1. The term monasticism covers a variety of phenomena and institutions that grow from the common root of asceticism.* Underlying the formations of monasticism is the consciousness of sin and the desire for reconciliation with God. The monastic seeks this reconciliation by renunciation, e.g., of (a) the everyday world; (b) family; (c) property; (d) pleasure and comfort; (e) will; by acts of self-mortification and by frequent repetition of set prayers, acts of devotion, and religious meditation. Fundamental vows* of the monastic are vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience.
2. Monasticism in its essential features was highly developed in India* and other parts of Asia before the Christian era. Christian monasticism originated in Egypt. Its first exponents (perhaps refugees from the persecution of Decius [see Persecution of Christians, 4]; perhaps others, who tried to attain moral perfection and everlasting happiness by escape from the sinful world) lived as hermits.*
3. Ca. 305 Anthony* began gathering hermits into colonies. Pachomius (ca. 290346 [348?]; b. at or near Esneh [Esna; Isna], ca. 25/30 mi. S of Thebes [Luxor], Upper Egypt; Christian monk ca. 314; see also Origenistic Controversy) founded the 1st cenobitic monastery.* Thereafter the hermitic type of ascetic life rapidly yielded to the cenobitic type. Basil the Great (see Cappadocian Theologians) gave monasticism standing and drew up regulations for its guidance (see also Basilians, 1). Through Athanasius,* Jerome,* et al. the monastic idea found acceptance in the W Many monasteries were founded under various rules. The rule of Benedict* of Nursia regulated monasticism in the W for many cents. (see Benedictines).
4. Boniface* and Ansgar* were Benedictines. Celtic* monks also played a significant role in miss. work. When growing wealth of monasteries and abbeys led to relaxation of the rule of Benedict, efforts at reform were made. In the 10th and 11th cents. Cluniacs (see Cluniac Reform) tried to reform monasticism. The beginning of the 12th c. saw a new effort at reform (see Cistercians). With the Crusades* arose military* religious orders. Mount Athos, Greece, came into prominence as a monastic center.
5. More radical than earlier reforms was the est. of the Franciscans* and Dominicans.* Other orders founded 11th14th c. include Carthusians,* Camaldolese,* Vallumbrosans,* Celestines.* Monasticism exerts a great liturgical influence on contemporary RCm.
6. The Luth. Reformation* repudiated the excesses and errors of monasticism (see Asceticism). RC orders active in the Counter* Reformation include Barnabites,* Capuchins,* Clerks Regular of Somascha,* Oratorians,* Society* of Jesus, Theatines,* Ursulines.* Other RC orders include Brothers* Hospitallers of St. John of God, Congregation* of the Brothers of Charity, Lazarists,* Maurists,* Oblate* Fathers, Trappists. Monasticism is practiced also in Islam,* Buddhism,* Jainism,* and other religions, but not in Judaism. Though Christian monasticism in the W is fostered primarily among RCs, there are also some Prot. communities. See also Abstinence.
7. The Luth. Confessions concede that virginity is a higher gift than marriage (Ap XXIII 19, 38, 69; LC I 211). They hold, however, that it is un-Christian to require monastic vows of those who do not have the gift of continence (Ap XXVII 51). They advocate that associations and monasteries be restored to the useful purposes for which they had been founded (SA II III 1). Abuses in monastic life are frequently censured. See also Asceticism.
W. Bousset, Apophthegmata: Studien zur Geschichte des ältesten Mönchtums, ed. T. Hermann and G. Krüger (Tübingen, 1923); The Library of Christian Classics, XII: Western Asceticism, ed. O. Chadwick (Philadelphia, 1958); D. Bonhoeffer, Life Together, tr. J. W. Doberstein (New York, 1954); J. O. Hannay, The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (London, 1903).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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