The Majesty of Monasticism Preserving the Past for Perpetuity Professor Will Adams Valencia College Spring 2012
The Meaning of Monasticism The word monk comes from the Greek word monos, meaning alone. The earliest monks were men who left their homes to be alone in remote places. Monastic communities trace their origins to the early centuries of the Christian era. Some early Christians fled to the Egyptian deserts to live alone with God. These Desert Fathers greatly influenced the development of monasticism, both Eastern and Western. At the heart of the monastic impulse is the rejection of the world, and the recreation of paradise.
Monasticism’s Origins In the late Roman period, many religiously-minded people abandoned “civilization” to go into the wilderness or deserts to be closer to God. This deliberate abandonment of worldly temptations is known as asceticism.
Monasticism’s OriginsAs individuals and as small groups, these monks often sought out remote locations away from the large medieval cities others flocked to.They did this to be away from the temptations of the world and away from the marauding German tribes.
Monasticism’s Origins Individuals were called hermits; they lived in a place called a hermitage. However, not all monks wanted to live alone. Many chose to live with others in religious communities called monasteries. Shown is St. Catherine’s at Mt. Sinai, founded c. 550 C.E., which is widely considered the first monastery.
Monasticism’s Origins These early monks turned away from what was considered a “normal life” for the time: They prayed often. They became chaste. They fasted. They gave up their worldly goods.
Monasticism’s OriginsIt was St. Anthony the Great who organized and founded the first monastery, St. Catherine’s at Mt. Sinai in Egypt.Soon there were many monasteries throughout Egypt.
Monasticism’s Origins However, it was St. Benedict of Nursia who brought the practice of monastic life to the West. He established his monastery, the first in Europe’s history, in Italy, at Monte Cassino in 529 C.E.
Monasticism’s OriginsIt was St. Benedict’s sister, St. Scholastica, who founded the first convents for women, which gave women the opportunity of a monastic life.Women who lived in convents were called nuns.This came from the Latin word nonna, which means tutor.
Missionary Monks: Spreading FaithCatholic monks helped make the medieval world more orderly, in fact they provided the only source of European order after Rome’s fall.Risking their lives, monks set out to convert the pagan barbarians living throughout Europe to Christianity, a practice known as mission.
Missionary Monks: Spreading FaithFamous monks – who later became saints – that took Christianity to the pagan barbarian tribes of the ancient world included: St. Cyril, St. Methodius, St. Paul, and St. Barnabus in the East, St. Patrick and St. Donan in the West.
The Rule of St. Benedict Most significantly, St. Benedict contributed a book of rules, known as the Rule of St. Benedict, that is accepted as the way western monks should live to the present day. Its seventy-three chapters outline a life of “pax, ora et labora”, or “peace, prayer and work”.
The Rule of St. Benedict The Rule saw monastic life as a family. The abbot was seen as the father. The monks were brothers. Each day was divided into units of: Group prayer Private prayer Sleep Ritual reading Manual labor
Monastic Itinerary: The Horarium Monks living in monasteries followed a strict daily schedule that is rooted in the Rule of St. Benedict’s focus on work and prayer called a horarium. Prayer services took place frequently throughout the day and at night. Between these services there were times to sleep, eat and – most importantly – work.
The Monastic Church & CloisterAt the heart of every monastery or abbey lay the church that was used for communal prayer – both by the monks or the parishioners,Surrounding that was a walled- in space called a cloister that was used for individual meditation and prayer by the monks, as well as for work, as gardens were often planted there..
A Monk’s Avowed Existence In order to live within the monastic community, monks or nuns also had to make vows to adhere to certain codes. Monks vowed to observe: Poverty: they would own nothing. Obedience: they would follow the directions of their abbot. Out of obedience also came a commitment to chastity: avoiding sex. Many monks or nuns were also required to take a vow of silence.
The Monastic Meditative LifeMonks spent a good part of their lives in prayer – both public and private. Public prayer involved going to church 8 times a day– in addition to their work routine. Private prayer happened during work or in the few quiet moments a monk might enjoy during his day.
The Monastic Meditative Life At meals, monks ate silently, while listening to readings from the Rule of St. Benedict. This took place in the monastery’s communal dining hall, which is referred to as a refectory.
Laboring in The Lord’s NameWhen they were not engaged in prayer, monks worked at a wide range of activities.First and foremost, they farmed the land and made huge advances in agriculture during the medieval period.Monasteries sought to be self- sufficient, so the monks became proficient at producing vegetables, livestock, and wine.
Laboring in The Lord’s NameAdditionally, monks and nuns cared for the sick.Although medieval knowledge of disease and treatment were limited by modern standards, monks and nuns ran hospitals, which used knowledge of Roman and Greek medicine to treat the sick or dying.
Laboring in The Lord’s Name For use in treating illness, they cultivated medicinal herbs in cloister gardens. The knowledge of these herbs was gleaned from Classical texts. Examples of medicinal plants grown are: Coriander: Used to treat fever Anise: Used to reduce sweating Rosemary: Used to stimulate memory Yarrow: Used to treat headaches
Laboring in The Lord’s Name They preserved knowledge by copying books. Some say that monks actually saved civilization itself in Western Europe by preserving what little learning remained from the Classical world of ancient Greece and Rome. This took place in a space called a scriptorium, where monks copied out books by hand. The illustrated texts they produced are called illuminated manuscripts.
Laboring in The Lord’s Name They taught, drawing on their wealth of Classical knowledge. Young clergymen were taught the Bible and theology at their schools. The first European universities were run by monks and nuns. The first European university was Italy’s University of Bologna, founded around 1088 C.E.
Laboring in The Lord’s Name Some monks even fought. The Knights Templar were an order of fighting monks, dedicated to conquering and holding the Holy Land in Israel for Christianity, against the invading Ottoman Turks. These Crusaders also brought back knowledge of Eastern wisdom, like calculus and the architectural pointed arch.
Ecclesiastical Experimentation Because a monastery could rely on its fellow monasteries for support, it was possible for them to experiment. New farming techniques, equipment and products were the result, and that new knowledge was shared with other monasteries and convents.
Ecclesiastical Experimentation As previously mentioned, monks produced large quantities of wine, for sacramental and other uses. A French monk, named Dom Perignon, is credited with inventing Champagne. Champagne was created by accident when Dom Perignon added additional sugar to the bottle as the wine fermented.
Innovation: Crop RotationThe three-field system probably originated on a monastic farm.Land would be divided into thirds.One third would have one crop, another third a second, and the last third would be fallow.Over three years the crops and fallow land rotated.
Innovation: The Heavy Plow The combination of education, farming knowledge and shared risk helped to spark medieval invention. Nailed horseshoes and horse- collars made it possible to replace slow oxen with plow horses, capable of much more work. This made it possible for Europeans to avoid famine.
Medieval Monastic ExpansionMonasteries were very successful.As more people joined them, they established new abbeys that were connected to others of the same order.This allowed a sharing of resources, skills and information.
Monumental Monastic Architecture Medieval monastic orders, like the Benedictines, Augustinians, Cluniacs and Cistercians generated great wealth which they used to build impressive buildings to the glory of their God – cathedrals and abbeys that reached for Heaven itself.
The Dominant Monastic OrdersEventually, two orders came to dominate the Christian West: the Cluniacs and the Cistercians.Cluniacs were known for the opulence of their abbeys, while the Cistercians were known for eschewing that style entirely.
The Cluniac Monastic Order The Cluniacs built beautiful abbeys and decorated them with gorgeous stained glass and magnificent ornaments. It was one Cluniac, abbot, Abbot Suger, who is said to have invented the Gothic form of architecture when he renovated the Abbey of St. Denis in 1135 C.E. The Gothic style is defined by its use of stained glass and Eastern-inspired pointed arches..
The Cistercian Monastic OrderThe Cistercians resented the Cluniacs’ show of wealth and built grand, but unadorned abbeys.They believed that their austere lifestyle and extreme denial of Earthly pleasure put them in better touch with God.They dominated the wool trade of medieval Europe.
The Other Monastic Orders New monastic orders assumed new roles. In Britain alone, there were 11 groups operating. Augustinians Benedictines Carmelites Carthusians Cistercians Cluniacs Dominicans Franciscans Gilbertines Premonstratensians Tironensians All follow the Rule of St. Benedict.
Conclusions & ConsequencesMonasticism was a vital feature of medieval life. Monks preserved and extended knowledge. They provided what little social welfare was available. They created wealth and helped make the height of medieval civilization possible.