The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)

The History of Christianity #103

Our History of Christianity Scripture passage today is Psalm 119:18 which reads: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from the Second Vatican Council, Decree on Religious Life. It reads: “The main task of monks is to render to the Divine Majesty a service at once simple and noble, within the monastic confines. Let monasteries be renewed in their ancient and beneficial traditions, and so adapt them to the modern needs of souls that monasteries will be the seedbeds of growth for the Christian people.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Monastic Reaction: Pachomius and Communal Monasticism (Part 3)”.

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Monastic Reaction: The Spread of the Monastic Ideal (Part 1)”

Although the roots of monasticism are not to be found exclusively in Egypt, that was where the movement gained most momentum in the fourth century. Devout people from different regions went to Egypt, some to remain there and others to return to their countries with the ideals and practices they had learned in the desert. From Syria, Asia Minor, Italy, and even Mesopotamia, pilgrims went to the land of the Nile and on their return spread the story and the legends of Paul, Anthony, Pachomius, and countless others. Throughout the Eastern portion of the empire, wherever there was a suitable place, a monk fixed his abode. Some exaggerated the ascetic life by ostentatious acts, such as spending their lives atop a column of a ruined temple. But others brought to the church a sense of discipline and absolute dedication that was very necessary in what seemed the easy times after Constantine.

However, those who most contributed to the spread of the monastic ideal were not the anchorites who copied the ways of the Egyptian desert and sought secluded places where they could devote themselves to prayer and meditation, but rather a number of bishops and scholars who saw the value of the monastic witness for the daily life of the church. Thus, although in its earliest times Egyptian monasticism had existed apart and even in opposition to the hierarchy, eventually its greatest impact was made through some of the members of that hierarchy.


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