21362051911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — MonasticismEdward Cuthbert Butler

MONASTICISM (Gr. μοναστικός, living alone, μόνος), a system of living which owes its origin to those tendencies of the human soul which are summed up in the terms “asceticism” and “mysticism.” Mysticism may broadly be described as the effort to give effect to the craving for a union of the soul with the Deity already in this life; and asceticism as the effort to give effect to the hankering after an ever-progressive purification of the soul and an atoning for sin by renunciation and self-denial in things lawful. These two tendencies may well be said to be general instincts of humanity; because, though not always called into activity, they are always liable to be evoked, and in all ages and among all races they frequently have asserted themselves. (See Asceticism and Mysticism.) Indeed the history of religion shows that they are among the most deep-rooted and widespread instincts of the human soul; and monasticism is the attempt to develop and regulate their exercise. Thus monasticism is not a creation of Christianity; it is much older, and before the Christian era a highly organized monasticism existed in India. (See the articles on Brahmanism; Buddhism; and Lhasa.)

1. Pre-Christian Monasticism.—Greek asceticism and mysticism seem never to have produced a monastic system; but among the Jews, both in Judaea and in Alexandria, this development took place. In Judaea the Essenes before the time of Christ lived a fully organized monastic life (see Schürer, Jewish People, ii. § 30); and the same is true in regard to the Therapeutae in the neighbourhood of Alexandria (the authenticity of Philo's De Vita contemplativa, which describes their manner of life, is again recognized by scholars).

A general sketch of pre-Christian asceticism and monasticism, with indication of the chief authorities, is given in O. Zöckler's Askese und Mönchtum (1897), pp. 32–135. This account is epitomized by J. O. Hannay, Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903), app. i: the view now common among scholars is there maintained, that these pre-Christian realizations of the monastic idea had little, and indeed no, influence on the rise and development of Christian monasticism.

2. Beginnings of Christian Monasticism.—The practice of asceticism asserted itself at an early date in Christian life: men and women abstained from marriage, from flesh meat, from the use of intoxicating drink, and devoted themselves to prayer, religious exercises and works of charity (S. Schiwietz, Das morgenländische Mönchtum, 1904, pt. i.; J. O. Hannay, op. cit. chs. 2, 3). This they did in their homes, without withdrawing from their families or avocations. In time, however, the tendency to withdraw from society and give oneself up wholly to the practice of religious and ascetical exercises set in; and at any rate in Egypt, at the middle of the 3rd century, it was the custom for such ascetics to live in solitary retirement in the neighbourhood of the towns and villages. This was the manner of life which St Anthony (q.v.) began to lead, c. 270; but after fifteen years he withdrew to a deserted fort on the east bank of the Nile, opposite the Fayum. Here he enclosed himself and led a life cut off from all intercourse with man. There are reasons for doubting that Anthony was the first Christian hermit: probably there is some historical foundation for the tradition that one of those who fled to the desert in the Decian persecution continued to dwell in a cave by the shore of the Red Sea, unknown to men, till visited by St Anthony long years afterwards (see E. C. Butler, Lausiac History of Palladius, 1898, pt. i. p. 230). But this was a single case which does not affect the fixed tradition of monastic Egypt in the 4th century that Anthony was the father of Christian monachism.

During twenty years Anthony lived a life of seclusion, never coming forth from his fort, never seeing the face of man. But his fame went abroad and a number of would-be disciples came and took up their abode in the caves and among the rocks that surrounded his retreat, and called on him to guide them in the path of life they had chosen. In response to these appeals Anthony came forth and set himself to organize the life of the multitude of ascetics that had grown up around him. This act, which took place in the first years of the 4th century, must be regarded as the inauguration of Christian monachism.

3. St Anthony's Monachism.—The form of monastic life directly derived from St Anthony was the type that prevailed in middle and northern Egypt up to the middle of the 5th century. The chief authorities for the study of this type of monastic life are the Vita Antonii (probably by Athanasius), the Historia monachorum (ed. E. Preuschen), the Historia lausiaca of Palladius (ed. E. C. Butler)—these works are to be found in Latin in Rosweyd's Vitae Patrum (Migne, Patrol Lat. LXXIII., LXXIV.)—and the writings of Cassian (English translation by Gibson in “Nicene and Post-Nicene Library”). A generation ago all this literature was in disrepute; but it has been revindicated, and its substantially historical character is now recognized on all hands (see E. C. Butler, op. cit. pt. ii. § 1).

Antonian monachism grew out of the purely eremitical life, and it retained many of the characteristic features inherited from its origin. The party of travellers whose journey in 394 is narrated in the Historia monachorum found at the chief towns along the Nile from Lycopolis (Assiut or Siut) to Alexandria, and in the deserts that fringed the river, monastic habitations, sometimes of hermits, sometimes of several monks living together but rather the life of hermits than of cenobites. It is at the great monastic settlements of Nitria and Scete that we are best able to study this kind of Egyptian monasticism. Here in one portion of the desert, named Cellia, the monks lived a purely eremitical life; but in Nitria (the Wadi Natron) they lived either alone, or two or three together, or in communities, as they preferred. The system was largely voluntary; there was no organized community life, no living according to rule, as it is now understood. In short the life continued to be semieremitical. (See Butler, op. cit. pt. i. p. 233; Hannay, op. cit. chs. 4, 5; Schiwietz, op. cit. pt. ii. §§ 1–11.)

4. St Pachomius's Monachism.—Very different was the type of monastic life that prevailed in the more southerly parts of Egypt. Here, at Tabennisi near Dendera, about 315–320, St Pachomius (q.v.) established the first Christian cenobium, or monastery properly so called. (On St Pachomius and his monastic institute see P. Ladeuze, Cénobitisme Pakhomien (1898); Schiwietz, op. cit. pt. ii. §§ 12–16; E. C. Butler, op. cit. pt. i. p. 234, pt. ii. notes 48, 49, 54, 59). Before his death in 346 Pachomius had established nine monasteries of men and one of women, and after his death other foundations continued to be made in all parts of Egypt, but especially in the south, and in Abyssinia. Palladius tells us that c. 410 the Pachomian or Tabennesiot monks numbered some seven thousand. The life was fully cenobitical, regulated in all details by minute rules, and with prayer and meals in common. As contrasted with the Antonian ideal, the special feature was the highly organized system of work, whereby the monastery was a sort of agricultural and industrial colony. The work was an integral part of the life, and was undertaken for its own sake and not merely for an occupation, as among the Antonian monks. This marks a distinctly new departure in the monastic ideal.

In another respect too St Pachomius broke new ground: not only did he inaugurate Christian cenobitical life, but he also created the first “Religious Order.” The abbot of the head monastery was the superior-general of the whole institute; he nominated the superiors of the other monasteries; he was visitor and held periodical visitations at all of them; he exercised universal supervision, control and authority; and every year a general chapter was held at the head house. This is a curious anticipation of the highly organized and centralized forms of government in religious orders, not met with again till Cluny, Citeaux, and the Mendicant orders in the later middle ages.

A passing reference should be made to the Coptic abbot Shenout, who governed on similar lines the great “White Monastery,” whereof the ruins still survive near Akhmim; the main interest of Shenout’s institute lies in the fact that it continued purely Coptic, without any infiltration of Greek ideas or influence. (See J. Leipoldt, Schenute von Atripe, 1903.)

Egyptian monachism began to wane towards the end of the 5th century, and since the Mahommedan occupation it has ever been declining. Accounts of its present condition may be found in R. Curzon’s Monasteries of the Levant (1837), or in A. J. Butler’s Ancient Coptic Churches (1884). Hardly half a dozen monasteries survive, inhabited by small and ever dwindling communities.

5. Oriental Monachism.—The monastic institute was imported early in the 4th century from Egypt into Syria and the Oriental lands. Here it had a great vogue, and under the influence of the innate Asiatic love of asceticism it tended to assume the form of strange austerities, of a kind not found in Egyptian monachism in its best period. The most celebrated was the life of the Stylites or pillar hermits (see Simeon Stylites). Monastic life here tended to revert to the eremitical form, and to this day Syrian and Armenian monks are to be found dwelling in caverns and desert places, and given up wholly to the practice of austerity and contemplation (see E. C. Butler, Lausiac History of Palladius, pt. i. p. 239, where the chief authorities are indicated). Before the close of the 4th century monachism spread into Persia, Babylonia and Arabia.

6. Basilian and Greek Monachism.—Though Eustathius of Sebaste was the first to introduce the monastic life within the confines of what may be called Greek Christianity in Asia Minor (c. 340), it was St Basil who adapted it to Greek and European ideas and needs. His monastic legislation is explained and the history of his institute sketched in the article Basilian Monks. Here it will suffice to say that he followed the Pachomian rather than the Antonian model, setting himself definitely against the practice of the eremitical life and of excessive asceticism, and inculcating the necessity and superiority of labour. The lines laid down by St Basil have continued ever since to be the lines in which Greek and Slavonic monasticism has rested, the new multitudinous modifications of the monastic ideal, developed in such abundance in the Latin Church, having no counterpart in the Greek. But the element of Work has decreased, and Greek and Slavonic monks give themselves up for the most part to devotional contemplation.

7. Early Western Monachism.—The knowledge of the monastic life was carried to western Europe by St Athanasius, who in 340 went to Rome accompanied by two monks. The Vita Antonii was at an early date translated into Latin and propagated in the West, and the practice of monastic asceticism after the Egyptian model became common in Rome and throughout Italy, and before long spread to Gaul and to northern Africa. A résumé of the chief facts will be found in E. C. Butler, op. cit. pt. i. p. 245; see also Hannay, op. cit. ch. 7. The monastic ideals prevalent were those of the Antonian monarchism, with its hankering after the eremitical life and the practice of extreme bodily austerities. But climatic conditions and racial temperament rendered the Oriental manner of monasticism unattainable, as a rule, in the West. Hence it came to pass that by the end of the 5th century the monastic institute in western Europe, and especially in Italy, was in a disorganized condition, sinking under the weight of traditions inherited from the East. It was St Benedict who effected a permanently working adaptation of the monastic ideal and life to the requirements and conditions of the western races.

8. St Benedict’s Monachism.—St Benedict (c. 500) effected his purpose by a twofold break with the past: he eliminated from the idea of the monastic life the element of Oriental asceticism and extreme bodily austerity; and he put down the tendency, so marked in Egypt and the East, for the monks to vie with one another in ascetical practices, commanding all to live according to the rule. The life was to be self-denying and hard, but not one of any great austerity (for details see Benedict of Nursia; and E. C. Butler, op. cit. pt. i. pp. 237 and 251). The individual monk was sunk in the community, whose corporate life he had to live. St Benedict’s rule was a new creation in monastic history; and as it rapidly supplanted all other monastic rules in western Europe, and was for several centuries the only form of monasticism in Latin Christianity (outside of Ireland), it is necessary to speak in some little detail of its spirit and inner character.[1] It has to be emphasized at the outset that the monasteries in which the Benedictine rule was the basis of the life did not form a body or group apart within the great “monastic order,” which embraced all monasteries of whatever rule; nor had Benedictine monks any special work or object beyond that common to all monks—viz. the sanctifying of their souls by living a community life in accordance with the Gospel counsels. St Benedict defines his monastery as “a school of the service of the lord” (Reg., Prol.). The great act of service is the public common celebration of the canonical office, the “work of God” he calls it, to which “nothing is to be preferred” (Reg. c. 43). The rest of the day is filled up with a round of work and reading. Work, and in St Benedict’s time it was predominantly field work, took an even more recognized and integral place in the life than was the case under St Pachomius or St Basil, occupying notably more time than the church services. St Benedict introduced too into the monastic life the idea of law and order, of rule binding on the abbot no less than on the monks; thus he reduced almost to a vanishing point the element of arbitrariness, or mere dependence on the abbot’s will and whim, found in the earlier rules. Lastly, he introduced the idea of stability, whereby monk and community were bound to each other for life, the normal thing for the Benedictine being to live and die in the monastery of his profession: thus the power hitherto enjoyed by monks, of wandering from monastery to monastery, was cut away, and the Benedictine community was made into a family whose members were bound to one another by bonds that could not be severed at will.

9. Western Monachism in the Early Middle Ages.—It is easy to understand that a form of monastic life thus emptied of distinctively Oriental features and adapted to the needs of the West by a great religious genius like St Benedict, should soon have distanced all competitors and have become the only monastic rule in western Europe. The steps in the propagation of the Benedictine rule are traced in the article Benedictines. The only serious rival was the Irish rule of Columban; and here it will be in place to say a word on Irish monasticism, which, in its birthplace, stood aloof to the end from the general movement. The beginnings of Celtic monachism are obscure, but it seems to have been closely connected with the tribal system.[2] When, however, Irish monachism emerges into the full light of history, it was in its manifestations closely akin to the Egyptian, or even to the Syrian type: there was the same love of the eremitical life, the same craving after bodily austerities of an extraordinary kind, the same individualistic piety. The Irish monks were great missioners in the north of England and the northern and central parts of Europe, and in the course of the 7th century the Irish rule of St Columban and the Roman rule of St Benedict met in the monasteries in central Europe that had been founded by Columban and his Irish monks. The Benedictine rule supplanted the Irish so inevitably that the personnel ceased to be Irish, that even in St Columban’s own monastery of Luxeuil his rule was no longer observed, and by Charlemagne’s time all remembrance of any other monastic rule than the Benedictine had died out.

During the 7th and 8th centuries the Benedictine houses were the chief instrument in the Christianizing, civilizing and educating of the Teutonic races. In spite of the frequent pillage and destruction of monasteries by Northmen, Saracens, Arabs and other invaders; in spite of the existence of even widespread local abuses, St Benedict’s institute went on progressing and consolidating; and on the whole it may be said that throughout the early middle ages the general run of Benedictine houses continued to perform with substantial fidelity the religious and social functions for which they were created.

10. Offshoots and Modifications of Benedictine Monachism: the Rise of “Orders.”—Up to the beginning of the 10th century we do not meet in the West such a thing as an “order”—an organized corporate body composed of several houses, diffused through various lands, with centralized government and objects and methods of its own. As stated above, St Pachomius’s monasteries formed an order—a curious anticipation of what six centuries later was to become the vogue in Western monasticism. The Benedictine houses never coalesced in this manner; even when, later on, a system of national congregations was introduced, they were but loose federations of autonomous abbeys; so that to this day, though the convenient expression “Benedictine order” is frequently used, the Benedictines do not form an order in the proper sense of the word. But with the 10th century we reach the period of orders, and it is on this line that all subsequent developments in Western monasticism have run.

The first order was that of Cluny, founded in 910; in rule and manner of life it continued purely Benedictine, and it wielded extraordinary power and religious influence up to the middle of the 12th century. (See Cluny.)

The chief offshoot from the Benedictine institute were the Cistercians (c. 100); their ground idea was a return to the letter of St Benedict’s rule, and a reproduction, as close as could be, of the exterior conditions of life as they existed in St Benedict’s own monastery; consequently field work held a prominent place in the Cistercian ideal. This ideal it has not been possible permanently to maintain in the great body of the order, but only in limited circles, as Trappists (q.v.). But for a century (1125-1225) Citeaux supplanted Cluny as the spiritual centre of western Europe. The Cistercians were an organized, centralized order in the full sense of the word. (See Cistercians.)

Towards the end of the 10th century and during the 11th a strong tendency set in to revert to the eremitical life, probably owing to the example of the Greek monks, who at this time entered Sicily and south Italy in great numbers. This tendency produced the orders of the Camaldulians or Camaldolese (c. 975) in Italy, and in France the Grandmontines (1076) and Carthusians (1084), all leading practically eremitical lives, and assembling ordinarily only for the church services. The Vallombrosians (1038) near Florence maintained a cenobitical life, but eliminated every element of Benedictine life that was not devoted to pure contemplation. At Fontevrault (founded in 1095) the special feature was the system of “double monasteries” i.e. neighbouring, but rigorously separated, monasteries of men and of women—the government being in the hands of the abbesses.

In all these lesser orders may be discerned the tendency of a return to the elements of Eastern monasticism discarded by St Benedict—to the eremitical life; to the purely contemplative life with little or no factor of work; to the undertaking of rigorous bodily austerities and penances—it was at this time that the practice of self-inflicted scourging as a penitential exercise was introduced. All this was a reaction from St Benedict’s reconstruction of the monastic life—a reaction which in the matter of austerities and individualistic piety has made itself increasingly felt in the later manifestations of the monastic ideal in the West.

11. New Kinds of Religious Orders.—Up to this point we have met only with monasticism proper; and if the term were taken strictly, the remainder of this article would be concerned only with the later history of the institutes already spoken of; for neither canons regular, friars, nor regular clerks, are in the strict sense monks. But it is usual, and it will be convenient here, to use the term monasticism in a broader sense, as equivalent to the technical “religious life,” and as embracing the various forms that have come into being so prolifically in the Latin Church at all periods since the middle of the 11th century.

The first of these new forms was that of the canons regular or Augustinian canons (q.v.) who about the year 1060 arose out of the older semi-monastic canonical institute, and lived according to the so-called “Rule of St Augustine.” The essential difference between monks and regular canons may be explained as follows: monks, whether hermits or cenobites, are men who live a certain kind of life for its own sake, for the purpose of leading a Christian life according to the Gospel’s counsel and thus serving God and saving their own souls; external works, either temporal or spiritual, are accidental; clericature or ordination is an addition, an accession, and no part of their object, and, as a matter of fact, till well on in the middle ages it was not usual for monks to be priests; in a word, the life they lead is their object, and they do not adopt it in order the better to compass some other end. But canons regular were in virtue of their origin essentially clerics, and their common life, monastery, rule, and the rest, were something additional grafted on to their proper clerical state. The difference manifested itself in one external point: Augustinian canons frequently and freely themselves served the parish churches in the patronage of their houses; Benedictine monks did so, speaking broadly, hardly at all, and their doing so was forbidden by law, both ecclesiastical and civil. In other respects the life of canons regular in their monasteries, and the external policy and organization among their houses, differed little from what prevailed among the Black Benedictines; their superiors were usually provosts or priors, but sometimes abbots. As contrasted with the friars they are counted among the monastic orders. Alongside of the local federations or congregations of houses of Augustinian canons were formed the Premonstratensian order (1120) (q.v.), and the English “double order” of St Gilbert of Sempringham (1148) (q.v.), both orders, in the full sense of the word, composed of Augustinian canons.

Two special kinds of orders arose out of the religious Wars waged by Christendom against the Mahommedans in the Holy Land and in Spain: (1) the Military orders: the Knights Hospitallers of St John and the Knights Templars, both at the beginning of the 12th century, and the Teutonic Knights at its close; (2) the orders of Ransom, whose object was to free Christian prisoners and slaves from captivity under the Mahommedans, the members being bound by vow even to offer themselves in exchange; such orders were the Trinitarians (q.v.) founded in 1198, and the order of Our Lady of Ransom (de Mercede), founded by St Peter Nolasco in 1223; both were under the Augustinian rule.

At the beginning of the 13th century arose the series of great Mendicant orders. Their nature and work and the needs that called them into being are explained in the article Mendicant Movement, and in the separate articles on St Francis of Assisi and Franciscans (1210), St Dominic and Dominicans (1215), Carmelites (1245), Augustinian Hermits (1256)—these were the four great orders of Mendicant friars—to them were added, in 1487, the Servites (q.v.) founded in 1233.

It will be in place here to explain the difference between friars, monks, and canons regular. The distinction between the two last has already been brought out; but they agree in this that the individual monk and canon alike belongs to his house of profession and not to any greater or wider corporation. They are bound by place and the unit is the individual community. Thus among monks and canons regular each monastery has its own fixed community, which is in a real sense a family; and the monk or canon, no matter where he may be, looks on his monastery as his “home,” like the ancestral home of a great family. With the friars this is all changed: the friar does not belong to any particular house, but to the province or order, so that there is no reason, beyond the command of his superiors, why he should be living in one house rather than another. In the monk attachment to his own one monastery is a virtue; in the friar detachment is the ideal. The monk, or the canon, normally exercises his influence on the world in and through his community, not as an individual but as a member of a corporate body. The friar’s sphere of work is normally outside his convent, and he works and influences directly and as an individual. Lastly, in regard to the object aimed at there was an important difference, for the professed object of the friars was to be clerical helpers of the parochial clergy in meeting the specifically religious needs of the time. Already, in St Francis’s lifetime, his friars had grown into an order dedicated to spiritual ministrations among the poor, the sick, the ignorant, the outcasts of the great cities; while by the very conception of their institute the Dominicans were dedicated to the special work of preaching, especially to heretics and heathens. Here, too, should be mentioned St Francis’s other great creation, the Tertiaries (q.v.), or devout men and women living in the world, who while continuing their family life and their ordinary avocations, followed a certain rule of life, giving themselves up to more than ordinary prayer and the pursuit of good works, and abstaining from amusements of a worldly kind.

12. The Religious Orders in the Later Middle Ages.—The 13th century was the heyday of monasticism in the West; the Mendicant orders were in their first fervour and enthusiasm; the great abbeys of Benedictines, Cistercians and Augustinian canons reflected the results of the religious reform and revival associated with Hildebrand’s name, and maintained themselves at a high and dignified level in things religious and secular; and under the Benedictine rule were formed the new congregations or orders of Silvestrines (1231), Celestines (c. 1260) and Olivetans (1319), which are described under their several headings. But towards the end of the century a period of decline set in, which ran its course in increasing volume throughout the 14th century. A great wave of secularity rolled over the Church, engulfing the religious orders with the rest; love waxed cold, fervour languished, learning declined, discipline was relaxed, bitter rivalries broke out, especially between Franciscans and Dominicans. The great schism was reflected in the Mendicant orders which were divided into two obediences, to the destruction of discipline. The great wealth of the old monastic orders exposed them, especially in France and Italy, to the vicious system of commendation, whereby a bishop, an ecclesiastic, or even a layman was appointed “commendatory abbot” of a monastery, merely for the purpose of drawing the revenues (see Abbot); the monasteries were often deprived even of necessary maintenance, the communities dwindled, and regular observance became impossible. There is reason to believe that in England a relatively good level was maintained throughout, thanks in great measure to the fact that the kings resolutely refused to allow the introduction of commendation—Wolsey was the first and last commendatory abbot in England. In the German lands, the lowest level was touched, and the writings of the Augustinian canon Johann Busch, and of the Benedictine abbot Trithemius reveal a state of things in the first half of the 15th century that urgently called for reform. The first move in this direction was made in the Netherlands and north Germany under the influence of Gerhard Groot (q.v.), and issued in the formation of the Windesheim congregation of Augustinian canons and the secular congregation of Brothers of Common Life (q.v.) founded c. 1384, both of which became centres of religious revival. During the first half of the 15th century numerous and effective efforts at reform were initiated in all the orders without exception, and in every part of Europe. These movements, promoted by the councils of Constance and Basel, partook of the spirit of the time and were characterized by an extreme austerity of life and a certain hardness of spirit, and a sort of police regulation easily understandable at a time of reaction from grave abuses. At this time arose the Hieronymites (q.v.) founded in 1375, under the Augustinian rule, the Observants (1415) among the Franciscans (q.v.), and the Minims (founded c. 1460 by St Francis of Paola, q.v.), whose programme was to outdo the Minors or Franciscans. These various reform movements among the orders were widely but not universally successful; and so the Reformation found religious houses in an unsatisfactory state in sufficient numbers to afford the reformers one of their chief handles against the old religion. The Reformation and the religious wars that followed in its wake destroyed the monasteries and religious orders of all kinds in northern Europe and crippled them in central Europe.

13. The Modern Orders.—During the Reformation period there sprang up, to meet the needs of the time, a new kind of religious order, called Regular Clerks. These are religious orders in the full sense of the word, as the members take the solemn religious vows. Regular clerks are by their institute clerics and priests, and they are devoted to some particular work or works as their own special object—as education, the preaching of missions and retreats, or the going on missions to the heathen. They carry still further the tendencies that differentiate the friars from the monks; and in particular, in order to be more free in devoting themselves to their special works, the orders of regular clerks have commonly given up the choral celebration of the canonical office, which had been maintained by the friars. Of regular clerks by far the most important are the Jesuits (q.v.), founded in 1540; there are also the Theatines (founded 1524 by St Cajetan and Caraffa, afterwards Paul IV.); the Barnabites (founded 1530, by St Antonio Zaccaria) and others (see Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1897), II., §§ 108–114). Strictly speaking the “religious congregations” should be distinguished from the orders of regular clerks, the difference being that in the former the vows, though taken for life, are only “simple vows” and more easily dispensable by authority; but the character and work of the two institutes is very similar. The chief of these congregations are the Passionists (founded by St John of the Cross, 1725) and the Redemptorists (founded by St Alfonsus Liguori, 1749), both dedicated to giving missions and retreats. The Christian Brothers, devoted to primary education, founded by St Jean Baptiste de la Salle in 1679, are not in orders (Heimbucher, op. cit. §§ 115–118).

Besides the religious congregations there are a number of “secular congregations,” composed of secular priests living together under temporary vows and free to leave at will; the following deserve mention: Oblates of St Charles (founded by St Charles Borromeo, 1578); Oratorians (founded by St Philip Neri, c. 1570); the French Oratory (founded by Cardinal Berulle, 1613), a similar but distinct institution, which produced a number of scholars of the highest distinction—Thomassin, Morin, Marlebranche, Richard Simon, Juénin, Lebrun, Masillon, and others; Lazarists (founded by St Vincent de Paul, 1624); Sulpicians (founded by M. Olier, 1642), and a vast number of others, including several for the mission to the heathen (see Heimbucher op. cit. §§ 124–140).

During the period under review, from the Reformation to the French Revolution, the old orders went on alongside of the new, and many notable revivals and congregations arose among them: the most noteworthy were the Capuchins (q.v.) among the Franciscans (1528); the Discalced Carmelites (q.v.) of St Teresa and St John of the Cross (1562); the Trappists (q.v.) among the Cistercians (1663); and, most famous of all, the Maurists (q.v.) among the Benedictines of France (1621).

14. The Religious Orders in Recent Times.—At the end of the 18th century and the opening of the 19th the religious orders received a succession of blows in those countries in which they had survived the Reformation from which they have only in the present generation recovered. The Jesuits were suppressed by Pope Clement XIV. in 1773, and restored by Pius VII. in 1814. As the result of the ecclesiastical policy of the emperor Joseph II. nearly all religious houses of all kinds were suppressed throughout the Austrian dominions (1780). The French Revolution swept them out of France and caused the secularization of the great majority in central Europe and Italy. In Portugal and Spain they were dissolved in 1834–1835; in Italy in 1866; in the Prussian dominions in 1871. The last half of the 19th century, and more especially the last quarter, witnessed a remarkable revival of vitality and growth in most of the older orders in nearly every country of western Europe, and besides, an extraordinary number of new congregations, devoted to works of every sort, were founded in the 19th century: Heimbucher (op. cit., §§ 118, 134–140) numbers no fewer than seventy of these new congregations of men. In the new countries, especially in the United States and Australia, but also in South Africa, orders and congregations of all kinds are most thriving. The chief set-back has come again in France, where, by the Association Laws of 1903, the religious orders have nearly all been suppressed and expelled and their property confiscated.

15. The Nuns.—In the foregoing sketch nothing has been said concerning the nuns; and yet in all ages women, hardly less than men, have played their part in monasticism. In the earliest Christian times the veiled virgins formed a grade or order apart, more formally separated from the community than were the male ascetics. There is reason for believing that there were organized convents for women before there were any for men; for when St Anthony left the world in 270 to embrace the ascetic life, the Vita says he placed his sister in a nunnery (παρθενών). We learn from Palladius that by the end of the 4th century nunneries were numerous all over Egypt, and they existed also in Palestine, in Italy and in Africa—in fact throughout the Christian world. It is a curious coincidence that the sister of each of the three great cenobitical founders, Pachomius, Basil and Benedict, was a nun and ruled a community of nuns according to an adaptation of her brother’s rule for monks. In the West the Benedictine nuns played a great part in the Christian settlement of north-western Europe. As the various monastic and mendicant orders arose, a female branch was in most cases formed alongside of the order; and so we find canonesses, and hermitesses, and Dominicanesses, and Franciscan nuns [or Clares (q.v.)]—requisite information will be found in the respective articles. Then there were the “double orders” of Sempringham (see St Gilbert) and Fontevrault, in which the nuns were the predominant, or even the dominant, element. Of the modern orders of men only a few include nuns. But on the other there are a vast number of purely female orders and congregations. The great majority of these modern congregations of women follow the Augustinian rule, supplemented by special constitutions or by-laws; such are the Brigittines, the Ursulines and the Visitation nuns: others follow the rule of the third order of the Franciscans or other Mendicants (see Tertiaries). In early times nuns could go out of their enclosure on occasion; but in the later middle ages, up to the council of Trent, the tendency was to keep them more and more strictly confined within their convent precincts. In 1609 an English lady, Mary Ward, founded at Munich the “Institute of Mary,” the nuns of which were not bound to enclosure. This new departure, or rather, return to old ideas, encountered vehement opposition and difficulties that nearly wrecked it; but it has survived, and has been the pioneer in the extraordinary development of institutes of women devoted to external good works of every kind. St Vincent of Paul soon followed; in 1633 he established the Sisters of Charity, bound only by yearly vows, and wholly given up to works of charity—chiefly nursing in hospitals and in the homes of the poor, and primary education in poor schools.

As women are debarred from exercising the spiritual functions of the ministry, it follows that nuns have to devote themselves either to a more purely contemplative life, or else to a more wholly active one, than is usual among the orders of men, who commonly, in virtue of their priesthood, have been able to find a mixed form of life between the two extremes. The nuns belonging to the older orders tend to the contemplative idea, and they still find recruits in sufficient numbers, in spite of the modern rush to the active congregations. These latter exist in wondrous number and variety, exercising every imaginable form of good work—education, both primary and secondary; the care of hospitals, orphanages, penitentiaries, prisons; of asylums for the blind, the deaf and dumb, the insane; of refuges for the aged poor and the destitute.

See the works of Helyot and Heimbucher, referred to below under “Literature”; also Lina Eckenstein, Woman under Monasticism (1896); and for information on the various orders of women, J. N. Murphy, Terra incognito (1873); and F. M. Steele, Convents of Great Britain and Ireland (1902).

16. Conclusion.—Few phenomena are more striking than the change that has come over educated Protestant opinion in its estimate of monasticism. The older Protestantism uncompromisingly judged the monastic ideal and life to be both unchristian and unnatural, an absolute perversion deserving nothing but condemnation. But now the view of the critico-historical school of Protestant thought, of which Dr Adolf Harnack is so representative a spokesman, is that the preservation of spiritual religion in Catholic Christianity, both Eastern and Western, has been mainly, if not wholly, due to monasticism (see Harnack’s early tractate Das Mönchtum, translated under the title Monasticism, by E. E. Kellett, 1901; also the lectures on Greek and Roman Catholicism in Das Wesen des Christentums, translated by Bailey Saunders, 1902; the first-named work is the most suggestive general aperçu of the whole subject—though written from a frankly hostile standpoint, it is in large measure a panegyric).

The views of the new Protestantism concerning monasticism are probably no less excessive than those of the old. The truth probably lies somewhere between them. It may perhaps be agreed that not the least of the services rendered to the Christian people at large by monasticism is this: Into every life the spirit of renunciation must enter; in most lives there are crises in which the path of mere duty can be followed only in virtue of a great renunciation; if we are able to make these ordinary and necessary renunciations, it is in some measure owing to the fact that the path has been made easier for us by those who (like the author of the Imitation of Christ) have shown the example, and thereby been able to formulate the theory, of renunciation in a supreme degree.

Literature.—The literature on monasticism is immense. The chief repertory for information on the historical side is Helyot’s Histoire des ordres religieux (8 vols., 1714; 2nd ed. 1792; digested in dictionary form by Migne, 1860). This information has been condensed and brought up to date by Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen (2 vols., 1896–1897; a 2nd ed. in 3 vols., 1907)—this most useful handbook is equipped throughout with an excellent and well chosen bibliography. Otto Zöckler’s Askese und Mönchtum (1897), also covers the whole ground, and is written more from the point of view of theory. The inner spirit and working of the older monasticism is well portrayed in F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life (1904); more popular accounts are given in H. J. Feasy’s Monasticism (1898), and F. M. Steele’s Monasteries and Religious Houses of Great Britain and Ireland (1903). The rules of the various orders are collected in Brockie’s edition of Holsten’s Codex regularum (6 vols., 1759). The article Mönchtum in Herzog-Hauck Realencyclopädie (3rd ed.), and in Wetzer und Welte Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.) go over the same general ground as the present article, in the earlier portion entering into greater detail as to facts, but in the later dealing much more summarily. The relevant separate articles in these two great dictionaries, Protestant and Catholic respectively, will supply adequate information and ample references on most points. The Catholic Dictionary contains useful articles on most of the subjects here touched on; and an extensive Catholic Encyclopaedia is in course of preparation at the Catholic University of Washington. The habits and dress of the various orders may be seen in Helyot’s Histoire, which abounds in plates, coloured, in the ed. of 1792. There are plates representing members of the chief orders in Dugdale’s Monasticon, and in the books of Gasquet and Steele mentioned above; also (coloured) in Tuker and Malleson, Handbook to Christian Rome, pt. iii (1900).  (E. C. B.) 

  1. This topic is dealt with by F. A. Gasquet, Sketch of Monastic Constitutional History (pp. viii.–xxii.), the Introduction to 2nd edition of the translation of Montalembert’s Monks of the West (1895).
  2. See Willis Bund, Celtic Church in Wales (1897); H. Zimmer, art. “Keltische Kirche” in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (3rd ed.), translated into English by Kuno Meyer (1902).