On our Europe trip we learned about a number of monks who have had a vast influence on Christian spirituality. Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila and others. These men and women are spiritual giants who were driven to the monastic life in order to pursue God.

We tend to think of the monastic life today as something for crazy zealots, not for people like you and I. Although, in our postmodern age anything old and weird does have a certain “cool” factor attached to it so people are beginning to revive interest in monasticism somewhat.

In any case, monasticism centres around a threefold vow: poverty, chastity and obedience. These are the monastic response to the age-old challenges to Christian spirituality: money, sex and power. There’s probably a maximum of one degree of separation between any problem in the world or ourselves and these three things. None of them are bad in and of themselves, but somehow the human condition easily falls prey to the seduction and perversion of these three things.

Now, I do believe that the monks lacked subtletly in shunning these things altogether and forfeited learning the proper use of all three to those in the world who were sure to abuse them. But that’s another topic altogether. What I do want to focus on is how to connect their ideas to today. Things obviously haven’t changed that much as you see this trinity at the centre of all that’s wrong with N.American culture.

As for me, I want to learn how to deal well with all three of these things, but the thing that’s sticking out the most right now is power. Christians have an abominable history of dealing well with power, and I saw all kinds of examples of this in Europe where church and state have been one for much of its history. The church has never had nearly as prominent a role in statescraft here in N.America as it had in Europe, but the question remains: how do we deal with power? How can we learn from Jesus to rightly handle the power that we are entrusted with and how can we avoid the trap of its subtle corrupting influence?

3 responses to “Monasticism”

  1. I would love to understand better how power is being abused around the world; global focus and all that.

    Ah, a good use for short-term mission I think!

  2. and remember the distintcion between the eastern monastic movement and the western one.. from George Hunter III..

    What was the difference between Eastern monasteries and Celtic monastic communities? Briefly, the Eastern monasteries organized to protest and escape from the materialism of the Roman world and the corruption of the Church; the Celtic monasteries organized to penetrate the pagan world and to extend the Church. The eastern monks often withdrew from the world into monasteries to save and cultivate their own souls; Celtic leaders often organized monastic communities to save other people’s souls. The leaders of the Eastern monasteries located their monasteries in isolated locations, off the beaten track; the Celtic Christians built their monastic communities in locations accessible to the traffic of the time, like proximity to settlements, or on hilltops, or on islands near the established sea lanes..

  3. Hey Len

    Thanks for the addition there. We actually learned a bunch about Celtic Christianity while we were in Cornwall and I usually forget to consider them monastics precisely because they were so engaged with culture. They have so much to teach us about cultural engagement!

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