Monasticism

religious way of life

Monasticism (from Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, "alone") is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work.

Trappist monk praying in his cell

QuotesEdit

  • We value spiritual progress, which must include renunciation of self, and also an understanding of earthly conditions. The one who renounces everything earthly cannot be a fair judge of this, and similarly, the one completely involved in earthly concerns cannot rise above them sufficiently to observe fully. It is rare to find the person in whom these two attitudes are harmoniously reconciled. Most people see them as contradictory, because they do not know that spiritual advancement can be accomplished in ordinary life.
    Monasteries were established to help strengthen those who were weak in spirit. But those monks who were strong went out to spread their teaching far and wide. They could not remain long in their hermitage. Their spiritual vessels filled, they felt a need to return to the world. Thus, they not only brought spiritual help, but also themselves acquired a knowledge of life. This aspect is not usually understood, because people are unaware of the needed harmony between renunciation and acceptance of daily life. 523.
  • As Christianity spread, and the Church became more secularized, this realization of the costliness of grace gradually faded. The world was Christianized, and grace became its common property. It was to be had at low cost. Yet the Church of Rome did not altogether lose the earlier vision. It is highly significant that the Church was astute enough to find room for the monastic movement … Thus monasticism became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity and the cheapening of grace. … Monasticism was represented as an individual achievement which the mass of the laity could not be expected to emulate. By thus limiting the application of the commandments of Jesus to a restricted group of specialists, the Church evolved the fatal conception of the double standard.
    • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nachfolge (1937), translated as The Cost of Discipleship (1959), pp. 46-47
  • Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to attending such shows as dancing, singing, music, displays, recitations, hand-music, cymbals and drums, fairy-shows, acrobatic and conjuring tricks, combats of elephants, buffaloes, bulls, goats, rams, cocks and quail, fighting with staves, boxing, wrestling, sham-fights, parades, manoeuvres and military reviews, the ascetic Gotama refrains from attending such displays.
  • Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to such unedifying conversation as about kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, wars, food, drink, clothes, beds, garlands, perfumes, relatives, carriages, villages, towns and cities, countries, women, heroes, street- and well-gossip, talk of the departed, desultory chat, speculations about land and sea, talk about being and non-being, the ascetic Gotama refrains from such conversation.
  • If he goes forth from the household life into homelessness, then he will become an Arahant, a fully-enlightened Buddha, one who draws back the veil from the world.
  • At another time St. Anthony disclosed to his disciples that because of the lessening of zeal, monasticism will become weakened and its glory will grow dim. Some of his disciples seeing a great number of monks in the desert, adorned with many virtues and zealously advising the emulation of the holy life in a hermitage, asked St. Anthony, 'Father, how long will this zeal and fervor last, and this love for seclusion, poverty, humility, abstinence, and all other virtues for which this multitude of monks are so assiduously striving?' The man of god answered with sighs and tears: 'The time is coming, my beloved children, when the monks will leave the deserts and will begin to flow into rich cities, where, instead of these desert caves and narrow cells, they will erect proud structures that could vie with the palaces of kings; together with this will grow love for the accumulation of riches; humility will be replaced by pride; many of them will take pride in their knowledge but an empty one, alien to good deeds, which alone accompany true knowledge; love will grow cold; instead of abstinence gluttony will increase, and many of them will care for sumptuous foods no less than the laymen, from whom monks will no longer differ either in garb or in headgear; and although they will live a worldly life, they will call themselves hermits.
  • Besides, they will call themselves by patronymic names, stating, ' I am of Paul; and I of Apollos.' (I Corinthians 1:12), as if the power of their monasticism were in the merit of their forefathers; they will glorify themselves through their fathers, just as the Jews do through their father Abraham. But there will also be those who will be much better and more perfect than we, for he is blessed who could transgress and did not, could do evil and did not, rather than he who is attracted to the good by the multitude of zealots aspiring toward it. This is why Noah, Abraham, and Lot, who led such exemplary lives amidst evil people, are so justly glorified in the Scriptures.
  • Somewhere in the desert at the back of Alexandria there was once a monastery whose abbot possessed the power of clairvoyance. Among his monks there were two young men who had an especial reputation for purity and holiness... One day when they were singing in the choir it occurred to the abbot to turn his clairvoyant faculty upon these two young men, in the endeavour to discover how they contrived to preserve this especial purity amidst the temptations of daily life. So he looked at the first young man and saw that he had surrounded himself with a shell as of glittering crystal, and that when the tempting demons (impure thought-forms we should call them) came rushing at him, they struck against this shell, and fell back without injuring him, so that he remained inside his shell, calm and cold and pure. Then the abbot looked at the second young monk, and he saw that he had built no shell round himself, but that his heart was so full of the love of God that it was perpetually radiating- from him in all directions in the shape of torrents of love for his fellowmen, so that when the attempting- demons sprang at him with foul intent they were all washed away in that mighty outpouring stream, and so he also remained pure and undefiled... the abbot said that the second monk was nearer to the kingdom of heaven than the first. p. 477
  • What has been spoilt through the abuse of the church: … the “monastery”: temporary isolation … a kind of deepest concentration on oneself and self-recovery—to avoid not “temptations” but “obligations” … away from the tyranny of stimuli and influences that condemns us to spend our strength in reactions, and does not permit us any more to let it accumulate to the point of spontaneous activity. (One should observe our scholars closely: they have reached the point where they think only “reactively,” i.e. they must read before they can think.)
  • Academe needs deprofessionalization and deyuppification. It has to recover its clerical or spiritual roots. Scholarship is an ideal and a calling, not merely a trade or living. Every year at commencement, we put on medieval robes that connect us to a great monastic past.
    • Camille Paglia, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf,” Arion, Third Series, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring, 1991)
  • The Inquisition was established not just for the persecution of pitiful witches and sorcerers (mostly mediums), but for the annihilation of all the differently minded people, and all personal enemies of the representatives of the church, the latter having decided to obtain absolute power. First of all, among the so-called enemies of the church were the most enlightened minds, those who were working for the General Welfare, and the true followers of the Testaments of Christ. Indeed, the easiest way to destroy the enemy was by accusing him of being in league with the devil. This devilish psychology the so-called "Guardians of the purity of Christian Principles" attempted to instill into the consciousness of the masses in every possible way. Small wonder that in those days the visions of the nuns and monks had the stamp of the Satanic influence, as they were full of devilish images and all sorts of ugly temptations.
  • Once, Saint Francis of Assisi said to a young monk, 'Brother, let us go and preach in the city.' And so they left the monastery, and, talking of lofty subjects, they passed through the whole city and returned to the monastery. The young monk asked in amazement, 'Father, and when shall we preach?' And Saint Francis replied, 'Brother, did you not notice that we were preaching all the time? We walked with dignity, we discussed most lofty subjects, the passers-by looked at us and received peace and comfort. Indeed, preaching does not consist of words alone, but also of behavior itself.'"
  • Luther understands monasticism as a product of an egoistic lovelessness that withdraws from one's duties in the world. By contrast, this-worldly work in a vocation appears to him to be a visible expression of brotherly love, a notion he anchors in a highly unrealistic manner indeed and in contrast—almost grotesquely—to the well-known passages of Adam Smith.
"Passages of Adam Smith" refers to Smith's well known characterization of the motives of vocational work, e.g.:
  • It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
  • The Wealth of Nations (1776), Part I

See alsoEdit

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