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Monasticism - The
The Papacy during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages found its strongest supporters among
the monks. By the time of Gregory the Great monasticism was well established in the Christian Church. Its origin must be sought in the need, often felt by spiritually-minded men, of withdrawing from the
world, from its temptations and its transitory pleasures to a life of solitude, prayer, and religious contemplation. Joined to this feeling
has been the conviction that the soul may be purified by subduing the
desires and passions of the body. Men, influenced by the monastic spirit, sought a closer approach to God.
Life of Medieval
Medieval Benedictine Rule
Early Christian Monasticism
The monastic spirit in Christianity owed much to the example of its founder, who was himself unmarried, poor, and without a place "where to lay his head." Some of Christ's teachings, taken literally, also helped
to exalt the worth of the monastic life. At a very early period there were Christian men and women who abstained from marriage, flesh meat, and the use of wine, and gave themselves up to prayer, religious exercises, and works of charity. This they did in their homes, without abandoning their families and human society.
Monasticism - The
Another monastic movement
began about the middle of the third century, when many Christians in
Egypt withdrew into the desert to live as hermits. St. Anthony, who has
been called the first Christian hermit, passed twenty years in a
deserted fort on the east bank of the Nile. During all this time he
never saw a human face. Some of the hermits, believing that pain and
suffering had a spiritual value, went to extremes of self-
mortification. They dwelt in wells, tombs, and on the summits of
pillars, deprived themselves of necessary food and sleep, wore no
clothing, and neglected to bathe or to care for the body in any way.
Other hermits, who did not practice such austerities, spent all day or
all night in prayer. The examples of these recluses found many imitators
in Syria and other eastern lands.
Monasticism - The
Rule of St. Basil
A life shut off from all contact with one's fellows is difficult and beyond the strength of ordinary men. The mere human need for social intercourse gradually brought the hermits together, at first in small groups and then in larger communities, or monasteries. The next step was to give the scattered monasteries a common organization and government. Those in the East gradually adopted the regulations which St. Basil, a leading churchman of the fourth century, drew up for the guidance of the monks under his direction. St. Basil's Rule, as it is called, has
remained to the present time the basis of monasticism in the Greek Church.
- St. Benedict
The monastic system, which early gained an entrance into western Christendom, looked to St. Benedict as its organizer. While yet a young man, St. Benedict had sought to escape from the vice about him by
retiring to a cave in the Sabine hills near Rome. Here he lived for three years
as a hermit, shutting himself off from all human intercourse, wearing a
hair shirt, and rolling in beds of thistles to subdue "the flesh." St. Benedict's experience of the hermit's life convinced him that there was
a surer and better road to religious peace of mind. His fame as a holy man had attracted to him many disciples, and these he now began to group in monastic communities under his own supervision. St. Benedict's most important monastery was at Monte Cassino,
midway between Rome and Naples. It became the capital of monasticism in
the West. In the 12th century four hundred and eighteen monasteries
were founded in England; in the next century, only about a third as
many. In the fourteenth, only twenty-three monasteries were founded in
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