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The Extension Of Monasticism Thr

Asceticism arose within the Christian Church partly as the practical
expression of the conviction of the worthlessness of things transitory and
partly as a reaction against the moral laxity of the times. As this laxity
could not be kept entirely out of the Church, and Christians everywhere
were exposed to it, those who sought the higher life felt the necessity of
retirement. From the life of the isolated hermit, asceticism advanced
naturally to the community type of the ascetic life. There were
forerunners in non-Christian religions of the solitary ascetic and the
cenobite in Egypt, Palestine, India, and elsewhere, but all the essentials
of Christian monasticism can be adequately explained without employing the
theory of borrowing or imitation. For the principal points of development,
v. 53, 78, 104. When monasticism had once made itself a strong factor
in the Christian religious life of Egypt, it was quickly taken up by other
parts of the Church as it satisfied a widely felt want. In Asia Minor
Basil of Caesarea was the great promoter and organizer of the ascetic life;
and his rule still obtains throughout the East. In the West Athanasius
appears to have introduced monastic ideas during his early exiles. Ambrose
was a patron of the movement. Martin of Tours, Severinus, and John Cassian
did much to extend it in Gaul. Augustine organized his clergy according to
a monastic rule which ultimately played a large part in later monasticism.

(a) Palladius, Historia Lausiaca, ch. 38. (MSG, 34:1099.)

The Rule of Pachomius.

Palladius, the author of the history of monasticism, known as the
Historia Lausiaca, was an Origenist, pupil of Evagrius Ponticus,
and later bishop in Asia Minor. He is not to be confused with
Palladius of Helenopolis, who lived about the same time, in the
first part of the fifth century. The work of Palladius receives
its name from the fact that it is dedicated to a high official,
Lausus by name. Palladius made a careful study of monasticism,
travelling extensively in making researches for his work. He also
used what written material was available. It is probable that the
text is largely interpolated, but on the whole it is a trustworthy
account of the early monasticism. It was written about A. D. 420,
and the following account of Pachomius should be compared with
that of Sozomenus, Hist. Ec., III, 14, written some years later.
Text in Kirch, nn. 712 ff.

There is a place in the Thebaid called Tabenna, in which lived a certain
monk Pachomius, one of those men who have attained the highest form of
life, so that he was granted predictions of the future and angelic
visions. He was a great lover of the poor, and had great love to men.
When, therefore, he was sitting in a cave an angel of the Lord came in and
appeared to him and said: Pachomius you have done well those things which
pertain to your own affairs; therefore sit no longer idle in this cave.
Up, therefore, go forth and gather all the younger monks and dwell with
them and give them laws according to the form which I give thee. And he
gave him a brass tablet on which the following things were written:

1. Give to each to eat and drink according to his strength; and give
labors according to the powers of those eating, and forbid neither fasting
nor eating. Thus appoint difficult labors to the stronger and those who
eat, but the lighter and easy tasks to those who discipline themselves
more and are weaker.

2. Make separate cells in the same place; and let three remain in a cell.
But let the food of all be prepared in one house.

3. They may not sleep lying down, but having made seats built inclining
backward let them place their bedding on them and sleep seated.

4. But by night let them wear linen tunics, being girded about. Let each
of them have a shaggy goatskin, made white. Without this let them neither
eat nor sleep. When they go in unto the communion of the mysteries of
Christ every Sabbath and Lord's Day, let them loose their girdles and put
off the goatskin, and enter with only their cuculla [cf. DCA]. But he
made the cuculla for them without any fleece, as for boys; and he
commanded to place upon them certain branding marks of a purple cross.

5. He commanded that there be twenty-four groups of the brethren,
according to the number of the twenty-four letters. And he prescribed that
to each group should be given as a name a letter of the Greek alphabet,
from Alpha and Beta, one after another, to Omega, in order that when the
archimandrite asked for any one in so great a company, that one may be
asked who is the second in each, how group Alpha is, or how the group
Beta; again let him salute the group Rho; the name of the letters
following its own proper sign. And upon the simpler and more guileless
place the name Iota; and upon those who are more ill-tempered and less
righteous the letter Xi. And thus in harmony with the principles and the
life and manners of them arrange the names of the letters, only the
spiritual understanding the meaning.

6. There was written on the tablet that if there come a stranger of
another monastery, having a different form of life, he shall not eat nor
drink with them, nor go in with them into the monastery, unless he shall
be found in the way outside of the monastery.

7. But do not receive for three years into the contest of proficients him
who has entered once for all to remain with them; but when he has
performed the more difficult tasks, then let him after a period of three
years enter the stadium.

8. When they eat let them veil their faces, that one brother may not see
another brother eating. They are not to speak while they eat; nor outside
of their dish or off the table shall they turn their eyes toward anything

9. And he made it a rule that during the whole day they should offer
twelve prayers; and at the time of lighting the lamps, twelve; and in the
course of the night, twelve; and at the ninth hour, three; but when it
seemed good for the whole company to eat, he directed that each group
should first sing a psalm at each prayer.

But when the great Pachomius replied to the angel that the prayers were
few, the angel said to him: I have appointed these that the little ones
may advance and fulfil the law and not be distressed; but the perfect do
not need to have laws given to them. For being by themselves in their
cells, they have dedicated their entire life to contemplation on God. But
to these, as many as do not have an intelligent mind, I will give a law
that as saucy servants out of fear for the Master they may fulfil the
whole order of life and direct it properly. When the angel had given these
directions and fulfilled his ministry he departed from the great
Pachomius. There are monasteries observing this rule, composed of seven
thousand men, but the first and great monastery, wherein the blessed
Pachomius dwelt, and which gave birth to the other places of asceticism,
has one thousand three hundred men.

(b) Basil the Great, Regula fusius tractata, Questio 7. (MSG, 31:927.)

The Rule of St. Basil is composed in the form of question and
answer, and in place of setting down a simple, clearly stated law,
with perhaps some little exhortation, goes into much detailed
argument, even in the briefer Rule. In the following passage Basil
points out the advantages of the cenobitic life over the solitary
or hermit life. It is condensed as indicated.

Questio VII. Since your words have given us full assurance that the life
[i.e., the cenobitic life] is dangerous with those who despise the
commandments of the Lord, we wish accordingly to learn whether it is
necessary that he who withdraws should remain alone or live with brothers
of like mind who have placed before themselves the same goal of piety.

Responsio 1. I think that the life of several in the same place is much
more profitable. First, because for bodily wants no one of us is
sufficient for himself, but we need each other in providing what is
necessary. For just as the foot has one ability, but is wanting another,
and without the help of the other members it would find neither its own
power strong nor sufficient of itself to continue, nor any supply for what
it lacks, so it is in the case of the solitary life: what is of use to us
and what is wanting we cannot provide for ourselves, for God who created
the world has so ordered all things that we are dependent upon each other,
as it is written that we may join ourselves to one another [cf. Wis.
13:20]. But in addition to this, reverence to the love of Christ does not
permit each one to have regard only to his own affairs, for love, he says,
seeks not her own [I Cor. 13:5]. The solitary life has only one goal, the
service of its own interests. That clearly is opposed to the law of love,
which the Apostle fulfilled, when he did not in his eyes seek his own
advantage but the advantage of many, that they might be saved [cf. I
Cor. 10:33]. Further, no one in solitude recognizes his own defects, since
he has no one to correct him and in gentleness and mercy direct him on his
way. For even if correction is from an enemy, it may often in the case of
those who are well disposed rouse the desire for healing; but the healing
of sin by him who sincerely loves is wisely accomplished. Also the
commands may be better fulfilled by a larger community, but not by one
alone; for while this thing is being done another will be neglected; for
example, by attendance upon the sick the reception of strangers is
neglected; and in the bestowal and distribution of the necessities of life
(especially when in these services much time is consumed) the care of the
work is neglected, so that by this the greatest commandment and the one
most helpful to salvation is neglected; neither the hungry are fed nor the
naked clothed. Who would therefore value higher the idle, useless life
than the fruitful which fulfils the commandments of God?

3. Also in the preservation of the gifts bestowed by God the cenobitic
life is preferable. For him who falls into sin, the recovery of the right
path is so much easier, for he is ashamed at the blame expressed by so
many in common, so that it happens to him as it is written: It is enough
that the same therefore be punished by many [II Cor. 2:6]. There are
still other dangers which we say accompany the solitary life, the first
and greatest is that of self-satisfaction. For he who has no one to test
his work easily believes that he has completely fulfilled the

4. For how shall he manifest his humility, when he has no one to whom he
can show himself the inferior? How shall he manifest compassion, cut off
from the society of many? How will he exercise himself in patience, if no
one opposes his wishes?

(c) Council of Chalcedon, A. D. 451, Canon 4. Bruns, I, 26.

The subjection of the monastery and the monks to the bishop.

Asceticism of the solitary life was apart from the organization of
the Church; when this form of life had developed in cenobitism it
still remained for a time, at least, outside the ecclesiastical
organization. Athanasius, who was a patron of the monastic life
and often found support and refuge among the monks, did much to
bring Egyptian monasticism back to the Church, and in the fifth
century monks became a great power in ecclesiastical affairs,
cf. the Origenistic controversy, v. infra, 88. Basil, at
once archbishop of Caesarea and leading exponent of monastic ideas,
brought the two to some extent together. But always the episcopal
control was only with difficulty brought to bear on the monastic
life, and in the West this opposition of the two religious forces
ultimately became embodied in the principle of monastic exemption.
The Council of Chalcedon, in 451, aimed to correct the early abuse
by placing the monasteries under the control of the bishop.

They who lead a true and worthy monastic life shall enjoy the honor that
belongs to them. But since there are some who assume the monastic
condition only as a pretence, and will upset the ecclesiastical and civil
regulations and affairs, and run about without distinction in the cities
and want to found cloisters for themselves, the synod therefore has
decreed that no one shall build a cloister or house of prayer or erect
anywhere without the consent of the bishop of the city; and further, that
also the monks of every district and city shall be subject to the bishop,
that they shall love peace and quiet and observe the fasts and prayers in
the places where they are assigned continually; that they shall not cumber
themselves with ecclesiastical and secular business and shall not take
part in such; they shall not leave their cloisters except when in cases of
necessity they may be commissioned by the bishop of the city with such;
that no slave shall be admitted into the cloister in order to become a
monk without the permission of his master. Whoever violates this our order
shall be excommunicated, that the name of God be not blasphemed. The
bishop of the city must keep a careful oversight of the cloisters.

(d) Jerome, Epistula 127, ad Principiam. (MSL, 22:1087.)

The introduction of monasticism into the West during the Arian

5. At that time no high-born lady at Rome knew of the profession of the
monastic life, neither would she have dared, on account of the novelty,
publicly to assume a name that was regarded as ignominious and vile. It
was from some priests of Alexandria and from Pope Athanasius(155) and
subsequently from Peter,(156) who, to escape the persecution of the Arian
heretics, had fled for refuge to Rome as the safest haven of their
communion--it was from these that she [Marcella] learned of the life of the
blessed Anthony, then still living, and of the monasteries in the Thebaid,
founded by Pachomius, and of the discipline of virgins and widows. Nor was
she ashamed to profess what she knew was pleasing to Christ. Many years
after her example was followed first by Sophronia and then by others. The
revered Paula enjoyed Marcella's friendship, and it was in her cell that
Eustochium, that ornament of virginity, was trained.

(e) Augustine, Confessiones, VIII, ch. 6. (MSL, 32:755.)

The extension of monasticism in the West.

Upon a certain day there came to the house to see Alypius and me,
Pontitianus, a countryman of ours, in so far as he was an African, who
held high office in the Emperor's court. What he wanted with us I know
not. We sat down to talk together, and upon the table before us, used for
games, he noticed by chance a book; he took it up, opened it, and,
contrary to his expectations, found it to be the Apostle Paul, for he
imagined it to be one of those books the teaching of which was wearing me
out. At this he looked up at me smilingly, and expressed his delight and
wonder that he so unexpectedly found this book, and this only, before my
eyes. For he was both a Christian and baptized, and in constant and daily
prayers he often prostrated himself before Thee our God in the Church.
When, then, I had told him that I bestowed much pains upon these writings,
a conversation ensued on his speaking of Anthony, the Egyptian monk, whose
name was in high repute among Thy servants, though up to that time
unfamiliar to us. When he came to know this he lingered on that topic,
imparting to us who were ignorant a knowledge of this man so eminent, and
marvelling at our ignorance. But we were amazed, hearing Thy wonderful
works most fully manifested in times so recent, and almost in our own,
wrought in the true faith and the Catholic Church. We all wondered--we that
they were so great, and he that we had never heard of them.

From this his conversation turned to the companies in the monasteries, and
their manners so fragrant unto Thee, and of the fruitful deserts of the
wilderness, of which we knew nothing. And there was a monastery at Milan
full of good brethren, without the walls of the city, under the care of
Ambrose, and we were ignorant of it. He went on with his relation, and we
listened intently and in silence. He then related to us how on a certain
afternoon, at Treves, when the Emperor was taken up with seeing the
Circensian games, he and three others, his comrades, went out for a walk
in the gardens close to the city walls, and there, as they chanced to walk
two and two, one strolled away with him, while the other two went by
themselves; and these in their ramblings came upon a certain cottage where
dwelt some of Thy servants, "poor in spirit," of whom "is the kingdom of
heaven," and they found there a book in which was written the life of
Anthony. This one of them began to read, marvel at, and be inflamed by it;
and in the reading to meditate on embracing such a life, and giving up his
worldly employments to serve Thee. Then Pontitianus, and he that had
walked with him through other parts of the garden, came in search of them
to the same place, and, having found them, advised them to return as the
day had declined. But the other two, setting their affections upon
heavenly things, remained in the cottage. And both of them had affianced
brides who also, when they heard of this, dedicated their virginity to

(f) Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin of Tours, ch. 10. (MSL,

Monasticism in Gaul.

St. Martin, bishop of Tours, was born 316, became bishop of Tours
in 371, and died 396. He was the most considerable figure in the
Church life of Gaul at that time. Sulpicius Severus was his
disciple and enthusiastic biographer. For John Cassian and his
works on monasticism, see PNF, ser. II, vol. XI.

And now having entered upon the episcopal office, it is beyond my power to
set forth how well and how much he [Martin] performed. For he remained
with the utmost constancy the same as he had been before. In his heart
there was the same humility and in his garments the same simplicity; and
so full of dignity and courtesy, he maintained the dignity of a bishop,
yet so as not to lay aside the objects and virtues of a monk. Accordingly
he made use for some time of the cell connected with the church; but
afterward, when he felt it impossible to tolerate the disturbance of the
numbers of those visiting it, he established a monastery for himself about
two miles outside the city. This spot was so secret and retired that he
did not desire the solitude of a hermit. For, on one side, it was
surrounded by a precipitous rock of a lofty mountain; while the river
Loire has shut in the rest of the plain by a bend extending back for a
distance. The place could be approached by only one passage, and that very
narrow. Here, then, he possessed a cell constructed of wood; many also of
the brethren had, in the same manner, fashioned retreats for themselves,
but most of them had formed these out of the rock of the overhanging
mountain, hollowed out into caves. There were altogether eighty disciples,
who were being disciplined after the example of the saintly master. No one
there had anything which was called his own; all things were possessed in
common. It was not allowed either to buy or sell anything, as is the
custom amongst most monks. No art was practised there except that of
transcribers, and even to this the more youthful were assigned, while the
elders spent their time in prayer. Rarely did any of them go beyond the
cell unless when they assembled at the place of prayer. They all took
their food together after the hour of fasting was past. No one used wine
except when illness compelled him. Most of them were dressed in garments
of camel's hair. Any dress approaching softness was there deemed criminal,
and this must be thought the more remarkable because many among them were
such as are deemed of noble rank, who though very differently brought up
had forced themselves down to this degree of humility and patience, and we
have seen many of these afterward as bishops. For what city or church
could there be that would not desire to have its priest from the monastery
of Martin?

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