Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Beginning of Christian Monasticism, Part I

I recently came across a paper I wrote some years back when I was in formation myself on the beginnings of Christian Monasticism.  Over the next few days I would like to share some of those thoughts with you...

Probably the single most important thread in the tapestry of both Eastern and Western monasticism is the idea of the common life, of living together in community.  Within every inspiration, of course, the common life had its own meaning.  For some, it may be a grouping of anchorites (hermits) who came together for liturgy, special feasts or conferences; for others, it was the common life:  coming together for prayer, liturgy, meals, reading and work.

In Western monasticism, the common life was found in looking to Martin of Tours, Honoratus, Cassian and Augustine.  While Martin and Honoratus' communities lived in a kind of "laura" or loosely know group of semi-anchorites, Cassian and Augustine's communities lived more or less in a cenobitic setting.

Although the common life is the single most important thread, there are others that help to enhance and add detail to the monastic life.  The desire to have a superior, someone who interprets the Gospel precepts, sets monastics apart.  To punctuate the day with special times for common prayer and other times for private prayer further define the monastery as the house of God.

Lectio divina is a furtherance of prayer.  As one passes through the various stages of reading the Word of God, meditating on the meaning of God's word, living the meaning and meeting God in prayer (from Sacred Reading, The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey), one truly has put God at the center of one's being.  The silence that envelops the community further enhances this encounter with the Divine.

Charity for one's brothers/sisters is another needed and necessary element of monastic life.  The great commandment of love is built upon this foundation.  Work, too, has a very central place in monastic life.  St. Paul wrote of the need to work -- the need to contribute to the common good of the community.  Common ownership and a life of simplicity flow from the desire to strip oneself of possessions so as to be more fully open to the Divine.

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