Monasticism in Medieval Europe

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Monasticism in Medieval Europe

By | October 2009
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Monasticism was one of the most important institutions of early medieval society. The reason for its appeal was it promised a transformative experience, religious commitment, and communal living. Following Christ did not require a solitary life or a monastic one however it was a response by its believers. The shaping effect it had on medieval notions of piety and devotion between the laity and the church was one of an ability to adapt and change according to situations within the secular community and the Orthodox Church. In the east the monastic life began in Egypt with a range of monastic communities that sprouted up across Europe. The life of a monk was a man's fulfillment of Christ's poverty and self-denial by removing themselves from temptations of the secular life. The first of such St. Anthony (d.356) lived his life as a hermit, in constant prayer and fast. He developed a reputation for holiness and gained a following of disciples. Because of St. Anthony’s “notoriety” and supporters, the once solitary hermit established a simple but permanent monastic community where he lived out his life. (Backman, 81). Villages in Western Europe relied heavily on the monks after the collapse of Roman urban society. The monasteries of the Roman empire became places of retreat and the secular clergy, entirely separate from the monastery, ran the church. As literally thousands of monasteries formed in the fourth century, it was found necessary to establish a set of rules. One of the earliest was the Rule of St. Pacomius (d.345) of Egypt. Monastic life under the Rule of St. Pacomius centered on physical labor, and intense scripture reading by rote. Nowhere in the Rule was there room for education or reading outside of the Bible. Monasticism appeared in the West in the late fourth century. St. Martin of Tours (d. 397) was a main proponent of training missionaries in the monastic life which led to its spread throughout the West. The triumph of...
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