monasticism

Greek: monos, alone

Denotes the mode of life, characterized by self-denial and asceticism, which is followed by religious living secluded from the world, according to a fixed rule and under religious vows, in order to perfect themselves in the love of God. It is here considered independently of the religious orders such as friars, canons regular, clerks regular, and recent congregations, which differ from the monastic orders properly so called in that the former follow some particular work, e.g., preaching, teaching, etc., while the life of the monk is lived primarily for its own sake, and its effect on the subject, though indirectly for the good of others also. The two principal forms of monasticism are the eremitical or solitary, and the cenobitical or family type Eremitical monasticism traditionally dates from 305, when Saint Anthony the Abbot, after twenty years seclusion, was sought as spiritual guide by numerous hermits who had gathered around him in northern Egypt. The solitary or Antonian type of monasticism obtained in northern Egypt from Lycopolis to the Mediterranean, and large numbers of hermits following a semi-eremitical life arose at Nitria and Scete. No rule governed the monks, who were characterized by a spirit of individualism. This type of monasticism spread to Palestine, Syria, Italy, and Gaul, and later affected the independent growth of the religious life in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. About 318 Saint Pachomius developed cenobitical monasticism in southern Egypt, and introduced the common life. Gradually it practically replaced the eremitical throughout the world. The systematic organization of the monasteries of Saint Pachomius presaged the highly centralized rule later introduced in the religious orders. Work as an essential of the daily life of the monks also distinguished the Pachomian followers from those of Saint Anthony. Greek monasticism received impetus from Saint Basil, who founded a monastery at Neo-Cresarea, in Pontus, c.360, and inaugurated full community life there, marked by prayer, work, and scriptural reading. He placed greater value upon work than upon the austerities heretofore practised. To him is due the present monachism of eastern Europe, which is however now more noteworthy for the contemplative life of its followers than for its element of work. The Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia, drawn up in the 6th century, was the most notable factor in the spread of monasticism throughout western Europe. The extreme austerities and rivalry in asceticism of the earlier monks were dropped in the new regime. The vow of stability which he introduced bound a monk for life to a particular monastery, a development of great importance which furthered the family life of the individual monastery, which Benedict sought. Recitation of the Divine Office is the principal occupation of the followers of the monastic life; to it all work must be subordinated. Agriculture, the copying of manuscripts, education; the fine arts, historical and patristic writings, and missionary work have engaged the monks at various periods throughout their history. The monastic life was embraced by women at an early date; their history follows the same course as that of the monks. The sisters of Saint Pachomius, Saint Basil, and Saint Benedict each governed a community of nuns in accordance with rules drawn up by their respective brothers. See also, hermit; cenobite.