1731–44, s.v. Évagre. a. vÖÖbus, A History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, 2 v. (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 184, 197; 1958–60), bibliography. j. d. b. gorce, La "Lectio Divina" … Saint Jérôme (Paris 1925). f. x. murphy, A Monument to Saint Jerome (New York 1952); Rufinus of Aquileia (Washington 1945). i. auf der maur, Mönchtum und Glaubensverkündingung … hl. Johannes Chrysostomus (Fribourg 1959). j. gribomont, "Le Monachisme au IVe s. en Asie Mineure," Studia patristica 2 (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 64; 1957) 400–15; "Le De Instituto Christiano et le Messalianisme de Grégoire de Nysse," ibid. 5 (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 80; 1962) 312–22. h. dÖrries, "Urteil und Verurteilung," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 55 (1964) 78–94. e. klostermann and h. berthold, eds., Neue Homilien des Makarius-Symeon (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 72;1961). h. dÖrries et al., eds., Die 50 geistlichen Homilien des Makarios (Berlin 1964). g. penco, Storia del monachesimo in Italia (Rome 1961); Saint Martin et son temps (Studia anselmiana 46;1961) 67–83. t. bÜttner and e. werner, Circumcellionen und Adamiten (Berlin 1959).
2. Medieval (600–1500)
From the 6th into the 8th century, Western monasticism was not organized into an order, nor did it have a common rule. Eastern (see section 5 of this article), Celtic (see monasticism, early irish), and Benedictine elements combined to form various rules; 20 such mixed rules were in use in Gaul alone c. 600. In the course of the 7th century these rules incorporated ever larger portions of the Rule of St. columban and the benedictine rule; some Continental monasteries, e.g., luxeuil and fleury in Gaul, bobbio and the restored Abbey of monte cassino in Italy, came to adopt the Benedictine Rule as their norm of monastic life. As for England, even though the monastic allegiance of augustine of canterbury and his fellow monks sent by gregory i the Great to convert England is unknown, the late 7th-and 8th-century Anglo-Saxon missionaries to the Continent were all Benedictine, and their many monastic foundations—for both men and women—were likewise Benedictine. The work of boniface, followed by the encouragement and legislation of charlemagne, made the Benedictine Rule obligatory for all monks and nuns under Carolingian authority. However, the monks and nuns of Celtic lands and Visigothic Spain held fast to their own patterns of monastic living for several centuries more.
Carolingian Era. The benedictines were the missionaries and the teachers in the Carolingian era who made the carolingian renaissance a reality. Their mission work to the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians continued into the 10th century, as did their mission to the western Slavs and Hungarians. At home, the monks labored in the school and scriptorium, writing theological, hagiographical, and historical works, and managed the abbey lands. But all this extramonastic activity provoked protests by benedict of aniane (see carolingian reform). Under his leadership the monastic synod of Aachen in 817 decreed the elimination of extern work, the lengthening of the divine office, common monastic customs or regulations for all monks, and regular visitation of all monasteries. From this time to the 12th century almost all monks in Europe were Benedictine, but most of this legislation remained largely a dead letter until Cluny adopted parts of it in the 10th century.
The decay of Carolingian authority in the state and the subsequent decentralization, which resulted in feudalism made the abbey a feudal fief with the abbot a feudal lord with all attendant privileges and obligations. The contemporary invasions of normans, Hungarians, and Saracens destroyed many abbeys, especially in France and Italy. However, observance in the monasteries in German lands east of the Rhine generally remained good, and they were thus able to play a leading role in Church and State under the Saxon and Salian rulers of the 10th and 11th centuries.
Cluniac Reform. Monastic renewal in the West began with the foundation of cluny in 910. It was fortunate in its saintly, capable, and long-lived abbots: odo of cluny, majolus, odilo, hugh of cluny, and peter the venerable. Under these men, Cluny—exempt from all secular and spiritual authority except that of the pope— created a centralized "Order" of Cluny (see cluniac reform). All member monasteries were under the direct authority of the abbot of Cluny, all vows were made to him, and all superiors were appointed by him. Monks were not to be primarily missionaries or teachers, manual labor was curtailed, and the Divine Office was to be longer and more solemn.
The spirit of reform was, however, not exclusive to Cluny. Other centers grew up in Flanders and northern France under gerard of brogne near Liège, in Lorraine under john of gorze at Metz, in Germany at hirsau, as well as in southern France, Italy, and Spain. The English revival was the work of the monk bishops dunstan of canterbury, ethelwold of winchester, and oswald of york. Their program for English Benedictinism was outlined in the Regularis Concordia.
New Monastic Orders. The number of monastic foundations grew steadily. The great churchmen between the 10th and the 12th centuries—the so-called Benedictine centuries—were monks; as bishops and popes they successfully spearheaded the struggle of the Church for freedom from secular authority (see gregorian reform). Centers of monastic renewal emphasizing the eremitic and contemplative ideals of early monasticism were created by Romuald at camaldoli, peter damian at fonte avellana, and at vallombrosa by john gualbert in the 11th century. In 1084 bruno of cologne set up the first Carthusian hermitage at La Grande Chartreuse, thus founding an order that by the 15th century would include over 190 charter-houses throughout Europe, all faithful to the ideals of the founder. Other Benedictine-based reform groups, each with its own set of ideals, were founded in the 11th and 12th centuries: grandmont, Sauve Majeure, chaise-dieu, fontevrault, and savigny. (see gilbertines; premon stratensians; hospitallers and hospital sisters; military orders.)
The most important 12th-century foundation and the professed rival of Cluny was the cistercian order. Its founders, robert of molesme and stephen harding, stressed a stricter interpretation of the Benedictine Rule, setting out their ideals and constitutional structure in the Charta caritatis. Their original program was purely contemplative and ascetic with emphasis on silence, poverty, and manual labor. But since they could not abolish the idea of the monk priest, they were soon obliged to turn the heavy manual work over to lay brothers, whose industry and skill created the great Cistercian abbey estates. Constitutionally, the Cistercians safeguarded the autonomy of every abbey; necessary unity in the order was achieved by means of annual general chapter meetings and visitations. The growth of the order was unparalleled in monastic history. Candidates flocked to the new foundations. Many older Benedictine monasteries joined the new order. By 1300 there were about 700 monasteries for men and a larger number for cistercian nuns. bernard of clairvaux was in great part responsible for the initial growth of the order. His European reputation placed it in the midst of Church and State affairs; his energy inspired the Second crusade and three Cistercian archbishops were the religious leaders of the Third Crusade. Cistercian monks soon served as diplomats and in the Roman Curia. They headed the mission to the albigenses and converted the pagans of Prussia and the Baltic area.
However, tensions arose in the order even before the death of Stephen Harding. Rivalry between the abbot of cÎteaux and the daughter houses threatened to become chronic. Distant abbeys tended to go their own way. The practice of commendation, the Black Death, the western schism, the Hundred Years' War, and the Hussite Wars had their repercussions. Changes in administration and papal legislation were of some help, but attendance at the general chapters kept falling off from the second half of the 14th century onward, so that in the years of religious crisis rarely would even 30 abbots attend the annual gathering.
The 13th and 14th Centuries. The general monastic picture of the 13th and 14th centuries was uninspiring. Some abbeys retained a high level of regular observance; the "Orders" of the celestines, of Sylvestrine, and of Olivetan benedictines founded in this era still survive. Most monastic foundations, however, were in spiritual doldrums. Leadership in Christian scholarship had passed to the universities and dedicated religious vocations gravitated to the mendicant orders. Reasons for this decline in monastic life are varied. Many abbeys were too much involved in secular affairs, some had become resthouses for members of the nobility, and others had purposefully limited the number of monks so that the professed monks would have more income. The Hundred Years' War often forced monks to live outside their cloisters; the Black Death and the pernicious commendatory system were causes of decline over which the monks had no control. The abbatial office and that of other monastic officials were treated as benefices. Frequently the sense of personal poverty all but vanished. Reform efforts of higher ecclesiastical authority availed but little. The decrees of the Fourth lateran council (1215), the efforts of Popes honorius iii, gregory ix, and benedict xii failed to overcome the general inertia and the opposition of the local ordinaries.
The 15th Century. Eventually, effective revival came from within the Benedictine family with the birth of the late medieval congregations, especially the highly centralized congregations of St. Justina of Padua and pannonhalma in Hungary. Other congregations preserved the autonomy of the member abbey but placed it under the supervision of the general chapter and its officials. Many abbeys joined the congregations of kastl, melk, bursfeld, or windesheim in German lands, Valladolid in Spain, and chezal-benoÎt in France.
The ideal monk of these monasteries was pious and book-loving, and his cell was the nursery of 15th-century humanism. These monks loved the Benedictine Rule, but the spiritual doctrine taught by the great abbots of the new congregations, such as John Rode, Luigi Barbo, García de cisneros, and Johannes trithemius, was that of the devotio moderna.
Bibliography: h. b. workman, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (London 1913). e. c. butler, Benedictine Monachism (2d ed. 1924; repr. New York 1961). r. molitor, Aus der Rechtsgeschichte benediktinischer Verbände, 3 v. (Münster 1928–33). p. schmitz, Histoire de l'ordre de Saint-Benoît, 7 v. (Maredsous, Belgium 1942–56). k. hallinger, Gorze-Kluny, 2 v. (Studia anselmiana 22–25; 1950–51). d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 943–1216 (2d ed. Cambridge, 1962) d. knowles, The Religious Orders in England, 3 v. (Cambridge 1948–60). g. penco, Storia del monachesimo in Italia (Rome 1961). f. dÖlger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 7:544–48.
3. Modern (1500–1960)
Like so much of the Catholic Church's renewal in the 16th century, monasticism looked to the Council of Trent for new impetus. Prior to the Council, there had been some efforts at reform (e.g. Valladolid in Spain, St. Justina in Italy, Melk and Bursfeld in German-speaking territories), but these were minimal in terms of their ability to mobilize a widespread movement of Benedictine reform throughout Europe. By the time of the Council of Trent's opening, the monasteries of England had already been effectively closed by virtue of the dissolution under Henry VIII. The disparate character of the monastic life throughout Europe was in need of unification. This was provided by canon eight of the Council's last session, requiring all monasteries to ally themselves as members of a particular monastic congregation. Although an effort was made to preserve the traditional monastic autonomy of each house, implementation and enforcement of conciliar decrees frequently fell to the local bishop. Monasteries of women were to remain under the jurisdiction of the Holy See or the local bishop. The minimum age for profession of monks was 16; monastic women could make perpetual profession only after they had reached 21 years of age. Forbidden against the vow of poverty were personal ownership and landholdings, a blow against the commendam practice of previous centuries. Most important for the success of the reforming spirit, all exempt monastic houses were to affiliate with into a congregation, with general chapters and regular visitations.
Response to the Tridentine decrees varied according to the locale. The Congregation of Santa Justina in Italy, once affiliated with the ancient abbey of Monte Cassino, became the Cassinese Congregation. It grew in number in the years following Trent, having 14 new monasteries enter the congregation in the 16th and 17th centuries and producing a number of bishops and cardinals as leaders of the Church. In 1566 the Portuguese Congregation of Lusitanian was established, modeled on the already existent Valladolid Congregation. In Austria, the restored Congregation of Melk was reestablished (1617). The old German Bursfeld Congregation expanded as the Swabian Congregation (1603), the Congregation of Strasbourg (1623), the diocesan Congregation of Salzburg (1641), the Bavarian Congregation of the Holy Angels (1684) and the Congregation of Augsburg (1685). Under Einsiedeln Abbey, the Swiss Congregation was formed (1602) and in the Netherlands the Congregation of the Presentation (1628). The reformed congregation of Valladolid in Spain was extended in the 16th century to Mexico and Peru with the missionary ventures to the New World. Another Portuguese Congregation of Brazil was formed in 1582. The English Benedictine Congregation was formally established in exile on the continent in 1619. Perhaps the most influential of the new congregations were found in France. The Congregation of St. Vanne (1604) was modeled on the Cassinese Congregation and under Didier de la Cour spread throughout France, gaining a reputation for scholarly work. Even more of a commitment to intellectual life was rendered by the Congregation of St. Maur (1621). Noted for its house at St. Germain-des-Prés in Paris, the Maurists flourished throughout the following century, producing such eminent figures in scholarship as Gregory Tarrisse, Luc d'Archery and Jean mabillon.
New congregations of women in France included the Catherine de Bar's Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the Congregation of Calvary from Fontevrault. In the 17th century there were also reformed abbesses renewing the monastic life at places such as montmartre, Val-de-Grace and Saint-Paul-les-Beauvais. By 1660 there were 18,000 Benedictine nuns in France, about twice the number as there were in 1600. Also in France the English Benedictines in exile at Douai and Cambrai found in Dame Gertrude more and others a rich vein of spiritual writing to help them in their own renewal. The Congregation of Kulm under Magdalene Morteska helped to lead reform in German-speaking lands.
Another arm of reform came from the Cistercian branch of monasticism. The Trappists (Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance) under Abbot Armand de rancÉ received papal approval in 1678. In 1712 papal approval was given to the Congregation of Mechitarists, a group that represented the ancient traditions of Eastern monasticism.
Apart from the spiritual vein of renewal, Benedictine monasteries were in the forefront of spreading the best baroque standards of art, architecture and music. The Austrian, German and Swiss monasteries were especially noteworthy in this enterprise.
Secularization. By the 1700s, however, the monastic order was again being threatened by elements of the Enlightenment, monarchical government and secularizing influences. The Enlightenment critique of the Catholic Church included the monasteries, which it identified with the ancien régime. The anti-clerical and Masonic literature of the century reflected this as did the policies of the secularizing governments of Austria (1750 to 1790) and the Czarist regime in Russia and Poland. In the second half of the 18th century the first dissolutions of French monasteries took place, culminating in the complete suppression of all monastic houses at the time of the French Revolution. The September Massacre and many other bloody reprisals against the Church by the revolutionary government included Benedictines as their victims. In the last decades of the century, Emperor joseph ii of Austria suppressed numerous Benedictine abbeys in Austria, Bohemia, Hungary and areas of Poland. Monasteries in the Netherlands and Switzerland were forced to close their doors in 1796. The Napoleonic Wars increased the threat to Benedictine life. Throughout Italy, Prussia, Silesia and Germany, countless monasteries were secularized by governments unfriendly to any form of organized religious life. In Spain, the monasteries were suppressed by Joseph Bonaparte in 1809. By 1810, it was said there were fewer monasteries in existence in Western Europe than at any time since the age of St. Augustine.
The 19th-Century Revival. Even as the monastic order in Europe reached its nadir at the beginning of the 1800s, indicators of rebirth were evident. In 1802 the suppressed abbeys of Hungary formed a new congregation from the royal monastery of Pannonhalma. English monks who had fled from the French oppression founded abbeys at ampleforth (1802) and downside (1814). Benedictine nuns from Cambrai in France did the same, establishing communities at Colwich in 1795 and later founded the monastery of stanbrook. In Bavaria, King Ludwig I restored the Abbey of metten (1830) and the Benedictine convent of Eichstätt, which was in turn to become influential in shaping other Bavarian abbeys into the Bavarian Congregation.
The real germ of the 19th-century revival, however, was to be found in France. In 1833 a diocesan priest, Prosper guÉranger, founded an abbey at the ancient monastic site of solesmes. Modeled on the medieval ideal of Cluny and a return to ancient monastic sources, Solesmes became a center of liturgical life and scholarship. It marked the beginning of the French Congregation (now known as the Solesmes Congregation) and gave birth to other foundations at Ligugé and Marseilles. Solesmes also helped to found the Sisters of St. Cecilia under Cecile Bruyère, a companion reform to the monks. Another French diocesan priest, Jean-Baptiste Muard, founded an abbey at Pierre-qui-vire (1850) that incorporated elements of strict observance and missionary activity. In France there also emerged the Benedictine Nuns of the Heart of Mary (Pradines), the Benedictine sisters of the Poor (Solesmes), the Adorers of the Heart of Jesus (Montmartre) and the Congregation of Missionary Benedictines (Ligugé).
In Italy, Pietro Casaretto transformed subiaco into a reform center (1851) and then went on to form the Subiaco Congregation. This congregation absorbed abbeys across the European continent and was known for its missionary impulse. It was this congregation, through the labors of Spanish Benedictines Joseph Serra and Rosendo Salvado, which brought a Benedictine presence to the Australian continent, along with the work of English Benedictines.
Another branch of the 19th-century revival came from the foundation at beuron in the Black Forest (1863), made by two German brothers, Maurus and Placidus wolter. Modeled in many aspects on Solesmes, the Beuron Congregation was influential in a return to the sources of monastic life and a concentration on liturgical renewal. Indeed, the abbeys of maredsous and MontCésar in Belgium, centers for the liturgical movement, formed part of the Beuronese Congregation, as did the German abbey of maria laach. A Beuronese monk, Andreas Amrheim, was to found still another new Congregation of St. Ottilien (1884), missionary in orientation. Allied to the monks of St. Ottilien were the Benedictine missionary sisters of Tützing.
The missionary thrust of the 19th-century revival was a pronounced part of its impetus. In addition to sending monks to Africa, Australia and South America, this was the time when monasticism came to North America. The most forceful figure in this venture was Boniface Wimmer, who became archabbot of the monastery of st. vincent's in Pennsylvania (1846) and spearheaded the birth and growth of the American Cassinese Congregation. Swiss monks made similar foundations at st. meinrad (1854) and Conception (1871) and there were large numbers of Benedictine sisters from monastic houses in Germany and Switzerland who accompanied them.
The fruits of this revival were seen not just in rapidly expanding numbers but also in a more centralized structure. Under Pope Leo XIII there was a revival of the monastery of Sant'Anselmo in Rome as a central house of studies and an attempt to organize a confederation of Benedictine congregations. A Congress of Abbots was held (1893) and the position of abbot primate created to constitute a more unified Benedictine character. Among new congregations added in the first part of the 20th century were the Belgian Congregation (1920), the Austrian Congregation (1930) and the Bohemian Congregation of St. Adalbert (1945).
Many Church leaders, as well as liturgical and spiritual writers, reflected the revitalized monasticism of the early 20th century. Cardinals gasquet, dusmet and PITRA epitomized the scholarship of the Benedictine revival. Such writers as beauduin and Botte, butler and chapman, marmion and morin, served as examples of the fruits of a return to Scriptural and Patristic sources. The growth in numbers was paralleled with a growth in physical plants, especially in Europe and North America.
The 20th century was not without its challenges to monasticism. The punitive legislation passed by governments of Germany, France and Italy at the end of the 19th century slowed the progress of monasticism in those countries. Even more devastating were the two world wars that marked the first half of the century. The devastation of so much of the monastic patrimony of Europe in those wars was reflected in the destruction of the abbey of Monte Cassino by Allied bombers and the wholesale loss of life and property experienced by many monastic houses, to say nothing of priceless manuscripts and books contained in monastic libraries. The period after World War II resulted in another resurgence of monastic growth, especially in the United States. There was a strong contemplative movement that accompanied the popularity of the best-selling autobiography of Thomas merton, a monk of Gethsemane in Kentucky. It was reflected not only in growing numbers flocking to Cistercian houses but in new communities of Benedictine men and women that turned away from traditional apostolic works of education and pastoral work and became centers of prayer and liturgical life.
The 20th century was not without its record of political persecution of Benedictines. Monks from Silos Abbey were expelled from Mexico in 1913. In the Spanish Civil War in 1936 monks of the abbey of Pueyo suffered a collective martyrdom. Benedictines were driven from mainland China after World War II. With the suppression of monastic houses in Communist territories, there was an increased emigration of monks from Eastern Europe and Asia to other countries.
There was also a strong missionary thrust, this time directed to Latin America, Asia and Africa. By the 1950s there were thriving Benedictine communities in Argentina and Mexico, Vietnam and India, Morocco and Madagascar. A number of Benedictines served as bishops in missionary countries.
4. Contemporary (1960–2000)
The decade of the 1960s marked not only the decisive event of Vatican Council II (1962 to 1965) but also another period of intense renewal of monastic life. This was accomplished through a full spectrum of changes: structural changes in the constitutions of Benedictine congregations, the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgical prayer of communities, the changed patterns of ministry or apostolic work taken on by many communities, a comprehensive reevaluation of monastic spirituality as it came to terms with the modern world and new challenges that came through interacting with that world. At the same time, this period initiated a time of marked demographic change, with decreased numbers from Benedictine houses in Europe and North America, and increased numbers from the sub-continents of Africa, India and South America.
The conciliar call for all religious to return to the sources of their charism led to a flowering of new monastic scholarship. Benedictines such as Jean leclercq, Adalbert de Vogüé and Cypriano Vagaggini led a new wave of Benedictine scholars, intent upon distilling the best of Benedictine tradition of scholary work and extending it to a wider readership. The Benedictine Pontifical University of Sant'Anselmo in Rome offered an international venue for this to take place, particularly with its Liturgical and Monastic Institutes. Centers for study and publishing in other parts of the monastic world, such as Collegeville, Minnesota, in the United States, also attracted large numbers of Benedictine students and scholars.
Benedictines exercised considerable leadership in renewal efforts of religious life in the period after the Council. American Benedictine Rembert Weakland, elected as abbot primate in 1967, did much to promote the renewal of liturgical life. He also broadened contacts with houses of Benedictine women and supported the growing influence of monasticism in Third World countries. In the Roman Curia, Cardinal Augustine Mayer played a significant role under Pope john paul ii in expediting the religious renewal of communities of consecrated life and later serving as liaison with the Society of St. Peter. Cardinal Basil hume, a monk and abbot of Ampleforth Abbey before being named archbishop of Westminster, was widely recognized as a spokesman and spiritual figure of influence in the European Church.
The Benedictine Order itself was enlarging its membership. By the 1970s, the Vallombrosan (1966), Camaldolese (1966), Olivetan (1960) and Sylvestrine (1973) branches of Benedictinism had entered the Benedictine Confederation. There was now a Dutch and Slavic (1969) Congregation and the Benedictine houses of Latin America formed the Cono-Sur (1976) Congregation. This period was also a time of marked growth in non-Catholic Benedictine houses. The Anglican and Lutheran Churches were witnessing the renewed growth of monastic communities in their denominations. In addition, there was a concerted effort to engage in dialogue with non-Christian monastics. The Bangkok Conference of 1968, at which the Trappist Thomas Merton suffered his unexpected death, was one of these. The work of English Benedictine Father Bede griffiths and Henri le Saux in India signaled an entirely new ground for combining elements of Hindu practice with Catholic monasticism. A number of organizations such as the North American Board for East-West Dialogue and Monastic Interreligious Dialogue actively sought to carry on the exchange of ideas between Catholic monks and those of other faiths. Examples of Benedictine monasteries in the forefront of ecumenical work included Chevetogne in Belgium and Bose in Italy. This was also a period when the popularity of the Benedictine-based ecumenical monasticism of Taizé was achieving unprecedented attention.
The missionary impulse was alive and well in this period. The decade of the 1960s had seen an unprecedented commitment of monastic personnel sent to Latin America. Although a number of the foundations made did not pass the test of time because of local political instability and a dearth of indigenous vocations, many Benedictine foundations became integral parts of the local Church in Latin America. Africa and Asia were also geographic sectors of renewed Benedictine growth in the last years of the 20th century.
The decades at the end of the 20th century witnessed the return of a more vibrant monastic life to countries that had long suffered from political oppression under Communist rule. This was the case in Vietnam after the difficult period of war and internal discord. It was especially so in the countries of Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism in 1989. Many of the restrictions formerly imposed on monastic houses in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were lifted. In countries such as Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic an entirely revitalized form of monastic life was nurtured with the help of material and human resource from monasteries of the free world.
A variety of experiments in monastic life were part of the post-conciliar period. There were new efforts at both an urban monasticism and a return to eremitical life. The charismatic renewal movement of the 1970s found its way into a number of Benedictine houses, notable the monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Pecos, New Mexico. The 1980s and 1990s were marked by the genesis of a number of new monastic communities of men and women whose common heritage was a retrieval of more traditional practices, characterized by a full round of the Divine Office, use of the full religious habit, and a more cloistered existence. More communities were divesting themselves of active apostolic ministries and becoming centers for prayer and retreats. In this period as well there was a flowering of new forms of monastic art, architecture and music.
Monasticism was distinguished much more by its international character and its pluralism in the last decades of the 20th century. Technology expedited an ease of communication among far-flung monasteries and this was buttressed by frequent encounters and personal exchanges among monastics of different houses. Another prominent feature was the surge in growth of lay associate or oblate programs, in which many committed lay people, Catholic and non-Catholic, affiliated themselves with particular monasteries. Monastic practices such as lectio divina also became accessible to a wider public and so did the interest generated in monastic spirituality on the part of the entire Church.
There was a decline in numbers that had taken place from 1965 to 2000. In 1965 there were over 12,000 monks and over 23,000 Benedictine women throughout the world. At the end of the second millennium in 2000 there were just over 8,400 monks and over 17,000 Benedictine women. However the variety of women's congregations had grown to 63 and for the men there were 82 congregations or independent abbeys. The numerical decline was also less than that suffered by other major religious orders in the same period. These figures pointed to a vitality and diversity in the monastic order at the beginning of the third millennium that was very much in keeping with the Benedictine charism.
Bibliography: a. linage conde, San Benito Y Los Benedictinos, v. III–VI (1993). d. knowles, Christian Monasticism (1969). a. kessler, Benedictine Men and Women of Courage, Roots and History (1996). p. schmitz, Histoire de l'Ordre de saint Benoît, 7v. (1956).
Byzantine monasticism is not divided into specialized orders and congregations as in the West; nor has it an organized unity. The conciliar and imperial legislation on the matter is summary, and the Rule of St. Basil is but a monument of experience and tradition, without legal binding force. In addition to cenobitism, there have been various forms of the eremitical life; and since the 9th century, anyone (often it was a layman) founding a monastery drafted the typikon of his house to his own taste.
a. To 1453. It is almost impossible to make a list of the early monasteries, since many were but precariously maintained hermitages. For the city of constantinople, r. Janin has nonetheless succeeded in establishing a catalogue of 325 monasteries, several of which may be duplicates, since monasteries changed names in the course of time. A similar list covering the remainder of the empire is in preparation in the same collection. It will furnish a precise basis for general study. This section is limited to a brief chronological survey of the most significant events.
Egypt and Palestine. The initial period has been treated separately (see section 1 above), for it is of cardinal importance and the innovations spread rapidly throughout the Christian world. From the end of the 4th century, Egypt was more isolated, except for the group at Nitria known from the Apophthegmata Patrum. In the south, in the White Monastery, shenoute of atripe (d.466) and Besa (d. after 474) were personages well known from their Coptic works, but they had almost no influence outside of Egypt. In the north, which was troubled very early with monophysitism (except among the Pachomians of Canopus, bulwark of the Chalcedonian patriarchs), development of monasticism ran closely parallel with that of the East but produced no figures of first rank. Syria also was hard hit by Monophysitism, except for the monasteries of St. Simeon and of St. Maron; the Plerophoriae of John Rufus (Patrologia orientalis, ed. R. Graffin and F. Nau, 8:1), written shortly after 512, and the Lives of the Eastern Saints (Patrologia orientalis,v.17–19) of john of ephesus (d. 586) give a picturesque description of them. Spiritual writers such as philoxenus of mabbugh were already outside the mainstream of Byzantine tradition.
The most active monastic center in the 5th century was Palestine, which attracted vocations from everywhere. The Monophysite centers there were moderate and highly cultured. The highest traditions of the Egyptian desert from the 4th century were maintained; representative authors inspired by the works of evagrius ponticus include Abbot Isaias (d. 488), Peter the Iberian (d. 488), and John and Barsanuphius with their disciple Dorotheus of Gaza (d. after 560); the pseudo-dionysius probably belongs to this group. Along the Jordan and in the Dead Sea region were Chalcedonian lauras, whose monks were less well read and perhaps more austere. cyril of scythopolis (late 6th century) has provided excellent biographies of several of them: e.g., euthymius the great (d. 473), sabas (d. 532), and Theodosius (d.529). Monasticism, in penetrating this region, led to a violent crisis of Origenism from about 540 to 552. (see ori gen and origenism.) With the assistance of Justinian I the mischief was brutally extirpated. The most vital center of orthodox monasticism shifted to Sinai (c. 600), where Justinian had built a fortified monastery. The Ladder of Paradise by john climacus synthesizes the whole of this ascetic and mystical tradition.
Constantinople. In the Byzantine capital the monks maintained the Chalcedonian tradition with vigor, notably the Acoemeti and the monks of the monastery of Dalmatos. With the Christological crisis, the monks of the East everywhere adopted extremist positions, not hesitating to withdraw from the jurisdiction of their bishops, often at the invitation of a neighboring bishop. It is understandable that the Council of chalcedon (451), its eyes opened by the Robber Council of ephesus (449), should have taken measures to put the monks under the charge of the bishops (c.4), and that Justinian should have legislated to the same effect (Corpus iuris civilis, Novellae, ed. R. Schoell and G. Kroll, 5, 133). Nevertheless it was the power of the monks, the goad of the masses, that was responsible for the creation of an independent Jacobite Church [see jacobites (syrian)], which often backed linguistic and ethnic groups striving for autonomy. The unwillingness of such groups to compromise was only rarely (e.g., in Palestine) mollified by a literary culture. The monks' work of evangelization on the fringes of Christendom in armenia, georgia, and arabia, to say nothing of the Persian form of monasticism, (which had already been cut off from the Byzantine world) deserves to be stressed.
Middle Byzantine Period. The Persian invasion, and later the Arab conquest, split the Eastern provinces and Egypt from the empire; Monophysite monasticism became isolated and disappeared from Byzantium. Some orthodox monks fled to Byzantium and the Western provinces, bringing with them some manuscripts. The times were not favorable for great literary works but only for spiritual florilegia. In 692 the Council of Trullo tried to work out monastic legislation. Soon the crisis over iconoclasm, in part a military and imperial reaction against the influence and wealth of the monks, aggravated the situation and culminated in a persecution (754 to 764). Some colonies of hermits, itinerant, poor, and little organized, nevertheless continued to exist, notably on Mt. Olympus in Bithynia.
Studite Foundations. Plato and theodore, the future Studite, withdrew with their family to Mt. Olympus at the end of the 8th century. They took in hand a strict cenobitic reform based on the writings of St. basil and on Palestinian monasticism, first in the monastery of the Saccudium and later, in 709, in the studion monastery of the capital itself. Strong in their moral authority, they were often vigorous opponents of the emperor and his patriarch. Their poverty and work, their copying of manuscripts, with the spread of the new minuscule script, and the number of monks (more than 700) all prove the value of this reform, which opened the most splendid period of Byzantine monasticism. Sumptuous foundations began to multiply, and libraries were created in them, bringing together treasures of Christian literature that have since enriched Paris, Rome, and Moscow. The most vital monastic centers, such as northern Italy (see basilian monasticism), Mount athos, and Russia, were profoundly marked by the Hypotyposis of the Studites.
The persecutions of the second iconoclast crisis served only to give the Studites the prestige of confessors. The Synod of Constantinople held in 861 endeavored to prevent abuses attendant on the increase of foundations and the authoritarian interference of the founders in the life of the communities. It imposed a three-year novitiate. This was also the age in which the distinction came to be widespread between the "minor habit," signifying a less demanding form of life devoted to manual labor, and the "angelic habit," a higher rank reserved to those who gave themselves exclusively to prayer. The distinction seems to have originated in Palestine (7th century) and finally came to be accepted despite the long opposition of the Studites. It can be interpreted as a reaction against legislation and an effort to safeguard the spiritual character of monasticism (that of the angelic habit).
In the 10th century, Mount Latros housed a number of flourishing monasteries. In 956 St. athanasius the Athonite founded at Mount Athos, till then a peninsula of hermits, the cenobitic monastery of Lavra, soon to be followed by other large houses of Slavs, Georgians (Iviron), and even Latins. Christodoulos (d. 1101) founded an important monastery on Patmos.
Mystic Revival and Hesychasts. The most remarkable event of 11th-century Eastern monasticism was undoubtedly the appearance of a mystic revival with Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022), who came from the Studite tradition but was dissatisfied with the too disciplinary and too exterior conceptions of holiness that in the course of time had developed even in the most reformed type of cenobitic life.
As opposed to the ancient anchorites, the Hesychasts of the school of Symeon lived and worked in communities, but they championed a demanding conception of union with God, in line with the teaching of St. Anthony, the Apophthegmata, Dorotheus, and the Messalians— who stressed the importance of the cell, silence, and reading. Obviously peace and silence were thought of preeminently as interior dispositions and involved the elimination of distraction with a view to pure prayer. But the insistence on the psychological experience of the union with God and on pneumatism led Simeon, and still more his disciple and biographer nicetas stethatos (d. c. 1080), to reserve the direction of souls and teaching to those who had had charismatic spiritual gifts, at the risk of disqualifying the hierarchical power. The Byzantine tradition had generally confided the direction of consciences to the monks, even those not priests, but this was now formulated as a doctrine. The spirituals provoked a reaction, doubtless excessive, against Michael Psellus and against the claim of the lay philosophers to teach in the Church. Nicetas Stethatos, furthermore, was among the anti-Latin polemicists in 1054.
Late Byzantine Period. The 13th century, the period of the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders, was a time of ruin and decline, but also of renewal. In the 14th century the Hesychast tradition found its greatest Doctor in Gregory palamas. Western authors who have studied this period and made scholarly and doctrinal contributions concerning it often adopt a hostile attitude toward Palamas because of his opposition to Thomism. His distinction between the incommunicable essence of God (to save His transcendence) and His communicable uncreated operations (to safeguard mystical "Taboric" illumination) appears strange to the scholastic mind, but it eventually became the accepted doctrine in Byzantium (after violent controversies) and is a most felicitous characterization of the soul of Byzantium.
The hesychasm of Mount Athos was united to a psychophysical method, the continual repetition of the jesus prayer while fixing the gaze on a point of the body, in rhythm with breathing, in order to make the spirit descend into the heart. This technique, which used to be ridiculed, attracted the attention of 20th-century psychologists, and the importance it ascribes to the body no longer seems unjustified. It should not in any case be considered more than a method for concentrating attention.
The Turkish invasion soon put an end to monasticism at Constantinople itself. Mount Athos, Patmos, monasteries of the Meteora in Thessaly, St. Sabas, and Sinai maintained flourishing Greek monastic republics, while the Slavic world took up the tradition and extended it.
Recruiting to the monastic life has become very difficult in the East; a modern ideal of culture and social action has not readily assimilated the traditions of monasticism or those who incarnate them. But it appears that the Western world is beginning to appreciate the human and Christian treasure of Hesychasm and ascetical contemplation.
Bibliography: d. attwater, A List of Books about the Eastern Churches (Newport, R.I. 1960). a. santos hernÁndez, Iglesias del Oriente, 2 v. (Santander 1959–63), v.2 Repertorio bibliografico. For bibliography, see Byzantinische Zeitschrift and Orientalia Christiana periodica 25 (1959) 451. p. de meester, De monachico statu iuxta disciplinam Byzantinam (Vatican City 1942). h. delehaye, in Byzantium, ed. n. h. baynes and h. s. l. moss (Oxford 1948) 136–65. r. m. french, The Eastern Orthodox Church (New York 1951). l. brhÉhier, Le Monde byzantin, 3 v. (Paris 1947–50) 2:529–79, bibliography. h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 120–40, bibliography. j. lacarriÈre, Men Possessed by God, tr. r. monkcom (New York 1964). d. savramis, Zur Soziologie des Byzantinischen Mönchtums (Leiden 1962). j. leroy, Monks and Monasteries of the Near East, tr. p. collin (London 1963). i. doens, "… Monastères orthodoxes en Grèce," Irénikon 34 (1961) 346–92. a. grillmeier and h. bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3 v. (Würzburg 1951–54) 2:193–314. l. ueding, ibid. 569–676. l. bouyer, "La Spiritualité byzantine," in j. leclercq et al., La Spiritualité du moyen-âge (Paris 1961). Orthodox Spirituality (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; 1945). On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus (London 1950). c. lialine, Irénikon 33 (1960) 435–59. e. kadloubovsky and g. e. palmer, trs., Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart (London 1951). a. guillaumont, Les "Kephalaia gnostica" d'Évagre le Pontique et l'histoire de l'Origénisme chez les Grecs et les Syriens (Paris 1963). j. meyendorff, Introduction à l'étude de Grégoire Palamas (Paris 1959). r. janin, Les Églises et les monastères, v.3 of La Géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin, pt. 1 (Paris 1953). r. m. dawkins, The Monks of Athos (New York 1936). s. loch, Athos: The Holy Mountain (New York 1959). c. dahm and p. l. bernhard, Athos, Berg der Verklärung (Offenburg 1959). Le Millénnaire du mont Athos, 963–1963 (Chevetogne, Belgium 1963–64). d. m. nicol, Meteora: The Rock Monasteries of Thessaly (London 1963). a. champdor, Le Mont Sinaï et le monastère Sainte-Catherine (Paris 1963). o. f. a. meinardus, Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert (Cairo 1961). n. and m. thierry, Nouvelles églises rupestres de Cappadoce (Paris 1964).
b. Since 1453. The importance of the study of Eastern monasticism was stressed by Pius XII when speaking to the participants of a congress on Eastern monasticism (Rome 1958). He pointed out that the Eastern monastic institutions are the basis for all other forms of Christian monasticism.
Forms and Terminology. The anchoritism begun by St. Anthony of Egypt (d. 356) was subjected to a critical reappraisal by St. Basil the Great (d. 379) in his rule. From that time, the ideal of common life, cenobitism, prevailed widely also in the Orient. But the tendency toward a solitary life was never completely extinguished. Solitude (eremia ) was considered indispensable for hesychia, i.e., internal tranquility, a word that developed into a whole ascetical program, hesychasm, one of the most important currents of Byzantine spirituality. Some forms of solitary life were austere and even extreme. Besides stylites and recluses (both of whom were numerous, especially in Syria), there were boskoi, or shepherds, who roamed freely over the deserts, nourishing themselves on herbs, whence came the name herbivori, given them by St. ephrem the syrian. St. nilus of ancyra considered xeniteia, the life of pilgrims in a strange land, the most difficult. The desire for a complete isolation even in the midst of people urged the saloi (in Slavic, jurodivyje ) to feign eccentricities, even insanity, out of love for Christ; they were numerous in Syria and Russia.
Basilian cenobitism reached its perfection in the Studion monastery of Constantinople, whose typikon or rule became the model for other foundations. But in reality not all monasteries succeeded in full observance. The idiorrhythmic type of monasticism, an imitation of the ancient colonies of the fathers of the desert, was gradually introduced. Accordingly, the monks live in groups under a superior, but obedience is limited to matters of external regulation. Individual monks retain their own personal property and enjoy considerable freedom. Of the 20 principal monasteries of Mount athos, nine are of this kind. The structure of this monastic republic reveals other types of monastic life still found in the East. The sketai (sketes) are dependent on larger monasteries and consist of a group of isolated houses. In the asketikai kalybai small groups of anchorites live. A hesychasterion is the dwelling of a solitary hermit. Kellia are small, separate, rural habitations where individual monks live under the direction of an older monk. Kathismata are hermitages better equipped, suitable, e.g., for a retired bishop. There are on Mount Athos also gyrovagi or kabiotai (wanderers) who do not belong to any monastery. Palestine was famous for its lauras, a type intermediate between anchoritism and the cenobitic life. A dependent pustyň or hermitage was often attached to the Russian monasteries.
In the monastic legislation of the East both civil and ecclesiastical authority had a part. Such legislation is found, for example, in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Council of Trullo (691), the Council of Nicaea II (787), and the First and Second Photian Councils of Constantinople (867, 879). In the code of Theodosius (d. 450) are found prescriptions for monks that were developed further by Justinian (d. 565) in his Codex and Novellae, and by Emperor Leo VI (d. 913) in his Basilika and Novellae. In the 9th century began the custom of formulating a particular rule (typikon ) for each newly founded monastery. In more recent times the Holy See issued for Catholic religious of the Eastern rites the motu proprio Postquam Apostolicis Litteris (Feb. 2, 1952).
Despite the multiplicity of forms, Eastern monasticism possesses a unity rooted in the common ideal of all Christians, namely, the salvation of one's soul. The monk, according to the concept of Basil and others, is none other than the Christian who takes the gospel seriously with all the consequences. Thus, in the Orient the ideal of perfection and monastic asceticism are considered identical.
Since it is not possible to give a detailed account here of all Eastern monasteries, some of the principal centers of Eastern monastic life are discussed briefly in the remainder of this article.
Egypt. The separation of the Egyptian Church from the Catholic Church, the invasion by the Muslims, and cultural isolation have reduced to a handful the number of existing monasteries, which in the golden era of Egyptian monasticism had numbered in the hundreds. Four of these are situated in the valley of Wadi Natrun, near the modern highway that leads from Cairo to Alexandria. Deir Amba Maqār is the monastery of macarius the egyptian; it was founded on the site of the hermitage of this patriarch of monasticism in the Scetic Desert. Though destroyed several times, it became in the 6th century the seat of the Coptic patriarch; in the 9th century it was surrounded by the kind of walls that later characterized all Egyptian monasteries. Deir as-Surjān, the monastery of the Syrians, was founded in the 8th century by the Syrian Tekrit for the monks of his nation. It became celebrated for its Syriac manuscripts, of which many were carried off in the 18th century to the Vatican Library, others in the 19th century to the British Museum. In the 14th century a plague killed most of the monks. The chronicle of the monastery speaks of only 43 monks in 1516, of whom 25 were Copts. Finally the administration came completely under the Copts. Deir Amba Bishāj, monastery of the Abbot Isaias, contemporary of Macarius, was reconstructed in the 14th century. Deir al-‘Adrā (Baramus, or monastery of the Romans), was founded, according to legend, by the sons of Valentinian I (d. 375) or by St. Arsenius.
In the eastern desert, about 40 miles from the Red Sea, stands Deir Mār Antūnius, the monastery of St. anthony of egypt. In it is located the tomb of the saint, who spent his last years in a cave on Mount Kolzim. Ten miles from the Red Sea is found Deir Mār Būla, monastery of St. Paul of Thebes. This was built in the 5th century and reconstructed in the 16th and 18th centuries. Almost abandoned is the monastery of Deir Samūil in the valley of Kalamon, southwest of Medinet el Faijum. Founded by the Monophysite monk Samuel in the 7th century, it was reconstructed in 1899 by monks who had been forced to flee from Deir al-‘Adrā. The Coptic monastery that presents the most modern aspect is that of Deir al-‘Adrā (Al-Muharraq), some 20 miles northwest of Mafalut and reconstructed in the 16th century as a palace. Near Sohag are the famous monasteries of shenoute, Deir-el Abjad (White monastery), and Deirel'Achmar (Red monastery), but they are now in ruins. The same is true of the monastery of St. Epiphanius near Luxor and that of St. Simeon near Aswan. Since the coming of Islam, monasteries for women have been limited to the city of Cairo, where even in the 12th century there was a foundress named Saijida Tarfa. Some of these convents still function; the largest of them is Deir Abū Sefein.
Ethiopia. The history of Ethiopian monasticism has not yet been studied sufficiently. All Ethiopian monasteries recognize as their head the abbot of Dabra Libānos, the great monastery to the north of Addis Ababa, whose abbot has the title of etshage and has jurisdiction also over the secular clergy. The greatest number of monasteries is in the north of Ethiopia and in Eritrea. Among them is the notable Dabra Bizan, which had great importance in the 14th century. In central Ethiopia the principal monastery is Dabra Dimā (Mount Calvary), along with its school. In the south the only important one is Dabra Wagag in Assabot. Monastic communities for women are found at times within the confines of the greater monasteries, but in separate buildings, as at Dabra Libānos. The abbots of monasteries are nominated by the crown. Ethiopian monasticism has extended to other countries, viz, to Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Italy, where St. Stephen's Church in Rome is the ancient seat of the Ethiopian College.
Sinai and Palestine. On the Sinai Peninsula near Faran there was a large colony of monks of the monastery of Raithu. In the 8th or 9th century the episcopal see of Faran was transferred to the monastery of St. Catherine below Mount sinai, which enjoyed the protection of the Muslims, Venetians, and the popes, because it was the goal of pilgrims from both East and West.
Greek monasteries in Palestine were numerous in the days of the Byzantine Empire. There were also Latin monasteries at Bethlehem and on Mount Olivet. In the Middle Ages the Benedictine monastery at Jerusalem, Sancta Maria Latina, where the discussions concerning the filioque began, was still extant. The Georgians enjoyed special protection from the mamelukes, who allowed them to construct Georgian monasteries even in the late Middle Ages. The Armenians in the beginning were associated with the Greek monasteries but soon constructed their own. There are testimonies concerning three monasteries of the Caucasus Albanians. The Copts and Ethiopians established themselves also in the Holy City. In the 19th century were was a strong influence of Russians in the Holy Land; some of their convents for women still function.
Syria. After a notable flowering in the early centuries, Syrian monasticism went into rapid decline. The ruins of Qalat Sem’an around the column of St. Simeon Stylites (d. 459) reveal large monastic constructions. This place was the object of veneration for Monophysite pilgrims (see monophysitism). Almost by way of opposition, the orthodox pilgrims hastened to the column of another of the stylites, St. Simeon the Younger (d. c. 592), on the Mount of Miracles near Antioch. The monasteries on this hill were the scene of bitter conflicts between the Greeks and Georgians in the Middle Ages. Opposite the Mount of Miracles was Black Mountain, a monastery founded in the 11th century, in which the canonist, Nikon of the Black Mountain (d. c. 1088), lived for some time.
The plains of Iran offered many "deserts" for anchorites from the 4th century on. In the 5th century an Egyptian, Eugene (Awgin), started a cenobitic monastery modeled on the type founded by St. pachomius. The Persian monks often occupied themselves in the care of souls. The disciples of St. Maro (d. c. 410) of Apamea in Syria emigrated to Lebanon (see maro of cyr, st.; maronite church). The Maronite monks settled chiefly in the "Holy Valley" called Qadisha (extending from the Cedars toward Tripoli) which became filled with hermits and monasteries for both men and women. Several religious orders still work among the Maronites: the antonines, the Missionaries of Kraim, and various congregations of sisters.
Armenia. Monasticism appeared in Armenia in the 4th century and reached its greatest development between the 9th and the 14th century. In all of old Armenia the number of monasteries was approximately 2,000. In the present-day region of Vaspurakan there were nearly 189 monasteries; Sünik had 150; Artzakh, 126; Karin, 116; Airarat, 52; Turuperan-Taron, 48; and Cilician Armenia, 62. The number of monks was large; the monastery of the Mother of God in Karmruk counted 300; that of St. John the Baptist in Klagh, 400; and Tathéw, in the time of its glory, 500. Many of these monasteries still existed before World War I but were later abandoned as a result of persecutions. Among the Catholic Armenians, there are two branches of the mechitarists, monks who have mother-houses at Venice, Italy, and Vienna, Austria, and who conduct schools, printing presses, and missions in the Near East.
Georgia. Monasticism in eastern Georgia was initiated by the "Syrian Fathers." In the second half of the 6th century it developed in the western part, especially in Tao-Klargeti (Turkey) in the Č oroki River basin. The monastic center called the Georgian Sinai arose there. Its founder was the archimandrite Gregory of Khanzta (d. 860–61). When he arrived the only monastery in this region was Opiza, but Gregory founded in the vicinity his monasteries of Khanzta and then Shatberdi, not far from Artanugi, capital of Klargeti. In time the foundations multiplied, and from these monasteries there emerged, especially, the 12 monasteries called in Georgian literature simply Atormetni, i.e., the 12, founded not later than the 9th century. From Tao-Klargeti came the founders of Iveron on Mount Athos. Some Georgian monks founded monasteries in Syria, Palestine, and Mount Sinai.
Balkan Countries. Modern Greece numbers 175 male monasteries, but they are sparsely populated. In the famous Meteora only three monasteries are inhabited. Female religious are more numerous, e.g., in the convent on the island of Tenos near the Marian sanctuary. The recently founded community Zoe follows the model of modern Latin congregations and engages in works of the apostolate. In Yugoslavia the first center of monasticism was located around the lake of Ochrid in the 9th century. The golden period was in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Serbian lauras, called also "imperial" monasteries, enjoyed special privileges. In 1939 there were in Yugoslavia 166 Orthodox monasteries with 540 monks. The most famous monasteries are Krushedol (near Karlovtsy), Studenitsa (the Serbian Westminster Abbey), Mileshovo, and Gratchanitsa. On Mount Athos St. Sava founded in 1197 the monastery of Chilandari for his fellow countrymen.
In Romania monasticism diminished rapidly in the 19th century. Statistics for 1857 showed 10,000 monks; in 1867, only 4,851; and in 1893, 2,654. Nuns are more numerous, especially in the convent of Hurezu in the Carpathians. In Bulgaria also, in the period after World War II, nuns adapted themselves better to difficult circum stances. The most important of the male monasteries are in Rila, Batchkovo, Trojan, Pomorie, and Preobraženski.
Russia. Traces of monastic life are found in Russia from the very beginning of Christianity toward the end of the 10th century. These were small foundations established by princes, in imitation of the monasteries of Byzantium. In contrast, the famous laura of Pechersky arose, as its chronicle narrates, solely by "the fasts and tears" of the monks. SS. Anthony (d. c. 1073) and Theodosius (d. 1074) are venerated as its founders. Anthony was a solitary of the type of the Egyptian anchorites and became a monk on Mount Athos. After returning to Kiev, he took up his abode in a cave cut out of a hill. His disciple Theodosius, when he became hegumen (superior), built cells for monks above the cave and sent one of the monks to Constantinople to bring back the rule of the famed Studion monastery in order to introduce the cenobitic life. The Pechersky laura was several times reduced to ruins by the Tartars; it was reconstructed and became a religious and cultural center, a place of pilgrimage frequented by the Russian people. After 1917 it was transformed into an anti-religious museum. The monastery was reopened in 1946, but again closed some time later.
After the Mongol invasion a new center of religious life arose in the middle of the 14th century in the "desert" of the virgin forests of the north, which in the following centuries were populated by hermits. The initiator of this movement was St. sergius of radonezh, founder of the monastery of the Holy Trinity in the province of Moscow. This monastery was closed after the revolution (1917) and was later reopened. Sergius began as an anchorite, but in founding his monastery he introduced the cenobitic rule of the Studites. His laura became the center for other foundations toward the south in the environs of Moscow, and toward the north in the forests beyond the Volga, in the area called the Russian Thebaid because of its numerous hermitages and monasteries. Among the more famous of these founders were St. Cyril of Beloozero (d. 1427) and Paul of Obnora (d. 1429). Along the shores of Lake Kuben arose monasteries in imitation of those of Mount Athos, especially that of "Spasso-Kamennyj," constructed on rock in honor of the Transfiguration. The monks penetrated even to the Nordic islands of Solovki. Led by SS. Sabatios (d. 1435) and Zosimus (d. 1478), they established a monastery that became a center of missionary activity and, subsequently, a military fortress.
The second half of the 15th century brought a decline in religious discipline in numerous monasteries that had become rich and influential. Trouble arose in the form of heresy and state opposition, but monastic reformers also appeared. Among these the more important were Saints Nilus Sorsky (d. 1508) and Joseph Volokolamsky (d.1515). Nilus promoted a semieremitical life in which a few monks in isolated huts (skete ) lived lives of extreme poverty, hard work, and prayer. Nilus's monastic rule (ustav ) is an ascetical instruction on prayer and control of the affections. He came under the influence of the hesychastic spirituality of Mount Athos. More than external works, he stressed the internal struggle against evil thoughts. The ideals of his contemporary, Joseph, were different. His rule, Duchovnaja gramota, outlined an ideal of cenobitic discipline under obedience to a superior and following a stable rule of life that regulated each moment of the day. The principal virtue of the monk was the perfect observance of assigned duties and the renunciation of one's own will and independent thoughts. The spirit of Joseph's rule prevailed in the Russian monasteries that became thereafter schools and centers of cultural activity, and often of politics also. The defects of this rigid traditionalism and attachment to external formalism brought about a new decadence. A kind of fusion between these two opposing tendencies is found in the rule of St. Cornelius (d. 1537), founder of a cenobitic monastery in the forests of Komel. His disciples founded the monasteries of the northern Russian regions.
A breath of new spirit was felt in the Russian monasteries with the appearance of the starchestvo in the 18th century. The staretz (literally, old man) was a spiritual father, a guide of souls, who, even though not a priest, attracted people to himself because of his experience in the spiritual life and often because of his special gifts, above all, that of discernment of spirits. The founder of this spiritual renaissance was Paissy Velitchkovsky (d. 1794). While on Mount Athos, he immersed himself in ascetical Greek literature. He went to Moldavia (to Dragomirna, and later to Sekul and Niametz) and organized the translations of spiritual books from Greek and Latin. Among these books was the Philokalia of nicodemus the hagiorite.
The startzy of the monastery of Optina made this monastery near Kozelsk well known. Here lived Leo Nagolkin (d. 1841), who was beloved especially by the simple people. His successor, Marcarius Ivanov (d. 1860), was in contact with the intellectual and literary leaders of Russia of his time. Ambrose Grenkov (d. 1891), a disciple of Macarius, is described by Fëdor dostoevskii' in Brothers Karamazov. Seraphim of Sarov (d. 1833) led the austere life of a recluse before becoming famous in all of Russia as a thaumaturge, mystic, and director of souls.
Russia, in 1914, had 1,027 Orthodox monasteries (550 of men and 477 of women), with a total of 94,599 religious (21,300 monks and 73,299 nuns).
In the Ukraine, monastic life was initiated with the laura of Pechersky, which pertained to the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian monasticism received a new impetus after its union with the Catholic Church in the Union of Brest (1596). The Basilian Order of St. Josaphat played a significant role in the subsequent development of the religious life. [see basilians (byzantine).] In Galicia, about the year 1900, there appeared a congregation made up of simple peasants. Metropolitan A. sheptyts'kyĬ' gave them, in 1906, a rule modeled on that of the ancient Byzantine rule, and they adopted the name Studites. The first hegumen or superior was the Father Clement Sheptyts'ky’Ĭ, brother of the metropolitan. Later they were dispersed; a small group remains in the West.
Bibliography: General. Monachesimo orientale: Atti del convegno di studi orientali (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 153;1958). c. pujol, De religiosis orientalibus ad normam vigentis iuris (Rome 1957). n. arsenev, "Das Mönchtum und der asketischmystische Weg in der Ostkirche, besonders in Russland," Der Christliche Osten (Regensburg 1939) 151–210. n. f. robinson, Monasticism in the Orthodox Churches (London 1916). j. olphegalliard, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 2.1:404–16. c. lialine, ibid. 4.1:936–53. t. ŠpidlÍk, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 15:766–71. Oriente Cattolico (Vatican City 1962). Special topics. Egypt. h. g. evelyn-white, The Monasteries of the Wâdi ’n-Natrûn, 3 v. (New York 1926–33). n. abbot, The Monasteries of the Fayyūm (Chicago 1937). m. cramer, Das christlichkoptische Agypten einst und heute (Wiesbaden 1959). o. f. a. meinardus, Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Deserts (Cairo 1961). Ethiopia. h. m. hyatt, The Church of Abyssinia (London 1928). de l. e. o'leary, The Ethiopian Church (London 1936). e. cerulli, "Abbati di Dabra Libanos…," Orientalia 12 (1943) 226–53; 13 (1944) 137–82; 14 (1945) 143–71; "Il monachismo in Etiopia," Orientalia Christiana Analecta 153 (1958) 259–78. d. matthews and a. nordini, The Monasteries of Debra Damo, Ethiopia (Oxford 1959). Sinai and Palestine. p. vailhÉ, Répertoire des monastères de Palestine (Paris 1900). m. h. l. rabino, Le Monastère de Sainte-Catherine du mont Sinaï (London 1938). a. guillou, "Le Monastère de la Théotokos au Sinaï," Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire 67 (1955) 217–58. Syria. o. h. parry, Six Months in a Syrian Monastery (London 1895). p. dib, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 10.1:1–42. e. tisserant, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 11.1:183 e. honigmann, Patristic Studies (Studi e Testi 173; 1953). a. vÖÖbus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, 2 v. (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 184, 197; 1958–60); Syrian and Arabic Documents Relative to Syrian Asceticism (Stockholm 1960). Armenia. m. a. van den oudenrijn, Eine armenische Insel im Abendland (Venice 1940). m. ormanian, The Church of Armenia (London 1955). g. amadunÌ, "Le Rôle historiques des hiéromoines arméniens," Orientalia Christiana Analecta 153 (1958) 279–305. Georgia. d. m. lang, Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints (London 1956). m. tarchniŠvili, "Il monachesimo georgiano nelle sue origini e nei suoi primi sviluppi," Orientalia Christiana Analecta 153 (1958) 307–19. Balkans. j. lacombe, "Réorganisation de l'Église serbe," Échos d'Orient 29 (1930) 360–63. m. spinka, A History of Christianity in the Balkans (Chicago 1933). m. beza, The Rumanian Church (London 1943). i. doens, "Monastères orthodoxes en Grèce," Irénikon 34 (1961) 346–92. Russia. r. p. casey, "Early Russian Monasticism," Orientalia Christiana periodica 19 (1953) 372–423. i. kologriwof, Essai sur la sainteté en Russie (Bruges 1953). m. j. rouËt de journel, Monachisme et monastères russes (Paris 1952). j. rezÁČ, De monachismo secundum recentiorem legislationem Russicam (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 138; 1952). i. smolich, Das altrussische Mönchtum (Würzburg 1940); Russisches Mönchtum (Würzburg 1953); Leben und Lehre der Starzen (Vienna 1936). t. Š pidlÍk, Joseph de Volokolamsk: Un Chapitre de la spiritualité russe (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 146; 1956). g. stÖkl, "Zur Geschichte des russischen Mönchtums," Jahrbuch für Geschichte Osteuropas 2 (1954) 121–35.
The "idea of monasticism" invites a misconception, because monasticism is not an idea but a practice. It is a discipline of life, encapsulated in a vow to obey a rule. Monasticism is not a theory about the good life, and still less an escape from practicality, but rather a commitment to live according to a rule handed down from a founder. In its classical Western form deriving from St. Benedict (c. 480–547), a rule directs a monastic to spend a lifetime in one cloister under one abbot following one routine. This secluded way of life begets institutions, some of them highly complex, and these in turn nurture the kind of inner life that in the early twenty-first century is called "spirituality." Monastic orthopraxy regulates behavior through conformity to a rule, and contrasts with doctrinal orthodoxy that regulates belief through a magisterium or teaching office. Implausible though it may seem, a rule shields monastics from obsession with theorizing. Day in and day out, monastics live an ethos that others may merely preach. To this extent Christian monasticism resembles Rabbinic Judaism. Both pivot on obeying rules, and both tend to disregard niceties of belief. A crucial difference pertains, however. Whereas Jews affirm that the mandates of Torah come from God, Christians acknowledge that any rule comes from a human lawgiver.
As a mode of life that vows obedience to a rule, monasticism originated not in the Near East but in India with Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha (c. 563–c. 483 b.c.e.). His rule or vinaya governed conduct of life initially for the Buddha's community or sangha of immediate followers. Nine months of the year they wandered, but during the three months of the monsoon they settled in a vihara or monastery. Eventually the Buddha delivered a separate rule for women. Parallel phenomena coexisted within Jainism and Hinduism. Christian monasticism emerged six or seven centuries later in the deserts of the Eastern Mediterranean. Although Rabbinic Judaism (together with Islam) repudiates asceticism, Jewish precedents for Christian extremism emerged in a wanderer such as John the Baptist (c. 7 b.c.e.–c. 27 c.e.) or in the Qumran community. Christian ascetics of whom little is known roved the deserts of Syria and Egypt. The lifestyle of these spiritual "athletes" crystallized in figures such as Anthony of Egypt (c. 251–356) and Pachomius (c.290–346). Experience as a soldier equipped Pachomius to write a rule for, as it were, an army-camp of ascetics. By mid-fourth century in Egypt, hermits living alone or in loose groups practiced eremitical monasticism, while desert fathers and mothers living in community practiced cenobitical monasticism. The head of a consecrated community was called an abba (father) or amma (mother). From the start monks were copying manuscripts, as they would continue to do for the next twelve centuries. Eastern desert monasticism passed to France through fourth-century intermediaries such as Martin of Tours (c. 316–400), Hilary of Poitiers (401–449), and above all John Cassian of Marseilles (360–435). Epitomized in the disputed figure of St. Patrick (c. 385–461), an Englishman who may have dwelt at Cassian's houses near Marseilles, Irish monasticism emerged in the mid-fifth century through contact with France. In sixth-and seventh-century Ireland, an island that had never known Roman cities, an abbot ruled as a kind of tribal chieftain who outranked bishops. No amount of asceticism could, however, prevent Celtic monasticism from collapsing in the Viking raids of the ninth century.
By 450, Eastern Christian monasticism was coalescing not just in the desert but also in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople, while its Western counterpart kept spreading in self-sufficient rural communities. Monastics lived in an enclosure or cloister that fenced a church, a refectory, a library, dormitories, and subsistence farming. Monasticism produced vastly more varieties in Western Europe than anywhere else. Proliferation of types—notably during two periods, one from 1100 to 1250 and the other from 1520 to 1700—complicates the task of classifying Western monasticism. Fundamental differences separate cloistered orders who, at least until the thirteenth century, preferred to dwell in the country and Mendicant friars who, in the wake of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), frequented cities and towns preaching and begging for alms. Stemming from the Black Monks, who only in the seventeenth century acquired the name of Benedictines, other rural orders were the Carthusians (founded 1084) and the Cistercians (founded 1098). Following the example of the Franciscan friars (organized 1209), thirteenth-century Mendicants came to include three other orders: the Dominicans (organized 1215), who preached against heresy; the Carmelites (organized by the pope in 1247) who originated as hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine; and the Augustinian Friars (organized by the pope in 1256), whose most famous member was Martin Luther (1483–1546). Whereas the pre-1200 Benedictines had cultivated son-to-father obedience to an abbot, Mendicants cultivated sibling-to-sibling relations to one another. Excelling all these in martial vigor were the warrior monks of Crusader Palestine, including the Knights Templar (who emerged c. 1119 and were dissolved in 1312) and the Knights Hospitaller (who emerged c. 1080 and in 1530 took the name Knights of Malta).
A second crucial distinction differentiates contemplative orders founded before 1215 from post-Reformation active orders and congregations such as the Jesuits (founded 1540) or Oratorians (founded 1575). The latter comprise not monastics but clerks regular: priests who follow a rule while ministering in the world. Having no lay brothers, the Jesuits and Oratorians are not monastics, and neither are the numerous post-1520 female teaching or nursing congregations such as the Ursulines (founded 1535) or Sisters of Charity (founded 1633). Nevertheless, from 1298 until the early 1970s, canon law obliged women's congregations in solemn vows to stay cloistered.
A third distinction pertains to Eastern and Western Christianity. In contrast to Western organizational fecundity, Eastern Christian monasticism functions under just one rule: that ascribed to St. Basil the Great (329–379). As a result, Eastern Christian monasticism has upheld one model through sixteen centuries, while Western monasticism has initiated reforms in nearly every generation. To be sure, monastic reform means not launching a fresh departure but rather attempting to install a better version of the past. In Western Christianity the idea of monasticism implies constant renewal in quest of a founder's vision or "source experience."
Buddhist monasticism differs structurally from Christian or Hindu forms. When the Buddha founded his religion, he conceived it solely as a monasticism. Lay Buddhism emerged after his lifetime and in Asia still presupposes proximity to a sangha. In Christianity and Hinduism, by way of contrast, monasticism competes with many other embodiments of the religion. This means that at least until the late twentieth century, classification of types of Buddhist monasticism amounts to classification of the religion as a whole, whereas classification of Christian monasticism does not. Three major types of Buddhism stand out: (1) In Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, Theravada or the "Way of the Elders" claims to descend directly from the historical Buddha. It offers to individual monastics rules for working out during this or later lifetimes gradual passage to enlightenment. (2) In India and then in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, Mahayana emerged at least six to eight centuries after the historical Buddha, and the first three of those countries generated numerous schools of thought and practice, each with its own ritual, texts, and lineage of masters. Some schools promised enlightenment to laypeople and not just to monastics, while innovative "pure land" leaders in Japan such as Shinran (1173–1262) discarded monasticism. (3) Starting in the eighth century, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana fostered many sects or schools in Northern India, Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia. Under the leadership of the present Dalai Lama (1935–), leader of the Gelukpa school, Tibetan Buddhism has spread throughout the world. Many non-Buddhists in the early twenty-first century mistakenly regard Tibetan forms as synonymous with Buddhism per se. This misperception overlooks the dozens of schools of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana that thrive throughout Asia and increasingly in the West.
Asian Buddhism enforces the vinaya strictly, not least because that is what the historical Buddha did. In order to promote meditation, traditional Asian Buddhism imposes a life of renunciation—including dietary restrictions, memorization of texts, and attendance at ceremonies—with a stringency that Western adepts often evade. In consequence monastic rigor is diminishing among new Buddhists in North America, Europe, and Australia. Many so-called Western Buddhists appear intent to de-monasticize their religion. As a countertrend, since the 1960s Buddhist and Christian monastics have delighted in comparing their ways of life. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915–1968) and the Dalai Lama helped to initiate joint scholarly meetings and other intermonastic encounters.
In Eastern Christianity, monastics retain authority not least because most bishops come from their ranks. Moreover, liturgies remain quintessentially monastic through use of chant, an unhurried pace, and lay adherence to monastic rules for fasting. Characteristically, Eastern Christianity boasts a "monastic republic" of male monasteries on the Holy Mountain of Athos—the easternmost arm of the Chalcidice Peninsula in northeastern Greece. In order to uphold an autonomy that excludes women, the Holy Mountain enjoys exemption from laws of Greece and of the European Community. No Western monastic site—and least of all the rebuilt Monte Cassino south of Rome—so resoundingly epitomizes the idea of Western monasticism as Mount Athos does for the Eastern idea. As the English classicist Graham Speake explains, that idea entails a process of inner transformation known as theosis, whereby the image of God nurtured in each adept gradually transfigures, indeed divinizes him or her, in body, mind, and spirit.
The prestige of Western monasticism once stood equally high. The period of medieval history from 700 to 1050 is frequently labeled the "Monastic Era," and the reforms inaugurated by monastic popes such as Gregory VII (1020–1085; ruled as pope 1073–1085) can be viewed as having imposed on all priests the practice of celibacy previously reserved to monastics. Needless to say, Roman Catholic monastics no longer command such attention. To be sure, in Europe pilgrimages to monastic centers such as Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain or the shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa in southern Poland draw hundreds of thousands, as do celebrations for youth sponsored by the ecumenical monastery of Taizé, founded in Burgundy during the 1940s. Nevertheless, apart from pilgrimages, the institutions of contemplative monasticism engage only a tiny minority of Western Christians, while the spirituality that developed there wins ever-greater admiration.
Meanwhile, gender studies has transformed the understanding of the idea of monasticism. This scholarly revolution can make it embarrassing to read master historians such as the Benedictines' David Knowles (1896–1974) or Jean Leclercq (1911–1993), who too often wrote as though all monastics were male. Since the 1970s researchers have reclaimed phenomena as diverse as the Desert Mothers of fourth-century Egypt, double houses of male and female monastics in twelfth-century France and England, and the rather widespread acknowledgement before 1100 of the spiritual equality of women and men. The Benedictine Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) has come to be hailed widely as one of the most original Christian writers ever. Many have come to deplore the pronouncement of Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1235–1303; ruled as pope 1294–1303) in 1298 that placed under enclosure all women in solemn vows. The constraint remained in force until the early 1970s. As the American historian Jo Ann Kay McNamara and the English philosopher Grace Jantzen, among others, show, almost everywhere in the West women monastics have proven to be at least as creative as men. At first nearly every branch of Eastern Christianity fostered autonomous houses for women, but many of these communities withered under Islamic occupation. In Theravada Buddhism and in Tibetan Buddhism, by way of contrast, a millennium ago women lost permission to receive the highest ordination as nuns (bhikkuni ), while in Mahayana countries such as China, Japan, and, above all, Korea nuns have held their own.
Monasticism as the Institutional Matrix of Spirituality
During the last decades of the twentieth century, postmodernists began to conflate the idea of monasticism with that of spirituality. The latter word means a process of inner transformation in the presence of God such as Christian monastics pioneered from the fourth century onward. In the twelfth century the Latin word spiritualitas came into use among Cistercians to denote the presence of the Holy Spirit within a monastic. Both the adjective spiritual and the noun mysticism sprouted in seventeenth-century France to describe inner religious experience of monastics and laity alike. But only in the 1920s did Roman Catholic theologians of asceticism adopt the noun spiritualité to denote anyone's experience of the divine within. Although many Eastern Christian monastics hesitate to apply this Latin-derived word to the process of inner re-conditioning that they call theosis (i.e., divinization), no one doubts that it was monastics in East and West who propounded what has come to be called "spirituality." The years of postmodernity of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in the West saw treasures from seventeen centuries of monastic interiority exit the cloister and invade the mainstream of religious publishing—for example, in the series The Classics of Western Spirituality published since the 1970s by the Paulist Press.
What Do We Know about St. Benedict?
A scholarly controversy of utmost delicacy affects interpretation of the reputed founder of Western monasticism, the author of its major rule, St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–547). The words of his Rule have been pondered in thousands of monasteries, and episodes from his life have animated countless paintings and hagiographies. Regrettably, apart from his Rule, all record of St. Benedict and his life comes from a single source, Book II of the Dialogues, supposedly written in 593 by Pope Gregory I (c. 540–604; ruled as pope 590–604). That account interweaves miracle stories of a rural wonder-worker with tales of the saint's periods of residence at mountain locations in central Italy such as Nursia, Subiaco, and Monte Cassino. Since the sixteenth century, the authenticity of Gregory's authorship of the Dialogues has occasionally been questioned, but never so comprehensively as by Francis Clark in The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues (1987). Clark argues that Benedict's rule appeared only in 655 in Gaul and around 675 in Britain, being acclaimed only after 717 when Monte Cassino began to be built; and that a clerk in the papal archives ("the Dialogist") compiled the Dialogues (first reported to exist in the 680s) and ascribed the document falsely to Gregory I. The Dialogist's "literary patchwork" intersperses miracle legends (some originating after Gregory's death) with eighty genuine Gregorian passages presumably culled from archives in the Lateran Palace. These genuine passages comprise 25 percent of the whole, half of them in Book IV. The Dialogist recounts prodigies of recluses in a legalistic style quite different from Gregory's own. In themes, allusions, and word frequencies, the Dialogues differ from every known work by Gregory. Moreover, the tales glorify many persons, including St. Benedict's sister Scholastica, whom no other text from before 690 so much as mentions. Thus Clark's argument revises the entire account of "Benedictine" monasticism down to the 730s. In his view its true creators were not, as previously believed, monastics at Monte Cassino in the 540s or at the Gregorian papal court of the 590s, but rather Italian and French monastics of the 720s who drew inspiration from the newly available Dialogues. As yet only a few Benedictines have accepted this revision, not least because it demolishes their order's foundational narrative. Cognitive dissonance between the 1300-year-old account and Clark's revision remains too acute, but as Clark's sequel The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism (2003) shows, the tide is beginning to turn. One can no longer affirm the traditional account of how Benedictine monasticism began. All that is known is that a rule ascribed to a certain Benedict had surfaced by the 650s and had begun to establish its preeminence by 720. The idea of Western monasticism no longer enjoys an agreed-upon foundational story. Seldom has a legend accepted for so long dissolved so abruptly. A gigantic task of rethinking looms.
The Dutch literary scholar M. B. Pranger calls into question postmodern infatuation with spirituality by contrasting its eclecticism with the monotony of textual memory within pre-1200 monasteries. The practice of lectio divina invited a monastic to nestle inside a text as if it were a cloister, where the mind encountered memories of other scriptural passages. Across a lifetime of rereading the same texts, a monastic recalled previous acts of remembering, as each act of memory condensed previous ones into an eternal moment. Thus lectio divina called into being a community of monastic reciters of the same texts, above all of the psalms, the Gospels, and the Rule of St. Benedict. Naturally, no medieval author could have imagined the popularity that monastic writings rooted in centuries of lectio divina would attract at the turn of the twenty-first century. Mass marketing undermines the idea of monasticism as a life spent in a reciting community ruminating on a few texts.
Postmodernity has enlarged the community of readers of monastic texts to include nearly everyone who pursues a spiritual quest. Just as Western Buddhists are de-monasticizing the practice of Buddhism, so the "Spirituality Revolution" among Christians in Europe, North America, and Australia is de-monasticizing the legacy of Christian interiority. The very idea of monasticism as lifelong commitment to a rule is being diluted. At a time when texts of monastic origin are read more widely than ever before, consumers of these distillations of the cloistered life probably understand less of the idea of monasticism (i.e., of religious orthopraxy) than ever before. In response to the postmonastic ethos of the early twenty-first century, the idea of spirituality is being de-institutionalized, while texts by monastics are being spiritualized. Scholars such as M.B. Pranger, Marilyn Dunn, Frank Senn, and Kees Waaijman are laboring to re-insert the study of Christian spirituality into a monastic context, where obedience to a rule governs all.
See also Orthodoxy ; Orthopraxy ; Practices ; Sacred Places .
Clark, Francis. The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2003. Updates the controversy and refutes attempted rebuttals of the 1987 work.
——. The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues. 2 vols. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1987. Summarized 1:10-30, the argument challenges the authorship of the Dialogues traditionally ascribed to Gregory I. See sidebar.
Dunn, Marilyn. The Emergence of Monasticism: From the Desert Fathers to the Early Middle Ages. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Covers East and West to c. 650.
Jantzen, Grace. Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Reconceptualizes methodologies for interpreting male and female monastic mystics.
Johnston, William M., ed. Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. More than 500 articles on Buddhist and Christian monasticism of all periods and places with bibliographies. Whalen Lai's twelve articles abound in comparisons.
Kardong, Terrence, OSB. "Who Wrote the Dialogues of Saint Gregory? A Report on a Controversy." Cistercian Studies Quarterly 39:1 (2004): 31–39. Endorses Francis Clark's conclusions and acknowledges the Rule as our sole source of knowledge about Benedict.
McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. Compares male and female Christian monastics in depth with massive bibliography.
Mitchell, Donald W., and James A. Wiseman, OSB, eds. The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Christian Monastics. New York: Continuum, 1998. Judicious essays by twenty-four authors on a wide range of issues.
Pranger, M.B. The Artificiality of Christianity: Essays on the Poetics of Monasticism. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003. Exhilarating reassessment of modes of reading and remembering among Western Christian monastics to 1700.
Senn, Frank C. Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997. Delineates Western monastic liturgies in chapters 4–7, 16–18.
Waaijman, Kees. Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods. Translated by John Vriend. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2002. Reconfigures methodology in light of dozens of case studies of Christian monastics.
William M. Johnston
“Monasticism” is derived from the Greek word for “alone.” Words like the Latin monachus (“monk”) were first used to describe men who lived alone—hermits, solitaries who lived apart for the sake of God or a prayerful life. By a simple extension of meaning the word was applied to communities of monks (or of nuns) who retired within enclosures to separate themselves from other men for the purpose of seeking quiet for simple devotion and contemplation.
Monasteries are groups of men or women pursuing a religious ideal in retirement from society. The religious ideal pursued may differ between one religion and another. But in all the higher religions, examples are found of men or women retiring from society to contemplate truth and strive for purity of heart. The strains and noise of the world are believed to prevent the soul from concentrating upon the good: it must draw apart to direct its attention and eschew every distraction. A universally accepted condition of this withdrawal has been celibacy, freeing the individual from the distractions of physical passions and the ties of family life. Another has been poverty, freeing the soul from concern for material possessions. When the withdrawal is to a community rather than to a hermitage, obedience to a superior is considered an important exercise in destroying selfwill. In Roman Catholic monasticism the monk or nun takes a threefold vow of chastity, poverty, and obedience. In other religions there are rarely vows, but the threefold intention is almost universal.
The origin of the monastery was connected with the belief that the world is evil: existence is a burden, and the soul must be delivered from matter. The soul and body were believed to be opposed: the body must be mortified that the soul may find its true self, its “salvation,” “perfection,” “deliverance,” “redemption.” The most ancient forms of this doctrine are those found among the Hindus; the most ancient monasteries known appeared in the early years of Hinduism, when groups gathered to share a life of mortification and Vedic studies. Monasticism has flourished above all in Buddhism, for Gautama Buddha took the deliverance doctrine of Hinduism, spiritualized it, and thereby made withdrawal the only discipline that would lead to that state of perfection which was Nirvana. For Buddhists, monasticism is not a heightened form of the religious way of life, as it is for Catholic Christians; it is the religious life. At different times, monasteries have dominated religion, civilization, and culture in those countries where almost all the people profess Buddhism—Burma, Thailand, Tibet.
In the three religions with an interest in the Old Testament—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—monasticism has played a less dominant role. The God of Genesis is a living God, a ruler and a father, who created the world and saw that it was good. For none of these faiths is the body evil. The God of Mount Sinai demands a moral people and a moral society. His servants shall seek to secure a world free of injustice and oppression. Individuals and groups may be permitted to retire from society, but this never becomes a universal ideal. Moreover the monastic life is almost always associated with some form—however rudimentary or however advanced—of mysticism. In Hinduism and Buddhism the soul which mortifies the passions and directs its prayer may pass into union with the absolute good of the universe, possessing it and possessed by it. In the Old Testament, God is high and lifted up, transcendent and other. A Jewish soul cannot seek union with Jehovah, for the very conception appears blasphemous to it; the created being does not raise itself to equality with its creator.
Therefore, although monastic groups are found in all three religious traditions, all three also contain strands of thought that are antithetical to monasticism in the Hindu or Buddhist sense: the divine creation of the body; the salvation of society, as well as of the individual spirit; the faith in a transcendent God and its corollary, the distrust of any uncontrolled search for mystical unity.
Judaism and Islam have been less friendly to monasticism than has Christianity. Muhammad declared that there are no monks in Islam and made no mention of them in the Qur’an (Koran). Despite certain anticipations of monasticism among the Jews contemporary with Christ, there were no Christian monks, properly speaking, for two centuries after Christ’s death. Monasticism is not inherent in Christianity, and monasteries have never been as integral to the practice of Christianity as they are to the practice of Buddhism. Partly for this reason Christianity has also produced many critics of monasticism. Even at the end of the fourth century, when monastic ideals were rapidly spreading throughout the Christian church, the Latin writer Vigilantius denounced the solitary life as a cowardly abandonment of responsibility. During the sixteenth-century Reformation half the western Christian church repudiated the monastic ideal; few examples of it are found among Protestant churches. Yet, the contemplative and hermit tradition was well represented in western Christendom, although the Benedictine Rule remained dominant. The most highly respected Western order of the quasi-hermit tradition is the Carthusians, founded by St. Bruno in 1084 at the Grande Chartreuse, in southeast France.
The mystical element in religion, however, is more diffused than those mysticisms that are dependent upon a division between body and soul. All three of the Old Testament religions came into touch with mystical doctrine and were affected. In Syria and Persia, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim doctrines of salvation were akin to those of Hinduism or Buddhism. The recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls have proved the existence of a Jewish monastic community in the Dead Sea valley about the time of Christ. Within Judaism, the Essenes practiced a form of monastic life, with community of goods, silence, celibacy, poverty. Philo of Alexandria described a community in Egypt, the Therapeutae, whose way of life was so like that of Christian monks that for centuries Christian writers believed them to be Christians. Islam was not, on the whole, friendly to mysticism or to enclosed monasteries. But as Sufism developed in Persia it acquired strongly mystical doctrines, and monastic groups began to be founded.
Christianity assimilated monasticism into its system of religious life more readily than did Judaism or Islam. It was preaching its gospel in a Greek world where Platonic philosophy and religious dualism combined to welcome a doctrine of salvation through withdrawal from society. People who were educated in Greek thought and were later converted to the church sought to interpret Christian theology in accordance with their earlier philosophy. From Platonic philosophy, Christian teachers adopted the language used in speaking about the contemplation of supreme truth or the unity of the soul with the Divinity and in this sense interpreted the New Testament’s statements concerning unceasing prayer. In the middle of the third century St. Anthony led a retreat into the Egyptian desert, and only a century later the movement was the strongest religious force in Christendom. The anarchic conditions of secular society helped it to remain so for six centuries.
The monks of the Eastern church looked back to St. Basil of Caesarea (who died in 379) as their chief organizer; the monks of the Western church to St. Benedict of Nursia, who founded the house of Monte Cassino, north of Naples, in the sixth century. In the West, the Benedictine Rule was an elementary framework to which other rules and customs were added. The ideal of life was simplicity, not excessive austerity, with seven or eight short services for worship at fixed points in the day and with time allotted to work in the fields and to spiritual reading. The orders descended from the Benedictine varied greatly in their customs. The first Christian monasteries were communities of laymen with a priest or two to celebrate the sacraments. As centuries passed, it was expected that all fully professed monks would be ordained. Slowly the forms of worship became more elaborate until they were the main work of the monk—especially among the Cluniacs, whose mother house, Cluny, in Burgundy, was founded in 910. The abbey church at Cluny was the grandest of any monastery in Europe. In reaction against these elaborations the Cistercians—called so after their mother house, of Citeaux, Burgundy—sought to recall the monks to the simplicity of the Benedictine Rule. They restored the obligation to work in the fields and founded their houses in remote wildernesses, where they brought new land under cultivation or grazing.
In the Eastern church, there was no coherent “Rule” of St. Basil similar to the Rule of St. Benedict. Monasticism in Russia and Greece always remained more individualistic in its ethos, nearer to the hermit tradition of Syria and Egypt, with a rich liturgical and contemplative tradition but more remote from society and less influential. Eastern Orthodoxy created a unique monastic republic on the peninsula of Mount Athos in northern Greece, where from the eighth or ninth century a great complex of communities and hermitages began to develop. No woman is yet allowed to set foot upon the peninsula.
Nuns are much more numerous in Christianity than in any other religion. The nuns of Buddhism are comparatively few. Every variety of Christian monasticism has made provision for women as well as men, and in modern Roman Catholicism nuns have greatly outnumbered monks.
The characteristic government of a monastery springs out of a personal relationship between a holy man and his disciple. A hermit goes into retirement to seek his salvation. He becomes known for his sanctity and moral wisdom. A disciple asks leave to sit at his feet or serve him in his cell, to advance his own salvation. More disciples come, and a group forms around a wise man. They partake of common meals and common worship and have simple rules. Most Hindu monasteries remained loose in organization and hardly passed beyond the stage of having a sage or saint and a few disciples. In many primitive Christian and modern Buddhist monasteries the government remained a loose administration by a group of “elders.” Even when the constitution is highly organized, it never quite loses the flavor imparted by its remote origins; the relation is one of a novice to the director of his soul—the experienced elder imparting moral knowledge to the young in years or young in religious experience. Moreover, the disciple grows in grace by conquering his self-will, both by instant obedience to the commands of his director—even when he does not understand the reason—and by accepting without resentment punishment which looks like injustice. Therefore, the moral nature of this relationship has led to very authoritarian forms of constitution; abbots are superiors with absolute authority, except so far as they are limited by civil law or by a rule of life accepted by them at their entry as novices.
Some Buddhist communities grew so large that more elaborate forms of organization became necessary. In a country where every male must be a monk for part of his life, a monastery might rise to become a celibate township of ten thousand souls. However, as in Hindu monasteries, there was flexibility, and a man might enter or leave the monastery without blame.
The most elaborate forms of organization are found in Christian monastic orders, where very early in Christian monastic practice the idea of stability became morally important. It was recognized that a man might try his experience in various directions. But it was also believed that the spiritual life demanded a long course of obedience and a continuity within the same brotherhood. The existence of vows and the demand for stability presented Christian thinkers with deeper constitutional problems. The characteristic Christian monastery, the Benedictine, had an elected abbot who possessed a permanent authority limited only by the provisions of the Rule of St. Benedict. Later medieval orders, such as the Cistercians and the Dominicans, experimented further in forms of organization, while retaining the absolute duty of obedience to the superior; the several houses of the order were placed under a single governing body in which each was represented.
All such societies used sanctions to preserve discipline, varying according to the country and century—flogging, confinement, deprivation of food, temporary exclusion from the social and especially from the religious meetings of the community, and, in the last resort, expulsion.
The first monks were holy men who sought retirement. They were devoted to poverty. But in both Christian and Buddhist monasticism, the poverty of the individual was compatible with the wealth of the community. Monasteries which began as societies of the poor sometimes ended as rich and powerful corporations.
Buddhist and Hindu monks were expected to live off charity. The begging bowl was almost indispensable as equipment, and the round for alms was an almost indispensable part of daily devotion. It was a devotional exercise to receive such alms with humility and tranquillity of spirit, eschewing worldly satisfaction if the alms were given and resentment if they were refused. In Christianity the Franciscan friar—especially of the stricter or spiritual group—expected God to provide in the same way. But Christianity possesses a stronger doctrine, that earthly vocations are God-given. Christian monks always believed that they should work for their living on simple tasks that did not distract devotion. Their characteristic work has been agriculture, but basket making, mat making, education, the copying of manuscripts, scholarship, and other forms of work have been accepted as suitable for Christian monks. Buddhist monks have likewise engaged in scholarship, education, agriculture, and the copying of manuscripts, but have not usually considered the earning of a livelihood to be a necessary element in religious devotion.
Sanctity attracted gifts. Rich novices might make over their funds to the community, although the practice has obvious dangers and monastic rules tried to regulate or even prevent it. Childless widows or widowers left money or lands; pious kings gave endowments; noblemen found in monasteries a worthy object for their alms. An accepted work was the maintenance of shrines, and pilgrims cast their offerings freely. In some countries monasteries have thus acquired over the centuries an astonishingly large proportion of the national land area. In western Europe between the eighth and eleventh centuries, in Russia between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, in Tibet between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, the whole current of popular piety so flowed toward the monastic ideal that the monasteries came to be a major state institution. The climax of the process was attained in modern Tibet, where the monks formed something like a fifth of the population and where the government of the state was for three centuries controlled by the chief abbot, the Dalai Lama. In certain other countries, the abbots have held temporal prominence in the state. In Ceylon, the abbots were the secular judges and the king’s cabinet. In medieval England and other European countries the abbots sat of right in the parliament.
Tibet is an example of how the social influence of monasteries has been strongest in countries where nearly all the population was, or is, Buddhist. The explanation probably lies in the doctrinal difference from Christianity. In the Christian churches the monastic way of life has always appeared as only one way to heaven among others—although seen by many as the surest way. The dogma that its practice was necessary to salvation appeared in a few early Christian sects but was always rejected as heretical and incompatible with the Bible. Buddhism, in contrast, has held that some institutionalized withdrawal is indispensable to the perfect life. In countries like Tibet and Burma almost the entire male population entered monasteries for a shorter or longer time (at least for three months) and wore the yellow robes. Before the Europeans opened schools in Burma and before the Chinese conquered Tibet, the monks were the only schoolmasters, and every educated layman was familiar with the life and devotion of the monastery. The absence in Buddhism of irrevocable vows, the freedom to leave a monastery without blame, made this possible. In western Europe of the early Middle Ages the monasteries made important contributions to such education as existed, but in no Christian country were they for any length of time the sole instrument of education.
Monks have sometimes been of momentous importance in preserving and transmitting the cultural heritage of a people. From the seventh to the tenth centuries, Christian monasteries helped to preserve the libraries and knowledge inherited from Greco-Roman civilization. But monasticism has never possessed a social drive or consciousness and has acted as a main channel or focus of culture only by accident or as a by-product of other activities and in special (often anarchic) social circumstances. Nevertheless, the most notable of all monastic contributions to learning came from the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur, in France, during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, where a group of eminent scholars headed by Jean Mabillon laid the foundations for the modern critical study of historical sources.
On the edge of the monastic groups proper, brotherhoods have existed which accepted various monastic obligations, although their members lived in the world. In Catholicism the Jesuits accepted the threefold vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience but were nevertheless secular priests living in the world and engaged in pastoral care or in education; in modern times this sort of example led older and originally contemplative orders, like the Benedictine, to accept responsibility for education or pastoral duties outside the monastery.
In Tibet there were warrior-monks. Medieval Catholicism had its orders of crusading knights, like the Templars and Hospitalers, who took vows but were devoted to the defense of Christendom by force of arms. Such orders could achieve political authority, just as the Hospitalers ruled Malta and the Teutonic Knights founded the state which later became the duchy of Prussia. Under the Turkish empire the Baktashiyah were a similar military and quasi-monastic order connected with the Janissaries. In Islam—outside the mystical tradition of the Sufis—a majority of the “monasteries” have been of this quasi-monastic type of religious brotherhood with special duties in the world. A modern religious brotherhood of this kind, the Senusi, was founded as late as 1837 and came, in time, to achieve political control of part of the Sudan and nearly all the eastern Sahara.
The concern of Christian doctrine for this world and its society meant that the monastic ideal took forms very different from the original societies, which were directed to individual salvation and contemplative prayer. The most celebrated of these novel forms is found in the friars, founded by St. Francis of Assisi and by St. Dominic at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Francis called for poverty and simplicity as a protest against the elaborate and powerful church of his day; Dominic wished to protect the church by confuting heretics. But both orders of friars which resulted from their initiative were devoted to saving the souls of others as well as their own souls. They are an important example of how monastic groups could become agents for evangelism and the propagation of the faith.
In modern times some secular governments, such as Mexico, Russia, and China, have confiscated much or all monastic property, whether Christian or Buddhist, as useless to the state and have secularized their inmates. Even in a still formally Christian country like Greece, where most of the inhabitants profess the Orthodox religion, there has been a spectacular decline, even on Mount Athos, in the number and the reputation of the monks. But as it is impossible to conceive of Buddhism without Buddhist monks, so the course of centuries has made it impossible to conceive of Catholic Christianity without varieties of Christian monks. Quiet withdrawal in the face of eternity appears to meet a need of the highest aspirations of the human conscience.
W. O. Chadwick
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The term monasticism is derived from the Greek word monos, which means "single" or "alone." Despite the etymology, the majority of Buddhist monastics are not hermits or solitary wanderers. Monastics, even those who may choose to take up a solitary life from time to time, belong to the Buddhist saṄgha or community. The range of Buddhist monastic communities is quite extensive, including everything from extremely large and wealthy urban monasteries, to mid-size and small village monasteries, to forest, cave, and mountain monasteries.
Buddhist monasticism has its origins in India and dates back to the lifetime of Śākyamuni Buddha. The earliest members of the monastic order appear to have led lives that alternated between wandering from place to place in groups and residing in parks and groves donated by kings and wealthy merchants. Some Buddhist scholars, such as Sukumar Dutt, have argued that the wandering lifestyle was gradually transformed into a more permanently settled monastic existence as a result of the Buddha's requirement that monks and nuns cease wandering during the monsoon season. Other Buddhist scholars, such as Mohan Wijayaratna, have argued that the first monastic complexes were the result of the desire of wealthy laypeople to donate land and permanent structures to the saṅgha. Although scholars debate the origins of monasteries, they do agree that with the advent of permanent structures, there arose a class of monastics who remained in the monasteries permanently to act as caretakers and administrators.
Texts and archeological evidence reveal that shortly after the death of the Buddha, there were eighteen large Buddhist monasteries near the city of Rājagṛha alone. The records of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims point to the existence, during the fifth to seventh century c.e., of great Buddhist monasteries and monastic universities in India that housed thousands of monastics from a variety of Buddhist traditions. The monasteries quickly became wealthy institutions endowed with land, buildings, and numerous possessions.
The Buddhist monastic order was originally made up of ordained male and female monastics. During the medieval period, however, the lineage of fully ordained nuns died out in the TheravĀda order. Although the formal order was gone, some women did continue to live as novices in nunneries. While novice nuns in certain countries (such as the dasa sil mātāvas in Sri Lanka) often lack the recognition and support that is so essential to their survival, novice nuns in other countries (such as the śrāmaṇerikā in Tibet) have enjoyed a wider network of support and a greater recognition of their status. Since the 1980s there have been moves to reintroduce the lineage of fully ordained nuns in certain Theravāda countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, though this effort has often met fierce opposition from the male order.
By the medieval period all Buddhist monastic orders had died out in India. By that time, Buddhist monasticism had already become a pan-Asian phenomenon. Within the last century Buddhist monastic institutions have not only been reestablished in India, but have also been founded throughout North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Australia.
Monasticism and the saṅgha
In Buddhism, the monastic order is referred to as the saṅgha, which, in its strictest sense, refers specifically to monks and nuns. The saṅgha began when the Buddha accepted his first five disciples shortly after his enlightenment. As the monastic order grew and the religion spread in an ever-widening radius, numerous disciplinary rules were put forth to govern the lives of the monks and nuns. Even though the rules, which are found in the vinaya section of the Buddhist canon, are very complex, the underlying intention is straightforward: to help guide the lives of monks and nuns on a spiritual path and to create a unified group of monastics. The Buddhist monastic order functions to preserve and teach the Buddhist doctrine and, by dictating how to live in accordance with the way taught by Śākyamuni Buddha, the order's rules provide an historical link to the past.
The Buddha originally functioned as the head of the monastic order. At the time of his death he refused to appoint a successor; instead, the Buddhist teachings and disciplinary code were said to take the place of a central authority. Lacking a leader who could maintain doctrinal and disciplinary congruity, the saṅgha split into several monastic traditions in the centuries following the death of the Buddha. The early splits in the saṅgha were often based on disputes regarding discipline and led to the formation of separate vinaya texts. Within the first millennium following the death of the Buddha and continuing to the present, the disputes often related to doctrinal and disciplinary issues, thus resulting in the growth of Buddhist sects and schools centered around particular doctrines, texts, monastic leaders, and practices.
The lack of a central authority in Buddhism may be seen as problematic and as the cause of internal disputes and divisions. In a more positive light, the openness to interpret Buddhist practice and doctrine has led to a staggering range of Buddhist monastic institutions and types of monastic vocations, thus contributing to the adaptation of the tradition through time and space. As the order expanded geographically over time, adjustments were needed to make the tradition and the monastic institution acceptable to the people living in the various countries where the religion was introduced. For example, while monks of the Theravāda order (such as those living in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia) are prohibited from farming and must receive their food directly from the laity, the monks from the Chan school of East Asia are encouraged to grow their own food, an idea that is closely related to the Confucian ideal of not being a parasite to society.
Categories of monastics
Buddhist monasteries house many different categories of Buddhist monastics, from postulants seeking admission into the saṅgha to the abbot of a monastery. Prior to becoming a monk or nun, a person seeking admission into the saṅgha usually spends a probationary period, ranging from several days to several years, in
the monastery where he or she is seeking ordination. During this period, the postulant learns about the practice of monastic life, is involved in various menial and demanding tasks around the monastery, and is in charge of taking care of the needs of the other monastics. This period allows the postulant as well as the monks and nuns of the monastery to ascertain whether monastic life is an appropriate choice.
Traditionally, entrance into the Buddhist saṅgha follows a two-step process in which the postulant first becomes a novice (śrāmanera, śrāmanerikā) before becoming a fully ordained monk (bhikṣu) or nun (bhikṣunī). To become a novice, one must be old enough to scare away crows (usually interpreted to be seven to eight years of age). Novices must follow ten basic injunctions or precepts:
- Not killing
- Not stealing
- Not engaging in sexual activity
- Not lying
- Not taking intoxicants
- Not eating after midday
- Not watching shows or listening to musical performances
- Not wearing garlands or perfume
- Not sleeping on high beds
- Not handling gold or silver (understood to be money)
Monks and nuns who remain in the order may choose, once they reach twenty years of age, to take a second, more formal "higher" ordination (upasampadā). As "fully ordained" monastics, monks and nuns are required to follow a greater number of precepts that not only elaborate the ten novice precepts, but also deal with subjects of decorum, dress, and demeanor. Even though the number of precepts differ between the various regions and schools as determined by the vinaya code that is followed, monastics rarely follow all of the precepts, and in some traditions in Japan and Tibet, for example, a married clergy was deemed acceptable and even preferable.
The categories of monks and the stages of ordination outlined above are often traced back to Indian Buddhist practices. In actuality, many variations exist regarding ordination and the categories of monastics. One such variation pertains to whether or not becoming a fully ordained monastic is a permanent or temporary commitment. Another important variation concerns the upasampadā ordination: While in most Theravāda countries there are social pressures for novices to take the upasampadā ordination once they reach the appropriate age, the majority of monks in China choose to remain novices, possibly due originally to a lack of monasteries able to administer the monastic precepts. Moreover, most East Asian monastics, after becoming fully ordained, take another set of precepts called bodhisattva vows derived from the Fanwang jing (BrahmĀs Net SŪtra), which, in accordance with the MahĀyĀna tradition, are based on a commitment to lead all beings to enlightenment.
Daily monastic routines
Monastic daily routines are often centered around four types of activities: studying, practicing meditation, performing rituals, and fulfilling assigned monastery duties. Outside of these activities, Buddhist monastics have also involved themselves, from time to time, in politics and in social service activities like the construction of shelters for the homeless, schools, animal shelters, and hospitals.
Generally, daily monastic routines include activities such as cleaning the monastery; performing a variety of monastery duties; honoring the Buddha, his teachings (dharma), the monastic community (saṅgha), and one's own teacher; studying; chanting; and meditating. In addition to being restricted by the monastic code, the daily monastic routines are further limited by the actual Buddhist tradition, monastery, rank of the monastic, and time of the year. For instance, while certain meditation-oriented monasteries might dedicate the majority of the day to the practice of meditation, the daily routine of other monasteries might focus more heavily on studying Buddhist texts and performing rituals. In addition to these differences, monastic routines vary between Buddhist traditions and countries. Whereas Theravāda monks from Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), or Laos might go out in the early morning to collect alms and must refrain from eating after midday, Mahāyāna monks from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan rarely seek alms and may partake in an evening meal (sometimes called a "medicine meal"). Daily monastic routines may also change depending upon the time of year. For example, whereas monks living in certain Sŏn (Chinese, Chan) monasteries in Korea might meditate for over fourteen hours a day during the retreat seasons (summer and winter), they may devote little time to meditation during the nonretreat season. During this time, monks often visit other monasteries, travel on pilgrimages, and engage in various other projects around the monastery, such as gardening, farming, and construction work.
Buddhist monastic routines are also punctuated by monthly rituals and ceremonies that may vary in form and content between the different Buddhist traditions. One such monthly ritual commonly practiced in the Theravāda tradition is the poṣadha (Pāli, uposatha) ritual, which is held semimonthly on new moon and full moon days. In this ritual, the disciplinary code is recited and the members of the monastic community are asked whether or not they have broken any of the precepts. This confessional ritual creates a sense of unity within the monastic community and encourages self-scrutiny and monastic purity, which are necessary for spiritual progress.
The poṣadha ritual is slowly gaining in renewed popularity in certain Mahāyāna countries such as Taiwan and Korea. In monasteries where the ritual is not practiced, other monthly and semimonthly rituals may take its place. It is common in the Korean Sŏn tradition, for instance, that every fortnight during the new and full moons days the abbot gives a lecture and may even administer the bodhisattva precepts to the monks. Usually this lecture covers various aspects of the Buddha's or other famous Buddhist monks' teachings, as well as brief instructions on meditation.
Yearly rituals and celebrations also play an important role in monastic routines. One of the most popular and important annual Buddhist ceremonies is the celebration of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death. This ceremony usually occurs during the full moon of the fourth lunar month (usually late April or early May) of each year. In anticipation of this very important celebration, monks in the week leading up to the full moon begin thoroughly cleaning the monastery and decorating it with handmade paper lanterns. During this ritual, the laity flock to their local monastery, where they wander in and around the monastic buildings, meet with the monks and nuns, partake in certain rituals, and attend lectures on various aspects of the Buddha's life and teachings.
Relationship between the monastic institution and the laity
The survival of the Buddhist monastic order depends on two factors: men and women who desire to take up the monastic life and the laity who support them. From the earliest period, it was the laity who funded the construction of the first Buddhist monasteries in India and beyond.
Despite the fact that a monastic "goes forth" (pravrājita) from society when he or she enters the saṅgha, monks and nuns remain deeply connected to the laity in a symbiotic manner. The laity ideally supplies the four requisites (food, clothing, shelter, and medicine) to the monks and nuns in exchange for guidance and spiritual support in the form of sermons and the performance of rituals. The interaction between monastics and the laity varies considerably depending on the type of monastery: Whereas residents of forest, cave, and mountain monasteries tend to have more limited contact with the laity, monastics living in village and city monasteries often have close ties with the laity. Indeed, along with serving as centers where the laity could receive instructions on Buddhist doctrine and practices, these urban and village monasteries functioned and may still function as educational centers that teach religious and secular subjects.
Underlying the symbiotic relationship between the monastic order and the laity is the very important concept of merit. As the monastic order is made up of people who represent, perpetuate, and follow the teachings of the Buddha, the monastic institution itself is said to be the highest field of merit and therefore most worthy of offerings. According to this system, donating to the monastic order is one of the most wholesome acts a person can perform and anything donated to the saṅgha increases the donor's store of merit. Not only does this merit ensure good fortune and more propitious rebirths in the future, it can also be transferred to others who need it, such as a deceased relative.
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Originating in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine near the end of the third century, Christian monasticism subsequently developed into a well-organized and well-defined feature of Christianity. Martyrdom virtually ended with the Peace of the Church in 312 ce, as Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Emulating the sacrifices of the martyrs, men and women withdrew to the desert to live solitary and ascetic lives by renouncing all worldly comforts. Monasticism from its inception was intended as a means to loving God by removing all worldly obstacles, distractions, or temptations. Christian asceticism was based on scripture, recalling the words and actions of its founder, Jesus, who went into the desert for meditation and spiritual cleansing, and advised a rich man to give all his possessions to the poor and to follow him. The Greek root of monk or monastery is monos, meaning "alone." Within a few years, two forms of monasticism emerged: eremitic (from eremos, "desert"), signifying the lone ascetic in the wilderness; and cenobitic (from koinos, "common"), referring to monastic communities of men or women. Both forms demanded withdrawal from the world along with vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty. Both men and women equated asceticism with devotion to the world to come.
EARLY MONKS AND MONKHOOD
Anthony of Egypt (251–356) represented the eremitic form of monasticism and is regarded as the first Christian monk. The Life of St. Anthony, written by Athanasius, would suggest that he was not the first of the desert ascetics. Near the end of his life there were several hundred solitaries dedicated to separation from the world and committed to the struggle toward spiritual perfection. Eremitic monks lived in their own huts or caves and provided for their own needs, normally coming together on Sunday for common prayer under the direction of an elder. From the beginning celibacy was demanded along with vows of poverty and obedience.
Pachomius (292–346) characterized cenobitic monasticism, founding the first monastic community in Tabennisi, near Thebes in Egypt. It was established as a double monastery, with two separate communities—one for monks under his leadership as abbot, and the other for nuns, with his sister Mary as the abbess. By 340 there were several women's monasteries all organized around collective worship, manual labor, and obedience to the abbess. Not long after, Basil (330–379) formed the community at Annesos in Pontus, and created a program of rules for the monks. As each community developed, a collection of monastic rules was created. All of the various monastic Rules developed in the history of Christian monasticism include a structure of daily life with proscriptions pertaining to food and drink, work and prayer schedules, and a community hierarchy. Once cenobitic monasticism became the norm, the Rule of St. Basil was adopted throughout Eastern monasteries. Cenobitic monasticism was so popular in early Christianity that the population of some monasteries equaled that of small cities.
Women were also attracted to the ascetic life, especially in light of St. Jerome's widely known axiom that virgins had the greatest hope of attaining heaven, widows the second, and married women the least. Paula (374–404), a member of the patrician class, was born in Rome and died at Bethlehem after founding a monastery for women. Melania the Elder (342–410), a wealthy Roman widow, made a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Holy Land and established a monastery for fifty women in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. While on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Egeria, a fourth-century nun from the region of Galicia in Spain, wrote a diary detailing how liturgical rituals were celebrated in Jerusalem. During this flowering of ascetic monasticism, Caesarius of Arles (470–543) wrote the first Rule created exclusively for women, which, like other monastic rules, was a collection of precepts and provided the order of psalms for recitation, demanding a high degree of literacy.
Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–543), commonly known as the father of Western monasticism, withdrew to live as a hermit in a cave where, because of his extraordinary asceticism and spiritual renown, a community developed around him. Later he founded a monastery at Monte Cassino and wrote a monastic rule that supplanted a profusion of other rules. Composed of seventy-three chapters providing practical regulation of the lives of the monks and nuns, the Rule of St. Benedict became the guiding document for monasticism in the West and is still in use in the twenty-first century. It provided for the election of an abbot or abbess who would have full authority in the community and included the Opus Dei (Divine Office), laying out the fixed hours of the day for public prayer: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline. Benedict's sister, Scholastica (480–543), consecrated her life to Christ at an early age and later founded a monastery for women at Plombariola, five miles from Monte Cassino, and adopted her brother's Rule for the community. In the ninth century, Charlemagne (r. 768–814) imposed the Rule of St. Benedict on all monasteries, and as monasticism spread through the Holy Roman Empire it became the sole norm of monastic life. The Benedictine Order dominated the High Middle Ages with significant impact in all realms of society.
A number of monastic orders emerged in the Middle Ages, among them the Carthusians in the eleventh century; the Cistercians in the twelfth; and the Carmelites, reorganized in the fifteenth century. Typically these new orders emerged when groups of monks or nuns felt that Benedict's Rule was interpreted in too lax a manner. Disregard for the celibacy vows and a concern about the selling of religious office (simony) were at the heart of medieval monastic reforms. With the continued desire to pursue a solitary life in isolation from the world, monastic orders such as the Carthusians sought to establish communities in remote areas, in the forests far from the cities.
In 1098 the Cistercian Order was founded on the ideal of a strict interpretation of the Benedictine model as applied to dress, furniture, buildings, and food. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), foremost among the early Cistercians, personified the monastic ideal. He mentored popes, was counselor to kings, preached the Second Crusade, and composed eighty-six sermons on the first four verses of the Song of Songs. Based largely on the social constructions of the female as especially dangerous and susceptible to sin, Cistercians had a particular revulsion toward women and avoided all contact with them.
Throughout the Middle Ages, as the figure of Christ was increasingly humanized, the status of cloistered women changed significantly. Women, able to fully embody Mary's relationship to the divine as mother and spouse, narrated their religious experiences and gained a high degree of importance in medieval spirituality. Significant among them are Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1207–c. 1285), Gertrude of Helfta (1256–1301 or 1302), Clare of Assisi (1194–1253), Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), Julian of Norwich (1342–c. 1416), and Birgitta of Sweden (1303–1373).
Flourishing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Beguine movement is especially important for the history of women in monasticism. Beguines were communities of devout and celibate women living together with no irrevocable vows, following no prescribed Rule, and supporting themselves with manual labor—lace-making, for example. This created a dilemma for the Church and for society, in view of the fact that there were only two acceptable roles for adult women at this time—as cloistered women under a monastic Rule or as married women. The papal answer was the cura monialium, a technical term for the pastoral care of the cloistered women. This duty was laid upon the mendicant Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, by Pope Clement IV (r. 1265–1268) in 1267; it required Dominican preachers, such as Meister Eckhart (1260–1328), Heinrich Seuse (1295–1366), and Johannes Tauler (1300–1361), to assume the spiritual care of these communities of women. As a consequence, within a short period of time, the communities were officially proclaimed to be either Dominican or Cistercian women's monasteries.
The emergence of the mendicant orders (from the Latin mendicare, "to beg"), or friars—Dominicans and the Franciscans—in the thirteenth century had a profound effect on male monasticism. To this day, both orders practice the principles of monastic life, taking vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, but devote themselves to the service of humanity in the secular world. Although friars were monastic in the broadest sense, they were not attached to specific communities. Mendicant women, on the other hand, were cloistered, as women were not permitted to beg or wander from town to town.
IMPACT OF THE REFORMATION
The Protestant reformations of the sixteenth century generated a profound assault on monasticism. Arguing that it implied a degradation of marriage, the Protestant reformers opposed monasticism's demands for celibacy. Martin Luther (1483–1546), a former monk himself, wrote viciously against his former profession. Henry VIII of England (r. 1509–1547) demolished eight hundred monasteries within a four-year span of time. Central to the Protestant reforms was the conviction that every profession is a religious "calling," not just the priesthood and monasticism. In those areas of Europe that accepted the Protestant reforms, there was a demand that women and men leave the monasteries to marry. In the reformed communities, the high valence of virginity was eradicated and replaced with the Protestant ideal of motherhood or fatherhood. Reformers railed against monasticism, rejecting the distinction between the superior life of a monk or nun and the inferior life of a householder.
Monasticism continued to develop in the Eastern Orthodox context, with most monasteries abiding by St. Basil's Rule with the additions, expansions, and modifications made by later emperors, patriarchs, and synods; only the great monastery at Mt. Sinai follows what is regarded as the old rule of St. Anthony. While all of the sixteen independent Churches that comprise the Eastern Orthodox Church have monasteries, few of them are open to women.
By feminist standards, a great many nuns were and are strong, independent women, highly skilled in nursing and education, managing large charitable organizations, working for the civil rights movement, and as missionaries. Having survived a steep decline in numbers, the monastic ideal is still present throughout the world. However, its societal impact is less profound than in the Middle Ages and is mainly regarded as a viable option for women in societies offering them few alternatives. Monasteries in remote locations still exist throughout the world and offer monks and nuns the opportunity for a purely contemplative life.
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McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. 1996. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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Skinner, Mary. 1984. "Benedictine Life for Women in Central France, 850-1100: A Feminist Revival." In Medieval Religious Women: Distant Echoes, ed. John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas Shank. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.
Schulenberg, Jane Tibbetts. 1989. "Women's Monastic Communities, 500-1100: Patterns of Expansion and Decline." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14(2): 261-292.
Thompson, Sally. 1978. "The Problem of the Cistercian Nuns in the Twelfth and Early Thirteenth Centuries." In Medieval Women, ed. Derek Baker. Oxford, U.K.: Basil Blackwell.
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Wiethaus, Ulrike. 1991. "Sexuality, Gender, and the Body in Late Medieval Women's Spirituality: Cases from Germany and the Netherlands." Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 7: 35-52.
Rosemary Drage Hale
The Monastic Movement in Christianity. Monasticism developed between the fourth and fifth centuries, as the Christian Church was increasingly integrated into the world around it. The Desert Fathers such as Anthony of Egypt, the Celtic monks and missionaries such as St. Columban, and the developers of monastic guidelines such as St. Benedict of Nursia were among the early monastics who influenced the medieval tradition. During the early Middle Ages there arose a distinction between hermitical monasticism, where monks lived solitary lives, and cenobitic monasticism, where monks lived in common with other monks. Cenobitic monasticism was particularly influential in the medieval West from the ninth century, while the Greek East continued to have a strong hermetic tradition. Behind cenobitic monasticism was the idea that the act of living together might be an instrument of perfection, even as it allowed for mutual assistance, both spiritually and mentally.
A Monk’s Role. In the West a conception of the monastery’s role in a Christian society was developed by the sixth century and continued throughout the Middle Ages. This ideal saw the monastery as a spiritual citadel, a refuge for silence, prayer, and work. When a monk entered this fortress, he abandoned all worldly ties. Frequently, monasteries required that monks who went outside the monastery were not to speak of what they saw when they returned, and monastic clothing was designed to keep a monk’s face from prying eyes—and to make it difficult for a monk to see other than straight ahead. Such distance from the world was not viewed as selfish, however. An ideal monk was seen as a spiritual warrior, devoted to prayer and good works that earned divine benefits for all Christians. In this sense the monk was a soldier of Christ who battled the corruptions of the world. In his battle for Christian souls, the monk was chiefly concerned with the opus Dei (work of God), which consisted primarily of common prayer at set times throughout the day. But the monastery was also meant to be a self-sufficient community, in which the monk might work manually in order to provide for his needs and those of his brethren; his work might also be intellectual and, if he were able, he might have copied books that served as the cultural and spiritual formation of the community. The abbot governed the monastic community following a strictly paternal model and was assisted by monks holding various offices. Despite these spiritual roles, monks also had great influence in secular society. Monks became the developers of advanced agrarian techniques, carried out the conversion of the rural population to Christianity, and served as the chief agents of preservation of ancient culture through their copying of ancient manuscripts.
Monastic Rules. Monastic communities were organized following rules developed by the ostensible founders of their community. Throughout the Middle Ages, especially through the tenth century, the most influential of these monastic rules was that formulated by St. Benedict of Nursia: the Benedictine Rule. He composed the rule for his monastic community at Monte Cassino in Italy between 530 and 560; over the next several centuries his rule was adopted in the vast majority of western monasteries and influenced many nonmonastic religious communities as well. Reform movements in medieval monasteries often started with the Benedictine Rule as a model and altered it
to suit their needs. There were other important rules as well. The rule attributed to St. Augustine was extremely influential in the later Middle Ages, and modifications of the Benedictine Rule, such as the Carta Caritatis (the charter of charity) of the Cistercians, gained powerful lives of their own in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Both St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi wrote rules for their communities as soon as the Pope approved their formation. These rules were important not only because they regulated, in great detail, how the monks lived, but also because they expressed a vision of the monks’ roles in society and in Christian spirituality.
Monks and Property. As with other Church institutions, monasteries had a complicated relationship to property and material goods. In the vows a man took when becoming a monk were oaths of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Often, in their pursuit of solitude, monks were pioneers moving into uninhabited or sparsely inhabited parts of Europe to establish their communities. In other cases, however, pious laity awarded the monks plots of land. Possession of land in medieval Europe came with a series of responsibilities that monks could not in good conscience ignore. Whether peasants came with these land grants or peasants settled in areas the monks had pioneered, monasteries were soon saddled with the burdens of medieval lordship, such as gathering taxes, supervising workers, enforcing laws in the communities surrounding them, and providing religious services. Given the structures of medieval society, it was impossible to ignore these demands and morally reprehensible to abandon peasant communities to marauding bands. Monasteries, thus, frequently took on the same duties as medieval lordships, including hospitality for travelers, military protection, and law enforcement. Yet, monasteries also enjoyed the profits that came from their lands. Individual monks were supposed to be poor, and many were, but monasteries were frequently enormously rich. Not all medieval Europeans were bothered by this situation either. Nobles frequently endowed monastic communities with the provision that members of their families would become abbots or abbesses, and some monasteries demanded initiation fees that were affordable only for nobles. One such place was the French “royal abbey” at Fontevrault that sheltered such figures as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine. Faced with the contradiction between ideals and practice, monastic reformers frequently grappled with the question of poverty, and by the later Middle Ages popular opinion gradually turned against the older, wealthy monastic communities. At the same time, however, medieval Europeans still tried to get their sons and daughters places in these abbeys.
Monks and Government. Monastic relations with property were further complicated because of the important roles certain medieval monks played in governmental administration. At the time of Charlemagne’s death in 814 the best-known monk in western Europe was St. Benedict of Aniane, a friend and councilor of Louis I, Charlemagne’s successor. Benedict’s role represents one career opportunity available to medieval monks: government official. Such activity required a dispensation, an exemption from some parts of the monastic vows provided by the head of the order or the Pope. Medieval lords were quite eager to enlist qualified monks into their service. Monks, particularly those who had been abbots at major monasteries, had years of education and experience at running complicated bureaucracies. They knew how to develop long- and short-term strategies, were familiar with the major political players in a region, brought some of their own alliances, and could conduct themselves appropriately in noble society. Moreover, a monk might have family members that he wanted to help, but he was rarely interested in establishing a dynasty in the way that secular lords would. For these reasons, medieval rulers turned to monks such as Abbots Suger of St. Denis, Lanfranc of Canterbury, and Anselm of Canterbury to serve as their chief ministers.
The Cluniac Reform. Beginning in the tenth century, several new monastic foundations were established. The best known of these foundations was Cluny, founded by William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, in 910. Although a Benedictine community, the charters for Cluny made several important changes to the Benedictine Rule, especially in the centralization of its monastic government. Monasteries who followed the Cluniac reform and monasteries founded by Cluniac monks remained under the sovereignty of the abbot of Cluny; their abbots and monks had to be approved by Cluny, and every monk had to spend some years at Cluny. Cluniac monasticism stressed individual simplicity among its monks, but liturgical and ritual complexity among the monastic community as a whole. Additional devotional exercises were added to the six a day already required by the Benedictine Rule. Cluny became known for its wealth and the beauty and complexity of its religious services. By the twelfth century, on some of the important feasts days of the Church year—such as that of St. Peter, to whom the abbey of Cluny was dedicated—the monks were required to pray from sunset to dawn of the next day without interruption. Even on ordinary days, much of the Cluniac monk’s day was taken up by prayer, without leaving much time for reading or other activities. These activities took place in an abbey church that was the largest in Christendom when it was consecrated in 1131. The impressiveness of the monk’s public prayer helped make its support a good investment in the eyes of contemporaries and extended the influence of Cluny throughout Europe. In addition, Cluny was fortunate to have a series of brilliant and influential abbots during its first two hundred years. For example, the eighth abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable (1092–1156), instituted reforms in the order, sheltered Peter Abelard, defended the Jews, and refused to have anything to do with the Second Crusade, arguing that the Muslims should be met with rational scholars instead of armies. He served as a papal envoy throughout Europe and wrote hymns, religious tracts, and many letters, more than two hundred of which still survive.
Reactions to Cluny. In its early years other monasteries often asked Cluny to send monks to show them how things were done in the Cluniac style. By the end of the tenth century, Cluny began to exert its influence in a more formal manner. In traditional Benedictine monasticism, each monastery was autonomous, ruled by its own abbot. Cluny decided to found or accept monasteries that were not independent; each of these communities was intended to be directly subject to the abbot of Cluny. After the mid eleventh century, the abbot of Cluny was formally the ruler of more than nine hundred monasteries, largely in France and Switzerland, but also in Britain, Spain, and Italy. It is interesting that the ideal of independence from secular interference in monastic life characterized Cluny from the moment of its foundation. Duke William of Aquitaine, in establishing the house and dedicating it to St. Peter, renounced his right, as founder, to elect the abbot of the new monastery; he asked his own kinsmen, the king of France, bishops, and the Pope to refrain from interfering in anyway in the life of the abbey. He placed it under the protection of Saints Peter and Paul and the popes, who were asked to excommunicate anyone who interfered with the liberties of the monastery. Before the end of the tenth century the popes had accepted the duke’s request and even declared Cluny independent of the supervision of the local bishop. Cluny became one of the seed houses of reform and of resistance to traditional involvement of lay people in electing abbots. This independence was one of the sources of the agenda of the eleventh-century reformers, who, in effect, attempted to make the autonomy of Cluny the norm for all sorts of ecclesiastical institutions and bishoprics themselves. Also, they said, papal control over the rest of the Church should essentially mirror the control of the abbot of Cluny over the daughter houses. This kind of control was regarded as the necessary safeguard against contamination of the Church’s function to ensure the authenticity of the religious experience of the faithful.
The Cistercians and Bernard of Clairvaux. Despite Cluny’s great influence, by the early eleventh century there were reactions against Cluny that led to the formation of new monastic communities, such as the Carthusians. Probably the most influential medieval reaction against Cluny occurred in 1098 with the foundation of the Cistercians by Robert of Molesmes. Among the early members was the best-known medieval Cistercian, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). At the age of twenty-seven Bernard was sent with other young monks to form the fourth Cistercian monastery at Citeaux in what is now eastern France. Clairvaux and the community Bernard led became the models for Cistercian reform. Like the Cluniac Rule, the Cistercian Rule called for centralization and accountability to the head of the Cistercian order. The Cistercians were, in fact, the first to use the term order to describe all those who followed their rule. Unlike the Cluniacs, Cistercians placed a far higher priority on poverty and physical mortification, a difference that led to an exchange of letters between Bernard and Peter the Venerable. Although most Cistercians distanced themselves from worldly concerns, Bernard was pulled into them because of his reputation for personal piety. One of the most influential clergymen of his generation, Bernard inspired reform in bishoprics and monasteries throughout Europe, and he sent groups of Cistercians to establish monasteries in Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Portugal, and Italy. He disputed with Peter Abelard and raised troops for the Second Crusade. His activity at the Council of Troyes, called to resolve disputes within the French church, led one cardinal to complain, “It is not fitting that noisy and troublesome frogs should come out of their marshes to trouble the Holy See and the cardinals.” Bernard the frog and the Cistercians, however, had far more supporters than detractors.
Nuns. Just as male religious communities had been part of the earliest Christian communities, so too were communities of women. In fact, early medieval monasteries sometimes included male and female communities that had separate sleeping quarters but shared the monastery church and other facilities. It was even possible in the ninth and tenth centuries for a female abbess to rule over both monks and nuns, although it was exceptional, and the abbess was generally of noble descent. Eleventh- and twelfth-century reform movements gradually led to the complete separation of male and female monastic communities. Women entered monastic communities for much the same reason as men: personal piety, social security, and family pressure. Monasteries provided nuns with a sure livelihood and families with an individual who would certainly pray for them—an inside track to God. Although nuns tended to be less involved in intellectual pursuits than their male counterparts, some—such as Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen, and Mechtild of Hackeborn—made valuable contributions to medieval thought and piety. One important difference between male monasteries and female nunneries was that women’s communities tended on the average to be poorer, not attracting the type of lucrative or consistent donations that their male counterparts did.
H. E.J. Cowdrey, The Cluniacs and the Gregorian Reform (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).
Ludo J. R. Milis, Angelic Monks and Earthly Men: Monasticism and Its Meaning to Medieval Society (Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1992).
Monasticism organizes individuals devoted to a life of prayer based upon vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. It has been an integral part of religious life in Russia since the conversion to Christianity in the late tenth century. Russian monasticism was characterized by the forms that existed in Byzantium, from the anchoritic or eremitical life of hermits to the cenobitic form of communal life; most monasteries, however, organized their life between these ideal types.
The Kievan Caves monastery, founded in the mid-eleventh century by Anthony, was the first important (if not typical) institution. Anthony began as a hermit living in a cave, though his holiness soon attracted others around him. In 1062 Theodosius (d. 1074) became abbot of the growing community and introduced the Studite Rule (the classic Byzantine cenobitic rule, requiring communal eating, labor, property, and worship). Under Theodosius, the monastery upheld high standards of monastic life and participated in worldly affairs (including charity and politics). Although Theodosius would become a model for Russian monasticism—with his humility, authority, and balance of asceticism and activity—"princely monasticism" dominated Kievan Rus. Princely families founded such monasteries in or near cities, gave the communities their rule and endowments, and appointed abbots. These institutions were influential in ecclesiastical politics and as centers of learning and culture, but were not distinguished by exemplary monastic life. More than fifty monasteries existed in Rus before the Mongol invasion in 1240—though many were destroyed in its wake.
The second half of the fourteenth century witnessed a dramatic expansion of monastic life in Russia, inspired by Sergius of Radonezh (d. 1392). Sergius began as a hermit living in the forest, but, attracting followers, he established the Trinity monastery. Sergius became abbot in 1353 and introduced the Studite rule in 1377. He combined asceticism, humility, charity, and influence in political affairs (like Theodosius), together with contemplative prayer. Inspired by Sergius's example, a pattern emerged in which hermits settled in the forest searching for solitude; followers joined them; they established a monastery, with peasants settling nearby; and again a few monks set off into the uninhabited forest in search of solitude. Much of the Russian north was settled in this manner.
Between 1350 and 1450 some 150 monasteries were founded, and new communities continued to proliferate into the eighteenth century. Monasteries acquired land through purchase or donation, with many becoming major landowners. They played an important role in the economy and political unification of Muscovy in the fifteenth century. By the early sixteenth century their wealth had led to a decline in monastic discipline, giving rise to two differing reform movements. Nil Sorsky (d. 1508) advocated a "skete" style of life, in which monks lived in small hermitages and supported themselves. Nil emphasized contemplative, mystical prayer (based on Byzantine Hesychasm). Joseph of Volotsk (d. 1515) organized his monastery according to the cenobitic rule (demanding strict individual poverty) and emphasized corporate liturgical prayer. Joseph also justified monastery landownership, for this enabled charity and social engagement. Traditional historiography posited an intense political conflict over monastic landownership between two distinct ecclesiastical "parties" (Nil's non-possessors and Joseph's possessors). Recent research, however, suggests that the conflict has been exaggerated. Small hermitages continued to exist into the seventeenth century, often operating independently of central church control (including resistance to Nikonian liturgical reforms). Ecclesiastical authorities mistrusted and tried to subordinate them to larger monasteries. Thus the tradition inspired by Nil Sorsky gradually died out.
Beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, the state attempted to gain control over monastic landholding due to competition for land and the tax-exempt status of ecclesiastical property. The Law Code of 1649 forbade monasteries from acquiring new estates and established the Monastery Chancellery, which placed the administration of monastic estates under state control (until its abolition in 1677). The eighteenth century witnessed the greatest assertion of state authority over monasticism. Peter the Great initiated measures to restrict the growth of monasticism and make it more socially "useful," and he reestablished the Monastery Chancellery from 1701 to 1720. Peter's successors continued efforts to restrict recruitment, leading to a decline in the number of monks and nuns from 25,000 to 14,000 between 1724 and 1738. The state's assault finally culminated in 1764 when Catherine the Great confiscated all monastic estates. Her secularization reform resulted in the closure of more than half of all monasteries (decreasing from 954 to 387) and a drastic reduction of monastic clergy (leaving fewer than six thousand by the end of the eighteenth century).
Despite the devastating impact of secularization, monasticism experienced a remarkable revival in the nineteenth century and again played a vital role in religious life. By 1914, the number of monasteries rose to 1,025 and the number of monastic clergy reached nearly 95,000. In part, the expansion of monasticism in the nineteenth century was due to the revival of hesychastic contemplative spirituality, inspired by the Ukrainian monk Paisy Velichkovsky (d. 1794). In addition to the repetition of the Jesus prayer and other contemplative practices, placing oneself under the guidance of a spiritual elder (starets ) was integral to hesychasm. In the nineteenth century, the role of the starets expanded beyond the walls of the monastery. Famous elders such as Serafim of Sarov (d. 1833) or those of the Optina Hermitage attracted tens of thousands of laypeople, including important intellectual figures (Ivan Kireyevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy). A dramatic rise in pilgrimage to monasteries (in combination with renewed permission to acquire land) led to a significant growth in monastic wealth. Though anti-clerical intellectuals frequently criticized this wealth, many larger monasteries were actively engaged in charity. In the second half of the century, the number of women joining monastic communities rose dramatically; by the century's end, female monastics far exceeded men. In contrast to male monasticism (which focused on contemplative spirituality), female monasticism was particularly devoted to charitable activity (operating schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc.).
The twentieth century, by contrast, was a succession of crises. Between 1900 and 1917, church and monastic leaders heatedly debated reform measures and the social role of monasticism. After 1917, monasteries were among the Bolshevik's' first targets. While most monasteries were closed by 1921, others transformed themselves into agricultural collectives and survived until collectivization (1928–1929). By 1930 all monasteries in the Soviet Union were officially closed, and former monks and nuns were frequent victims of the purges of 1937 and 1938. In the rapprochement between church and state during World War II, some monasteries were allowed to reopen (or stay open, if located in newly acquired territories). From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, eighteen monasteries and convents existed in the Soviet Union. Today the Moscow Patriarchate reports 480 functioning monasteries.
See also: caves monastery; joseph volotzk, st.; kirilbeloozero monastery; monasteries; nil sorsky, st.; orthodoxy; patriarchate; religion; russian orthodox church; sergius, st.; simonov monastery; sloviki monastery; trinity st. sergius monastery
Bolshakoff, Sergius. (1980). Russian Mystics. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.
Kenworthy, Scott M. (2002). "The Revival of Monasticism in Modern Russia: The Trinity-Sergius Lavra, 1825-1921." Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.
Meehan, Brenda. (1993). Holy Women of Russia. San Francisco: Harper Collins.
Nichols, Robert L. (1985). "The Orthodox Elders (Startsy) of Imperial Russia." Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 1:1–30.
Ostrowski, Donald. (1986). "Church Polemics and Monastic Land Acquisition in Sixteenth-Century Muscovy." Slavonic and East European Review 64:355–379.
Scott M. Kenworthy
Because of the general resemblances of community and at least partial separation from society, the term ‘monk’ is widely used in English with reference to Buddhism. In its purest form, ‘monk’ refers to one who has taken the full vows of a bhikkhu or bhikṣu, and ‘nun’ to a bhikkhunī or bhikṣuṇī. But given the many other forms, it would be better to abandon the English term monk and use terms such as bhikkhu, lama, sensei, and rōshi as appropriate.
mo·nas·tic / məˈnastik/ • adj. of or relating to monks, nuns, or others living under religious vows, or the buildings in which they live: a monastic order. ∎ resembling or suggestive of monks or their way of life, esp. in being austere, solitary, or celibate: a monastic student bedroom.• n. a monk or other follower of a monastic rule.DERIVATIVES: mo·nas·ti·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv.mo·nas·ti·cism / -təˌsizəm/ n.